ambivalent imbroglio home
May 09, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance Doesn't Even Begin to Cover This

So have you heard the one about the Michael Moore hata who has been begging for money to pay server costs to keep his blog going so he can continue to hate on Michael Moore? Yeah, and did you hear why he can't pay his own server bills? Because his wife is ill and they can't afford to pay her medical bills b/c their insurance is screwing them around! He writes:

I’m fairly broke, and my wife has been in the hospital way too often in the last month. They raised the cost of our health insurance by about $1500 a year and this year our mortgage increased as well. Now Donna needs tests that aren’t covered by the insurance.

Yeah. And what is Michael Moore's next film about? Well, it's tentatively called “Sicko” and it's a documentary about the failings of the U.S. health care and insurance industries. In February Moore asked for people to tell their health care horror stories:

So, if you'd like me to know what you've been through with your insurance company, or what it's been like to have no insurance at all, or how the hospitals and doctors wouldn't treat you (or if they did, how they sent you into poverty trying to pay their crazy bills) ...if you have been abused in any way by this sick, greedy, grubby system and it has caused you or your loved ones great sorrow and pain, let me know.

So just to be clear, Michael Moore is making a movie about how our health care and insurance system ruins people's lives and this major Moore hata is begging for money to continue bashing Moore—money he doesn't have b/c the health care and insurance system has ruined his life.

What's the matter with Kansas? Nothing much—it's just cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Posted 08:35 AM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

May 01, 2006

The Roast

If you haven't seen Steven Colbert roasting Yubbledew (and just about everyone else) at Saturday's White House Correspondent's Dinner, watch it now (part II, part III). Words cannot describe...

Be sure you get to the latter part of the second clip in which Colbert makes obscene gestures to Justice Scalia. “Just talkin' some Sicilian w/my paisan.” Yikes!

Posted 08:17 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 17, 2006

Happy Tinker Day!

From my inbox:

We invite you to observe the first annual “Tinker Day,” an annual event named in honor of Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969). In Tinker, the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment right of students to wear black armbands as an expression of mourning the deaths caused by the Vietnam War.

This year “Tax Day” falls on Monday, April 17, 2006. On that day we ask all conscientious taxpayers to wear black armbands in recognition that our tax dollars will be used to send and equip American soldiers to a hostile Iraq and Afghanistan where they will face death, psychological suffering, physical injury and inflict the same on fellow human beings, innocent and guilty alike.

Please understand that “Tinker Day” is not a protest; it is simply a peaceful expression of mindful tax-paying and an affirmation of human interconnectedness.

Seems like a great idea.

Posted 10:15 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 04, 2006

Delay Embargo?

I'm certainly not sad to hear that Tom Delay is resigning his seat in the House, but here's a very little (possibly microscopic) tangent that has me bugged. I just heard a Washington Post reporter on the radio say that they learned this news yesterday around noon, but were “embargoed” and could not publish it until 10 p.m. because that's when Time Magazine was going to release the official announcement.

Huh? “Embargoed”? It doesn't really matter that we had to wait until last night at 10 p.m. to hear this news, but aren't we supposed to have a free press? What kind of screwed up media landscape do we have when major news organizations just sit on stories until they're given permission to publish them?

Posted 10:39 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 21, 2006

I say we make it a mantra

Yubbledew gave a press conference today. Here's my response:

The tools we're using to “protect” the American people shouldn't be used.

Oh, and your president says he didn't want to go to war. Really?

Posted 07:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 20, 2006

The incredible tales of G.W.Bush & Co.

Three years ago on the imbroglio:

As the world waits with apparent resignation for the U.S. to begin killing Iraqis and pulverizing Iraq (and losing who knows how many of our own troops), some of us continue to ask: Why this war? Why now? . . . . Are we really going to kill thousands of Iraqis to save U.S. hegemony? What's certain is that we are definitely going to kill many Iraqis, at least some number of American troops, and injure and anger countless people around the world. Whether we're doing this for oil, dollar supremacy, or some other completely insane reason is impossible to say.

. . . .

Yesterday Ari Fliescher said, “the President hopes that people will continue with their normal lives.” Of course he does. We're not supposed to think about what's really going on, we're supposed to go about our “business,” proud of the fact that we live in such a “strong” country. We're supposed to “support our troops,” which seems to be code for “cease all criticism of anything other than the evildoers and what they've done.” It's easier for our troops to kill people when Americans are acting like it's just another day in the best of all possible worlds.

. . . .

The point is: This war was never inevitable until Bush made it inevitable. None of the reasons I've heard for going to war have been even slightly convincing, and I'm sick with the thought of U.S. citizens shopping in malls and going to movies and watching war porn while people die in our names. Why can't people remember that, despite all Bush Administration claims to the contrary, Iraq had nothing to do with September 11?

Three years later, I don't want to say I told you so. Instead, I just want to point out a simple fact: Those who pushed the war and tried to convince the world it was necessary turned out to be completely wrong—as wrong as wrong could be. Nearly every single thing those people said turned out to be incorrect. And whether they were wrong because they were lying on purpose, or because they were just relying on bad information, the fact remains that they were wrong. They have continued to be wrong on just about everything for the last three years.

Meanwhile, those who never believed the attack on Iraq was necessary or justified—they were right in nearly everything they said three years ago. For the last three years, most of their criticisms of the war have continued to be accurate and subsequent facts have shown that they were correct all along.

So now, today, shouldn't we listen to those who always opposed the war? If we have any desire to learn from our mistakes rather than repeat them, shouldn't we start listening to the people who have shown they have a grasp on what's really going on in the world?

Posted 07:51 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 18, 2006

Is Bush above the law?

Is the President of the United States above the law? Apparently Senator Joe Lieberman thinks so. When asked about whether Bush should be censored for breaking federal law by ordering the NSA to spy on Americans without warrants or any judicial oversight whatsoever, Lieberman said:

I've said before that I disagree with the Bush administration's legal judgment on this one. I don't believe that they have operated within the law as it exists. But this is a critically important program -- the prevention of terrorist acts here in the United States. And I don't know a person here in the Senate who is against this program. If this place was operating as it should, we'd all be figuring out how to sit down around a table and bring it within the law. And I hope that's what will happen. But I'll look at it and let you know how I feel after that.

So Lieberman agrees Bush broke the law, but all he cares about is rewriting the law to make Bush's actions legal.

Go Joe.

Lieberman's comments on this were the most outrageous I heard, but sadly, he's not alone. Yet, a majority of Americans support the censure. Is there only one spine in the Democratic party?

See Also: Sleepy Kid: “Watching the Democrats stumbling around in search of a ”message“ is the only thing more agonizing than watching the Republicans destroy this country.”

Posted 09:54 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 12, 2006

A Public Service Announcement

(That's supposed to be animated to display all the different things no one could supposedly have anticipated since Bush was elected. I guess resizing it turns off the animation? I dunno; just click it to see the better animated version.)

Posted 10:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 11, 2006

Habeas Schmaebeas?

I just heard the 3/10/06 episode of This American Life and I urge you to find some way to hear this program. It's episode 310, it's called “Habeas Schmabeas,” and it provides a horrifying summary of what the Bush administration has done by creating “enemy combatants,” declaring them outside the reach of the Geneva Conventions, and locking them away indefinitely in Guantanamo where they can be tortured at will. The show is great because it puts these acts in their appropriate context and reminds us, as U.S. citizens and voters, that we are responsible for this.

It's sickening, really. The other day Dave! praised Molly Ivins for articulating his utter frustration with the Democratic party. I'm with both of them, and agree wholeheartedly with Ivins that “it is time for a candidate who takes clear stands and kicks ass.” One of those stands must be against the whole idea of “enemy combatants” and the train of evils that has followed in its wake. I want a candidate for President in 2008 who will, immediately after taking office, grant full habeas proceedings to all prisoners in Guantanamo, who will forbid the U.S. military from declaring anyone an “enemy combatant,” and who will make clear the the Geneva Conventions apply to all prisoners of war (including those formerly known as “enemy combatants”).

What point have we reached that we can allow these things to go on in our names?

Posted 04:22 PM | TrackBack

February 11, 2006

“We live in a different world now.”

In an article about his experience of being harassed by security for taking pictures at airports, Patick Smith writes of the phrase “we live in a different world now”:

Not to put undue weight on the cheap prose of patriotic convenience, but few things are more repellant than that oft-repeated catchphrase. There's something so pathetically submissive about it -- a sound bite of such defeat and capitulation. It's also untrue; indeed we find ourselves in an altered way of life, though not for the reasons our protectors would have us think. We weren't forced into this by terrorists, we've chosen it. When it comes to flying, we tend to hold the events of Sept. 11 as the be-all and end-all of air crimes, conveniently purging our memories of several decades' worth of bombings and hijackings. The threats and challenges faced by airports aren't terribly different from what they've always been. What's different, or “too bad,” to quote the New Hampshire deputy, is our paranoid, overzealous reaction to those threats, and our amped-up obeisance to authority.

The most important part of this is that, if our world is different today, it's less because of “the terrorists” than it is because of our response to them. Fear fear fear. I'm really no Hillary Clinton fan, but she sometimes cuts through the middle-of-the-road mediocrity of the “New Democrats” to say something that needs to be said, like this:

“Two weeks ago, [White House political director] Karl Rove ... was telling the National Republican Committee 'Here's your game plan, folks, here's how you're gonna win -- we're gonna win by getting everybody scared again,'” Clinton said. “This crowd 'All we've got is fear and we are going to keep playing the fear card.'”

The pattern is so well-established it's etched into our daily lives. I pray the Democrats will retake at least one house of Congress this fall if only to hold this administration accountable for all the damage it has done to our society and world.

*sigh* It's hard to to be so much of a pollyanna.

Posted 09:04 AM | TrackBack

February 01, 2006

State of the Union, 2006

Wow, what a great speech the President gave last night! This was my favorite part:

Vacuous niceties. Freedom. Lies lies lies. Strength. Spin spin spin. Freedom on the march. Empty platitudes. Hope. Peace. Liberty. Spin. Freedom, and still more empty platitudes.

Brilliant, don't you think?

But don't listen to me. Many others are saying it better:

And hey, if you're “talkin' with al Qaeda, we want to know about it,” mmm-kay?

Damn! I just feel so much safer and more hopeful, don't you!?

Posted 09:14 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 26, 2006

Being Honest About Bush's Domestic Spying

Thanks to Seth Abramson of Suburban Ecstasies for both the most hilarious and possibly the most incisive little critique I've read of Bush's domestic spying program. A taste:

Thank God 50% of mainstream media journalists suffered immediate braindeath shortly after securing their present employment--otherwise Bush's domestic spying scheme would be the biggest impeachment cluster$*@% in the history of the U.S., instead of, as it now stands, a charming little Big Brother bloc party which makes the mainstream media want to squeeze and hug and kiss and pinch the dimpled cheeks of our adorable little President, who's totally super and cares about us so very very much! Yay Mr. President! Yay Mr. President! Yay! Yay!

If you're offended by vulgar language, you probably won't enjoy it the rest of the post a great deal, but that aside, I highly recommend it. And thanks to Lyco for the suggestion.

Posted 09:43 AM | TrackBack

January 25, 2006

Georgetown Law Isn't Buying the Spying

The banner featured at the georgetown protestLaw students at Georgetown, including our very own Scoplaw, turned their backs on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday as Gonzales attempted to defend Bush's domestic spying program. Check out Scoplaw's account and photos of the protest to see how much it rocked. Listening to the constant barrage of talking heads trying to say this program was “legal” and/or “necessary,” and that “the American people want us to do this”—such perfidy makes me furious. Hoorah to these Georgetown law students who sent a very clear and high profile message that there are many of us who just aren't buying the spin.

Posted 10:13 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 16, 2006

Gore's Five Starting Points and Ending the Politics of Fear

Former Vice President Al Gore's speech today in D.C. was great. Although a bit long for my tastes, it outlined well the long list of disturbing and possibly criminal activities for which the Bush administration has been responsible in recent years. Gore focused much of his fire on the domestic spying in which Bush's NSA continues to engage, and he linked to the speech to this Martin Luther King Jr. Day by reminding his audience that King was himself the victim of an extensive (and illegal) campaign of spying and attempted character assassination by the FBI.

Gore also pulled no punches toward Congress, indicting the members of both houses for their passivity and complicity in the gradual dissolving of the checks and balances set out in the Constitution. He concluded with a list of five steps that should be taken immediately to begin to stop the runaway train of executive abuse of power:

A special counsel should immediately be appointed by the Attorney General to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the President. We have had a fresh demonstration of how an independent investigation by a special counsel with integrity can rebuild confidence in our system of justice. Patrick Fitzgerald has, by all accounts, shown neither fear nor favor in pursuing allegations that the Executive Branch has violated other laws.

Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress should support the bipartisan call of the Liberty Coalition for the appointment of a special counsel to pursue the criminal issues raised by warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the President.

Second, new whistleblower protections should immediately be established for members of the Executive Branch who report evidence of wrongdoing -- especially where it involves the abuse of Executive Branch authority in the sensitive areas of national security.

Third, both Houses of Congress should hold comprehensive-and not just superficial-hearings into these serious allegations of criminal behavior on the part of the President. And, they should follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Fourth, the extensive new powers requested by the Executive Branch in its proposal to extend and enlarge the Patriot Act should, under no circumstances be granted, unless and until there are adequate and enforceable safeguards to protect the Constitution and the rights of the American people against the kinds of abuses that have so recently been revealed.

Fifth, any telecommunications company that has provided the government with access to private information concerning the communications of Americans without a proper warrant should immediately cease and desist their complicity in this apparently illegal invasion of the privacy of American citizens.

As predicted, Gore did not call for impeachment, and although I continue to think that the NSA's domestic spying alone not only justifies but requires that admittedly extreme level of censure, if Gore's five demands were met in good faith I believe they would provide a good measure of the accountability current events demand.

In addition to his five demands, Gore made at least one more critical point about the risks and dangers that supposedly justify all the unconstitutional actions the administration has recently taken (domestic spying, torture, holding U.S. citizens and others w/out any due process, etc.):

One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information is by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. As President Eisenhower said, “Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.”

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: “Men feared witches and burnt women.”

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

So true. And while it may also be true that the dangers posed by terrorism are different in some ways from those we have faced before, they are not so different as to justify abandoning the values, principles, and laws that have brought us more or less safely through the trials of the past. Perhaps Jonathan Alter was correct when he said that talking about impeachment at this point is just a distraction; instead, we must call upon our elected leaders to live up to their oaths of office, maintain the checks and balances of our Constitutional system, and face up to the accountability built into that system. If impeachment ends up being part of the process, so be it.

Posted 05:04 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Taking Serious Abuse of Power Seriously

As I prepare to head down to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Constitution Hall for Gore's speech later today, I'm thinking about the big I-word—Impeachment—and found a few minutes of interesting reading. From a couple of weeks ago, the blog Ahistoricality pointed to some good links on the subject, including an argument that the way the Bush administration took us to war constituted a criminal conspiracy, and a good summary of the many conservative voices that brought up the possibility of impeachment fairly early after learning that the NSA has been spying on us. More recently, Jonathan Alter has asked, “What if we faced a constitutional crisis and hardly anyone noticed?” Speaking of SCOTUS nominee Samuel Alito's views of presidential power and the current crisis, Alter puts the issue concisely:

The “momentous” issue (Alito's words) is whether this president, or any other, has the right to tell Congress to shove it.

Those who are talking about impeachment obviously think the answer should be “No.” Unfortunately, though he's right about the seriousness of the current state of legislative/executive imbalance, Alter goes on to call impeachment a “pipe dream and a distraction.” So what's his suggested remedy for this horrible imbalance? He doesn't have one.

That's why people are considering impeachment more closely—what else can be done? By far my favorite recent article on the subject is entitled simply “The Impeachment of George W. Bush” by Elizabeth Holtzman:

Finally, it has started. People have begun to speak of impeaching President George W. Bush--not in hushed whispers but openly, in newspapers, on the Internet, in ordinary conversations and even in Congress. As a former member of Congress who sat on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon, I believe they are right to do so.

Holtzman goes on to lay out the case, citing as grounds for impeachment:

  • warrantless wiretaps,
  • subverting our democracy (lying to take us to war),
  • failure to take care (for failing to provide troops w/necessary armor and other gear and for failing to have any real plan for getting out of Iraq once we'd gone in), and
  • torture and other abuses of power.

Gore is not expected to call for impeachment today, but that's ok. He'll be calling for accountability, and that's what impeachment will be.

Finally it has started.

Posted 08:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

A call to arms?

John Nichols writes:

It sounds as if Al Gore is about to deliver what could be not just one of the more significant speeches of his political career but an essential challenge to the embattled presidency of George W. Bush.

In a major address slated for delivery Monday in Washington, the former Vice President is expected to argue that the Bush administration has created a “Constitutional crisis” by acting without the authorization of the Congress and the courts to spy on Americans and otherwise abuse basic liberties.

I'm going to be there so I'll let you know how significant and challenging it ends up being.

Posted 12:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 05, 2006

Sue the Communications Companies!

I just heard a talking head on NPR suggest that phone companies could be liable for damages if they assisted the NSA in spying on Americans w/out warrants. The Patriot Act gives those companies immunity from suit if they cooperate w/court ordered wiretaps, but if there's no warrant, the phone company should be liable for invading your privacy.

Suing communications companies wouldn't be the same as holding public officials accountable for ordering this in the first place (impeachment is the only mechanism I see for that), but I'd love to see phone companies have to fork over serious damages for their part in this ongoing debacle. Maybe that would teach them how to say “no” the next time some “authority” asks them to do something that's illegal. Of course, how are you going to know you were spied upon so that you'll have standing to sue? Hmm...

Posted 07:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Why Domestic Spying Matters

Rumors are flying about whether the NSA's domestic spying program was eavesdropping on CNN reporter Christian Amanpour after NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell brought up the possibility. As America Blog points out, the consequences of such spying would be devastating to the democratic process. Was Bush spying on John Kerry and other Democratic opponents throughout the 2004 elections? Will we ever know? By circumventing established law and the Constitution by admitting it has and continues to spy on Americans without their knowledge and w/out any judicial oversight, the Bush administration has lost any shred of credibilty it might have had. If Bush denies that he spied on his political opponents, how can anyone trust that it's true?

I'll spare you an extended rant, but as the Huffington Post notes, Bush's domestic spying does not involve a “tradeoff” between security and civil liberties. Existing laws give the NSA plenty of room to get secret warrants and accomplish the same thing if they think it's necessary for U.S. security purposes:

There is no “trade off” issue here. There is no amount of security that would have been “traded off” had Bush followed the law. He would have gotten all the wiretaps we needed and we'd have gotten all the security that resulted from them.

Meanwhile, it appears some Democrats are taking this seriously and are accusing Bush of breaking the law. This is a new spin on viewing this domestic spying as a criminal act, but it sounds just as persuasive—if not more so—as simply arguing that Bush violated the 4th Amendment.

Posted 04:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 03, 2006

Torture Poll: We Love It!

The last Ambivalent Poll asked: “If you could save a million lives by torturing one person, would you do it?” (Related post.) The final results were:

  • 72% of respondents said unequivocally: “Yes.”
  • 14.2% said: “impeach bush”
  • 6.3% said:“The question is stupid. That's not a choice we really face.”
  • 3.9% said: “I don't believe torture would save the millions lives; the information gained would not be reliable.”
  • 3.1% said: “No”
Total votes: 127

I was in the minority with “No.” Shocker, eh? As L.'s brother might say, I guess I'm just a paper-pants hippie.

Posted 12:30 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

2006: The Year the Fourth Amendment Disappears?

Hi there. We just returned last night from our travels and we had a most excellent time relaxing and enjoying the company of family and friends. My loved ones spoiled me ridiculously so I have lots and lots of loot to wear, play with, and use in this new year, for all of which I am extremely thankful. Family and friends are the best part of life—something that's easy to forget in the day-to-day when you're far away from them. I'm very much looking forward to finishing law school and finding a job closer to the people I care about and who care about me the most.

Being immersed in all that family goodness for the last 10 days or so meant that I was largely tuned out of what was going on in the world. I tried to follow the domestic spying story but found that the Billings Gazette didn't seem to think it important enough to cover, other than to say the spying was more widespread than was originally thought. Instead I heard bits and pieces about the one-year anniversary of the tsunami, I learned that the Billings, Montana City Council seems pretty spineless, and more recently I heard repeatedly about an Iraqi child with spina bifida who has come to the U.S. for treatment. CNN Headline News seemed obsessed with that story the other day and curiously kept repeating that U.S. troops found the child during a raid on her parents' home. The message seemed to be that it's a great thing for U.S. troops to raid your home because then they can find your disabled child and maybe get her some medical help! Gee, CNN, when you put it that way, I'm thinking maybe we should all hope our homes get raided by U.S. troops! I'm sure they could find something they could help me out with.

The lesson I learned was this: If you depend on your local small-town newspaper and/or CNN for news of what's going on in the world, you're likely to get a really strange, fragmented, and incomplete picture. Oh, how I missed the internets!

And yet, now that I'm back and catching up on what matters to me most at the moment, I'm sickened to learn that just before Christmas 49% of Americans thought Bush's domestic spying was Constitutional and 50% thought it made the country safer. All I can say is that these people do not know their history. When the President starts spying on any American he wants and does so in secret and without any oversight, that can never make anyone safer and if it's only Constitutional if the Fourth Amendment is meaningless. But what's worse is the brazen way Bush continues to claim what he's done (and apparently is continuing to do!) is legal and necessary. Not only that, but he's trying to shift the focus from his own impeachable offenses:

The fact that somebody leaked this program causes great harm to the United States.

No, Mr. President, Whoever “leaked” this to the press is a hero. the fact that you are unilaterally spying on Americans without their knowledge or consent and without any judicial oversight in contravention of the Fourth Amendment is what is causing great harm to the United States.

Oh yeah, Happy New Year!


p.s.: Thanks to Marshall for making my point better than I did in arguing that whether the domestic spying is legal is not the point in terms of this being an impeachable offense. Marshall writes in the comments to that post:

Strictly sepaking, impeachment isn't a criminal remedy. It's way for democratically elected representatives to redress wrongdoing. In the impeachment context, “wrong” is not limited to simply criminal acts. Incompetence or malfeasance or a gross offense against those who elected you will do. I'd say this president has been guilty of all three at various times.

I could not agree more.

Posted 12:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 21, 2005

Was Bush's Secret Spying Technically Legal? That's Not the Point.

Anthony at Three Years of Hell points out that law profs like Ann Althouse and Orin Kerr have suggested that Bush's secret spying program might actually be legal. Perhaps it won't surprise readers of this blog to hear that this future (fingers crossed) public defender doesn't need much detailed legal analysis to say that this program of warrantless searches of American citizens inside the U.S. is an abuse of power that Americans simply ought not tolerate. I can't think of a single thing that would justify this circumvention of existing law, espeically when you consider that existing law would have allowed the administration to do exactly the same thing w/the mere formality that they'd have to justify their actions before a captive court w/in 72 hours. FISA doesn't provide meaningful oversight, but it's more than zero and the zero oversight here is the problem. Sure, as Professor Kerr suggests, these warrantless searches might technically be legal as part of a “border exception” to the warrant clause or via other cracks in the layers of relevant law, but that possible technical legality is far outweighed by the inarguably negative policy implications of allowing the executive to do whatever the hell it wants under the cover of “war.” What comes immediately to mind is the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in camps during World War II. Was it legal? The Supreme Court said yes. Was it right? Hell no. The law cannot always anticipate the evil that men will do, but just because a law hasn't anticipated an action and explicitly named it illegal does not mean that action is ok or ought to be tolerated in our democracy.

That intelligent people are so eager to give the administration the benefit of the doubt here is yet another sign of how badly the Fourth Amendment has been eviscerated, both in law and in the hearts and minds of American people. I wonder if people like Ann Althouse— who says “that at the very least fair-minded observers should see that the problem is complex”— really think the dangers this sort of secret spying might prevent are greater than the dangers posed by an executive that does whatever it wants, consequences be damned? This problem is only “complex” if you are willing to grant that Yubbldew is free to violate the law (in principle, if not in technical fact) and the Constitution under the banner of this so-called “war” of his, and that's a possibility I categorically reject. Besides, none of us is a “fair-minded observer” here—we're citizens of a democracy and we should all demand that our elected representatives—the President included—adhere to their oaths of office and uphold the Constitution rather than finding ways to circumvent its protections.

So when do the impeachment proceedings begin?

Posted 10:28 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 19, 2005

What Yubbledew Must Say Before He's Impeached

The President's speech last night repeated the same song and dance we've been hearing for week—we not only can “win” in Iraq, but we already are winning!—but it was a bit different in that the President at least made an attempt to sound like he actually cared about and understood what is happening in Iraq. He didn't convince me, though, and he won't until he does the right thing: He must admit that he made a horrible mistake, that the only reason Iraq has become the front line in the “war on terror” is because of that mistake, and that if he had it to do over again, he never would have invaded Iraq. If Yubbledew said those things, I'd fall over dead in shock, but I would also give him three cheers for finally coming to grips with reality and for beginning to do what's necessary to win back the trust and confidence of the American people and the world.* I might even consider supporting a sort of “stay the course” policy because, well, as Colin Powell put it (I believe), we broke Iraq, so we have a responsibility to at least do what we can to make sure it doesn't continue in total chaos indefinitely.

But instead of really taking responsibility and admitting what a mistake the whole Iraq debacle has been, Yubbledew continues to bob and weave, hiding behind his charade of firm resolve to “stay the course” in order to avoid the abominable truth that more than 2000 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died because he made the most egregious and horrible mistake that a President can make. So long as Yubbledew remains so unable to accept reality, the “stay the course” policy seems ludicrous and the “pull out now” policy remains a legitimate option simply because doing so might in fact help stabilize Iraq by removing one of the main incentives for terrorism there.

But whatever the case about staying or going in Iraq, we all know that Yubbledew will never admit his mistake. Maybe he can't admit his mistake because, well, it wasn't a mistake. Mountains of evidence suggest that he knew all along that Iraq had no WMD and that he was unabashedly lying to the world in order to take over Iraq. I hate to have to admit that because even I, who have always loathed this worm of a man and his politics, would prefer to believe he's not that affirmatively evil, that he really did just make a horrible, horrible unintentional error. The man in the White House is definitely an evil-doer, but could he really possibly be that evil? My mind recoils in defense of my sanity, yet the evidence remains.

Yet, bad as the Iraq debacle is, for some reason it hasn't been enough to get him impeached. Now we have a new debacle which absolutely justifies impeachment—his administration has been spying on its own citizens! Will Americans demand accountability for this egregious breach of the law and the demands of the United States Constitution? How far will we let the madness go?

* Speaking of world trust, the speech contained more doublespeak as Bush said we must stay the course in order to show the world that America keeps its word. What about America keeping its word not to torture? What about America keeping its word to respect sovereign nations and diplomacy instead of unilaterally invading places for utterly inexplicable reasons? Do those things show the world that America keeps its word?

Posted 10:31 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Are Torture-Supporters Moral Relativists?

This is the hot topic from last week and before, but I'm just now getting around to it so: After months spent defending his administration's right and obligation to torture (often by proxy via Dick Cheney), Bush has agreed to support a ban on torture. Terrific! Still, it seems some people think this is just a wink/nod sort of thing, and that it's still ok to torture under certain circumstances. What do you think?

Please respond in the poll in the right column. Is it ok to torture, or isn't it? And if you claim that it's ok sometimes, but not usually, aren't you engaging in the dreaded “moral relativism” for which conservatives have long condemned liberals?

Oh, and just for the record, two weeks ago George Bush supposedly called the United States Constitution “just a goddamned piece of paper!” Even if he didn't say it, he's provided ample evidence that that's how he really feels.

Posted 08:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 18, 2005

That Damned “Liberal” Media

L. pointed this out to me: One of the things that makes the news of the illegal Bush Administration domestic spying even more disturbing is the fact that the NY Times sat on the story for at least a year. The Times has explained that:

A year ago, when this information first became known to Times reporters, the administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country's security.

Yeah, right. And did the Administration also argue, sometime before, oh, let's say, November 2, 2004—election day—that revealing that it had absolutely no respect for the Fourth Amendment might, um, not be good for its chances in that little political contest? Nah, that never would have happened. I mean, the Times wouldn't have sat on a story that could have totally changed election results, right? It would never do something like that.

Posted 10:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Asian Provocations

Asian Provacateur has been stirring up some very interesting trouble recently. For example, have you heard about the Chappelle Theory? Asian Provocateur has. This makes a certain sense, but.... What is Chappelle saying/doing now?

Asian Provacateur also notes that the Bush Administration has been working on a Nike commercial. That's what this piece by Jack Cafferty on CNN suggests. The video there is worth watching. Let me just add one thing: Who cares about his so-called “mandate” (that never existed). Want to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney? Just do it!

Posted 09:50 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 14, 2005

Republican Myths of Merit

A friend of mine recently received the following “joke” from a Republican friend of hers:

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and was very much in favor of the redistribution of wealth. She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the addition of more government welfare programs. The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in school. Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, “How is you friend Audrey doing?” She replied, “Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus; college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties, and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over.”

Her wise father asked his daughter, “Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct a 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA.”

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back, “That wouldn't be fair! I have worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!”

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, “Welcome to the Republican Party.”

Of course, my friend didn't find this very funny. In fact, it made her kind of mad. So after giving the matter a bit of thought, she sent the following back to her Republican friend:

Her eyes wide open now, the daughter pauses for reflection. “Gee, dad, I guess I see your point. How could I have been so stupid?” With a new pride, the father watches his daughter pack up her bag and head back to UT for the spring semester.

As professor Mitchell ends his lecture on the socio-economic factors that determine class structure in the US, he runs his chalky fingers through his thick, black hair and continues, “So, as you can see, in what many conservatives today call the 'good ole days', marginal tax rates on the wealthy were about twice what they are today, which essentially freed the lower classes from the burden of financially supporting those public institutions from which they had yet to benefit.”

The newest republican promptly raises her hand to protest, “But, professor, why should the wealthy pay more? Poor people would be wealthy too if they weren't so lazy and irresponsible.”

Professor Mitchell raises his eyebrows and grins. “And wealthy people are wealthy because they work hard?”

“Well, yeah. My dad works hard. He tells me all the time. Once he told me 7 times in just 90 minutes that his job was hard work.”

“I think I remember what you're father does, but tell me, how did he acquire his wealth?”

“I think he was part-owner of a baseball team for awhile.”

“And what did he do there? Did he make smart investments for the team? Did he mow the grass on the fields?”

“No, he mostly just talked to people. You know, he networked.”

The professor suppresses an urge to chuckle.

“Why was he so successful at networking? What made people want to talk to him? Was it his brilliant oratorical skill?”

The class laughs.

“No, I think he was already a well-known businessman.”

“Was he well-known for his hard work? For his business acumen?”

“I don't really know.” she admits.

“Well, was he a successful businessman?”

“He had four companies- he must have been!”

Again, laughter erupts.

“More doesn't always mean merrier. Do you know why he had four companies?”

“No.” She begins to wonder where her professor is going with this.

“Well, I do. They went bankrupt. Each and every one of them.”

“But that doesn't make any sense! Why would people continue to trust him if he couldn't keep any of his businesses afloat?”

“That's an interesting question. Why do you think people kept bailing him out?”

She thinks for a minute and answers, “Because he's a good man... trustworthy... affable. And he went to a prestigious university.” she smiles and continues, “Not as prestigious as ours of course- Hook em' horns! Go Bevo!”

The class erupts in wild applause.

“O.K. Settle down, class. So what you're saying is that your father is an all around nice guy.”

“Yeah, with a great education to boot.”

“And how does one get into one of these schools like the one your father went to?”

Exasperated now, she answers “You know, professor. The usual- good grades, test scores.”

“Hmmm.” The professor takes a deep breath and continues. “You know, not everyone that has good grades and test scores get into those colleges.”

“They don't?”

“Not always. Sometimes it helps to have a family member that has also gone there. It's called a legacy. And you get extra points for being one.”

“Like extra-credit points?” she asks.

“Yep. Except you don't have to do any work yourself to get them.”

“Well, that doesn't seem fair.”

“No? Do you know if your father was a legacy?”

“Actually, I'm pretty sure Poppy went there, too.” She is visibly upset now. “But once my dad got there, he made the most of his opportunity. That has to count for something, doesn't it?”

“I hate to break this to you, but I actually went to school with your father. And he wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Even when he was sober. And the worst part was he seemed proud of that fact. It was his badge of honor. He was the stereotypical frat boy.”

Three guys from Delta Felta Thi cheer from the back.

“Really? He never told me that? He sounds just like my friend Audrey.”

“So you see, Jenna, sometimes it has nothing to do with how hard you work. Laziness and irresponsibility can lead to wealth and power, too. And sometimes hard work leads nowhere if you don't know the right people.”

The professor gathers his things and announces “Class dismissed. Don't forget, midterms are Monday after the break!”

Jenna sits in silence as the class files out the door. She thinks to herself “my dad sure has a lot of explaining to do.”

A few days later, back at the ranch, Jenna confronts her father.

“Dad, you convinced me that in our society, the great thing is that deserving people are rewarded with wealth and the undeserving remain poor. My professor proved otherwise. He showed me that sometimes even the most undeserving among us rise to the top with the proper connections.”

“What?!” He's surprised to hear the tone in her voice. Can't she see he's busy clearing brush? “Was he talkin' bout that lazy, good for nuthin' friend a yers? What was her name again?”

“You mean Audrey? Audrey Delay?”

“Delay??? You didn't say she was Tom's little girl! She's a great gal- why, you let her know that when she graduates I'd be happy ta have her as my deputy chief of staff. You know, that position's opening up again.”

“But dad!” she shouts. “She doesn't deserve that!”

And that's when Dubya puts an arm around his daughter's shoulder and gives her another wink.

“Jenna, honey, being a republican means knowing that you and your friends are ALWAYS the deserving ones.”

How would you have replied to the original “joke”?

Posted 07:47 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 12, 2005

Their Lies Have Consequences

This a bit old so perhaps you've seen it; if not, you should. The White House is literally trying to rewrite history. Watch the short video linked here of an Oct. 31 press briefing where spokesperson Scott MClellan says “that's accurate” in response to a question about the Scooter and Karl's involvement in outing Valerie Plame. The sound is pretty clear and the way his lips move, he can hardly be saying anything else. Yet the White House insists McClellan actually said “I don't think that's accurate.”

Every time I write about bullshit like this I wonder why I bother. Still, I can't help it because I still have some small capacity to be shocked by what American citizens are letting this administration get away with. Lies upon lies upon lies. The latest is the new offensive to claim that “everyone agreed we had to go to war.” Talk about rewriting history!

But just as I'm shocked, offended, and angered by these lies, I'm also nearly struck dumb with awe at the sheer audacity of these people. Bush attempts to rewrite history by accusing his critics of attempting to rewrite history! Orwell would be so very proud!

It's really not enough that this administration has lost popular support. The crimes of Bush and Cheney are so heinous that they need to be run out of town on a rail (so to speak), and the way to do that is to impeach the bums. And how can we do that? We can elect a Congress that will hold these liars accountable. One year from now, impeachment proceedings could begin. To paraphrase Captain Picard, let's make it so.

Posted 06:02 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 27, 2005

Watching Cindy Sheehan Get Arrested

Cindy Sheehan was arrested last night in front of the White House as a result of a protest against the War in Iraq. I was in class when the protest started, but since the White House is only about 4 blocks from GW, I biked over after class managed to catch the cops giving their “final warning” to the protesters. Click here for a short movie of the warning, as well as two law students (myself and a classmate who biked over w/me) sounding silly as we speculate about what actual law these people were supposedly breaking. Apparently you need a permit to lay down on the sidewalk, but don't tell the homeless of this city!

We hung around and watched a bit but since we were forced to stand across the street, it was hard to see much. The police zip-tied the protesters hands and forced them to sit up, then they slowly took them, one-by-one, to the two trucks they had there to haul them away. One strange thing I noticed was that someone seemed to be taking a picture of each protester just before he/she was placed in the truck. The photographer didn't appear to be wearing a uniform, so was that a press person, or a lawyer, or a cop? Not a major fact, but it just seemed odd.

Sheehan says she's going to repeat this protest for four days. I'll take a vote: Should I go join her?

In my “PI Lawyering” class last week we talked about whether getting arrested for civil disobedience could be a problem for being admitted to the bar or getting a job. I argued that it wasn't a crime of moral turpitude so it shouldn't affect bar admittance too badly, and that if an employer didn't like something like that, I didn't want the job. Obviously such a position would dramatically narrow the range of jobs available, but I think the bar admittance thing is really the bigger question. Does anyone know anything about this? Do arrests for civil disobedience create problems for bar membership?

Posted 10:06 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Miers Withdraws Herself

NPR is reporting that Harriet Miers withdrew herself from the nomination process for the Supreme Court. I can't find anything online yet, but it should be up in a few minutes.

UPDATE 9:11 a.m.: Ok, the news is confirmed here.

UPDATE 10:45 a.m.: “Harriet Miers” has blackened “her” blog in morning over “her” withdrawal.

More important, check out the posts over at TG's Political Wire on this today. Check out this progression of stories:

  1. Reports that the White House was planning to deflect attention away from the indictments that are almost certainly coming from Plamegate.
  2. Reports that the Miers nomination is seriously going to decrease contributions to the Republican party.
  3. A quote arguing that the Christian right has taken over the Republican party. (Note that Christian conservatives were leading the fight against Miers.)
  4. And finally, Miers withdraws.
So the politics of distraction and whoring for the polls continues as the administration dances to the tune of the Christian right. Oh, don't you love this country?

Note that even Miers' letter of withdrawal shows how inappropriate she was for the Supreme Court:

I am concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country.

Even as a nominee for the Supreme Court she still speaks of the White House as something she's a part of. And they were trying to tell us she'd be able to separate herself from that on the bench. Right.

I heard someone argue recently that the Yubbledewers never intended Miers to be confirmed; rather, they nominated her knowing she'd fail but knowing also that no one could live up to the standard set by John Roberts. Therefore, the strategy was to put up someone really bad, so that whoever they put up next will seem that much better and people will care less that the next nominee just isn't up to the Roberts level. I disagree that Roberts set such a high bar, although it's funny how much better Roberts looks compared to Miers. Perhaps that was the strategy: Nominate someone totally not qualified just to etch more deeply the impression that Roberts really is qualified.

Ok, I'll stop w/the baseless speculation. This news speaks for itself in enough ways you won't need my rants to put it into context. Although I will say one more cynical thing: Brace yourself because if you thought Miers was bad I'm betting you ain't seen nuthin' yet.

Posted 09:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 08, 2005

Republicans on the Run

Have you noticed what's going on these days? Yubbledew's approval ratings continue to plummet (with key supporters drifting), and there are so many different scandals and investigations and indictments and criminal proceedings involving Republicans at the moment that I can't even keep up with it all. Some people have suggested this is just the kind of stuff that happens in a second term, and it's true that during the Clinton years we saw plenty of scandals, indictments, and investigations. But that only throws what's happening now into sharper relief b/c during the latter half of the Clinton years the Republicans took control of Congress and therefore had a much better position from which to launch investigations. What's most incredible about all of this is that the Republicans control every branch of government, yet they still can't stop the investigations and indictments. Oh, and now Republicans are at war with each other over the Miers nomination.

No wonder Yubbledew is once again pulling out the “be very afraid” schtick to beat us with, as Arianna Huffington notes:

Looking to bring back the Fear Factor that worked so well in the 2004 campaign, the president boldly declared that the U.S. and its partners “have disrupted at least ten serious al-Qaida plots since September 11 -- including three al-Qaida plots to attack inside the United States. We have stopped at least five more al-Qaida efforts to case targets in the United States or infiltrate operatives into our country.” Holy Moly -- that sounds impressive… and effective… and scary.

That is, until the details of exactly which “serious” plots the president was referring to came out. . . . In other words, it was a Top 10 list more suited to Letterman than a major presidential speech. . . . If this is the best the White House has, then I’m really scared. . . . When asked why the White House would include so many alleged, vague, and seemingly half-baked schemes in a triumphant list of thwarted terrorist plots, yet another federal counter-terrorism official said: “Everyone is allowed to count in their own way.” Especially if they are President of the United States. And have an approval rating of 37%.

The “be very afraid” routine may have gotten Bush elected, but it's looking pretty pathetic today. Can we have the 2006 mid-term elections now, please?

Posted 09:52 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

Getting Green

The polar ice caps are melting, and that only speeds global warming. We're running out of oil and even Yubbledew is asking people to conserve. (I'm still in shock about that one.) We've got problems, people.

That's why one of the highlights for me at the D.C. Green Festival on Sunday was listening to Lester Brown, director of the Earth Policy Institute, and author of Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. The following are just some notes I jotted down while listening to him speak.

First, the Earth Policy Institute recently learned that for the first time China is now consuming more than the U.S. in four of five basic resources—grain, meat, coal, and steel. The only thing the U.S. still leads in is oil. (Surprise.) That's total consumption. If China catches up to us in per capita terms, which it will do by 2031 at its current rate of growth, China will need: 2/3 of the current global grain harvest, 300 million tons of paper/year (world output today is only 156 million tons/year), and 99 million barrels of oil/day (total world output today is only 81 million barrels/day). If Chinese citizens owned cars at the rate Americans own them, China would have a fleet of 1.1 billion cars; the current world car fleet is only 800 million cars.

The point of this is that the western economic model will not work for China. It won't work for India, which will have more people than China by 2031. It won't work for most of the world, and it can no longer work for us. We're running out of resources and the results are going to be catostrophic if we don't do something. (Speaking to this point, Brown also recommends Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond.

So what do we do? Plan B.

If everyone who owns a car in the U.S. owned a Prius we would cut daily fuel consumption by half. If we added a second battery to those Priuses and added a charging plug so we could plug them in at night (so they could run longer on electric only w/out the gas engine kicking in), the vast majority of daily driving in the U.S. could be powered by electricity alone. And if we invested massively in wind power, all of that electricity would be generated w/out polluting the environment or using up some non-renewable resource.

Biodiesel figures in somehow—comes from soybeans. Ethanol from sugar cane could also replace lots of our oil consumption. Brazil currently gets 40% of its automotive fuel from cane ethanol and it may soon get much more.

By 2020, 50-100% of European households could get their electricity from wind power, depending on how quickly Europe continues to invest in this resource. Just three states (North Dakota, Texas, and third I missed) have enough wind and land to build wind farms available to provide all U.S. energy needs via wind power. We just have to build the wind farms! (No need for the “nukuler” energy Bush wants to invest in.)

Brown said he's not discouraged about the future because often social change comes very quickly and we can't anticipate it. For example, look at what happened in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. One day it was the communist bloc, the next it was a bunch of democracies. Or look at December 6, 1941. If you had polled Americans on December 5, 1941 about whether the U.S. should get involved in WWII, the answer would have been a resounding “No.” But after December 6, that turned around completely. We also followed that by restructuring the economy almost overnight to produce all the ships, tanks, aircraft, guns, and ammo required for the war. How did we do that? We made the sale of private automobiles illegal and converted auto factories into munitions factories. So we've revolutionized our economy before on short notice; we can and need to do it again.

One way to make this happen is to force the market to be honest about the cost of our actions. For example, the cost to society of smoking is about $7/pack. The production cost of cigarettes is about $2/pack. So the total cost of a pack of cigarettes really should be $9/pack. In another example, the cost to society of burning a gallon of gas is about $9, so added to the current price at the pump, a gallon of gas should cost about $12/gal.

To convert our economy and our lifestyles to sustainable methods would cost money. But put it in perspective. The U.S. budget for Iraq is $400-500 billion and climbing. That's roughly equal to the total annual spending of the rest of the world combined. To do everything called for in Plan B would cost about $150 billion worldwide of additional spending.

And we need to do this. Terrorism is a threat to our future, but not as big a threat as climate change, population growth, water scarcity, or the lack of planning to deal with these issues. The key solution is grassroots political action. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport; we all have to be involved.

Posted 10:41 AM | TrackBack

September 16, 2005

Reality Testing Yubbledew: Election '04 to Katrina

Recent polls show that a majority of Americans are not satisfied with the Bush administration's response to hurricane Katrina. Some are saying that the response was so bad it's caused some sort of crisis of confidence in the ability of our government to do the right thing and protect American values and interests in times of great stress.

Of course, I'm thrilled that my fellow Americans are finally waking up to the fact that this administration is not only incompetent but nearly pathologically focused on its own agenda and interests at the expense of what's best for the American people and the rest of the world. Thank goodness people are finally waking up!

But, um, how is it that an administration can start a war based on lies, send thousands of American soldiers to their deaths, be responsible for killing thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens, and increase hostility against the U.S. all around the world because of all this aggression—how is it that this administration could do all this and still win the 2004 election!? And why now, after the tragic lack of response to hurricane Katrina, are Americans finally saying “enough!”?

I think I understand this apparent mystery, but I'm not sure. First, a little psychoanalysis for you:

When people of normal intelligence behave in a way that rejects what they experience as real, it requires some explanation. Psychoanalytic theory assumes that inadequacy in reality-testing fulfills a psychological function, usually the preservation of an attitude basic to the individual's makeup. If inadequate reality-testing threatens to undermine such [a] functionally significant attitude, it is avoided.

Charles R. Lawrence III, The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning With Unconscious Racism, 39 Stan. L. Rev. 317, 332 (Jan. 1987).

This is basically what I said after the 2004 presidential election—the horror of what the Bush administration had done in its first term was so great it created a sort of paralysis on the part of those who could sort of see what was going on. If there's a silver lining in the federal government's completely inept response to hurricane Katrina, it's that a majority of Americans finally became—at least for a few days—so shocked, so appalled, so horrified that the defensive mechanism that had previously forced them to deny how awful this administration is turned around and urged them to demand some accountability.

Bush's approval rating is now at an all-time low. How long will it be before our overly-developed psychological coping mechanisms overcome our critical faculties once more? Bush has now promised to spend “unprecedented amounts” of federal money to help rebuild the region affected by the hurricane. Can he buy his way out of this? And do we really want that, knowing that this administration has demonstrated that its number one spending priority seems to be to transfer as much federal money as possible into the hands of private corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel? In addition, it has already said that workers hired in the rebuilding effort will have to work for substandard wages. From where I sit, Bush's speech last night can do nothing to change the fact that this administration doesn't care about the average American; it cares about the corporate American, the only “person” it will ever love.

Be that as it may, the question remains: Why did Katrina wake a majority of Americans up when the Iraq war didn't? Does it have anything to do w/coping and repression? Was the horror of the lack of response to Katrina somehow greater than the horror of waging a war of aggression based on lies? If so, what would that say about our country? Or is it simply that the horror of the lack of response to Katrina was so immediate and obvious and unambiguous, whereas people were able to construct some sort of plausible rationale for accepting Bush's war?

Posted 09:10 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Kurt Vonnegut is my hero.

For the past week or so life around the imbroglio has been almost completely tv-free because, for various reasons, we temporarily had no cable. The cable has now been fixed, which allowed me to watch a recent episode of The Daily Show which featured an interview with Kurt Vonnegut. One Good Move has the interview available here, and it's totally worth your five minutes to watch. As others have noted, Vonnegut is still very much on his game, dishing out the dark irony better than just about anyone else does. A couple of choice quotes:

I think our planet's immune system is trying to get rid of us and should!


I've wanted give Iraq a lesson in democracy, because we have some experience with it. After 100 years you have to let your slaves go. After 150 years you have to let your women vote. And at the beginning there's quite a bit of genocide and ethnic cleansing, which is what's going on now.

Posted 06:59 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 02, 2005

Katrina: Police Behaving Badly

Sean over at Objective Justice has been tracking news about police participating in looting in New Orleans. I was actually skeptical at first b/c the whole looting angle is something I expect the media is blowing way way way out of proportion because it gives it something sensational to talk about and because looting is perversely more palatable than “gee, this is a human tragedy and no one really seems to be doing much about it.” However, it seems pretty clear that the cops—at least some of them—are part of the problem. Salon reports that in the French Quarter the cops were using their guns and authority to protect their barbecue from hungry residents:

In contrast, some residents of the French Quarter appear comfortable, well-fed and relaxed. About 150 New Orleans police officers have commandeered the Royal Omni Hotel, part of the international luxury chain of Omni hotels that is housed in an elegant 19th century building, complete with crystal chandeliers and a rooftop pool. “All of the officers that are here, I can tell you in a classical sense, are gladiators,” says Capt. Kevin Anderson, commander of the Eighth District of the NOPD (French Quarter). “To be able to put your family's concerns aside to protect the citizens of New Orleans, it's just an awesome job,” he says. Across the street from the Royal Omni at the Eighth District police department, several police officers keep a wary eye on the street with shotguns at the ready, while some fellow officers grill sausage links over charcoal barbecues. They are under strict orders not to communicate with the media. Capt. Anderson does confirm, however, that locations where officers were housed came under gunfire on Tuesday night. No officers were injured. “It is a very dangerous situation that we're in,” Anderson says.

So the cops are “gladiators” in a classical sense? Does that mean every man for himself? Read on in the story to learn how the cops are offering protection to upper-class restaurant owners in exchange for prime rib. Meanwhile, thousands of people are basically trapped in the city's convention center and FEMA didn't even know authorities had been telling people to go there. Who knows how many thousands are still on the streets, or who knows where, without drinking water or food.

You all know this, and maybe it's still too early for recriminations, but there's a growing realization that the relief response has been inadequate. And why is that? Um, Iraq? Does anyone believe that we wouldn't have tens of thousands more National Guard troops working on relief and evacuation efforts on the ground in the affected area if we didn't have so many National Guard resources committed in Iraq? Don't you think they'd be doing airdrops of food and water, or mass helicopter evacuations—if those helicopters weren't already in use in Iraq? And it's not just Iraq; a Seattle disaster-response leader put it:

“It's terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, terrorism,” said Eric Holdeman, director of King County's Office of Emergency Management. “It's what all the funding is directed towards.

”New Orleans shows the result when known problems aren't addressed because we're fixated on something else.“

Meanwhile, Yubbledew holds press conferences and flies over the area like a perverse tourist. Yeah, he's got my full support for that.

Posted 06:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 01, 2005

Contradictions of Disaster Porn

We call what's happening in New Orleans a natural disaster, yet its worst effects were almost entirely man-made. We say it's a surprise that the results of this storm have been so severe, yet something exactly like this has been predicted for years. We're amazed to learn that so many people apparently ignored warnings to evacuate before the storm, as if we don't know full well that probably close to a third of the people in New Orleans simply had no resources to leave. We decry the looting, pretending again from high atop our horses of righteous indignation, that we don't understand what it means to live in utter poverty. There are so many questions we won't see asked or answered on our idiot boxes because the asking and answering might make us uncomfortable, disrupting the hypnotic trance of our voyeuristic fascination with the latest footage of poor people waving for help from their rooftops or climbing out of store windows with arms full of goods they didn't pay for (forgetting, apparently, that there was no one there to pay and people still need to eat!). Do you wonder why it fascinates you? Do you wish you had cared about these people and their problems before they were placed in mortal peril? Do you wish that acknowledging all of these contradictions would force us to face them and do something about them?

I do.

Posted 09:22 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 16, 2005

D.C. Is Neither a State Nor A Not-State: Discuss

D.C. is not a state. Fine. Whatever. Except for two things: We have no vote in Congress and too many damned web forms do not list D.C. as a “state” where a person can live!

First, the serious issue: If you live in D.C., you don't have any real representation in Congress. This may not be well known outside of D.C., judging by the questions I've heard when people see that theD.C. license plate reads “taxation without representation.” Some say this is how it's supposed to be—people in the Capital City is not a in a state but in “neutral” territory where no one has a vote. Others say, fine, don't make us pay taxes then, if we have no say in how they're spent. But mostly I hear people saying: “Bullshit. If this is a democracy we should have real voting representation in Congress.” That's what the voices in my head say, too.

The less serious but more practically maddening issue with D.C. not being a state is that it means that sometimes you can't tell people where you live. This happens when you reach a drop-down menu on a web form asking you to choose the state where you live and D.C. is simply not on the list. This is only a serious deal when you're trying to give someone your shipping address for something you've purchased. Of course, this never happens at Amazon or whatever, but it's happened a couple of times to me recently w/other vendors, and just now w/a survey from Skype. I suspect there's some boilerplate drop-down list code floating around somewhere that lists all the 50 U.S. states but not the District or Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories.

It's true what they say around here: D.C. always gets the shaft.

Posted 11:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 26, 2005

The Rehnquist Conspiracy

Since the end of the Supreme Court term I've been trying to figure out why Chief Justice Rehnquist has not stepped down from the Court. His health is poor and if I were him, I'd really want to spend a few years of my life doing something other than sitting on the bench. Then, when O'Connor retired, I figured, well, Rehnquist can't be far behind. Yet there he sits, unmoved.

Why could that be? What could he be thinking? Here's a theory: Rehnquist knows he should step down and may even wish he could. However, he also knew long before the rest of us that O'Connor was ready to go so he decided to hold on for at least one more term (if he can). He knew that if he stepped down and Bush appointed someone like him (which Bush would have done), the balance on the Court would not have changed. However, now that O'Connor is gone and Bush has nominated someone much more likely to agree with Rehnquist than O'Connor ever was, Rehnquist can stay in the hope that if he gets at least one full term with a solid right wing majority behind him he can really get U.S. law headed in the, um, right direction again.

And whether Rehnquist has thought any of these things is irrelevant. It looks like that's what's going to happen, regardless. Listening to NPR recently (Justice Talkingthe show is available for download ) I heard Nadine Strossen of the ACLU say that O'Connor's replacement will effectively have the power to amend the constitution. I guess I hadn't thought of it that way, but yeah, that's how important this nomination is. Heaven help us.

Posted 06:51 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

If It's Not For Profit, It's Just Not

Don't you just love this Republican Congress? It's working diligently to destroy just about every public service it can, clearing the way for the health and welfare of private enterprise. For example, the federal government printed its last postage stamps last Friday. This will supposedly save the Postal Service lots of money; it went mostly private long ago, so it's all good.

But that's just stamps. What about public broadcasting? Some in Congress want to cut its already meager funding. Cool. Public broadcasting is just a bunch of liberal propaganda, anyway. If it's not fair and balanced like Fox News, we don't need it.

And cross-country train service? We don't need that, either. Obviously the airlines are healthy and a totally efficient way to travel. Greyhound is always fun, too.

Seriously, the postage and Amtrak cuts may make sense. If the privately-printed postage is going to be so much cheaper, um, ok. But what makes it cheaper? Is it the fact that the private printers pay their workers $6/hour and dump their printing chemicals into the local watershed while the gov't printers had to pay a living wage and dispose of their waste in a more responsible fashion? And Amtrak, well, it's been too expensive for most people to use for a long time—probably since the last huge cuts in federal funding. Personally I think we're going to wish we had a healthy, efficient, and robust national passenger rail system as fuel prices continue to rise, but hey, what do I know?

The public broadcasting thing is pretty indefensible, though. thinks so, too.

Posted 07:19 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

Mistake? Really?

Just really quickly: I just saw this story that Muslims are skeptical over the Newsweek back-track on the Koran story—the one Newsweek ran last week saying that U.S. soldiers at Gitmo had abused the holy book.

It would be shocking to think that Newsweek has somehow been convinced by the U.S. gov't to retract the story, but hey, I'm pretty used to being shocked. How about you?

Posted 07:06 AM | Comments (6)

May 10, 2005

Beyond Red v. Blue

The Pew Research Center has just released its latest typology of America's political divisions. You can take the survey yourself to see where you fit in the nine different categories Pew has devised. I'm fairly sure most of you can guess where the survey pegs me:

This group has nearly doubled in proportion since 1999, Liberals now comprise the largest share of Democrats and is the single largest of the nine Typology groups. They are the most opposed to an assertive foreign policy, the most secular, and take the most liberal views on social issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and censorship. They differ from other Democratic groups in that they are strongly pro-environment and pro-immigration, issues which are more controversial among Conservative and Disadvantaged Democrats.

Yeah, more or less. And just in case you missed it, let's repeat:

Liberals now comprise the largest share of Democrats and is the single largest of the nine Typology groups.

Hope springs eternal.

Posted 08:15 PM | Comments (1)

May 05, 2005


So I'm researching this damned DOMA business and I'm reminded that in February 2004 Yubbledew called for a Constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage. He used very strong language to let us know he meant business:

An amendment to the Constitution is never to be undertaken lightly. The amendment process has addressed many serious matters of national concern. And the preservation of marriage rises to this level of national importance. The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honoring -- honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society.

Sounds pretty serious, doesn't it? I guess this should be a major part of his agenda in his second term, then, shouldn't it? But wait, I've heard absolutely nothing about it since last November's presidential election. Have I missed something, or is “the union of a man and a woman” no longer so important? Don't we care anymore about the welfare of children and the stability of society?

If I was cynical I'd say that Karl Rove timed that February 2004 announcement perfectly to get Christian fundamentalists all worked up in a frenzy so that gay marriage would be a big “values” issue in the November election. That would make Yubbledew's call for a Constitutional amendment seem pretty hollow and manipulative, wouldn't it?

Good thing I'm not cynical.

Posted 08:07 PM | Comments (9)

April 20, 2005

Define “Rich”

Bruce Bawer, “a freelance writer living in Oslo,” wrote recently in the NY Times that, despite conventional wisdom, Norway is not the world's richest country. On the contrary, Norway and its Scandinavian siblings just perpetuation lies like this “to keep people believing that their social welfare system, financed by lofty income taxes, provides far more in the way of economic protections and amenities than the American system.”

Hmm. Could be. I really don't know. But I do know that the evidence Bawer uses to support his claims does not seem very convincing. That evidence? Norwegians don't get brand new cars every year or two like Americans, they commonly pack their lunches rather than popping out to the local deli at midday like workers in New York or Paris might, they do not order pizza every night for dinner, and gas costs (gasp!) $6/gallon. Does this mean Norway is not a “rich” country, or does it mean that it's not a wasteful and gluttonous country?

What I love most is Bawer's claim that Spaniards “live far better than Scandinavians” because Spaniards can buy alcohol much more cheaply. Yessir. There's no better measure of “wealth” and quality of life than how cheap the gin and tonics are.

Bawer does cite figures showing that the GDP (gross domestic product) of Norway and its citizens' “spending power” is lower than that in the U.S. That's not surprising, really. Norway doesn't sacrifice the health and welfare of its citizens and environment in order to squeeze out one more point of GDP like we do here in the U.S. You have to ask yourself: What good is that vaunted American spending power to the millions of Americans who can't afford health care?

Posted 07:25 AM | Comments (4)

April 12, 2005

U.S. Politics Has Definitely Jumped the Shark

I can't believe anyone is taking John Bolton seriously as a possible U.N. Ambassador, let alone getting ready to confirm him in that position. His attempts yesterday to explain his career of anti-U.N. vitriol were not even plausible, yet he's on his way to nomination? Again, I can't believe I can't believe this; it's nothing new. This comes from an administration that gave highest honors to the people responsible for massive intelligence failures, and an administration that has placed environmental protection in the hands of the oil industry, etc. Up is down, black is white, night is day, war is peace. I just can't track the insanity anymore and I remain convinced that is the secret to this administration's success: Sane people are so horrified by the things this administration does every day that we can't even formulate a coherent response. We've been paralyzed with horror and disbelief. If so, all this craziness is our own fault—a consequence of the failure of our imaginations, our inability to prepare for and respond to the avalanche of bullshit that has rained down upon us almost ceaselessly since Yubbledew was first propped up as a presidential candidate. It's our fault that we care about reality, and our mistake to insist that public discourse have some connection to at least a plausible account of history and the world around us. Damn, we suck.

Posted 08:43 AM | Comments (9)

April 09, 2005

Wisdom of Adams

Chapter 28 of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams reads:
The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso fact, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem. And so this is the situation we find: a succession of Galactic Presidents who so much enjoy the fun and palaver of being in power that they very rarely notice that they're not. And somewhere in the shadows behind them—who? Who can possibly rule if no one who wants to do it can be allowed to?
Is it just me, or is this a pretty good summary of the summary of American politics in the last, oh, couple of decades? And related to the issue of how power circulates and the almost unimaginably awful consequences of the fact that it's never as it seems, The Long Emergency, a brief synopsis of where the world is at in terms of energy resources and consumption, is about the scariest thing I've read in a long time. If true, we're screwed. Sometimes I really wish I had a Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic (more here) so I could just hitch a ride to another planet or something.

Posted 02:01 PM | Comments (4)

April 01, 2005

Arrogant and Out of Control

You know, I'm still surprised that I can be surprised by current political events, but today's Republican “leadership” just continues to amaze me. Check out what they're saying about the death of Terri Schaivo:
Joining DeLay in taking issue with the judiciary was Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who said, “The actions on the part of the Florida court and the U.S. Supreme Court are unconscionable.” Also, GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina said the case “saw a state judge completely ignore a congressional committees subpoena and insult its intent” and “a federal court not only reject, but deride the very law that Congress passed.” DeLay said he would make sure that the GOP-controlled House “will look at an arrogant and out of control judiciary that thumbs its nose at Congress and the president.”
First, you've clearly lost all perspective on how the American legal system works if you start declaring that it's “unconscionable” for judges to follow U.S. law and the requirements of the Constitution. Second, a U.S. Representative shows a grave lack of respect for both his own elected office and the judiciary by declaring that judges are “arrogant and out of control” just because they made decisions with which he disagrees. Such statements are not only reprehensible, they suggest a downright dangerous view of the principle of separation of powers. Would DeLay prefer a judiciary that simply asks “how high” every time Congress tells it to jump? Sorry, but our system is set up to give judges a healthy measure of insulation from political pressures precisely so that politicians can't tell judges how to decide controversial cases. Um, Tom? Maybe you should take a civics class or something, or maybe some pills. I'm sure there's some drug that could help with your egomania and delusions of grandeur. Finally, who is going to look into the arrogant and out of control Republican Congress that thumbs its nose at the Constitution and the American people? Sheesh.

Posted 09:48 AM | Comments (5)

March 20, 2005

Sad Anniversaries

One year ago today: Grrr.... Shockingly, Kerry lost. One year ago yesterday: I noted that the U.S. war in Iraq had created all kinds of negative consequences and wondered whether some “showdown with al Qaida leaders” was orchestrated to distract Americans from looking closely at the war's anniversary. * Today: Tens of thousands protested the war in Iraq, and in the U.S.? Nothing that I know of. We're too busy worrying about baseball players on steroids (gasp!) and one woman and a feeding tube. It's great to see we have our priorities straight. *The link to that “showdown” has now broken and I've forgotten what it was all about. Awesome. Blogs are basically useless when links break. Is there any news source you know of that leaves its articles online so that links won't break?

Posted 08:36 AM | Comments (3)

February 18, 2005

What is Rational Discourse?

Professor Althouse, possibly the most prolific blogger ever,*is now, according to the Madison, Wisconsin Capital Times, possibly one of the most widely read, as well. Whatever the truth of that, she's the subject of a story about blogging in the paper in which she reiterates an argument she's made recently on her blog:
Althouse said many of the politically left-leaning blogs are so strident they tend to be “self-marginalizing.” Conservative bloggers tend to be smoother and more reasoned, which makes for more convincing arguments, she said.
Althouse recently received an “instalanche” (an avalanche of links after being mentioned on Instapundit) for pointing out that the NY Times changed a headline several times on a story about the Iraqi elections. Althouse suggested that the Times was changing the headline from something positive to something negative, and that the text of the story itself never changed. (See also her followup.) Without getting into the merits of the ensuing controversy, what interested me most was that it sparked a dismayed post from Althouse about the differences she perceives in the tone and approach of bloggers on the left and right. She begins by claiming to be a “political moderate”:
More than any ideology, I care about rational discourse. In the year that I've been blogging I've taken a lot of different positions, some left and some right. What I've noticed, over and over, is that the bloggers on the right link to you when they agree and ignore the disagreements, and the bloggers on the left link only for the things they disagree with, to denounce you with short posts saying you're evil/stupid/crazy, and don't even seem to notice all the times you've written posts that take their side. Why is this happening? I find it terribly, terribly sad.
I disagree with some of the details of this, but I agree with the gist of it. First, I would point out that if you care about “rational discourse,” you care about an ideology—the ideology of rational discourse. It's an Enlightenment ideology that pretends that things like “objectivity” and “reasonable standards” actually exist, even as it actively attempts to deny the ways in which these concepts are continuously manipulated by competing factions in society to serve their own ends. I've seen from my own reading that Althouse does not follow a consistent “party line” in a sense that would be either Democratic or Republican, but that's the beauty of the ideology of “rational discourse” or the political middle—it enables its proponents to claim to be above the fray. This certainly has its advantages, and perhaps in some ways it's preferable to following a more consistent party line, but it's still ideological and a position that carries its own drawbacks and baggage. I'm also not sure that the characterization of bloggers on the left and right is accurate. Are those on the left really more polemic or negative? Perhaps. If so, we have plenty of reason to be. I cringe every time I hear talk of “bipartisanship” or “working together” because that's the rhetoric that has allowed the Bush administration to do so much damage in the U.S. and the world. “Work with us,” they say, “and we'll work with you.” But the truth is, every time the right has extended that olive branch in the last five years, it has quickly stomped on the good faith the left extends in return. From my perspective (and I think from the perspective of many on the left), the right has lied to and manipulated the U.S. and the world to advance a very antisocial and dangerous agenda, and it shows no sign of stopping. See, for example, the “crisis” of social security or the “crisis” in civil lawsuits that is so desperately screaming for “tort reform.” These so-called crises are certainly issues worth paying attention to; it's almost certain we could make positive changes to both social security and our civil litigation system. However, to predicate those changes on campaigns of fear (crisis! the system will be bankrupt by 2012! judicial hellholes!) is not just disingenuous, it's indefensible. Oh, and it's also extremely unreasonable and irrational. I probably don't need to add that this is exactly the strategy the right used to sell the Iraq war—it lied about a crisis so often and so menacingly that it manipulated the world into war. To ask the left to respond in measured or “reasonable” tones to this sort of irrational fear mongering is asking the left to submit passively to the dominance of the right. If one side is screaming it's head off (e.g. “we don't want the proof to come in the form of a mushroom cloud!!”), and the other side is merely making polite comments (“really, we think the inspections are working”), which side is going to prevail? Recent history answers that question pretty clearly. So perhaps the tone coming from the left has seemed more negative, more bitter, more implacably oppositional than in the past. And perhaps that's unfortunate; it would be nice if we could live in a society that could discuss important issues in civil and respectful ways. Maybe someday we can. But the left has tried “reasonable.” I'm happy to see more strident and vehement opposition for a while. Of course, what the left really needs is some serious leadership to help direct that stridency and vehemence, to get it moving in positive directions (so that instead of just being oppositional, it can lead). But that will be a post for another day... *Althouse and some of her colleagues sometimes stay up all night blogging. They blog car accidents from multiple perspectives and “simulblog” the dinners they have together. What's in that Madison water, anyway? UPDATE: See also “Further Ways to Argue Like a Conservative” by Tom Tomorrow

Posted 07:57 AM | Comments (3)

February 15, 2005

When Blogs Do Bad II

Following up on the Eason Jordon story and the question of whether the ability of blogs to “take down” public figures is a positive development, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the recent unmasking of Jeff Gannon. Gannon was a highly partisan reporter who used a pseudonym and somehow gained a seat in the White House press corp where he asked questions with lots of Republican spin. Gannon may or may not have also been leading a somewhat salacious double life. Salon's coverage. So now we can add Gannongate to Easongate and Rathergate. Salon's “War Room” covers them all with lots of good links to more. As I said before, the ability of blogs to hold public figures accountable is a good thing, but it's one thing to uncover what's hidden, and another to destroy careers or lives. Maybe the destruction follows automatically from the uncovering, and maybe that's not the fault of bloggers. However, when prominent people make questionable statements or do questionable things, wouldn't we be better of as a society if we could learn from their mistakes instead of simply destroying the mistake-maker? UPDATE: See also:

Posted 07:59 AM | Comments (8)

February 13, 2005

Leading by Example. Not.

I had two interviews yesterday, both of which went much better than the horror of last week, even if they were perhaps not for jobs I'd like as much. Who knows? Maybe I'd like one of these jobs even more? But the interviews were part of the GW/Georgetown Public Interest/Government Interview Program, and since the US Army and Air Force JAG Corps were there interviewing, the program marked their names with an asterisk followed by this disclaimer:
This employer discriminates against gay, lesbian and bisexual persons under the authority of 10 U.S.C. section 654. The George Washington University Law School policy on equal opportunity prohibits unlawful discrimination. The Association of American Law Schools — of which George Washington University Law School is a founding member — and the National Association for Law Placement each have policies forbidding discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual persons. The presence of this employer at the George Washington University should in no way be construed as an endorsement of this employer's practice of discrimination.
While I was pleased to see this disclaimer, and also pleased that it is so bluntly worded (“this employer discriminates”), I still wish there was more GW could do. And since GW and Georgetown were in this together (GULC had its own disclaimer, more or less similar), it seems they could take this as an opportunity to “make a federal case” out of this. I mean, these are big law schools; what if they gave the JAG Corp the finger and dared the federal gov't to take away all federal funds? I'm thinking the case would probably make it to the Supreme Court and the Solomon Amendment would be history. Or maybe not. Can someone clarify what is going on here? I mean, I see here that the Solomon Amendment was found unconstitutional, yet GW and GULC still apparently fear its consequences. So what gives?

Posted 09:54 AM | Comments (5)

February 12, 2005

When Blogs Do Bad

Blogs have toppled another semi-public figure:
Eason Jordan, a senior executive at CNN who was responsible for coordinating the cable network's Iraq coverage, resigned abruptly last night, citing a journalistic tempest he touched off during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, late last month in which he appeared to suggest that United States troops had deliberately aimed at journalists, killing some.
I agree that one great function of blogs is to make the invisible visible, to shine a light on those issues, statements, actions, etc. that do not get enough attention in the mainstream media and popular discourse. However, this light-shining function can be a double-edged sword. Where's the line between a witch hunt and a critical, good faith inquiry into what's really going on? Did Eason really deserve this? Or did he just make an offhand comment at the wrong place and time that was blown out of proportion and twisted to suit the rabid radicals of the most jingoistic right? (Hey look, I can write just like the editors of the Hart and Wecsler's!) If you saw BSG last night (it's been renewed for another season!), you'll know it raised the same question of when healthy social inquiry might turn into egomaniacal power grab. L. (my personal guru in reading against the grain) noted astutely that BSG might have been making an argument that we shouldn't be questioning how Bush has handled post-9/11 security and foreign affairs. Apparently the show's creators have explicitly said they're trying to make the show parallel recent history to some extent, but it's hard to say what they were trying to communicate last night in that regard. Was Capt. Adama supposed to be George Bush, and the Independent Tribunal the 9/11 Commission? Remember, Bush at first tried to tell the 9/11 Commission that he was above their purview, and that's basically what Adama did last night with the tribunal. Then again, was the 9/11 Commission a witch hunt or power grab, which is how the Independent Tribunal was starting to look last night? Could the chief investigator have been Ashcroft trying to argue that all civil liberties should be swept aside in favor of “security,” while Adama was the voice of the reasonable civil libertarian upholding his and his officers' rights? See, it's hard to figure out. And really, these questions are L.'s, so if she comes up with any answers, perhaps she'll share. Anyway, BSG is only relevant to the extent that it shows that investigation can be a multi-edged sword. First it was Dan Rather (who may or may not have resigned b/c of the Bush national guard story), now it's Eason Jordan. Who's next? Are bloggers getting drunk with power and doing more harm than good in pursuit of their own agendas?

Posted 02:01 PM | Comments (2)

February 11, 2005

Hey! You can't say that!

Ward Churchill: Discuss. Consider: UPDATE: See also a lengthy post with many links and heated discussion in the comments at Three Years of Hell. I'm actually kind of surprised—although I don't know why I should be—to find AR come down as he does (I won't try to characterize his position since that will only be begging him to tell me I got him all wrong). Also, more from The Yin Blog, here, here, here, and here. UPDATE II: Thoughts from Carey and his readers, including links on the subject from Profs. Leiter, Bainbridge, and Volokh. Also Dahlia LIthwick's perspective on Slate. All of them appear to dismiss what Churchill has to say (Volokh calls it a “horrific screed” and Bainbridge says Churchill is an “ass”), yet seem to think they're taking the high road by saying that he shouldn't be fired just because he said some things that sound crazy. My original point in posting about this has been made fairly well: Rather than giving any serious consideration to the content of Churchill's words, people have occupied lots of energy and effort arguing about whether he should be allowed to say them at all. That's what passes for free speech and public discussion of what might be the most crucial topic in contemporary American history (by which I mean 9/11 and why it happened). Very very sad.

Posted 06:36 AM | Comments (3)

January 21, 2005

Post-Inaugural Friday

Some Friday fun for you:
  • JibJab's latest animation gets some good licks in against Bush and Co, but manages to give the impression of being critical and funny in a non-partisan way.
  • A great clip from Fox News where the interviewer was surprised when her interviewee wanted to talk seriously about the election.
  • The jury pool from hell included a morphine addict, a former mental patient, and other interesting characters.
  • 49% of Americans polled say Bush is a “uniter” (another 49% say he's a “divider”). What did Bush unite? Oh yeah, global opposition to his policies!

Posted 07:47 AM | Comments (4)

January 16, 2005

Bush Gives World Finger, Again

Last Wednesday the U.S. officially gave up the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. After at least one and a half years of searching, the search teams found nothing. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said:
“After a war that has consumed nearly two years and millions of dollars, and a war that has cost thousands of lives, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, nor has any evidence been uncovered that such weapons were moved to another country,” Pelosi said in a written statement. “Not only was there not an imminent threat to the United States, the threat described in such alarmist tones by President Bush and the most senior members of his administration did not exist at all.”
That's all true; it's just a restatement of what the Bush administration has already admitted. Pelosi called on President Bush “ to explain to the American people why he was so wrong, for so long, about the reasons for war.” Here's a better idea: Instead of demanding an explanation (which has been a fruitless demand for nearly two years now), why not demand impeachment? Presidents have obviously faced impeached proceedings for far, far, far, far, far less. Oh, but no need, because the president “knows” he did the right thing:
“Nothing's changed in terms of his views when it comes to Iraq, what he has previously stated and what you have previously heard,” McClellan said. “The president knows that by advancing freedom in a dangerous region we are making the world a safer place.”
Awesome. I'm so glad the president “knows” this, despite all evidence to the contrary (even assuming, for the sake of argument, that “advancing freedom in a dangerous region” is what the U.S. is doing). His administration's own statements tell the story of how much reality matters to them. But accountability? Fuggedaboudit. Anyway, it's already taken care of. The president says so:
“We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections,” Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me.”
An “accountability moment.” Beautiful. I mean, as infuriating as this statement sounds, I hope Bush is right. Unfortunately, I fear there are going to be many more “accountability moments” in the years to come (some of them may also be called “blowback” or “unintended consequences of absolutely criminal foreign policy decisions”), but for the world's sake, I hope I'm wrong.

Posted 09:20 AM | Comments (1)

Air America Coming to D.C. & Podcasting

This is probably old news, but I just learned that Air America Radio will start broadcasting in D.C. tomorrow morning. Say hello Progressive Radio AM 1260. it sounds great, except that I already have access to too many good radio programs I don't have the time to listen to, so this will only add to that problem. I guess that's a pretty good problem to have, though—better than having nothing you ever want to hear. If Air America and NPR would embrace podcasting (and at least one NPR program already has) , I could probably listen to excellent radio every waking hour of my days. That probably wouldn't help me do all of the work I actually need to do these days, but it would be pretty cool, nonetheless. Speaking of podcasting: I read blogs that seem to be talking about nothing else these days. Do any readers of this blog create podcasts or actually use a podcast feed aggregator and listen to podcasts? And speaking of aggregators, is Bloglines a copyright infringer?

Posted 08:58 AM | Comments (3)

January 14, 2005

Congratulations D.C. Hotel Workers!

At the risk of turning ai into an “all congratulations, all the time” blog (see the past two posts and this one), congratulations to D.C. hotel workers who just won what sounds like a great contract offer from their employers! The D.C. members of UNITE HERE, “the merged union of hospitality, gaming, apparel, textile and laundry workers” which represents nearly half a million workers in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, were ready to strike, which would have seriously messed with the plans of the nation's elite who are descending on D.C. next week for the 2005 inaugural. I guess now all the rich and famous Bush supporters will get to be pampered in peace and the management of D.C.'s finest hotels will be able to rake in the cash hand over fist w/out having to worry about any of those pesky “labor issues.” As the union reported:
The tentative agreement ensures that there will be no work interruptions and the hotels will be able to proceed with all guest services for inauguration week as planned. The contract language includes new protections from workload increases, harassment at the workplace and other problems workers sought to improve. The economic package improves wages, pension contributions and maintains a strong health care package. Details will be released after members have read and voted on the contract.
Sounds great to me!

Posted 08:56 PM | Comments (1)

January 12, 2005


FYI, if you'll be in Washington, D.C. for the Counter-Inaugural Protests on January 20:
The J20 Legal Support Team is pleased to announce the launch of your support website This website includes our legal manual in both .pdf format for easy download and reading as well as .html format in case you need to read the manual at a computer in which you cannot download or print the manual. We also have Affinity Group Support Forms, Police Misconduct Forms, and will soon have a Know Your Rights handbill. The front page of the website will be updated as we add more information to the website and when news related to the protests is reported. Do not forget to check the website later in the day of January 20 to find out about jail and court support if people are arrested. And after the protests, check back for updates regarding court dates for arrestees and how arrestees can join a list serve and communicate with each other.
When I mention stuff like this, people generally ask: What's to protest? Short of convincing evidence that the election was stolen, some people think protesting an inauguration is pointless, or sour grapes, or even somehow disrespectful of our democracy and electoral system. Maybe. There's also the argument that protest is patriotic and a vital part of our democratic system, that the electoral process is broken (see, e.g., gerrymandering), and that the 49% of voters who did not support Bush/Cheney last November have a right (perhaps even an obligation) to voice their continuing opposition to this administration's policies and ideology. Whatever your thoughts, here are a few more counter-inaugural resources: If you still aren't sure what to protest, how about the fact that the cheapest tickets to the parade are now going for $150!? Is that for real? It looks like yes; if you're connected or acted early you could get free tickets from your federal representative, but at this point, it's pay or... What? I don't see any information for those of us who aren't going to have tickets? I won't be surprised if many of the 23 state (as in sponsored by gov't in some way and as opposed to private) police agencies in D.C. will have plenty of chain link pens at the ready for our inaugural pleasure. All the security and hoo-ha for the inauguration is costing D.C. nearly $12 million; it sounds like that's on top of millions being spent by the federal gov't. More information (not about costs, obviously) is available from the Joint Congressional Committee On Inaugural Ceremonies.

Posted 12:09 PM

January 11, 2005

Big Announcement Day

Big big news today! First, Apple announced the Mac mini, the iPod shuffle, and iWork (including the new “Pages” word processor and graphic design app). Oh, and all the updates to the iLife apps. This greatly increases the odds I'll be getting a new computer this summer when the next update to OS X (“Tiger”) comes out. It just doesn't make sense to pay close to $200 for the os upgrade, plus the iLife upgrade, and the new iWork bits, only to run them on a 600 mhz G3 machine. Since all that new software will come on any new machine I buy, I'll practically be saving $200! (Er, or something like that.) The other big news: Howard Dean announced he's officially running for Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. I don't know what to think about that. It could be great. Or really not great. I'm pretty pessimistic about the chances for it being great, though. Too much money would really hate to see Dean in any position of “official” influence that it's unlikely he'll get the job, and even if he does, all that money will still be working very hard to make him “behave” and serve its interests. If he refuses, the money will make the position of DNC Chairman irrelevant. (And obviously its not just big money doing the talking, but also lots of people with positions of various amounts of power who would be threatened by Dean as an official party leader.) In short, the status quo does not like to be messed with, hence my pessimism. But I'd be happy to be proven wrong. I think.

Posted 04:02 PM | Comments (3)

January 08, 2005

Tacky, Morally Superior, and Snide

It seems my admittedly flip rant about magnetic ribbons has boiled Anthony Rickey's blood. I mocked the ribbons as a superficial expression of an ambiguous message. My little critique was not very original—see the comments at second person singular, which sparked my post; AntiMagnet; and Ernie Pook's Comeek. Anthony responded with a touching story of a scene he witnessed in which the magnetic ribbons were useful in bringing together two people who have loved ones in Iraq, allowing them to share their experiences and express support for the hardships involved with being in that very difficult situation. All of that is very fine. I thank him for that story, because it shows the ribbons playing a useful role for their displayers and helps answer my original question, which was: What do the ribbon displayers think they are saying with these magnets? Some of them clearly are saying something to the effect of: “I have a loved one in Iraq and I hope he or she comes home safe and sound.” That's great. I, too, hope all the troops come home safe and sound. In fact, my support for the troops in Iraq has never wavered on that count. From the first suggestion that the U.S. was going to invade Iraq, I objected strenuously. I marched and wrote letters and participated in teach-ins and pickets, all so that no American soldiers would be sent to Iraq in the first place. Now that they're there, I certainly hope they all come home ASAP and safe and sound. I hope I've never suggested otherwise, and I apologize if anyone has interpreted anything I've said any other way. But Anthony's post points out the crucial difficulty faced by those who have always opposed this war and occupation. First, from day one, it has been nearly impossible to have any sort of rational exchange of opinions on the subject. The pacifist (or the person not wholly opposed to war, but just opposed to this war) said, “Iraq is not a threat to the U.S. or its allies, it had nothing to do with 9/11, and the inspections and sanctions are working to keep Saddam in line.” The pro-war person replied, “Oh, you went to college and think you know more than our president? Bush says Iraq's a threat. Do you want the proof to come in the form of a mushroom cloud!?” And so we went to war and American soldiers began dying and getting maimed and wounded. Today, I suggest that magnetic ribbons are not a very effective form of support for troops in Iraq, but rather than explain to me why he thinks I'm wrong, Anthony writes an anti-intellectual screed that suggests that a college education has made me snide, morally superior, and tacky. But more important, he suggests that by criticizing ribbons, I'm not only not supporting the troops, but I'm somehow hurting them or their loved ones. There's a leap there that's not helpful for the troops or anyone else. So long as Americans are unable to have thoughtful exchanges about the war without one side constantly trying to trump the other by baiting them with emotion or fear, American soldiers will probably continue to die in unjust and unnecessary military misadventures. As for the substance to Anthony's post, he makes an important connection between the domestic response to what's happening in Iraq today and that response to what happened in Vietnam more than three decades ago. How much have the damaged pride and unhealed wounds of that national humiliation fed support for the current conflict? I really don't know, but the 2004 election showed that the unresolved feelings, unhealed wounds, and unforeseen consequences of Vietnam continue to shape and influence Americans and American foreign policy today; Anthony's connection between that war and this one simply reiterates that fact. Unfortunately, the mistakes we've made and continue to make in Iraq are also likely to negatively influence Americans and American foreign policy in similar ways for generations to come. Anthony concludes that because some percentage of magnet-displayers feel their magnets express something genuine and meaningful, all criticism of the magnets is meaningless. I obviously disagree. Dangerous jingoism generally thrives upon a foundation of true and justified sentiment, but that doesn't make it any less dangerous. That said, I don't think the magnets are all that dangerous and their objectionable potential probably wasn't worth the time it took to write my original post about them. I do wish they were being made by an American manufacturer (so as not to add needlessly to our already gargantuan trade deficit) who was giving 50% or more of the proceeds to efforts to educate Americans about the dangers of unilateral military adventurism and the self-perpetuating follies of war generally. To me, that would be a great way to support American soldiers, both those serving today and those who will serve in future generations, because it would decrease the likelihood that U.S. citizens would allow their leaders to put our soldiers in mortal peril for anything but a genuine last resort. On a final and more personal note, I hope Anthony (and others who feel as he does) will take this post as it's intended—as a measured attempt to explain my opinion of the subjects it covers. I've already admitted that my first post on the ribbons was a snide rant, and that is obviously not a good way to open or contribute to discussion of a serious issue. One of the double-edged swords of blogs is that they often encourage sarcasm and flippancy. This can be a refreshing way to cut through the spin we often hear from politicians and others, but it can also be a poor way to discuss controversial issues with people who see things differently than you do.

Posted 11:40 AM | Comments (10)

December 06, 2004

Ruthless Emotional Demagoguery

Actus Reus says Legal Fiction knows how the Dems can win next time around:
You think you need to reach out and be nicer and make yourself more palatable. No – you need to do the opposite. You need to get meaner and stop reaching out. Your goal should be to make more people viscerally despise Republicans because they are the party of (1) scary theocrats and racists; and (2) “big corporations.”
To accomplish this, Legal Fiction, channelling Karl Rove, says to use wedge amendments and wedge votes to flush out the right wing nuts and put them on the run, then “publicize the wackos”:
. Say “the party of Falwell and Shays” every damn day. ... Say it again and again — “the party of Shays and DeLay.”
Oh, and:
Democrats should demagogue the hell out of privatizing Social Security, outsourcing, flat taxes, drug importation, and national sales taxes. Class warfare baby — again and again — every single day. Make 'em hate the rich. Make stuff up if you have to.
Do you hear the sirens singing?

Posted 07:06 AM | Comments (5)

November 19, 2004

Anecdotes from today's schools

I've recently heard some disturbing stories about what's happening in public schools today. First, on a recent Monday morning in a public school kindergarten in the Midwest, the teacher asked her class of eager pupils, “How many of you went to church yesterday? Raise your hands.” All but one child raised his hand. To make matters worse, the teacher then said, “How many of you did not go to church yesterday? Raise your hands.” And of course, the same child sat alone in the room with his hand raised. I have no idea why the teacher was asking these questions, but it seems obvious that even if she had some pedagogical reason for talking about church attendance in her kindergarten class, she used the opportunity to strongly suggest that there was something not normal or even “bad” about people who don't go to church. Hello? This is a public school! Second, in an East Coast middle school, parents recently attended a “parents' night” to hear from the teachers what was going on at the school. There, the parents learned that the school has an official policy that teachers will never use the word “evolution” because it is too controversial; they also teach the principles of evolution as a “theory” among others. Teaching evolution as a theory is fine; that's what it is. It happens to have lots of support, but ok, we can't be “certain.” (of course, by the same logic we really can't be “certain” that we actually exist; our existence is a theory supported by lots of facts and information, but hey, we could be brains in a vat.) The point here is that this is a public middle school. I think the average 11-14 year-old can handle the massive controversy surrounding the word “evolution.” No wonder our nation seems stupid; we're teaching our kids to be that way.

Posted 08:32 AM | Comments (5)

November 18, 2004

Creepy “Good Job”

If I had more time.... I'd track down video footage of every time Bush has nominated a new cabinet member recently, and check the footage to see if Bush says “good job!” to the new nominee after the nominee says about three sentences. He did it with Condi and with Spellings, the new education secretary. Is it just a patriarchal thing he's doing with women, or is it something else? Whatever it is, it creeps me out. The short remarks by the nominees make them sound uncertain, lacking in confidence, and to have Bush step in and tell them they did a “good job” because they completed three sentences makes it seem like he's treating them like children. So the overall impression is that the relationship between Bush and his new cabinet is that of father to children, or possibly master to sycophants. Whatever, the darkest days are still to come...

Posted 09:09 AM

October 22, 2004

Progressive Peliculas

Cool thing to do this weekend in D.C.: Attend a free screening of a progressive documentary at the Provisions Documentary Film Series. Neato. [link via DCist]

Posted 09:08 AM

October 17, 2004

More Derrida and Contingent Foundations

For some reason I keep thinking about Derrida, so . . . more links: Derrida online has collected links to obits and the Remembering Jacques Derrida page is like a who's who of rockstar academics. If you're still trying to get a grasp on why Derrida mattered, here's a highlight from a NY Times op-ed by Mark C. Taylor entitled What Derrida Really Meant, which tries to clarify what Derrida meant by “deconstruction”:
The guiding insight of deconstruction is that every structure - be it literary, psychological, social, economic, political or religious - that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained through acts of exclusion. In the process of creating something, something else inevitably gets left out.
To those who think Derrida was just some nihilist/moral relativist:
This is an important criticism that requires a careful response. Like Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Mr. Derrida does argue that transparent truth and absolute values elude our grasp. This does not mean, however, that we must forsake the cognitive categories and moral principles without which we cannot live: equality and justice, generosity and friendship. Rather, it is necessary to recognize the unavoidable limitations and inherent contradictions in the ideas and norms that guide our actions, and do so in a way that keeps them open to constant questioning and continual revision. There can be no ethical action without critical reflection.
And one of the many reasons Derrida is so relevant today:
During the last decade of his life, Mr. Derrida became preoccupied with religion and it is in this area that his contribution might well be most significant for our time. He understood that religion is impossible without uncertainty. Whether conceived of as Yahweh, as the father of Jesus Christ, or as Allah, God can never be fully known or adequately represented by imperfect human beings. And yet, we live in an age when major conflicts are shaped by people who claim to know, for certain, that God is on their side. Mr. Derrida reminded us that religion does not always give clear meaning, purpose and certainty by providing secure foundations. To the contrary, the great religious traditions are profoundly disturbing because they all call certainty and security into question. Belief not tempered by doubt poses a mortal danger. As the process of globalization draws us ever closer in networks of communication and exchange, there is an understandable longing for simplicity, clarity and certainty. This desire is responsible, in large measure, for the rise of cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism - in this country and around the world. True believers of every stripe - Muslim, Jewish and Christian - cling to beliefs that, Mr. Derrida warns, threaten to tear apart our world. Fortunately, he also taught us that the alternative to blind belief is not simply unbelief but a different kind of belief - one that embraces uncertainty and enables us to respect others whom we do not understand. In a complex world, wisdom is knowing what we don't know so that we can keep the future open.
Others have built upon Derrida's ideas in this area, including Judith Butler, who wrote a terrific argument in favor of “contingent foundations” in her contribution to Feminist Contentions. I tried to summarize that argument for a paper a couple of years ago as follows:
In arguing that all foundations are always-already contingent, Butler begins with a brief examination of the question, “What is postmodernism?” in order to discuss the value of the term to feminist social theory. That value, Butler eventually concludes, lies in the fact that “postmodernism”—or more precisely, poststructuralism—reveals the constructedness of all foundations, which are “the unquestioned and unquestionable within any theory” (39). One of the prime foundations of concern to Butler (and many feminists) is that of the “universal,” which, regardless of how it’s defined, always relies upon biased and ethnocentric assumptions. Perhaps because she was writing in the early 1990s, just after the inital Gulf War, Butler uses that conflict between the U.S. and Iraq to demonstrate the consequences of placing any premise beyond question by calling it “universal.” As Butler notes: “We have, I think, witnessed the conceptual and material violence of this practice in the United States’s war against Iraq, in which the Arab ‘other’ is understood to be radically ‘outside’ the universal structures of reason and democracy and, hence, calls to be brought forcibly within” (40). Following a lengthy (and frighteningly prescient, in our current context) dissection of the Gulf War, Butler turns to the category of gender as another example—like “democracy” and “reason”— of a category or presupposition that is constructed, and therefore neither universal nor unquestionable. Butler’s point is that “universals” simply do not exist; under no circumstances (in the real world) can there be premises or principles that are unquestioned or unquestionable. “This is not to say that there is no foundation,” Butler continues, “but rather that wherever there is one, there will also be a foundering, a contestation. That such foundations exist only to be put into question is, as it were, the permanent risk of the process of democratization” (51).
That really is an incredible essay (Butler's, not mine), both for the way it explains and justifies the idea of contingent foundations (antifoundational foundations, even!), and also for its description of the first Gulf War alone. I wonder what she's writing about this war.... When I left grad school, I was kicking around ways to sort of build a dissertation around this concept of contingent foundations coupled somehow with Frederic Jameson's idea of “cognitive mapping,” which I think I've mentioned before. (Somehow my site search function appears to be hosed; something I'll fix someday, really!) Contingent foundations could be cognitive maps in that we use those foundations to help us make sense of the world. I'm sure there's a good dissertation project in there somewhere, but it wont' be written by me. Still, the ideas fascinate me and Derrida helped bring them into being.... Note to Michelle Malkin, who was almost giddy that Derrida died: Among critical theorists there's no such thing as deconstructionism. There's just deconstruction. Full stop. An analyst or analysis can be deconstructionist, but the school of thought is called deconstruction—the “ism” is only used by those who don't understand deconstruction. On Derrida, see also: Some Simple Thoughts on Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and Using Deconstruction to Astonish Friends and Confound Enemies UPDATE 10-18-04: See also Why I won't be mourning for Derrida by Johann Hari. I haven't finished reading it, but the excerpt here suggests that it's an expression of the typical panic and jump to dystopian conclusions when anyone dares question Enlightenment teleology (which Derrida most certainly did). I don't think it's necessary to chuck the whole of Enlightenment thought into the dustbin of history, but we should recognize its flaws and omissions, as well. There's got to be a balance here somewhere... And none of this really has anything to do with what I should be thinking about and working on right now, so....

Posted 05:47 PM | Comments (1)

September 25, 2004

Arresting Protesters: Neiderer

Since they don't allow comments at the Volokh Conspiracy (a mistake, IMO), I'm commenting here on this brief post from Orin Kerr about recent arrests of Bush protesters. It's a followup to a longer piece that criticizes a Maureen Dowd editorial about the arrest of Sue Neiderer because Dowd failed to mention that the charges against Neiderer were dropped and she was released. The suggestion is that Dowd somehow failed by not mentioning this. Perhaps. But isn't the issue here that the damage was already done at the point of arrest? I mean, it's great the charges were dropped, but the fact that Neiderer was arrested in the first place is what's offensive, isn't it? It's much like police rounding up protesters at mass demonstrations for little to no reason, holding them until the protest is over, then releasing them w/no charge. “Oops! Sorry! We don't want to prosecute because we already accomplished our goal, which was to violate your right to express yourself when and where it might have made a difference.” So while Professor Kerr says Neiderer's case “looks kind of bogus,” I beg to differ. The police (or secret service) should not have such unfettered freedom to arrest people who say “disagreeable” or “controversial” things in public places. The fact that those people are later released w/out being charged does not in any way reduce the fact that the police violated their rights to express themselves. I haven't studied First Amendment law yet. From the little I understand at this point, the state has the right to regulate the “time, place, and manner” of expression. Does this kind of police conduct fall within that sort of regulation? And if so, am I the only one who thinks it should not?

Posted 01:12 PM | Comments (3)

September 23, 2004

Behind the Curtain in Bush v. Gore

The ACSBlog links to an article at the SCOTUS Blog about:
the lengthy October 2004 Vanity Fair article by David Margolick et al. on the 2000 election litigation, with a focus on never-before-reported details about what happened inside the Supreme Court. The piece has received a great deal of attention inside the Court because, as the article details, “[a] surprising number of [law] clerks [from that term] talked to Vanity Fair.”
Vanity Fair generously allowed SCOTUS Blog to post a PDF version of the article online. Get it while you can.

Posted 07:45 PM

Corporate Welfare

Shocking and offensive information from my Corporations textbook (Corporations: A Contemporary Approach by Lawrence E. Mitchell and Michael Diamond):
For example, in the 1996 report, [Stephen] Moore and [Dean] Stansel reported that $75 billion of taxpayer dollars were going to pay direct business subsidies in over 125 congressionally-sanctioned programs. Combined with tax breaks, the amount exceeded $150 billion (and we think it‘s worth noting that at the time, this exceeded the core welfare bill — that is, excluding social security and medical care — by at least $5 billion). Among the most flagrant abuses noted by Moore and Stansel were direct federal payments to Martin Marietta, a major defense contractor, of $263,000 for a Smokey Robinson concert for its workers, $20,000 for golf balls, and $7,500 for an office Christmas party. Perhaps more legitimate were federal contributions of $2.9 million to promote Pillsbury’s efforts to sell its baked goods, $10 million to help sell Sunkist oranges, $465,000 to McDonald‘s to advertise Chicken McNuggets, and $2.5 million to Dole to help it advertise pineapples, nuts and prunes. (45-6)
Are you shocked and offended yet? Reading stuff like this makes me so mad I could spit. Ptewie! (See, I spit!) Excuse me, but what, praytell, is the least bit “legitimate” about 465,000 taxpayer dollars paid to McDonald’s to help sell McNuggets!? Or any of that other crap? Why are taxpayers subsidizing ads that sell them crap they do not need and which is potentially lethal!? The answer is: Taxpayers aren‘t subsidizing crap like this, at least not consciously. Instead, their “elected officials” are subsidizing this crap, and those officials obviously don’t give a damn what taxpayer-voters think (at least once the election‘s over). Disgust reigns.

Posted to the tune of: Everything’s Not Lost from the album “Parachutes” by Coldplay

Posted 12:24 PM | Comments (1)

August 13, 2004

Terrorism = Forum Shopping?

Over drinks last night we were talking about what could make someone decide to give their life to be a suicide bomber or to fly planes into buildings. One of my fellow interns suggested that people who do this may just be "forum shopping." They realize they live in a world where there simply is no justice, so they decide to take their complaints to a higher court, be that the court of Allah or whatever higher power it is they worship.

Needless to say, I think my fellow intern really enjoyed Civ Pro.

Posted 07:11 AM | Comments (2)

August 09, 2004

Two Questions:

1) Why is the Bush campaign requiring people to sign "a pledge to endorse President Bush" in order to enter campaign events?

2) Why do our "terror alerts" always seem to come within days of other news that could damage the Bush administration? Is there a pattern here?

UPDATE: See also:

Posted 06:59 AM | Comments (5)

August 07, 2004

ACS Blog via Lexblog

A few weeks ago the ACS was seeking applications from law students to act as volunteer editors for a new ACS blog. Well, the ACS blog is now online, staffed by a crew of six law student editors. So far all posts come courtesy of the editor in chief, but I assume that will be changing soon. The site looks good, and considering the amount of support for the ACS nationwide, this blawg is well-positioned to become very popular and influential. I'll be visiting often to see how it grows.

But since it's still just getting started, what's most interesting about the ACS blog at this point is a little logo in the bottom left-hand corner for something called LexBlog. LexBlog apparently "builds blogs for lawyers."

Yeah, that's right. Someone is now in the business of building blogs for lawyers.

LexBlog offers several packages, the most extensive of which take care of every possible detail of building and maintaining a blog, including the writing of content. LexBlog even claims its "lexPremium" plan comes with a "customized plan to establish lawyer or firm as 'go to' resource on topic." And it's all powered by Movable Type.

So law blogging has now taken the next step toward commercialization. On one hand I'm thinking, "why didn't I think of that?" Who needs a J.D. to build and maintain blogs for lawyers? Also, if the culture of law school teaches you anything, it's that you have to pay people to get stuff done. This makes lawyers a rich market of suckers who are pre-programmed to pay exorbitant fees for people to do things for them that they could do for themselves if they gave it half an effort (e.g. BarBri). Mr. LexBlog Kevin O-Keefe might make a mint this way. Nevermind the fact that thus far blogs have been almost completely noncommercial, an anomalous little pocket of the web and the world where there's virtually no profit to be gained or lost, where value is driven and measured by links rather than money. Nevermind how wonderful that is, and how fresh the air is in the blogosphere when it's unpolluted by profit motives. Nevermind that the foundation of the blog as a form is that it allows individuals or small groups to express themselves to a wide audience for free or virtually free, and that it offers very little incentive for manipulation or dishonesty, that the blog as a form has become a phenomenon precisely because of its honesty and freshness and originality and candor. Nevermind all that. I'm sure there's lots of money to be made here.

Don't you look forward to the day when you can pay a fee to become the "go to" resource on a topic? Forget about building credibility and earning the respect of your readers by dint of effort and intelligence and the love of what you do. In the brave new world of for-profit blogging, you'll be able to work as hard as you like to build a popular and reliable online resource, but there will always be someone (i.e. a big corporate law firm) with enough money to pay an army of bloggers-for-hire to make sure its own "blog" is the "go to" resource on your favorite topic. Hooray.

I anticipate comments reminding me that people have been making money from blogging for years now. For example, Radio Userland started charging for its blogging software years ago, and Movable Type recently started charging for its software, and you have to pay for hosting, etc. People have also been running ads on their blogs, trying to make money from them. And I'm sure LexBlog isn't the first blogger-for-hire. I know all that. It's ok. I understand that the complete commercialization of blogging is almost inevitable. I wish LexBlog a bright and prosperous future. Like I said, part of me wishes I'd thought of it first. Still, just because I understand how our world works, that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Ambivalence rules.

Posted 08:20 AM | Comments (6)

July 29, 2004

Hope Is On the Way?

John Edwards gave a pretty fine speech last night (text of speech); I watched the last half or so and I'll admit he had my attention. A lot of it was simply style; the man knows how to captivate an audience. But he said many things that I do hope we'll have a chance to hold him and John Kerry to beginning next January when they're sworn in as the next President and Vice President of the U.S. One of those things was about health care:

We can build one America where we no longer have two health care systems. One for people who get the best health care money can buy and then one for everybody else, rationed out by insurance companies, drug companies, and HMOs — millions of Americans who don't have any health insurance at all.

It doesn't have to be that way.

We have a plan that will offer everyone the same health care your Senator has. We can give tax breaks to help pay for your health care. And we will sign into law a real Patients' Bill of Rights so you can make your own health care decisions.

This had special resonance for me because I'd just gotten off the phone w/L., whose father is currently in the hospital. It looks like he's going to be ok, no thanks to our brilliant system of "managed" care. Long story short, he came much too close to dying Tuesday when his HMO tried to tell his doctor how to care for him. The doctor said L.'s dad needed emergency surgery, and that he needed to do it at a larger, nearby hospital. The HMO said, no, that hospital is not part of our network; you'll have to ship him 50 miles away to another hospital where he'll be assigned a new doctor not familiar w/the case. The doctor argued w/the HMO and finally told it, "Fine, I'll move him where you want him to go. But he's going to die on the way and I'm going to help his family sue you."

The HMO backed down. The doctor moved L's dad to the closer hospital, did the surgery, and L.'s dad is now recovering—finally. He's not out of all danger yet, but things are looking much better.

I'm tell this story because it's shocking, horrifying, and absolutely common. People are dealing with this kind of obscene greed from HMOs every single day, and I'm sure people die or suffer needlessly every day because they're not lucky enough to have a doctor who will stand up to the HMO, or because the HMO won't bend no matter how livid the doctor gets. I'm sure all too often the HMO does its cost-benefit analysis and decide, hey, the chance this patient will die is X, and even if this patient dies and we get sued, that will cost less than if we had to do this doctor-recommended procedure for every patient who needed it; therefore, lets gamble w/this patient's life and we'll make more money in the long run. That's the bottom line: Your HMO will murder you if there's money in it. Can you say "pathological pursuit of profit"? If you weren't yet sure what "purely self-interested, incapable of concern for others, amoral, and without conscience" meant, now you know.

And this kind of obscene immorality is happening to everyone—it's probably happened to you, or to someone you know and love. And we put up with it. We swallow it. We complain about it, but we don't demand change. Aren't you proud to be an American?

But it's even worse than I ever knew because this isn't a story about someone w/out a health care plan, or a story about someone w/a low cost, bare bones plan; L.'s dad has (or was supposed to have) one of the best health care plans in the country. He was a lifetime employee of a major corporation and he's got "great" insurance. So we have millions of Americans w/out health care of any sort, we have more millions with really bad budget plans, and now even if you have money, if you have top-of-the-line insurance, you're still not safe from HMOs.

So John Edwards is promising that hope is on the way. He and John Kerry have a plan for health care; they claim they will:

lower family premiums by up to $1,000 a year, cut waste from the system, lower the cost of prescription drugs to provide real relief to seniors, and use targeted tax cuts to extend affordable, high-quality coverage to 95 percent of Americans, including every child.

I don't see how any of that will change the control HMOs have over care or reduce their incentives to trade my health for their profit. Yeah, maybe the Kerry/Edwards plan would make us better off than where we are now, but it seems to me that health care in this country will remain tragically unjust until we put doctors back in charge of health care and take the profit out. Hope may be on the way, but real hope for a real solution still seems a long way off.

Posted 07:00 AM | Comments (8)

July 21, 2004

Both Sides?

Goshohmy! That's what one of our clients this summer says when he's surprised by something: Goshohmy! It's really quite a good exclamation, and expresses my surprise that this little post from Monica has generated so many responses, include this latest from Nicole. It started with an offhand comment about Slate, I mentioned Salon, and away we went. So here's a long response to Nicole's excellent long response (you'll have to read what she wrote for this to make sense):

UPDATE: I had the link to Nicole's post wrong. I think it's fixed now.

Like I said, I really don't read Slate. If you say it covers both sides, I'll take your word for it.

But where is "the center" in our country? Is it anywhere near where you'd like to be? If so, you're certainly doing the right thing supporting it. I think (and lots of data supports this) the so-called "center" in our country has shifted dramatically and horribly to the right in the last 30-40 years, so yeah, I'm extremely opposed to that. I think many "politicians who work close to the center" are not so much working as coasting along on the tides of the status quo. Sure they get shit done, but perhaps that's because they only try to do the easy stuff, the stuff nobody cares too much about because, hey, it's close to the center already, no extreme opinions involved, no worries.

And sure conservative issue positions are valid; it would be nice to see some politicians stand up and be conservatives. How about conserving our tax dollars? How about conserving the environment? How about conserving the health of Americans by providing health care for everyone? (By the way, you think 97% of Americans don't want that? Think again. Of course, it all depends on how you phrase your polling question.) What passes for conservatism today is a farce and is in fact among the most profligate agendas ever to hold sway in America. The only thing they want to conserve is their own fat bank accounts, and everyone else can pay the price.

We're living in extremely screwed up times. I'm extremely angry and dismayed about that, and I'm extremely determined to do something about it. I agree that lefties shouldn't insulate themselves from more than half America, but when 99% of the news sources available to me on a daily basis (radio news, newspapers, tv, web) are claiming to give me both sides, I'm not to worried about getting out of touch by reading one or two websites that don't make any such pretense.

Which reminds me: Lots of news outlets claim to give us "both sides" of issues, as if that's all there was. What about side 3, 4, 5 and so on? Very few stories have only two sides; you suggest Salon is extreme, I suggest it's just a 3rd side, and sometimes a 4th or more. What's so bad about that?

And since you asked what purposes so-called "extremism" serves, let me ask you: Whose interests does your dismissal of so-called extremism serve? The interests of the status quo, it seems to me. And like I said, if that's cool with you, then by all means, carry on— digest a steady diet of Slate and other mainstream news sources, support "centrist" politicians, etc. But if you'd like anything about our society and our world to change very much at all, you might want to think again about how you define "extreme" and where you draw the line about what you'll listen to, read, watch, etc.

Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it's from Neptune. Noam Chomsky

But, and so, ok. We're on the same side, really, I think, and I do understand your point that if the only things you say sound so whacky people think you're a freak or a lunatic then you'll never get anything done. That's true. But what if we think of it this way: There's a limited range of acceptable debate in our society. Right now, that range is about an inch wide, and everything outside of that little inch-wide band of acceptability sounds like it's from Neptune. In order for us to have a healthy, happy, productive and prosperous society, that range of debate needs to be much wider. For now, let's aim for doubling it to two inches. How do we do that? I'm not sure, but I bet if more of us are constantly making noises that sound like they're from Neptune, that range of acceptable debate will start to expand. So do you want to spend your life working w/in an inch of acceptability, or would you like to hope for more?

Posted 09:17 PM

July 18, 2004

Grad Union News Good/Bad

Graduate students at American universities have been trying to form unions for more than a decade, largely because universities have shifted more of the undergrad teaching burden from tenured or tenure-track faculty to grad students. Those students have had some success, but it's been a long struggle. Last week there were two major developments in this effort.

The good news: The Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO) reached an agreement on a contract with the University of Illinois. (See also News Gazoo story.) As a former member of this union who worked on the campaign for recognition, I couldn't be more pleased. Congratulations, GEO!

The bad news: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled last week that grad students at private institutions can't form unions because they're students, not employees. The logic of this is just ridiculous. Why would being a student preclude me from being an employee? If I take classes from a school, and also work for pay at the school, aren't I both a student and employee? Yes. As an employee in the united states, don't I have a right to form a union? Roughly, Yes:

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1935 to administer the National Labor Relations Act, the primary law governing relations between unions and employers in the private sector. The statute guarantees the right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers or to refrain from all such activity. Generally applying to all employers involved in interstate commerce--other than airlines, railroads, agriculture, and government--the Act implements the national labor policy of assuring free choice and encouraging collective bargaining as a means of maintaining industrial peace. Through the years, Congress has amended the Act and the Board and courts have developed a body of law drawn from the statute.

Witness the power of "an independent federal agency" — it doesn't matter what Congress says the law is because the NLRB can "administer" that law however it sees fit. This is why I'm looking forward to taking Administrative Law this fall—so I can learn the most effective ways to challenge and change decisions of agencies like the NLRB.

Posted 12:43 PM | Comments (2)

July 15, 2004

No Change

Sad. While Bush attacks Kerry for "values" and continues trying to say his war was justified, it's very disheartening to note that this post from a year ago could almost have been written today:

Yubbledew and Co. are still on the loose trying to salvage and extend their "scare and plunder" methods of governance. Currently they're trying to squirm out of the mess they're in by blaming George Tenent and by asserting that they didn't, technically, lie. "We got the info from Britain, and Britain did put that info in a report, which is all we said. We didn't say it was true, we just said it was a claim made by British intelligence." So why does that make it any better?

Lies upon lies upon lies. Oh, but not technically, in the strictest sense, lies. They haven't gone so far as to ponder what the definition of "is" is, but they've done everything but. And again, who died when Clinton lied?

Oh, and while I'm on the general subject of our fearless leader and his war: Advocates of War Now Profit from Iraq Reconstruction [thanks to the new blog for the link]

Posted 06:38 AM | Comments (1)

July 13, 2004

Vietnam Zippo Etching

Traveling back to D.C. from Michigan last weekend we heard a story on NPR about a new musical interpretation of the phrases and sayings U.S. soldiers etched onto their Zippo lighters while in Vietnam. I didn't care much for the music, but the sayings were pretty incredible. My favorite is featured on the NPR page about the story:

We are the unwilling, Led by the unqualified, Doing the unnecessary, For the ungrateful.

I wonder how many U.S. soldiers in Iraq feel that way.

For more on the Vietnam Zippos, check out The Vietnam Zippo, a which I think was mentined in the NPR story.

Posted 06:06 AM | Comments (3)

June 23, 2004

Rule Of Law?

This is just wrong:

[Former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee] who advocated that the United States ignore international law--and some might say, commit war crimes--now holds a lifetime appointment on the federal bench.

UPDATE: I haven't really been following the whole terror memo debacle, but this just seems to illustrate why it's so important we have regime change in the U.S. this November. It's not just Bush, it's not just Cheney or Rummy or Ashcroft, it's all of them, and all the people they've hired and listen to. This administration as a whole has demonstrated such a disdain for law and justice at every level that even staunch Republicans need to step back and really think about whether these are the kind of people—reactionary loose cannons with no respect for the law or anything other than their agenda—they want running the country.

See also: U.S. Struggled Over How Far to Push Tactics

Posted 08:20 PM

June 05, 2004

RIP Reagan

Former President Ronald Reagan died today at age 93. As you're bombarded with media "packages" that the networks have had canned for the past 5 years in preparation for this day, remember that he was not the saint current Republicans would like to make him out to be. And this is so true:

Prediction: Reagan is going to be Dubya's virtual running mate.

I'm not yet sure how they'll do it, but you can bet Rove is cooking up ways to imprint the Reagan-Bush II connection on the minds of every U.S. voter. I bet Bush will give at least one more heavily televised pseudo-eulogy linking the "great accomplishments" of Reagan with his own "war on terror."

UPDATE: More perspective from someone who recognizes that Reagan was not the saint some people would have us believe.

See also:

Posted 09:25 PM | Comments (3)

May 27, 2004


Yeah, you know it already, but apparently the vixen behind the Capital Hill blog scandal is no longer anonymous — she is Jessica Cutler and she worked for Republican Sen. Mike DeWine.

She's 24, holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Syracuse University, once aspired to be a journalist and says she is not ashamed in the least of her behavior. "Everything is true," Cutler told us in an interview. "It's so cliched. It's like, 'There's a slutty girl on the Hill?' There's millions of 'em," she said, laughing. "A lot of my friends are way worse than me."

She's, um, been fired.

Posted 05:43 AM | Comments (2)

May 05, 2004

The Damaged Kingdom

Disney is trying to block the release of Michael Moore's new film, "Fahrenheit 911." And why is Disney doing this? Moore's agent claims Disney just wants to protect its relationship with the Bush administration:

Mr. Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, said Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.

"Michael Eisner asked me not to sell this movie to Harvey Weinstein; that doesn't mean I listened to him," Mr. Emanuel said. "He definitely indicated there were tax incentives he was getting for the Disney corporation and that's why he didn't want me to sell it to Miramax. He didn't want a Disney company involved."

Disney executives deny that accusation, though they said their displeasure over the deal was made clear to Miramax and Mr. Emanuel.

Yeah, of course Disney denies the accusation. But this move may have been the best thing Moore could hope for, since it's generating tons of free press and "buzz" about the film. Plus, he's made the front page of the NY Times with a quote like this:

"At some point the question has to be asked, `Should this be happening in a free and open society where the monied interests essentially call the shots regarding the information that the public is allowed to see?' "

and this:

Mr. Moore does not disagree that "Fahrenheit 911" is highly charged, but he took issue with the description of it as partisan. "If this is partisan in any way it is partisan on the side of the poor and working people in this country who provide fodder for this war machine," he said.

Doesn't Disney care about the poor and working people? Oh yeah, only insofar as they buy tickets to theme parks and movies.

Posted 06:36 AM | Comments (5)

April 21, 2004

Scary Search

Forget about why this person might have ended up here at ai, the real question is: Why is someone searching for "what exempts someone from the draft for war" in the first place? Is Nader's draft talk having some effect? Or was this search prompted by a Republican Senator's call to reinstate the draft?

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on post-occupation Iraq that there isn't an American that doesn't understand what the troops are engaged in Iraq and what the prospects are for the future.

"Why shouldn't we ask our citizens to bear some responsibility and pay some price," he said

Hmph. I thought this whole Iraq adventure was supposed to be a cakewalk (also more cakewalk). It sure is a good thing our fearless leader never makes any mistakes. Do you feel more secure yet?

Posted 06:36 AM

April 16, 2004

Nahnahnah, heyheyhey, Bye Bye Chief

Thanks to This Modern World, I just learned that yesterday students, faculty, and community members at the University of Illinois have taken over the Swanlund Administration Building to protest the school's racist mascot, Chief Illiniwek. More up-to-date information (with pics and moviesthis is a high-tech sit-in!) is at the activist's site, Retire the, and one of the activistsa Philosophy graduate employeeis blogging the action. It sounds like they've done exactly what the GEO did two years ago when we took over Swanlund for a day to demand the University recognize the rights of its graduate employees to organize and bargain collectively. The sit-in strategy worked that time; the University agreed to recognize the results of a union election, which the GEO won, and now the union is bargaining for its first contract. (A glacial process, it seems). Here's hoping the Retire the Chief activists are as successful!

UPDATE: It looks like the action was successful; how successful is still unclear. While we wait for the press conference, how about a little taste of UIUC spin? Check out its announcement of why Swanland is closed today:

For the safety of students, faculty, staff and the public, the Swanlund Administration Building is locked today. Campus administrative activities are fully staffed and continuing in alternate locations. For the convenience of the public, offices have been established on the third floor of the Illini Union Bookstore and the Turner Student Services Building. Regular telephone numbers for the relocated offices are being forwarded to the alternate locations.

Um I think that should read:

We can't get into Swanlund today because we refuse to retire a racist mascot. We've got flack-handlers spinning to the press and public on the third floor of the Illini Union Bookstore and Turner Building. Everything is definitely not ok. Thanks for asking.

On a mostly unrelated note: Why doesn't the GEO have a real blog that nicely organizes and archives their news? I designed the current GEO site in about 2001 before I knew what a blog was. They've hacked my design into complete ickiness, and it looks like it's time for a thorough reworking of things. Maybe when he/she gets out of the sit-in, the blogging Philosophy grad could help whip the GEO's site into shape?

Posted 07:48 AM | Comments (3)

April 11, 2004

Bawk! Bawk!

You know you live in a consumer society when you associate holidays with ads as much as with anything else. I can't think "Happy Easter!" without thinking of a 1980s tv commercial for M&M's candy, that featured a kid in a chicken suit saying "Thank you Easter Bunny! Bawk! Bawk!" If you know of an online version, please point it out because I can't find it and I'd love to see it again.

Nostalgia for television commercials. How sad.

For Christians, this is supposed to be a day of happiness, and I hope it is. Yet, regardless of your religious beliefs, today might also be a good day to think about the world we're living in. Just about a year ago the U.S. went to war in Iraq for no clear reason. Thousands have died in the last year — for no clear reason.Now, the Bush administration has declassified the August 6, 2001 memo saying Bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S., that al-Quaida cells were in the U.S., and that their plans included hijacking planes. It's no coincidence that this memo was released on a late Saturday afternoon on a holiday weekend; clearly, Bush and Co. are hoping people will be too absorbed in their holiday observances to pay close attention to the significance of this development. Meanwhile, the completely lackluster walking corpse that is the Democratic nominee for president is MIA. Oh happy day!

I've been so absorbed in moot court competition (I didn't make the board, by the way), the auction and the finals looming over my head that I haven't had time to pay much attention to the news. I'm sure I'm not alone; it really is easier in many ways to concentrate on your own life and what's going on w/in your immediate sphere of existence than to devote time and thought and energy to the larger world. And there's certainly a bliss to ignorance, but where is our bliss leading us?

But what am I saying? It's Easter. We have funny television ads. Thank you Easter Bunny! Bawk Bawk!

p.s.: I really didn't sit down to write such a bitter pill, but then I read that memo and there you go.

Posted 07:35 AM | Comments (4)

March 19, 2004

One Year Later

One year ago today we mourned a war that still had not "officially" begun. At that time, the U.S. and much of the rest of the world were deeply divided over whether a war on Iraq was necessary or wise. One year later, there's not much more consensus about that, but there have been lots of consequences — none of them very great. On the global balance sheet, the war has given us a massive loss of lives (American, Iraqi, and others), ongoing violence in Iraq, an influx of foreign terrorists into Iraq, a bitterly divided world, the U.N. marginalized, and perhaps worst of all, a precedent that massive military action is an appropriate response to vague and unsubstantiated "threats." All of those things affect U.S. citizens, as does the huge budget deficit we're now facing, which is being used as a pretext for cutting social services both at the federal and state/local levels.

So did the war produce anything positive? Are the Iraqi people better off living in a war zone where every day they could be killed by random violence? Is the world now a safer place? The Bush administration would like us to think so (Powell chimes in, as does Cheney) I just don't see it. And tell me again, why should we listen to one more thing these people say?

Is it cynical of me to think this big showdown with Al Queda leaders has been staged and orchestrated to reach some kind of spectacular climax around, oh, today, one year after Bush launched his pet war on Iraq? You bet it is.

What a sad, sad year.

Posted 06:10 AM

Democracy for America

Yesterday Howard Dean announced what he plans to do to continue moving his campaign agenda forward. It's A New Day, with some great pictures reminiscent of the good old days (not so long ago) when Dean was still actively running for the Democratic nomination. Oh yes, those were the days.

Also of interest for a sort of big-picture look at why it's important this new venture succeed: Onward Deaniacs. (FWIW: I never liked that "Deaniac" term too much myself — I prefer Dean Democrat, or just plain old "progressive.")

Posted 05:29 AM | Comments (1)

March 18, 2004

Political Madness

Today the Dean campaign will announce what comes next, and it looks like it will be called Democracy for America. And not a moment too soon, either.

We need all the tools we can get to get the word out about why the world can't afford to have another term of Bush. Along with the new Dean effort, the Committee on Government Reform has created Iraq on the Record, a searchable database of infamy:

This database identifies 237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq made by these five officials [Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, Rummy] in 125 public appearances in the time leading up to and after the commencement of hostilities in Iraq. The search options on the left can be used to find statements by any combination of speaker, subject, keyword, or date.

Oh, and MoveOn has a great clip of Rummy playing what has become the Bush administration's near-constant liar's game. So when do impeachment proceedings begin? Do we really have to wait for November?

Coming from somewhere deep in right field, Hot Ambercrombie Chick (HAC) has begun a write-in candidacy for President, complete with a serious defense of t-shirts saying "Voting is for Old People." The fact that so many people can reach age 19 and be so ready to throw their votes away is Exhibit A for why improving public education is so vital in a democracy. Someone should tell HAC that the store selling her beloved t-shirts -- Urban Outfitters -- is owned by a right-winger:

While the typical Urban Outfitters shopper is likely to be liberal-minded--as is the province and privilege of youth--the fiftysomething Hayne is mom-and-apple-pie conservative. He and his wife Margaret have contributed $13,150 to the campaign coffers of Paleolithic right-wing Republican Sen. Rick Santorum and his Political Action Committee over the years.

Oh, and someone should also tell HAC this: Not voting is just as much a statement as voting, and the negative act does nothing to reduce your responsibility for policies you don't like, but in fact may increase your responsibility.

In the land of people who are more likely to be taken seriously, DG points out that the Bush campaign is distributing desktop pics that feature a quote from Bush about creating jobs. The funny thing is, the quote appears beneath a photo of workers holding pink slips. Yet another great reason to Pink Slip Bush!

But here's where the serious craziness is: The House debate over whether to officially declare that removing Saddam Hussein from power made the U.S. and world a safer place. Oooh. I feel so much safer! (The resolution apparently passed.) But this is related to the right's apoplexy over the defeat of their conservative friend, Aznar, in Spain. As Scott Rosenberg notes, those darned Spaniards are just refusing to follow the Bush party line! It seems pretty clear that Spanish voters were declaring their dissatisfaction with Aznar's alignment with Bush and support of the Iraq war, so why do people get all uptight when Howard Dean says just that? Zapatero, Spain's new Socialist leader is calling it like he sees it, calling the Iraq occupation a "fiasco":

The International Herald Tribune recently quoted Zapatero as saying, "We're aligning ourselves with Kerry. Our allegiance will be for peace, against war, no more deaths for oil, and for a dialogue between the government of Spain and the new Kerry administration."

Yes! A breath of sanity in a world of political craziness! But U.S. Republicans aren't listening. Instead, U.S. Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, has to go and say that in voting for Zapatero, Spaniards voted to appease terrorists:

"Here's a country who stood against terrorism and had a huge terrorist act within their country and they chose to change their government and to in a sense appease terrorists," Hastert said.

Hey Dennis? Have another plate of "freedom fries," will you? In fact, have a few dozen plates. And remember, it's not polite to talk with your mouth full.

Posted 06:42 AM | Comments (2)

March 04, 2004

A bit more on Haiti

A fair number of people have visited this page recently searching for information about Haiti, probably due to a couple of posts from the last few days. Obviously, I don't have any answers. I still haven't seen any real investigation of Aristide's charges that U.S. forces kidnapped him, nor does there seem to be much serious analysis of how, or to what extent, the U.S. supported the so-called "rebels" who now appear to be in power. At least now that U.S. Marines are on the ground, it should be less likely that "Baby Doc" Duvalier will be able to return to Haiti.

This article from The Jamaica Observer [link via Scripting News] offers more perspective on recent events, and argues that Aristide's good intentions were no match for the obstacles to positive change in Haiti:

When Aristide was elected first in 1991, there was no democratic tradition in Haiti. The politicians and intellectuals had been killed or driven into exile, and after 20 and 30 years, they were not likely to return, having made lives elsewhere. Haiti in 1991 was rather like Germany after the Second World War, its dictator gone, but gone too were the working appurtenances of a democratic state, political parties, trade unions, a judicial system etc, because Hitler destroyed them. Aristide had to play the cards he was dealt. A parish priest -- a slum priest as the Western press prefers to call him -- is unlikely to develop statecraft ministering to an oppressed and desperate flock while trying to escape assassination.

Aristide was always a symbol -- with big ideas, it is true -- but without the praxis, without the experience and network of contacts to put his ideas into place. He was surrounded by people who depended on patronage, whether rich or poor, and since old habits tend to linger, they proceeded to behave exactly as they had before. It was Aristide who appointed Cedras who deposed him. And it was because he knew he couldn't trust the army that he dissolved it when he returned to power.

Without an army and with a laughably small and half-trained police force, it was always in the cards that gangs would develop in Haiti, as they have in Jamaica, Brazil and other countries, to fill the hiatus left by the state's armed forces. To describe such a situation as an example of Aristide's corruption is not only self-serving, it is dishonourable.

That's a fairly different story from the one being told in the U.S. by AP reporters:

Haiti's first freely elected leader lost a lot of popularity in Haiti — and in Washington, which restored him to power in 1994 after he was ousted in a 1991 military coup — because he allegedly used militant loyalists to attack and intimidate his opponents, failed to help the poor and condoned corruption. Aristide, in exile in the Central African Republic, has denied the accusations.

Amnesty International offers lots of information about the "rebels" who have taken over (led by convicted human rights criminals), but doesn't say much about Aristide. For still more context,, which bills itself as a "journal of democracy and human rights of record," says:

the threat today against Haiti, a small Caribbean nation with a population estimated at 8.2 million, is not from classic military dictatorship, but more forms of dictatorship of the proletariat.

Oh my! A dictatorship of the proletariat! Much better to have a military coup, don't you think?

Finally, for a lot more information on the U.S. perspective of Haiti, check out the U.S. Dept. of State's 2003 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Haiti.

Posted 04:55 PM

March 02, 2004

Still Wondering

The other day I asked what was happening in Haiti. Despite the headlines that have followed, I'm still wondering: What is really going on?

Did the U.S. kidnap Aristide to get him out of Haiti? Of course the U.S. denies this, but do we have any reason to believe these denials? The history of U.S. involvement there and in other devloping nations doesn't make the U.S. denials seem very credible. See, e.g., a short history of Haiti by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsy Clark.

The UPI reported last week on accusations that the U.S. has been covertly supporting the "armed rebels" in Haiti:

"The Bush administration is again engaged in regime change by armed aggression," former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark said. "This time, the armed aggression is against the administration of the democratically elected president of Haiti."

Note the rhetoric of the news coverage. The people with the guns in Haiti are "armed rebels." Aristide is "Haiti's firs freely elected leader." Last I checked, where a small group of people resorted to force of arms to disrupt a legitimate government, they were being called "terrorists," not "armed rebels." Where's the line between "terrorism" and "armed rebellion"? Does it simply depend on whether the U.S. agrees with the goals of those using force of arms?

Another question: Has Haiti just become another Venezuela? The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.
Posted while listening to: Catch Me Now I'm Falling from the album "Low Budget" by The Kinks

Posted 07:18 AM | Comments (3)

Warning: Sarcasm

In light of recent conversations, I want to make clear that I don't mean to offend anyone here, but I do appreciate sarcasm and so I can't resist: 12 Reasons Gay Marriage Will Ruin Society.

Note: This link is provided as an informational resource only and as a convenience to ai readers and their affiliates. The views expressed in this link do not necessarily express the views of ai or its affiliates. Reasonable efforts have been taken to provide accurate and current information, however readers take the responsibility for verifying all information. This link is provided "AS IS" without warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of fitness for a partiuclar use or non-infringement. YMMV.
Posted while listening to: Get A Life from the album "Ultimate Alternative Wavers" by Built To Spill

Posted 07:15 AM | Comments (1)

Duper Tuesday

Today is "Super Tuesday," but somehow it doesn't seem so super. The last debate among the Democratic candidates was mostly annoying squabbling over trifles, as notable for the poor performance of the journalists as for anything the candidates said. Not so long ago it seemed like there was a lot at stake in this Democratic nomination race, but now the headlines say this could be "Edwards' last hurrah" and "Kerry hopes for knockout blow."


Howard Dean's candidacy is what made the nomination race interesting for the last year, and it's still making headlines. Political Wire has a roundup of the different takes on whether the campaign disintegrated because of infighting. Dean says no, Howard Kurtz says yes, and Matthew Gross, Dean's former chief blogger who is now working for Joe Trippi, says yes, too, but sort of moderates that position here. The worst accusation is that Dean never wanted to actually get elected, but I find that very hard to believe. He certainly didn't look or sound like someone who didn't sincerely want to win; in fact, until now, everyone seemed to think his desire to win was too intense, and that's one of the things that brought him down. But whatever the case, I hope Trippi's "people" and Dean's "people" can come together or at least cooperate on their mutual goals. A lot of good could come from what they started, and it would be a shame to waste all that potential on battling egos and hurt feelings.
Posted while listening to: Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors from the album "Amnesiac" by Radiohead

Posted 06:59 AM

March 01, 2004

My Ignorance, My Bliss

While I was wrestling with a moot cour/LRW brief arguing that receipt of a gun as payment for drugs constitutes "use" of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, it appears Three Years of Hell and the Curmudgeonly Clerk found much to dislike about Congressman McDermott's speech that I posted yesterday, as well as the fact that I posted it at all. There are several comments on their pages, as well as more in dialogue with Letters of Marque. Anthony (of Three Years) and the Clerk argue that McDermott is making a dumb argument, and that it was dumb of me to post it. To review, McDermott made a short speech using citations to the Old Testament to mock those who would like to make U.S. social policy conform to "Biblical principles."

I admit my ignorance of Biblical specifics is gross (meaning broad or general), in part because I determined long ago that any reference to the Bible (Old Testament or New) to support or refute any position was asking for trouble. Obviously, reference to the Bible to point out this fact is also asking for trouble. But seriously, people can toss "scripture" at each other endlessly and there's never going to be a winner in those fights. In that spirit, I didn't intend the McDermott speech as a serious argument about gay marriage or anything else; it simply mocked the ridiculous "prayer request" it responded to, and I still think it did that quite well. When the Presidential Prayer Group asked that U.S. policy conform to "Biblical principles," it didn't specify any content to those principles, so McDermott chose to respond with Old Testament citations. Anthony and the Clerk claim it was ridiculous or dumb or disrespectful or something along those lines to refer to the Old rather than New Testament, and perhaps they're right. But if McDermott's point was that the Presidential Prayer Group's request was ridiculous or dumb (and I think that was at least part of the point), then choosing those Old Testament passages made that point quite well.

But as I said, in posting McDermott's speech I wasn't trying to make a serious argument about gay marriage or civil unions or the Bible, and therefore I admittedly didn't do a lot of (or any) homework on these subjects. I figured my intent would be clear from the glib sarcasm of my remarks following the quotation. For future reference, if I want to make a serious argument about gay marriage or civil unions, I probably won't base that argument on the Bible.

All of this is tangential to the main and more important point on which Anthony and I agree: The government simply shouldn't be in the "marriage" business. We should grant equal rights to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, and leave "marriage" to religion.

Now back to that brief...

Posted 06:00 AM | Comments (9)

February 28, 2004

That Marriage Bidness

The other day Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott (WA) made a short, 1-minute speech about the definition of marriage and the proposed amendment to the Constitution. Below is a slightly more extensive version of McDermott's remarks that arrived in my inbox, thanks to some crazy married kids (with kids!) currently lost in the cornfields of the midwest. McDermott said:

The Presidential Prayer Team is currently urging us to: "Pray for the President as he seeks wisdom on how to legally codify the definition of marriage. Pray that it will be according to Biblical principles. With any forces insisting on variant definitions of marriage, pray that God's Word and His standards will be honored by our government." This is true.

Any good religious person believes prayer should be balanced by action. So here, in support of the Prayer Team's admirable goals, is a proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles:

A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5)

B. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

D. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)

F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

So um, yeah. Marriage is sacred and very clearly defined. The Bible says so, and that's "a god-breathed book!" Come to think of it, we should just do everything just like the Bible says! Otherwise we'll go straight to hayell. That silly Constitution thinks it's so darned smart with its separation of church and state and all that nonsense. Well we'll show the Constitution who's boss. Why stop at amendments? Let's just throw the whole thing out and let the Bible tell us what to do! Paradise, here we come!

Posted 09:29 AM | Comments (7)

February 27, 2004

What's Happening in Haiti?

Why is the democratically-elected leader in Haiti under attack from armed rebels? And why will no one step in to help settle the issue? From the AP we get general summaries of events that don't tell us too much about why any of this is happening. On the surface, you'd think the Bush administration, with its constant talk of strengthening democracy around the globe, would want to help Aristide. But that's not what we're doing. Instead the U.S. is stalling and more or less saying Aristide should bow to the so-called rebels. Why?

The AP keeps talking about "flawed elections" in 2000 that caused Aristide to lose the support of the international community. Hmm. Maybe. The AP claims that Aristide hasn't been helping the people of Haiti as he said he would. Again, it's possible. But according to this from an apparent Aristide supporter, around 90% of Haitians support Aristide. So why have the "rebels"/"terrorists" been able to make so much trouble? The same source says it's because the U.S. has been funding them. And why would the U.S. do that? Possibly because Aristide's policies aren't good for corporate America.

So what do we believe? There seems to be plenty of evidence in the historical record of U.S. involvement in small developing nations to support the idea that the U.S. has been largely responsible for supporting the trouble in Haiti. Apparently Congresswoman Maxine Waters believes that. Then again, it's always possible that Aristide has become a power-hungry, anti-democratic demagogue. What do you believe? Why?

Posted 06:25 AM | Comments (3)

February 09, 2004

Pants on Fire

You know, I'm trying focus elsewhere, but Bush's Meet the Press interview yesterday was just so full of big fat lies it demands at least a mention. For a blow-by-blow account of just how completely disingenuous Bush was being, see Claim vs. Fact: The President on Meet the Press from the Center for American Progress. As Ron Suskind said the other night on Real Time with Bill Maher, the Bush administration has a big problem with facts. The administration seems to not understand that you can only ignore, deny, or lie about the facts for so long before they eventually catch up with you. At least we have to hope so...

UPDATE: More on the "interview" from David Corn and Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation.

Posted 07:01 AM

February 03, 2004

Commissioner Copps

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps called for change yesterday in the way federal elections are covered in the media and suggested that the FCC place free airtime for presidential candidates higher on its agenda:

We really need to do something about [free airtime for federal campaigns] because what passes for political coverage in this country is a travesty.

Speaking at George Washington University Law School, Copps also said that recent media controversies -- including CBS censoring, Janet Jackson's bare breast at the Superbowl halftime show* and the censoring of the Dixie Chicks -- are "smoking guns" that prove that media concentration has gone much too far. Copps explained that most of America's media operations (including (tv stations tv networks, tv production operations, radio, cds, internet portals, movie studios, movie theatres, concert venues, etc) are owned by a handful of big media companies.

They own the methods of production and distribution. If that's not the classic definition of a monopoly, I don't know what is.

The event was entitled "Is Media Concentration in the Public Interest?" and was sponsored by the American Constitution Society.

Copps began with a brief overview of recent developments in media deregulation and the situation as it stands today. According to Copps, it's not a pretty picture. Last June the Commission voted 3-5 to relax media ownership rules, giving already huge corporations a chance to get even bigger. Copps called this a "tectonic shift" across a whole range of media issues, saying that with this and other recent actions, the Commission seems to be "rushing pell-mell toward breathtaking change" -- all while doing everything it can to keep the citizens who own the airwaves (you and me) from having any input in the process.

Copps argued that media concentration matters to regular citizens because it threatens the free exchange of information and ideas necessary for democracy to function.

According to Copps, the FCC has been and continues to face a choice about how American media will function. On the one side are the free-market cheerleaders, friends of big media who are pushing for more media control by fewer corporate giants, as if the media is just like any other business: Chairman Powell (son of Colin, yes, the Secretary of State), Kathleen Abernathy, and Kevin Martin. On the other side are the friends of democracy and American citizens, the Commissioners fighting for more local control, diversity, and competition in media markets: Copps and Jonathan Adelstein .

While, Copps said the free-market advocates have recently been winning the fight, there's still hope that their rush to deregulate the media can be turned around. That hope comes in the form of an unprecedented coalition of citizens and advocacy groups who have joined together to stand against media concentration. That coalition helped encourage the Senate to pass a resolution of disapproval against the FCC's changes last June. The resolution has been bottled up in the house by Republicans and the President who don't want it to come to a vote.

But Copps said the best way to save the media is to get involved. For more information, read anything by Robert McChesney, one of the founders of, where you'll find all the information you'll need to understand the problem of media consolidation, including ten things big media doesn't want you to know. NOW with Bill Moyers also reports frequently on the issue.

* Note: I personally think the brouhaha over Jackson's bare breast is insanely ridiculous; we have much larger things to worry about. Why didn't we hear this much public and official outrage when CBS censored MoveOn and PETA? Why were there no official inquiries and condemnations when Clear Channel censored the Dixie Chicks? We unleash all the indignation and anger we can muster when a breast appears on tv, but we hardly bat an eye when the complete disregard for freedom of speech threatens our very democracy. Sad.

Also, think for a minute about the ad CBS refused to run It's simply a reminder that huge deficits are probably bad for America's future. But CBS refused to run it because CBS would rather subject Superbowl fans to ads about crotches and fart jokes (the Budweiser ads, for example). At this rate, crotch and fart jokes will be the future of our country. Or are we already there?

Posted 06:27 AM | Comments (8)

January 22, 2004

Organized Resistance

If you're in D.C., check out the National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR) happening this weekend at American University. NCOR's brief description of the conference:

The National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR) is in its seventh successful year. In years past, this conference has played a significant role in coordinating a dialogue between activist groups, and sparking in-depth discussion of the strategies and tactics of our various social justice movements. This year, NCOR again envisions being a forum for cutting edge discussion for people of all different levels of involvement. Last year, over 1,000 people converged on Washington, DC for a weekend of experience, discussion, planning, and protest. Don't miss this year!

It would be interesting to poll attendees. Who is the presidential candidate of this social justice crowd?

Posted 06:47 AM | Comments (1)

January 16, 2004

Upside Down

What a week. Up is down, down is up. I do not like green eggs and ham. Going to the moon and Mars? Sure, but only if we spend twice as much money immediately on research and development efforts for sustainable energy—wind, solar, biomass, etc. If we don't get serious about developing and using sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, we won't have a planet to live on. Energy and environmental policies have become matters of national security. Just ask Al Gore, who said yesterday in a major speech on the environment:

Instead of spending enormous sums of money on an unimaginative and retread effort to make a tiny portion of the Moon habitable for a handful of people, we should focus instead on a massive effort to ensure that the Earth is habitable for future generations.

If we make that choice, the U.S. can strengthen our economy with a new generation of advanced technologies, create millions of good new jobs, and inspire the world with a bold and moral vision of humankind’s future.

Links to streaming video of Gore's speech are here. Gore used the subject of the environment to illustrate how the Bush administration is the willing puppet of corporate America:

The Bush White House represents a new departure in the history of the Presidency. He is so eager to accommodate his supporters and contributors that there seems to be very little that he is not willing to do for them at the expense of the public interest. To mention only one example, we’ve seen him work tirelessly to allow his friends to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Indeed, it seems at times as if the Bush-Cheney Administration is wholly owned by the coal, oil, utility and mining companies.

While President Bush likes to project an image of strength and courage, the truth is that in the presence of his large financial contributors he is a moral coward – so weak that he seldom if ever says “No” to them on anything – no matter what the public interest might mandate.

Ah, but Bush is strong and courageous. I mean, he's defending (heterosexual) marriage, isn't he? What absolute crap. You can talk all you want about "strengthening families" or whatever, but if you'd like to reduce the rate of divorce, reduce domestic violence, reduce youth (and overall) crime rates and give children more secure and stable platforms from which to become happy, healthy, productive citizens, then put $1.5 billion into the war on poverty.

And what's this? Kerry and Edwards are now "surging" in Iowa?

A Research 2000 poll released Thursday showed Dean at 22 percent, Kerry at 21 percent, Gephardt at 18 percent and Edwards at 18 percent. The undecided vote was at 13 percent and other candidates were in single digits.

Here's an even more astonishing poll. Gee, I wonder if the media's demonstrable bias against Dean could have anything to do with this.

Howard Dean received significantly more criticism on network newscasts than the other Democratic presidential contenders, who were the subjects of more favorable coverage, according to a study released Thursday.

More than three-quarters of the coverage of Dean's foes by the nightly news programs was favorable, while a majority of attention to Dean was negative, the Center for Media and Public Affairs found.

It's certainly something to consider the next time you hear a constant drumbeat of news against Dean.

Related: What the hell is Michael Moore doing promoting Wesley Clark? Apologies to Musclehead, who's also supporting Clark, but Clark gives me the heebie jeebies. The guy's a cipher, an opportunist, he whines, he "consulted" with the media on the war while at the same time lobbying for the defense industry in congress. He's proven himself to be an establishment compromiser in the same league with Kerry and Gephardt. But what really gets me about Clark is not the guy himself, but what I fear animates too many of his supporters, namely the same fear that keeps so many in Bush's thrall. "He's a General," they say, "so he can protect us." Whatever. We're not going to make the world a better place if we start from fear. As cliche as it sounds, we have to start from hope. And yeah, ok, I understand there may be a thin line between fear and hope, and that his supporters may believe that Clark offers hope for a better future. However, I just don't see what he's done to support such a belief. But hey, he's got the support of Madonna, and now Michael Moore. Yay. The real question is: Does he have a car like this?

And speaking of endorsements: Thank you, Carol Moseley-Braun. I, too, hope the "Men Only" sign on the White House comes down soon, but first we need to get the "President Bush" sign off of the Oval Office door. In addition to the fact that she made a valiant effort against immense odds, I'll remember Moseley-Braun's campaign for the great story she told in a couple of debates about a time when she was young and the toilet was overflowing. Her mom sent her dad to the hardware store to get something to fix the toilet, and her dad brought back a lawn mower. The story illustrated what Bush does with every problem. If terrorism's the toilet, Iraq is the lawn mower. Get it?

Posted 06:01 AM | Comments (2)

January 14, 2004

Dean wins D.C.

The results are in from D.C.'s first-in-the-nation, nonbinding, protest primary designed mostly to bring national attention to the problem of lack of congressional representation for District voters. With 16% of registered Democrats voting, the totals were:

  1. Dean: 43%
  2. Sharpton: 34%
  3. Mosely-Braun: 12%
  4. Kucinich: 8%
The other major candidates did not participate in deference to the whines of the DNC, which was miffed because D.C. was usurping its role as the supreme authority in the Democratic party by holding the D.C. primary before New Hampshire's. Whatever. It's still a good thing for Dean:

Dean thanked his campaign workers in a speaker-phone call from Vermont that was amplified to about 150 supporters in a Connecticut Avenue bar. He reiterated his support for giving the city voting rights in Congress and called it wrong that five of his rivals opted out of the contest.

He also said he won the vote among an electorate with a majority of African American voters -- defying critics and some political analysts who questioned his appeal to this historically crucial voting bloc for Democrats. Vermont has few minorities and little representation of blacks in its state government, as Sharpton has pointed out in recent days.

"We're going to build a rainbow coalition to take over this country for the people who own it," Dean told his supporters.

In Iowa, where the votes will count next Tuesday, the campaigns are trotting out new ads against each other and trying to solidify whatever support they've got. A lot of Iowans probably won't be too sad this time next week when all the hullaballoo is over. Neither will I.

Dean may get another little boost when he gets some words of praise (but no actual endorsement) from Jimmy Carter on Sunday. Will this help or hurt in New Hampshire, where Dean's been slipping and Clark's been gaining?

On the other side, Bush still trusts his teflon—no matter what happens, Bush can count on the love, affection, worship, and positive spin he's gotten from the media since, well, forever. Still, almost everyone seems to be pointing out the sharp contrast between the administration's response to recent criticisms from former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and its response to an earlier scandal:

The administration responded with alacrity [to O'Neill's allegations]. Only a day [after the allegations went public] it called for a probe into how government documents labeled "secret" could be aired on the O'Neill interview on national network TV in prime time.

But this response contrasted strikingly with the far slower response the White House had in approving a probe on who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak last July. The issue flared again last week when Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York claimed the White House had so far only "partially cooperated" with a Justice Department probe into the affair.

Perhaps Wes Clark had the best spin on it:

"They're not concerned about national security, but they're real concerned about political security," Clark said.

Thank goodness for teflon, huh?

Posted 05:09 AM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2003

Happy Monday

Monday's are better when they don't include class or finals. Sure, there's always studying, but... Today is an extra-good Monday, in light of yesterday's big news. But what to say that hasn't been said? This is good—a recognition that taking Saddam alive rather than killing him on sight was a testament to American ideals of justice and due process.

Beyond that, since the media orgy (capture porn!) started yesterday morning I've been longing for some perspective. What does Saddam's capture really mean? The talking heads keep saying "this changes everything" and I've even heard some calling Bush's statement yesterday a "victory speech." So "winning" this war means capturing Saddam? The goal of the conflict changes so often I just can't keep up.

But the talking heads have incredible power. Friday night's study break (my life is really just one big study break; I should talk about breaks from breaks, which is the time I actually study) was a screening of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," an incredible documentary about the attempted coup in April 2002 against Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected leader of Venezuela. The coup was led by the upper-middle and upper classes, neither of whom like Chavez because Chavez's basic goal is to redistribute the proceeds from Venezuela's vast oil resources among all Venezuelans, rather than allowing a small elite siphon those profits for their personal gain, which has been the status quo for the past century. The leaders of the coup used Venezuela's private television stations to convince people the at Chavez was a brutal dictator; the tv stations told outright lies and lied by omission—showing only certain clips edited to make Chavez look as bad as possible, while withholding footage that made Chavez look good. There's evidence that the U.S. backed the coup, but of course, the U.S. officially denies it. At any rate, the coup failed, largely because the mass of people who voted for Chavez demanded he remain in power. Today, Chavez does remain in power, and his efforts to redistribtute Venezuela's wealth more equally among all its people continue.

The point? Simply another illustration of the powerful role the media can play in defining an event. Just something to think about as you digest the constant stream of pronouncements on what the capture of Saddam Hussein means to you, the U.S., the U.S. presidential race, Iraq, or the world.

And while you're digesting all that, consider something you're probably not going to see on tv—Michael Moore's perspective:

Stay strong, Democratic candidates. Quit sounding like a bunch of wusses. These bastards sent us to war on a lie, the killing will not stop, the Arab world hates us with a passion, and we will pay for this out of our pockets for years to come. Nothing that happened today (or in the past 9 months) has made us ONE BIT safer in our post-9/11 world. Saddam was never a threat to our national security.

It's brash and bold, and definitely polemical in the current context. For a slightly less abrasive take on what Saddam's capture might mean outside of the media frenzy, leaders in other nations are expressing hope that it will mean a quicker return of Iraqi sovereignty. Finally, the Washington Post already has poll numbers on how the capture affected Americans' perceptions of the war, Bush, etc. Interesting, but probably not worth much so soon after the fact. Only time will tell. For now, I hear the siren song of CrimLaw...

Posted 08:25 AM | Comments (3)

December 06, 2003


If you live in DC, try to avoid shopping at Safeway for a while.

Why? Something like six weeks ago, grocery workers walked out of Vons stores in California after Vons offered them a contract that would effectively eliminate health care benefits for workers over time. Then Kroger and Ralphs stores locked out their employees to show their support of Vons. Isn't it nice to see corporations showing such solidarity? Apparently no grocery corporation in California wants to provide its workers with health care benefits, even though they've all been doing so for decades. The CA Attorney General thinks the grocers are perhaps a bit too solid—he's investigating them for anti-trust violations.

Safeway owns Vons. Safeway has stores all over D.C. Now, the UFCW (Union of Food and Commercial Workers) has expanded its picket lines to D.C. Safeway stores. The union hasn't asked D.C. Safeway employees to walk out—yet. At this point, the union just wants to keep shoppers out of Safeway so that Safeway will understand that it's going to lose more money by fighting the than by simply agreeing to a reasonable contract.

So why are Safeway and its fellow grocery chains fighting so hard to reduce worker benefits? According to the corporations, the reason is . . . Wal-Mart. Safeway argues that because Wal-Mart is a non-union employer (Wal-Mart has a very aggressive union-busting organization that successfully fights every effort of its workers to organize), Wal-Mart can pay workers less (and not provide health care), therefore it can charge less for goods, and therefore it can drive the grocery chains out of business. Welcome to "everyday low prices."

And welcome to The Wal-Martization of America.

Did you hear the one about FAO Schwartz? It declared bankruptcy yesterday:

FAO has been losing money for nine years, battered by the deep-discounting tactics of top toy sellers Wal-Mart and Target.

Hey, look—it's Wal-Mart again! In the 1990s, Wal-Mart, the ultimate "category killer," put thousands of mom and pop stores of all kinds out of business on main streets throughout the U.S. Now Wal-Mart is taking over groceries and toys, even in big markets. What's next?

Posted 05:37 AM | Comments (4)

December 04, 2003

Common Sense

In today's news, the Dean campaign is going old school. Following the lead of Thomas Paine who helped inspire the American Revolution with his pamphlet, "Common Sense," the Dean Campaign has produced "Common Sense for A New Century." It's online at that link, but it's more fun if you print it (sheet 1 and sheet 2), read it, then pass it around, to other people. The pdfs were designed for print, using a classic, heavy serif typeface and traditional typographic tricks, like woodcut-esque initial caps and dingbats for organization. See? Old school. Cool.

But "Common Sense for A New Century" is not just cool because someone took the time to design it well. For the past three years I taught Paine's version of "Common Sense" to several intro to American literature classes, and each time it seemed more relevant than the time before. I loved teaching it, because it gave my classes the opportunity to talk about the ideals of justice and equality on which the U.S. was ostensibly founded. Students generally found it easy to see how far we've strayed from those ideals, but just as important, they quickly saw the gap between the kind of activist citizen who would write and distribute a pamphlet like "Common Sense" (and thereby help effect a revolution), and the kind of passive citizens most of us are today (who wouldn't know a revolution if it hit us over the head). The first few sentences alone are brilliant:

SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

What could be more true of our current situation? "Our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer." In much of its approach, but especially in its release of this newly updated "Common Sense," the Dean campaign seems to understand both what Paine was saying and how it applies today. They understand at least well enough to make it a selling point of the campaign. Are they cynically manipulating the activist passion that motivated Paine and which today motivates many Americans? Perhaps, but if they are, I hope they're ready for what could come of that. The Dean campaign seems to be waking people up from an extended slumber of ambivalence and inaction; what will they do once they've had their morning coffee?

There's some irony in the fact that this new "Common Sense" comes at the same time as this headline in today's Washington Post: Dean Now Courting Party Insiders. If Dean's the "revolutionary" candidate who wants to get back to America's core values, what's he doing cozying up to the establishment? The Post sums it up like this:

Dean derives most of his support, energy and money from grass-roots activists, many of whom are new to politics. His cutting-edge Internet campaign is shattering expectations and revolutionizing presidential politics.

But Dean, a savvy strategist and tactician, knows that the road to the nomination and the presidency is much more treacherous if he continues to alienate lawmakers and party insiders the way he did early on, several supporters said. A few veteran Democrats have pulled him aside in recent months to deliver that message.

The trick for Dean is to rail against Washington in public and rally insiders behind the scenes, party strategists say.

"There's a danger some will call it hypocritical . . . or some of his original Internet warriors won't understand he needs to consort with those they feel are the enemy," said Democratic strategist Jenny Backus.

The strategists are right—Dean is going to have to walk a thin line here. Still, it's true that Dean is going to need as many friends as he can get if he's going to win, and even if he is courting the insiders, he's doing too many new and different things to be considered just like every other politician. For example, his campaign seems to be expanding to help elect a Democratic congress, as well. As the Post says, "A non-incumbent presidential candidate raising money for members of Congress this early is unprecedented." Many things about the Dean campaign are unprecedented; let's hope one of them is this: Dean will keep his campaign promises to (borrowing from Paine) take the necessary evil of government out of the control of special interests and give its power to punish back to the society it was designed to serve.

Sidenote: Is the Gephardt campaign playing dirty by trying to create bad blood between unions?

Posted 08:04 AM

Foot in Mouth

Yeah, it's yesterday's news, but what isn't? So: U.S. Defense Secretary Ronald Dumsfeld has won the "Foot in Mouth Award" from Britain's Plain English Campaign for the following statements:

“Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns, there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know.”

You know it.

Don't miss the runners-up, including The Governator with:

"I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.”

The previous winners are also quite amusing.

Strangely, Dummy has also been named "non-EU citizen of the year" by a European Union affairs newspaper for his statements about old and new Europe. Europeans sure know how to make lemonade out of lemons, don't they?

Posted 07:07 AM

November 28, 2003

Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day 2003
It's probably too late for a lot of people, but in case you haven't headed out to shop yet, don't forget that today is Buy Nothing Day.


Posted 10:24 AM | Comments (2)

November 27, 2003

Food for thought

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! When you've finished your turkey or tofurkey or whatever is on your holiday plate, how about filling your mind with some incredibly satisfying thoughts. Here are a few:

First, an interview with Studs Terkel, author of Working and many other "memory books," including his latest, Hope Dies Last. If you don't have time to read the whole thing (and really, it's worth your while), think about this little bit:

There's a poem by Brecht: "Who Built the Seven Gates of Thebes?" When you ask who built the pyramids, the automatic answer is: the pharaohs. But the pharaohs didn't lift a finger. I was told, by Mrs. O'Reilly at McKinley High School in Chicago, that Sir Francis Drake conquered the Spanish Armada. He did? By himself? Brecht in the poem says that when the armada sank, we read that King Philip of Spain wept. Here's the big one: "Were there no other tears?"

To me, history is those who shed those other tears. Those whose brains and whose brawn made the wheels go around. I hate to use the word "the people." The anonymous many. But they're it. I know that the Internet has all sorts of democratic possibilities: That's how Howard Dean came up so fast, isn't it? At the same time, there's a fear of so much in the hands of so few.

I was also going to talk about the perversion of our language: To go more "moderate" means to go more toward the center, and to go toward the center means to go toward the right. If you could see me now, I could do a demonstration: If our physical posture followed our political posture and the perversion of our language -- I'd have to act this out -- we'd walk around leaning to the right. That's the normal way of walking. And then, the guy who's walking straight: "Look at that leftist!" Or if the guy who's walking straight leans a little bit to the left: "He's a goddamn terrorist!"

In a similar vein try listening to Christopher Lydon's interview with Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's campaign manager. (Scroll down; links to the mp3 files of the interview are near the bottom of the page). Trippi discusses many of the reasons why people like Midge Farmer, a proud representative of the great state of Wyoming, are supporting Howard Dean. (This comment on Farmer's letter from the Kiwi Cowboy is also pretty good.) There's too much in Trippi's interview for me to transcribe; just listen and you'll see what I mean. He basically argues that if Dean can win the nomination—and then the Presidency—without being bought out by corporate interests, his election will be revolutionary because it will break the stranglehold big money has over politics.
So far, Dean's proving to be a people's candidate, not a party candidate:

He rarely smiles during his 30-minute stump speech, which he delivers without notes. He does not make small talk, does not open with cute quips and does not engage in self-deprecating humor. He does not talk about himself, nor does he tell members of the audience how wonderful their questions are. He does not pretend to feel their pain.

But Dean still has an incredible amount of work to do. For example, check out what New Hampshire cab driver David Berthiaume has to say about the election:

"I'll tell you where my vote's going: to our president. I'm not a Republican, I'm an Independent. And I'm pro-choice. But I think he's done a good job, and so does at least 51 percent of the country. Fine, he might have been misled about Iraq, but it needed to happen anyway. We kicked Saddam in the teeth, and now he's gone. We should all be happy about that."

Dean's probably up against countless numbers of people who think just like Mr. Berthiaume, and it's precisely this kind of thinking that is unlikely to be changed by tv ads or newspaper articles. The only way to reach people like this is in person, one on one, listening to their thoughts and concerns, and explaining why Dean is a better solution to them than Bush could ever hope to be. If you listen to Trippi's interview, you'll have a much better idea of what I'm talking about.

Today I'm thankful for many things, but foremost among them is that I think Terkel is right: Hope dies last. But we can't just hope that our world will become a better place; we have to work to make it happen. The pharoahs didn't build the pyramids, Sir Francis Drake didn't defeat the Spanish Armada, and George Washington didn't win the revolutionary war. People did that. People like you and me. And it's only people like us who can change the direction our country is headed today. I'm thankful that for that, too.

Posted 01:58 PM | Comments (1)

November 20, 2003

The Other News

While the media go goofy over yet another "Michael Jackson, accused pedophile" scandal, and mostly fall over themselves to show everything about Bush's visit to London except the thousands of protesters, there are actually some other pretty big things going on in our little world.

Did you hear about this little thing called the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)? If you think NAFTA was bad, you ain't seen nothin' yet; FTAA wants to be NAFTA on steriods:

Like NAFTA's Chapter 11, the FTAA's rules of investment would additionally allow corporations to sue governments for future profits lost (a recent example of this was when Canada's Methanex Corp. sued the state of California for almost a billion dollars for banning the use of MTBE in its gasoline, due to its high toxicity. Should Methanex win, California either has to pay out or significantly lower its environmental standards). A poor nation like Bolivia would have virtually no protection against the might of U.S.-based multinationals in a case like this. And the FTAA would also include services, which means that everything ranging from water to education to hospitals would be up for privatization.

Giving corporations the ultimate power to dictate everything from health policy to environmental standards? Sounds great to me!!

You may have heard a bit about this recently because FTAA negotiators are currently meeting in Florida amid more protests (also here w/out the subscription hassle). Don't be misled; the dispute here is not between "free traders" and "isolationists" or "protectionists." Those who support agreements like FTAA want unfettered rights to exploit the environment and the world's workers in order to make as much money as they possibly can. Those who oppose these agreements are simply demanding that business respect the environment and human rights. The protesters do not oppose trade, they oppose exploitation. There's a big difference. But you wouldn't know much about that from reading the mainstream news, now would you?

L pointed out the other big story that's getting a lot less coverage than it should: the arrest of 47 Wall Street currency traders. (You can't beat this headline: "Nightmare on Wall Street".) Why were these people arrested? Well gee, turns out they were stealing from thousands of people:

The scheme, known among the defendants as "the game" or "points for cash," involved bogus currency trades that included kickbacks paid to those who arranged them, Comey said.

In some cases the improper trades were converted into cash that would be delivered to people in diners, he said.

The charges allege that thousands of investors were ripped off. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission also are expected to file charges.

The important part to remember here is that "thousands of investors were ripped off." That could have been you, or your neighbor. Yet, here's a diagram (PDF) that suggests that the "victims" were banks. Um, I don't think so: "thousands of investors were ripped off." Isn't it likely that these were largely investors with the least to lose? I mean, if you have a lot of money, can't you afford to get good advice about how to invest it, and wouldn't that advice largely protect you from scams like this?

Who knows. We'll probably learn little about who the real victims are in these cases because, just as was the case with the Enron and Worldcom and and and scandals, the banks and investment and trading firms involved here are going to do everything they can to make sure we don't care about this. Just another bunch of suits stealing, move along please.

Oh, but wait, it's really important that Michael Jackson got arrested again, right?

Posted 06:55 AM | Comments (1)

November 19, 2003

Christmas is Coming

I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but you know how time flies this time of year; it's really not too early to place an order for the perfect Christmas gift: the Pants on Fire doll!

If you're not into the consumption thing .... um, you're probably on the wrong planet, unfortunately. But if you're still able to enjoy gifts you don't have to buy, the Massachussetts Supreme Court handed down a great gift to U.S. citizens yesterday. Yeah, so "young adults are split on gay marriage," and older people are against it 4:1. So what? I'm sure if someone had been polling in 1860 they would have found that young and old adults were "split" on slavery at the time, too. It's called equality people, and our constitution says it's a foundation of our country, so, well, Merry Christmas!

A couple of time zones away, thousands of people in London are getting into the Christmas cheer early this year. They've assembled to promote peace, love and happiness (isn't that what Christmas is all about?), but some people are apparently pretty worried about all this positive energy, so they've turned London into a fortress for Bush's visit. As the lovable Jon Stewart said on Monday's Daily Show, Britain has deployed thousands of troops, just in case the people love Bush too much. And don't forget, London is the capital city of our closest ally. Of course, FOX News says Bush hasn't heard the "hecklers," so I guess everything's going to be ok.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., back in the U.S., back in the U.S.S.... oops! I was channelling those Brits there for a second. Back in the United States, the U.S. House is apparently in a festive mood—it's trying to give some whopping gifts to the energy industry. MTBE producers alone would get $1.75 billion from the bill, but hey, why should anyone complain about giving billions of dollars to people who make the chemicals that are ruining our environment? Those complainers just must not be in the right giving spirit.

And even more locally, if you're a law student, finals are also coming, so you've got some built in Christmas cheer right there. Think of your finals as gifts from your professors. Yeah, that's it. Your professors have spent hours (maybe) constructing intricate fact patterns that will wow you with their mind-numbing complexity. The best of them—the ones who really want to give you the best gifts—have buried all kinds of little pseudo-facts and red herrings in their hypos so that you'll have extra fun sorting the meaningful from the irrelevant. What could be a better gift than that!?

So yeah, Thanksgiving's coming soon, but I'm thinking we all better start getting into the Christmas spirit as soon as we can. You don't want to be left out, and from the looks of things, we're going to need all the good cheer we can muster in the next few weeks...

Posted 06:04 AM | Comments (2)

November 17, 2003

Protesting Bush

As Bush prepares for his black-tie dinner with the Queen of England, he seems oblivious to the fact that he's creating so many problems for Tony Blair. More important, he claims to be unfazed by the prospect of being greeted in Britain by huge protests, even as U.S. and British police/security people use the threat of terrorism as an excuse to try to shut down—or at least contain—the protests. But what are these protests all about? Time Europe has a nice first-person account from one of the activists who will be protesting, explaining why she's going to be there. Sure, she's not too happy that the U.S. is sending its old, contaminated "ghost ships" to Britain to be scrapped, as if Britian is a better place for American trash. And she's pretty angry over the war in Iraq and the way Britain seems to have become Bush's lapdog in that affair. But Laura Barton is also angry about something larger of which these developments just seem to be symptoms:

Though our hearts still beat for the land of the free and the home of the brave, we fear something larger is at stake — that Bush's War on Terror is not about liberating the oppressed so much as spreading homogeny, ironing out those troublesome creases to create a smooth, uniform way of life in which our wants and needs and opinions are all chosen from U.S.-approved merchandisers. We worry that America values diversity (and three weeks in California do remind you how multicultural the U.S. can be) because it means more things to sell. After all, a world that aspires to the same broad set of dreams is so much easier to bring into line; if we all dance to different versions of the same tune, it makes the Pied Piper's job a whole lot easier.

I wish Bush would listen to protesters like Barton, but the fact that he won't is what makes his praise for the right to protest ring so hollow. I wish the protesters good luck, and I thank them for their efforts. Although Bush will never understand what you're saying, many others do, and that's what makes the protests worthwhile.

Posted 06:06 AM

November 10, 2003

Give 'Em Hell, Gore

Yesterday, Al Gore gave another in his continuing series of speeches condemning the Bush administration for its so-called "war on terror." I spent the day volunteering at the event, which was sponsored by and the ACS. It looks like the speech is beginning to get decent coverage from the press, but you can also read the full text here.

Although the major press seems to be focusing on the sensational comparison of the Bush Administration to Big Brother, the real crux of the speech for me was the way Gore explained that argument. Gore said:

I want to challenge the Bush Administration’s implicit assumption that we have to give up many of our traditional freedoms in order to be safe from terrorists. 

Because it is simply not true. 

In fact, in my opinion, it makes no more sense to launch an assault on our civil liberties as the best way to get at terrorists than it did to launch an invasion of Iraq as the best way to get at Osama Bin Laden.

In both cases, the Administration has attacked the wrong target.

In both cases they have recklessly put our country in grave and unnecessary danger, while avoiding and neglecting obvious and much more important challenges that would actually help to protect the country.

In both cases, the administration has fostered false impressions and misled the nation with superficial, emotional and manipulative presentations that are not worthy of American Democracy. 

In both cases they have exploited public fears for partisan political gain and postured themselves as bold defenders of our country while actually weakening not strengthening America.

In both cases, they have used unprecedented secrecy and deception in order to avoid accountability to the Congress, the Courts, the press and the people.

Indeed, this Administration has turned the fundamental presumption of our democracy on its head.  A government of and for the people is supposed to be generally open to public scrutiny by the people -- while the private information of the people themselves should be routinely protected from government intrusion. 

But instead, this Administration is seeking to conduct its work in secret even as it demands broad unfettered access to personal information about American citizens.  Under the rubric of protecting national security, they have obtained new powers to gather information from citizens and to keep it secret. Yet at the same time they themselves refuse to disclose information that is highly relevant to the war against terrorism.

Funny, isn't it? One of the most secretive (if not the most secretive) administrations in American history is also the most eager to rewrite laws to enable government agents to pry into our private lives. Again I wonder, why would anyone even consider voting for Bush in 2204?

Posted 06:55 AM

October 13, 2003

Lying About War: A Strict Liability Offense

So far in Torts we've covered intentional torts (i.e.: assault and battery), and whether liability for unintentional torts should be decided on the basis of negligence or strict liability. The question is: Should we make people pay for damages they cause to others only if those damages were the result of their negligence, or should we make them pay no matter what (strict liability)?

I thought of this distinction yesterday morning when I caught an interview w/John Kerry on ABC's "This Week" (the one hosted by former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos). George Will was grilling Kerry on wether he'd agree w/Ted Kennedy that the most recent war against Iraq was a "fraud" "made up in Texas." Will wanted to pin Kerry down on this; he was trying to argue that calling the war a "fraud" goes beyond the question of whether Bush and Co. mislead the world about the need to go to war. I believe the way Will put it was "fraud goes to intention." So Will was essentially asking Kerry to say whether Kerry thought Bush and Co.'s intentions in going to war were fraudulent. Kerry would neither say yes or no, only that he's said clearly that he believes the President mislead the world.

And that's the bottom line: Lying to start a war is (or should be) a strict liability offense. Bush did it, now he should have to pay—by being voted out in Nov. 2004, and by having his legislative and social agenda shut down for lack of support until then.

Our legal system decided long ago that when you do something that's inherently dangerous to others, no amount of care or good intentions on your part will place you beyond accountability for your actions. When you keep an animal known to be "accustomed to biting mankind," it doesn't matter how careful you are in keeping the animal locked up; if it bites someone, you're liable and must pay for damages. When you set off explosions—as when blasting a highway tunnel, for example—it doesn't matter how careful you are in blowing the charges; if someone is injured or someone else's property is damaged by your blasting, you must pay.

Lying to get us into war is an inherently dangerous activity. By definition, it threatens the lives of every American service person, and it inevitably threatens the health of the nation (via loss of standing with the rest of the world, for example, not to mention the budget and other problems it causes). Therefore, Bush and his entire administration must pay for what they've done. We, the American people, should make them pay by withdrawing any faith we formerly had in them, by distrusting every single thing they say, and by demanding that our legislators stop supporting their failed policies.

Sure, it would be nice to understand what Bush and Co. were thinking in starting the war. Did they really think Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat? Had they drunk their own kool-aid? Maybe, the fact that Woflowitz and Pearle had been planning this war for a decade makes that seem pretty far-fetched. Did Bush and Co. really think they could waltz into Iraq, take over the oil production, and start reaping the windfall w/out any trouble? Maybe, but again, that seems pretty unlikely. Did Bush and Co. see a war against Iraq as a brilliant way to funnel what was once the largest budget surplus in history away from the public and into the hands of private corporations like Halliburton? Again, it's hard to say, but this seems the most likely explanation, since this is, in fact, what happened. (And why would Bush and Co. want to push the U.S. government closer to bankruptcy? Well, gee, Bush and Co. have always hated the "social safety net" of so-called government entitlements like social security, medicare, etc. And what better way to get rid of them than to simply say, "oops, sorry, we don't have any money to pay for them"?)

Frontline has a big special report on the possible reasons we went to war and what went wrong. However, Bush and Co's intentions in going to war will be something for history to determine. What matters now is that they lied, and for that they're strictly liable.

Posted 05:05 AM

October 11, 2003

Blank Check

One year ago today, the House and Senate voted to give President Bush blank check authority to use military force against Iraq. In infamous Harper's Index fashion, the Dean for America campaign gives us the last year by the numbers. It's not a pretty picture, and it's not getting any better. Is Bush PR spinning right out of orbit? Um, yeah, that happened several years ago, but finally people are starting to notice.

In the race to decide who's going to replace Bush, the Kerry campaign is rumored to be having troubles, and the trouble in the Clark campaign is more than a rumor. Those links come from Scripting News, where Dave Winer is trying to get the campaigns to blog. I think it's a great idea.

Posted 06:17 AM | Comments (1)

September 30, 2003

Ashcroft's Punishment Obsession

Attorney General John Ashcroft really, really wants to hurt people, but he doesn't seem to care about the practical effects of his obsession with harsh punishment. I didn't have to start law school to see that federal minimum sentences can be very problematic, and that trying to limit the judiciary's discretion in sentencing could dramatically change our criminal justice system for the worse. Stephen Saltzburg, a professor from my very own school, sums it up best:

"Law and order, tough on crime, tough on sentencing is still the popular way to go," he said. "It doesn't make it right."

This is why academic debates about just punishment are so frustrating; it doesn't matter if lots of law professors, law students, judges and even politicians understand that excessive sentences aren't good for society. So long as the majority of Americans believe that "tough on crime" means more prisons with more prisoners serving longer sentences, we'll continue to hold the honor of being the most punitive people in the Western world. Ah, and what an honor that is.

Man, I better go read my CrimLaw...

Posted 06:11 AM

September 28, 2003

Say No to Bush Hatred

It seems that as Democrats start to see their fortunes waxing, some are venting their frustration at the last few years of Republican excess by declaring their hatred of George W. Bush. The editors of The New Republic and The National Review recently engaged in an extensive debate on the subject, and while I haven't read all they've said, I can say that I think hatred, and particularly personal hatred, is the wrong channel for the Democrats' anger and resentment.

Bush is merely an exponent of an agenda that is antithetical to both democracy and to Democrats—the conservative agenda that values personal profit above all else. In this way, today's conservatives (who are very different from conservatives past) are simply antisocial; they oppose society's best interests because they see those interests as conflicting with their own. Democrats (or liberals or progressives or whatever term you want to use) see this as a myopic view, to say the least, and yes, it can be infuriating.

What's more, Bush lied and is lying. That's enough to make anyone mad. Even Congress is finally admitting there wasn't enough evidence to go to war in Iraq, although admittedly Congress is trying to blame the "intelligence community" for Congress's own failure to exercise its Constitutional responsibility to put a stop to the executive's war madness. But that only emphasizes the fact that we should never trust our elected officials—not a single one of them. Rather than trust them to do the right thing, we need to actively ensure that they do the right thing by being more active and vocal in the political process and by voting them out when they don't. Today's conservatives have a nice gimmick about trust, though. They say socialism is inherently doomed to failure because human beings are inherently self-interested. This isn't true, but it's one of America's cultural fictions and the vast majority of Americans believe it. And yet, if human beings are inherently self-interested, then we have to assume that politicians, including Bush, are also inherently self-interested; therefore, when they say, "trust us, we're doing what's best for you," we have to assume that they're lying, because they've already told us that they're only going to do what's best for them.

Anyway, all of this is enough to make a more liberal thinker's blood boil, but hatred is a poor solution. Instead I recommend we channel our energies in better directions. Let's start with determination to elect better leaders, and to ensure those leaders are accountable to the people who elected them. This may not solve all our problems, but it's a start.

Posted 07:29 AM | Comments (2)

September 26, 2003


For the past several weeks, Washington D.C.'s busses and bus stops have been plastered with large posters that simply say, "Ain't Pork Grand?" In smaller type at the bottom, almost as an afterthought, the posters add, "Pork, the other white meat." At first I thought these ads were funny, as in, ha ha, pork! In Washington D.C.! Where all the pork is legislative! Funny! But now these ads just bug me. Thanks for the joke, pork people, but can you take them down now, please?

Posted 12:07 PM | Comments (4)

August 26, 2003


Things I wish I had more time for at the moment:

And I'm sure there's lots of more greatness out there I'm missing or forgetting, but see, I don't have time, because of Torts. Torts requires too much reading, dammit. I'm off to Mohr v. Williams: ears, doctors, what fun!

Posted 06:33 AM | Comments (4)

August 22, 2003

Amazing Congratulations

Congratulations to Reichen and Chip, winners of the latest circuit of The Amazing Race on CBS. The couple claimed victory for gay people everywhere, and they earned it—especially against the subtle homophobia of second-place-finishers, John and Kelly. Of course, some people won't be too happy for Chip and Reichen, but the rest of us can be thrilled about the serendipitous synchronicity that put a married gay couple on national TV for 8-10 weeks just as the Supreme Court was striking down U.S. anti-sodomy laws. Not only that, but as Heather Havrilesky noted last week on Salon, they seemed to be the most compatible, well-adjusted, and likable couple on the show.

Rereading that article also reminds me of the irony in the fact that the team that made each other the most miserable on this season of the Amazing Race may have been the self-proclaimed virgins who have dated for 12 years, Millie and Chuck. They crashed and burned a few weeks ago and seem destined for eternal unhappiness if they insist on staying together. Meanwhile, Chip and Reichen will have $1 million with which to show each other the depth of their love. Perhaps there is justice in this world, after all.

Posted 07:14 AM | Comments (5)

August 17, 2003

Get Your War On, DC Punk

In the ongoing saga of the country bumpkin (me) trying to take advantage of all that DC has to offer, I forgot to mention the joy that was ours the other night when David Rees, the satiric mastermind behind Get Your War On, spoke at Politics and Prose. He shared the bill with Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkens, authors of Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital (reviewed here). At first the pairing seemed a bit odd, but it turned out to be a nice combination since punk is all about alternatives to mainstream culture and GYWO is certainly that. But mainly L. and I were there for Rees, who impressed us as an amazingly deadpan comic; if you think his comics are funny when you read them on the screen, imagine having them read aloud to you in a crowded room. It was almost like a form of therapy.

Since I knew that proceeds of his book go to landmine relief efforts in Afghanistan, I've wondered how Rees makes a living. Someone asked that very question and the answer is he's now creating GYWO for Rolling Stone magazine, so he's finally making some bank for his brilliance. You can also give cash to him directly through the paypal link at the bottom of his comics page. Read the comics, throw the man a few bones for those laughs. Buy the book and help make Afghanistan safer. Everybody wins!

In a related vein, we also went to see "The Weather Underground" at Visions Cinema:

Thirty years ago, a group of young American radicals announced their intention to overthrow the U.S. government. In THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND, former Underground members, including Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, David Gilbert and Brian Flanagan, speak publicly about the idealistic passion that drove them to bring the war home and the trajectory that placed them on the FBI's most wanted list.

It's an incredible film about an incredible time and phenomenon in U.S. history, and provides invaluable lessons about the best (and worst) ways to bring about political change in a "modern" (really postmodern or postpostmodern or whatever) society. Short lesson: Violence against the state only gives the state license to use increased violence in response. See also Sept. 11, 2001.

Toward the end of the film, Naomi Jaffe, a former member of the Weather Underground, says something like, "even though we didn't achieve our goals, I think what we did was worthwhile because it shows future activists what's possible; it provides a history of resistance and activism that future revolutionaries can build on." And the thing is, she'd be right except for 98% of the planet, the Weather Underground never existed. History belongs to those who write the history books, and if history books ever mention the Weather Underground, you can bet they do so as minimally as possible and in the context of words like treason, radical, insane, tiny fringe, etc. Have you ever heard of the Weather Underground?

Finally, to come full circle, in addition to being one of the authors of Dance of Days (mentioned above), Mark Andersen is also the founder of Positive Force, a DC activist group. Andersen will join Sam Green, director of "The Weather Underground" (the movie) for a Q&A about the movie and about activism on Aug. 23 at visions. You know, if you want to boost your countercultural cred. a teensy bit, it could be cool.

Now, for something completely different, L. and I are headed off to Six Flags (MD) for a day of mass consumer debauchery of the junkfood and thrillride variety. It's my last day of "freedom" before law school starts, so I figured I'd go out with a bang, of sorts. Batwing, here we come!

Posted 08:15 AM

Fair and Balanced Friday:

Whoops! Friday was Fair and Balanced day in response to response to Fox v. Franken. See also "Freedom of Expression."

Posted 07:42 AM

August 15, 2003

Deregulation Destroyed Power Grid

Why is the cause of the massive U.S./Canada power outage such a big mystery? Hmm. How about we follow the money. Bush and Cheney deregulated energy markets, which allowed Enron to go nuts, destroy the life savings of thousands of investors, and drive the state of California into bankruptcy. Meanwhile, energy companies around the U.S. were busy cutting workers, foregoing maintenance of plants and infrastructure, and basically milking every last dime they could out of the system while putting as little as possible back into it. It's the old profit maximization thing that capitalism is so good at, and profits at electric companies have been getting pretty maximized.

So now the grid goes down and everyone is asking why. The people who know why are the power company executives who have laid off maintenance workers and ordered managers to cut costs in order to maximize profits. Those execs know that the grid went down because they ran into into the ground so they could make more money. But of course, they can't just say, "Well, we basically destroyed the grid in the last couple of years to boost our bottom lines, so this was bound to happen." Instead they say, "Um, we're going to study the matter, but what we do know is more deregulation would be a good thing!"

Don't believe me? Read this story from 2001 [link via Buzzflash]. It recounts what management and labor said about energy deregulation almost two years ago. Management (and Bush/Cheney) said:

Companies like Chicago-based Midwest Generation, a unit of Edison International, are seeking to negotiate new labor contracts that boost productivity and make plants more cost efficient to make electricity at more competitive prices, said Doug McFarlan, a spokesman for Midwest.

Labor said:

The [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union], which represents about 220,000 utility employees in the United States and Canada, warns that in addition to breakdowns at plants and transmission grids, deregulation leads to smaller, less-experienced workforces as utilities sell their plants to the independent, unregulated power companies.

Now just ask yourself: Who was right? And who should we listen to as the debate over how to "modernize the grid" heats up?

Posted 12:41 PM | Comments (1)

August 12, 2003

Racing to the Bottom

Phillip Greenspun's brilliant satire strikes again, this time on the subject of unfair trade policies. Greenspun asks: "Why can't we buy a Chinese house at Walmart?"

How about this for a brilliant business idea:  clearcut a Canadian forest (they love to cut down trees in British Columbia) and ship the lumber to China, build modular houses there and ship the completed houses back to the U.S. in container ships.  Sell them at Walmart (they'll sell anything Chinese-made at Walmart).  The quality won't be quite as good as the best custom homes in the U.S. but it will be good enough and when things start to get creaky in 20 years you can throw the house out and buy a new one at Walmart or Home Depot.

Yeah, why don't we do that? But really, why do we keep messing around? While we're clear-cutting Canadian forests, why don't we just invade Canada, enslave the populace, and force Canadian labor to build us anything we want? Think of what we'd save on shipping!

Posted 09:24 AM

August 05, 2003

Joke for John

I think JobforJohn would like this joke from the latest installment of Get Your War On:

1: Knock knock. 2: Who's there? 1: Jobs and Growth. 2: Oh, shut the fsck up! I mean, really! 1: Jobs and Growth of a sneaking sense of betrayal!

Posted 01:10 PM

Takin' it to the Streets

In today's installment of Democracy in action, please see

Last Thursday, July 24th I was "downsized" from my job of 3 years at a software company.

Later the same day I heard that President Bush's economic team would be doing a bus tour through Wisconsin and Minnesota this week touting Bush's tax cut and its prosperous economic effects.

"What a bunch of BS. I'd like to give their PR tour a dose of reality," is what I thought. So I packed up the minivan and decided to follow their bus around the countryside and talk to whoever would listen about the real facts--that this economy stinks, and Bush's tax cuts are making it worse.

Go John, go!

Posted 12:36 PM | Comments (1)

July 30, 2003

Give 'em the boot!

Since it was possibly the most insane idea to come from the military in a long time, you've probably heard about the demise of the futures market on terrorism. Andrew Raff rounded up some of the coverage yesterday, and it's all over the place. Salon's Scott Rosenberg explains just a few of the reasons the idea was so whack, and politicians seem to be falling all over themselves and each other to condemn the terror futures market. But the best news I've seen on the issue is that Barbara Boxer is calling for the ouster of the freaks responsible for the idea. Boxer said:

"There is something very sick about it," Boxer told Wolfowitz at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq. "If it's going to end, I think you would end the careers of whoever it was who thought that up, because terrorists, knowing they were planning an attack, could have bet on the attack and collected a lot of money. It is a sick idea."

And perhaps even better, today the NY Times editors send a clear message to the Pentagon: Fire John Poindexter!

The "Policy Analysis Market" would actually have opened for business on Oct. 1 had Senators Ron Wyden and Byron Dorgan not blown the whistle. Despite Mr. Wolfowitz's pledge to kill it, however, the problem of Mr. Poindexter remains. He is a man of dubious background and dubious ideas. A retired rear admiral, he served as Ronald Reagan's national security adviser and helped devise the plan to sell arms to Iran and illegally divert the proceeds to the rebels in Nicaragua. He was sentenced to six months in jail for lying to Congress, a conviction overturned on appeal. He resurfaced under the Bush administration at the Pentagon. His first big brainstorm post-9/11 was a program known as Total Information Awareness, designed to identify potential terrorists by compiling a detailed electronic dossier on millions of Americans.

Congress agreed earlier this year to subject that program to strict oversight and prohibit it from being used against Americans. In light of the revelations about the latest Poindexter scheme, Congress obviously did not go far enough. It should close his operation for good. The Senate recently agreed to do just that, adding an amendment to a Defense Department appropriations bill that would terminate funds for the program. The House must now follow suit.

And the Boston Globe agrees wholeheartedly:

Poindexter's past performances suggest a pattern. An intelligence analyst scrutinizing Poindexter's record - or for that matter a sharp gambler looking for a sound betting proposition - would be tempted to guess that the admiral has been functioning as a mole sent by some foreign power to embarrass the United States.

The Defense Department should sever its ties with Poindexter before he can humiliate Americans again. Indeed, President Bush should have dismissed him last year and owes the nation an explanation of how his administration nearly implemented such a bizarre proposal. This distortion of a fashionable faith in pure market forces betrays a radical detachment from reality.

Perhaps we need a futures market for Poindexter's job. Oh, but never mind: This is the Pentagon under the Bush Administration where it's become common practice to admit someone is incompetent, then in the next breath assure us that we should have complete confidence in that incompetent person. Whatever.

Posted 07:55 AM

July 29, 2003

No Betting on Terrorism

Just to update the previous post: It seems the Pentagon Terror Futures Market has been scrapped. Thank goodness for small favors. (And thanks again to L. for pointing out the link.) I wondered after I first mentioned this if the whole story was some kind of demented trial balloon. Why would anyone propose something so completely insane? I can't believe they seriously thought they'd get away with it, much less that it would be truly useful in making the world a safer, more peaceful place, so what could anyone have gained by even floating the idea? I'm completely baffled. But hey, at least it's not going to happen—at least not now and at least not in this form.

Salon has much more complete coverage; the longer story reveals that the party responsible for this incredibly stupid idea is none other than John Poindexter. That man should have been imprisoned for treason in the 80s. Barring that, can't we at least get him fired and barred from any future government service? So, ok, maybe his role in the Iran-Contra scandal wasn't enough to get him branded as an enemy of the state, but then he goes and tries to make American citizens spy on each other, and now he's created "a futures market on death"? I thought we had "three strikes and you're out" laws in this country. I guess those only apply to people who steal video tapes.

Posted 11:42 AM

PAM: It's Just Sick

Unbelievable headline of the day: "Pentagon's Futures Market Plan Condemned":

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is setting up a stock-market style system in which investors would bet on terror attacks, assassinations and other events in the Middle East. Defense officials hope to gain intelligence and useful predictions while investors who guessed right would win profits.

L. pointed this out to me and neither of us can believe it. How could anyone think for even a second that this was a good idea?!? But it appears to be real. Read all about the "Policy Analysis Market" (PAM)—it's got its own website with examples of what will be traded: "Issue A: Overthrow of Jordanian Monarchy"; "Issue B: Iraqi Regime persists after One Month of Hostilities." Oh yeah, great idea.

Not surprisingly, some of the bright lights behind this little scheme are from DARPA, which gave us the great idea of the TIPS Program, evidence of which has now been deleted. One of the things erased was information about retired Adm. John Poindexter, apparently because people started spying on him. That Poindexter—what a guy! So is he involved with this new
PAM game to create a betting parlor for terrorism and U.S. imperialism? And will PAM suffer the same fate as TIPS? Stay tuned for the next episode in the ongoing saga of the complete imbecility of the U.S. military and intelligence community!

Oh, if you have any comments about this whole PAM thing, be sure you send them in!

Posted 06:36 AM

July 25, 2003

Conservative Psychology

There's a new study of the psychology behind political conservatism. A quick summary:

Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:
  • Fear and aggression
  • Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Need for cognitive closure
  • Terror management

It's all very interesting, but really not that earth-shattering. The full study is here (pdf).

This link comes via damnum absque injuria, which also points to comments on the study from The Angry Clam and Instapundit; in fact, you could probably spend all day following links around the right wing of the blogosphere on this study—they don't like it much, it seems. DAI also quotes President Clinton's remarks on the Bush yellowcake/SOTU imbroglio, which Clinton made the other night on Larry King when he was being interviewed about Bob Dole's b-day. Bloggers on the right are also having a field day with this because Clinton
basically said everybody makes mistakes so we can't really hold this against Yubbledew. And he'd probably be right if the Republicans hadn't spent the entire eight years of his own Presidency trying to impeach him for much smaller "mistakes"—like, um, "mistakes" that didn't lead to the deaths of thousands of people. For the record, Clinton also said:

I guess I sound like a card-carrying Republican tonight.

And that's true, which is why it's hard to take seriously the "centrists" at the DNC and the DLC who counseled Democratic candidates to be "Bush-lite," thereby making Democrats big losers in the 2002 election round.

And that's about all I'm going to say about that.

UPDATE: More thoughts on the conservative psychology study at The Yin Blog.

Posted 06:51 AM | Comments (3)

July 23, 2003

A Bunch of Stuff

Ok. After the interesting comments about various types of stress bombers, I really wanted to say something today about the "zero summers" and other personality types so well described in Brush With the Law. However, the day is slipping away so that'll just have to wait, along with all the other things I'd really like to wax poetic about, including:

"Congress to Bikers: Get a Car: Cutting money for sustainable transportation alternatives to cars is so short-sighted and stupid I just don't know where to begin. This is countered at least a little by "A green revolt against Bush," which I Hate Stupid People calls faith restoring. I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's a start.

Bradley's Almanac points to a frightening account of the FBI investigating what a random person was reading in a coffee shop (the guy was reading an opinion piece called "Weapons of Mass Stupidity"). Any faith previously restored is now gone.

L-Cubed continues its streak of provocative posts with a comparison of the different ways the Democrats and Republicans respond to criticism. Scott reports, you decide.

Dan Gillmore says "Voting machines need paper trails" and I couldn't agree with him more. He also provides some suggestions for action to make sure we can trust our elections in the future.

Unlearned Hand reports that the the pro-life movement has effectively stolen millions of dollars from U.S. charities (most of which have nothing to do with abortion, pro or con) and at least one of its members is fairly gleeful about that. Can you say "forest for the trees"?

Finally, Professor Jeff Cooper has returned from a brief break with a great roundup of the coverage of the Bush administration's alleged attempts to smear "whistleblowers" and some nice thoughts on the Tour de France and Apple's advertising.

So much to read and process, so little time.

Posted 09:39 AM

Day Pop Top 40 Report

DayPop's Top 40 rarely fails to offer links to flabbergasting or otherwise outrageous material, and today is no exception. Did John Gilmore really get ejected from a British Airways flight for wearing a "Suspected Terrorist" button!? Has this been in the news anywhere? I mean, doesn't that sound completely nuts? I agree with the guy—airport security is a farce to make us feel "secure" while adding very little in the way of real additional security. Gilmore has filed a lawsuit against a plethora of parties (FAA, TSA, etc.), specifically the legality of requiring all passengers to show identification before they travel. Reason Magazine ("the monthly print magazine of 'free minds and free markets'") is covering the suit. Why isn't anyone else?

And in a related vein of the insults we suffer under the name of "homeland security," "Bush Suckers the Democrats" argues that the scandal over the African uranium claims in the State of the Union Address is just an empty show to make the Democrats look foolish—planned every step of the way by Yubbledew and Co. (I guess that's why Bush's approval rating is dropping like a stone then, huh?) Whew! That's a relief! Just when I was starting to think the world was a complicated place, The Weekly Standard pulls through to reassure me that everything is, in fact, very simple. You just have to stick with the truth. And we all agree about what that is, don't we?

Also from DayPop: The Dallas Morning News has a blog on which its editors hash out their opinions on various issues. How cool is that? Now if we could just get the Bush administration to do this, we might just have something like a democracy again.

Posted 07:07 AM

Hey, Me Too! Me Too!

Now that Stephen Hadley has joined George Tenet in taking blame for the whole "Iraq has recently tried to buy significant quantities of Uranium from Africa" lie that Yubbledew told in his State of the Union address, I feel it's time for me to come clean as well.

I admit it. I, too, failed to ensure that the President did not mislead the world about Iraq. I mean, I really tried, but I failed. So blame me, too, ok? Because Yubbledew is responsible for nothing. You got that? Nothing.

Now, please join me in what I'm sure will soon be our required national mantra: "All Hail King George! Hoorah! Long Live King George! Hoorah!"

What? Did you say North Korea may go nuclear? Shaddup and shout, damn you! "All Hail King George! Hoorah!"

Posted 06:02 AM | Comments (1)

July 22, 2003

Aiding the Enemy?

In "Who's Unpatriotic Now?" Paul Krugman turns the tables on the war-hawks who have spent the last year saying that anyone who opposes the war in Iraq is only aiding Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Krugman writes:

Well, if we're going to talk about aiding the enemy: By cooking intelligence to promote a war that wasn't urgent, the administration has squandered our military strength. This provides a lot of aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden — who really did attack America — and Kim Jong Il — who really is building nukes.

Yeah, let's talk about that, why don't we? How about we start with some good answers to the sixteen questions Howard Dean is asking about the whole line of "we gotta go to war immediately" products that Yubbledew and Co. were pushing so hard for so long. (I guess most of those goods have passed their expiration date, huh?)

On the other hand, it appears some people continue to defend the "technically, it wasn't a lie" story. Hmm. Ok, but as a former English teacher I feel compelled to submit that willful suspension of disbelief is really probably best reserved for movies, novels, short stories, plays, and other works of fiction; when real lives (not to mention historical precedent and the friendship, trust, and goodwill of nearly the entire world) are on the line it's probably better to, um, I dunno, be a teensy bit more critical. But hey, what do I know?

UPDATE: Oct. Report Said Defeated Hussein Would Be Threat [link via Joe Conason's Journal]

Posted 10:30 AM

July 17, 2003

Denial and Deception

So now that you've seen the weapons of mass destruction Google trick a zillion times in your email and on various websites, here's the next big serendipitous indictment of Yubbledew and Co. on the whole war in Iraq issue:

  1. Go to the official White House transcript of the 2003 State of the Union Address
  2. Read the banner at the top: "Iraq Denial and Deception."
  3. Read the speech.
  4. Read the banner.
  5. Vote to impeach Bush.

Ha! It would be funny if it weren't so scary. [Link via Buzzflash.]

Posted 03:01 PM

July 16, 2003

Welcome to Reality

Scroll down to the bottom of this White House transcript of Yubbledew's remarks yesterday about Iraq and you'll find Yubbledew said:

The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. I firmly believe the decisions we made will make America more secure and the world more peaceful.

Now read it again. It says Saddam Hussein wouldn't let weapons inspectors into Iraq, and that's why we went to war.

As Joe Conason reminds us, that's an outright fabrication. So either Yubbledew lies so much he simply can't keep all the lies straight, or he lives in a fantasy world, or both. Either way, the question is this: Yesterday on the afternoon and evening news I heard repeated sound bites from the remarks Yubbledew made yesterday and all of them included the first two sentences quoted above; none of them included the rest of the statement. Why not? Why is the press giving Yubbledew a pass here? Why why why?


Posted 05:45 AM | Comments (3)

July 14, 2003

Fearing Fear Itself

Are you more afraid now than you were in 2000?

The Democratic presidential candidates finally start attacking Bush's credibility for lying to get us into war. Apparently Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman and Gephardt—who both all to give Bush permission to attack Iraq—have finally found a way out of the dilemma they've been in as that pro-war stance made them increasingly unpopular with Democratic voters; now they can just say that the reason they supported the war is that they believed Bush, but now that they know he lied, they can vehemently condemn both Bush and the war. Lucky for them. Will this reduce Dean's lead? As the most "mainstream" candidate who has opposed the Iraq war all along (although he says the invasion of Afghanistan was the right thing to do), Dean was able to distinguish himself on this issue, but that distinction may now become less clear.)

This comes at a time when I'm just baffled that more people aren't just irate about this issue. Why do the same people who got upset that Clinton lied about a blow job (which hurt no one directly besides Clinton, Lewinsky, and Clinton's family) seem so unconcerned about Bush's lies, which have effectively killed thousands of people? Some analysts seem to think the answer is fairly simple: Americans are just scared silly. In fact, it seems we've been whipped into such a frenzy of fear that we'll accept just about anything. For example, in "Trading On Fear", PR analysts Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber look at how Yubbledew and Co. (the Bush administration and corporate America) have stoked the fears of the average American and then profited from those fears. And in "A Nation of Scared Sheep" Louise Witt looks more closely at the fears driving Americans to give Yubbledew and Co. a pass on the lies it told to get support for an invasion of Iraq. Very simply put, it seems we are being manipulated, and apparently it's working.

First Rampton and Stauber explain how television propaganda was used to sell the Iraq war to the American public, but they also debunk the idea that the crap we see on television is just the networks and studios "giving the people what they want":

Fear is one of the most primitive emotions in the human psyche, and it definitely keeps us watching. If the mere ability to keep people watching were really synonymous with "giving audiences what they want", we would have to conclude that people "want" terrorism. On September 11, Osama bin Laden kept the entire world watching. As much as people hated what they were seeing, the power of their emotions kept them from turning away.

Fear is an awesome force. Its power is obvious since even though we can all say intellectually that fear was what caused the Red Scare or the Salem Witch trials or whatever, we still can't seem to help ourselves when someone tells us to be afraid and to do stupid things because of our fear. It was 1933 when Ike said:

first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Ike may have overstated the case a bit—surely there are some things we should fear besides fear itself—but we really don't have much room for such quibbling at the moment. Yubbledew and Co. are still on the loose trying to salvage and extend their "scare and plunder" methods of governance. Currently they're trying to squirm out of the mess they're in by blaming George Tenent and by asserting that they didn't, technically, lie. "We got the info from Britain, and Britain did put that info in a report, which is all we said. We didn't say it was true, we just said it was a claim made by British intelligence." So why does that make it any better?

I'm sure tomorrow will bring new developments. Meanwhile, the good news is that the most recent polls show that the Yubbledew teflon is cracking. Happy Monday!

Posted 09:25 AM

July 12, 2003

The Cost of War

This speaks for itself. What does it say to you? [Link via So Sue Me]

Posted 11:41 AM

June 30, 2003

No More Secrets?

William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and many other sci-fi classics (including Idoru, which I'm currently reading), wrote a fascinating yet odd little essay last week in the NYT. In "Road to Oceana" [link via Scripting News], Gibson looks back at George Orwell's 1984 and argues that its dystopic world was based on a now outdated paradigm. Whereas Orwell was afraid of the power broadcast media could give fascist governments to brainwash and control their populace, Gibson says today we've moved beyond broadcast to virtual media via the internet. This means that we no longer need to fear the propagandistic power of broadcast media, or even so much the surveilling power of government- or corporate-controlled networks of cameras. According to Gibson, we need not fear these things because information is now hyperlinked and massively ubiquitous, with the end result being that "It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret."

Gibson's track record as an almost prophetic visionary is incredible, so I'm reluctant to disagree with his conclusion. Still, I'm skeptical. For example, the Bush administration has come up with the "military tribunal" and the status of the "enemy combatant" as new and improved ways to throw a thick blanket of secrecy over important government and military actions, not to mention the many Bush executive orders to lock down presidential records and who knows what else. And perhaps Gibson hasn't yet read Lessig's The Future of Ideas, which argues that networked information may only be as free as those who own the networks want it to be.

In the long run, Gibson is undoubtedly correct: The truth will eventually come out. Unfortunately, that truth may come too late to help address the problems of today or tomorrow. Yet, Gibson's conclusion rings remarkably true and demonstrates again why he's such a great writer and visionary. Gibson writes:

"1984" remains one of the quickest and most succinct routes to the core realities of 1948. If you wish to know an era, study its most lucid nightmares. In the mirrors of our darkest fears, much will be revealed. But don't mistake those mirrors for road maps to the future, or even to the present.

We've missed the train to Oceania, and live today with stranger problems.

Indeed. (I hope to get a chance to say a few things about Idoru when I'm finished with it...)

Posted 11:04 AM

June 13, 2003


U.N. Grants U.S. war crimes exemption. (At least it's only for a year, but the U.S. has a history of making sure things like this are permanent, even if it is on a yearly renewal basis.)

Posted 02:07 PM

May 16, 2003

Simulacra and Simulation

The matrix has us. Your president is a simulacrum, and so was the saving of Private Lynch [link via Karlin Lillington via Scripting News].

More on the Lynch story:

Posted 09:34 AM

May 14, 2003

Ultimate Contradiction

If there was ever an argument for maintaining a robust system of social services, it's natural disasters. Thousands of people have been affected by tornadoes and flooding in recent weeks, many losing their homes and businesses. Should they all be left to fend for themselves? Does anyone begrudge the victims of natural disasters the money they'll get from state and federal governments to help them rebuild their lives. Taxes fund social services that we need to maintain a healthy society. That's why this makes no sense at all:

President Bush finished off a two-day, three-state campaign for his half-trillion-dollar tax cuts this afternoon with a stop in a driving rain to see the damage in Pierce City, a town about 45 miles southwest of here that was devastated last week when a tornado tore through its center.

The story goes on to say that Bush talked a lot about god and prayer, then promised financial aid to those who lost everything. How can this man demand tax cuts even as he promises more spending? How stupid does he think Americans are? (Answer: Very.) Those people in Missouri and other midwestern states are going to need to pray hard, because Bush is doing everything he can to make sure there's no way their state or federal governments will be able to help them rebuild their lives. Isn't "faith" a beautiful thing? "Dear god, thank you for sending these tornadoes to destroy everything I've ever known and loved. Now please help me rebuild everything because the people in my society don't seem to care about anything but themselves, so without you I'm pretty much on my own down here. Thanks."

Posted 05:39 PM

May 13, 2003

Big Media Trouble

Wow, it's a banner day for bad news about the U.S. media. The FCC has released its plans to deregulate the television industry:

The proposed changes represent the most important rewriting of the ownership rules in decades, permitting the largest media conglomerates to expand into new markets and own more properties in a single city. Analysts expect companies, including Viacom and the News Corporation , to seek to expand their media holdings substantially.

According to The Washington Post:

Two things are certain: On June 2, the five-member FCC will adopt most of the media-ownership recommendations delivered by staffers yesterday. Also, a wave of media deals -- and probably lawsuits -- will follow, as companies jockey to exploit the new rules or seek relief from them.

So what does that mean for you? It means that TV is going to become just like radio. The FCC relaxed radio station ownership limits in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and a wave of buyouts and mergers followed. Today, most major radio markets are controlled by a handful of companies, and the biggest and baddest is Clear Channel. Why does it matter that one company owns so many radio stations? Well, for one thing, that kind of "freedom of the press" buys you rallies for war. There are more problems, w/massively concentrated media ownership (see, for example, Salon's full coverage of Clear Channel and read anything by Robert McChesney), but really, could it get much worse?

If you agree that allowing one company to control TV markets nationwide is not a good thing, sign the petitions at and

UPDATE: For still more information on media reform, also read the last few posts Larry Lessig made in April, as well as just about everything since then.

Posted 02:07 PM

Living With Lies

Speaking of lies, a few weeks ago Robert Scheer penned a good meditation on the question I mentioned a while back: What should we think of the fact that our government no longer even pretends to be telling the truth? Scheer argues that there's probably no more frightening development in recent times; further, he calls Yubbledew Inc., a propaganda machine, and denounces Thomas Friedman's idea that we can shrug off as "hype" the lie that Iraq was an imminent threat to the U.S. and world because of its massive stocks of WMDs:

Hype? Is that how we are now to rationalize the ever more obvious truth that the American people and their elected representatives in Congress were deliberately deceived by the president as to the imminent threat that Iraq posed to our security? Is this popular acceptance of such massive deceit exemplary of the representative democracy we are so aggressively exporting -- nay, imposing -- on the world?

It is expected that despots can force the blind allegiance of their people to falsehoods. But it is frightening in the extreme when lying matters not at all to a free people. The only plausible explanation is that the tragedy of 9/11 so traumatized us that we are no longer capable of the outrage expected of a patently deceived citizenry. The case for connecting Saddam Hussein with that tragedy is increasingly revealed as false, but it seems to matter not to a populace numbed by incessant government propaganda.

Is Scheer right? Have we lost the ability to be outraged? Are we so jaded we just can't force ourselves to care anymore? It's easier not to care, easier to believe Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass (see last post) are "bad apples," easier to believe the President was really trying not to lie, or never would have done so knowingly. To confront these lies is to admit the serious degree to which our vaunted "democracy" is broken. It's easier to do the Scarlett O'Hara and just say "I'll think about it tomorrow." As Cipher says:

You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.

Posted 09:33 AM

May 07, 2003

What If

Dave Winer's comments about the Halliburton/Cheney imbroglio (see last post) made me wonder: What if we had laws against giving government contracts of any kind to any company with "close ties" to current government officials? The law could state that if any senator, representative, or member of the current Presidential administration has worked for or with Company X in the past 10 years, that company is not eligible to bid on or receive government contracts.

Wouldn't that close the "revolving door" between government and industry? Why don't we do that?

Posted 02:01 PM | Comments (2)

Bush's Very Own Tailhook?

In the '90s the Navy was called on the carpet for sexual harassment in what became known simply as "Tailhook." Last week, Yubbledew got a literal tailhook of his very own with the carefully choreographed spectacle of his speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Might history show that this was also something of a figurative "tailhook" (as in "embarrassing scandal"), as well?

Dan Rather called it a "production," which it was—staged from beginning to end for maximum drama. And in response, many critics have pointed to Yubbledew's own dubious "military" record, which David Corn summarizes here, concluding caustically:

Was this, then, just a campaign stunt? Nah, Bush and Karl Rove wouldn't waste taxpayer money and exploit a war that claimed the lives of 128 Americans--and thousands of Iraqis--for crass political advantage. And Bush really did serve honorably in the Guard.

(At least one website,, appears to be fairly obsessed w/Yubbledew's supposed military service.)

But that's not all. Senator Robert Byrd has denounced the stunt, saying:

it is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech.

Here's the full text of Byrd's speech, which includes the all-important fact that:

It may make for grand theater to describe Saddam Hussein as an ally of al Qaeda or to characterize the fall of Baghdad as a victory in the war on terror, but stirring rhetoric does not necessarily reflect sobering reality. Not one of the 19 September 11th hijackers was an Iraqi. In fact, there is not a shred of evidence to link the September 11 attack on the United States to Iraq. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was an evil despot who brought great suffering to the Iraqi people, and there is no doubt in my mind that he encouraged and rewarded acts of terrorism against Israel. But his crimes are not those of Osama bin Laden, and bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not bring justice to the victims of 9-11.

Meanwhile, Rep. Henry Waxman has called for an investigation into the cost of Bush's little excursion. Not only that, but Waxman is also claiming that Yubbledew, Inc. has given Iraq's oil fields to Halliburton:

It now appears however, that the contract with Halliburton -- a company with close ties to the Administration -- can now include 'operation' of Iraqi oil fields and 'distribution' of Iraqi oil," wrote Waxman to Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As Scripting News notes, Vice President Cheney is still on Halliburton's payroll. The plot thickens.

Posted 02:00 PM

May 05, 2003

Monday's Quick Picks

The Matrix Reloaded: As Agent Smith says through clenched teeth just before he chases Neo down for the shootout at the OK Corral (ok, in a subway station, actually) near the end of "The Matrix": "They're not out yet," but the sequels are coming soon, so it's not too early to start getting obsessively prepared. Try "The Matrix—It's Harry Potter with guns" for one quick take on why the original film has been so popular. (IMO, the article is right that "The Matrix" is not ultimately about man vs. machine, but Neo's not an "early-adopter," either. You see:

The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy.

Pick a "system," any system, that's what "The Matrix" is about. That's at least part of why it's so popular—you can plug in your favorite bogeymen. Try: Capitalism and/or Globalization. I'll say more about that another time.)

For more (and better) "Matrix" preparation, try something from this list, or, if you're feeling abstract and adventurous, this list. And if you want to be my best friend, please buy me this. ;-)

William Gibson on Blogging: Sticking w/the sci-fi/cyberpunk theme, this interview w/Gibson discusses his experience blogging and why he's giving it up.

Politicans with blogs: Gary Hart has a weblog. I wonder if he'll get any comments from Donna Rice. It seems he doesn't care; he appears nearly ready to run for President again in 2004. ???

The Complete Bushisms: Sorry, I couldn't resist. These always make me laugh but sometimes the laughter verges on tears when I realize: a) our President cannot form sentences, and b) he also either refuses to correct himself or doesn't recognize when he needs to. My favorite at the moment:

"The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself."—Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 29, 2003

Yubbledew's World is Mean: In "A mean-spirited America" Jill Nelson argues it's mean to spend millions making sure we squeeze every dime from the poorest taxpayers. She's right, but who cares? What's important is that we eliminate all taxes on stock dividends! Let's help the people who need it most!

Speaking of hypocrisy: We were, weren't we? Why does the party that used to preach the virtues of balanced budgets now seem to think record deficits are no problem? [Link via Cooped Up.]

Looting Ws of MD? While the U.S. has been battling to keep the U.N. out of Iraq (gee, I thought that was Saddam Hussein's job), no one's been doing anything to secure known sources of possible nuclear, biological and chemical materials in Iraq. Um, doesn't this look kind of bad? It's enough to make you think some people aren't bothered by all this looting and the possibility that terrorists get bad stuff. I mean, as long as the threat is credible, we can wage all the wars we want, right? And man, what could be better for a re-election campaign than being at war!? Think of all the aircraft carrier photo ops!

What if the Democrats Held A Debate: and no one cared? It's hard to care when you can't see it because your local ABC affiliate decided not to show it!

A Better Windoze Browser? Since I don't view the web through Windoze (except on public terminals at school and in libraries, where IE is the only option), I don't know how Mozilla works w/Windoze boxes. Has anyone tried it? How about "Firebird"? (Firebird is apparently a variant of Mozilla, like Camino is for Mac.) Just curious. What I can say is this: If you haven't tried tabbed browsing, you really should. Popup blocking is also a wonderful thing. YMMV.

Posted 08:44 AM

May 01, 2003

Thank You Labor

Happy May Day, everyone. Next time you begin to doubt that labor unions are a good thing, ask yourself if you enjoy your weekends. If you only have a minute, read this short history of May Day; if you have a few minutes, there's much more to the story.

In Finland, May Day is known as Vappu and I can attest to the fact that this is a party you won't soon forget.

Posted 07:42 AM

Popdex Picks

Officials: 9/11 Was Main Reason for War: Well, no kidding? This is old news—the peace movement has been saying this for months—but at least ABC finally deems it worth serious mention.

Revealed: How the Road to War Was Paved With Lies: Yes! Yes! We know! So why doesn't this matter? Ah, gee, it's all just so complex. Let's go buy another dvd that glorifies war or promises that the American Dream is still alive. We'll think about important stuff like war and lying governments tomorrow. Perhaps instead of calling ourselves "Americans" we should call ourselves Candideians" or "Scarlett O'harans" because if we ever start to suspect that this isn't the best of all possible worlds we always seem to want to think about it tomorrow. Tomorrow may be coming faster than we think.

Gibson Kicks the Blogging Habit: William Gibson (author of the ground-breaking, perhaps genre-establishing Neuromancer and, most recently, Pattern Recognition) has given up his blog. I rarely found the time to read it, but when I did it was always worthwhile. It's ok, though; I'd rather have another book from him than a daily post on a weblog.

RIAA's Rosen 'Writing Iraqi Copyright Laws': This is rich. The leader of the "sharing is illegal" thugs is going to set up the intellectual property system in Iraq? Up next: Former Enron leaders will write the rules for financial reporting. Iraq is going to be one heckuva place to be a capitalist. But, um, perhaps Iraqis should get water and electricity first?

Posted 07:10 AM

April 27, 2003

Daily Outrage

I know I should stop this. Really, I do. By "this" I mean the regular posts about the newest outrage from Yubbledew, Inc. I mean, what's the point? The conservative, imperialist offensive is so outrageous there's no way to keep up. (And besides, it just invites me to use high-flown rhetoric that makes me sound like a raving partisan. Oh wait, perhaps I am a raving partisan.) In the past week we get this from Republican Senator Rick Santorum:

Santorum compared homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery. He also said the right to privacy does not exist in the Constitution. *

And, of course, Yubbldew, Inc. (figureheaded by "the most dangerous president ever") backs Santorum all the way. Wonderful. (See also the full transcript of Santorum's comments and Greg Goelzhauser's links to blawg comments on this issue.)

Meanwhile, Dumsfeld (Mr. Untidy)also continues to spew his own special style of imperialist hubris as he dictates exactly what the future will not hold for Iraq:

"A vocal minority clamoring to transform Iraq in Iran's image will not be permitted to do so," he said. "We will not allow the Iraqi people's democratic transition to be hijacked by those who might wish to install another form of dictatorship."

Where do you even start with that? If it's "the Iraqi people's" future we're talking about, then if they decide to follow their religious leaders instead of the leaders the U.S. picks for them to follow, what grounds does the U.S. have to stop them? And, if it's "the Iraqi people's" future, then won't it only be a "democratic transition" if the Iraqi people want it to be? Enter Rumsfeld, blowing the whole little lie wide open. The future of the Iraqi people depends little on their desires; instead, it's going to be dictated by the U.S., or more precisely, U.S. interests:

Like one of the 19th-century European colonial empires, the Bush government is calling on Bechtel, Halliburton, and other major corporations to take over the job of running the Iraqi colony. These companies are to act in the name of the government. They are to be paid out of our taxes. It might just as well be the British East India company. The colonial corporations become the instrument of the nation-state, in this case to undertake the reconstruction of Iraq. They, not the government, are the purveyors of laws and customs and democratic ideals.

And even as I wonder how those who supported this war can see a difference between American imperialism today and British imperialism 150 years ago, I have to remind myself that such distinctions don't matter to neoliberals and neoconservatives because everyone else on the planet is, by definition, just plain wrong. These distinctions also don't matter because everything comes down to markets and money, which is why the empire being protected and developed in Iraq is not a United States Empire, but the Empire of Western Corporate Interests. The U.S. gov't. and military are the instruments we see at work, but they are not working for their own benefits, they are working for the corporations that will profit from those markets.

What's more, this imperialism is happening here at home. The Yubbledew, Inc. agenda is clearly calculated to bankrupt the public sector (via tax cuts and military spending) in order to make the world in its privatized, corporate-controlled, someone's-going-to-earn-a-profit-from-every-breath-you-take worldview. (As Eric Alterman notes, Yubbledew, Inc's actions certainly aren't calculated to increase security within the U.S. Oh, and in this world you can't be gay, ok?) It's much like Morpheus' explanation of "The Matrix":

Do you want to know what it is? The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.... Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

Which brings me back to where I started: What's the point of these political rants? If you have to see the Corporate Empire for yourself, my thoughts on these matters aren't going to do any good. I don't have any red pills, and I am not "The One" ("yeah, the Oracle hit me with that, too"). I realize that. Yet, you still find these rants at ai because they are a growing record—for me, mostly—of where we are, where we're going, and how we're getting there. I compose these posts because they cover things I don't want to forget and because tomorrow I want to be able to easily find the articles and quotations published today. It's ok if you don't read them. I understand.

* I don't know what to say about Santorum's claim that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to privacy—I'll save that for after I've taken Con Law, maybe. (Anyone care to explain?) But on the subject of, um, "creative" readings of the Constitution it's worth noting that Molly Ivins' latest column in The Progressive quotes Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia saying the government has great power to ignore civil rights during war time. (Unfortunately the column doesn't seem to be online.) Scalia said:

The Constitution just sets minimums. Most of the rights that you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires.

Ivins replies:

He is dead wrong. The only right affected by war is the Third Amendment: "No soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house, without he consent of the owner, nor in tie of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." The Ninth Amendment specifically says: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

So what's story here? Ivins is no lawyer (I don't think), but is Scalia "dead wrong"?

Posted 01:47 PM

Master Satirist?

Reading Philip Greenspun's blog is like reading "Alice In Wonderland" —you never know what's real and what isn't. I mentioned Greenspun a while back when he made the claim that public schools should not teach critical thinking. Of course, if you check out his biography, it becomes pretty clear that he was being facetious; he just does it so well that you constantly have to ask yourself, "Is he kidding?"

Greenspun followed that little piece a few days later with this polemic which argues that schools should be in session for 50 weeks each year, 12 hours each day, to allow students to get a B.A. in 2 or 2.5 years so they can get out into the working world. Hmm... The comments on this post are all over the place, but I think this one nailed Greenspun's intent:

What I think you're obliquely poking at with your mention of cubicle farms is that higher education (indeed, all of what passes for "education" in this country) is nothing more than boot camp for drones in the ranks of corporate feudalism. The mesne lords insist on that funny piece of pseudo-parchment not because of what a potential drone has learned during his or her sentence at the university, but because it's proof of qualification. What the paper means-- especially when combined with excellent grades-- is that the graduate has a proven ability to devote the requisite hours to grinding out arbitrary and capricious assignments of often dubious relevance as ordered by Authority Figures. That's exactly what's expected of corporate drones. So putting drones-in-training in cubicles for 12 hours a day, interrupted only by class meetings, is the ideal training for the drone-hood to which all students aspire.

Does this describe your experience with formal education? This attitude—that education must lead to drone-hood—has been the bane of my educational life as long as I can remember. Now I'm going to law school, which may take the exercise of "grinding out arbitrary and capricious assignments of often dubious relevance as orderd by Authority Figrues" to all new extremes. Again I wonder: Am I insane?

p.s.: Greenspun has since posted "Teaching them to become lawyers," which paints a far different picture of lawyers than I've been getting from lawyers themselves. In a story about the history of broadcast radio, Greenspun says:

The only people in the drama who made millions without taking tremendous risks, working very hard, and occasionally going bankrupt, were ... the lawyers in the patent and regulatory disputes.

I wonder if the lawyers involved would tell a different story.

Posted 11:54 AM

April 25, 2003

Watch the Spin

Following up on yesterday's Words of Mass Deception, today NPR (and an anonymous commenter) is telling us that, despite Ari's confident statements to the contrary, Yubbledew now says that the U.S. might not find WMDs in Iraq:

``He tried to fool the United Nations and did for 12 years by hiding these weapons. And so it's going to take time to find them,'' the president said at the Lima Army Tank Plant. ``But we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them or hid them, we're going to find out the truth.''

In the communications and PR world, I assume this is called "managing expectations."

Perhaps as an indicator of how the Yubbledew spin is working, the Hindustan Times is covering the "where's the WMDs?" story under the catchy headline: "Look, the WMD trick!" What's worth noting is that Yubbledew, Inc. isn't even really being tricky on this. It changes its story to fit the moment, just as it did in the buildup to the war. For months I've been trying to decide if this is a good thing. Are we better off when our government doesn't even attempt to decorate its lies with plausible trappings, or is this the most dangerous development in current American (and British) politics? Or perhaps there's nothing new happening at all. For example, the bait-and-switch has been a reliable technique for mass deception for ages. The latest iteration is working like this:

Bait (skeletal summary of Yubbldew, Inc.'s arguments for past year): "We can't seem to convince anyone that Saddam actually threatens the U.S. because his military capability has been decimated by inspections and sanctions for the last 12 years. Hey, let's tell them it's all about Saddam's WMDs falling into the hands of terrorists or rogue nations so we can go to war!"

Switch (Yubbldew's statement yesterday): "'One thing's for certain, Saddam Hussein no longer threatens America with weapons of mass destruction,' Bush said."

It might be enough to make us dizzy, if we weren't already to jaded and cynical to expect better from politicians.

Posted 01:21 PM

April 24, 2003

WMD: Words of Mass Deception

It seems that everywhere people are asking questions about weapons of mass destruction, the most obvious being: Where are the WMDs? Left Coast Expat wondered about this the other day, and David Corn changes the question a bit to ask "Where are the WMD Hunters?" To paraphrase Corn's excellent points: If we were so worried that Iraq's "WMD" would fall into the hands of terrorists or "rogue" nations, shouldn't we have made finding and securing those WMDs priority number one both during and after the so-called "war"? Why is the U.S. suddenly so complacent about this? (Why is Dumsfeld allowed to speak in public ever?) As the Washington Post kindly reminds us:

The existence of weapons of mass destruction - and goal of disarming Iraq - were the mains [sic] reasons given by the administration for the war, which did not get U.N. approval.

That means Yubbledew, Inc. absolutely must find some WMD in Iraq, and that means it has incredible incentive to lie, or continue lying. As Head Spinner Ari Fliescher* says:

"There are no changes in the American position. We have high confidence that Iraq did indeed have weapons of mass destruction ... that indeed will be found in whatever form it is."

Got that? "In whatever form it is." So, um, Ari, does that include the stuff you're going to plant?

Meanwhile, Arianna Huffington summarizes a few of the facts that show that those who opposed the war in Iraq were right all along, the negative of which is: Yubbledew, Inc. was wrong. It lied. Is the world a better place for the fact that the U.S. has overthrown Saddam Hussein? Does the end justify the means? Only time will tell. The lack of any WMD might suggest the world became less safe—if Iraq had those weapons, and we can't find them, perhaps they're making their way to the U.S. right now in suitcases or something. But in a bigger sense, what many fear is that each "little" and "easy" war (Afghanistan, Iraq) makes the next war seem that much smaller and easier. You know, perpetual war for perpetual peace and all that.

Those "little" wars will only get easier to conduct so long as Americans remain uncritical consumers of domestic media accounts of international affairs. As Christopher Lydon argues, unless we're careful, "we all become Serbs in wartime, and most especially the media," meaning we almost can't help but view the war through the severely skewed lens of our own culture. But how did the war look to, oh, I don't know, the Swiss? The question might put some flag-waving into perspective.

Finally, in an update to the "Saddam Conspiracy" thread I've been following a bit, Salon asks, What happened to Iraq's army?:

The whole issue of Iraqi soldiers -- how many died or were wounded, how many deserted or fought to the end, where they are now -- is surrounded by a veil of secrecy. Neither the U.S. forces in Iraq nor the Iraqis themselves seem to be willing to delve into it too deep. As a result, conspiracy theories about Iraq's defeat, involving either treason or the U.S. use of "low-level nuclear devices," abound. Paranoia rules; even ordinary or wounded Iraqi soldiers, fearing that U.S. troops will arrest them, refuse to identify themselves. Members of the elite units have a better-founded fear of becoming the target of popular revenge, even for individual misdeeds. Says one former Republican Guard conscript: "Even today, after two years, if I find my officer in the street I'll beat him to a pulp."


* Horror of horrors, Ari Fliescher has fans with a fanclub? And another? So says Scott at Law, LIfe, Libido. Just when I thought the world could not become a scarier place, I find Ari-lovers who live at the virtual address of "" The end of civilization is nigh.

Posted 11:30 AM | Comments (4)

April 19, 2003


The loss and destruction of the artifacts that were in Iraq's museums is being lamented worldwide as a loss for humanity. Scott Rosenberg has one version of the many comparisons being made between the U.S.'s inability to protect these cultural treasures, even as it seemed perfectly capable of protecting Iraq's oil. As I noted briefly in the comments below, the fact that the U.S. did nothing to stop the destruction of Iraq's cultural history only proves that its real interests in the country and region are economic. This "war" was about freedom, all right, the freedom of western capital to open new markets and make more money. Where's the $ to be made in museums and historical artifacts? Perhaps on the black market, so the looting was really a good thing—it opened a whole new market to trade and commerce as the looters begin to sell what they stole. Not that that was anyone's plan, necessarily, but what's certain is that the U.S. planned deliberately to protect the oil and the oil ministry (which it did), and it also planned deliberately to do nothing to protect Iraq museums, which were consequently destroyed. Now it's easy for Dumbsfeld and Yubbledew to claim they didn't "allow" the looting to happen, but then, lying has always come easily to this administration. Current priority: Let's get those damned sanctions lifted so we can start making some money from our new colony. Bechtel has millions to make, thanks to its, um "connections." Who's next?

Posted 09:25 AM

April 17, 2003

Who's Starting What?

These people say they want to take away Michael Moore's Oscar for "Best Documentary" because his film is "fictional," meaning it does not contain just the facts, ma'am. Sure, Moore is an infamous truth-stretcher, but lots of stories stretch the truth to make a point. But if we want to talk about truth-stretchers, what about the people behind this "revoke the oscar" business? They only care because they disagree w/Moore. All are "true patriots" and defenders of "freedom," I'm sure. A couple of clicks from the revoke the oscar site gets you to this site that implores you to "never forget who started it." Funny how they don't tell us who "who" is or what they mean by "it." Those details probably don't matter, though—just never forget, ok? Of course, one look at this site and we'll never forget who's selling it.

If you enjoy the complete lack of concern good "patriots" show about sticking to the "facts," pick up the most recent edition of Harper's and read this transcript of a Feb 4th interview between Jeremy Glick and Bill O'Reilly on FOX News' "The O'Reilly Factor." Glick's father was a Port Authority worker who died in the 9-11-01 destruction of the World Trade Center; yet, despite that, Glick is outspoken in his condemnation of the 2001 U.S. attack on Afghanistan, as well as the recent occupation of Iraq. This makes O'Reilly apoplectic; he comes apart like a robot on bad code: "That does not compute. Error. Error. That does not compute!" For superfun, check out this mp3 version of the interview. Obviously, the last thing O'Reilly wants is to remember—or even talk about—who started "it."

Posted 08:50 AM | Comments (4)

April 13, 2003

What's Unreasonable?

If you want to start an interesting discussion, perhaps you should play the devil's advocate. That seems to be what Philip Greenspun is doing when he says public education should not teach "critical thinking" because it's better for the economy to have a nation of mindless drones. [Link via Scripting News.] Judging by the comments, it seems Greenspun's post has become both a test of readers' critical thinking skills, and its own proof that our public schools are failing to provide those skills—many of the commenters seem unaware that Greenspun's post is a parody of the neoliberal view of education. Of course, it's possible that the commenters are merely extending the parody, in which case I'm the one who doesn't "get it." Either way, it's a smart strategy: The argument proves itself. As commenter Mike Owens says, "Johnathan Swift would be so proud."

Another commenter offers this gem from George Bernard Shaw:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

To which I say: Let's all be unreasonable. But wait: Who defines "reason," and what constitutes "progress"? Perhaps what saves us from complete fascist tyranny is that we can never seem to agree on the answers to these fundamental questions.

Posted 10:41 PM

Making Iraq Safe for Capitalism

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ronald Dumsfeld says Iraqis are now free to do bad things. Lucky for them, they'll also retain their "freedom" to have bad things done to them. Right now, chaos appears to reign in Iraq, but that won't last long for the simple reason that there's a lot of money to be made there. In fact, the amount of money to be made is probably directly proportional to the completeness of Iraq's destruction, because the more the looters steal or destroy, the more "help" the country will need to rebuild. And that "help" will, conveniently, come from U.S. corporations being paid by U.S. tax dollars and Iraqi oil receipts. As Naomi Klein writes:

The process of getting all this infrastructure to work is usually called "reconstruction." But American plans for Iraq's future economy go well beyond that. Rather, the country is being treated as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neoliberals can design their dream economy: fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business.

Some argue that it's too simplistic to say this war is about oil. They're right. It's about oil, water, roads, trains, phones, ports and drugs. And if this process isn't halted, "free Iraq" will be the most sold country on earth.

So what does it mean to say the Iraqis are free? Under Saddam Hussein Iraqis were subject to abuse and exploitation; under a U.S.-installed "democracy" they'll continue to be subject to abuse and exploitation. But while Saddam ruled by physical force, the new regime envisioned by the U.S. will rule Iraq through the same economic and psychological force that controls the Western world. Henceforth, Iraqi citizens will be "free" to drink clean water, eat an adequate diet, get a quality education, and receive adequate health care—as long they can pay Western corporations for these basic human needs. Free markets only give those who own capital the "freedom" to make money. But of course, the looters know this, so they're busy accumulating as much capital as they can before their window of opportunity closes and Western corporations take over—under the complete protection of U.S., er, I mean, "coalition" military forces.

Oh yes, the Iraqis are now "free," but we all know that guns and money will win in the end. If capitalism is such a great system, why does it require such massive military force to succeed? The dream, I suppose, is that eventually the military won't be necessary. Perhaps someday all the world's people will become just like Americans who, as Matt Taibbi explains, are the best subjects in the world:

There’s almost nothing you can’t get away with doing to an American. Take away his health insurance and he’s likely to fall to his knees in gratitude. You can tell him to his face that you’re pulling funding for his kids’ schools in order to bail out some millionaire stockbroker in Connecticut who overbet the peso–and he not only won’t get mad, he’ll swell up with pride and burst out singing the "Star-Spangled Banner." You can even steal his pension and gamble it away in Vegas, and the most he’ll do is sulk a little.

Taibbi paints a cynical picture, but it's no less accurate for its vitriolic condescension. Taibbi's solution is to hit corporate America in the pocketbook with a massive boycott—"a self-defeating gesture, to be sure, but we didn’t get to drink the British tea, either." I wonder what Dumbsfeld would say to that. Oh yeah: "Send in the troops!"

Posted 04:44 PM | Comments (3)

April 12, 2003

Saddam Conspiracy

Just for the record: The Tehran Times reports that the U.S. cut a deal with Saddam and Co. to end the "war" quickly. This is certainly one way the dots can be connected; there are obviously others.

UPDATE 4-16-03: Salon's coverage of related issues gives a more complete picture of possible links. I'm not saying I believe it, just tracking the story for the record, so to speak...

Posted 09:49 AM

Get Your War On

Cartoonist David Rees has been busy working on his subversive/satirical strip, "Get Your War On," including a tribute to Mister Rogers, some good jabs at the whole "freedom fries" thing, and the news that your tv's endless loop of statues of Saddam Hussein falling is the antidote to 9/11! (What do you think—is it working?) But one of my all-time favorite lines from Rees's strip is still the one from last February about The Son of Patriot Act:

You think once they have Benjamin Franklin's body spinning in his grave fast enough, they'll be able to power an internal combustion engine with it?

Doesn't that just explain everything? That's even better than turning turkey guts into oil. Strategery, I tell ya!

Posted 09:08 AM

April 11, 2003

Tracking the Chaos

Taking a cue from Ditzy Genius, your humble blogger will today experiment with a new feature:

A Few Comments About Things In The News

  1. JD2B (who doesn't seem to have permalinks, dammit! scroll way down to posts from 4/6) points to a shocking "think-piece" printed in the Wall Street Journal that argues that conservatives are not well-represented among law school professors. Comment: Yay! More seriously, the authors' point is that lots of people are left out of higher education, therefore affirmative action is silly. I wonder if they think conservatives have suffered discrimination and other forms of oppression for hundreds of years in the U.S. Probably, they do. I also wonder if they've stopped to consider what motivates conservatives to go to law school. Do conservative law students aspire to become professors? A few do, perhaps, but I'd guess the majority of conservative students aspire to big jobs in BigLaw where they can maximize discretionary income, which means very few end up in academia.

  2. How the Rich Go to War from James Ridgeway. "A list of military men and women who have so far died in Iraq shows that most are middle or working class." I've been wondering if anyone was tracking this. Apparently so.

  3. Get Ready for Patriot II: How much liberty will you trade for the holy grail of "security"? Isn't our freedom what makes us secure, rather than the other way around?

  4. A Warmonger Explains War to a Peacenik: Brilliant. It's incredible how often the reasons for war changed, and how flimsy and fabricated the majority of the reasons turned out to be. Many will say that none of this matters now—we've been to war, it's virtually over, so how we got here is irrelevant. That's only true if we're eager for history to repeat itself. Perpetual war for perpetual peace? No thanks.

  5. I Should Not Be Allowed to Say the Following Things: Tell that to John Kerry. And for you TMBG fans out there: "I should be allowed to glue my poster, I should be allowed to think!"

  6. This is what war looks like: Army Chaplin offers Baptisms and Baths and soldier who shoots child says "I did what I had to do."

  7. You knew the movie "Top Gun" was all about guys w/hardbodies playing with each other, but did you know it was a cautionary tale against homosexuality? I wish I could rattle off movie review blog posts this smart.

Posted 06:41 AM | Comments (2)

April 10, 2003

What was ever good about Ashcroft?

Kaplan sends me this periodic "law school edge" email for some reason I cannot identify; however, a recent edition contained the following little bit of info:

George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley backed John Ashcroft's nomination as attorney general, convinced the former Missouri senator would enforce certain laws of the land, such as Roe v. Wade, even though he disagreed with them. That was then. Now Turley is leading the outraged charge against the attorney general for trampling the Constitution. In an op-ed piece, Turley wrote that Ashcroft "has moved from merely being a political embarrassment to being a constitutional menace."

I really don't know what to make of that. I mean, I'm glad Turley's seen the light, but the fact that he once supported and trusted Ashcroft—even for a moment—makes me ... shall we say ... less than eager to take classes from him. Of course, it's always good to know and understand the opposition, and perhaps Turley's position is something I will understand better once I know more about constitutional law.

Posted 10:06 PM

April 07, 2003

Kids These Days II

Last week The Volokh Conspiracy noted that today's students might be more likely to oppose war because they're being taught to avoid violence in general. Unlike my post the other day, this Washington Post story argues that a lot of young people today are critical of the Bush Administration's policies because the administration seems to be acting like little more than a schoolyard bully writ large. This certainly makes sense, and it's something I've been thinking about since all this talk of war began. (What was it, just nine months ago?) Why do we teach our children one thing about how to deal with problems (talk them out, be reasonable, respect differences and seek compromise, avoid violence, etc), yet stand by complacently while our government engages in all the behaviors we counsel our children against? Is interpersonal conflict resolution so different from international conflict resolution? Apparently so:

Zach Clayton, student chairman of the National Association of Student Councils, wonders whether the interpersonal skills taught in school should even be applied to international relations. "We're quick in third grade to teach nonviolent resolution strategies," he says, "but by our junior or senior years in college we know that countries can't always play paper-rock-scissors."

Isn't that great? By the time we're "adults," we've learned to accept that violence is actually a good—or at least necessary—thing. Silly rabbits, non-violent conflict resolution is just for kids!

Posted 07:31 AM

Big Big Big Media

So is there anything wrong with one company or corporation owning a large number of media outlets? Yes, Houston, I think we have a problem:

In a move that has raised eyebrows in some legal and journalistic circles, Clear Channel radio stations in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Antonio, Cincinnati and other cities have sponsored rallies attended by up to 20,000 people. The events have served as a loud rebuttal to the more numerous but generally smaller anti-war rallies.

The sponsorship of large rallies by Clear Channel stations is unique among major media companies, which have confined their activities in the war debate to reporting and occasionally commenting on the news. The San Antonio-based broadcaster owns more than 1,200 stations in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Regardless of your feelings about the U.S. attack on Iraq, it's not hard to see how the increased concentration of media outlets into ever fewer hands threatens freedom and democracy—in the U.S. and elsewhere. And right now is the time to be concerned: The FCC is currently deciding whether to further reduce regulations that limit media ownership. For more, follow Jeffery Chester's ongoing coverage here, here, and here. Luckily, not all the news is bad. As Robert McChesney and John Nichols report, FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps has taken a stand against further media concentration:

Copps has taken the law establishing the FCC literally. "That phrase, 'serving the public interest, convenience, and necessity,' appears 112 times in the statute. So I think Congress was serious about us serving the public interest," the commissioner says. "When you're talking about something like the airwaves, it's not just something of interest between different companies, between the wealthy and the very wealthy, because those airwaves, in fact, belong not to those companies but to the people of the United States of America."

See that? We own the airwaves, and they're worth billions! (insert evil cackle and Austin Powers' patented pinkie salute here) But seriously, take a minute to tell the FCC that you value a diversity of voices in American news and entertainment (click "Broadcast Ownership" button). Ask them to vote to maintain current restrictions on media ownership in order to protect the public interest in a free press.

(You might also note the FCC's feedback page gives you many options to comment on other contentious issues, including how TVs are built, whether phone solicitations should be further regulated (please, please!), digital rights management for TV broadcasts, and more. Just FYI, if you care about any of these issues.)

Posted 07:16 AM

April 06, 2003

Campaign Finance Reform

Professor Cooper notes that there's something strange going on with the panel of judges assigned to hear the campaign finance reform case. According to the Washington Post, the judges may not be getting along for some reason. While the leaked information about the internal politics of these three judges is interesting, I'm more interested in what they finally have to say about the case itself. I wrote a few law school scholarship and admissions essays on the subject of campaign finance reform—it's a subject near and dear to me because I'm convinced that there's no hope the U.S. will ever have an effective and just democracy if we do not radically change the way we fund political campaigns. The McCain-Feingold bill is definitely flawed, but I haven't been able to follow the pro/con arguments closely enough to know whether it's so bad we should scrap it. It seems we've got to start somewhere, but...

Posted 05:55 PM

Self Evident

Joining a growing number of artists opposed to the war on Iraq (and the Bush Administration more generally), Ani DiFranco has released "Self Evident" as a free download. A few choice lines:

Take away our play stations,
and we are a third-world nation
under the thumb of some blue-blood royal son
who stole the Oval Office in that phony election.
I mean, it don't take a weather man to look around and see the weather—
Jeb said he'd deliver Florida, folks, and boy did he ever!

And we hold these truths to be self-evident:
Number one: George W. Bush is not president.
Number two: America is not a true democracy.
and Number three: The media is not fooling me.

Ani rocks.

If you want to build your own pro-peace sampler, check out Salon's list of links to other free mp3 downloads from the likes of the Beastie Boys, Billy Bragg, Chumbawumba, and more... (Just one reason you won't regret your subscription to Salon...)

Posted 08:59 AM

April 04, 2003

Regime Change Begins At Home

The Democratic presidential candidate, decorated Vietnam veteran, and Senator, John Kerry has triggered an outcry from the "you can't say that!" crowd:

During a speech Wednesday at the Peterborough Town Library in New Hampshire, which holds the first presidential primary, Kerry said that Bush has committed a ''breach of trust'' in the eyes of many United Nations members by going to war while some countries felt there was room for diplomacy.

Kerry said the country would not bridge the gap until it elects a new president. After highlighting his foreign-policy credentials, Kerry appropriated some of the administration's own rhetoric, as well as the words of some antiwar activists, by saying: ''What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States.''

Both Democrats and Republicans are criticizing Kerry, apparently on the premise that you just can't criticize the president during "wartime." Come on! He's running for the office, ferchrissake! For that very reason, just about everything he says should criticize the President. One of the "freedoms" the U.S. is supposedly fighting to protect is our right to enact a peaceful "regime change" every four years. Do those who denounce Kerry for his participation in that process disagree with democracy?

So far, Kerry's standing by his remarks. I doubt I'd vote for the guy, but I'll be even less likely to vote for someone who doesn't criticize Yubbledew (my new favorite name for the guy in the White House). If all we're going to get in a Democratic candidate is someone who says "I support everything Bush does," then we should just vote for Bush in 2004. Come to think of it, let's just call off the election altogether—there's a war on, you know, and elections can be so divisive...

(I can't find complete text of Kerry's remarks, but you'll find a few more details here andhere.)

UPDATE: Joan Walsh has a good piece on this topic in Salon. As she points out, methods Bush supporters use to silence critics are tried and true. It's wonderful when the people who claim to be defending our "freedom" are also those who seem most vehemently opposed to expressions of it.

Posted 02:36 PM

April 03, 2003

Mixing Prayer and Politics

I completely missed this while I was traveling last week, but Breaching the Web has been keeping tabs on our congressional representative's latest inanity: legislating a day of prayer and fasting for divine protection of U.S. troops in Iraq. (See BtW here and here for her comments.) What are these people thinking? As if the invasion of Iraq hadn't caused enough global trouble, now the U.S. government has put an official religious stamp on the campaign, raising all kinds of ugly potential for this to be called a "crusade" against an Islamic nation. Are they trying to start World War III?!?

Posted 05:03 PM

The Second Superpower

Could the united voices and actions of the citizens of the world ever seriously challenge the hegemony of the U.S.? That's the question at the heart of The Second Superpower by Jonathan Schell, the cover story of the current issue of The Nation magazine. Schell argues that the massive global outcry against current U.S. foreign policy constitutes a second superpower that is already reshaping geopolitics. Meanwhile, James Moore, a Senior Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law, has just published a similar argument in The Second Superpower. Both pieces are almost utopian in their idealism, but they nonetheless offer serious food for thought. Moore's piece especially contains more provocative observations than I can address here, but one in particular resonates with me as I consider what I might want to do with a law degree. Moore writes:

Deliberation in the first superpower [the U.S.] is relatively formal—dictated by the US constitution and by years of legislation, adjudicating, and precedent. The realpolitik of decision making in the first superpower—as opposed to what is taught in civics class—centers around lobbying and campaign contributions by moneyed special interests—big oil, the military-industrial complex, big agriculture, and big drugs—to mention only a few. In many cases, what are acted upon are issues for which some group is willing to spend lavishly. By contrast, it is difficult in the US government system to champion policy goals that have broad, long-term value for many citizens, such as environment, poverty reduction and third world development, women’s rights, human rights, health care for all. By contrast, these are precisely the issues to which the second superpower tends to address its attention.

In other words, Moore's argument is that the "second superpower" of the people of the world (not their governments) might work together through international law, NGOs, and simple global majority to circumvent the actions of their corrupt, money-controlled governments. I agree completely that the U.S. political machine is run by money and that this makes it difficult for those who "desire a superpower that speaks for the interests of planetary society, for long-term well-being, and that encourages broad participation in the democratic process" to enact policies to accomplish their goals. In this respect, Moore's idea of the second superpower suggests that social progressives shouldn't even bother with something like law school because all a J.D. will do is entangle them within a corrupt and broken political system. However, another way to look at this might be that social progressives who do go to law school should specialize in international law so that we will be better positioned to promote the needs and policies of the people of the world.

Considering the difficulty I'm having choosing a law school (it's looking more and more like it'll be GW, though), there's no way I'm going to pick an area of the law to specialize in at this point. However, international law will certainly be in the running.

UPDATE: Credit where it's due—thanks to Scripting News for the original link to Jim Moore's article.

Posted 04:52 PM

April 02, 2003

With Buns Glazing

If you'd like to take a few minutes to fall on the floor laughing, head over to the Capitol Steps website and scroll down to download the April Fool's 2003 edition of "Politics Takes A Holiday" (it's a Real Audio file). Then listen to at least the four minutes from the 7:00-11:00 minute marks to learn that Saddam Hussein is a sadman, and that the President of the U.S. is named Yubbledew. A rough transcript follows, but trust me, you've got to hear this to truly appreciate it. Your money back if you don't laugh out loud.*

Well ladies and gentleman, let me tell you the story of that two-bit dictator of Iraq, that butcher of Baghdad, that madman, Saddam.

Let me try that again.

Gadies and lentleman. Yank thew. Let me stell you a tory about that boo-tit ictator of Diraq, that bagger of Butchdad, that Sadman, Madam.

Just whip your flirds and you'll have the gang of it here.

Now Madam has weapons of ass manihilation, which is why he's gettin' his ass manihilated right now. And it's all thanks to our yearless feader, the yesident of the Pru-es, Yubbledew. Now Yubbledew may have a QI in the dingle sigits, and he may not be able to frick pance on a wap of the murld, but Yubbledew is bowing into Gagdhad with buns glazing! He has a core wabinet full of more-wongers, like Ronald Dumbsfeld. Yeah, he's a nun-gut, mm-hmm. And there's Chick Deney -- there's a wight-ringer. Oh, but what about all the neace-piks and the smot-pokers and the laming fliberals? Well they wouldn't [unintelligible] if Hussolini, Titler and Mojo harachuted into Pollywood.

And then there's Blans Hix, alias "Clinspector Iew-so," that [unintelligible] couldn't find a fluke if one humped him on his bed. And let's not forget, the french from the Stench, [unintelligible], what a mile of perde. We oughta give those flogs a good frogging.

But at least there's one noreign fashional who's all trot to hot, Bony Tlair. He's yandsome, he's houng, and he's really hung-go! Plus he keeps a liff upper stip in the Tibbish brabloids. So now the ranks are tolling, and the flanes are plying, and we're dropping bambs in Bogdhad -- also dredatory prones and muise crissles. We've unleashed Awk and Shaw. (Awkandshaw? Wasn't our last president from Awkandshaw?)

And where's Madam? Well, he's probably biding in a hunker, or bunkered down in his head. It's kinda tard to hell with all those dody boubles. And he might gattack us with ass. That's 'cause it's Stesert Dorm, Twart Poo, "Thirld War Wheeee!"

Well Gadies and Lentleman, I guess the storal of my mory is this: When all is dead and son, the A. S. of U. will be the vig bictors, and you so what they knay: To the splinner goes the woils... Yank Thew!

*This warranty void in all fifty states and international territories, as well as any other spot on the planet earth. As always, the truth is, YMMV. Yank Thew.

Posted 06:45 AM

April 01, 2003

Kids these days...

It probably comes as no surprise to most teachers that Generation Y trusts the government and supports the war. According to Neil Howe, the coauthor of "Millennials Rising" and a social policy advisor in Washington:

"These are kids who are taught to think of themselves as being the sole purpose of community life in America," Howe explains. "They've been surrounded by kinderpolitics, the idea that politicians are constantly saying, 'Do it for the children.'" The recent list of governmental reforms for kids is endless: The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Labor, Treasury, and Justice Departments, and even the EPA have passed laws benefiting young Americans. "These kids have been taught, throughout the late '80s and '90s, that government is constantly trying to do great things for kids," says Howe. "Why shouldn't they like government?"

So despite all the cries about problems with our schools, the U.S. educational system must be working just fine, after all—it's creating lots of good subjects (not to be confused with bad subjects, of course). I'm sure King George is pleased. I wonder what these kids think of the Iraq body count.

This is actually one of the reasons I'm leaving teaching (at least here and at least for now). To make a gross generalization, a majority of students (at least at this university) simply seem to lack the ability or desire to think critically about anything. And yes, I see the irony in this: If students are so lacking in critical ability, that only means my role as a teacher becomes that much more important. However, I've become cynical about the ability of college instructors (or professors) to really teach critical thinking within an institutional and cultural atmosphere that actively discourages students from thinking critically. I've said this before and I'll say it again: I'll forever be glad and thankful for the thousands of great people who continue to teach at our public universities, but I no longer feel that I should be one of them. I hope I'll be able to do more good at a policy level than I've been able to do in the classroom.

In a demonstration of my students' active aversion to critical thought, one of my students sent an email the other day expressing his "disappointment in [my] subtle inputs on [my] antiwar feelings." The email continued:

I understand everyone has their beliefs, and I respect that, but you are going against the most important idea taught to teachers like yourself. Your classroom behavior as a teacher is always supposed to be neutral regardless of you beliefs [sic]. You assumed this responsibility when you chose to become a teacher and you are breaking that critical rule. If you feel the need to offer such an opinion in the classroom setting, it is imperative you also explore the otherside. [sic]

My first reaction to this message was that my student must have confused the job of "teacher" with that of "journalist." My second reaction was to rush to my "Big Book of Critical Rules for Teachers," but I couldn't find it anywhere. I wonder where my student got his copy.

But all kidding aside, what bothers me is that this message came from an intelligent senior at a major American public university. [1] Worse, this student is expressing a commonly-held view: Teachers ought to be neutral; they ought not advocate for one position or another on a given issue, but especially on important social or political issues. This perspective is closely imbricated with the overall rightward-shift in U.S. educational policy over the past 20-30 years, culminating most recently in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) which dramatically reduces the authority and autonomy of teachers in the classroom. [2] Although the NCLBA does not govern college-level education, such policies are explicit expressions of our society's disrespect for and distrust of teachers at all levels, tightly proscribing what is and is not allowed within the classroom.

I understand the anxiety Americans feel about what happens within classrooms. Education is a powerful tool, and that tool can be used for good or ill. However, I am not Voltaire's Pangloss and this is not the best of all possible worlds. It would be irresponsible for teachers to pretend otherwise.

We've reached a very scary place as a culture if we're going to say that college teachers must pretend neutrality on all issues. For that's what "neutrality" or "objectivity" or whatever you choose to call it really is—a pretense. Asking teachers to be neutral is asking them to occupy a hypothetical ideal that does not exist. Even teaching "both sides" of an issue means taking a biased position that promotes the view that there are, in fact, two valid sides. The truth is more likely that there are dozens of valid sides, but what's important is that teachers who argue for "both sides" of an issue are taking a political stance on that issue.

This is probably the most pernicious aspect of this whole "pro-neutrality" attitude, because what this student seeks is not even some myth of neutrality, what he's demanding is to be protected from the discomfort of having to face or seriously consider arguments and ideas with which he disagrees. This is much like the phenomenon Sam Heldman has observed about people in the Deep South [link via Cooped Up]. Heldman writes:

There are many people down there -- a huge number, I would say, based on my experience -- who don't know when they're saying something that constitutes a position on a disputed issue of politics or morality. And when it is pointed out to them that they are in fact doing so, they get very uncomfortable and often get defensive. I think that it is attributable to the fact that they so rarely hear dissenting opinions. At otherwise perfectly lovely parties, even when everyone is on his or her best behavior, you will hear off-hand comments (for instance) about how the trial lawyers are ruining this or that aspect of society; and when I or someone like me will disagree, as affably as I know how, the response is as though I had (as the old saying goes) farted in church -- the dissenter has done the wholly inappropriate thing of bringing up politics in such a nice gathering, when those who merely voice the majority political view didn't even realize that they were bringing up politics at all. You see this sort of thing at Instapundit sometimes -- he acts shocked, from time to time, when people accuse him of making a political statement, when from his point of view he was just having a pleasant conversation about obvious truths. This is not a universal trait among Southerners, of course. Some people know full well that, by being in favor of the honoring of the Confederate cause, they are working to further an extreme political position. But others are simply unaware that, by joining in the "honoring", they are taking a position with which a reasonable person could disagree.

Heldman's observations perfectly describe the majority of the students I've taught—they're constantly taking political positions on things, but because they voice what they think is the majority opinion, they don't realize they're taking a political position at all. And when a teacher makes them aware of their politics by raising the "other side" of the issue, they act shocked, offended, even angry. Heldman is also correct that students react this way to new ideas because they so rarely hear dissenting opinions. This is especially true when the subject is war, since my students' knowledge of current events comes mostly from 5-minute encounters with CNN and/or the 1-minute news briefs that occasionally interrupt the music and advertising on their favorite radio station. In other words, all they hear about the war are endless loops of Bush bellicosity and great sentimental pieces about the courage and "staying power" of American troops.

Is this what a "free" society looks like? Is censorship better when it comes from the people rather than from their government? And if war doesn't wake Generation Y from its "trusting" stupor, what will? [3]

[1] It's probably neither here nor there, but this particular student also happens to be going to law school next fall.

[2] The NCLBA was the product of a republican administration, contradicting the republican party's traditional advocacy of smaller federal government and increased state and local autonomy. However, it's perfectly in keeping with the push by this administration's Justice Department and DEA to override California state law with regard to medical marijuana. I'm sure this case will provide some good discussion in future Constitutional Law classes covering the separation of powers. At any rate, republican education policies are just one are in which the parties traditional rhetoric contradicts its actions. For more on this, I highly recommend Educating the "Right" Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality by Michael W. Apple. (As a footnote to a footnote, I recently completed a brief review of this book for an online journal. I'll post a link if and when the review goes public.)

[3] "Trust" is probably not the best word for Generation Y's attitude toward the government and the world. Better words might be "fear" or "laziness." Students may be afraid to challenge or criticize their government because to do so would be to acknowledge that they may not, in fact, live in the best of all possible worlds. Criticism implies problems, flaws, imperfections, and these are things my students actively deny. This might also be laziness because it's simply easier to trust that everything will work out for the best. Yet, the cost of this laziness can be great in the end. See Candide.

Posted 09:27 AM | Comments (4)

March 19, 2003

Mourning War Thoughts

As the world waits with apparent resignation for the U.S. to begin killing Iraqis and pulverizing Iraq (and losing who knows how many of our own troops), some of us continue to ask: Why this war? Why now? Yesterday's "Oprah" asked, Why do so many hate the U.S.? I was impressed with the show, despite the fact that Oprah was so clearly enamored with Thomas Friedman's "we're going to war so we better do it right" position. As far as pro-war stances go, Friedman's is not bad. He suggests that one of the U.S.'s current problems is that we've stopped asking people to share our positive and optimistic vision of the future, and instead we're lining up targets to destroy. Friedman argues that we have to change course and extend a helping hand to the world instead of dropping bombs and brandishing guns. Of course, he still supports attacking Iraq, which makes his position seem a bit inconsistent, but perhaps that's what you get from a 35-40 minute television program. [1]

Yesterday also brought an email from one of my students containing a link to It's Not About Oil or Iraq -- an article that argues that the Bush/Blair war frenzy is an attempt to prevent the Euro from displacing the dollar as the world's default oil trading currency. If you haven't heard about this angle, I highly recommend the article. Not only does it explain why Bush has so obsessively pursued a completely indefensible war, but it also provides another reason the U.S. will benefit from demonizing France (and why France and other European nations find it easy and useful to oppose this war). Are we really going to kill thousands of Iraqis to save U.S. hegemony? What's certain is that we are definitely going to kill many Iraqis, at least some number of American troops, and injure and anger countless people around the world. Whether we're doing this for oil, dollar supremacy, or some other completely insane reason is impossible to say.

I don't have any radically new arguments to offer against the war (it's hard to say anything new about a war that looks so disturbingly like a replay of history), so I find myself in a state of near-paralysis as the hours count down to "the deadline." Everything I should be doing seems obscene in the face of the fact that the military I support with my tax dollars is about to kill hundreds or thousands of people, supposedly for my sake. How can I teach classes, investigate law schools (I'm still trying to decide where to go), or grade papers when tomorrow thousands of innocent people could be dead? Yesterday Ari Fliescher said, "the President hopes that people will continue with their normal lives." Of course he does. We're not supposed to think about what's really going on, we're supposed to go about our "business," proud of the fact that we live in such a "strong" country. We're supposed to "support our troops," which seems to be code for "cease all criticism of anything other than the evildoers and what they've done." It's easier for our troops to kill people when Americans are acting like it's just another day in the best of all possible worlds.

In Monday's "address to the nation," President Bush said:

The Iraqi regime has used diplomacy as a ploy to gain time and advantage. It has uniformly defied Security Council resolutions demanding full disarmament. Over the years, U.N. weapon inspectors have been threatened by Iraqi officials, electronically bugged, and systematically deceived. Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again -- because we are not dealing with peaceful men.

This from the man who has said "You can't talk your way to a solution to a problem." Think about that when you think about the failure of diplomacy. You might also consider how the U.S. uses the same tactics it accuses Saddam of using -- it was the U.S., not Saddam who was recently spying on U.N. delegates to better manipulate their votes. (Other info here and here, all topped by the original memo.) This was front-page news in Europe and Russia, but we hardly heard a peep about it here in the U.S. Gee, I wonder why the Security Council seemed so opposed to American proposals. It couldn't be because we were spying on them, could it?

The point is: This war was never inevitable until Bush made it inevitable. None of the reasons I've heard for going to war have been even slightly convincing, and I'm sick with the thought of U.S. citizens shopping in malls and going to movies and watching war porn while people die in our names. Why can't people remember that, despite all Bush Administration claims to the contrary, Iraq had nothing to do with September 11?

Excuse me please. I must go sleepwalking now -- er, I mean, "continue my normal life..."

[1] "Oprah" features more commercials than any other show I think I've ever watched.
I thought it was rather ironic to see Oxi-Clean and Wal-Mart ads interrupt a program that was arguing that the people of the U.S. are in denial about the horrors the U.S. government has perpetrated in the world over the last 50 years. The Wal-Mart ad was particularly offensive; it focused on the public service work Wal-Mart employees do -- teaching kids to read, coaching little league, etc. -- and that work is great, but of course the ad doesn't mention that most Wal-Mart employees must hold 2-3 jobs to pay the rent and their medical bills because most of them don't get benefits. The ad also doesn't mention the thousands of small businesses that Wal-Mart has destroyed over the past 20 years in communities across the U.S., or that those small businesses probably did ten times more public service work than overworked and underpaid Wal-Mart employees could ever hope to do. Isn't it ironic? Don'tchathink?

Posted 07:32 AM

March 01, 2003

Lone Star Smarts

Texas Tech Student Announces 'United White Persons College Fund'

Why am I not surprised this is coming from Texas?

Posted 09:46 AM | Comments (2)

February 27, 2003


The ever-measured and dependable Professor Cooper notes that Washington Democrats are supposedly mounting a new, concerted effort to question President Bush's credibility. It sounds like a great idea, especially when you look at this list of, um, "contradictions" between what Bush says and what he does. Why would anyone believe anything this guy says? Oh, but the list is missing some major, um, contradictions about foreign policy. For example, Bush says almost daily he wants to make peace by making war. Huh? He also says nearly as often that he wants to support the UN by undermining it. But the Dems refuse to challenge the Prez on foreign policy, and that's a serious mistake.

Meanwhile, the field of Democratic presidential candidates includes a couple of candidates who aren't afraid to say that Bush's foreign policy is just plain awful. Check out David Corn's summary of what Howard Dean and other candidates said at a recent Democratic National Committee gathering. Dean was especially (and thankfully) blunt:

He hit the podium with a sharp declaration: "What I want to know is why in the world the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the president's unilateral attack on Iraq?" He then blasted the party's leaders for not challenging President Bush on whether there should be any new tax cuts; for obsessing over a patients' bill of rights rather than "standing up" for providing health care insurance for all; and for going along with Bush's "Leave No Child Behind" education legislation, which he claimed would leave behind "every student, every teacher and every school board." After this machine-gun opening, he paused and said, "I'm Howard Dean and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." Cue the applause? Actually, applause lights were not needed. Many in the crowd jumped up and cheered.

Yes! It's like a dream come true! Finally, a progressive in a position to get serious media attention who's not afraid to say what he really thinks. Since Bush was elected, I've played with this idea for a short story that features exactly such a figure -- someone who comes from nowhere saying things so shocking, outrageous, yet truthful, that people's heads spin around, they wake from their comas, and suddenly everyone's saying: "You know, he's right! We need national health care?now!" Could Dean really be this person? And if he is, will the tactic actually work? I don't know, but the experiment of consistent progressive candidness in public is one that I'd like to see tried. I really think that if more Democrats would stand up unflinchingly for Democratic values, the Democrats could win back both houses of Congress and the White House. So where's the Dean for President office? Sign me up! (Read the full text of Dean's DNC remarks, or check out the Dean for President blog. )

Of course, there are other Democratic candidates in the race, and some of them sound like they have potential. Judging from what I've seen at this point, Kucinich could be one of the better candidates, and to my great surprise, Gephardt is sounding, well, not awful. I'm also really wishing the press could treat Sharpton as more than a comedy side-show. Maybe he has no chance to get elected, but he could have a chance to move the Democrats in some positive directions if the press would shut up with their "he's funny but completely unelectable" stuff. I also wish we could something about Carol Mosely-Braun other than that the only reason she's running is to be a "first." I'm pretty sure she's got more to say than that.

Posted 08:06 AM | Comments (2)

February 25, 2003

Define "Relevant"

The rhetoric of "relevance" coming from the Bush administration is getting really tired. The most recent example came from President Bush in a speech to U.S. governors:
"It's an interesting moment for the Security Council and the United Nations. It's a moment to determine for this body, that we hope succeeds, to determine whether or not it is going to be relevant, as the world confronts the threats to the 21st century. Is it going to be a body that means what it says? We certainly hope it does," Bush said.
Does the administration really think its schoolyard bully tactics are effective? Who defines "relevant"? What does that mean? Why does the administration need to resort to vague, veiled threats like this? Of special note is the continuing pattern in Bush's speech -- his "hope" that the UN "succeeds" came as an afterthought. Listen to every statement Bush makes about the UN and you'll find that his main point is to goad, bully, and threaten, while his supportive remarks always appear in subclauses and parentheses. The global resistance to the Bush administration's agenda of war demonstrates utter failure of the administration's weak attempts to wrap that agenda in a cloak of good intentions. Yet, as the UK's Independent argues, the UN must respond to the Bush administration's repeated challenges to be "relevant." The UN must show the world that it will not be bullied into doing whatever the U.S. demands.
Over the next three weeks, therefore, the member countries of the UN, and especially those that are members of the Security Council, face a historic duty. They must decide how to respond to President Bush's challenge, issued repeatedly in recent weeks, to make the UN "relevant". They should ignore cheap insults accusing opponents of war of wanting the UN to be as ineffective as the League of Nations: Saddam is not Hitler and Kim Jong Il is not Mussolini. The test of the UN's relevance cannot be the extent to which it comes into line with US policy. On the contrary, the test must be the extent to which it encourages US policy to come into line with the concept of international law. That is why those opponents of the war who accuse the UN of simply being a puppet of the US are as mistaken as Mr Bush. The UN may be imperfect, but it does embody the idea of international law. Last year, the US dismissed the idea of restoring UN inspectors to Iraq as a waste of time. Now, the inspection regime has opened up the possibility of an alternative way in which the law-abiding world can restrain the threat from Saddam.
But Saddam is only the threat du jour; beyond the immediate crisis, the "law-abiding world" must address the larger problem of the continued proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. And as Jonathan Schell puts it in his recent Nation cover story, while we confront this proliferation, we must remember that:
Nuclear [and other WMD] proliferation, when considered as the global emergency that it is, has never been, is not now and never will be stoppable by military force; on the contrary, force can only exacerbate the problem.
Schell's arguments in support of this claim are very compelling and highly recommended.

Posted 07:34 AM

February 24, 2003

Virtual March

If you've watched the growing war protests and thought, "Hey, there might be somthing to that," then here's your chance to "march" from the comfort of the chair you're now sitting in: Join the Virtual March on Washington, next Wednesday, February 26th. and the Win Without War coalition are organizing us to ask Congress to stop the Bush administration's rush to war, and to Let the Inspections Work:

With your help, on February 26th, every Senate office will receive a call EVERY MINUTE from a constituent, as they receive a simultaneous crush of faxes and email. In New York and Washington D.C., "antiwar rooms" will highlight the progress of the day for national media. Local media will visit the "antiwar room" online, to monitor this constituent march throughout the day.

With your help, every Senate office switchboard will be lit up all day with our antiwar messages. This will be a powerful reminder of the breadth and depth of opposition to a war in Iraq.

Sign up now to make your call Wednesday...

Posted 07:12 AM

February 23, 2003

First Strikes

Today's Tom Toles cartoon is very smart. You might be able to see it at Ucomics, but since they've gone to this crappy subscription service, I won't bother to link to it because you'll probably have to pay to see it. Instead, I'll describe it to you: Bush is giving a speech to the UN, saying, "It is unacceptable to ignore a threat until it's too late! Or close your eyes and hope it goes away! If you wait 'til you have a smoking gun, you've waited too long..." Meanwhile, a head in the audience whispers to another: "What 'til he discovers we slipped him a copy of the Kyoto treaty." Finally, the little cartoonist that appears in the bottom right corner of every Toles' panel says: "If you wait 'til he gets the irony, you've waited too long."

Too funny. This would make a great plank in the anti-war platform. As we try to prevent a war on Iraq, we should also make the case for a war against two very real threats to national security: poverty and pollution. Those are first strikes I could support.

Posted 10:19 PM

Pattern Recognition

Speaking of paranoia and conspiracy, I just finished reading William Gibson's latest, Pattern Recognition, thanks to my Valentine, who thoughtfully gifted me a copy for that day. I'm a huge Gibson fan; Neuromancer blew the top right off my head. How could you not be a fan of the book that envisioned an Internet on steroids before the Internet even existed? Ok, so ARPANET began in 1969, but even by 1984 when Neuromancer was published the "net" was nothing like what we know today. Sure, it's the job of Sci-Fi to be ahead of its time; part of what makes sci-fi fun is its ability to play with future worlds and show us the possible places we might go and things we might do. But Gibson brought a vibrant subgenre?cyberpunk?to the wider public, and it's hard to underestimate the impact of that subgenre on the sci-fi of the last 20 years. [1] Would there have been a "Matrix" if there had not first been a Neuromancer? Hard to say. And I'll shut up about this before I get further out of my depth as a sci-fi expert. I know if I start getting into claims about who was first with what idea or who inspired what, I'll be treading on super-thin ice in about one more step.

And but so anyway, as the title suggests, Gibson's new book deals with paranoia, conspiracy, the stories behind what we think we see. The novel focuses on Cayce Pollard and her quest to find the maker and the meaning of "the footage," a mysterious series of film clips that appear randomly on the Web. At the moment Cayce finally begins to see the patterns (or some of them) converge, Gibson writes:

There must always be room for conicidence, Win [Cayce's father] had maintained. When there's not, you're probably well into apophenia, each thing then perceived as part of an overarching pattern of consipracy. And while comforting yourself with the symmetry of it all, he'd believed, you stood all too real a chance of missing the genuine threat, which was invariably less symmetrical, less perfect. But which he always, [Cayce] knew, took for granted was there (293-4).

Win's advice is perfect for this time we're living in. Is every bad thing that happens somehow connected to terrorism? Probably not?some of them may be coincidences. More specifically, does the fact that Saddam Hussien is a brutal despot mean he is also closely?or even loosely?connected with Al Queda and terrorism? Possibly, but again, these bad things may not go together. Finally, is the war on Iraq all about oil? Probably not; the reasons people claim for going to war are "invariably less symmetrical, less perfect" than that. The world is a complex place with forces and patterns and trends and histories converging and diverging all the time. How we read these convergences will make all the difference to our future.

With that in mind, I'll leave you with one of the best lines in the book. Cayce has met up with Stella, a Russian woman. While reminiscing about Russia's recent transition from the soviet to the capitalist model, Stella says:

Now we say that everything Lenin taught us of communism was false, and everything he taught us of capitalism was true (303).

We're all vaguely but often almost viscerally familiar with the patterns behind the first half of Stella's sentence (communism = evil), but why do so many of us give so little attention to the patterns that give rise to the second half?

[1] For a quick into to cyberpunk, this list contains the most notorious examples. I've read the top 10 and recommend them all. (In fact, I like Neal Stephenson better than Gibson, but I don't think I'm supposed to say that, so don't tell.)

Posted 08:51 AM

February 22, 2003

Is Democracy Dead?

Or is Douglas Rushkoff really paranoid? I'm thinking it's a little of both, but since I love a good conspiracy theory, I dig the dots he's connectingbetween the demise of exit polling for national elections, the rise computerized voting (no paper trail), and the growth of private vote-counting companies (owned by Republicans). What's your take? I hope Rushkoff isn't serious about no longer talking about politics. He's a great storyteller. Besides, paranoia and conspiracy theories can be very useful; the trick is to know how to use them.

Posted 12:15 PM

February 21, 2003

FTR: Goering

I first saw this quotation (below) last Oct. 26th while in D.C. for the first of what appears to be an ongoing series of big anti-war protests. There were signs and slogans everywhere at the march, and one of the people I was with found a flier with this quote, but I didn't get a copy. Today I came across it again and preserve it here now for its haunting topicality:
"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." — Hermann Goering, (1893-1946) Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, President of the Reichstag, Prime Minister of Prussia and, as Hitler's designated successor, the second man in the Third Reich.
What think you now of that "Orange Alert" business? terrah.jpg

Posted 07:29 AM

February 20, 2003

Peace Progress

Retrorocket has some great thoughts on the growing global movement against war. Specifically, he's angered and mystified by how easily many pundits have been able to dismiss the importance of the millions of people who oppose war. I'd agree with him, but I haven't been paying a lot of attention to that dark side. I've been tyring to remain optimistic, hoping that the dismissals are just the last gasp of a march toward war that's really struggling for legitimacy. To that end, I offer the following links about the protests and current events more generally. First, has compiled a list of demonstrations around the world. It's long, diverse, impressive, and pretty impossible to ignore. A few hundred here, a few thousand there, a million or more over there… Has anything like this happened before? Second, although I'm not sure how seriously to take this, the British anti-war movement is apparently planning to shut down Britian if Blair goes to war. As Retrorocket notes, about one-sixtieth of the British population marched against war. If all those marchers refuse to go to work one day, the impact would not be negligible. The article also notes the connections between opposition to war and opposition to the kind of "globalization" that has prompted protests against the World Bank and WTO all over the world in recent years. Although the press likes to dub it an "anti-globalization" movement, it's really a social justice movement, and it's been growing steadily for several years now. I imagine the pundits who are dismissing the anti-war demonstrations are at least vaguelly aware of the close connections between the social justice and anti-war people, and those pundits are really hoping this isn't what it looks like: A huge, powerful, steadily growing global movement that is ready to challenge much of the agenda that these dismissive pundits stand for. Third, the Guardian also reports that Bush's War Timetable is Unravelling, thanks most recently to the resistance of Turkey. Fourth, the media are beginning to cover the anti-war perspective and they are getting called on it when they fail to do so. For example, Take Back the Media reports that CNN left 750 words out of its transcript from Hans Blix's last U.N. presentation. Now why would CNN want to do that? I imagine (hope) reports like this will make at least a few people a bit more critical of what they see in the mainstream media. Fifth, and mostly for fun, cartoonist Mark Fiore is doing his part to explain the case for war. And to end on yet another bit from The Onion: Bill of Rights Pared Down To A Manageable Six. Is laughing still good medicine when the humor is so dark? Written to the tune of: Where's Your Head At from the album "Rooty (Advance)" by Basement Jaxx

Posted 09:44 AM

February 15, 2003

Non-Violence is More Difficult

As "anti-war" protesters gather in cities around the world, Jason Rylander agrees with Jeremy Hurewitz that the anti-war left has failed to offer alternatives in the face of threats to peace. Hurewitz makes some good points, and he's right that progressives desperately need quality leaders with coherent, concrete, and comprehensive plans for addressing the complex problems we face today. While Hurewitz offers no evidence for one of his central claimsthat the left has praised U.N. sanctions against Iraq (where? when? who?)the fact that he can make the claim shows the desperate need for expanding the agenda: Progressives shouldn't think of themselves as "anti-war" or "anti-American" [1], but as "pro-peace" or simply "strident activists for non-violent conflict resolution." But see, there it is: Nonviolence seems complicated. It doesn't fit well into nice little soundbites and conceptual bon-bons. Well, actually it does, but those bon-bons have been poisoned by a cultural narrative that dismisses as "flower power" and "hippy dippy" the idea that non-violent solutions can effectively address the world's problems. When we're confronted with a situation like that in Iraq, we want a concrete solution. What should we do? That's where violence has a lot of appealit's simple. What do we do? We bomb them; problem solved via elimination. Of course, what the "anti-war" people are saying is that it's never that simple. Massive bombing of Iraq might end Hussein's regime, but it won't end the problems in the region or the world. So what should we do instead of bombing and killing and violence and physical, material force? Well, we could start by returning again to Ghandi's eight rules for making nonviolence work. To me this would mean we should:
  1. Vigorously support robust inspections. No violence involved.
  2. Flood Iraq with humanitarian aid: food, water, medical supplies and personnel. Withdraw our troops immediately and instead of spending millions (perhaps billions) massing troops on Iraq's borders, we should start spending that money building hospitals and distribution networks for food and other material goods in Iraq. Think about that for a minute. What do you think would happen? Could Saddam Hussein remain in power if he tried to prevent these humanitarian measures? Probably not. And what this food and medicine (and perhaps education) would give Iraq is a healthy, thinking population with a sense of possibility and an ability to work for its own improvement. Plus, this strategy would answer the critics who say the anti-war movement seems oblivious to the continued suffering of the Iraqi people. (Again, I think this charge is completely unfounded, but the perception exists, so it's a good idea for the left to actively counter it.)
  3. Immediately stop humiliating and making fun of the U.N. and our allies in Europe. Go to them with hats in hand, apologize, and make genuine efforts to regain their trust and to work with them to douse the flames of the violent rhetoric we've been spouting.
  4. Ask the U.N. to create an international panel of expertspoliticians, historians, academics, intelligence people, etcto identify the situations, events, and policies that motivate terrorism around the world, and to suggest strategies for changing or eliminating those situations, events, and policies to reduce or eliminate terrorism. Call this panel something like the International Terrorism Council (ITC). Currently the "war on terror" is a "war" being run by Bush and Co., "terror" is whatever Bush and Co. says it is, and the methods of this "war" are to kill, crush, and imprison suspects. This is a little like putting band-aids on skin lesions that are really being caused by a cancer that you don't even try to treat. The ITC would diagnose and treat the cancer, eliminating the need for all those bloody band-aids.

Of course, who am I to make these suggestions? I'm just some guy. But here's the thing: If we're going to demand alternatives, we have to be willing to consider them, to discuss them, to have good reasons for rejecting them or for preferring other alternatives. Taking non-violent, humble, cooperative foreign policy seriously in the U.S. is difficult for most Americans to do because there's such a powerful set of forces massed against it.

It's easy to find reasons to go with the flow, or at least not to actively obstruct its progress. It's easy to take issue with A.N.S.W.E.R. because you disagree with the views of some of its members. And it's easy to think that violence and physical force will solve our problems. These things are easy because the are simple and because many elected and otherwise prominent people are constantly tell us to do them. What's hard is to face the fact that we face complex problems without simple solutions. It's hard to have the courage to stand up to dominant cultural narratives and to take seriously alternatives that you're constantly encouraged to dismiss. We have to stop taking these easy routes and choose instead to take the higher road.

Footnote: [1] All the progressives I know are also the most patriotic people I know. This "anti-American" business is a ludicrous charge on its face. What does it mean? Why would people who are against "America" go freeze in the cold to protest policies they fear will only hurt America in the long run? Like those crazy kids over at Buzzflash argue, a strike against Saddam Hussein is a gift to Al Qaeda since it will only create more hatred for and resistance to American global hegemony. So people who say "no war" are saying "Save America," even when they don't have a concrete, step-by-step program for doing so.

Posted 10:13 AM

Media Failures

I'm playing catch-up, but really, any time's a good time to point out media failures. Media failures are examples of the media failing in its duty to keep even those of us who work hard to pay attention informed of important events. For example, there was the news last week that the "dossier" U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair presented to make the case for war on Iraqand which U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell cited and praised in his speech to the U.N. was at least partly a work of plagiarism. Yes, some media outlets covered the story, quietly and briefly, and somehow people seem to have heard about it, but I didn't see this news on front pages or leading nightly news broadcasts, which I would say is a failure. The two most vehement supporters of war base their arguments on publicly-available information, some of which is years old, and that's not a top story? Blair's and Powell's reliance on such information shows they have no "secret intelligence" they're not sharing; if they had anything better, they would have trotted it outand that's not a top story?

Recent Media Failure #2: Where is the news about the resolutions in both the House and Senate to require President Bush to get Congressional authorization before using force in Iraq? See more at Ruminate This (which also leads to the interesting Stand Down, the "no war" blog. Originally spotted via Testify!.) This story dovetails nicely with one that thankfully is getting a good amount of coverage: the lawsuit against President Bush that charges he doesn't have the authority to commit troops in battle w/out an explicit declaration of war from Congress. Long shot? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.

Finally, Newsweek gives the full story, I'll give you the highlights: When recently asked its email recipients to donate money for pro-peace advertising, people responded; collected more than $75,000 in less than two hours. However, Viacom Outdoor CEO Wally Kelly made a personal decision not to run the ads. Viacom's PR people quickly conjured up some obscure guidelines to cover this capricious decision, but media buyers said they'd never heard of those guidelines. and other pro-peace groups were not happy.

It does not sound like free speech is alive and well in this country, says Ben Cohen, founder of TrueMajority and cofounder of the Ben & Jerry ice-cream company. We cant even get our message out by paying for advertising.

But after receiving hundreds of calls and emails in protest of this decision, Viacom reversed itself with the following statement:

This note certifies that Viacom Outdoor will run advertisements for, as discussed by you and [named employee] of Viacom Outdoor. As we discussed at no time was this ever an issue about the content of the ads but only involved our longstanding policies with respect to and political ads. We hope that this clears up any misunderstanding.

While it's great that Viacom has deigned to run the ads, the "misunderstanding" definitely remains. A major part of the misunderstanding here is how (unelected) one person can make a decision about freedom of expression in the U.S. that shuts down speech in major cities all over the country. This and all similar failures of "freedom of the press" in the U.S. are products of media conglomeration: too few companies (about 10) own nearly all media outlets in the U.S. See The Big Ten to get a peek at how deep the rabbit hole goes, and read Rich Media, Poor Democracy for something more like a full story of how media conglomeration shapes our political landscape, limits the range of debate on nearly every issue, and thereby limits the possibility that the world might one day be a better place for us all.

Posted 08:00 AM

February 07, 2003


Speaking of Orwell, what would you say if asked: "How many of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?" Apparently, ignorance is strength:

At the end of the first week of January, the Princeton Survey Research Associates polled more than 1,200 Americans on behalf of the Knight Ridder newspaper chain. They asked a very simple question: "To the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?" Of those surveyed, only 17 percent knew the correct answer: that none of the hijackers were Iraqi. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that most or some of the hijackers were Iraqi; another 6 percent believe that one of the hijackers was a citizen of that most notorious node in the axis of evil. That leaves 33 percent who did not know enough to offer an answer.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Posted 08:40 PM

February 05, 2003

Bits and Pieces

Minitrue: In George Orwell's 1984, the Ministry of Truth is responsible for news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. It's affectionately known as "Minitrue," a highly appropriate name considering that what it really does is churn out fabrication after fabrication in order to make the government look as good as possible.

Although it's almost a week old and has thankfully faded into obscurity, this story is worth remembering. It suggests that "Iraqi spies" have been circulating in the U.S., to encourage anti-war sentiment. Will this be the last we hear of such misinformation, or is it only the beginning? [cue theme from "The Twilight Zone"]

Compartmentalization: Another old story that I'm just getting to is the one about the cancelled poetry reading at the White House. After hearing that some poets were planning to read anti-war/pro-peace and justice poetry at the White House event to which they were recently invited, Laura Bush cancelled the event.

``While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum.'' Noelia Rodriguez, spokeswoman for first lady Laura Bush, said Wednesday.

Remember, Laura Bush was a teacher, and she taught us that "there's nothing political about literature." Good thing there's nothing political about that position. It's great that our First Lady is there to clarify those impermeable borders that divide the world into neat little boxes, don't you think? Without someone like her enforcing those rigid boundaries, people could get really confused

Online OD: What would you do if you watched someone take a deadly drug overdose via webcam? What a horrifying story.

Bloodthirsty Much?: Attorney General John Ashcroft is wants to kill people:

Mr. Ashcroft has stirred a controversy in federal prosecutors' offices nationally in recent months by insisting that they seek executions in some cases in which they had recommended against it. Under Justice Department rules, local federal prosecutors can only recommend whether to seek the death penalty; the final decision is up to the attorney general.

Makes you proud to be an American, don't it?

Impeach Bush: Speaking of being proud to be an American, there appear to be two, count 'em, two! competing campaigns to impeach George W. Bush and trusted members of his gang. The Vote to Impeach campaign appears to have the support of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, not to mention the weight of the International A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition (a major organizer of the large anti-war protests in Oct. and Jan.). Meanwhile, the Impeach-Bush-Now effort is headed up by U of IL College of Law Professor Francic A. Boyle, who also wrote the articles of impeachment against George Bush I. One of my favorite 80s bands, The Woodentops, sang a song in which they bouncily chanted "don't let history repeat itself, don't let history repeat itself." I've thought about that song a lot since December 2000.

Plagiarism: If you've taught a writing class since the dawn of the Internet, you'll enjoy this. And if you've taught any college class in recent years, you might be glad to have your suspicions confirmed that grades are up, while studying is down.

Posted 02:04 PM

Space, Peace, Granny D

I'm going to try to stop pointing to every single new edition of Mondo Washington, really I am, but I continue to be impressed with its incisive coverage of current events. It consistently delivers short, punchy perspectives you just won't get from the mainstream media. For example, check out this view on the Shuttle Columbia disaster:

"It's unfortunate that lives were lost in a mission that did not advance science in a meaningful way, and that is exactly what we have to avoid in the future," Francis Slakey, a Georgetown University physics professor who writes on space issues, told the Voice.

Ok, sure, the media are covering the building controversy over the value of the shuttle program, but Ridgeway gives it to you straight up, no chaser. Here's another: Is the U.S. a nation that's helping create a more just and peaceful world? Well, um...:

The U.S. now accounts for more than 50 percent of all the armaments sold on the planet. In 2001 we exported $12.2 billion in arms and signed up $13.1 billion in new business through the Foreign Military Sales program. What's more, our subsidies to the weapons industry are second only to those we give agribusiness.

"U.S.-origin weapons find their way into conflicts the world over," says a recent report from the Federation of American Scientists. "Of the active conflicts in 1999, the United States supplied arms or military technology to parties in more than 92 percent of them39 out of 42." American troops have had to face armies we trained in Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, and Afghanistan. Because we trained and armed them with modern weaponry, we have had to spend yet more money to develop high-tech arms to, in effect, defeat ourselves. In addition, we soon will subsidize the sale of additional weapons to former Soviet republics and East Bloc nations, which are modernizing to meet NATO standards.

What do you think? Does the whole "peace via bullets" thing really seem to be working? It doesn't look like it's very effective to me; using violence to create peace has almost never been more than a temporary solution that tends to eventually make bad situations worse. But you don't have to take it from me; listen to Granny D., who has been working for peace and justice longer than most of us have been alive. Her message? A better world begins with you and me. In a recent speech Granny D put it this way:

How we live shapes the entire world. I am no angel. I buy clothing that is a bargain and I look at the tag with guilt if it is from some faraway place where the workers may be abused. My part of New England used to be a great textile center, so I also care about the fact that my purchasing may take jobs from my neighbors.

What we drive, what we buy, the entertainment we choose, the way we use electricity and water all of these things matter. Our little decisions work for or against our dream of a fair world that spins along with nature in balance and with people living well in their local economies. Poverty happens, war happens, imperialism happens, when all the little bad decisions of a nation's people accumulate and find political expression.

We cannot have world peace without peace in our own lives. We cannot attack our planet by the way we live, and then go off to a peace rally and hope to set right all the imbalance we have caused. Peace is first a private matter. It cannot grow except from there.

You tell us, Granny.

Posted 01:56 PM

February 02, 2003

Making Nonviolence Work

If we're going to value life, we have to find ways to solve problems without killing people, which means, usually, without violence. According to People Power: Applying Nonviolence Theory by David H. Albert, Gandhi relied on a list of eight things that make nonviolent conflict resolution possible:
  1. Refraining from violence or hostility.
  2. Making real attempts to gain the opponent's trust.
  3. Refraining from humiliating the opponent, rather relying on the power of the truth which you hold.
  4. Making visible sacrifices for one's causeyou may be asking your opponent to sacrifice what s/he sees as her/his own self-interest or self-esteem; to convince them, you should be prepared to do the same.
  5. Carrying on constructive workpositive activity reduces the negative image that a society may have of those who noncooperate.
  6. Maintaining personal contact with the opponentinsures maximum possible mutual understanding.
  7. Demonstrating trust of the opponentwhen you have high expectations of an opponent, these expectations may encourage her/him to live up to them.
  8. Developing empathy, good will, and patience toward the opponentwhy address yourself to an opponent at all unless you assume s/he can change? If you deeply understand the motives, expectations, attitudes and perceived interests of opponents as people, your actions are likely to become more powerful.
If we compare these strategies to the current U.S. efforts to reduce "terror" and bring peace to the world, it's not hard to see why we'll never "win" the "war on terror" or eliminate the possibility that small nations like North Korea will threaten world peace with nuclear (or other) arsenals. If Ghandi was right, then everything we've been doing only makes more people mad and escalates levels of violence, rather than reducing them. So, in light of Ghandi's advice, what kinds of things could the U.S. do to be a more effective peacemaker in the world?

Posted 04:22 PM

January 30, 2003

Hydrogen and SOTU II

James Ridgeway's recap of the SOTU address includes a dismissal of what sounded like a good program to encourage Detroit to get hydrogen-fueled cars on the market. Ridgway writes:

aniel Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program, had this to say about the present plan for government funding of the supposedly magic hydrogen fuel-cell car:

The program "funnels millions to Detroit without requiring that they produce a single fuel-cell vehicle for the public to purchase. The auto industry is using the promise of future fuel cells as a shield against using existing technology to dramatically cut our oil dependence, and pollution, today. This technology is sitting on the shelf while Detroit dithers. Honda and Toyota are producing hybrid vehicles today, the big three are not.

"The biggest single step we can take to curb global warming and cut our dependence on oil is to make our cars and light trucks go farther on a gallon of gas," Becker continued. "If the vehicles on the road today averaged 40 miles per gallon, we would save over 3 million barrels of oil a day, more than we currently import from the Persian Gulf."

So, ok, but if the hydrogen proposal is a big screen for a corporate giveaway, was there anything even remotely laudable (or believable) in Bush's big speech?

The Institute for Public Accuracy has compiled a lengthy deconstruction of Bush's speech which suggests that the answer to that question is "not really." The IPA asked a number of experts in different fields to give their opinions of many of Bush's claims, and those experts question or completely debunk nearly everything Bush said. As for the plan to help victims of HIV/AIDS, Raj Patel , policy analyst at Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, and a visiting fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, claims that it is basically another corporate giveawaythis time to the pharmaceutical industry:

This policy is disingenuous to its core. Under existing World Trade Organization legislation, countries can already compulsorily license drugs, waiving the patent protection of pharmaceutical companies in the interests of public health. It is, in fact, U.S. sponsored legislation at the World Trade Organization that prevents those countries in the third world which lack the production capacities to produce generic retroviral drugs from importing them from other countries . This compassion for the third world doesnt pan out either. In December, the United States was alone among members of the World Trade Organization in its opposition to an expanded list of diseases which waives reimportation rules . What looks like a moment of heartfelt generosity on the part of the Bush regime is, in fact, a hard-nosed recognition that pharmaceutical companies around the world arent winning the PR battle to justify their monopolies. To put it more simply, this is a $15 billion subsidy to the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, in lieu of political battles lost at the WTO by U.S. negotiators. It remains to be seen quite how much of this new-found largesse will go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which last year was on the verge of bankruptcy .

The IPA's analysis of Bush's SOTU address contains many terrific links to back up its analysis, and is definitely worth a look (and perhaps a bookmark for future reference, since we'll probably be hearing much more about many of these issues in the coming months).

UPDATE: See also An Annotated Overview of the Foreign Policy Segments of President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address by Stephen Zunes.

Posted 06:27 PM

January 29, 2003

That Hydrogen Thing

I hope to say more later about Bush's State of the Union address, but for now I wanted to highlight one of the best things I thought he had to say: He "Proposed spending $1.2 billion over an unspecified period to speed the development of hydrogen-powered, zero-emission fuel cell vehicles." Like much of what Bush said last night, this vague statement could mean nothing more than "I want to give detroit $1.2 billion because they gave me a lot of money to get elected." However, I'm trying to be positive here and I hope that this proposal really will speed hydrogen power technology along.

According to Jeremy Rifkin, hydrogen power has great potential to improve our world by giving us nearly limitless and very inexpensive power. But how would that work? Here's how Rifkin explains it:

Hydrogen must be extracted from natural sources. Today, nearly half the hydrogen produced in the world is derived from natural gas via a steam-reforming process. The natural gas reacts with steam in a catalytic converter. The process strips away the hydrogen atoms, leaving carbon dioxide as the byproduct.

There is, however, another way to produce hydrogen without using fossil fuels in the process. Renewable sources of energy--wind, photovoltaic, hydro, geothermal and biomass--can be harnessed to produce electricity. The electricity, in turn, can be used, in a process called electrolysis, to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be stored and used, when needed, in a fuel cell to generate electricity for power, heat and light.

Why generate electricity twice, first to produce electricity for the process of electrolysis and then to produce power, heat and light by way of a fuel cell? The reason is that electricity doesn't store. So, if the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing or the water isn't flowing, electricity can't be generated and economic activity grinds to a halt. Hydrogen provides a way to store renewable sources of energy and insure an ongoing and continuous supply of power.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Plus it provides a good strategy for countering the overwhelming sense of despair that descends when I think about just about everything else Little Ceasar said last night. Did you see how juvenile and smugly self-satisfied he was as he bragged about the "terrorists" U.S. forces have killed in the last year? What the hell kind of example is that to set for our country and the world!? Oh, but wait, he wants to increase spending to fight HIV and AIDS, especially in Africa. Yeah, that's good.

Must stay focused on the positives

Posted 08:15 AM

January 28, 2003

Mondo Washington

James Ridgeway's Village Voice column, Mondo Washington is a stellar weekly (and sometimes more frequent) unspinning of stories that the mainstream press cover only in mainstream ways, i.e., by giving us only the "official" story rather than what that official story is attempting to hide. The latest installment is no exception, covering several little gems, including the current plan to fire more missiles on Baghdad than were used in the entirety of Gulf War I.

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," one Pentagon official told CBS. There are 4 million civilians in Baghdad, of whom 2 million are children.

The Pentagon likes A-Day because it supposedly concentrates on the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight, rather than on the physical destruction of his military forces. They won't admit it, but this is another horrible policy shift. This is what Hitler did to London in World War II. What Bush proposes is not collateral damage, but a level of civilian destruction not seen since the Second World War, with tens of thousands of intended civilian casualties.

Ridgeway also covers the frightening fact that the Bush Administration seems to have fewer qualms than any previous administration about using nuclear weapons. William Arkin provided some good detail on this in the LA Times a couple of days ago. After detailing the many ways in which the Administration has moved nukes out of their "special" place as weapons that were really too awful to use, and onto the shelf with conventional weapons, Arkin concludes:

What worries many senior officials in the armed forces is not that the United States has a vast array of weapons or contingency plans for using them. The danger is that nuclear weapons -- locked away in a Pandora's box for more than half a century -- are being taken out of that lockbox and put on the shelf with everything else. While Pentagon leaders insist that does not mean they take nuclear weapons lightly, critics fear that removing the firewall and adding nuclear weapons to the normal option ladder makes their use more likely -- especially under a policy of preemption that says Washington alone will decide when to strike.

To make such a doctrine encompass nuclear weapons is to embrace a view that, sooner or later, will spread beyond the moral capitals of Washington and London to New Delhi and Islamabad, to Pyongyang and Baghdad, Beijing, Tel Aviv and to every nuclear nation of the future.

If that happens, the world will have become infinitely more dangerous than it was two years ago, when George W. Bush took the presidential oath of office.

No kidding. But, as Ridgeway reminds us:

As [Bush] told Bob Woodward in Bush at War , the president sees no reason to explain his actions: "I'm the commandersee, I don't need to explainI do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

Gee, that's right, Mr. President: Why would you possibly need to explain any of your statements or actions to the American people? You're not a public servant or anything, are you? You don't serve at the behest of millions of voters, do you? Shall we take this as an admission that Bush thinks of himself as an appointed President (thanks to the Supreme Court), rather than an elected one?

Come to think of it, why even bother with a State of the Union address tonight? It's not like Bush has any responsibility to tell any of us anything, right? *grrrr*

Posted 02:24 PM

January 21, 2003

Grow Public Domain, Grow

I hope for most of you this is old news, but: Fresh from the Supreme Court's decision against his side in Eldred v. Ashcroft, Lawrence Lessig has introduced a new strategy for accomplishing the vital task of moving more creative works into the public domain. The Eric Eldred Act FAQ explains everything very clearly:

Fifty years after a copyrighted work was published, a copyright owner would have to pay a tiny tax. That tax could be as low as $1. If the copyright owner does not pay that tax for three years in a row, then the copyright would be forfeited to the public domain. If the tax is paid, then the form would require the listing of a copyright agent--a person charged with receiving requests about that copyright. The Copyright Office would then make the listing of taxes paid, and copyright agents, available free of charge on their website.

This is necessary because:

We estimate that of all the work copyrighted between 1923 and 1942 (the first twenty years affected by the Sonny Bono Act), only 2% has any continuing commercial value. If a work has no commercial value, then there would be little reason for the copyright owner to pay the tax. That work would therefore quickly pass into the public domain. If the proposal were adopted as outlined, then within three years, over 90% of the copyrighted between 1923 and 1952 would be in the public domain. This would be massive increase of material into the public domain, through a mechanism that would create a cheap and useable record of the material that remains under copyright.

As a teacher, my mind boggles at how great it would be if 98% of work copyrighted between 1923 and 1942 were in the public domain. It would also be good for the economy. Here's how: Right now, teachers can't afford the time or money it would take to track down permissions to use many copyrighted works, but many of those works are out of print so they can't ask their students to buy them either. The solution for many teachers is to simply steal these works instead by photocopying them and giving them to their students. If these works were in the public domain, they could be made available online for free, or someone like the Dover Press could create Dover Thrift Editions (or something similar) of them, and then teachers could have their students buy them, meaning the Eldred Act would create profit where there now is none. More important, it could make accessible thousands of texts (music, poetry, fiction, etc.) that are now out of print.

The Eldred Act is a great idea. Check the FAQ for information about how you can help get it passed.

Posted 08:59 AM

Shame Utility Vehicles

Thanks to VC for pointing me to his wife's essay, "California Confession: Driving on the Axles of Evil". It's a wonderfully written and candid discussion of how intelligent people rationalize buying these vehiclesboy do I understand that; I've always sort of wanted one but could never afford or really justify it. Anyway, the essay also raises an important point: Thousands of these vehicles are already on the road, so even though they're very dangerous (to their drivers and occupants, to other drivers, to the environment), it's not like we can just melt them all down into doorstops. Whatever problems attend SUVs, those problems will be with us for a long time, and they will probably get worse before they get better. (For example, as the vehicles age, they're likely to get even less efficient and create more pollution than ever.)

Meanwhile, Breaching the Web links to Greg Easterbrook's extensive review of Keith Bradsher's book, High and Mighty: SUVsThe World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got that Way. It details the federal regulatory machinations that encouraged the growth of the SUV market, as well as the many problems with SUVsthe way they're built, the way they're marketed, the way they're driven, etc. Near the end, Easterbrook asks a serious and disturbing question:

What does it say about the United States that there are now millions of people who want to drive an anti-social automobile? Huge numbers of Americans will pay thousands of dollars extra for vehicles that visually declare, "I have serious psychological problems." (Though maybe we are better off having this declared.) The antagonistic environment of the modern road is linked, of course, to the more general psychological predicament usually called stress. We are all stressed for time or money or achievement or sex, or at least we all view ourselves as being thus stressed; and the road is experienced as both an obstacle to the things that we are in such a hurry to fail to get and an arena for the cathartic release from this strain.

I'd argue that the "antagonist environment of the modern road" is linked to a lot more than just "stress." What about all those advertising campaigns that tell potential SUV drivers that the whole point of driving their vehicles is that they can intimidate and dominate everybody else?

Anyway, Easterbrook's review is great readingespecially if you're not planning to read Bradsher's book but you'd still like to understand why it's so provocative.

UPDATE: SUV Tax Break as Much as $75,000:

President Bush's economic stimulus plan could triple the size of a little-known tax loophole that could mean from $25,000 to $75,000 in tax writeoffs for small business owners including doctors, lawyers and financial advisers when buying an SUV for business purposes, the Detroit News reported.

Posted 08:20 AM | Comments (1)

January 20, 2003

Peace on Earth

By all accounts, yesterday's protests against war and for peaceful solutions to global problems were a great success. As Michelle Goldberg writes in Salon:

The broad-based antiwar movement many have awaited is here.

This picture taken by one of the marchers in DC gives a good look at the size of the protestpeople as far as the eye can see, or as the Washington Post said:

Organizers of the demonstration, the activist coalition International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), said the protest was larger than one they sponsored in Washington in October. District police officials suggested then that about 100,000 attended, and although some organizers agreed, they have since put the number closer to 200,000. This time, they said, the turnout was 500,000. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey would not provide an estimate but said it was bigger than October's. "It's one of the biggest ones we've had, certainly in recent times," he said.


Regardless of the exact number, the crowd yesterday on the Mall was the largest antiwar demonstration here since the Vietnam era. For the 11 a.m. rally, much of four long blocks of the Mall was packed, shoulder-to-shoulder in many sections from Third to Seventh streets SW between Madison and Jefferson drives. The first marchers stepped off about 1:30 p.m., and when many had begun reaching the Navy Yard more than two dozen blocks away about an hour later, others were still leaving the rally site.

In addition, the estimated number of people in San Francisco was 50,000, there were local protests of various sizes in towns and cities throughout the country (my local protest had about 60 people in attendance, in a community of about 100,000; there were 20,000 in Portland, OR), and people in cities around the world also called for a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi situation. The U.S. protests were backed by recent polls showing that American support for a war against Iraq is fairly weak and wavering.

(Aside: When I was in D.C. on October 26th last year for the first ANSWER protest, I watched two or three helicopters circling above us almost all day long. I looked forward to getting home and seeing lots of aerial photographs of the event, since only photos from the air would show its true size and allow anyone to make an accurate estimate of the number of attendees. Of course, I have yet to see an aerial photograph of either protest (October's or last weekend's). Why do you think that is?)

Meanwhile, NPR's All Things Considered yesterday (scroll down to "Military Disconnect" link for RealAudio file) reported on research showing that the greatest support for war in America comes from people who feel zero connection to the militarypeople who don't have family in the armed forces or relatives who are veterans. According to Duke University researchers Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi, the likelihood that the U.S. will use military force is also inversely proportional to the percentage of military veterans in the executive and legislative branches of federal government. While findings like this may not be surprising, they remain the most stark and barbaric example of the dire consequences of our country's increasing obsession with the cult of individuality.

The problem of people only caring about themselves or those in their immediate circles of family/friends shows up in nearly every issue of our societyfrom health care, to education, to welfare and all other social services, to environmental protections and other corporate regulations. At its most crass, the attitude of the cult of individualism is: "I don't give a shit what happens to anyone else so long as things are ok for me; in fact, I don't even care if having things good for me makes them worse for anyone else. My only value and priority is ME (and maybe me family and friends)." So now that our military is completely volunteer and also comprises only a small percentage of the population, it's easier than ever to get a majority to support the use of force. Our rabid selfishness not only encourages us to simply avert our gaze as people die from lack of health care, but now it also enables us to basically sentence hundreds if not thousands of people to their deathseither through our overt support of war or through our silent acceptance of it.

Bleak as those facts are, they are also why the growing peace movement is so great: It offers hope that an ethic of interdependence can still thrive in our selfish and individualistic society. People who march for peace are people who recognize that there are real and inescapable connections between the pilots in the bombers or the troops on the ground and the people they bomb or otherwise attack. The people who march for peace are people who refuse to accept that the "blowback" and "collateral damage" that inevitably attend violence and force are necessary evils that we just have to learn to live with. The people who march for peace are people who understand that we must recognize our dependence upon and responsibility to each other if we want to live ethically and to advance as a people.

Although nearly everyone agrees that Saddam Hussein is a corrupt and malevolent dictator, and that the people of Iraq deserve better, that doesn't mean we all have to agree that a military invasion of Iraq is the best way to improve current conditions in the world.

(UPDATE: Someone did take aerial photos of the SanFran protest. Impressive.)

Posted 12:02 PM

Default Affirmative Action?

I keep seeing bits about this whole affirmative action debate that I feel compelled to post; however, my reason for these posts is not that I want to defend affirmative action so much as I'd like to promote debate and discussion and critical thinking about the issues of social inequality and injustice that are woven into affirmative action. With that in mind, take a look at the beginning of this article about the rise of G. W. Bush [link via BuzzFlash]:

Two weeks before he was to graduate from Yale, George Walker Bush stepped into the offices of the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington Field outside Houston and announced that he wanted to sign up for pilot training.

It was May 27, 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. Bush was 12 days away from losing his student deferment from the draft at a time when Americans were dying in combat at the rate of 350 a week. The unit Bush wanted to join offered him the chance to fulfill his military commitment at a base in Texas. It was seen as an escape route from Vietnam by many men his age, and usually had a long waiting list.

Bush had scored only 25 percent on a "pilot aptitude" test, the lowest acceptable grade. But his father was then a congressman from Houston, and the commanders of the Texas Guard clearly had an appreciation of politics.

Bush was sworn in as an airman the same day he applied. His commander, Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt, was apparently so pleased to have a VIP's son in his unit that he later staged a special ceremony so he could have his picture taken administering the oath, instead of the captain who actually had sworn Bush in. Later, when Bush was commissioned a second lieutenant by another subordinate, Staudt again staged a special ceremony for the cameras, this time with Bush's father the congressman a supporter of the Vietnam War standing proudly in the background.

That certainly makes it sound like Bush received some preferential treatment in his appointment to the Texas Guard; however, that preferencial treatment was not based on his race, but on his economic and social class. The article goes on to provide many more details about the story sketched above, but at every turn it's clear that Bush family connections and Bush's own cultural knowledge helped ensure that he always had the best options to choose from. So if this is the kind of system that poor and minority applicants are working with when they apply to things like universities or jobs, do affirmative action programs make any more sense?

In more on the connection between economic class and race in education, a recent study from the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University found that:

Patterns of segregation by race are strongly linked to segregation by poverty, and poverty concentrations are strongly linked to unequal opportunities and outcomes. Since public schools are the institution intended to create a common preparation for citizens in an increasingly multiracial society, this inequality can have serious consequences. Given that the largest school districts in this country (enrollment greater than 25,000) service one-third of all school-age children, it is important to understand at a district level the ways in which school segregation, race, and poverty are intersecting and how they impact these students' lives. In our analysis we focus on two important components, race and segregation.

The researchers concluded that:

since 1986, in almost every district examined, black and Latino students have become more racially segregated from whites in their schools. The literature suggests that minority schools are highly correlated with high-poverty schools and these schools are also associated with low parental involvement, lack of resources, less experienced and credentialed teachers, and higher teacher turnoverall of which combine to exacerbate educational inequality for minority students. Desegregation puts minority students in schools with better opportunities and higher achieving peer groups.

The growing national support for "school choice" (via vouchers and charter schools, for example) will only exacerbate these trends, which in turn exacerbate the problems with trying to base university admissions solely on academic "merit" (grades, test scores, etc.) as Bush seems to be advocating. I say "seems" to be advocating, because it's pretty hard to tell where Bush actually stands on affirmative actionhis speech last week said one thing, his brief in the Michigan case said another, and now his support for greater minority school funding complicates the issue further. Is Bush just trying to please all the people all the time? It seems he's not really pleasing Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice (unless their dissent is another tactic calculated by Karl Rove or someone else to try to mollify potential voters who didn't like Bush's position last week?). Anyway, lots of food for thought.

Posted 10:26 AM

January 19, 2003

More on Michigan

He hadn't updated in a while last time I checked, so I missed the fact that gTexts has been serving up some good commentary and discussion about the Michigan admissions case for a couple of days. To catch up, start here. That's a great post, but in my favorite bit, g talks about the question of a kind of affirmative action for students whose parents or other ancestors attended a school, aka "legacy" students (like G.W. Bush). Many on the Right argue that this is a completely different and perfectly legitimate practice. G says:

I think this is unfair -- People who mention legacies aren't making a constitutional point but are offering a reminder of how screwed up our priorities are. Given all the advantages many children whose parents attended elite colleges already have (good schools, expensive test-prep courses, vocabulary-enhancing dinnertime conversation), it seems strange that we're fine with giving them an additional preference on top of that, but we have a national freak-out session if minorities who generally have a disadvantaged starting point get a similar opportunity. While legacy preferences are obviously not worse than minority preferences from a constitutional standpoint, they are worse in terms of things like, say, fairness, a decent society, or equality of educational opportunity.

This raises a question that I'm guessing others have already discussed somewhere, but if the point of Bush's participation in the Michigan case is supposedly to promote "diversity," is it possible that the notion of "diversity" has become something of screen to hide the increasing absence of the kinds of things g points to -- fairness, a decent society, or equality of educational opportunity? In other words, does Bush's support for this rather vague term, "diversity," actually mask his complete lack of concern for the kind of social justice the term tends to convey to many of his listeners?

Posted 01:11 PM

January 18, 2003

Letter to Rosemary


Thanks for your comment on my blog. I read your story and I'm sorry to hear about the trouble you had getting in to U of M. I'm sure you know a lot more about the specifics of U of M than I do, and you're right -- there are many high schools in our country where the top 10% of the graduating class will not be middle class and wealthy (or white). Therefore, Bush's "Texas 10 Percent Plan" would definitely make for a certain amount of diversity in college admissions. However, looking at the big picture (even just in a state like Michigan), I doubt there are enough of these schools to ensure that minority enrollment at our nation's most prestigious universities is even close to proportionate with the minority population of the country. In fact, there's plenty of evidence to this effect -- see, for example, this article from the Detroit Free Press which discusses the effects of Bush's and other plans that attempt to achieve diversity w/out regard to race.

As for whether Michigan's admissions policy is exclusionary, well, you're right -- it absolutely is. By definition, Michigan (and any other school) has to exclude the majority of people who apply; therefore, perhaps admissions policies should more appropriately be called "exclusions policies." And yes, unfortunately, you were one of the many excluded from U of M. Were you excluded because you're of European descent? Perhaps. However, there could have been any number of other reasons. I know that one thing admissions committees usually consider is age and maturity -- not because they have prejudice against people who are too young, but simply because they know they're not doing anyone any good if they admit someone who is not emotionally and psychologically mature enough to handle the pressures of college. Since you graduated from H.S. early, it seems possible that the admissions committee decided not to admit you because they thought you'd be more successful in school if you waited a year? It also seems very possible that some of those "less academically qualified" minorities you knew who were admitted had been through different life experiences that suggested to the admissions committee that they were better prepared for challenges they'd face at the university. I assume by "less academically qualified" you mean by this that they had lower GPAs or test scores? Or are you also considering honor societies and club memberships? What about work experience? What about the neighborhood they grew up in? What about participation in volunteer and civic activities? What about that whole "overcoming adversity" thing? Which do you think is the most qualified 18-year-old: The straight-A student who has grown up in a relatively stable family and home (someone with "all the trimmings"), or the B or C student who ended up in jail by the time he/she was 14 and then turned his/her life around in the final years of high school and wrote a great essay showing how committed he/she is to success in college? From where I sit, there's no easy answer to that question, but I'm sure it's one admissions committees have to face more often than you think.

Finally, I wonder if the divide on this issue comes down to how we view ourselves and each other. If an admissions committee thinks your success in high school was the result of your individual merit and effort, they're going to try to reward you for that and admit you. OTOH, if the committee thinks your success was the result of your individual merit and effort combined with your circumstances in life (parents, friends, home life, etc.), then that committee is going to look beyond your numbers for other reasons to admit you. People who take the Bush position on this issue want to believe -- and they want you and me to believe -- that we're all inviolate individuals, that we, alone, are responsible for our actions and our fate in life, and that all other factors are irrelevant. This fantasy makes them feel better when they see homeless people on the street and experience a momentary pang of conscience that asks, "Why am I so wealthy while he is so poor?" If they can answer with "Because I'm just a better person than he is," then they can keep walking and feel no guilt. This myth of the individual is much simpler than trying to account for all the factors and people who have helped us get where we are (good or bad) in life. People against affirmative action want life to be clean and simple (like Rupert who comments on your blog that he "just want[s] a simple answer"). Too bad life isn't simple, as your own experience so clearly shows. The bright side might just be that you learned a lot more from being rejected at U of M (and from the course your life took from that point) than you might have learned had you been admitted. I hope so.

Posted 10:10 AM

January 17, 2003

Conspiracy, Death Penalty

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, there was a lot of talk about "connecting the dots" and there were a lot of questions about why the CIA, FBA, NSA, etc. hadn't been able to make the connections. Well, who needs a bunch of bloated and insidious government agencies to connect the dots when you can do it yourself? Check out Alternet's Top 10 Conspiracy Theories of 2002 for dot-connecting extraordinaire.

In other news, Mark Fiore has some reassuring news for those who are dismayed that the death penalty is under attack after Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the death sentences of everyone on death row in his state: Execution by AmeriCoAlive and Well!. I tried to say about the same thing the other day (scroll down to the 5th paragraph), but the beauty of cartoons is often their concise eloquence.

Posted 11:48 AM | Comments (1)

Imaginary Relations

Perhaps it's all the talk of various tax/stimulus proposals, but articles about economic and social class in America seem to be popping up all over. First there was The Triumph of Hope Over Self-Interest in which David Brooks argued that political movements based on class issues will never be successful in America because everyone so deeply believes he/she either is middle class or will be soon. Brooks contends that this is true because Americans are just so damned hopeful and optimisticthey prefer to believe anything is possible rather than accept some negative idea that they're going to be stuck shoveling crap their whole lives. What Brooks fails to address there is how people become so "optimistic" in the first place, and how they maintain that "optimism" in the face of ugly reality. Then answer to those questions is simple: Hollywood (and the media more generally) is a great teacher and reinforcer.

To help explain how this works, check out Scenes from the Class Struggle on Fox, in which Carina Chocano takes on "Joe Millionaire," Fox's little ditty wherein a $19k/year construction worker pretends to be worth $50 million while 20 women vie for his affections. She's rightthe show would be ten times better if it featured the truly rich; only then would the show be able to emphasize the social inequalities and injustices created by class difference. But that's surely something Fox would never want to do since one of TV's major functions in our society is to reinforce the dream and myth that we can all be rich someday, or at least middle class.

Even better is Caryn James' Upward Mobility and Downright Lies, which takes on movies like "Maid in Manhattan" and "Sweet Home Alabama" to make the same point: Hollywood narratives repeatedly argue that upward social mobility is an easy, everyday occurrence in America. However:

that persistent idea ignores the realities of today's economy and research about social mobility. The aristocratic politician Ralph Fiennes plays in "Maid in Manhattan" precisely fits the profile described by the Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger in a November article in The New York Times, which said that new studies show it takes an average of five or six generations to change a family's economic position, and that wealth tends to linger in families. Such inherited wealth helps create political dynasties like that of the Bushes and of the Fiennes character an assemblyman, a senator's son running for his father's seat, and not the kind of guy likely to take up with a maid. As Mr. Krueger added in an interview, "Recent trends in income distribution have made upward mobility less likely" than it was even 20 years ago.

And such research isn't brand new. As Kevin Phillips says in "Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich," published last year, the increasing gap between the median American family income and the richest 1 percent has been "a point of national discussion for over a decade." By the turn of the 21st century, he writes, the United States "had also become the West's citadel of inherited wealth."

"Aristocracy," he adds, "was a cultural and economic fact."

The people who are perhaps most resistant to this message are those few who really have moved upwardthe nouveau richeand boy do they get mad when anyone questions their social position. [link via Slactivist] The kind of militant self-absorption shown in such rants is perhaps the extreme form of what's motivating the current Bush position on affirmative actionboth arguments are founded on the idea that people should earn what they have in life, rather than having it given to them. I mean, that's what Bush did, right? But the logic behind those arguments is that we should live in a fair, just, and equal worldif one person has to work for what he/she has, others should also have to work for what they haveand this is exactly the point: People who argue for real tax relief for poorer Americans or for affirmative action programs are not asking for handouts and free rides, they're also asking for a more equal and just world. The difference is that the social conservatives believe they got wherever they are on their own, while progressives recognize that we are interdependent, social animals who don't live in our own personal vacuums.

Posted 10:09 AM

January 16, 2003

Educational Economies

Yesterday President Bush said the University of Michigan's admissions system is an unfair and unconstitutional "quota system." Meanwhile:

At a White House briefing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer highlighted a program Bush spearheaded as governor of Texas.

Bush opposed racial preferences at state universities, opting instead for a program he calls "affirmative access," under which the top 10 percent of all high school students are eligible for admission.

Ok, so we have the Bush Administration's positionget rid of race as a factor in college admissions and replace it with merit. Sounds good, doesn't it? And that's the troublelike nearly all of Bush's policies, it sounds good, but in practice it's just not that simple.

Let's grant that quota systems are bad, and that there has never been an affirmative action program without flaws. Let's also put aside for the moment the fact that Michigan's admissions system is not, in fact, a quota system, and that it is not in any way exclusionary toward anyone. Let's say that we buy Bush's argument and give automatic entry to the top 10 percent of all high school students in Michigan. Who do you think that 10 percent is going to be? Well, let's look at what kinds of things help students make it to the top 10 percent of their class. Things that probably help students perform well are having parents who went to college, having perhaps one parent who doesn't work and has time (and a car) to take the kids to extra-curricular activities and to help and encourage them with their homework. It also probably helps to have parents who can pay for those extracurricular activities, and have the time and resources to seek out the best ones. I'm sure it also helps to live in a stable household in a safe and comfortable neighborhood so you can focus on learning and developing practical (socially acceptable) skills instead of worrying about your safety all the time. What all this means is that the top 10 percent of any school class is going be comprised primarily of middle-class and wealthy students. Money is closely correlated with "success" in our culture. So Bush might be right that considering race in admissions is not necessary, but privileging "merit" will only increase the gaps between the haves and the have-nots in this country; it may or may not increase racial and ethnic diversity, but it certainly will make higher education more economically homogenous (which would be just fine for Bush and Co.).

Underlying Bush's position here and on so many issues is one of the central myths that conservatives (or more precisely, neoconservatives) like Bush want to believeand they want us to believenamely, that we live in a friction-free world governed by "natural" laws (e.g., the "law" of supply and demand) which allow us to make clear and simple connections between cause and effect, action and reaction. For neoconservatives, if you work hard in school (and you're "smart"), you'll naturally (as if by natural law) rise to the top of your class. There are no complicating factors in his equationfactors like race or economic inequalities. No, for neocons it's simply, "work hard, reap your rewards." And while we all know this isn't true, we all want to believe it is because we'd all like to live in such a simple world. Too bad we don't and can't.

Here's where the Bush stand on Michigan's admissions policies [1] connects with his position on the economy: To make college admissions more fair we should not privilege race, but poverty. But, of course, we couldn't do that, because that would be "class warfare," and as we all know, poverty is always only a temporary rest stop on the highways of American life, all of which lead to fame, fortune, and magnificent success. It's not true, but people want to believe it so badly that they'll simply ignore overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For example, no one really believes Bush became President through hard work or intelligenceat least not through these qualities alone. His birth into a wealthy and well-connected family also had an enormous effect on the course of his life. Yet, instead of taking Bush himself as proof that the Horatio Alger, protestant work ethic, anyone can succeed in America narrative is 99 percent fiction, Americans seem to pretend that somehow Bush as an exception to the rule. "Oh yeah, Bush got where he is 'cause his daddy was rich, but still, anyone can succeed in America." Conservative author David Brooks recently explained exactly how this works (although for him it's a good thing). Unfortunately, in many ways, Brooks' analysis sounds all too accurate. Where he's wrong is that Americans aren't suffering from false consciousness. After explaining that "Americans admire the rich," Brooks contradicts himself when he writes:

Nor are Americans suffering from false consciousness. You go to a town where the factories have closed and people who once earned $14 an hour now work for $8 an hour. They've taken their hits. But odds are you will find their faith in hard work and self-reliance undiminished, and their suspicion of Washington unchanged.

The contradiction is that Brooks is arguing that Americans are not suffering from false consciousness, yet he admits they maintain their faith in "hard work and self-reliance," despite the fact that their experience proves to them over and over that these great values will not bring them success in this countryespecially as "free trade" moves more and more jobs overseas or forces American workers to accept lower wages, while Bush proposes to allow the richest 1 percent of Americans to keep even more of their vast wealth. The definition of false consciousness is believing X in the face of overwhelming evidence for Y, so how can Brooks claim that the average American consciousness isn't a false one? (See also the letters responding to Brooks' piece.)

Regardless, Brooks is correct that Americans don't like to be reminded that they're not rich, or that they might never get rich thanks to structural inequalities (like education or tax policies). This is why Bush can keep a straight face when he proposes a tax plan that overwhelmingly and unashamedly favors the rich; he knows that as long as he can keep his smirk in check, he can tell Americans that giving money to rich people is good for poor people, and that cutting the government's income while increasing its expenses (primarily for the military) is also good for the country. It doesn't make sense, it flies in the face of their own experience, but they want to believe it's true, so the administration might just get away with it. The logic of this plan relies on more of those "natural" laws that neocons love so much. This time it's that if you give a rich person a dollar, he/she will invest it. While this may be true, again, the way this works is not that simple. Since we don't live in a friction-free world, wealthy Americans who save tax money may invest it, but that investment is not necessarily going to benefit average Americans because, in a global economy, there's no telling where an invested dollar might go. On the other hand, if you allow poorer people to keep more of their money, they'll almost certainly spend it places where it will help local economies and conditionsplaces like grocery stores. But in presenting plans like this, Bush relies on the the American public's desire to live in a simple world, and it's much simpler just to accept the President's arguments than it is to dig out the reality that they obscure.

More than 90 years ago Antonio Gramsci wrote:

What comes to pass does so not so much because a few people want it to happen, as because the mass of citizens abdicate their responsibility and let things be.

Bush's "success" as President proves Gramsci correct.

[1] And it's not just Michigan's admissions policyBush's entire educational agenda is founded on this myth that if you simply work hard you'll succeed, regardless of other factors. His support for charter schools and voucher programs is based on the same logic, a sort of social darwinism that continuously blames the victims as it steadily widens the gap between rich and poor, have and have-not. The kinds of "choices" that these programs allow students and parents to make are only available to those with the resources to make them (the wealthy). So vouchers and charter schools allow wealthy students to aggregate with other wealthy students, allowing their parents to pool their resources to make superschools, while poorer students are left to fend for themselves in the "bad" schools that will now have fewer resources than ever. Oh, but if you work hard, you can do anything in America.

Posted 02:26 PM | Comments (1)

January 14, 2003

SUVs and SOBs II

The first installment of SUVs and SOBs talked about Keith Bradsher's new book, High and Mighty: SUVs, which debunks the myths of SUVs as safe vehicles (for their drivers or anyone else), and argues that driving SUVs is immoral on multiple levelsprimarily because SUVs pose such a threat to drivers in other vehicles and because they consume so many resources. It turns out that Bradsher's book couldn't have come out at a better time. First, and most recently, you've probably heard about the "SUVs support terrorism" ad campaign being led by Arianna Huffington, and also about the tv stations refusing to run them. Call it a more aggressive take on last November's "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign; both are attempts to get people to think about the effects their massive consumption of resources might have on the world around them. Of course, as Bradsher's book shows, such campaigns will largely fall on deaf ears if they try to reach SUV drivers, since, on average, SUV drivers are very antisocial people. That's why the Huffington campaign seems so great to meit makes an argument that's sensational enough to get people who don't drive SUVs to question those who do. With enough of that kind of thing, even antisocial SUV drivers might find the disapproval associated w/driving their vehicles too much to take. If the campaign seems far-fetched, don't forget that the U.S. government produced similar propaganda during WWII. (My favorite slogan: "Should brave men die so you can drive?")

Meanwhile, did you know that our tax code offers huge incentives to Detroit to continue making SUVs, and to buyers to continue buying them? It's true. First, a tax loophole exempts "light trucks" from a tax automakers pay on high-pollution vehicles they sell. (Note: The information I found on this is from 2000, so this may have been changed since then.)

Second, another tax loophole gives tax rebates to buyers of the largest SUVs. Apparently only "small business owners" qualify for this rebate, but there are enough of them to translate into a lot more SUVs on the roads. Plus, since the tax advantage is so greatas much as $25,000, which might make a $50k SUV downright affordablethat lots of small business owners who have no use for an SUV are choosing to buy one anyway, just because it's such a good deal for them. I understand that this tax break was meant to help small business owners afford the equipment necessary for the work they do, but the unintended consequences here are too serious to ignore.

Posted 11:39 AM | Comments (1)

What War?

This may sound random, but I'm hoping someone can help me out here. I keep hearing things about our "wartime President" and that this or that is necessary in "a time of war." The thing is, I just can't find any evidenceother than rhetoric from the Bush Administration, of coursethat we, the United States, are at war. Did Congress ever officially declare war on anyone or anything? Did I miss that somewhere? And if not, shouldn't we be concerned that our government is in violation of Article I of the Constitution of the U.S. if it claims to be at war w/out official declaration from Congress?

I'm not talking about a war against Iraq, specifically, but a war on anythingterrorism, terrorists, Osama bin Laden. I mean, many people have said we're at war with these things, but there's a difference between people (even the President of the U.S.) saying we're at war and the U.S. Congress officially declaring war. I know, for example, that Congress "authorized the use of force" against Iraq, but does that mean war? Does that authorization give Bush and the Defense Department and everyone else the same rights and options that an official declaration of war would give them?

A Google search on the subject turns up some interesting things from the past year or so, but if anything, all these pieces simply raise the problem (or related problems), but don't answer it. The one piece that seems to directly address the question of whether the U.S. is really at war with anything argues pretty convincingly that, indeed, it is not.

As I write this, I vaguely recall some punditry about this problem sometime in the last 18 months, but for some reason, no one seems interested in pressing the point that we've got a problem if we allow presidential rhetoric to push us into a war that seems to exist only because the executive branch of government says it does. I've been told that the last time Congress actually declared war was WWII, meaning that Korea, Vietnam, and Gulf War I were all wars in which Congress abdicated its responsibilities. So I guess the precedent for this was set long ago and we can expect to go to "war" any time a President decides we should, despite the fact that the framers of the Constitution wanted to prevent exactly that possibility when they gave Congress the responsibility to "make" (later changed to "declare") war. Brave new world and all that, I guess?

Posted 10:49 AM

December 20, 2002

The Eli Lilly Bandit

So who is the "Eli Lilly Bandit"? If you know, go collect your reward.

Posted 12:06 PM

December 17, 2002

SUVs and SOBs

As most of us get set to head into a holiday week and try to forget that there's a war looming (didn't the marketing people say January or February would be a good time to roll out the new "attack" product line?), Alternet serves up a tasty little morsel on the connection between war and SUVs (especially Hummers, which seem to be selling briskly this season). Combine that with this review of High and Mighty: SUVs by Keith Bradsher, and you've got a pretty complete picture of a society run amok:

According to market research conducted by the country's leading automakers, Bradsher reports, SUV buyers tend to be "insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others."

So let's see if I've got this right: We buy SUVs because we're rich, insecure and antisocial, and also because they're status symbols that tell the world how affluent we are. Yet, these very vehicles pollute our environment more than other vehicles we might drive, thereby making us less safe. SUVs are also prone to rollovers, so there again they make us less safe. And all the gas they consume makes the U.S. more reliant than ever on foreign oil, which again makes all of us less safe because it makes us think we need to fight wars for oil. But then, in a nice little feedback loop, our wars for oil make us feel macho (or insecurereally the same thing), so we want big, tough vehicles to show how powerful we are. Plus, the wars are big advertisements for SUVs (again, mainly Hummers), so we buy more of them, and the cycle continues. Middle-class, SUV-driving America is less safe than ever and all its efforts in this arena to address that problem are only making it worse. Nice.

Sort of reminds me of Michael Moore's thesis about American fear in "Bowling for Columbine." To simplify, Moore argues that white, middle-class fear has driven our nation's violent history from the beginning (from colonial times, through slavery, into our modern urban/suburban divides), and is now a major factor behind gun violence in the U.S. If he's right, then white, middle-class people are buying lots of guns and lots of SUVs because they're deathly afraid of.... something. Perhaps one thing they're afraid of is losing all the material wealth and "security" they've "earned" because somewhere in the back of their minds they know that their privileges come at the expense of other people's suffering. Perhaps they're reminded of this when they drive by the dozen or so homeless people huddled against the buildings as they cruise downtown in their SUVs to buy another gun. You think? Nah...

Posted 07:20 PM

December 15, 2002

Technical Difficulties

If you haven't seen it yet, this short flash animation is a compact little summary of how U.S. rhetoric is completely inconsistent with material reality.

Posted 01:22 PM

December 03, 2002

Busting Kneecaps?

So what's going on with John J. DiIulo? The former head of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives claimed recently that the White House puts politics ahead of policy. (No kidding?) The press started running with the story, and then we hear that DiIulo is "toning down" his criticism. Coincidentally, DiIulio's apology sounds almost exactly like statements made by Ari Fliescher, head spinner at the White House. Now we can read DiIuilo's accusations here and here, so we can make up our own minds about what DiIulo said or meant to say. The question is, did the White House put some kind of ugly pressure on DiIulo to get him to "tone down" his comments, or was he just motivated to do this out of the kindness of his own heart?

Update: Joan Walsh explains this DiIulio situation better than I did:

The very day his bracing criticism of Rove and the White House made national news, he apologized to his former colleagues, twice. It was a strange, cringe-inducing spectacle, with language out of a Soviet show trial: He called his own criticisms, as quoted by Suskind, "groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples." Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer had earlier called his complaints "groundless and baseless," so his use of the same terms seemed rote and creepy, like he'd either been beaten up or lobotomized. "I sincerely apologize and I am deeply remorseful," he said in a statement.

The rest of Walsh's story contains great background on DiIulio and the whole "faith-based initiatives" charade.

Posted 04:38 PM | Comments (1)

December 01, 2002

Scary Funny

Speaking of funny, Get Your War On has posted a new installment. [brought to my attention by Eschaton.] I roll on the floor with every new strip. Several of the strips in this edition mention Kissinger's appointment to be the lead actor in the dramatic simulation of "an investigation into 9-11-01" (working title). For a reminder of why Kissinger is maybe um, not a good choice, see what Cristopher Hitchens has to say. More on Kissinger from the International Campaign Against Impunity. Meanwhile, the issue seems to have put Maureen Dowd in top form.

Posted 09:49 AM

November 30, 2002

Far From Funny

Mark Crispin Miller's analysis of President Bush is utterly chilling. As author of The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder, Miller has read and analyzed transcripts of Bush's public speeches in the last several years, leading him to believe that:

"Bush is not an imbecile. He's not a puppet. I think that Bush is a sociopathic personality. I think he's incapable of empathy. He has an inordinate sense of his own entitlement, and he's a very skilled manipulator. And in all the snickering about his alleged idiocy, this is what a lot of people miss."

Miller goes on to note that Bush speaks fine when he's talking about violence, revenge, punishment, etc., but he makes his infamous mistakes when he talks about ideals, democracy, altruism, compassion. I highly recommend the whole article, but toward the end Miller concludes:

This, then, is why [Bush is] so closely watched by his handlers, Miller says not because he'll say something stupid, but because he'll overindulge in the language of violence and punishment at which he excels.

"He's a very angry guy, a hostile guy. He's much like Nixon. So they're very, very careful to choreograph every move he makes. They don't want him anywhere near protestors, because he would lose his temper."

Miller's assessment of Bush is eerily consistent with the picture painted by Bob Woodward in his new book, Bush at War. (See the Washington Post's multi-part series on the book, which starts here.) I admit I haven't read the book, but in all the coverage and reviews I've read, the book sounds like it paints Bush as very serious, smart, and determined. In other words, just as Miller says, Bush is not stupid. But he is myopic, he's impulsive and reactionary (a self-confessed "gut-player"), and he's a true-believer (aka: a fanatic or a zealot). To his credit, Bush seems to truly believe he's doing good things. He thinks he's making the world a better place. But that's exactly the problem. If Miller is right (and I definitely think he is), Bush's idea of "a better place" is a very, very scary place, indeed.

According to one of the pieces in the Post, this is what Bush thinks:

Elaborating, [Bush] said that underlying his foreign policy "there is a value system that cannot be compromised, and that is the values that we praise. And if the values are good enough for our people, they ought to be good enough for others, not in a way to impose because these are God-given values. These aren't United States-created values. These are values of freedom and the human condition and mothers loving their children."

Yet simply proclaiming these values is not enough. "You can't talk your way to a solution to a problem," Bush said. "And the United States is in a unique position right now. We are the leader. And a leader must combine the ability to listen to others, along with action."

Here Bush confirms two important facts that anyone looking can observe about his approach to the world: First, the entire world operates according to god-given values, and those values just happen to be American values. Isn't this the definition of a "fundamentalist"? How is it different from Islamic fundamentalism? Bush's conviction that there is "one true way" explains why he feels no compunction about imperialist wars and regime changethese actions only fulfill god's wishes. In other words, like the "fundamentalists" he's waging war against, Bush really doesn't believe that any other legitimate values and/or gods exist in this world. (This trait is fairly common to all fascists throughout history, I believe.)

Second, we learn that discussion and dialogue are relatively meaningless to Bush. This is why he puts so little effort in diplomacy and is always "beating the drums of war." This is why he vehemently dismisses the International Criminal Court and appears to have no respect for the system of international law that the world has struggled to build since WWII in order to prevent war. Bush believes that physical force is the only way to accomplish things, and on an international stage, physical force is military force, i.e. war. Again, this connects with Miller's assessment of Bush's speeches: He's an angry, violent man who only understands anger and violence. Hail to the chief.

Posted 11:16 AM

November 29, 2002

And Really I Am

Ok. For the record: I realize that my cynical and sarcastic thank-you list (below) is only half the story. The other half is that I really am thankful that I live in a country where I feel like I can say these things without any real fear of reprisal (at least for now). I'm thankful that, as broken as it is, our political system still offers us (American citizens) real opportunities and avenues to improve things. And I'm thankful that, regardless of our tendencies toward selfishness and insularity, Americans have done great things for the world and have immense potential to continue to do so (though not if we follow many of our current paths). If I did not believe this, I would already have packed my bags for some other part of the world (say, Sweden), and I certainly wouldn't be going to law school. What would be the point?

And so but anyway, check out Letterman's Thanksgiving Top Ten. It's really a lot like my own except simpler and funnier. I guess that's why Dave gets the big bucks...

Posted 09:44 AM

November 28, 2002

We Ought to be Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. It's great that we have a national holiday centered on the idea that we express thanks for the good things in our lives. My friends and loved ones know I haven't sounded really thankful for much these days, what with all that's going on in our wonderful world. But today I'm going to try to get with the program, to climb aboard the USA happy train and express my thanks for all the great benefits I enjoy as a U.S. citizen. With no further ado, a very partial list of things I'm thankful for:

  • I'm thankful that so many stores are open today and that so many of them are running great sales and specials. Thanksgiving sucked when all the stores used to be closed and commerce basically stopped for a day. I mean, we actually had to spend time at home with our families and stuff, which was really a horrible way to spend a holiday compared to the joys of spending money and fighting through crowds at the mall. In fact, let me expand this to all holidays: I'm thankful that in the U.S. of A. I can basically shop 24-7-365. Just knowing that warms the cockles of my soul.
  • I'm thankful that turkeys can't breed on their own anymore and have to be artificially inseminated. This is just one example of our technical and business prowess for which I'm just inexpressibly thankful, really.
  • I'm thankful that Henry Kissinger will lead an investigation into 9-11-01 intelligence failures and whatnot. I'm sure he'll find the truth and tell us all about it.
  • I'm thankful that the American People can dislike the Republican agenda, but still like their Republican president who leads the agenda they dislike. Such baffling contradictions are among the things that make America great!
  • I'm thankful that satirists need permission to mock President Bush, and that the Candian official who called Bush a moron was fired. I'm thankful to live in the world that marches to the same drummerunity is strength, I'm told.
  • I'm thankful that my elected representatives pass legislation they don't read and which protects giant corporations from lawsuits (and which, incidentally, also makes it easier than ever for my government to spy on me). Better yet, I'm thankful that no one seems to know where this legislation comes from. I mean, who cares who writes it; it must be good if the president says it is. Anyway, what kind of awful world would we be living in if we did not assiduously protect the rights and freedoms of corporations!?
  • I'm thankful that I'm free to go without health care if I can't find a good enough job that either pays for my care or pays me enough to pay for it myself. In other words, I'm thankful that my country allows me the freedom to suffer and die if I choose, since we all know that if I can't find and keep a good job in this "sagging" economy, or if for some reason I'm not healthy enough to work, that's my choice and my problem.
  • Related to the above, I'm thankful that we have a for-profit health care system that allows insurance, pharmaceutical, and other health-related corporations to profit from human sickness and misery. It's good to know that someone might get rich from my deathkind of a silver lining in that whole death cloud thing.
  • I'm thankful that my government is so vigilant about protecting U.S. access to global oil and ensuring that the price of a gallon of gas remains within my reach. On a related note, I'm glad those low gas prices allow my fellow Americans to drive extremely wasteful and inefficient vehicles which destroy the environment. I'm also glad that cheap gas gives federal, state, and local governments a good excuse not to develop quality mass transit options for people who might not want (or be able to afford) to drive everywhere. In other words: Thank God for cheap gas, amen!
  • I'm thankful that my country leads the world in the manufacture and sale of guns and other weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, aka weapons of mass distraction. So long as we continue to stoke the global fires of violence and war in this way, we can also continue to be thankful that our military and security industrial complexes are among America's strongest economic sectors. Making and selling the weapons that are used against us, then making and selling the weapons we'll use against the weapons we've already made and soldit's a brilliant and self-perpetuating business cycle. So there's something else to be thankful for: American business ingenuity.
  • I'm thankful that my country's "defense" budget is practically larger than the military budgets of all other nations in the world combined. I'm thankful that this enormous budget for "defense" makes it impossible for my taxes to be spent on trying to prevent 15 million people from dying of starvation. I mean, who cares about mass famine and cycles of poverty when there are madmen like Saddam Hussein on the loose? I'm also thankful that my country's massive military budget means my taxes can't be spent here at home on improving education or health care in my own country, or on providing public funding for political campaigns, or on improving quality of life for our nation's homeless and indigent citizens. In other words, I'm glad that my government is so focused on the realthreats our country faces, and that no one in the U.S. is stupid enough to believe that ignorance, sickness, corrupt politics, or poverty are threats to our nation's "security."
  • And speaking of political campaigns, I'm thankful that you either have to be rich or deeply indebted to special interests in order to win a contest for public office in our country. Sure, public funding for political campaigns might allow candidates with good ideas rather than deep pockets to win elections, but I'm thankful that money wins every time. That's just the American way, and thank God for that!
  • I'm thankful that the media have been so quick to pick up on calling the U.S. "the homeland." Sure the term has Orwellian and even vaguely fascist overtones, but I'm glad no one seems worried about little things like thatwe're at war, you know, so I'm thankful that we're able to stay focused.
  • Probably above all, since it sort of encompasses everything else here, I'm thankful that the politics of fear are so damned effective so I and my fellow Americans don't have to think about all the complicated nuances of what's happening in the world. I'm thankful that my nation's leaders treat us like idiots and children, reducing everything to simple good vs. evil rhetoric so we can just focus on thatwe're good, they're evilleaving us free to shop and consume and drive our SUVs without real concern about world events.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. And God (or something/somebody) Bless America! (please?)

Posted 01:14 PM

November 19, 2002

Scientia Est Potentia

Knowledge is power. Look at this logo and tell me it's not more Orwellian than even Hollywood could have made it. (The connections to The Handmaid's Tale are also inescapable: the secret police in the novel are called "Eyes" and are represented by a winged pyramid. Yikes.) If you're in the mood for more fun, check out "Dr." John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness System (TIA). [via today's Mondo Washington]

Are you scared yet? So if we're entering entirely new levels of Orwellian existence, shall we start assuming that everything "they" say means the opposite of what it would normally mean? What's the opposite of "Homeland Security"? Professor Cooper has some interesting thoughts and links on the matter (as usual).

Oh, and this just in: Homeland Security is now law. Read it for yourself here. The bill grew from 35 to 484 pages in length, which means most of the people who voted on it today have not read the whole bill. If you read that Post article you'll see that TIA is only the tip of this bill's iceberg of horrifying provisions.

And if that's not enough fun for you, see what the media is saying about Sciencia Est Potentia. Welcome to the brave new world of homeland security, everyone.

Posted 07:51 PM

November 18, 2002

Myths of Security

Still busy, but this is worth coming out of hibernation for. Is William Safire just trying to scare us with this "Total Information Awareness" and "virtual, grand centralized database"? There's some great discussion related to that question at Scott Rosenberg's blog.

It just so happens that I'm currently teaching The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Atwood imagines a near-future America that has been taken over by conservative religious fanatics who believe they're making the world a better place by waging war against those who hold beliefs opposed to theirs. This creates a state of permanent war both at home and abroad, but this arrangement also means that if you want to live in what the U.S. has become, you have to follow the religious rules. Anyway, the main point here is the method Atwood imagined the religious fanatics would use to take over the U.S. -- they centralized information about everyone in a computer database, reduced everyone to a number, and began methodically controlling people via this information. The parallels to what the Homeland Security bill makes possible are pretty spooky.

"Total Information Awareness" potentially means "Total Control." No matter how scared we are about "terrorists among us," I can't see a single benefit for democracy, freedom, or justice in this "Homeland Security" plan. In fact, these appear to be the very things the bill directly threatens. So where's the "security" in that?

Posted 07:44 AM

November 09, 2002


The other day I graded oral presentations given by accounting majors here at the midwestern university where I work. (This is part of my "moonlighting" job; my primary job at the moment is teaching two introductory literature courses.) The students had to create a "Balance Sheet Scorecard" for some company of their choosing, and present this to the class. I learned a few things:

First, one group presented on Aldi Foods, a midwestern discount grocer that keeps its prices low by carrying no name-brand goods, by keeping goods in boxes rather than arranging them nicely on shelves, by forgoing coupons, glossy advertisements, and all those damned stickers all over the shelves in most grocery stores. In short, Aldi is a grocery store that's geared to serve the working poor, primarily. Now, it was interesting to me that these Accounting students would choose to study this company, since it's rather unlikely that any of them come from the kind of income bracket that would shop at Aldi. Be that as it may, the group claimed that Aldi differentiated itself from its competitors by offering "the highest quality goods at the lowest possible prices." This is what stumped the class. How can Aldi claim to have the highest quality goods when it doesn't carry any name brands? they wanted to know. Why would people choose to shop at a place like Aldi when they could just go to County Market instead? I kid you not; the class honestly seemed stumped. My takeaway: These accounting students have zero knowledge of or interest in the class and wealth disparities in America. These people believe they are all middle class, and everything not "middle class" is invisible to themlike it doesn't exist.

Second, another group presented on Cadillac. Significantly, this group consisted of five men and one woman. They kicked off with a sort of mock commercial (complete with soundtrack) describing Cadillac's new models. One guy was the emcee, energetically extolling all the virtues of the cars, while his "assistant" strutted around the class with matchbox versions of each car; the assistant then posed up front holding the matchbox car aloft at different angles while the emcee finished discussing it. And do you think the "assistant" was one of the other 4 guys? Of course not; the assistant was the only woman in her group. Ok. That should be enough, right? But it gets better (or worse, actually): Each member of the group then spoke, the woman first. The woman ran her own slides (accounting students are addicted to powerpoint and all things M$), advancing them as she went, while all the men in her group stood back and watched her. Then, as each man was speaking, the woman stood beside him smiling and advancing his slides for him. I could not tell that anyone found this remarkable. I found it offensive.
My takeaway: These accounting students are either blissfully unaware of or consciously perpetuate patriarchal gender stereotypes. (And ok, I know there are some people out there that hear the word "patriarchy" and immediately dismiss whomever is saying it and whatever he/she might be saying, but, well, what other word is there to describe this?)

Overall takeaway for the day: Accounting majors (and Finance majors, in my experience as a teacher of business writing and lit classes) are replicants. At least at this university. They are the most rule-bound, normative, and complacent students I've known or worked with. They are also the most self-righteous about their values and beliefs. They don't just accept the status quo in all things, they embrace and extend it. It's scary and sad, but that's business for you, isn't it? This is exactly what these people are trained to doestablish norms and enforce them vigorously. And that's why it's so scary that the norms they're apparently all too ready to enforce are norms of social injustice, and gender and economic inequality. What's wrong with business in the United States? These are the future Harvey Pitts. And incidentally, my university's accounting program used to be a major feeder for Arthur Anderson Consulting. When I got here three years ago, a large number of my business writing students told me their dream in life was to work for Arthur Anderson, since so many of their predecessors in the program (and their friends) were already working there. But I'm just a grader...

Posted 09:37 AM

November 06, 2002

Under Cover of Election

While most of the country, and certainly the media, has largely been preoccupied with the elections, the Bush Administration has quietly been doing its dirty work. That work includes continuing preparations for war [via Two Tears In a Bucket] and pulling together a long action agenda [via E Pluribus Unum] to radically change life as we know it in the U.S. The changes the Republicans planand which we will surely seeare radical, but they are also brilliant for being largely incremental advances and intensifications of steps we've already taken down these "conservative" roads, therefore they won't look so radical to the average American. As Joe Conason says:

From drilling in Alaska to regressive taxation to unilateral war, the agenda of the corporate and religious right will shape our future.

Again, I say, the people who will suffer most from this agenda are the proverbial "least among us," who are not even on the Bush radar screen. (See today's "The Boondocks" to see what I mean. Sorry, I can't find a permalink, so just look for the strip from 11/6/02.)

Update: I recommend Jason Rylander and Jeff Cooper for more good links and commentary on the election.

Posted 02:11 PM

Black Tuesday

It's hard to imagine how Republicans could be much happier about the outcome of yesterday's elections, or how Democrats could be more disappointed. But there should be no disappointment among Democrats; yesterday's ugly defeat should come as no surprise. They have reaped what they've sown. They've shown no leadership, and garnered few followers. Last week William Greider called for a change in Democratic leadership, and that would seem necessary, except in order for Democrats to change leaders, they'd need to have a few in the first place. I tried to convince people to vote, but honestly it was difficult to find concrete reasons and examples from recent history of why anyone should support the Democratic party. Except for a few notable rebels (such as the few who voted against the resolution authorizing unilateral force against Iraq), Democrats have acted in the last two years as if they don't have a single thought in their heads or principle in their hearts. And since they've voted according to what do the polls say, I can only assume that for the next two years we'll not only have a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, but we'll also have a me-too/what-they-said Democratic minority constantly playing catch-up.

Meanwhile, as I listen to this morning's news reports, I hear snippets of victory speeches from Republicans like Jeb Bush and Elizabeth Dole, and what's most striking is that they sound like I'd expect Democrats to sound, saying things like "we're going to help working families, and reduce domestic violence and make sure mothers can get good child support and we're going to take care of the minors and nurses and custodians, etc." Those used to be Democratic lines; now they come from Republican mouths because the Republicans have learned that campaign rhetoric need not have any correspondence to political reality once they're elected. So we can look for more military spending, more "wars" on god knows what or whom [1], more attacks on the rights of women to control their lives and bodies, and more handouts and giveaways to corporationsespecially oil and energy corporations. And if you think any of this is going to help women and poor working families (or make Americans or the world safer or more secure in any sense of that word), I've got a whole bunch of bridges to sell you.

In a comment to my last post (below), Muraii explains that he didn't vote because he didn't have time to keep up with issues and candidates:

I think this is a significant factor in the apparently decreasing voter turnout year in and year out. Americans, at least, are working longer hours than ever before to achieve our standards of living. Families are especially hit logistically, I think, because there are all sorts of issues (child care, education, etc.) which affect them more directly, and this only makes the task of becoming an informed citizen that much more daunting.

Muraii is correct: Working people often simply don't have time to stay informed, and the partial and inaccurate information found in the mainstream press doesn' t make that any easier. But the fact that people work harder and longer to maintain their standard of living is no accident of history, instead, it's a direct result of tax cuts and increased corporate spending, both of which decrease public spending, the kind of spending that might provide child care and/or health care for those working Americans, so perhaps they wouldn't have to work so damned hard to make ends meet.

One more reason Americans either don't vote or don't vote in an informed way is that, simply put, keeping up with politics and world developments is bloody depressing. (Negative television ads only exacerbate this problem.) Compared to some people, I only half keep up and today, thinking about the implications of these elections and the possible future we face at the hands of a completely Republican Congressfrankly I'm terrified and probably about as despondent about life in general as I've ever been. And I know that if I just tune it all out and concentrate on books and television and movies and work and all the other nice distractions of our contemporary world, I won't have to feel so depressed anymore. My life will go on, even if lots of Iraqi lives don't. So it's no wonder average Americans remain uninformed; it's difficult and dirty work trying to be otherwise, and what's the payoff? (Of course, if everyone committed to do this work, in time things might get better and the work would neither be so arduous or dirty, but....)

So I'm wondering if the silver lining here is that the Republicans will now have enough rope to hang themselves by 2004. With majorities in both houses, perhaps their irresponsible economic plans and their cowboy foreign policy will mess up our economy and our world to such an extreme degree that the American PeopleTM will finally get angry and demand change. [2] The trouble with that as a "silver lining" is that it suggests the world is going to get a great deal more ugly before it gets better. I hope I'm wrong.

And finally I wonder: Is it time for that third party yet? The Greens, perhaps?

[1] Now we kill by remote control. Note how differently this is being covered by the Glasgow Herald (UK) and USA Today, then ask yourself how so many Americans could vote for the party of war while the rest of the world is appalled by U.S. military actions. The different coverage of issues like this helps explain, at least to me, a lot of that disparity. Americans who rely on the mainstream press for their news are simply not getting an unbiased or anywhere near complete story, and we all know politicians are liars, so people simply don't have the information necessary to make good decisions about voting.

[2] The fact that people aren't angry is shocking and significant, and is obviously working in favor of Republicans. Perhaps voters don't want to blame anyone because, post 9-11, simple cause-effect connections seem harder to make. There's certainly something to that (hello postmodern world), but it doesn't help that no one is pointing fingers at Republicans (which is what the Democrats should have been doing for a long time now, polls be damned).

Posted 07:54 AM | Comments (2)

November 04, 2002

Vote for Peace

Here's a good idea from my email box:

Damu Smith, of Black Voices For Peace, has sent out a call to action to influence tomorrow's elections. Mr. Smith believes voting is an essential part of the American political system, and that people must vote as one way to affect change. To this end, he is mobilizing a Peace At The Polls action, encouraging people to go to the polls and vote for candidates in support of peace.

"Black Voices For Peace urges all people of conscience to go the polls tomorrow and cast a vote for Peace with Justice at home and abroad," says Mr. Smith. "That means, vote for candidates who are against war and who are for education, health care, jobs and human needs at home. Last week, thousands of us marched in the streets in scores of cities around this country, making known our opposition to war; now in the thousands, we need to march to the polls and make our voices heard for peace and justice. In the streets and in the voting booth, we have make our voices heard.

"Black Voices For Peace urges everyone to vote for those Senators and Congress Members who did not support Bush's latest war resolution. This will send a message to all that we support those who support peace and justice."

The email goes on to quote Michael Moore saying "the choice is no longer between the lesser of two evils, but the evil of two lessers." Funny, but also sadly true. Still, I don't see how not voting will improve the situation. Politics is usually a game of inches, not miles. If one candidate is just a hair's width better than the other, it seems to me the better candidate should get your vote. If we wait until we get a chance to vote for people we admire and trust and who we can support unconditionally, we'll be waiting a lot longer than we'll have the right to vote. So I encourage you to take Mr. Smith's advice (above) and Vote for Peace. As Jesse Jackson says, "We can go a better way." I hope you'll all do your part to see that we do.

Posted 09:07 PM | Comments (1)

November 03, 2002

State of the Union

This morning when I was out walking the dog, I saw my neighbor delivering newspapers. This neighbor is probably 11 or 12 years old, and every morning he gets up to roll and throw his papers. But he doesn't get up alone; one of his parents also gets up with him to drive him along his paper route. The family owns a Toyota Corolla, a Ford Explorer, and a restored 1940s Ford pickup. It's usually the dad who drives on the paper route, and he usually drives the Explorer, but sometimes the pickup. The kid sits in the back of whichever vehicle, the vehicle's tailgate up (in the case of the Explorer) or down (in the case of the pickup); the kid's legs dangle outside the vehicle as it moves down the road, so he's always ready to spring out and deliver a paper to the next house when the vehicle stops. But I've never seen him spring. Instead, he waits for the vehicle to stop, then typically reaches slowly for a paper before he saunters up to the door to drop the paper, then return slowly to the vehicle. I see this nearly every day, and I'm reminded that this is what we've come to as a people: We use our least fuel-efficient vehicles to drive our kids around their paper routes so they can make $5-10/day. I wonder: What is this paper boy learning from this experience?

Does this matter? Maybe not. Perhaps it just strikes me as significant because I actually delivered newspapers for nearly 10 years—from age 9 to age 18. During that time I always had at least one morning route, sometimes two; and for a couple of years when I lived in Iowa I had both a morning and an evening route (two different papers—the Des Moines Register was the morning paper, and the local paper, the name of which now escapes me, was an evening paper). And I'll admit that there's no way I could have delivered papers that long without lots of help and encouragement from my family. For many years, in fact, my mom and sister also had paper routes, so we'd all get up together and help each other to get our jobs done. Sometimes my mom would drive me to the start of my route, which was about a mile from my home. My mom also provided vital help with collections and keeping the books for my routes, so I couldn't have done it without her. Still, the only days I accepted a ride around my route were when the temperature was less than 40 degrees below zero (that usually happened a few times per year in Wyoming), or when I was injured and unable to walk or bike the route. So I know I sound like an old goat to be even talking about this, like the cliche of the old man complaining to the younger generation, "When I was a kid we didn't ride busses, we walked to school—uphill both ways! And we liked it!" I don't mean to sound like that. But still, these parents driving a lazy looking kid around his paper route every day just strikes me as a sad waste. I really think the whole Protestant work ethic is overrated, but still....

Posted 12:35 PM

October 13, 2002

Lies Our Teachers Tell Us

Our First Lady is all excited about promoting reading, partly because, as

Mrs. Bush told The Times's Elisabeth Bumiller, "There's nothing political about American literature."

It's good that Laura Bush isn't trying to break out of her proper place by doing anything "political"—politics are dirty and icky and should be left to men, you know.

Lies like this make me want to scream. If there's nothing political about American literature, how do you explain Uncle Tom's Cabin? Why have people tried to ban Huckleberry Finn or any of these books? Fahrenheit 451 has become something of a staple in high school literature classes—is that because there's nothing political about a book about burning books? Oh, yeah, I guess so.

UPDATE: Credit where it's due -- the link to our First Lady's bit of wisdom came via Slacktivist.

Posted 09:54 AM | Comments (1)

Answer: Apparently Not

Do the Democrats stand for anything other than the next election?

That's the excellent question Frank Rich asks in "It's the War, Stupid," in yesterday's NYT. Rich provides overwhelming evidence that the answer to this excellent question is a resounding "No!" The utter lack of vision, leadership, or principle among any of our Democratic representatives has become so appalling, it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to vote for them on Nov. 5th. Judging by the Democratic rhetoric of the last year or so, it's becoming increasingly difficult to see how our situation would be improved by having even overwhelming majorities of Democrats in the House and Senate.[1]

Meanwhile, pResident Bush plans to spend a great deal of time between now and Nov. 5th on the road campaigning for Republicans. This means that you and me are going to pay big dollars to promote Republican candidates (via the tax dollars that fund the bulk of Bush's travel), whether we like it or not. Ari Fleischer says Bush and the Republicans have a right to do thishe calls it "the democratic process." (Maureen Dowd says D.C. has become a place where people say the opposite of what they mean. No kidding.) Does that sound right to you? Just because all presidents have always campaigned for their party using tax funds, and just because each president does this more than his predecessor, does that mean we should allow it to continue?

And finally, while our government follows Bush down a path to make the world more unsafe than it has been for decades [2], is the D.C. sniper somehow connected to American hubris? Could this be someone's sick way of showing that even the most powerful nation on the planet can be terrorized by a lone gunman?
[1] This would be what's commonly called "hyperbole." More specifically, it's a little pessimistic venting. I'm fairly confident solid Democratic majorities in Congress would lead to a less "all Republican, all the time" national agenda. I mean, I still have hope...
[2] Let's see, how could we piss off all kinds of people to the point that they would sacrifice their lives to damage the U.S., U.S citizens, or other U.S. interests? Oh gee, I don't know, why don't we invade a sovereign nation and install a military dictator of our own? Oh yeah, that sounds like a great plan!

Posted 09:35 AM

October 08, 2002

Political Action by Blog

I don't know how I missed this, but Ampersand is sponsoring a "BlogBurst" against the war on Iraq. The idea is simple: Write a letter to your members of Congress telling them why unilateral, "pre-emptive" action against Iraq would be a bad move at, um, this juncture (as a previous Bush was fond of saying). Post the letter on your blog, then email Ampersand so he/she can post a link to your letter on the Open Letters BlogBurst Page.

Cool. And a brilliant idea. Could this be the new model for political action?

Closely related: 10 Things You Can Do to Stop the War On Iraq.

Posted 01:22 PM

Great Chant

pResident Bush gave a speech last night. He said "I must have authority to do whatever I want at any time—regardless of the consequences. Oh, um, all in the name of national security, of course." He also said again that he wants the United Nations to be effective. Is it just me, or does he seem unable of saying this without breaking into a winking grin? He did it in both this speech and his Sept. 12th speech at the U.N. Does he think that snide little smile conveys sincerity or earnestness or something?

Bush was supposed to be answering the tough questions about Iraq, but he didn't address why all this war talk couldn't have waited until after the all-important mid-term elections, nor did he address what his plans are for a post-attack or post-Saddam Iraq, nor did he explain how U.S. security will be increased by all the anger various Middle East and other countries would feel if we attacked Iraq.

Anyway, I was glad to hear on NPR this morning that there was a good showing of protesters at Bush's speech. Even though they were held outside (free speech is limited to when and where power wants it, apparently), they still made the news with this great chant:

Hey Cowboy! Hold your horses! We don't want to send in forces!

Posted 08:20 AM

September 27, 2002

More Against War

I'm glad to see that people are continuing to publicly question the Bush A day or two ago on Salon Robert Scheer wrote:

Bush's haste to make war on Iraq is understandable only as a ploy to avoid dealing with the struggling U.S. economy, a still-shadowy al-Qaida leadership that has not been brought to heel yet and the alarming disintegration of the Mideast peace process.

That's certainly what it looks like to me. Scheer finishes with some terrific comments about hubris and the disturbing identity between Bush's "unique American internationalism" and what the rest of the world knows as imperialism. Highly recommended.

Related: The text of the speech Al Gore gave last Monday outlining the fatal flaws in the "strike first" doctrine. The link comes via Jason Rylander who says the speech only deserves a "Gentleman's C" because it fails to answer the toughest questions that Gore (or any Democrat) needs to be addressing right now if the Democrats have any hope of building strong candidates and real platform for Nov. and beyond (esp. 2004) . Agreed.

Finally: If you have access to The Chronicle of Higher Education, this week's issue features this article, which begins:

A military attack on Iraq would be a profound and costly mistake, declare 33 scholars of international relations in a statement that is to appear as an advertisement in The New York Times. The statement argues that the Iraqi regime can be contained through traditional mechanisms of deterrence, and charges that "war with Iraq will jeopardize the campaign against Al Qaeda by diverting resources and attention from that campaign and by increasing anti-Americanism around the globe."

And a bit more from one of the statement's principle authors, a U. of Chicago professor:

"What we tried to do here," said Mr. Mearsheimer in an interview, "was to restrict the list to scholars who focus on international-security affairs, and to scholars who believe that power matters in international politics -- that it's sometimes necessary for the United States to go to war to defend its national interests. This is not a group that could be identified as left-wing or dovish."

Now doesn't that sound like a reasonable bunch of people? But is anyone going to listen?

Posted 03:36 PM

American Candidate Update

It's true: Rupert Murdoch is planning to make a reality-tv show out of the process of picking a candidate to run for President of the United States. Details here, some commentary here. And here's at least one big reason why the idea is unlikely to produce a really populist/popular candidate: "contestants" will have to finance their own campaigns. Oh well...

[Links via Google News Search, a "beta" search engine that indexes only sites designated as "news" providers. Interesting.]

Posted 03:26 PM | Comments (1)

September 24, 2002

Only One?

So is Al Gore the only Democrat willing to step up and denounce Bush's renewed unilateralism? According to this Reuters report, in a speech yesterday:

Gore saved some of his sharpest words for the newly announced doctrine of pre-emption -- a strategy which calls on U.S. forces to strike first against potential threats and ensure unchallenged U.S. military superiority.

Calling the new policy a "go it alone, cowboy-type" approach to foreign policy, Gore said Bush risked shaking the very foundations of the international political order by flouting laws and disregarding world opinion.

Thanks, Al. If you'd pump up the volume on that kind of direct challenge to Republican nonsense, you might actually have a chance in 2004. Maybe. Big if....

Posted 10:20 AM

September 23, 2002

Getting Worse

Today's New York Times says:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 — Congress will soon pass a resolution giving President Bush power to take military action against Iraq, Republicans and Democrats predicted today, but Democrats called for some refinements.

Gee, it sure is great to hear the Democrats are on the job. Apparently their motto is: "We'll pass no resolution unrefined." I don't know about you, but I'm sure sleeping better knowing that. Not.

BTW: I don't see a peep in the headlines about the Bush plan to erase the last 50 years of foreign policy. Can anyone help explain to me why this isn't on every front page in the nation?

Posted 07:03 AM

September 22, 2002

Which Reality is This?

The Drudge Report says that Rupert Murdoch plans to take "reality TV" to a whole new level. According to Drudge,

Cable channel FX is set to mount an ambitious two-year endeavor that will culminate in the American public voting on -- a "people's candidate" to run for president of the United States in 2004!

Wow. It's so crazy it just might be cool. I mean, I can't see how we could actually get worse candidates than we've had recently. Drudge says the series appears to have been inspired by a similar idea in Argentina. Hmm....

[link via Tom Tomorrow]

Posted 01:40 PM

International Community

Hidden in the footnotes of my last post is a mention of the current issue of Foreign Policy, which addresses the question: "What is the International Community?" Unfortunately, this is an ink publication, so the whole issue is not available online; however, they've put up three great perspectives on the question. The first, from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, is titled "Problems Without Passports" and says—in a much more clear and concrete way—what I was trying to say here: that we are all interdependent, and that we must make international (and domestic) policy that starts from that basic assumption.

The second essay, "The Crimes of 'Intcom'" by Noam Chomsky, describes the duplicitous way in which American politicians have used the term "international community" for their own purposes. A taste:

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein advised readers to attend to the use of a phrase in order to determine its meaning. Adopting that suggestion, one regularly discovers that terms of political discourse are used with a doctrinal meaning that is crucially different from the literal one. The term “terrorism,” for example, is not used in accord with the official definition but is restricted to terrorism (as officially defined) carried out by them against us and our clients. Similar conventions hold for “war crime,” “defense,” “peace process,” and other standard terms.

One such term is “the international community.” The literal sense is reasonably clear; the U.N. General Assembly, or a substantial majority of it, is a fair first approximation. But the term is regularly used in a technical sense to describe the United States joined by some allies and clients. (Henceforth, I will use the term “Intcom,” in this technical sense.) Accordingly, it is a logical impossibility for the United States to defy the international community. These conventions are illustrated well enough by cases of current concern.

Chomsky continues in an increasingly understated and bitingly satirical deadpan to hang "Intcom" by its own rope. The piece is devastating. (It also fits nicely with Garrett Moritz's thoughts on "international law", posted a few weeks ago.)

The third response to "What is the International Community" is by Ruth Wedgewood (a Yale law prof) and is called "Gallant Delusions." Like Chomsky, Wedgewood views "international community" with skepticism, at best. It sounds like she hasn't really bought the whole "interdependent" bag of goods Kofi Annan is selling in his piece, and she's all about guns and force and how the U.N. is ineffective because it is so reluctant to use them. Of course, if we follow Chomsky's argument we might find that in many of the cases Wedgewood cites to support her claims against "international community," that community was actually sabotaged by the U.S. and its "intcom."

Anyway, I'm no foreign policy head, but if, like me, you're concerned about what's happening in the world right now, these essays provide some important perspective on a question we (as in everyone in the world, but especially everyone in the U.S.) need to answer before we abandon the last 50-years of "international consensus" and start acting on a "strike-first" policy.

Posted 01:21 PM

Ideological Empire

This is much worse than it appears. As Atrios put it: "Be very afraid."

What is it? It's the document released by the Bush administration that supposedly outlines U.S. military and political "strategy," but I'm still silly enough to hope that this just what Bush would like it to be, that there's a way to stop this from being implemented, that there's a way to stop a madman (or an administration of mad people) from destroying the world as we know it. Does that sound like hyperbole? Perhaps it is. I hope it is. But seriously: This new strategy paper is not just another development in current events; this is a blatant attempt to ignore, erase and otherwise undo the last five decades of history and international diplomacy.

Given the magnitude of this policy reversal, I have to wonder: What's it going to take before people stop talking in measured and reasonable language about the utter insanity coming from Washington about "terra" and "WMD" and Iraq and "preemptive defensive strikes" on other nations and innocent people? Why is anyone cutting the Bush Administration any slack on this? I just don't get it.

Example: Yesterday Professor Jeff Cooper linked to some comments from Josh Marshall in which Marshall discusses the lies that make up the Bush Administration's attempt to gain support for an attack on Iraq. But Marshall works very hard to come up with some term other than "lies" to describe these falsehoods, and Cooper takes the same approach. Why?

Marshall comes close to a direct denunciation of all this warmongering when he writes of one of the lies in the "unlimited power to make war" resolution (full text of the resolution is here) Bush has asked Congress to sign:

I assume it is just there as one more throwaway line that has no relation to the truth but sounds good and ups the ante. And the carefree indifference to the truth that that sort of statement betrays is worrisome in the extreme -- even if it's said in the service of a goal you think we should pursue.

And that's exactly it: The Bush Administration is utterly indifferent to "the truth" because it lives in a different world than the rest of us. Its actions since 9-11 have become increasingly ideological in the sense that they are driven by ideology, and nothing more. Marshall has also noted this in a recent Washington Monthly piece, in which he notes that, if you were pResident Bush,

to give the go-ahead to war with Iraq, you'd have to decide that the experienced hands are all wrong, and throw in your lot with a bunch of hot-headed ideologues.

So the Bush administration is directing domestic and global events according to its particular ideology. Nothing new there, right? But think about it for a minute. What is ideology? And what does it mean to be driven by it?

It means, simply and frighteningly, this: The Bush Administration's actions are driven by fantasy.

As Louis Althusser described it, ideology is our "imaginary relationship to our real conditions of existence." [1] The real conditions of Bush's existence right now are that the vast majority of the world's leaders and citizens do not support a strike-first policy, and almost no one thinks it's a good idea for the U.S. to attack Iraq (or anyone else) w/out international consensus and support. [2] Bush's real conditions of existence also include an ongoing (and apparently deteriorating), bloody ideological conflict between Israel and Palestine, not to mention lots of domestic issues that Bush would would prefer not to deal with or have examined too closely (i.e., massive corporate fraud in which the Bush Administration is strongly implicated, mounting budget deficits that are at least partially due to the administration's failed tax policy, etc...). However, Bush's imaginary relationship to his real conditions of existence dictates that we (the U.S.) are powerful enough that we can do whatever the hell we want, international opinion or real consequences be damned; and further, that he can more or less ignore the things he doesn't want to deal with (Israel/Palestine, domestic problems)—these aren't really important issues, anyway (as far as his ideology is concerned). Put simply: Bush's ideology allows him to live in a fantasy world, where public statements (or actions) don't need to have any relationship to real conditions.

Bush's ideology (the "neo-conservative" ideology) would not be a problem, except that he's thus far had an amazing amount of success imposing it on The American People (TM), Congress, and—to a lesser but still troubling (and growing) extent—the world. And although I understand there might be some rhetorical value to keeping the language of debate about these issues reasonable and measured (people tend not to listen closely to arguments that are overly exaggerated or emotional), the amount of deference smart people like Cooper and Marshall show to Bush's ideology seems to me a measure of that ideology's ever-increasing hegemony.

Another measure of the expanding pervasiveness of the Bush ideology is the fact that the Democratic party cannot seem to stand up to Bush to save its life—or ours, for that matter. This was recently pointed out by Jason Rylander, who also points to the Top 10 Reasons not to 'Do' Iraq—all great points, from the Cato Institute, of all places. [3] A few Dems are making noises against war, but far too few and far too quietly.

My point is this: With the publication of this new "global strategy" document, the Bush Administration has abandoned all pretense at attempting to recognize or negotiate with competing ideologies. It is effectively saying "Our way or the highway" to the rest of the world, citizens of the U.S. included. This is a very bad thing, regardless of whether you agree with the Bush ideology. Is this really the world you want to live in?

[1] For brief discussions of Althusser and ideology, see this handout from Professor John Lye, and/or this discussion by Roger Bellin.
[2] See the current issue of Foreign Policy for some great discussion related to the meaning of "international consensus." Esp. relevant is this short piece by Noam Chomsky. (Yes, I know he's tenured.)
[3] In defense of the left on this point, The Nation published a similar list of reasons not to attack Iraq nearly a month ago.

Posted 11:15 AM

September 18, 2002

Let's Talk Numbers

Today Plastic is pointing to a Washington Post story from a few weeks ago about "Mark Knoller, the leading collector of modern presidential arcana." Knoller's collected some interesting tidbits on Generalissimo Bush, including these:

Bush has spent a whopping total of 250 days of his presidency at Camp David (123 days), Kennebunkport (12) and his Texas ranch (115). That means Bush has spent 42 percent of his term so far at one of his three leisure destinations.

To date, the president has devoted far more time to golf (15 rounds) than to solo news conferences (six). The numbers also show that Bush, after holding three news conferences in his first four months, has had only three more in the last 15 months -- not counting the 37 Q&A sessions he has had with foreign leaders during his term.

Bush has raised $114.8 million this year at 48 GOP events, surpassing Clinton's record of $105 million in 2000 from 203 events.

What do those numbers suggest to you? According to the person who posted this on Plastic (someone who goes by "Philosawyer," and asks that we not consider this contraction of "philosopher" and "lawyer" to be pompous), Bush's numbers tell us this:

Not only is he getting a head start on his 2004 election campaign, while raising records amount of money for Republicans, he is also not shy about using tax payer money to foot a lot of the bills. Bush has a 'template' for day trips from Washington, holding a public policy or 'message' event before the fund-raiser so that he can charge taxpayers for much of these trips, relieving the political committees of some of the costs. Bush's strategists manage to turn the government-paid events largely into political ads, benefitting the candidate Bush is appearing with but also driving up the president's poll numbers in that media market, according to officials who examine the data.

There are more related links on Plastic page, if you feel like gorging on even more juicy details of how your taxes are being spent to ensure Republican control of your future. I think I've had enough for now, thanks... (I wonder if "Philosawyer" has a blog...)

Posted 02:08 PM | Comments (1)

Satire Lives!

Two enthusiastic thumbs up for The Borowitz Report, purveyors of fine satire. [via Scott Rosenberg]

If you like your humor dark and irreverent, head for the Borowitz take on Iraq's offer to allow weapons inspections, which features a sulking Dick Cheney. Good stuff—almost ranks right up there with Get Your War On, the latest installment of which is a brilliant flashback to the 80s:

Sorry Charlie! Saddam is our friend because he's fighting IRAN that is our foe!!! —do you want to help me sell Saddam more BRUCELLA MELITENSIS??? Frankie say "Relax"

Yeah, and then Frankie say, "Don't do it." But then we did. And then, Oops, we did it again! (Ok, I'll stop...)

Posted 01:15 PM

September 14, 2002

Forbidden Thoughts

Looking back a bit at the big anniversary: It looks like Salon stirred up some controversy by publishing Forbidden Thoughts about 9-11. Some say it was in poor taste, while others say it's a relief to finally read honest, human, and widely varied responses to the events of a year ago. You might guess I side with the latter group. As a teacher I try to promote critical thinking [1] and the high emotional rhetoric and romantic simplifications that have filled the media since 9-11 have often made critical thought difficult to conduct or maintain. So stuff like this Salon piece—which is way outside the media mainstream—provides something of a system-shocker that helps remind people to examine the dominant discourse for flaws, holes, omissions, representative accuracy.

For the dominant discourse, the AP is often a good source. For example, last week the AP reported that:

The president's speech [to the U.N.] completed the steady expansion of his war on terrorism, first launched after the Sept. 11 attacks against alleged mastermind Osama bin Laden, to a campaign to remove what he has called "tyrants" such as Saddam.

One of the "forbidden thoughts" covered in Salon's article said:

"I had a thought, when it first happened -- the kind of conspiracy thoughts that liberal college students have who studied poli sci and read too much about Nicaragua or Colombia -- that maybe the Americans let it happen so that they could use it as a tool to get serious in Iraq. Then the buildings fell and all the liberal poli sci hippie stuff drained out of my body and for the first time ever I felt, kill them all."

The prescience of such a reaction is eerie. Of course, there's no way of knowing whether this person actually thought the above on 9-11-01, or whether subsequent events have revised her memories of her first thoughts, Still, since I heard about the same sort of "first reaction" from many different sources long before anyone started talking seriously about a new or reinvigorated war against Iraq, I tend to think the above is probably a fairly genuine response. If so, this seems to be someone whose critical judgment proved to be uncannily—and disturbingly—accurate.

Anyway, for more in the vein of "forbidden thoughts," see also the stories from readers, and the discussion on Scott Rosenberg's blog. And while we're talking forbidden thoughts, check out this column from Ted Rall: "If You Have Dignity, the Terrorists have Won.".

All of the above links discuss 9-11 with irreverence, to say the least. For a bit of balance, check out The Dead and the Guilty, a thoughtful account of precisely why the best memorial we (you and me, Americans and citizens of the world) can offer to those who died on 9-11 has very little to do with the kind of thing that filled the media on that day [via Joe Conason]. Historian Simon Schama writes:

Apparently, the dead are owed another war. But they are not. What they are owed is a good, stand-up, bruising row over the fate of America; just who determines it and for what end?

Does the fact that we don't really seem to be having this "bruising row" mean that such arguments have become "forbidden thoughts," too?

[1] The "critical thought" I'm speaking of here does not necessarily take sides (i.e., is not necessarily oppositional), but instead asks of any text (news report, story, event, etc.): what is this text trying to accomplish? Why was it created? Who constructed it and what were his/her motives or biases? What does this text assume or take for granted? What do those assumptions imply? What are the logical conclusions of the argument made by this text? etc...

Posted 02:34 PM

September 09, 2002

Striking A Balance

Without really meaning to, I guess I started talking about the value of international law the other day in this post on interdependence. I'm looking forward to TPB's promised response, but meanwhile Garrett Moritz contributes a point I hadn't really considered: While I guess I was basically arguing that the U.S. ought to submit to and participate in the continued development of international lawin the form of treaties, world courts, etcMoritz points out that international law could always be used to screen all manner of nefarious deeds if the international community is dominated by one power (i.e., the U.S.) that is not above manipulating that law to its own ends. My first thought on this is that it only argues for a stronger and more widely-respected body of international lawone that would be more difficult for any one member (or small group of members) to dominate.

But regardless of the relative merits of stronger international law, it's increasingly clear that, as Dave Winer wrote yesterday (and as many others have noted in different ways), something is out of balance "in how the US participates in the world, both from the US perspective, and the world's perspective." And as Jeff Cooper notes, calling September 11
"Patriot Day" is probably not going to help restore that balance.

Posted 09:34 PM

September 08, 2002

Not Getting It

As September 11 approaches, we're getting all kinds of perspectives from the media. Amid the din, this Ted Rall strip is certainly worth a critical and perhaps contemplative perusal.

Although their tone and approach is very different several other sources are attempting to keep the sentimentalism at bay via satire. For example, Joe Conason points to The Media Person who has penned a smart satire on this topic entitled, "It's Not Going to be a Week for the Weak So Wear Your Best Closure." And speaking of closure, Who Will Bring It?

The dark brand of humor that is satire is a risky and complex endeavor, especially related to this topic. But I think these kinds of articles are meant to give us a little critical distance from the tidal wave of emotion that's ready to break on our national shores, and with global affairs in their current state, someone needs to be far enough away from the tsunami to keep from drowning.

Note: On the subject of interdependence, the 9-11 attacks and their aftermath are perhaps the most stark and obvious demonstration of my point: we are interdependent people in an interdependent world. We'll continue to pretend otherwise only by living in a fantasy world, and only at our own peril.

Posted 11:45 AM

September 07, 2002


I don't know how TBP has time to write so much, but I'm glad he does because a lot of it is very provocative. For example, last Thursday he wrote:

I always chuckle at the global frustration with America over our unwillingness to sign onto global organizations that have any real power over the United States.... .... I'd love to sit people down and explain, "look, it's nothing against these organizations, but we're a federalist republic." By that, I mean that we simply cannot join any group that has power over the nation without them being from within the nation. We are Constitutionally prohibited from doing so. The second we allowed such power, we are denying the voters the representative democracy guaranteed to them within the U.S. Constitution.

The reason this really grabbed me is that it's so closely related to the whole "we are all interdependent" thing that is leading me toward law (explained below). As I read it, TPB's reasoning sounds good, but only in theory. Setting aside for a moment NAFTA (1), it seems absurd to say that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the U.S. from signing international treaties or joining international bodies with real power. If the U.S. is such a representative democracy, then if the majority of voters support these treaties and organizations (i.e., the World Court or the Kyoto environmental protocol), then the U.S. government has a constitutional obligation to sign or participate in them. (2) But aside from the issue of constitutionality, it's also absurd to assert or imply that the U.S. has the right or even the ability to conduct its domestic or foreign affairs however it sees fit, even when U.S. conduct conflicts with international opinion or law.(3)
We may be the world's only superpower, we may have vast resources, a huge economy, the most and biggest guns; however, none of these things changes the fact that our actions have consequences. When we refuse to sign international environmental protection agreements because they might be expensive (Kyoto), we continue destroying the environment for everyone on the planet. Do we have a right to do that? Is such arrogance and selfish disregard for the planet guaranteed by the Constitution?

The point is, the individual ethos of America is a nice ideal, but it has real and unbreakable limits, both on the micro and macro level. Whether we like it or not, the U.S. is a member of a global community; we can't change that fact. If we continue trying to pretend otherwise, we will, eventually, pay the price. Unfortunately, the rest of the world might pay even more. In light of our interdependence, do we really want to interpret the Constitution as preventing us from participating in international treaties or organizations?

(1) NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, seems to directly contradict TPB's claim that the U.S. can't join "any group that has power over the nation without them being from within the nation." See in particular Chapter 11, which apparently allows for secret, closed-door hearings in which corporations (foreign and domestic) can force the U.S. to pay damages to corporate interests that are "harmed" (even in theory) by such things as U.S. environmental protections. The transcript of the Bill Moyers PBS special on this topic from last February explains in more detail; however, what NAFTA suggests is that the U.S. government ignores the supposed Constitutional prohibition against joining groups that have power over the nation when that power serves the interests of business. At least that's what it looks like to me.
(2) Perhaps the fact that American voters seem largely excluded from these decisions is a comment on the efficacy of our representative democracy. How different is our system from the E.U.'s "patriarchical think tank form of government," really?
(3) The issue of the Bush Administration's creation of an entirely new species of being—the "enemy combatant"—flouts not only international, but U.S. law as well. What does our Constitution say about calling people different things in order to put them outside of all law? By what authority are people being deprived of internationally agreed-upon rights?

Posted 11:43 AM | Comments (1)

September 03, 2002

A Real Vision

Dave Weinberger has done something I've thought about many times but have never actually gotten around to: He's written The Speech I Want To Hear, a fictional speech by a fictional presidential candidate that describes the kinds of things Weinberger wishes politicians were talking about. Besides just being a great exercise, the speech contains some real big-picture vision for the future. For example, Weinberger writes:

We will raise the quality of the natural environment not just for our own people but for every person who breathes the earth's air, eats its fruit, or drinks its water. Our goal is, at the end of 20 years, to be confident that the world will sustain us and our children's children's children.

Doesn't that sound great? Think about it for a minute: How many of us can say we're confident that the world will sustain us and our children's children's children? I certainly can't, and the research I've read is pretty conclusive—if we continue current practices and trends, our children's children's children might not be able to survive on our planet. So why isn't this a major U.S. priority?

Now think about this: Instead of taking up nearly the entire world's time and energy debating whether the U.S. should go kill more people (attack Iraq), what if our president was leading the global community to create sustainable ways of living so that there's something left on our planet worth fighting for even years from now? Wouldn't that make you more proud to be an American?

Final question: Could you compose a 5-minute speech outlining your ideal vision for the future? I'm not sure I could do it with the kind of political spin necessary to win support for it, but it seems like we'd all be better voters and citizens if we'd run through an exercise like this every couple of years. Kind of an Imagineering thing. (See Item 6. And no, that's got absolutely zero to do with juggernaut Disney.)

Final final (and unrelated) question: Is Weinberger serious when he says David Chase, creator of the too-good-to-be-true show, "The Sopranos," should kill Tony Soprano?!?

Posted 09:31 AM

Support for Free Speech

I really want to avoid turning this into a big lefty rant soapbox, but this is almost too scary to believe:

Support for the First Amendment has eroded significantly since Sept. 11 and nearly half of Americans now think the constitutional amendment on free speech goes too far in the rights it guarantees, according to a new poll.

What are these people thinking? Oh, wait, here's a partial explanation:

Seven in 10 respondents agreed newspapers should publish freely, a slight drop from 2001. Those less likely to support newspaper rights included people without a college education, Republicans, and evangelicals, the survey found.

During the Reagan years I remember bumper stickers that said "Vote Republican, it's easier than thinking." Apparently it's true.

Contrast the above article with Bob Herbert's editorial, Secrecy Is Our Enemy, which discusses a recent decision by udge Damon J. Keith of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that said "it was unlawful for the Bush administration to conduct deportation hearings in secret whenever the government asserted that the people involved might be linked to terrorism." Herbert writes:

The opinion was a reflection of true patriotism, a 21st-century echo of a pair of comments made by John Adams nearly two centuries ago. "Liberty," said Adams, "cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people."

And in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1816, Adams said, "Power must never be trusted without a check."

Herbert's position has been proven true by history time and again. Here again we see the American ignorance of history—an ignorance carefully cultivated by a culture of individualism and immediate gratification—sprouting the seeds of a very scary future.

Later: Jason Rylander offers a less freaked out take on the news that people are becoming less supportive of the First Amendment. Very good point. Still, it's pretty sobering that people who are dissatisfied with how the media work in our country would even consider restricting the first amendment rather than simply demanding media reform. The two are very different things.

Posted 09:24 AM

September 02, 2002

Nathan Newman's Labor Links

Nathan Newman's "roundup of Labor Day 'deepthink" articles, ongoing news, and resources" kicks ass. There's an amazing amount of information packed into his post. Newman does a regular (though less extensive) roundup of labor links which makes a very stimulating (in an activist sense) regular read. Check it out. [and thanks to Two Tears in a Bucket for pointing me to Newman a couple of weeks back]

Posted 11:36 AM

Happy Labor Day! Solidarity!

Today the majority of us don't have to go to work thanks to the efforts of labor unions and trade organizations in the late 19th century. This simple fact is more significant than it seems—it stands as a vivid reminder of the power the labor movement once had in our country. Today, most of us just think of this as the last great three-day-weekend of summer, and so it is. But it's also a time to stop and think about your job and what it means to you and to society and the world. And just as important, it should be a time to think about what we all could do to make the world a better place through our labors, whatever they may be, and one long-proven way to do just that is to support unions and the labor movement. Unions won us this day off, the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, OSHA, and countless other social structures we all benefit from every day. These days, as part of its mandate to improve the lives of workers everywhere, the labor movement is working on social justice issues such as Living Wage campaigns, domestic partner benefits (so those you love can have medical insurance), and trying to save the few worker protections that remain after 20 years of pro-business and anti-labor politics. Now, in this slight depression and amid the ongoing corporate scandals of Enron, et. al., there has never been a better time to support the labor movement. As the New York Times reports today, workers in the U.S. are angry and worried, which helps explain why "half of workers who don't already have a union say they would join a union tomorrow if given a chance." Sounds like great Labor Day news to me.

As part of their Online Labor Day Festival 2002, the AFL-CIO provides a great Timeline of Labor History for a quick overview of where we've been, and a list of links to more specialized sites on the history of labor in the U.S. For an interesting contrast, read the brief history of Labor Day from the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL), then read this brief history from the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour on PBS. In what has become the classic way to blur and obscure important historical events, the DOL focuses on the individuals responsible for starting Labor Day, while the Newshour site puts the birth of this holiday in its real context—the massive labor unrest of the late 19th century, and specifically the Pullman strike. As the Newshour history reports, Labor Day was seen as a way to appease the nation's angry workers:

In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.

Did the DOL consciously omit all mention of strikes and violent government repression of the labor movement from their history of Labor Day, or was this an innocent omission? You tell me.*

I'll leave this topic for now with parting words from Billy Bragg, who (following a long tradition) sings:

There is power in the factory, power in the land, Power in the hand of the worker. But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand. There is power in a union.

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with worker's blood,
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for.
From the cities and the farmlands, to the trenches full of mud,
War has always been the bosses' way, sir.

The Union forever, defending our rights,
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite.
With our brothers and our sisters from many far-off lands,
There is power in a Union.

Now I long for the morning that they realize
Brutality and unjust laws cannot defeat us.
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organize
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devi for his own,
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child:
There is power in a Union.

The Union forever, defending our rights,
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite.
With our brothers and our sisters from many far-off lands,
There is power in a Union.
— from "Talking with the Taxman About Poetry"

* The DOL's focus on the individuals involved in the creation of Labor Day demonstrates one of the reasons Americans have such a poor sense of history. If everything that has happened in the past is reduced to accounts of individual achievement, history becomes atomized and fragmented, leaving us with no continuous or coherent sense of development or our place in the social and cultural fabric of our world. Such ways of telling history also imply that individual achievement is all that's important, when the truth is more often that the great events of history have been the result of collective action. Regardless of how it came about, the tendency for historians (especially popular histories) to focus on individuals rather than big-pictures and collectivities, has paved the way for the politics of personality that we see today where we have a few individuals on our global radar—George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Arafat and Sharon, etc.—who seem to be responsible for everything that happens in our world. Of course these individuals have certain amounts of individual power, but the actions connected with their names are less the result of their individual actions than the actions of massive numbers of people (including you and me as voters and tax payers) who support them in various ways. Yet, so long as we remain in the thrall of the individual, we can continue to ignore that bigger picture of our own participation in local, national, and global events, and we can conveniently forget the role of regular people like us in the history of what made the world as it is today.

Posted 11:27 AM

September 01, 2002

Can "the People" Speak?

James Ridgeway's most recent installment of Mondo Washington says Uncle Sam's a Bigger Bully than Saddam. Some interesting ideas to add to the "attacking Iraq is a bad idea at this juncture" column. Ridgeway ends the feature with a connection between the threat of war with Iraq and the upcoming Labor Day holiday:

"They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people." Eugene Debs, Socialist candidate for president, June 16, 1918. The speech led to Debs's being stripped of his citizenship and sent to jail for 10 years. is doing some great work to make sure Debs' words remain true. By trying to make the voices of the people heard, MoveOn hopes to stop the war so that we'll be able to say "some wars have been averted by the people." Wouldn't that be nice?

Eric Alterman also makes a clear and concise argument against attacking Iraq right now. This was brought to my attention by Jason Rylander, whose blog is definitely a daily read. Rylander chooses his links carefully, quotes from them provocatively, and comments on them with insight and level-headed balance. Highly recommended.

Posted 09:17 AM

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