Monday, January 31, 2005
I'm considering whether I should mark these posts in some way in the subject or near the top of the body of the post. We'll see. Meanwhile, visit the PBU site and check out participant blogs listed there.
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Transparency and Christian Charity
Wall Watchers' MinistryWatch service will increase the confidence of donors by providing an independent source of information on Christian ministries to aid them in making their giving decisions. Greater knowledge of the good works being done by Christian ministries and insightful analysis of the activities of these ministries can only lead to higher levels of giving by those who feel called to financially support God's work.MinistryWatch currently has overs 500 Christian charities and also currently has info on some of the tsunami scams. This doesn't entirely dispell the suspicion I feel about many televangelists's legitimacy and how much money actually gets to charitable works but it's a great resource for checking out these charities.
Not being Christian myself, I would gravitate more to the secular charities. For another similar watchdog group, try Charity Watch which also checks on the effectiveness of charities.
Tests of Patriotism
During the confirmation hearings for Condoleeza Rice to Secretary of State, one senator (I'm not sure who) actually said that any questioning of Dr. Rice's abilities and qualifications would undermine her ability to act as Secretary of State. This is a fascinating political position to me. It's a "pre-emptive" way of questioning the motives and patriotism of those doing any such questioning and laying the blame of anything bad in future on the questioners. Pre-emptive? That sounds awfully familiar to me...
"Patriotism" is a word that you hear often these days, usually misused. Patriot comes from the Greek patrios (of one's father). [This father connection is almost too ripe for interpretation in my opinion.] My Webster's Seventh Collegiate dictionary defines patriot as "one who loves his (sic?) country and zealously supports its authority and interests." Note too the use of "zealously" from "zealot": a fanatical partisan.
Connected in my mind to patriotism is the word "fascism". People who style themselves patriots are probably shocked that I would connect the two but I think it's rather clear. Fascism is usually accompanied by a "strong" leader and the demand that citizens support and believe in the infallibility of the government. Go back up to the phrase "...zealously supports its authority and interests."
Just in case you're not familiar with the definition of fascism, here it is from Webster's: "a political philosophy, movement or regime that exalts nation and race and stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition." It may seem as if Bush is for de-centralized government and privatization but look more closely at the phrase "centralized autocratic government". To the Republicans in Congress, now in the majority, bipartisan seems to be a dirty word. The current administration has also worked very hard to consolidate more power in the executive office, trying to place the presidency beyond international treaties and agreements. This is actually undermining US authority. When military action is the primary consistency of response, other countries have no faith in diplomatic negotiations. When the US pulls out of agreements negotiated by previous administrations, it seems to signal that our government is profoundly unstable and unreliable.
Patriotism is a word that reminds me of McCarthyism, of hunting down the "enemies" of the state. It's been said before and I say it again: loving your country does not mean standing by silently while it does horrendous acts in the name of freedom and liberty. Being a patriot shouldn't mean excusing a government which tortures prisoners or looks for loopholes to allow such torture. Torture is not an American value.
Friday, January 28, 2005
Although the pornographers were a bit nervous about a conservative administration, they knew they had little to worry about; their $10 billion industry has become ever more mainstream and normalized in the past couple of decades. And when any critique does surface, the pornography industry has made effective free-speech arguments...
Unfortunately for the culture, both sides in this debate are off target.
The conservative forces typically want to control sexuality and are willing to use antiquated and potentially repressive obscenity statues to do it. The pornographers want to derail any criticism of the often blatant misogyny of their product and are willing to wrap themselves in political principles to do that.
It is typical that liberal-minded people, when facing censorship, would rush to defend pornographers' right to produce whatever they want, even if the products objectify, humiliate and violate women. But shouldn't we ponder what we are defending and what kind of value system supports that defense?
One of the most popular booths at the expo was for the BangBus, which consistently drew large crowds of almost entirely male fans. What's the BangBus concept? One of the producers explained that the videos show men in a large van, picking up what appear to be women on the streets, talking them into having sex, and then degrading them in some way – dropping them off in desolate places, not giving them money promised, or throwing their belongings out the door.
BangBus was hardly the most shocking, cruel or brutal pornography being offered on the exhibition floor in Las Vegas. Much of it can't be described for a general audience. There are few boundaries that haven't been pushed, as pornographers race to the shocking, ridiculous and humiliating, connecting visceral reactions to sexual pleasure. As an Asian woman, I found the racist stereotypes used in certain genres of pornography particularly oppressive.
Pornography encourages people to disregard others' pain for one's own pleasure. Many people I interviewed acknowledged that, based on their own experience and knowledge of the human body, certain sex acts they've watched in films likely would have been painful for the female performers. However, they argued that since the performers were paid, it was not the viewers' concern, and they acknowledged that they get aroused watching it. That mentality helps create a world in which a producer can brag about having originated a popular video series that shows women gagging during forceful oral sex.
Although pornography is often rationalized as a celebration of women's sexuality and liberation, some gonzo pornographers were direct about their anger and contempt (or their imagined customers') for women. When asked why he used certain brutal sex acts in his films, one producer replied that when a man gets angry at his wife, he can imagine she is the one being violated.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
What was the best part about yesterday's Congressional Budget Office (CBO) budget projections for the next decade? Certainly not the projections themselves, which showed the United States awash in red ink as far as the eye could see. No, the best part was that reporters quickly noticed that the CBO's projections vastly understated the true size of the long-term deficit. The White House, it seems, is finding it tougher and tougher to conceal its own fiscal insanity.
Early in the day, both the New York Times and the Washington Post were quick to note that the CBO projected a reduced deficit for 2005 only because the White House had not yet included any spending for Iraq. Indeed, even without those figures, it was immediately obvious that the deficit had worsened considerably. As the Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum pointed out, "Last September CBO was projecting a 10-year deficit of $861 billion not counting Iraq. Today, CBO is projecting a 10-year deficit of $1,364 billion not counting Iraq. In other words, the projected deficit sans Iraq has gone up 58%."
Later in the afternoon, Bush administration officials admitted that the White House would ask for at least an additional $80 billion for Iraq, bringing the 2005 deficit up to a record $427 billion. To put that number in perspective, last summer the White House predicted that the deficit would fall from 2004's $412 billion. Now that we can discard that prediction, however, it's difficult to see how Bush will even come close to fulfilling his promise of halving the deficit by the time he leaves office. That's especially true now that military officials have estimated that the U.S. will likely keep at least 120,000 troops in Iraq for the next two years. As defense analyst John Pike, told Reuters, military spending for Iraq may continue to grow "because we just don't know the rate at which the insurgency will grow or subside, and we don't know the rate at which the Iraqi security forces can be stood up."
The statistics came from a data set on North American values collected by a Canadian polling firm over the last decade – and what they showed was that, quite simply, this country is deeply conservative and getting more so. The battle of values has been won, at least for the moment, and not by us. For instance, what percentage of Americans do you suppose would agree with the following statement: "The father of the family must be a master in his own house"?
- 1992: 42 percent of Americans agreed
- 1996: 44 percent
- 2000: 49 percent
- 2004: 52 percent
Across 105 different values – everything from "concern for appearance" and "joy of consumption" to "acceptance of violence" and "xenophobia" – they found that over the past decade, an already generally conservative country has been making a beeline in the direction of status and security. A decade ago, 30 percent of Americans thought men were naturally superior; now the number is 40 percent. No matter what you ask, be it whether "to relieve tension a little violence is OK," or "it's important that people admire things I own," the numbers show a nation almost inconceivable to your average card-carrying Sierra Clubber. A decade ago, 17 percent of Americans thought that pollution was necessary to preserve jobs; now the number is 29 percent. In 1992, 66 percent of Americans said they "discussed local problems with people in my community," a number that has since dropped to 39 percent.
In other words, the sweet notion that we still live in a world where most people more or less agree with a worldview congenial to environmentalism – and particularly to the difficult changes required to deal with global warming – is simply wrong. Dorothy, we're not in 1978 anymore. Or, as Nordhaus and Shellenberger put it, there's been a "Fundamental Political Realignment."
I'm not entirely sure about the complete accuracy of the following excerpt from Overlooked Millions: Non-Jewish Victims of the Holocaust by Karen Silverstrim, MA Candidate, University of Central Arkansas, but the figures generally match what I've picked up over the years.
Elie Wiesel, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, has said, "while not all victims were Jews, all Jews were victims," so careful handling of the definition of the Holocaust is important. No one can deny that Jewish people were the primary targets of the Nazis, nor should one belittle their suffering. But neither should the millions of other victims of the Nazis be forgotten. The same respect and remembrance afforded the Jewish victims should be extended to include the non-Jewish victims as well.
The Nazis sought to annihilate all Jews and all enemies of the state. Every Jew was to be wiped out, but not necessarily every Russian, Serb, or Yugoslavian. That millions of non-Jews were also killed demonstrates the determination and magnitude of the Nazi extermination program to eliminate anyone who could even remotely be considered an enemy of the state. Current estimates based on documents from Nazi war records, and official government documents of various countries, place the death toll of people murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust as conservatively over 15 million non-combatant people.(5) One official source estimates the number killed at 26 million.(6) However, "with the mass graves on the eastern front, exact figures will never be known".(7)
These figures represent a common denominator between Jews and Gentiles -- total lives lost. The "six million" figure used for Jewish lives lost during the Holocaust includes deaths attributable to starvation, beatings, street executions, concentration camp deaths, overwork, and relocations, to name just a few of the categories. Nazis targeted Jews for complete extermination and used whatever means were necessary and available. Many non-Jewish victims also died in concentration camps by gassing, lethal experiments, starvation, overwork, or beatings, but a greater number perished because of the aggressive tactics of the Nazis in rounding up their victims and in street assassinations. The death toll reported in Table 1 is of civilian lives lost unless otherwise noted. The Nazis deliberately killed these people who were undesirable to the Nazi vision of an Aryan state. Jews were the most intensely targeted victims, but the common denominator for all victims was death.
As is obvious from Table 1, no single group of people suffered as devastating a loss as did the Jewish people. Ukrainian deaths, however, ranged from five and a half million to seven million. The Ukrainian deaths represent an area of conflict for people determining who were victims of the Holocaust and whose deaths should be counted as Holocaust-related. The Ukrainian and Russian people were at various times during the war both victims and perpetrators. Should the vast majority of Ukrainian civilians killed by Nazis and Russians be discounted if some small group of Ukrainians turned perpetrator and killed Jews? Do Holocaust deaths only include people killed by the Nazis? Do Holocaust deaths only include those killed on German soil? Do Holocaust deaths only include deaths attributable to gassings in concentration camps?
Lakshmi Chaudhry: What is your take on why the Democrats lost in 2004?
Naomi Klein: The Democrats didn't fully understand that the success of Karl Rove's party is really a success in branding. Identity branding is something that the corporate world has understood for some time now. They're not selling a product; they're selling a desired identity, an aspirational identity of the people who consume their product. Nike understands that, Apple understands that, and so do all the successful brands. Karl Rove understands that too.
So what the Republican Party has done is that it has co-branded with other powerful brands — like country music, and NASCAR, and church going, and this larger proud-to-be-a-redneck identity. Policy is pretty low on the agenda, in terms of why people identify as Republicans. They identify with these packets of attributes.
This means a couple of things. One, it means people are not swayed by policy debates. But more importantly, when George Bush's policies are attacked, rather than being dissuaded from being Republicans, Republicans feel attacked personally — because it's your politics. Republicanism has merged with their identity. That has happened because of the successful application of the principles of identity branding.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
In general, I believe the president should be able to choose his Cabinet officials. But this nomination is different, because of the war in Iraq. Dr. Rice was a key member of the national security team that developed and justified the rationale for war, and it's been a catastrophic failure, a continuing quagmire. In these circumstances, she should not be promoted to secretary of state.
There is a critical question about accountability. Dr. Rice was a principal architect and advocate of the decision to go to war in Iraq, at a time when our mission in Afghanistan was not complete and Osama bin Laden was a continuing threat because of our failure to track him down.
In the Armed Services Committee before the war, generals advised against the rush to war. But Dr. Rice and others in the administration pressed forward anyway, despite the clear warnings.
Dr. Rice was the first in the administration to invoke the terrifying image of a nuclear holocaust to justify the need to go to war in Iraq. On Sept. 9, 2002, as Congress was first considering the resolution to authorize the war, Dr. Rice said: " ... We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
In fact, as we now know, there was significant disagreement in the intelligence community about Iraq's nuclear weapons program. But Dr. Rice spoke instead about a consensus in the intelligence community that the infamous aluminum tubes were for the development of nuclear weapons.
Dow Chemical: Forgive Us Our Trespasses
At midnight on December 2, 1984, 27 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, immediately killing an estimated 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others.
Today in Bhopal, at least 150,000 people, including children born to parents who survived the disaster, are suffering from exposure-related health effects such as cancer, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness. Over 20,000 people are forced to drink water with unsafe levels of mercury, carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.
Activists from around the world – including human rights, legal, environmental health and other experts – mobilized this year to demand that Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, be held accountable.
Twenty years after this disaster, the company responsible for this catastrophe and its former executives are still fugitives from justice. Union Carbide and its former chairman, Warren Andersen, were charged with manslaughter for the deaths at Bhopal, but they refuse to appear before the Indian courts.
Here is part of Dow's statement on Bhopal:While Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal, we have never forgotten the tragic event and have helped to drive global industry performance improvements. This is why Responsible Care was created and why these standards are essential for the protection of our employees and the communities where we live and work. Our pledge and our commitment is the full implementation of Responsible Care everywhere we do business around the world.
Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal? The people of Bhopal don't agree. They say Union Carbide was responsible, and if Union Carbide is now owned by Dow, then Dow is responsible.
In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the crime of Bhopal, we present here 20 things to remember about Dow Chemical – the company now responsible for Bhopal and a fugitive from justice.
20. Agent Orange/Napalm: The toxic herbicide and jellied gasoline used in Vietnam created horrors for young and old alike.
19. Rocky Flats: The top secret Colorado site managed by Dow Chemical from 1952 to 1975 remains an environmental nightmare.
18. Body burden: In March 2001, the Centers for Disease Control reported that most people in the United States carry detectable levels of plastics, pesticides and heavy metals in their blood and urine.
17. 2,4-D: One of the key ingredients in Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used in Vietnam, 2,4-D is still the most widely used herbicide in the world.
16. Mercury: In Canada, Dow had been producing chlorine using the mercury cell method since 1947. Much of the mercury was recycled, but significant quantities were discharged into the environment. In March 1970, the governments of Ontario and Michigan detected high levels of mercury in fish in major waterways. Dow was sued by state and local officials for mercury pollution.
15. PERC: Perchloroethylene is the hazardous substance used by dry cleaners everywhere. Dow tried to undermine safer alternatives.
14. 2,4,5 T: One of the toxic ingredients in Agent Orange.
13. Busting unions: In 1967, unions represented almost all of Dow's production workers. But since then, according to the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, Dow undertook an "unapologetic campaign to rid itself of unions."
12. Silicone: The key ingredient for silicone breast implants made women sick. Litigation continues over silicone breast implants, removed from the market more than a decade ago.
11. DBCP: The toxic active ingredient in the Dow pesticide Fumazone. Doctors who tested men who worked with DBCP thought they had vasectomies, because no sperm was present.
10. Dursban: Trade name for chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide, proved to have nerve agent effects. It was tested on prisoners in New York in 1971. It replaced DDT when DDT was banned in 1972. A huge seller, in June 2000, EPA limited its use and forced it off the market at the end of 2004.
9. Dow at Christmas: "Uses of Dow plastics by the toy industry are across the board," boasted Dow Chemical in an internal company memo one Christmas season. Among the chemicals used in these toys are polystyrene, polyethylene, ethylene copolymer resins, saran resins, PVC resins, or vinyls and ethyl cellulose.
8.The Tittabawassee: A river and river basin polluted by Dow in its hometown, Midland, Michigan.
7. Brazos River, Freeport, Texas: A February 1971 headline in the Houston Post read: "Brazos River is Dead." In 1970 and 1971, Dow's operation there was sending more than 4.5 billion gallons of wastewater per day into the Brazos and on into the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Toxic Trespass: From Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical and the Toxic Century by Jack Doyle: "Dow Chemical has been polluting property and poisoning people for nearly a century, locally and globally – trespassing on workers, consumers, communities, and innocent bystanders – on wildlife and wild places, on the global biota and the global genome."
5. Holmesburg Experiments: In January 1981, a Philadelphia Inquirer story revealed that Dow Chemical paid a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist to test dioxin on prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia in 1964.
4. Worker deaths: Dow has a long history of explosions and fires at its facilities. In May 1979, an explosion ripped through Dow's Pittsburgh facility, killing two workers and injuring more than 45 others.
3. Brain tumors: In 1980, investigators found 25 workers with brain tumors at the company's Freeport, Texas facility – 24 of which were fatal.
2. Saran Wrap: The thin slice of plastic invaluable to our lives, Saran Wrap was produced by Dow until consumers went looking for Dow products to boycott.
- Information I didn't know. Infojunkie that I am, scavenging for tidbits is second nature and often provides a broader picture of aspects of the world.
- Fills in some gaps. I might know some of the entries on a list but not others. Again, this provides a larger pool of information.
- Probably the main reason is opinion comparison, particularly in matters of popular culture. A list of the "Top 100 Albums" says something about the person/people who drew up the list but it also evokes opinion in me about agreement and disagreement. This becomes a learning experience which also encompasses self-knowledge about my own judgement of the items on the list.
It is never easy choosing the 10 Worst Corporations of the Year – there are always more deserving nominees than we can possibly recognize. One of the greatest challenges facing the judges is the directive not to select repeat recipients from last year's 10 Worst designation.
The no-repeat rule forbids otherwise-deserving companies – like Bayer, Boeing, Clear Channel and Halliburton – from returning to the 10 Worst list in 2004.
Abbott Laboratories: Drug Pricing Chutzpah
Chutzpah. Webster's defines the Yiddish term now incorporated into English slang as: 1. unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall. 2. audacity; nerve.
In the next edition, they may want to add: 3. See Abbott.
In December 2003, the company raised the U.S. price of its anti-AIDS drug Norvir (generic name ritanovir) by 400 percent. That is, unless the product is used in conjunction with other Abbott products – in which case the price increase is zero.Coca-Cola: KillerCoke.org vs. CokeKills.org
On KillerCoke.org, you'll find a raft of information on Coke and its bottlers' operations in Colombia. There is extensive documentation of rampant violence committed against Coke's unionized workforce by paramilitary forces, and powerful claims of the company's complicity in the violence.
An April 2004 report from a fact-finding delegation headed by New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate contends:
"To date, there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so."
"Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers."
Dow Chemical: Forgive Us Our Trespasses
[Dow's record is so amazingly horrible, I'm going to put the whole entry in another blog post.] At midnight on December 2, 1984, 27 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, immediately killing an estimated 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others.
Today in Bhopal, at least 150,000 people, including children born to parents who survived the disaster, are suffering from exposure-related health effects such as cancer, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness. Over 20,000 people are forced to drink water with unsafe levels of mercury, carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Before 2000, worrying about 2035 seemed unreal and very far in the future. 2035 is now within the timeline of a 30-year morgage on a house. That certainly puts it within easy conceptual measurement for me. Given the acceleration of consumption, 2035 may be optimistic. Personally, I'd invest in solar panels now.
With this in mind, it's very understandable what the US government has been doing in the Mideast. Iraq has, what, the third or fourth largest oil reserves in the world. I also think we will continue to see companies with investments in oil working to wring the greatest amount of profit out of the situation. Every level of energy consumption that relies on oil will grow more and more expensive. At the same time, profit margins will bring larger amounts of money into the companies as the price goes up. Example: 10% profit on $1.00 is .10 cents; 10% profit on $10.00 is $1.00. Oh, you don't think gasoline will reach $10 a gallon? I think we'll see it before the end of the decade. The price will be whatever the market will bear and scarcity will do a jitterbug dance on "supply and demand".
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Helen Johnston is an 80-year-old retired pediatrician who hardly considers herself much of a risk for being sued.
That's not how her insurance company sees it, however.
Johnston is losing extra coverage she bought years ago while she still practiced medicine - not because she's a retired doctor, but because she is active in Francestown politics.
The Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Co. sent her a letter last month notifying her it is not renewing her $1 million umbrella policy next month because of "the political positions the insured holds."
"If she was just a retired doctor, it wouldn't be an issue," said Dale Groves, vice president for underwriting for the Providence, R.I., company.
Johnston is vice chairwoman of her town's Democratic committee and a member of the Hillsborough County Democratic Committee. She helps campaigns by distributing posters and making calls, and she held a get-out-the-vote session for Howard Dean at her house.
Groves said that's enough. "It's a common practice within the industry not to cover that because of libel and slander (risks)," he said.
It feels like that scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where Brian tells the crowd to be individuals and think for themselves. The crowd agrees in unison that they're all individuals. I'm feeling a bit like a member of the crowd right now.
Of course, I haven't looked at all the various blog entries. I suppose we're all saying different things in them. Still I'm left wondering what, if anything, is the point of this blog. Part of it the impulse to start DemiOrator was to cultivate regular writing on my part. In general, this has worked. I'm usually writing some every day. The days I'm not feeling so verbal I often quote more from articles than write my own commentary. That's OK to me.
Sometimes I get a little concerned that I'm quoting too much from other writers, essentially stealing their words. My justification is usually that I'm careful to 1) link to the original article where I got the quote, and 2) visually set the quoted words off from my own writing. Also, this is not a moneymaking enterprise, just notes on subjects I'm interested in. It's a pleasant way of writing for an audience without any pressure. I'm not quite sure where this falls on the "fair use" spectrum. When the first "cease and desist" letter comes in I'll find out.
With eight of nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices over 65 and one seriously ill with cancer, much of the country is understandably focused on the possibility that their soon-to-be-appointed replacements will overturn the decision upholding the right to abortion. But in Mississippi, in many ways, Roe has already fallen. Abortion is legal here, of course, as it must be throughout the country while the landmark ruling stands. Yet, for many women, the ability to terminate a pregnancy is out of reach, buried under state laws that make the process unnecessarily difficult, discouraged by a sense of shame enforced by practically every public authority, and inaccessible for many who lack money to pay for it.
How Mississippi all but outlawed abortion is a story people on both sides of the abortion debate are still struggling to understand. Few would expect this famously conservative Southern state to be prochoice. And Texas, Louisiana and a few other states have been competing for the dubious distinction of being the worst place to be if you want or need to end a pregnancy. But Mississippi has gone further in its hostility to abortion even than other Bible Belt states. A small, mostly rural population and the absence of local prochoice organizations have helped turn Mississippi into the perfect laboratory for antiabortion strategists.
Virtually every possible restriction on the procedure exists here, from a mandatory 24-hour waiting period after counseling, to a requirement that minors obtain the consent of both parents to have an abortion, to 35 pages of regulations dealing with such physical characteristics as the width of a clinic's hallways and the size of its parking lot. The mounting restrictions (Mississippi passed six anti-abortion laws last year alone) have delighted anti-abortion activists all over the country, who have hailed – and copied – the state's innovations.
Meanwhile, pro-choice activists see Mississippi as a glimpse of what might become the norm in a possible post-Roe future. "It's the canary dying in the mine," says Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. If the Supreme Court were to reverse the decision, abortion would likely become illegal in 30 states, including Mississippi, according to a 2004 report by the center. Across what can seem like a great divide, the 20 other states have laws, constitutions or court decisions that would protect the basic right to abortion even if Roe falls. While some of these, including New York and Washington State, which both decriminalized abortion before 1973, will likely remain strongly pro-choice, others may pass restrictive laws like Mississippi's.
Friday, January 21, 2005
While the limousines and marching bands were parading down Pennsylvania Avenue, death filled the streets of Washington on a chilly presidential Inauguration Day. In a half-dozen protests, more than 10,000 activists demonstrated the human cost of the Bush administration’s policies in dramatic and visceral terms. The women’s anti-war group, Code Pink, staged a funeral march from Dupont Circle, complete with a New Orleans-style horn band and cardboard coffins paying homage to the death of civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and other issues.
In a separate march from Malcom X Park, the D.C. Anti-War Network (DAWN) carried dozens of coffins draped in American flags and black fabric to represent the dead from both sides in the Iraq war. The two met in a spirited protest in McPherson Square, blocks from the White House, as some of its members staged a “die-in” in the middle of the street, and others infiltrated the parade route to carry signs directly to Bush’s motorcade.
“You have to take what is being hidden and bring it out into the light,” said Jodie Evans, co-founder of Code Pink. “The war is really about people dying — our troops and the Iraqi people. Bush wants to sweep that under the covers.”
The following quote is from An Inauguration Free from Specifics. There is also another good article named An Empty Exercise in Deceit.
President Bush opened his second term with an "assertively abstract" speech in which he promised to promote liberty and democracy "in every nation and culture" on earth. The speech was "harnessed to almost no specifics" – the words "freedom," "free" and "liberty" appeared 49 times, but Bush "did not mention Iraq, Iran, North Korea – or indeed any country, friend or foe." The word "terrorism" did not appear, nor was there mention of al Qaeda. And the war in Iraq, which has claimed the lives of 1,360 American troops and wounded upwards of 10,000, went unacknowledged.
While Bush mentioned the abstract notion of "freedom" 25 times in a 17-minute speech (yes, that works out to 1.5 times a minute), the president remained strangely silent on the most important issue facing the country today, the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq. Three other presidents gave their second inaugural addresses during times of war: James Madison, Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon. All three focused heavily on the challenges faced by the country in a time of war. Bush, however, never let the word Iraq pass his lips. And "while the war's costs mount, the president pointedly did not ask the country for sacrifices to win the victory he promises."
Why Care About Media Consolidation?
There is also the often rampant use of false equivalance in stories. (From CJR Campaign Desk: "false equivalence belongs in the trash heap of discredited journalistic shortcuts, but in the final weeks of the election campaign reporters began relying on the practice as a protective shield. In its most common form, it amounts to a reporter holding up actions on both sides as equally blameworthy, when it's clear that no such equivalence exists. The classic parody of false equivalence: To be sure, Candidate X is a mass murderer, but it's worth keeping in mind that Candidate Y is a serial jaywalker.)
As the so-called first tier media conglomerates continue to consolidate we are left with a reduced spectrum of vital options for getting our news and information. Combining this with the current news reporting attitude of "If neither of the major political parties brings a subject up, we're not going to suggest other perspectives," and all that's left is a horribly stunted discourse. It's hard to notice just how stunted it is because it seems exciting, pundits cutting each other off, exuding high energy while an eager shouting match goes on. I think of this as the pundit version of pro wrestling: much flash with little substance and loosely scripted from the beginning.
The upshot of media consolidation is that between 50 and 100% of the "official" news you hear, read, or see probably ultimately comes from only 5 or 6 companies. That, in my opinion, is a sorrowful state of affairs. I also resent having to search hard for alternative perspectives to this "mainstream" juggernaut of "news." I particularly see this when I hear "person on the street" interviews that parrot almost word-for-word the newscasts from previous days. Are the newscasts distilling the word on the street? I don't think so. It seems more like the "message" filters out to the public who repeat it back to the reporters.
But that's just me. I'm a curmudgeonly misanthrope, right? I prefer to think I like to have complete and relevent information before I form an opinion.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
These photos were taken by US military personnel in Fallujah on November 19, 2004. They were taken in order to identify the dead, as well as used to track where the bodies were later buried in Fallujah.
Of hundreds of photos taken for identification of the dead, I selected these in order to show the face of war. Due to most media outlets in the west continuing to not show the daily horrific images in Iraq-of wounded and dead soldiers, civilians and fighters, I decided to put these on my site.
I did so because I believe it is important for people to see what war looks like.
All of these photos taken by the military are of men. An interesting thing, in light of the fact that the Iraqi Red Crescent has announced that conservatively, 60% of the casualties in Fallujah, which are expected to be well over 2,000 people, are women, children, elderly and unarmed civilians.
Editor's Note: This is in response to Russ Baker's "Election 2004: Stolen or Lost," originally posted on TomPaine.com.
Baker dismisses the validity of exit polls, but prominent survey researchers (e.g., Asner 1999, Cantril 1991:142), political scientists (e.g., Edwards & Wayne 1999:84), and journalists (e.g., Jurkowitz 2000) concur that they are highly reliable. As far back as 1987, political columnist David Broder wrote that exit polls "are the most useful analytic tool developed in my working life" (1987:253). Edwards & Wayne (1999:84) caution only that, "... the problem with exit polls lies in their accuracy (rather than inaccuracy). They give the press access to predict the outcome before the elections have been concluded."
An exit pollster himself for over 20 years, Saint Louis University professor of political science Ken Warren (2003) has never had an error greater than 2 percent, except one time – in a 1982 St. Louis primary. In that election, massive voter fraud was subsequently uncovered...
Temple University professor of mathematics John Allen Paulos wrote in a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer that "huge differences between the final tallies and the exit poll percentages occurred in 10 of the 11 battleground states, all of them in Bush's favor. If the people sampled in the exit polls were a random sample of voters, Freeman's standard statistical techniques show that these large discrepancies are way, way beyond the margins of error."...
Because of their reliability, exit polls are used to verify elections around the world. When exit polls deviated from the official count in Serbia and the former Soviet Republics of Belarus, Georgia and the Ukraine; the world – led by the U.S. – accepted exit poll numbers over the official count, and in three of these nations, the election results were successfully overturned...
Lack of election transparency, alas, also plagues our exit polls. Baker's unnamed source comments, "To say you want the raw data is ludicrous ... ," but elsewhere in the world, exit poll data are released as soon as voting ends. Here in the U.S., the media consortium's exit poll data were promptly corrected to conform to the count, leaving no public record of the original projections. Two and a half months after the election, despite all the questions surrounding its integrity – and the integrity of NEP – we're still waiting for these data.
In his parting shot, Baker writes, "Half-baked conspiracy theories are damaging to the public confidence in democracy." One can understand why incumbent politicians would try to dismiss threatening thought as "conspiracy theory," but a serious journalist would not use pejorative labels so as to avoid engaging in the merits of a discussion.
Scrutiny of an election with many unanswered questions does not damage public confidence in the democracy; absence of scrutiny does.
Rich Media, Poor Democracy
In the mid-1970s, foreign films accounted for over 10 percent of the box office at U.S. theaters. Every decent-sized city had one or more theaters specializing in foreign films, and Manhattan alone had two dozen such theaters. By the mid-1980s the percentage of box office accounted for by foreign films was around 7 percent, and by the late 1990s it is down to under .5 percent.
By the late 1990s Coca-Cola and Pepsi were locked in a pitched battle to gain contracts to be the exclusive soft drink provider to public schools, using the schools to agressively promote their product to students. This trend reached the point of absurdity in 1998 when a Georgia high school student was suspended for wearing a Pepsi shirt to school on a day when all students were told to wear Coke shirts for a Coke promotional campaign in which the school was participating.
But the main concern of the media giants is to make journalism directly profitable... First, lay off as many reporters as possible... Second, concentrate upon stories that are inexpensive and easy to cover, like celebrity lifestyle pieces, court cases, plane crashes, crime stories, and shootouts. Not only are such stories cheaper to cover and air, they hardly ever enmesh the parent corporation in controversy, as do "hard" news stories.
Indymedia is always fascinating to read. It's so raw and individual from report to report. One will be very journalistic, detailed and apparently factual. The next might be someone saying "yeh! shwd those pigs! smash the state!" The very rawness is the attraction. Many of the posts are eyewitness reports and it's sort of up to you to piece together the picture. I prefer that to the immensely predigested and explained reports on the major networks that discard much of what I'm interested in and focus too much on events I despise.
Protesters Target Bush's Inauguration is an AP story about protests with some pictures of events.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
In 2004 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Inspector Generals (IG) in various departments of the federal government issued reports revealing fraud, mismanagement and corruption. Here is my list of the Bush administration's Ten Most Outrageous Scandals thus far uncovered by government investigators:
1. Halliburton's Corruption. Nine different reports compiled by the GAO, the Coalition Provisional Authority's IG and the Defense Contract Audit Agency faulted Halliburton's performance in Iraq, where it has been awarded more than $10 billion in U.S. contracts. The government investigators cited, among other things, significant cost overruns, the overcharging of the Defense Department (and taxpayers) by $61 million, illegal kickbacks, failure to police subcontractors' billing and unauthorized expenses at the Kuwait Hilton Hotel. The list of abuses will likely get longer in 2005, as multiple criminal investigations into Halliburton's work pick up steam.
2. Iraq's Decline. In June 2004 the GAO provided a bleak assessment of Iraq after 14 months of U.S. military occupation, documenting that in critical areas like security, electricity and the judicial system Iraq is worse off now than it was before the war.
7. Government-wide Accounting Problems. In December the GAO reported that the federal government's accounting practices are unreliable and might not meet widely accepted accounting standards. The report gives the lie to GOP claims that it is a sound steward of taxpayer money.
8. Sex Education Misinformation. A report that comes to us thanks to Rep. Henry Waxman revealed that most of the government-funded abstinence-only sex education programs were giving students false information. One curriculum rejects "the popular claim that condoms help prevent the spread of STDs [sexually transmitted diseases]" because it "is not supported by the data."
9. CAPPS II's Failures. In February the GAO uncovered significant gaps in privacy protections in the administration's passenger profiling program developed by the Transportation Security Administration. The Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) stored personal information in passengers' profiles, provided inadequate appeals procedures and failed to safeguard the accuracy of its databases.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
It's the basic conundrum of marketing. You have to advertise to compete in the marketplace, but the more ads there are, the more people tune them out, so you have to continually find newer, brighter, shriller ways to get attention.
Meanwhile, as the advertising industry devises new ways to get its messages across, technologies are continually being developed that make it possible for people to skip or avoid ads. Online, you can use browsers like Firefox, which blocks pop-up ads. You can fast-forward previews on DVDs (as you have been able to do for 20-some years with videocassettes). You can skip commercials with TIVO (as, again, you have been able to do with shows taped on video). You can even share movies or TV shows online, ad-free.
These attempts to skip commercials offend some television executives.
"When we watch ads, we become the media's workforce," says Sut Jhally, author, media critic and founder of the Media Education Foundation. "They are, in effect, organizing our time. They have even said that there is an implicit contract with the audience. If a person chooses to watch a movie or TV, they say it's immoral to skip the ads."
Every working person dreams of sharing in the nation's wealth, of owning their own home and controlling their own future. That dream is the hook on which President Bush's Ownership Society hangs — it's a visceral appeal to our naked self-interest. And even if you live on a commune, there's something compelling about relying on your own strong back and standing on your own two feet — forget about social contracts, collective risk and safety nets.
The Ownership Society represents a new form of distinctly right-wing economic populism. It turns the notion on its head; while liberals offer a populism that promises underserved groups that "We will stand with you against the heartless and powerful," the central theme of the Ownership Society is that we're all big capitalists just waiting to blossom — even the lowliest among us. If only we could get the yoke of taxes, asbestos litigation and regulations off our backs we would all be in a position to worry about losing a piece of our multi-million dollar estate to the "death tax." Forget about a semblance of economic justice, it's about giving you, the individual, the tools you need to beat your neighbor. And if you can't beat him, he'll beat you. It's a populism born in the Hobbesian belief that we all struggle alone in a world where life is nasty, brutish and short.
This is Bush's narrative that winds its way through cradle-to-grave issues as diverse as the move from universal public education to school vouchers, transitioning from Medicare to Health Savings Accounts and privatizing Social Security. The Ownership Society touches almost every major social program we've enacted since the New Deal.
Of course, the Ownership Society's policies — which President Bush will be selling hard in the coming months — won't do anything to add to the wealth of average families. As Lew Rockwell, founder of the Libertarian Mises Institute wrote in an e-mail, "The Ownership Society has become the rhetorical mask for the newest form of right-wing central planning." We know from experience how that impacts ordinary Americans.
Cultural Gestalt and Science
But scientific theories are rarely "pure" science; often strong social components are integral to the expression of the theory. Even when you have a relatively pure scientific field (e.g., mathematics, chemistry), the actual real world application of these findings are inevitably tied to social, economic, and political forces. A chemical reaction is a pure event; procuring the chemicals for the reaction is an economic process as is the massive use of the reaction in production of a product (e.g., plastics).
I was struck again by this while watching a science show detailing the competition between the theories of the "steady state" universe and the "big bang" universe. These theories also struck me as metaphors for the times when they were concurrent, kind of dualing examples of "is the glass half empty or half full?" Not really sure of the point here but, as usual, it seemed important at the time.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Virgin Birth of Jesus
Today, as we blow out 76 candles to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am thinking that in a nation where 79 percent of the people believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, there is no good reason not to imagine the possibility of a revived and renewed Christian left.I start hunting. So in a New York Times Op-ed piece in August, 2003, I found
Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus (83 percent) as in evolution (28 percent).Wow, that's a 4% jump in a year and a half! Or are they refering to the same poll? Then I found a source poll at Harris Interactive from 1998 which said
Almost all self-styled Christians believe in God (99%), the resurrection of Christ (96%), and the Virgin birth (91%) -- beliefs that are central to Christianity. What is more surprising is that many people who say they are not Christians believe in the resurrection of Christ (49%), and the Virgin birth of Jesus (47%).Hmm... These don't quite line up. Perhaps they averaged the Christians (91%) and non Christians (47%)? Nope, the average is 69%. Wait, I then found a later Harris Poll (2000) that said 82% of of Americans believed in the Virgin birth of Jesus. That's at least in the range of the earlier quotes, but I boggled at the broader religious statistics.
The overwhelming majority of adult Americans believe in God (94%), heaven (89%), the resurrection of Christ (86%), the survival of the soul after death (86%), miracles (85%) and the virgin birth of Jesus (82%).(These are some of the findings of a Harris Poll of 1,010 adults surveyed by telephone between August 10 and August 14, 2000.)So about 950 of 1010 Americans said they believe in God. (Should I ask which god?) Wow. What about polytheism? Unsurprisingly, that doesn't seem to be option in a 2003 Harris poll, although they did manage to ask about God's gender:
I've lost my initial focus but found some interesting stats on the way. I'm still not sure I believe in the accuracy of any of them. I feel like taking a random poll on a streetcorner just to see whether I come into the ballpark of these estimates. Then I remember that for every person who answered the Harris poll, approximately 3 refused to answer. This is the average rate of nonparticipation in phone polls. Isn't that interesting?
Most Americans agree that there is a God, but their perceptions of who God is and how much God controls events on Earth vary greatly. There is no consensus on God’s gender, form or role on Earth:A plurality (42%) of all adults (but only 37% of men) thinks God is male, but only 1% thinks God is female. Almost half of all adults believe that God is neither male nor female (38%) or that God is both (11%).
Most of the day has found our cell phones without signal. Recently the Iraqi “government” announced that in order to provide security for the polls on January 30, cell and satellite phones will be cut, and the use of cars will be “limited” the day before, of and after the “elections.”
I say “elections” because the Higher Commission for Elections announced that it won’t be releasing the names of the candidates prior to the “elections.” With four of Iraq’s 18 governorates unable to participate in them, an estimated 90% of the Sunni population not voting, a sizeable amount of the Shia boycotting and a very large percentage of Iraqis unwilling to vote because of the horrendous security situation, calling them elections seems a bit of a stretch.
One-sided history would be expected, I suppose, if the Republican Freedom Calendar were a campaign flyer. But the calendar is a government publication prepared by the Policy Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Like the Education Department’s contract with black commentator Armstrong Williams, the Republican Freedom Calendar represents an alarming use of taxpayer dollars for Republican propaganda aimed primarily at African Americans.
The calendar tells us that "every single African-American in Congress until 1935 was a Republican." It does not mention that the situation is quite different today, when the 109th Congress has 43 black Democrats — and not a single black Republican.
The calendar mentions "two African-American women who were ... co-founders of the NAACP: Ida Wells and Mary Terrell, great Republicans, both of them." It does not acknowledge that the NAACP’s relationship to the Republican Party has changed since the days of Wells and Terrell. President Bush has described his relationship with the NAACP as "basically nonexistent." On the NAACP’s most recent Federal Legislative Report Card, every Republican in Congress received a failing grade.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
Conscientious Objectors, Now and Then
The United States and Great Britain allowed members of recognized pacifistic religious groups to substitute for combat service: (1) noncombatant military service, (2) nonmilitary activity related to the war effort, or (3) activity considered socially valuable. Pacifists without recognized claim to exemption were liable to harsher treatment, and about 5,000 conscientious objectors were imprisoned in the United States between 1940 and 1945... In 1971 the Supreme Court refused to allow objection to a particular war, a decision affecting thousands of objectors to the Vietnam War. Some 50,000–100,000 men are estimated to have left the United States to avoid being drafted to serve in that war.Here are a few stories of COs from the US during the current Iraq War.
Aidan Delgado appeared on Democracy Now! and gave this interview about things he saw at Abu Ghraib while awaiting official recognition of his CO status.
Jeremy Hinzman also appeared on Democracy Now! and gave another interview. He particularly struck me as an honorable man. This is one exchange from this interview.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the decision that you made, why you decided you did not want to go to Iraq?
JEREMY HINZMAN: Well, I think it was -- if you are ever going to go destroy a country or wreak havoc on a country, it would need to be justified. Every justification or rationale that we have ever offered for going to Iraq has been bogus. There were no weapons of mass destruction there. There have been no links established between Saddam and international terrorists, and then the notion that we're going to bring democracy to Iraq is -- we'll see if that comes to fruition, but I don't think we'll see it, unless it's convenient to America's agenda. So anyway, I felt that we had attacked Iraq without any defensive basis, and I think it's been well established at Nuremburg that in those instances, you cannot simply just say that you're following orders, but you have a duty and obligation to disobey.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
They also have a link to donors to the 2005 Presidential Inaugural just in case you might have something to say to those donors.
The second is from More Than a Dreamer:
Reagan's quip and Helms rabid opposition sent the not so subtle message that King really didn't merit a national holiday. Legions of state legislators, local officials, and business leaders instantly took the cue. It took more than a decade sparked by ferocious political, and legal battles and intense opposition from industry groups before all fifty states finally capitulated and passed a King holiday law.
That hasn't ended the fight. Though King's holiday is an officially declared public holiday, many local government agencies still refuse to shut their doors that day. A study of hundreds of businesses by BNA Inc., a Washington-based business news publisher, last year, found that more than 40 percent of state and local public agencies keep their doors open on King's birthday. But opposition to a King holiday is deepest and most persistent among businesses. According to the BNA survey, fewer than three out of 10 businesses give their workers the day off. By contrast, about half of American firms give their employees a day off on Presidents' Day. This is the next least celebrated day next to King's birthday.
Every year, millions of Americans pay tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. We often forget, however, that King was the object of derision when he was alive. At key moments in his quest for civil rights and world peace, the corporate media treated King with hostility. Dr. King's march for open housing in Chicago, when the civil rights movement entered the North, caused a negative, you've-gone-too-far reaction in the Northern press. And Dr. King's stand on peace and international law, especially his support for the self-determination of third world peoples, caused an outcry and backlash in the predominantly white press.
In his prophetic anti-war speech at Riverside Church in 1967 (recorded and filmed for posterity but rarely quoted in today's press), King emphasized four points: 1) that American militarism would destroy the war on poverty; 2) that American jingoism breeds violence, despair, and contempt for law within the United States; 3) the use of people of color to fight against people of color abroad is a "cruel manipulation of the poor"; 4) human rights should be measured by one yardstick everywhere.
The Washington Post denounced King's anti-war position, and said King was "irresponsible." In an editorial entitled "Dr. King's error," The New York Times chastised King for going beyond the allotted domain of black leaders – civil rights. TIME called King's anti-war stand "demogogic slander ... a script for Radio Hanoi." The media responses to Dr. King's calls for peace were so venomous that King's two recent biographers – Stephen Oates and David Garrow – devoted whole chapters to the media blitz against King's internationalism.
The elderly used to be an age group with an especially high rate of poverty. One of the signal achievements of Social Security, hardly noticed today, is that poverty has fallen dramatically among Americans over age 65 to just 10 percent, lower than the 12-percent rate for the population as a whole. For millions of the elderly who would otherwise be poor, Social Security is the single biggest source of income, the ﬁnancial bedrock of their lives. Indirectly, their working-age children are beneﬁciaries of the program because the elderly no longer have to move in with them. People under age 65 also beneﬁt from two other elements of Social Security that often get forgotten: beneﬁts during long-term disability and survivor beneﬁts for dependents if a worker dies before retirement. These are also important anti-poverty programs that don’t carry the stigma of welfare.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Quote of the Day
attributed to Jean-Luc Godard but I heard it from a different filmmaker in a documentary named Cinema Verite
With roots reaching from the mid-1800s, eugenics was an attempt to apply science – in the form of Mendelian genetics – to improve the human race. Using Mendel's pea-plant experiments as a jumping-off point, eugenicists argued that society should consciously work to breed the best genetic traits in its citizens. There were two main approaches: positive eugenics encouraged persons with desirable traits to breed, and negative eugenics barred "undesirables" from breeding.
Though steeped in the kind of racist and anti-immigrant beliefs generally associated with right-wingers, eugenics ideas were at least as likely to be advocated by social radicals and progressive thinkers as by conservatives. Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Woodrow Wilson, H.G. Wells, Emma Goldman, and Margaret Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood) were among its fans. Some, like Sanger and the English critic Havelock Ellis, saw eugenics as a way to liberate women through its promotion of birth control. For those with socialist leanings, eugenics reflected a privileging of society's interests over those of the individual.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about eugenics was its widespread popularity among middle- and upper-class Americans. Popular literature from the late 1800s up through the 1930s was littered with eugenics-inspired language about bettering the human race. Although such language squarely fit progressive ideals at the time, some of the underlying mechanics were downright grisly.
Charles Davenport headed the eugenics movement in the U.S. with the Eugenics Record Office, a group funded largely with Rockefeller and Carnegie dollars. Davenport pushed negative eugenics remedies to prevent births among those deemed genetically undesirable (in order of priority): the "feebleminded," paupers, alcoholics, criminals, epileptics, the insane, the constitutionally weak, people predisposed to specific diseases, deformed persons, and those born deaf, blind, or mute.
Few of these problems could be scientifically tied to genes, of course, but Davenport was seldom troubled by such facts. The "feebleminded" diagnosis alone was so vague and elastic – applying to anyone deemed stupid or immoral – as to be meaningless. Nonetheless, Davenport and his cronies called for segregating, incarcerating, sterilizing and castrating all such persons. (Why castration? Some eugenicists argued that, though sterilization prevented people from breeding, the operation would encourage the unfit to have more and more sex, and spread disease, once reproduction was no longer an issue. Castration, needless to say, solved that.)
Thursday, January 13, 2005
WASHINGTON — A new FBI computer program designed to help agents share information to ward off terrorist attacks may have to be scrapped, the agency has concluded, forcing a further delay in a four-year, half-billion-dollar overhaul of its antiquated computer system.
The bureau is so convinced that the software, known as Virtual Case File, will not work as planned that it has taken steps to begin soliciting proposals from outside contractors for new software, officials said.
The overhaul of the decrepit computer system was identified as a priority both by the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks and by members of Congress, who found that the FBI's old system prevented agents from sharing information that could have headed off the attacks.
Since the attacks, Congress has given the FBI a blank check, allocating billions of dollars in additional funding. So far the overhaul has cost $581 million, and the software problems are expected to set off a debate over how well the bureau has been spending those dollars.
The bureau recently commissioned a series of independent studies to determine whether any part of the Virtual Case File software could be salvaged. Any decision to proceed with new software would add tens of millions of dollars to the development costs and render worthless much of a current $170-million contract.
The following is from an open letter to Alberto Gonzales after his questioning in the Senate. I particularly like pointing out his silence on the questions of torture. Read the whole thing.
When Sen. Graham, an Air Force judge advocate, asked you if you agreed with a professional military lawyer's opinion that the August memo may have put our troops in jeopardy, you were tongue tied. You said nothing for several embarrassing seconds, until Sen. Graham suggested you think it over and respond later.
When Sen. Richard Durbin asked "Do you believe there are circumstances where other legal restrictions, like the War Crimes Act, would not apply to U.S. personnel?" you again sat mute for several seconds, and then asked to respond later.
It is alarming, Mr. Gonzales, that a lawyer with your pedigree would be stumped into silence by these questions.
Perhaps most alarming was your response to Sen. Durbin's question, "Can U.S. personnel legally engage in torture under any circumstances?" You answered, "I don't believe so, but I'd want to get back to you on that." You failed to give a categorical "no" answer. You surely know, Mr. Gonzales, that the Convention Against Torture prohibits torture at any time. That treaty, ratified by the United States and therefore part of the supreme law of the land under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, says, "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."
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Is it conceivable that al Qaeda, as defined by President Bush as the center of a vast and well-organized international terrorist conspiracy, does not exist?
To even raise the question amid all the officially inspired hysteria is heretical, especially in the context of the U.S. media's supine acceptance of administration claims relating to national security. Yet a brilliant new BBC film produced by one of Britain's leading documentary filmmakers systematically challenges this and many other accepted articles of faith in the so-called war on terror.
The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear, a three-hour historical film by Adam Curtis recently aired by the British Broadcasting Corp., argues coherently that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism "is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media."
There's a new front in the battle for abortion rights – the literal front, that is, of a T-shirt designed by writer and feminist activist Jennifer Baumgardner that proclaims "I had an abortion." The shirt, initially for sale on Planned Parenthood's national web site and now available on Clamor magazine's web site, has generated controversy among not only the anti-abortion community but also pro-choice feminists.Inspired in part by the bold irreverence of second-wave feminists, who circulated a petition proclaiming the fact of their own abortions and published it in the first issue of Ms., Baumgardner created the T-shirt in order to remove the stigma that relegates those who have had an abortion to shame and silence. The shirt is one component of a multipart project Baumgardner conceived to draw attention to women's experiences of abortion.
The shirt has certainly fulfilled Baumgardner's hope that it would start a conversation about abortion, but the very brevity of its message has had an unanticipated consequence. Although it's no surprise that individuals such as Jim Sedlak, executive director of the American Life League's STOPP International, think the shirt "celebrates an act of violence" and demonstrates that Planned Parenthood "lacks any sense of integrity, tact and compassion," it's interesting to note that many pro-choice feminists are ambivalent about – or even angered by – the shirt's message. Why, they ask, is the abortion fight taking place on something as public and casual as a T-shirt?
"Persons of Interest" is mostly people talking to the camera in a bare room. It recounts the tales of twelve people who were picked up and held in the days and months after 9/11. Some were held for over a year. Because it's told from the perspective of the families and arrested people, it's difficult to assess whether the state had any case against them but it generally seems not from these tales. It is obvious though that enormous injustice was done against these people in the name of "fighting terrorism." And it should go without saying that almost all of them were of middle eastern descent. It was almost more than I could bear to hear these stories. Some of them are heartrending. Some lost their businesses. Many were deported, splitting families. I can't really even write about it.
It's not a great doc but it does point up the excesses that can happen in times of crisis, leaving broken lives with no recourse for appeal.
Monday, January 10, 2005
GULFPORT, Miss. - Library officials in two southern Mississippi counties have banned Jon Stewart's best-selling "America (The Book)" over the satirical textbook's nude depictions of the nine U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) justices.
Wal-Mart has declined to stock the book because of the page, which features the faces of the nine Supreme Court justices superimposed over naked bodies. The facing page has cutouts of the justices' robes, complete with a caption asking readers to "restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe."
At the same time, though, evangelical groups active in Asia, including the Southern Baptists' International Mission Board, Gospel for Asia, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance, say the Bible always impels them to create converts to the faith.
"This [disaster] is one of the greatest opportunities God has given us to share his love with people," said K.P. Yohannan, president of the Texas-based Gospel for Asia. In an interview, Yohannan said his 14,500 "native missionaries" in India, Sri Lanka, and the Andaman Islands are giving survivors Bibles and booklets about "how to find hope in this time through the word of God."
In Krabi, Thailand, a Southern Baptist church had been "praying for a way to make inroads" with a particular ethnic group of fisherman, according to Southern Baptist relief coordinator Pat Julian. Then came the tsunami, "a phenomenal opportunity" to provide ministry and care, Julian told the Baptist Press news service.
In Andhra Pradesh, India, a plan is developing to build "Christian communities" to replace destroyed seashore villages. In a dispatch that the evangelical group Focus on the Family posted on its Family.org Web site, James Rebbavarapu of India Christian Ministries said a team of U.S. engineers had agreed to help design villages of up to 400 homes each, "with a church building in the center of them."