Sunday, November 30, 2003

Fiddling While America Burns

While Dubya and his handlers celebrate what they believe is an economic recovery, two writers in the NYT this morning argue that it's all a chimera. Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, points out:

The reality is that we didn't have a mild recession. Jobs-wise, we had a deep one.

The government reported that annual unemployment during this recession peaked at only around 6 percent, compared with more than 7 percent in 1992 and more than 9 percent in 1982. But the unemployment rate has been low only because government programs, especially Social Security disability, have effectively been buying people off the unemployment rolls and reclassifying them as "not in the labor force."

In other words, the government has cooked the books. It has been a more subtle manipulation than the one during the Reagan administration, when people serving in the military were reclassified from "not in the labor force" to "employed" in order to reduce the unemployment rate. Nonetheless, the impact has been the same.

Of course this isn't the only way the government cooks the books. Has anyone else noticed how ridiculously low the amount of money under which a family is officially classified as "living in poverty" is set? I couldn't live on that much by myself, much less with three other people in the household. But I digress, as usual. Stephen Roach, from Morgan Stanley, comments on productivity:

For example, in financial services, the Labor Department tells us that the average workweek has been unchanged, at 35.5 hours, since 1988. That's patently absurd. Courtesy of a profusion of portable information appliances (laptops, cell phones, personal digital assistants, etc.), along with near ubiquitous connectivity (hard-wired and now increasingly wireless), most information workers can toil around the clock. The official data don't come close to capturing this cultural shift.

As a result, we are woefully underestimating the time actually spent on the job. It follows, therefore, that we are equally guilty of overestimating white-collar productivity. Productivity is not about working longer. It's about getting more value from each unit of work time. The official productivity numbers are, in effect, mistaking work time for leisure time.

This is not a sustainable outcome - for the American worker or the American economy. To the extent productivity miracles are driven more by perspiration than by inspiration, there are limits to gains in efficiency based on sheer physical effort.

Indeed it is not. There is nothing sustainable about our economy, and the bill is coming due. Time for the Democrats to stand up and shout the truth from the rooftops.

Friday, November 28, 2003

???

So, Dubya goes to Iraq to share Thanksgiving with his legions, but doesn't eat with them? Can't eat in front of the hoi polloi, Dubya? And what's with the secrecy?

Very strange.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Thankful?

Not very this year, unfortunately. Perhaps this time next year we will all have something to be thankful for. Let's all dedicate ourselves to doing whatever we can to ensure that Bush and the claque around him are kicked out of power next year.

Space Station Incident

Astronaut Mike Foale and Cosmonaut Alexander Kareli are safe after they reported hearing an unusual noise, possibly an impact, this morning from an unoccupied part of the station. The crew used the station's robot arm and other external cameras to search for damage but nothing has been found and all systems are currently operating normally.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Family Values

Remember, marriage is the bedrock of our culture. Bushes are better than we are. Family values. God on our side. All happy chants of our president-appointee and his useless family. OK, now here is how Useless Brother Neil treats those Godly family values:

The Bush divorce, completed in April after 23 years of marriage, was prompted in part by Bush's relationship with another woman. He admitted in the deposition that he previously had sex with several other women while on trips to Thailand and Hong Kong at least five years ago.

The women, he said, simply knocked on the door of his hotel room, entered and had sex with him. He said he did not know if they were prostitutes because they never asked for money and he did not pay them.

"Mr. Bush, you have to admit it's a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her," Brown said.

"It was very unusual," Bush said.

Uh, yeah. Remember, the Repugs are the PARTY OF GOD. Remember!

Hmm

Rev. Brill, over at the Right Christians (a great site, by the way) argues that perhaps even business is going to be ready to shitcan our President-Appointee next year:

I hope that a great movement will arise that will sweep these bastards out of power. That would be best for our nation and the world. But that's not the only way that Bush is going back to Crawford. Things are just not running smoothly. When it comes down to it, the Rove way of doing things interferes too much with the corporate goal of global stability. This administration, for all its claims to support business, has gotten to the point where its ideology is disruptive to business goals.

I'm not as sanguine as Allen; you have to wonder if business will be able to see past those planned-especially-for-them tax cuts. The world waits, and wonders....

Funny, Isn't It?

It's kind of ironic, is it not, that Dubya and his handlers refused to take blame for the recession, but are now taking full credit for what is probably a very short recovery period? Which is it, Dubya?

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, working people could make a living in America. They could buy houses, cars, put their children through college, and retire with some dignity. Not any more. We have tens of millions of hard working people living on the razor's edge, wondering why in the hell they can't live the way their parents did and usually foolishly blaming their problems on the "gummint." Do we dare to call this progress? Anna Quindlen puts it well in Newsweek this week:

America is a country that now sits atop the precarious latticework of myth. It is the myth that work provides rewards, that working people can support their families. It’s a myth that has become so divorced from reality that it might as well begin with the words “Once upon a time.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1.6 million New Yorkers, or the equivalent of the population of Philadelphia, suffer from “food insecurity,” which is a fancy way of saying they don’t have enough to eat. Some are the people who come in at night and clean those skyscrapers that glitter along the river. Some pour coffee and take care of the aged parents of the people who live in those buildings. The American Dream for the well-to-do grows from the bowed backs of the working poor, who too often have to choose between groceries and rent.

Even if you’ve never been to the Rescue Mission, all the evidence for this is in a damning new book called “The Betrayal of Work” by Beth Shulman, a book that should be required reading for every presidential candidate and member of Congress. According to Shulman, even in the go-go ’90s one out of every four American workers made less than $8.70 an hour, an income equal to the government’s poverty level for a family of four. Many, if not most, of these workers have no health care, sick pay or retirement provisions.

We salve our consciences, Shulman writes, by describing these people as “low skilled,” as though they’re not important or intelligent enough to deserve more. But low-skilled workers today are better educated than ever before, and they constitute the linchpin of American industry. When politicians crow that happy days are here again because jobs are on the rise, it’s these jobs they’re really talking about. Five of the 10 occupations expected to grow big in the next decade are in the lowest-paying job groups. And before we sit back and decide that that’s just the way it is, it’s instructive to consider the rest of the world. While the bottom 10 percent of American workers earn just 37 percent of our median wage, according to Shulman, their counterparts in other industrialized countries earn upwards of 60 percent. And those are countries that provide health care and child care, which cuts the economic pinch considerably.

This is an issue the Democratic Party needs to start educating people about. We can win again, and convincingly, if we stop being reactive and start pointing out what's going wrong in this country, and how it can be fixed. The question the Democratic candidates need to ask people next year is not "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" but "Are you better off than your parents and grandparents? No? Here's why not..."

What Goes Around Comes Around

What a surprise that European companies are now utilizing cheap US labor - forced into submission by years of wealthy parasitism shipping jobs overseas, shipping immigrants in, and slashing benefits so people like Ken Lay can get really, really, really rich - who will work cheaper, for longer hours, and get none of the benefits their European employees are guaranteed by law:

A highly profitable purveyor of "cheap chic" fashions, H&M plans to open 12 to 15 stores a year in the United States.

Which would be a boon to U.S. workers if the chain adhered to its own code of conduct, which proclaims: "We have to make sure that nobody whose work is contributing to our success is deprived of his or her human rights, or suffers mental or bodily harm."

That comes as news, however, to Ana Maria Araujo, a Peruvian immigrant and mother of three who until Nov. 6 worked at H&M's U.S. distribution center in Secaucus, N.J. In September of last year, a box toppled off a dolly in the plant and knocked her unconscious. Then, this February, she ruptured a tendon in her right shoulder from hoisting too heavy a load. She was on disability for a month, then returned to work under orders from her doctor not to lift boxes or packages over a certain weight.

Which brings us to Nov. 6, when Araujo and a number of fellow workers with similar medical restrictions were called into their manager's office and given a choice: Either work without the restrictions or find work elsewhere. Fourteen workers were discharged, eight of whom had such restrictions, says Steve Weingarten of UNITE, the apparel union that is trying to organize H&M in the States.

They learn fast, don't they? Earth calling: this race to the bottom benefits NO ONE.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Huh?

The Hannity & Colmes Coulter transcript is up over at The Sacred and Inane. First, a brief Stupid Quote from Hannity (now remember, Repugs are MUCH SMARTER than we are):

HANNITY: You know, Richard, this is what it comes down to right now. The modern liberal Democratic Party does not resemble the party of FDR or Truman or JFK.

And like they had an appeasement movement with Churchill battling Chamberlain and Reagan battling Carter, we have George Bush battling eight presidential candidates that don't understand the nature of the threat that exists today.

Is Hannity suggesting that Neville Chamberlain was a Democrat? Is he so frigging stupid - very likely - that he doesn't realize that Chamberlain and Churchill were both Tories? Jesus! And people who have to use "like" as punctuation aren't fit to be pitching manure. OK, on to Ann "Stepford Blow Up Doll" Coulter:

COULTER: Democrats don't want to raise terrorism as an issue in this election, just as they didn't want character...

COLMES: They don't want to be exploited like George Bush is doing.

COULTER: ... to be an issue in the election against -- between Clinton and the former President Bush. Remember that? Character has to be taken off the table. Now they want the war...

COLMES: Ann, look at me. Answer my questions, not -- you're talking to me now.

COULTER: OK.

COLMES: You guys want to exploit it. That's the problem.

COULTER: When you do this AND talk over me the whole time could you just use the doll? Because I'm wasting a lot of time even showing up.

COLMES: I would like you to answer my question. Stop whining about the fact you're not answering. You have the floor, now answer the question.

COULTER: What was the question now?

Uh duh, uh duh, uh duh. Very good, Ann, here comes the short bus for you and Sean.

Speaking of Ann Coulter...

...according to Ezra over at Pandagon she got well and truly slapped around last night on Hannity & Colmes (evidently Colmes grew testicles at last or something). Let's hope someone posts a transcript!

Colmes and the other guy actually go after her. They do more than that, they rip her apart. They accuse her of having no facts, of being a liar, of arguing for their side, of dodging the question -- and they do this until Ann seems about to cry. Her head is shaking like some weird conservative bobble-doll and she just starts whining that she should simply put her Talking Doll on the show, because they keep interrupting her.

Sheesh, talk about overdue!

"Patriotism is the Last Refuge of Scoundrels"

...as Dr. Johnson said (and "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent," as Isaac Asimov said, but I digress), and Richard Cohen ably points out this morning how the scoundrels in the GOP are covering themselves over with the sacred banner in their ongoing Ann Coulter-like effort to paint Democrats as al Queda sympathizers in their latest egregious ad campaign:

This despicable attempt to muffle criticism by throwing the flag over it may or may not work. Whatever the case, it does not change the fact that the United States went into Iraq for reasons that now appear specious and so distantly related to the war on terrorism that the connection seems merely rhetorical. Saddam Hussein lives and Osama bin Laden lives and yet somehow the Bush White House wants nothing but congratulations. Mine will have to wait.

The truly scary thing is that it does appear to work. Someone, and please remind me who, a few weeks ago, complained that left commentators are griping unfairly that the American people are stupid. Will someone prove to me that they aren't? We have a population that still mostly supports Dubya's fake war, that mostly still believe Saddam was behind 9/11, who bend over in unison when tax cuts benefit wealthy parasites, and on and on and on. Wave the flag, shut off your brain? We can't afford this any more - and the Democratic party needs to start educating people now.

Krugman

Paul Krugman today takes on the morass that is political discourse today. This is good:

The campaign against "political hate speech" originates with the Republican National Committee. But last week the committee unveiled its first ad for the 2004 campaign, and it's as hateful as they come. "Some are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists," it declares.

Again, there's that weasel word "some." No doubt someone doesn't believe that we should attack terrorists. But the serious criticism of the president, as the committee knows very well, is the reverse: that after an initial victory in Afghanistan he shifted his attention — and crucial resources — from fighting terrorism to other projects.

Exactly. I don't know anyone who objected to the war in Afghanistan, but Iraq is not "fighting terrorism," it's a giant social welfare project for big corporations and big campaign donors.

Democrats need to ignore the Republican whines for "civility." They started it (and are still doing it - witness the insane rantings of Ann Coulter), and it is the Republicans who are waging war on everyone in this country who makes less than $250,000 a year. They are looters, they are sociopaths, and they have to go.

Democrats Who Need to be Drop-Kicked

Proving the corrupting influence of drug industry money in politics, several Democractic senators turned traitor and voted for Bush's gigantic giveaway to the drug industry. These are Democrats to shun:

Baucus, Mont.; Biden, Del.; Breaux, La.; Carper, Del.; Conrad, N.D.; Corzine, N.J.; Daschle, S.D.; Dayton, Minn.; Dorgan, N.D.; Feinstein, Calif.; Johnson, S.D.; Kohl, Wis.; Landrieu, La.; Lincoln, Ark.; Mikulski, Md.; Miller, Ga.; Murray, Wash.; Nelson, Fla.; Nelson, Neb.; Pryor, Ark.; Reid, Nev.; Wyden, Ore.

If one of these traitorous cretins is your senator, go spit on them for me - and for your parents and grandparents, and your children who are going to be paying for this thing.

And, to be fair and balanced, here are three Republicans to thank for wisely voting NO:

Chafee, R.I.; Hagel, Neb.; McCain, Ariz.

Thank you, gentlemen. Nice try.

UPDATE: Here's E.J. Dionne on the subject:

The battle over a Medicare prescription drug benefit proves that Republicans are ruthless and determined and that Democrats are divided and hapless. Republicans have changed the rules in Washington, but some Democrats still pretend to be living in the good old days.

And so there was much bitterness among Democrats as the Republicans' Medicare drug bulldozer rolled inexorably forward with critical help from two Democratic senators. A majority of Democrats believe the bill was a bad deal -- it gave President Bush a political victory without demanding enough in return. "It's a combination of political stupidity and substantive gutlessness," said one influential Democratic congressional aide.

Man, "gutless" barely covers it. Read the whole thing; it's appalling.

Monday, November 24, 2003

The Fury of the Legions

Jerry Pournelle reminds us of a letter a Roman soldier stationed in North Africa sent home:

"We hear that there are tumults and riots in Rome, and that voices are raised concerning the army and the quality of our soldiers. Make haste to reassure us that you love and support us as we love and support you, for if we find that we have left our bones to bleach in these sands in vain, then beware the fury of the legions."

Beware indeed.

Ann Coulter is F***ing Insane

One of these fine days she's going to go far enough off the deep end that even the Repugs will get rid of her, but evidently not yet:

But the Democrats have discovered a surprise campaign issue: It turns out that several of them have had a death in the family. Not only that, but many Democrats have cracker-barrel humble origins stories and a Jew or lesbian in the family. Dick Gephardt's campaign platform is that his father was a milkman, his son almost died and his daughter is a lesbian. Vote for me!

I guess this loony bitch has forgotten that Dick Cheney has a gay daughter too, one he loves and accepts, and her partner as well. Hm. And evidently she forgets that we've all heard about President Bush I and his wife tragically losing a child. Hm.

In addition to having a number of family deaths among them, the Democrats' other big idea – too nuanced for a bumper sticker – is that many of them have Jewish ancestry. There's Joe Lieberman: Always Jewish. Wesley Clark: Found Out His Father Was Jewish in College. John Kerry: Jewish Since He Began Presidential Fund-Raising. Howard Dean: Married to a Jew. Al Sharpton: Circumcised. Even Hillary Clinton claimed to have unearthed some evidence that she was a Jew – along with the long lost evidence that she was a Yankees fan. And that, boys and girls, is how the Jews survived thousands of years of persecution: by being susceptible to pandering.

Clark said that when he discovered he was half-Jewish, he remembered growing up in Arkansas and feeling "a certain kinship" with Jewish families in the dry-goods business. (I, too, have always felt a certain kinship with Calvin Trillin.)

The Democrats' urge to assert a Jewish heritage is designed to disguise the fact that the Democrats would allow the state of Israel to perish as Palestinian suicide bombers slaughter Jewish women and children. Their humble-origins claptrap is designed to disguise the fact that liberals think ordinary people are racist scum. Their perverse desire to discuss the deaths and near-deaths of their children is designed to disguise the fact that they support the killing of more than a million unborn children every year. (Oh, by the way, what did their milkman and millworker fathers think about abortion?)

If the Democrats start extolling you – get a gun.

What a pile of stinking bullshit. This woman is a crazy.


Dubya Emulates Homer Simpson

Everyone see The Simpsons last night, in which the family goes to England? Well, our President-Appointee just went too and evidently acted like an ignorant hayseed throughout, no surprise. Evidently the bully boys he took with him acted like hayseeds too:

The Queen is furious with President George W. Bush after his state visit caused thousands of pounds of damage to her gardens at Buckingham Palace.

Royal officials are now in touch with the Queen's insurers and Prime Minister Tony Blair to find out who will pick up the massive repair bill. Palace staff said they had never seen the Queen so angry as when she saw how her perfectly-mantained lawns had been churned up after being turned into helipads with three giant H landing markings for the Bush visit.

The rotors of the President's Marine Force One helicopter and two support Black Hawks damaged trees and shrubs that had survived since Queen Victoria's reign.

And Bush's army of clod-hopping security service men trampled more precious and exotic plants.

The Queen's own flock of flamingoes, which security staff insisted should be moved in case they flew into the helicopter rotors, are thought to be so traumatised after being taken to a "place of safety" that they might never return home.

The historic fabric of the Palace was also damaged as high-tech links were fitted for the US leader and his entourage during his three-day stay with the Queen.

The Palace's head gardener, Mark Lane, was reported to be in tears when he saw the scale of the damage.

"The Queen has every right to feel insulted at the way she has been treated by Bush," said a Palace insider.

"The repairs will cost tens of thousands of pounds but the damage to historic and rare plants will be immense. They are still taking an inventory.

"The lawns are used for royal garden parties and are beautifully kept. But 30,000 visitors did not do as much damage as the Americans did in three days.

"Their security people and support staff tramped all over the place and left an absolute mess. It is particularly sad because the Queen Mother loved to wander in the garden just as the Queen and Prince Charles do now.

What a surprise. Considering this is the Sunday Mirror it's probably somewhat exaggerated, but I'm sure Bush's bully boys left an ungodly mess. After all, we're America. We're better than everone else!

Parents Smoke Dope

That's the only explanation for the big box office for the egregious Cat in the Hat movie. Let's hope we see a biiiiiggg dropoff next week.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Mormons Figure Out No (Rich White) Child Left Behind!

The Salt Lake City Deseret News is pretty much the official organ of the LDS church which, as we all know, is a pretty conservative church. This makes for a pretty conservative paper, too. Well, unfortunately for President Stupid, these conservatives have figured out that No (Rich White) Child Left Behind is a pile of stinking sea gull poop:

By the year 2014, every child in public school must achieve grade-level proficiency in reading, math and science.

What a great idea — perfect children!!! Next the feds will require the Justice Department to reform every criminal in the United States en route to closing all prisons by 2020.

But you can't mean every child, you're thinking. Yes, every child.

Well, you can't mean kids with severe learning disabilities, you're thinking. Yes. Well, you can't mean kids who don't speak English, you're thinking. Yes — and the law requires that they be tested in English, too.

Well, you can't mean a child with Down syndrome, you're thinking. Yes! Look, I've only got 650 words to tell you about this insanity, so let's move on.

Fortunately, teachers have lots of spare time to work with these kids, and they can easily fit in the tests and the extra work with the slower kids when they're not pulling playground, bus and cafeteria duty, serving on committees, taking in-service classes, mentoring other teachers, teaching overcrowded classes and grading papers at home just before collapsing in bed. It's the teacher's and school's fault if one kid who doesn't speak English screws up their batting average.

If a school fails to achieve AYP (adequate yearly progress), the entire school is officially labeled a failure. If a school fails to hit AYP for two years, then it faces federally mandated punishments such as termination for teachers and a letter notifying all parents that the school has failed and that they can demand private tutors at school expense and transfer to another school with the school covering the transportation costs.

By the way, nobody has figured out how any of this will be paid for. Essentially, the federal government ordered schools to do all of the above, and when somebody asked how, the feds said, "Search me." Anyone for a bake sale?

"Anybody with two brains cells to rub together can figure out that this is insane!" says Lily Eskelsen, secretary-treasurer of National Education Association. "It . . . can't . . . be . . . done!"

Each school is required to give expensive tests and show prescribed progress annually, ultimately ending in perfection in 10 years with every child producing a C or better in math, English and science. Not only does the entire student body have to demonstrate annual progress, but the law requires that each sub-group — children in poverty, special ed, minorities, transients, learning disabled — must make the same progress as the mainstream group.

I work for an educational publisher and most of us realized this was impossible the day we saw it. In fact, NCLB seems to be intended to do one thing: destroy the public school system and allow corporations to take it over. Schools that are labeled "failing" - and eventually they will all fail, because there are a certain number of children who are for various reasons uneducable - can be taken over by private companies. This is the biggest greed-grab in the history of American education.

Oh, and one other thing about this putrid, stinking law - every school must give the name, address, and social security number of every child to the military, as Mother Jones revealed, to little notice, many months ago. Think on that for a while.

Scaring Up Votes

...is the title of Maureen Dowd's column in the NYT this morning. In it, she dissects the latest campaign commercial - a full year before the election - from the RNC:

"It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known," Mr. Bush says, in a State of the Union clip.

Well, that's a comforting message from our commander in chief. Do we really need his cold, clammy hand on our spine at a time when we're already rattled by fresh terror threats at home and abroad? When we're chilled by the metastasizing Al Qaeda, the resurgent Taliban and Baathist thugs armed with deadly booby traps; the countless, nameless terror groups emerging in Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia and elsewhere; the vicious attacks on Americans, Brits, aid workers and their supporters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey? The latest illustration of the low-tech ingenuity of Iraqi foes impervious to our latest cascade of high-tech missiles: a hapless, singed donkey that carted rockets to a Baghdad hotel.

Yet the Bush crowd is seizing the moment to scare us even more.

Flashing the words "terrorists" and "self-defense" in crimson, the Republican National Committee spot urges Americans "to support the president's policy of pre-emptive self-defense" — a policy Colin Powell claimed was overblown by the press.

Hey, who cares about Colin Powell when you can scare the living shit out of people? My guess is that as the election approaches - say, starting next June or so - we'll begin to once again see those "alert colors" popping up all over the place and vague hints of "chattering" and "WMD" and "anthrax." Bush and his handlers are totally unscrupulous; as they lied about Iraq to get their war, they will just as happily lie to get reelected and so keep the loot flowing to the wealthy parasites who suck the government teat. This is a truly frightening development - that we now have a party willing to frighten people with threats of mass death to win an election. Dowd sums up succinctly:

James Goodby and Kenneth Weisbrode wrote in The Financial Times last week that the Bush crew has snuffed the optimism of F.D.R., Ronald Reagan and Bush père: "Fear has been used as a basis for curtailing freedom of expression and for questioning legal rights long taken for granted. It has crept into political discourse and been used to discredit patriotic public servants. Ronald Reagan's favorite image, borrowed from an earlier visionary, of America as `a shining city on a hill' has been unnecessarily dimmed by another image: a nation motivated by fear and ready to lash out at any country it defines as the source of a gathering threat."

Instead of a shining city, we have a dark bunker.

But the only thing we really have to fear is fearmongering itself.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

SpongeBob!

It's wacky but true that SpongeBob received three write-in votes for mayor here in Columbus earlier this month.

Well Said, David Brooks

Some liberal readers of the NYT have been muttering ever since conservative commentator David Brooks came on board. I find that I don't always agree with him, but I usually find him useful reading. And sometimes I agree with him unreservedly. Today, he contributes an eloquent piece about marriage:

Some conservatives may have latched onto biological determinism (men are savages who need women to tame them) as a convenient way to oppose gay marriage. But in fact we are not animals whose lives are bounded by our flesh and by our gender. We're moral creatures with souls, endowed with the ability to make covenants, such as the one Ruth made with Naomi: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried."

The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity

Very well said, David.

The Saddest Day in American History

I am just old enough to remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy - a man who even at the remove of forty years makes his successors, in particular the cretin currently occupying the office, appear as the pygmies they truly are. John Kennedy was the last president to truly challenge this country to reach the heights of greatness he well knew it was capable of achieving. He knew that greed is not everything, that in fact it is soul destroying, and that nations must do more than accumulate riches. In his own words:

Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

"Not because they are easy, but because they are hard." God bless you, Jack. Some of us remember....

Friday, November 21, 2003

The Left Needs to Wake Up

You know, I personally would be a lot tougher on terrorism than Bush. Catch a terrorist? Interrogate him, then take his ass out and shoot him. Catch Taliban? Interrogate, shoot. Pirates? Interrogate, hang. I would also make this statement: "Any country found supporting terrorism will look like the face of the moon tomorrow." To the whining of other countries, I would comment dryly, "You will thank us eventually."

It would all end very quickly. We cannot win by playing paddy-cake with these people, the civilization of the West is indeed at stake, and the left needs to realize that. This is a time when we must be hard. Very hard.

Icky Reading

The always reliable Smoking Gun has the deposition of the 13 year old abused by Michael Jackson (yes, I know I'm supposed to say "allegedly," but is anyone surprised by this? Really?). It's pretty icky reading.

Wha?!

St Louis traded Tino Martinez to the Devil Rays?! Well, at least he'll be closer to home...

Enterprise Comes Home

Space Shuttle Orbiter OV-101 Enterprise has been moved to her new home in the Space Hangar of the Smithsonian's new Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport. Looking dusty and in need of new paint, and missing most of the leading edge of her left wing - sacrificed in testing to discover the cause of the loss of her sister, OV-102 Columbia - Enterprise was towed from a storage hangar to her new home. Although the Udvar-Hazy Center will open December 15, the Space Hangar will not be open for several more months as Enterprise undergoes restoration and other artifacts are added.

Flown by alternating crews of Fred (Apollo 13) Haise and Gordon Fullerton and Joe Engle and Richard Truly (both STS-2), Enterprise made five landing tests in 1977. But her career was hardly over, as she was used for years for various tests, including checking out launch facilities at both KSC and Vandenberg AFB (in the event, never used). She also appeared at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans, tested out arrested landing systems at Dulles, and was even considered several times for conversion into an operational orbiter. Though Enterprise never flew in space, her place in NASA history is secure. UPDATE: I'd forgotten when I wrote this that Enterprise is also the only orbiter so far to have visited Europe! She appeared at the 1983 Paris Air Show.

Loonies Explode out of Woodwork

Needless to say, the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that it is unconstitutional for the state to forbid marriage to gays is bringing the usual clump of fundies, wackos, and people afraid of their own sexuality out of the woodwork. Newsday reports this morning:

The phone began ringing and e-mail inboxes clogged at the Massachusetts Family Institute almost as soon as the state's highest court ruled to endorse gay marriage. To executive director Ron Crews, these were the stirrings of a public finally shocked awake.

Calls from around the country pledged assistance, the institute was offered free legal help and Crews began considering whether he needed to hire more staffers for his small operation, which opposes gay marriage.

"It's time that the sleeping majority woke up to what's going on," Crews said.

Yes, it's past time people wake up to realize that it's no longer the first century A.D. anymore. Is Ron Crews wearing clothes woven of two fabrics? Has he eaten shellfish or pork recently? Does he approve of the death penalty for adultery? Does he approve of slavery? Does his wife cover her hair in church?

All from the Bible, friends. Times change.

Who Stole the GOP?

And, while we're at it, what happened to the "fiscally responsible" GOP? Not only do we have gigantic deficits - the largest in American history - as well as monster spending increases, we have the egregious energy bill that is nothing but a giant giveaway of taxpayer money to wealthy corporations. Can Repugs continue to convincingly whine about "starving the beast" anymore? Can they bitch about national health care being "socialism" when they hand billions of dollars over to already wealthy corporations? Hm?

Who Stole the AARP?

It's pretty obvious that the AARP, formerly the defender of older people, has been hijacked by people who are intent on making a buck, not helping their members. Paul Krugman comments today in the NYT:

Over the years AARP has become much more than an advocacy and service organization for older Americans. It receives more than $150 million each year in commissions on insurance, mutual funds and prescription drugs sold to its members.

And this Medicare bill is very friendly to insurance and drug companies. Senator John Breaux, one of only two Democrats who participated in negotiations over the bill, takes the controversy as a good sign: "No one got everything they wanted." But as Jonathan Cohn points out in The New Republic, drug and insurance companies got exactly what they wanted: no efforts to limit prices, generous subsidies and lots of additional business. For example, insurance companies that offer an alternative to Medicare will not only be able to pick and choose their customers, but will also get 30 percent more per client than the government spends on the average Medicare recipient.

So do AARP executives support this bill because they hope to share in the bounty? Maybe, but it probably runs deeper than that. Once an advocacy group becomes as much a business as a service organization, its executives are likely to start identifying more with industry interests than with the groups they are supposed to serve.

If you are a member of the AARP, do yourself a favor. Cut up your membership card and send it in. If a couple hundred thousand cards come back, the wealthy parasites in charge may wake up.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Ow!

One wonders if Michael Jackson knows what happens to child abusers in prison. Hm.

Thanks, Dubya!

Our allies once again must be thanking their friend our President Appointee for spreading violence throughout the region after his inane invasion of Iraq and his half-assed effort in Afghanistan - where in large parts of the country the Taliban are, guess what, back in control. Good job!

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Hysteria on the Right

Needless to say, the loonies are coming out of the woodwork over the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that banning gay marriage is illegal under the state constitution. I have the feeling that in a hundred years - maybe less - this is going to be seen in the same light as slavery, which was enthusiastically defended, on Biblical grounds, by much the same kind of people as those who are apoplectic now. Here's one cretin on Yahoo:

By authorizing the granting of marriage licenses to homosexual couples, this court has defied not only tradition, but also democracy and common sense.

Marriage is the most fundamental institution of society. The law does not create it, it merely recognizes it. Marriage exists to bridge the gap between the sexes by bringing a man and a woman together in the context that is best for the reproduction of the human race and for raising children to be responsible adults. Healthy families are beneficial to the state.

Well, if this is true - if marriage is all about punching out brats - then why is marriage between infertile people permitted? Hm? Should women be permitted to marry after menopause? Should their husbands be able to divorce them on that ground? Here's another loony (actually, there are a passel of great loony quotes in this piece, so check it out!):

"The homosexual activist movement, which has achieved virtually every goal and objective it set out to accomplish more than 50 years ago, is now closer than it has ever been to administering a devastating and potentially fatal blow to the traditional family," Dobson said. "What makes these developments so shocking is that the legal acceptance of homosexual marriage was little more than a pipe dream just a few years ago, but now it has become a tidal wave that is sweeping around the globe."

That, Dobson added, "illustrates the destructive power of the judicial tyranny that has gripped our nation."

Uh-huh. Rrriiiight.

Democratic Mistake

The Democratic party seems to be continuing its drift towards making a horrible mistake by nominating Howard Dean for the presidential race in 2004. How many times must it be pointed out that Dean, however estimable he may be, simply cannot win? Harold Myerson makes the point in the Washington Post this morning using as his example my home state of Ohio:

This Democratic move leftward is key to understanding the rise and repositioning of Howard Dean. A somewhat truculent centrist in his years as governor of Vermont, Dean has now embraced economic and trade policies well to the left of those he favored as governor (while losing none of his truculence).

But his stance on the war was key, and in this, he does indeed resemble George McGovern. In 1972, with the Vietnam War still raging, Democrats went for McGovern because none of the other candidates had opposed that war as early or as completely as he, and because he offered an implicit critique of their own, more passive party establishment. This year, Dean has surged into the lead for largely similar reasons -- except that his critique of his party's establishment has been explicit and forceful, which resonated deeply with Democrats appalled at the inability of their congressional delegation to duke it out with Bush.

I suspect that Dean is truly a centrist at heart, but he's moving way left to attract the kind of lefty cretins who disproportionately vote in the caucuses and early primaries, and in the process saying things that will make him unelectable.

Ohio has hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs during the Bush presidency. It is also on Pew's list of states with the most "traditional social values," alongside most of the states of the South. This suggests that the kind of Democrat best positioned to win Ohio would favor a trade policy that takes labor standards and worker rights seriously, and wouldn't be too closely identified with issues such as civil unions and gay marriage. Dean has changed his position on trade to one that privileges labor as much as capital, but having signed Vermont's civil union law, he's a sitting duck for what is sure to be Karl Rove's campaign of calumnies.

If the Democratic game comes down to states like Ohio -- and I think it does -- then Wesley Clark or Dick Gephardt may be better positioned than Dean to oust the president. For Democrats who despise what Bush has done to this country and its good name, that's no small thing to consider.

The DNC needs to sit down right now and think about this. It might be time for the return of the smoke-filled room. It may not be small-d democratic, but the Democrats need to focus on one thing and one thing only: who can beat Bush? This country truly can't afford four more years of aWol and the chickenhawks.




Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Some People Just Don't Get It

A lot of lefty bloggers are coming down hard on Master and Commander, bringing to mind Orwell's famous comments about the "boiled rabbits of the left" who fail to understand the need for "patriotism and the military virtues." Here's a segment from one that seems particularly egregious:

Another thing that kept bugging me: the film takes place in 1805, the action concerns the cat-and-mouse between a British warship and a French warship. Of course, the British are meant to be the heroes, and the French....the French. They are the enemy: not just The Other Side, but evil, slimy, bad people. But...all throughout the movie I kept saying to myself: "In 1805, the British were our sworn enemies. The French were our friends. They helped us during the Revolution." Seven short years later the British invaded the United States and burned Washington. This enmity lasted for quite a while. They sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The jingoism was blatant. Spoiler: At the end of film we do get our climactic battle, and of course the slimy French get their nasty French asses whipped by our fair-haired boys (literally: what's with the silly dye job on Russell Crowe?, who had no less than two hairstylists), and yup, they were slimy dark Mediterraneans. You see them lying dead and dying and the image that comes to mind is cockroaches or rats in need of extermination. It was a very ugly scene, shame-inducing. The thought of getting up and singing "The Marseillaise" (a la Casablanca) crossed my mind, but I didn't want to embarass my friend.

I think what she's saying is that this movie shouldn't have been made because the British were Really Bad in 1805 and the French were our Friends. But in fact we had just finished up the nasty little quasi-war with France, which most Americans have never heard of. And let's face it, Napoleon was the closest thing to Hitler before the Fuhrer rolled around, and the British brought him down as close to single handed as almost makes no difference. I'm betting she would have liked it less if Weir had shot the book as written - in which the action takes place during the War of 1812 and the opponent ship is an American frigate, USS Norfolk. The reviewer concludes, "These filmmakers take us for idiots, and since we pay so much to see their garbage, we are." Actually, Master and Commander is the least "garbagey" (if I can coin a word) film in a good long while. I suppose she'll be off later to see Elf...or perhaps a film about boiled rabbits....

Reader Comments!

A conservative reader comments on my post about Orcinus's recent piece on creeping fascism, and argues we're wrong. Good God, I hope we are....

I understand why all this is happening.
It seems that there are a lot of people who don't understand,
refuse to understand, or really don't care.

It's not fascism.

1: a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race
above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government
headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation,
and forcible suppression of opposition.
2: a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control.

It's not happening.

Everyone cited as voices that are helping to create a fascist environment
do not exalt nation or race above the individual - in fact, they do just the
opposite. Also, they deplore a centralized, autocratic government, and
they hate dictators and the rest of it.

As for the forcible suppression of opposition - please, why can't people
see that they have brought all this on themselves by consistently dismantling
key structural elements of our society through legislation and establishment
of a self-serving bureaucracy. The freedoms given up already by votes for
Democratic leadership over a seventy year period has created a nation that
can't make up it's mind and raises it's children to do nothing more than
indulge themselves in self pity and constant criticism of authority simply
because it is authority.

(Obviously it's not just one select group causing this. the population at
large has complacently sat back and let all of this happen. Republican
representatives have compromised. Democrats have compromised.
but by far, it has been Democrats in control of the nation and it's most
essential policies for the past seventy years. that equates to a huge
power structure and it's crumbling - corporations included - and it is
crumbling.)

Now there is fear and hysteria growing about a fascist government.
The fear and the hysteria is the kind of thing that grows into an evil
social presence, when people band together in emotional rage
and let anti-authoritarian voices lead them to violently oppose
government. I don't see fascism coming but rather, riots and
mob violence instigated by cold-hearted, manipulative users
interested only in their own power. The same kind of people who
stirred up unrest across the United States in the sixties, who
lied and seduced a bright, articulate, and idealistic student
population, people who only wanted to see the demise of
individualism and private ownership of property. That is
what fascism brings about and the only force I see that is
out to force conformity on our society is liberalism wearing
a mask of liberty but working to enslave everyone to centralized
regulations and totalitarian control - however it can be accomplished.

Fascism in America wouldn't necessarily conform to the book definition (which means we probably need another term - "corporatism," anyone?); for one thing, it will retain at least the appearance of democracy and will not be racially based (but it will emphasize patriotism and flag waving). Normal life will continue. Property rights will continue to be respected. What it will mean, I suspect, is the total subordination of the individual to corporate interests - which is clearly already happening. The future as a Wal-Mart world? Hm.

Hinckley

So John Hinckley wants to be let out on unsupervised visits. Hm. I agree with Ron Reagan Jr. on this; if he's now "sane," his ass should be in jail. Period.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Good Riddance, Bobby

Showing unusual wisdom in these terrible times, the people of Louisiana elected Democratic Lt. Governor Kathleen Blanco in yesterday's runoff against the egregious Republican contender, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, hopefully putting a big kink in Republican plans to turn Piyush into the latest Republican stalking horse.

Masterful!

Everyone proceed to your neighborhood multiplex to see Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It's an amazing piece of filmmaking, with several sterling performances, most notably Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey and Paul Bettany as Dr. Maturin. Truly a wonderful film with very, very few historical slipups.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

This is Pretty Stupid

Sometimes the left kills me. Actually, most of the time the far left does, because they're just as unrealistic as the right wing loonies are in their turn. Free Press International today prints a picture of the experimental Navy stealth ship Sea Shadow with this caption:

The Sea Shadow is a U.S. surface ship built in the 1980's. The first time the Sea Shadow was shown to the public was on April 11, 1993. There is a possibility the Sea Shadow can be operated unmanned. I think it would be safe to say that even today most Americans have never seen this ship.

Uh, right. The Sea Shadow has not been secret since 1993, and has been frequently featured on programs shown on channels like A&E, the History Channel, etc. Sea Shadow was an experimental ship constructed to explore whether surface vessels could be made stealthy. It was unarmed, cannot be operated unmanned, and for several years in the mid to late 90s was laid up. It is currently participating in tests related to the Navy's advanced destroyer program. If these nitwits would just check their sources.

Creeping Fascism Indeed

David Neiwert over at Orcinus has a wonderful piece exploring the continuing drift towards fascism this country appears to be taking. Evidently there are a large number of Americans who see things in black and white and who are willing to surrender their freedom and future to leaders who make them feel good. Hard to believe it can be happening here, but Neiwert argues, convincingly, that it is:

Rhetoricians like Gillespie, Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the rest like to believe that they are only playing hardball politics, hoping to knock out their opponents, without recognizing that this kind of rhetoric has real-life consequences when it is embraced by the populace at large. Just as Limbaugh fervently denied that he and the rest of the right-wing radio haters had anything to do with Oklahoma City, today's conservatives will piously pretend they are not inciting violence. But the reality is that this kind of hatred inevitably plays out in unpredictable ways, many of them violent indeed.

Check it out; it's important reading.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Beginning to Wake Up?

A new poll suggests that Americans are beginning to wake up to the fact that they were duped over the Iraq war.

An overwhelming majority of those polled, 87 percent, said the Bush administration portrayed Iraq as an imminent threat before the war, and 58 percent said the administration did not have evidence for this.

In fact, 55 percent think "Bush decided to go to war on the basis of assumptions that were ... incorrect," according to the poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

Six in 10 say the U.S. government should have taken more time to find out if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Troops have found little evidence to validate most of the Bush administration's assertions before the war that Iraq had active chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

So far only 21% think that the administration knew that the bad intelligence was in fact false, but I'm betting that will change too.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Still Getting Ready...

...for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, that is, which premieres tomorrow. I promised to discourse grumpily on the stupid title, so here I go. Master and Commander and The Far Side of the World are two books in the Aubrey/Maturin series by "Patrick O'Brian," Master and Commander being the first. Now some nitwit involved with the film - probably the studio - evidently had the brainwave that "Master and Commander" was the title for the whole series, like The Lord of the Rings, and probably saw visions of a long series of sequels. The trouble is, Master and Commander is a rank in the Royal Navy of the time, and signified the commander of a ship too large to be commanded by a lieutenant and too small to be commanded by a Post Captain - usually a sloop. In the first book of the series, Jack Aubrey was indeed a Master and Commander. But in Far Side of the World, he's a Post Captain. So the title is simply stooooopid. Oh well, they had to screw something up, right? And this can't possibly be as egregious as those "adaptations" of C.S. Forester that A&E has been airing, although don't think fans haven't noticed that the story has been moved from the War of 1812 back to 1805 and the opposing ship morphed from American into French Hmmm.

Reviews here and here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

This is Inane

Proof, as if any were needed, that the current Presidential "debate" format is utterly ridiculous and a waste of space:

CNN planted a question about computer preferences at last week's debate of the Democratic presidential candidates at Faneuil Hall in Boston, according to the student who posed the query and wrote about it yesterday in an online forum of the Brown (University) Daily Herald. During the debate, cosponsored by the nonprofit Rock the Vote organization, Alexandra Trustman asked the candidates whether they preferred the PC or Mac format for their computers

Trustman wrote yesterday that she was called the morning of the debate and given the topic of the question the CNN producers wanted her to ask. She wrote that she was "confused by the question's relevance" and constructed what she thought was a "much more relevant" question.

But when she arrived in Boston for the debate, she wrote, she was "handed a note card" with the question and told she couldn't ask her alternative "because it wasn't lighthearted enough and they wanted to modulate the event with various types of questions."

"Lighthearted." Jesus!

Monday, November 10, 2003

Getting Ready!

Everyone else getting ready for the new Russell Crowe film? I am. Later I'll discourse grumpily on the stupid title, but for now, here's a little preview.

Of Course

One of Dubya's hobbies is visiting the troops, yelling "hoo-ah," and trying to act like Patton or R. Lee Ermey. In real life, Dubya rapes our troops every day, and here's a new example:

The Bush administration is seeking to block a group of American troops who were tortured in Iraqi prisons during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 from collecting any of the hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen Iraqi assets they won last summer in a federal court ruling against the government of Saddam Hussein.

In a court challenge that the administration is winning so far but is not eager to publicize, administration lawyers have argued that Iraqi assets frozen in bank accounts in the United States are needed for Iraqi reconstruction and that the judgment won by the 17 former U.S. prisoners should be overturned in its entirety.

If the administration is successful, the former prisoners would be deprived both of the money they won and, they say, of the validation of a judge's ruling that documented their accounts of torture by the Iraqis.

"I don't want to say that I feel betrayed, because I still believe in my country," said Lt. Col. Dale Storr, whose Air Force A-10 fighter jet was shot down by Iraqi fire in February 1991.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through." But, he said, "it was determined earlier this year by Congress and the administration that those assets were no longer assets of Iraq, but they were resources required for the urgent national security needs of rebuilding Iraq."

Now for a translation: we don't want to give this money to ex-POWs, we want to give this money to Bechtel and Halliburton.

OK, vets, remember this when the election rolls around.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

How Bunker Boy Sold the War

Dick Cheney, who could not be bothered to go and get shot at in Vietnam because he had "other priorities," couldn't wait to send other people's children (not his own, of course) to go and die in Iraq to enrich himself thanks to his Halliburton "blind trust." Of course Dick's excuse is that he thought Iraq was a "threat." Newsweek takes a look at Bunker Boy's happy yet dubious path to war:

Of all the president's advisers, Cheney has consistently taken the most dire view of the terrorist threat. On Iraq, Bush was the decision maker. But more than any adviser, Cheney was the one to make the case to the president that war against Iraq was an urgent necessity. Beginning in the late summer of 2002, he persistently warned that Saddam was stocking up on chemical and biological weapons, and last March, on the eve of the invasion, he declared that "we believe that he [Saddam Hussein] has in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons." (Cheney later said that he meant "program," not "weapons." He also said, a bit optimistically, "I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.") After seven months, investigators are still looking for that arsenal of WMD.

"Reconstituted," by the way, is a delightful term. It brings up visions of Saddam opening a can and adding water.

Cheney has long been regarded as a Washington wise man. He has a dry, deliberate manner; a penetrating, if somewhat wintry, wit, and a historian's long-view sensibility. He is far to the right politically, but in no way wild-eyed; in private conversation he seems moderate, thoughtful, cautious. Yet when it comes to terrorist plots, he seems to have given credence to the views of some fairly flaky ideologues and charlatans. Writing recently in The New Yorker, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh alleged that Cheney had, in effect, become the dupe of a cabal of neoconservative full-mooners, the Pentagon’s mysteriously named Office of Special Plans and the patsy of an alleged bank swindler and would-be ruler of Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi.
'
Not so wise, eh? Evidently Dick's wisdom goes south when money enters the picture.

Cheney, say those who know him, is in no way cynically manipulative. By all accounts, he is genuinely convinced that the threat is imminent and menacing. Professional intelligence analysts can offer measured, nuanced opinions, but policymakers, Cheney likes to say, have to decide. As he put it last July in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, "How could any responsible leader have ignored the Iraqi threat?" And yet Cheney seems to have rung the warning bell a little too loudly and urgently. If nothing else, his apparently exaggerated alarms over Iraq, WMD and the terror connection may make Americans slow to respond the next time he sees a wolf at the door.

What is it about Cheney's character and background that makes him such a Cassandra? And did his powerful dirge drown out more-modulated voices in the councils of power in Washington and in effect launch America on the path to war? Cheney declined an interview request from NEWSWEEK, but interviews with his aides and a wide variety of sources in the intelligence and national-security community paint the portrait of a vice president who may be too powerful for his own good.

Sounds "cynically manipulative" to me. We're supposed to believe that a man this intelligent, this thoughtful, went off the deep end after 9/11? Or did he just think of money pouring into Halliburton and the companies of his Repug donors? And "too powerful for his own good?" You damn betcha. This man is the real president, the fist behind the amiable stupidity of George Bush. This is the man running the neocon cabal that started the war with no end in sight, all for the enrichment of themselves and their friends.

Some neocons began agitating inside the Bush administration to support some kind of insurrection, led by Chalabi, that would overthrow Saddam. In the summer of 2001, the neocons circulated a plan to support an INC-backed invasion. A senior Pentagon analyst questioned whether Iraqis would rise up to back it. "You're thinking like the Clinton people," a Feith aide shot back. "They planned for failure. We plan for success." It is important to note that at this early stage, the neocons did not have the enthusiastic backing of Vice President Cheney. Just because Cheney had spent a lot of time around the Get Saddam neocons does not mean that he had become one, says an administration aide. "It's a mistake to add up two and two and get 18," he says. Cheney’s cautious side kept him from leaping into any potential Bay of Pigs covert actions.

It's long and worth reading, but Newsweek made a mistake, in my view, in not discussing the financial links of the neocons to the war. I suspect that has a lot more to do than fury over 9/11 in creating the quagmire we're sunk in. UPDATE: Kevin Drum has a piece on this as well that's very much worth your time.

Howard Dean's Flag Flap

Avedon Carol over at The Sideshow ably analyzes the inane flap over Howard Dean's comments about appealing to types who have Confederate flag stickers on their pickups:

What interests me is policies that will work for us all, and the guys with the Confederate flags actually have nothing to lose by abandoning the Republican Party, and Democrats lose nothing by letting those guys feel like they can be Democrats. The trick is to stop pretending that those damn flags are more important than whether people can feed and clothe their kids, plan for their futures, and take advantage of being citizens of the richest country in the world.

Meanwhile, blacks don't benefit from losing elections over trivia like flags and decals and then ending up with their economic choices and chances being slashed. The food on the table, the roof over your head, the places in the classrooms, the jobs - those are the things that matter. Crap like the Confederate flag is a distraction, and makes people take their eye off the ball.

Democrats really, really do have to stop attacking red-neck culture and working-class "luxuries" (beer, big boobs, & butts) and start paying attention to the things that really matter.

Exactly. Democrats need to figure out how to recapture the white vote in the south, where at present blacks vote almost exclusively Democratic and whites vote almost exclusively Republican. I believe we can recapture many of these white voters if we can present to them genuine economic alternatives and stop sneering about rednecks 'n NASCAR. It's a winning strategy. Only Governor Dean seems to have figured that out, as most of his opponents immediately snapped into sneer mode. That has to end. We can retake some of the "red" states if we hop to it.

This is Inane

Greg Winter, writing in the NYT this morning, reveals that the richest colleges get the most federal aid for their students. Wow, doesn't THAT make sense! Still proud to be an American?

If there is any grand, elegant logic behind the federal government's dispersal of more than a billion dollars in college aid, then Maria Hernandez is humble enough to confess that it has escaped her.

Consider her point. Poverty is hardly a rarity among the students of California State University at Fresno, where she is the director of financial aid. Many come from families working in the fields nearby, on farms where students spend their summer and winter vacations harvesting peaches and sugar beets to stay in school.

About three hours and a world away sits Stanford. Far fewer of its students are poor, yet the federal government gives it about 7 times as much money to help each one of them through college under one program, 28 times as much in another and almost 100 times as much in a third, government data show.

"Pretty sad," if you ask Ms. Hernandez.

Similar discrepancies emerge across the nation, adhering to a somewhat counterintuitive underlying theme: The federal government typically gives the wealthiest private universities, which often serve the smallest percentage of low-income students, significantly more financial aid money than their struggling counterparts with much greater shares of poor students.

The United States is very rapidly becoming a third world nation, with a small group of wealthy parasites lording it over masses of people living in poverty or near-poverty. How much longer will we stand for it, or, should I say, bend over for it? Maybe not much longer. When foreign countries decide to shut off our credit, the party will end - and it will end badly in a country awash with legal and illegal firearms.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Republicans Again Slam Democrats

The GOP continues its march to the happy one party future as the not over-bright Bill Frist, in one of his usual fits of pique, shut down a committee investigating the pre war intelligence "failures" because he just doesn't like the way the Democrats on the committee aren't lining up and bending over.

Angry about a leaked Democratic memo, the Republican leadership of the Senate yesterday took the unusual step of canceling all business of the committee investigating prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called on the author of the memo -- which laid out a possible Democratic strategy to extend the investigation to include the White House and executive branch -- to "identify himself or herself . . . disavow this partisan attack in its entirety" and deliver "a personal apology" to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Only if those steps are taken, Frist said, "will it be possible for the committee to resume its work in an effective and bipartisan manner -- a manner deserving of the confidence of other members of the Senate and the executive branch."

Roberts followed Frist on the floor and said that unless the Democratic members "properly" address the issue, "I am afraid that it will be impossible to return to 'business as usual' in the committee."

Of course one suspects that the real reason behind this brainless move is to keep unpleasant truths from being revealed (evidently to investigate the White House and executive branch are "partisan attacks"), but it has the nice side effect of kicking democracy in the crotch at the same time, something the aptly nicknamed repugs have gotten good at.

Winning Hearts and Minds

In revenge for the shootdown of a Black Hawk helicopter resulting in six dead, US forces have apparently been permitted to go on a rampage in the Tikrit area:

In retaliation, U.S. rocket and heavy machine gun fire destroyed a warehouse and two houses believed to have been used by militants. Air Force fighters screeching overhead dropped bombs, which rattled houses. Mortar rounds howled, and tracer bullets lit up the sky.

"We want to remind this town that we have teeth and claws and we will use them," said Lt. Col. Steven Russell of the 4th Infantry Division, who led raid in Tikrit, a city of 120,000 people about 120 miles north of Baghdad.

Apocalypse Now, anyone?

Next Shuttle Crew Set

The crew for STS-114, the first post-Columbia mission which will primarily test repair and inspection techniques, has been set. Three astronauts who were to be taken to the space station for a crew rotation have been replaced by three other crew members. The current lineup is Commander Eileen Collins, pilot James Kelly, and mission specialists Stephen Robinson, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and the three replacements, Andrew Thomas, Wendy Lawrence, and Charles Camarda. Camarda and Noguchi are rookies. STS-114 will be flown aboard Atlantis.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Congressional Democrats Silenced

A few days ago I argued that the Republicans are in the process of turning the United States into a functional one party state. Here's a little more proof, as if any were needed:

The Bush White House, irritated by pesky questions from congressional Democrats about how the administration is using taxpayer money, has developed an efficient solution: It will not entertain any more questions from opposition lawmakers.

The decision -- one that Democrats and scholars said is highly unusual -- was announced in an e-mail sent Wednesday to the staff of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. House committee Democrats had just asked for information about how much the White House spent making and installing the "Mission Accomplished" banner for President Bush's May 1 speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

The director of the White House Office of Administration, Timothy A. Campen, sent an e-mail titled "congressional questions" to majority and minority staff on the House and Senate Appropriations panels. Expressing "the need to add a bit of structure to the Q&A process," he wrote: "Given the increase in the number and types of requests we are beginning to receive from the House and Senate, and in deference to the various committee chairmen and our desire to better coordinate these requests, I am asking that all requests for information and materials be coordinated through the committee chairmen and be put in writing from the committee."

He said this would limit "duplicate requests" and help answer questions "in a timely fashion."

It would also do another thing: prevent Democrats from getting questions answered without the blessing of the GOP committee chairmen.

In-flipping-credible.

Of Course It's Illegal. Dubya Doesn't Care

Naomi Klein points out in The Guardian that American privitization of Iraq is illegal:

...Bremer's reforms were illegal to begin with. They clearly violate the international convention governing the behaviour of occupying forces, the Hague regulations of 1907 (the companion to the 1949 Geneva conventions, both ratified by the United States), as well as the US army's own code of war.

The Hague regulations state that an occupying power must respect "unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country". The coalition provisional authority has shredded that simple rule with gleeful defiance. Iraq's constitution outlaws the privatisation of key state assets, and it bars foreigners from owning Iraqi firms. No plausible argument can be made that the CPA was "absolutely prevented" from respecting those laws, and yet two months ago, the CPA overturned them unilaterally.

On September 19, Bremer enacted the now infamous Order 39. It announced that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatised; decreed that foreign firms can retain 100% ownership of Iraqi banks, mines and factories; and allowed these firms to move 100% of their profits out of Iraq. The Economist declared the new rules a "capitalist dream".

Of course it's illegal. This should surprise no one coming from an Administration put into power by a stolen election. Remember, the laws do not apply to these people. They fully believe this. Bush in particular seems to believe that he's been called by God to do these things - a horrible and dangerous delusion. The people around him have no such delusions; they're just in it to enrich themselves and their wealthy parasite supporters and the not over-bright Dubya is a useful figurehead. And who can stop them?

It's a detailed piece; share with your friends.

Reagan Miniseries = Fiction! Lynch Movie = Good!

Which is undoubtedly the view of the jello-like mass of rightwingers infesting the smoking remains of the United States at the moment. Although they forced the equally jello-like CBS to yank the Reagan miniseries because it didn't feature an appearance by Jesus Christ blessing Ron, undoubtedly the fictitious movie about Private Jessica Lynch will air to orgasmic patriotic cries of joy. Oh, and who says the film and the military accounts of her rescue are fiction? Why, the one person in a position to know: Private Jessica Lynch.

Asked how she felt about the reports of her heroism, Ms. Lynch told Ms. Sawyer, "It hurt in a way that people would make up stories that they had no truth about. Only I would have been able to know that, because the other four people on my vehicle aren't here to tell the story. So I would have been the only one able to say, yeah, I went down shooting. But I didn't."

And asked about reports that the military exaggerated the danger of the rescue mission, Ms. Lynch said, "Yeah, I don't think it happened quite like that," although she added that in that context anybody would have approached the hospital well-armed. She continued: "I don't know why they filmed it, or why they say the things they, you know, all I know was that I was in that hospital hurting. I needed help."

I get the impression former Private Lynch is not interested is being used a recruiting tool to ship other young people to Dubya's war.

Krugman Defends Dean

I'm a bit disappointed that Howard Dean apologized for his Confederate flag comments; anyone with half a brain understood what he meant. Paul Krugman agrees:

Howard Dean's remarks about the need to appeal to white Southerners could certainly have been better phrased. But his rivals for the Democratic nomination should be ashamed of their reaction. They know what he was trying to say — and it wasn't that his party should go soft on racism. By playing gotcha, by seizing on the chance to take the front-runner down a peg, they damaged the cause they claim to serve — and missed a chance to confront the real issue he raised.

A three-sentence description of the arc of American politics over the past 70 years would run like this: First, Democrats and moderate Republicans created institutions — above all, Social Security and Medicare — that provided a measure of financial security to ordinary working Americans. The biggest beneficiaries of these institutions were African-Americans and working-class Southern whites, and both were part of the moderate-to-liberal coalition that dominated American politics until the 1960's.

But the right opened an increasingly effective counterattack, with a strategy that included using racially charged symbolism to get Southern whites to vote against their own economic interests. All Mr. Dean was saying was that Democrats need to understand and counter this strategy.

Exactly. Democrats must figure out a way to educate poor Southern whites of the self-defeating stupidity of voting Republican because of covert and not-so-covert Republican tolerance for racism. There are more issues than that, for God's sake, and they are vital to the South.

Another Copter Down

An American Black Hawk has crashed near Tikrit. Six soldiers are reported dead; no reliable word on the cause yet.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

New Nickel!

The Mint has had such a successful run with their wacky state quarter program that they're ready to roll out a brand new nickel. President Thomas Jefferson will still be on the front of the five cent piece, but his home Monticello will vanish from the back to be replaced with a design honoring the Lewis and Clark expedition. The new design will be officially unveiled today. No word on when the new nickels will begin entering circulation. UPDATE: The Mint fooled us! There will actually be two new nickel reverse designs. Nickel 1, to appear in the spring, will feature a design based on peace medals handed out to Indian tribes during the Jefferson Administration. Nickel 2 will feature a Lewis and Clark flatboat. Two more new reverses will appear in 2005, also honoring Lewis and Clark and the Louisiana Purchase. In 2006, Monticello will return, but it and the portrait of President Jefferson may be new designs. All kinds of money excitement!

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Election

It's too early to completely analyze Tuesday's election, but be assured it will be analyzed closely for probable Republican misconduct. On the entire horror story of electronic voting, the redoubtable Avedon Carol comments

The question I've now seen several people ask is, "Why aren't Republicans worried about the voting machine problem?" Or some variation thereof. Why aren't they worried that the machines may be used for rigging elections? Why aren't they worried about people actually hacking the vote - whether from Diebold itself or from outside in Hackerland? Do they really not care as long as the probability is that whatever "errors" come up will favor the Republicans? Do they accept that their party wants to overturn Democracy? Are they certain that whoever hacks the system will be on their team?

Well, it's starting to look like a good question.

Indeed it is. Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall has posted a pdf of a letter from Mississippi Secretary of State Eric Clark to Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore alleging possible fraud by the minions of the egregious Haley Barbour, just "elected" governor. According to Clark, "According to reliable reports, poll watchers throughout the state have been demanding to position themselves in locations within the polling place in defiance of directives from the poll managers.... It is apparent that one potential motive for this effort by some poll watchers is to intimidate Mississippians who are attempting to exercise their right to vote." The letter continues, "Furthermore, there are reports that poll watchers are video taping voters in precincts. We have had a specific report that poll watchers are video taping voters in the predominently minority precincts of Lowndes Country, Mississippi. This is a direct violation of the law and constitutes a per se case of intimidation."

The Republicans are mounting a serious effort to turn this country in a functional one party state. I do not believe that that is an exaggeration. We have to stop them. One way you can do your part is by volunteering as a Democratic poll watcher in your area. Look into it. And as for electronic voting, oppose, oppose, oppose.

Archaeology Update

Talk about overkill! British scientists have determined that Guy Fawkes had 25 times the amount of gunpowder he needed to destroy Parliament and kill King James I. The 1605 "Gunpowder Plot," celebrated every year in Britain by the derisive burning of straw effigies of Fawkes, fortunately did not come to fruition, but if it had, his 36 barrels of gunpowder would have demolished Westminster Hall and Westminster Abbey and caused devastation out to a 490 meter radius!

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

So-Called Liberal Media

One of the weirdest facets of the American scene over the past 15 years has been the conservative deification of Ronald Reagan. Everything in sight must, according to the Republicans, be named after Big Brother. Pretty soon I suspect we'll start to see statues everywhere of Chairman Ron Leading the People to the Happy Poverty-Ridden Future. The CBS miniseries based on Reagan's presidency appears to have had a number of egregious features, but instead of reshooting and fixing them, CBS appears to be ready to cave to conservative whining. The miniseries will apparently air on Showtime instead.

Vote

Remember to vote today. An interesting race to watch will be the race in Kentucky for governor. As of the weekend, the Democratic candidate led by 10 points. Let's see if those electronic voting machines erase that and shovel the repug in.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Dean's Confederate Remarks

Mark Kleiman has a very insightful take on Howard Dean's controversial remark that he wants to appeal to the Confederate flag bumper sticker crowd. Mark points out:

And as to wanting to win the votes of the guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks, of course we want their votes. I've been a tough as anyone on the neo-Confederate wing of the Republican Party and the current President's pandering to it, but Dean's not talking about appointing as Attorney General someone who thinks that the Union Army was committing aggression when it fought the pro-Confederate militias in Missouri, or appointing Dixiecrats-turned-Republicans to appellate judgeships. He's talking about appealing to a group of voters who would be benefited by having a Democrat in the White House and who vote Republican in large party because they think -- not entirely without reason -- that the people who run the Democratic Party despise them, their lives, and their values.

Very well said, and very true. Read the entire piece.

Know Nothings Want to Eliminate Research

What a surprise that the Know Nothings who currently have all too much influence over the smoking remains of the Republican Party have submitted a list to the feds recommending that numerous scientific research projects that they just don't like be done away with, according to Bob Herbert:

A list of nearly 200 scientific researchers has been compiled and given to federal officials by the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative group that goes wild over gay issues and federal funding of research related to human sexuality.

The list, which has sent a chill through some researchers, is being used by the coalition and its government allies in attempts to discredit the researchers and challenge or revoke their federal grants. It's a sloppy, dangerous and wildly inaccurate list, put together by people who are freaked out by the content of the studies, and unconcerned about their value.

The targeted studies cover a wide range of topics related to health and sexuality, including H.I.V. and AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and adolescent sexual behavior.

The Web site of the Traditional Values Coalition is bizarrely fixated on sexual matters. The banner headline on the home page the other day blared, "HOMOSEXUAL URBAN LEGENDS: The Series . . ."

The site complained that "nearly $100 million has gone to research many projects which reasonable people, even those with no particular religious or political perspective, would view as prurient."

Prurient, eh? Perhaps the Federal government should confine itself to discovering how many angels can fit on one of these pinheads,

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Back to the Moon?

Indications are that there may be a presidential announcement at Kitty Hawk on December 17 - the centennial of manned flight - that will redirect American space efforts towards the moon.

As of late October, sources indicate that a central recommendation is likely, but not certainly to be resumption of manned lunar flights to develop advanced technologies that can support U.S. astronauts working beyond Earth orbit to not only the Moon, but eventually on near-Earth asteroids and Mars.

In an early phase of the meetings, manned Mars expeditions were considered too expensive and risky to adopt as a central goal for the civil space program. But Bush is being urged to factor in future interplanetary manned flight capabilities as part of the justification for a return to the moon. The last U.S. manned lunar mission was conducted by the Apollo 17 crew in December, 1972.

This would be a good place to start. Lunar flights and a lunar base would be the best possible way to get our feet wet and ready for long-distance exploration. Too bad we stupidly abandoned these goals 30 years ago - but it's not too late to restart and get back to work.

17 More

At least 17 American soldiers died in Iraq today, 16 in a helicopter crash that appears to have been a shootdown. Ronald Dumsfeld announced that such tragedies are, brace yourself, necessary:

"It's clearly a tragic day for America ... In a long, hard war, we're going to have tragic days," Rumsfeld said. "But they're necessary. They're part of a war that's difficult and complicated."

Easy to say when the chickenhawks and chickenhawk spawn aren't the ones dying, of course. Besides, Ronald, didn't your President announce some months ago that the war was over? Hm?

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Right Wing Loony Quick Reversal

Atrios and Jesse at Pandagon, among others, posted this a.m. about a piece on Town Hall that proposed that the Democratic candidates should be taken out and shot. Guess what: it's been changed.

Miller is not alone, though some are more sanguine when it comes to evaluating the roster of contenders. Here's a note I got recently from a friend and former Delta Force member, who has been observing American politics from the trenches: "These bastards like Clark and Kerry and that incipient ass, Dean, and Gephardt and Kucinich and that absolute mental midget Sharpton, race baiter, should all be lined up and slapped."

The original quote, of course, was "lined up and shot." We all know what you shits really believe, so why'd you change it?

Faux News = Dumbing it Down for the Know Nothings

It's widely known, I believe, that USAToday is written to a sixth grade reading level (we laugh about it at work every day - I work for an educational publisher). Turns out Faux is carefully designed to appeal to dimwits and cretins as well, according to an interesting letter from a former Faux employee posted at Poynter Online:

As a former editor at Foxnews.com -- and therefore clearly a disgruntled ex-employee -- let me just say that the right-wing bias was there in the newsroom, up-front and obvious, from the day a certain executive editor was sent down from the channel to bring us in line with their coverage. His first directive to us: Seek out stories that cater to angry, middle-aged white men who listen to talk radio and yell at their televisions. (Oh, how I'd love to stick quotation marks around what is nearly a direct quote.)

What followed was a dumbing-down of what had been an ambitious and talented news operation. Stories could be no more than 1,000 words, then 800 (I heard it was reduced further after I left, in March 2001). More and more effort was devoted to adapting FNC "scripts" into Web stories, which meant we were essentially correcting the errors of FNC "reporters" who couldn't be bothered to get the facts.

To me, FNC reporters' laziness was the worst part of the bias. It wasn't that they were toeing some political line (though of course they were; see the embarrassing series on property rights from 2000), it was that the facts of a story just didn't matter at all. The idea was to get those viewers out of their seats, screaming at the TV, the politicians, the liberals -- whoever -- simply by running a provocative story.

Most of the success of Faux and the duckspeakers of talk radio and the right wing media is that they just scream, over and over, that liberals are traitors, liberal ideas are traitorous, liberals are out to destroy America, etc. Evidently the people who listen to this garbage want to be spoon fed handy bits of information that they can then spit out whenever provoked (check out Orwell's discussion of duckspeak in his appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four sometime - the idea of duckspeak was that Party members would be able to always "quack out" the right responses automatically). One of the big differences - perhaps the defining difference - between liberals and the loony right is that liberals realize that issues are complex, shades of gray, and need to be discussed and studied. Right wingers like their world simple and stupid - black and white. Unfortunately, the truth is very often shades of grey, and people listening to the quacking of Faux or the quacking of Rush are being denied the opportunity to decide on their own. But of course they don't want that opportunity. It's hard to think. They want to live like animals. And we all know what happened at Animal Farm, don't we?