Monday, March 31, 2008

Examining our militaristic double standards

Food for thought:

Proponents of going to war with Iran (aka the same neoconservatives who brought us the Iraq debacle) have been making the (tacit) argument that Iran is interfering in Iraq and thus is itself at war with America already so we would be justified in bombing Iran.

Noam Chomsky has pointed out that this is not a standard that we would hold ourselves to. For example, in the 80s Russia could accurately state that the U.S. was interfering in Afghanistan, yet we would not say that gave Russia the right to bomb the U.S.

80s song(s) of the day

"Roxanne" covered by Dilana

"Time after time" covered by Dilana

These clips are from the mediocre reality show Rockstar Supernova. The show worked like American Idol except that when the contestansts were narrowed down to two the judges (a group of ex-rock band members) picked the winner. Dilana - the runner up - I think has an amazing recording voice.

And this cover of "Mother Mother" by Tracy Bonham was probably her strongest performance on the show.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A picture worth a thousand words

As I tune into AM radio regularly at random or browse various websites I keep hearing the notion that global warming has stopped or that it's been cooling over the last few years and what not. The image above is from NASA's GISS data. 'Nuff said.

You might be a racist/bigot if ...

You forward someone an e-mail like the following one which my father received:

This guy is great. He should be Prime Minister of England. Watch the video below. Click on the link below or load it into your browser. This is the message we will be singing in the US very soon if the US does not do something to stop the advancement of Islam in this country. Be politically correct and be enslaved. Not a very good choice but I don’t see any leadership from Washington or on the local front to change the proposed plan of Islam taking over the US.

The Muslims have taken over Europe and they are headed this way. I guess we are all too tired and too old to do anything. Well just sit by and watch a once great country go into further demise. I wonder what God is thinking. Maybe its time for us all to go home. What a place we are leaving for our grandkids.

The potential now is very great that we will have a Hussein for President. I guess “change” will make us all very happy and warm. We didn’t call him a muslim or use his name, Hussein, because that might offend someone. Sen. Barack Hussein Obama (D- ILL) What a bunch of wimps. Where is [insert late 19th century celebrities and a war hero] Are there any real American heroes left?
Nice. I can imagine someone sending out a letter like this in the 30s:

This guy is great. He should be Prime Minister of England ... This is the message we will be singing in the US very soon if the US does not do something to stop the advancement of Judaism in this country. Be politically correct and be enslaved. Not a very good choice but I don’t see any leadership from Washington or on the local front to change the proposed plan of Judaism taking over the US.

The Jews have taken over Europe and they are headed this way. I guess we are all too tired and too old to do anything. Well just sit by and watch a once great country go into further demise. I wonder what God is thinking. Maybe its time for us all to go home. What a place we are leaving for our grandkids.

The potential now is very great that we will have a Goldstein for President. I guess “change” will make us all very happy and warm. We didn’t call him a Jew or use his name, "Goldstein", because that might offend someone. Sen. David Goldstein Thomson (D- ILL). What a bunch of wimps. Where is [insert late 19th century figures of choice]? Are there any real American heroes left?
Not only is the person from whom this e-mail originated a bigot, but this individual is also a racist. We don't say Barack Obama's middle name for the same reason that we don't usually say other people's middle names. The only sort of people who say Obama's middle name - like the vile hate-monger Ann Coulter for instance - are bigots who want to play on people's prejudices to insinuate that Barack Obama (who is in fact a Christian) is an evil dirty Islamofascist Muslim terrorist because he has "Hussein" for a middle name. This smear tactic is particularly insidious because what these racists are doing is to instinctively capitalize on the fact that by linking Obama to a word that already has a negative connotation they can to a certain extent provoke a negative response to Obama at a subconscious level that is independent of rational thought.

I honestly marvel that there are mature adults alive today who aren't in some sort of white supremacist organization who don't see what's wrong with that "logic" and behavior.

That type of xenophobic fearmongering and stereotyped demonization of an entire class of people is not in and of itself fascist, but as the scholar Walter Laquer has observed, it is that sort of sentiment that helps lay the groundwork for fascism to take root.

And it might be worth remembering that the rabid anti-Semite/Nazi sympathist Henry Ford had a habit of accusing politicians he disliked of being Jews even though they were not Jewish.

Update: Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton linked to Dave Newiert's latest post about John McCain's chief political advisor having organized the ceremony in which the theocrat Rev. Moon who has stated his intention to become the supreme leader of America and then to conquer the world was crowned King of America in the Senate Dirksen building. The point Brayton and Neiwert is making is that while the GOP noise machine is able to generate controversy over the ultimately inconsequential statements of Barack Obama's pastor, comments that are more extreme from people like Moon who are movers and shakers in the conservative movement get a free pass.

Here's the snarky comment I left at Dispatches:

Yeah, but Obama's middle name is "Hussein" which links him to Saddam Hussein and thus al Qaeda and Islamofascism. Why are you trying to divert attention from the Muslim plot to conquer America through their Manchurian candidate?
Update 2: And just to be clear, in the original e-mail pictures of Muslim extremists protesting in London are included. Those individuals should be rightly condemned as agents of violence and intolerance. As I said before, I have no sympathy for Islamic fundamentalism (something of an oxymoron in the Muslim world) but stereotyping all of the world's billions of Muslims as equivalent to those demonstrators while concomitantly suggesting that a minority population is somehow about to magically "conquer" Europe and America is not an appropriate and rational response to the issue. That only creates a Manichean view of the world which mirrors the outlook of those extremists ... then it becomes not a matter of who is right but who is mightiest.

Slight editing since first posting.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

McCain's dog whistle politics

Via Think Progress

Yesterday in an foreign policy address in Los Angeles, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called for the United States to create and lead a “League of Democracies” in order to “harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.”

Numerous media outlets interpreted McCain’s speech as a call for “cooperation” and “collaboration” with allies and the rest of the world, “drawing a sharp contrast to the past eight years under President Bush.” But last night on Fox News, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer revealed the true meaning behind McCain’s “League of Democracies”:

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I like the idea of the league of democracies, and only in part because I and others had proposed it about six years ago. What I like about it, it’s got a hidden agenda. It looks as if it’s all about listening and joining with allies, all the kind of stuff you’d hear a John Kerry say, except that the idea here, which McCain can’t say, but I can, is to essentially kill the U.N.
I'm guessing Krauthammer's neoconservative "league of democracies" would look something like the Delian League under the control of Athens.

At its height the Delian League numbered some two hundred members which met annually on Delos. Athens was its undisputed leader and gradually used the alliance as a springboard for its own imperial ambitions. By 454, when the League's treasury was transferred to Athens and used to fund monuments of imperial splendor such as the Parthenon, it had become an empire in all but name. Five years later a permanent peace was made with the Persians and its very reason for existing was no longer valid, but by then most of the alliance had already lost its autonomy to Athens.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Antarctica in on global warming hoax

In an obvious effort to perpetuate the left-wing liberal fascist Big Lie of global warming, Antarctica broke off a chunk of ice from the Wilkins Ice Shelf today that was 7 times the size of Manhattan Island. The ice had been there for potentially 1,5000 years, so you can see how deceptive and underhanded the continent of Antarctica is being in trying to fool us into believing the lies of the global warming Green shirt fascists.

Are you a Machiavellian?

Take the test designed by social psychologist Richard Christie to determine to what extent you have a Machiavellian personality.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Beyond the Big Bang

Discover profiles 3 theories that may one day supplant Big Bang theory.

One nation, White

Alonzo Fyfe has turned his exceptional post on the inherent prejudice of including the phrase under God in the Pledge into a book: A Perspective on the Pledge.

What would it be like to live in a country where 'patriotism' meant pledging allegiance to the idea that you are inferior to other citizens? We can imagine a nation that thinks 'patriotism' requires pledging allegiance to 'one white nation', and easily see how such a pledge would be racist. Yet, 'one nation under God' says the same about atheists that 'one white nation' would say about blacks. This book explains and defends that analogy and examines its implications.
The short book was prepared in anticipation of a forthcoming 9th Circuit ruling on the constitutionality of the phrase and the anti-church/state seperation backlash that is sure to follow regardless of the outcome.

Report says X is Up, movement conservatives reply that report proves X is Down

Via Think Progress

On March 13, the Pentagon released a detailed study (pdf) confirming “no direct link between late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the Al-Qaeda network.” But oddly, numerous conservatives and Iraq war supporters — including the Wall Street Journal — have cited the report as vindication of their theories about a Saddam Hussein-al Qaeda alliance.
They exist in their own reality, governed by their own rules of logic. Apparently, on their bizarro Earth-2, "no direct link" means "a direct link."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Obama's "left-wing" campaign strategist

Via The Center for Media and Democracy

Source: BusinessWeek, March 14, 2008

Senator Barack Obama's chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, "moonlights" from his political PR firm AKP&D Message & Media. Working from the same office, "Axelrod operates a second business, ASK Public Strategies, that discreetly plots strategy and advertising campaigns for corporate clients," reports Howard Wolinsky. Axelrod's ASK partners are John Kupper and Eric Sedler, previously of AT&T and Edelman. Chicago Alder Brendan Reilly called ASK "the gold standard in Astroturf organizing." In 2005, as ComEd was "preparing to ask [Illinois] state regulators for higher electricity prices," ASK advised the company to form "Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity." The front group, which described itself as "a coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations," funded ads that warned of blackouts unless rates were raised. Around the same time, ASK helped Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden, oppose the New York Jets's plans to build a new stadium in Manhattan. Cablevision formed the "New York Association for Better Choices," and ran anti-stadium ads in its name. ASK's other work includes helping AT&T defend municipal broadband referenda.

I don't believe in John Gray

Having previously read American Fascists and thought it to be an important book warning about the extremism inherent in the Christian nationalist movement, I was intrigued when it came to my attention that the author Chris Hedges had written an extended essay entitled I Don't Believe in Atheists arguing that so-called "new atheists" share the same proto-totalitarian characteristics.

"New atheists" refers to atheist authors who have recently published books critical of religion; they are commonly identified as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. First, I'd observe - as did Keith Parsons - that there isn't anything particularly "new" about these atheists. And secondly, I'd point out that Dennet's Breaking the Spell is oddly grouped in with the other authors since the book is non-polemical but instead calls for critical examination of religion as a social phenomenon while surveying the types of questions that could be applied to the study of religion.

Hedges's basic argument is this:

[New] atheists embrace a belief system as intolerant, chauvinistic and bigoted as that of religious fundamentalists. They propose a route to collective salvation and the moral advancement of the human species through science and reason. The utopian dream of a perfect society and a perfect human being, the idea that we are moving toward collective salvation, is one of the most dangerous legacies of the Christian faith and the Enlightenment. All too often throughout history, those who believed in this possibility of perfection (variously defined) have called for the silencing of eradication of human beings who are impediments to human progress. They turn their particular notion of the good into an inflexible standard of universal good. They prove blind to their own corruption and capacity for evil. They soon commit evil not for evil’s sake but to make a better world.
Much of the rest of the booklet is a reiteration of the above. Indeed, in what isn't but seems like every single page of the book, Hedges asserts that "new atheists" are utopians who believe in the myth of moral progress and are therefore proto-totalitarians. I found this to be a very curious assertion (more on that in a moment.)

Hedges has a very bleak, nearly Hobbesian view of humanity. We are always on the precipice, always capable of devolving back into a state of barbarity. We must always recognize man's capacity for sin, that we are always like our enemy. Only this kind of humility keeps us away from the fatal belief that humanity can be perfected which itself leads to the release of horrific violence in the name of some ultimate Good.

Recognizing that Hedges has covered over a dozen wars first hand as journalist, I can understand why his outlook would be dark. And I think he makes valid points about understanding the nature of humanity and taking steps to see to that we don't divide the world into Good and Evil. Yet I still could not wrap my head around his belief that the Enlightenment view that human reason and science could be used to better human kind leads inevitably to genocide and revolutionary violence.

But then I noticed this book excerpt in The Guardian from philosopher John Gray. At first glance I thought that it was an article from Hedges promoting his booklet - that's how similar the argument is. As it turns out, Hedges is popularizing the premise of Gray that the humanistic belief in the potential for human progress by applying reason to human problems is a slippery slope to totalitarianism. I would argue that there are some serious and obvious flaws with that notion, but I don't have to since A.C. Grayling (and others) already did that.

As to the weary old canard about the 20th-century totalitarianisms: it astonishes me how those who should know better can fail to see them as quintessentially counter-Enlightenment projects, and ones which the rest of the Enlightenment-derived world would not put up with and therefore defeated: Nazism in 17 years and Soviet communism in 70. They were counter-Enlightenment projects because they rejected the idea of pluralism and its concomitant liberties of thought and the person, and in the time-honoured unEnlightened way forcibly demanded submission to a monolithic ideal. They even used the forms and techniques of religion, from the notion of thought-crime to the embalming of saints in mausoleums (Lenin and Mao, like any number of saints and their relics, invite pilgrimage to their glass cases). Totalitarianism is not about progress but stasis; it is not about realising a golden age but coercively sustaining the myth of one. This indeed is the lineament of religion: it is the opposite of secular progressivism.
I would also refer readers back to this article responding to the charge that atheism is reponsible for 20th century totalitarianism.

There really isn't much more needed to be said about the central premise of I Don't Believe in Atheists as it is identical to Gray's article and suffers the same flaws. But there is another problem with the essay. Hedges use the pronoun they when he should actually be using he, as the bulk of his criticism applies to Sam Harris and to a lesser extent Christopher Hitchens.

The criticism that Hedges offers for the militarism of Harris and Hitchens is mostly valid and acute. The casual way that Harris tosses off the suggestion that torture, "collateral damage", and nuclear first strikes against Muslims can be justified by Islamic irrationality is troubling (something I've mentioned before.) Hitchens has adopted in the "War on Terror" a Trotskyist cause that has blinded him to the ruinous consequences of the policies he has supported. The notion that by invading Iraq the Middle East would magically become democratic was utopian hubris. But why in the world are Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins lumped in with them?

If you were to know nothing of them other than what Hedges had written, you'd think that Dawkins and Dennett are rabid Muslim haters who are ready to annihilate Islam through a new crusade or something. At one point after having spent several pages covering the views of Harris and Hitchens on fighting "Islamofascism," Hedges immediately lumps all four together without noting that neither Dawkins nor Dennett share the "War on Terror" views of Hitchens and Harris. All are accused of being bigots and it is the fear of Hedges that in the face of another terrorist attack the "new atheists" will join force with Christian nationalists to call for the extermination of Muslims in a Manichean was of Us vs Them.

Yet on March 22, 2003, Richard Dawkins wrote in The Guardian an article about the invasion of Iraq where he criticized the United States for engaging in precisely that sort of behavior!

Whatever anyone may say about weapons of mass destruction, or about Saddam's savage brutality to his own people, the reason Bush can now get away with his war is that a sufficient number of Americans, including, apparently, Bush himself, see it as revenge for 9/11. This is worse than bizarre. It is pure racism and/or religious prejudice. Nobody has made even a faintly plausible case that Iraq had anything to do with the atrocity. It was Arabs that hit the World Trade Centre, right? So let's go and kick Arab ass. Those 9/11 terrorists were Muslims, right? And Eye-raqis are Muslims, right? That does it. We're gonna go in there and show them some hardware. Shock and awe? You bet.

Bush seems sincerely to see the world as a battleground between Good and Evil, St Michael's angels against the forces of Lucifer. We're gonna smoke out the Amalekites, send a posse after the Midianites, smite them all and let God deal with their souls. Minds doped up on this kind of cod theology have a hard time distinguishing between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Some of Bush's faithful supporters even welcome war as the necessary prelude to the final showdown between Good and Evil: Armageddon followed by the Rapture.
What's more, Dawkins goes on to make almost the exact same point about the nature of evil and the way to address it that Hedges had made in criticism of Dawkins and the others

Like sin and like terror (Bush's favourite target before the Iraq distraction) Evil is not an entity, not a spirit, not a force to be opposed and subdued. Evil is a miscellaneous collection of nasty things that nasty people do. There are nasty people in every country, stupid people, insane people, people who should never be allowed to get anywhere near power. Just killing nasty people doesn't help: they will be replaced. We must try to tailor our institutions, our constitutions, our electoral systems, so as to minimise the chance that such people will rise to the top.
This is typical of much of what Hedges says about the atheists he identifies in his essay. For example, E.O. Wilson is mentioned in brief and is accused of justifying the subjugation of women and social inequality in his Pulitzer winning book On Human Nature. I haven't even read that, but being familiar with Wilson's work, I'm fairly confident in wagering that Wilson didn't justify either so much as he explained how they can make sense from an evolutionary perspective. And, again, by name-dropping Wilson, Hedges has lumped him in as one of the "new atheists" who have been accused in the booklet of being blind to the destruction of our environment. Um, hello? Wouldn't it be worth mentioning that Wilson is one of the planet's leading conservationists and has also taken the lead in forming alliances with religious leaders to protect and preserve the environment? Also, might it also have been pertinent to point out that Wilson is not an atheist?

Other cartoonish claims abound. Dawkins and Dennett are advocates of indoctrination and mind-control (this stems from Hedges reading into their usage of the meme metaphor something sinister.) The "new atheists" hold the Panglossian view that this is the best of all possible worlds. Really, who knows an atheist worth his salt who thinks that?

I also found there to be an incoherence between this work and American Fascists. In this essay, Hedges accuses "new atheists" of exaggerating the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and its negative consequences. Yet if we are to be worried (as we should be) about the deleterious effects that Christian fundamentalism is having on American politics, should not we be equally concerned with an Islamic fundamentalism that is more systemic in the Muslim world and has come to power in multiple regimes (with at least one having access to nuclear weapons?)

All this aside, the essay is well-written and Hedges draws upon multiple literary allusions to flesh out his argument, which, despite being flawed is still a valuable reminder about the need to not forget our inherent capacity to do our fellow humans evil.*

*Slightly edited since first posting.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Art of the day

This is a figure of a flea from Robert Hooke's Micrographia (1664) - one of the most seminal scientific works ever published.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"Fair and balanced" MSNBC

If there's one thing our country needs, it's for the "news" channels to continue cutting back on the number of actual journalists they employ and to continue hiring "strategists" and other opinion spinsters to bring us spin and sound byte propaganda rather than investigative journalism and fact based reporting and commentary.

Which is why I'm so thrilled to see that MSNBC has hired former lobbyist and Rove aide Sara Taylor. Apparently, telling Congress she "took an oath to the president" as justification for helping to conceal the transformation of this nation's Justice Department into an electoral arm of the GOP doesn't disqualify someone from getting a job in the "liberal media."

Maybe MSNBC should think about bringing Scooter Libby on staff next? After all, if obstructing the investigation of a Senate committee is good enough to get Taylor hired being convicted criminally for obstruction of justice in a grand jury investigation into the outing of a covert CIA agent working in the field of nuclear weapons proliferation ought to be good enough to get Libby his own prime time show.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Speaking of nothing to hide ...

What he said.

Bill O'Reilly candidly admits he would gladly vote for tyranny

Via Media Matters:

[T]hese people at Media Matters -- these are the worst Americans in the country. There are no worse Americans than this. If I could, I would deport them.


I want Media Matters deported ... And if anybody can work that -- if Barack Obama can work that ... I'm voting for him ... OK? Any of the presidential candidates who can deport those swine ... I'm voting for them.
I have little doubt that if O'Reilly "could" it would be illegal for anyone anywhere in the universe to say something critical of him.

We gotta gid rid of them "Liberal Fascists", I suppose.

Update: Does this mean that O'Reilly works for a network that is "no different" than the Nazis? Should someone send a camera crew to stalk O'Reilly like he does to others?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

If you have nothing to hide?

A.C. Grayling responds to the thought numbing assertion that if you have nothing to hide you have no reason to be concerned with the creation of a national surveillance state.

The assumption behind the "if you have nothing to hide" claim is that the authorities will always be benign, will always reliably identify and interfere with genuinely bad people only, will never find themselves engaging in "mission creep" with more and more uses to put their new powers and capabilities to, will not redefine crimes, and even various behaviours or views now regarded as acceptable, to extend the range of things for which people can be placed under suspicion - and so considerably on.

It is all or some of naive, lazy and irresponsible not to be maximally vigilant regarding civil liberties and human rights, because it is a datum that the liberties of individuals are inconvenient for all states and their security services, and in dispensations where there are few if any restraints (think the Soviet Union, or even today's Russia - and China) it is liberty which quickly and comprehensively suffers.

Where an alert populace can use its liberties such as free speech to defend its other liberties vigorously, the universal tendency of states to increase their policing powers can be resisted: but even in such countries as the UK and US it takes real effort to mount and maintain such resistance. Consequently it is not acceptable to rest content with the "if you have nothing to hide" argument, for it is one of the most seductive self-betrayals of liberty one can imagine.

Brian Fagan on the silent elephant of drought

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Quote of the day

"The threat to men of great dignity, privilege and pretense is not from the radicals they revile; it is from accepting their own myth. Exposure to reality remains the nemesis of the great -- a little understood thing." - John Kenneth Galbraith

H/t E. J. Dionne Jr.

Meanwhile, on the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and, not incidentally, 5 years after President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, President Bush gave a speech today saying that the world is safer because of the war in Iraq. By "safer" he means, of course, that the solidarity the Muslim world felt for Americans after 9/11 has been turned into animosity, that al Qaeda has been able to use the invasion of Iraq as a recruitment tool leading to new franchises of al Qaeda, that the war in Iraq has stretched our military thin and created a debt that generations of future (non super rich) Americans will have to pay for, that a destabilized Iraq has turned the Middle East into a powder keg, that terrorist activity has increased, that suicide bombing has increased, that hundreds of thousands are dead, that the world now considers America a threat to international peace, that our allies believe we are a criminal nation that has turned its back on the principles of human rights which this nation was founded to preserve and protect.

Science Decider-in-Chief

The NRDC's John Walke explains in a bit more detail how Bush appointee Stephen Johnson abdicated his legal obligation of objectivity to implement the will of his political master.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quote of the day

“The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries.” – Robespierre (1792)

At the time, French revolutionaries dreamed of conquering monarchy in Europe through violent revolution. Ironically, the continuing state of war in revolutionary France helped create the conditions under which Robespierre himself acted as a tyrant.

80s Video of the Day

"Say, Say, Say" by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

Monday, March 17, 2008

Oklahoma state rep endorses eliminationist bigotry

Our own Taliban.

In other bigotry news, a Catholic bishop in Motherwell is busy applying the tactics of Holocaust deniers to homosexuals.

Quote of the day

"Let us punish by instructing, rather than by revenge." - Thomas Paine

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Can we impeach him before he does anymore lasting damage to America?

President Bush, despite unprecedented low levels of popularity and despite having had his party suffer an historic defeat in the '06 election continues to do his best to unravel American democracy.

From the Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency weakened one part of its new limits on smog-forming ozone after an unusual last-minute intervention by President Bush,according to documents released by the EPA.

EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA's scientific advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents.


The dispute involved one of two distinct parts of the EPA's ozone restrictions: the "public welfare" standard, which is designed to protect against long-term harm from high ozone levels. The other part is known as the "public health" standard, which sets a legal limit on how high ozone levels can be at any one time. The two standards were set at the same level Wednesday, but until Bush asked for a change, the EPA had planned to set the "public welfare" standard at a lower level.

The documents, which were released by the EPA late Wednesday night, provided insight into how White House officials helped shape the new air-quality rules that, by law, are supposed to be decided by the EPA administrator.
Yes, but "laws" only means what the Decider decides they mean in the Bush administration. If he decides that he wants to do the bidding of his friends in industry who want more relaxed environmental standards despite the law saying the decision is to be made by the EPA administrator then all he needs to do is have his lawyers come up with some kind of tortured justification for the Decider politically interfering with the EPA and PRESTO! The law means exactly what the Decided wanted it to mean.

Just like at the Justice Department, the EPA is being transformed into an agency that effects the political will of the White House. The scientific integrity of the EPA has been compromised. I still marvel at the fact that we have as a president a man who has almost zero understanding at all of how democracy works or what the rule of law means.

President Bush continues to solidify the case for his being the worst president in American history.

Friday, March 14, 2008

President Bush claims to be envious of soldiers

Via Think Progress

“I must say, I’m a little envious,” Bush said. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.”
Right. Just like when he was slightly younger and not employed as president, when he was on the frontline in Vietnam by being in the Air National Guard in Texas (although his record in that is spotty as well.)

I can't wait for Glenn Greenwald's new book - Great American Hypocrites - to come out. It deals with precisely this sort of nonsense ... the way the conservative movement creates a fiction of itself that is not connected to reality.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quote of the day

'George Bush really believes -- and is outright telling us -- that when he orders private citizens to do something, and they obey, then it means that -- even if what they're doing is illegal -- they are acting "patriotically" and should be protected from all consequences. Are there any monarchs left anywhere in the Western World who even claim such a power -- to be able to order citizens to break the law? That's been a discredited "principle" since at least the Nuremberg Trials, yet this warped assertion of monarchical powers really is the central premise of the case for telecom amnesty.' - Glenn Greenwald

Towards a superdemocracy?

Market forces are not a substitute for democratic process, nor are they equivalent. Market forces are exceptional for meeting the needs of consumers and investors, but are terribly deficient when it comes to meeting or addressing the civic needs of citizens.

That is the most important message that one takes from reading Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everyday Life by Robert B. Reich. In this book, Reich explains how run-away global capitalism has overtaken and consumed democracy, leaving little space left for the citizen to express her or his self.

From that description alone, plenty of critics would be willing to label Reich a communist (a sad reflection on how narrow and bankrupt the national discourse is becoming.) But he is not. What he is is someone who believes that capitalism should be used to serve democratic ends, not vice versa. When democracy is used to serve capitalistic ends (as is happening now) environmental degredation, job insecurity, income inequality, and politicians subservient to corporate money is the result.

Reich argues if we expect market forces alone to determine the behavior of corporations, then we should not expect anything less than bottom line profit driven behavior from them. Although many corporate critics lament their behavior, Reich points out persuasively that those same critics as consumers and investors are part of the system that rewards those corporations for such behavior and punishes them for doing otherwise. This highlights the difference between consumer/investor values and citizen values. The only job of a corporation, says Reich, is to work within legal limits to maximize profit for its investors. It is the job of citizens to work through democratic institutions to create that legal framework.

Democracy means more than a process of free and fair elections. Democracy, in my view, is a system for accomplishing what can only be achieved by citizens joining together with other citizens - to determine the rules of the game whose outcomes express the common good. The rules of course can effect how fast the economy grows: At the extreme, a rule that divided the pie into equal slices would squelch personal incentives to save, invest, and innovate. Another rule might do more to spur economic growth. Demcoracy is supposed to enable us to make such tradeoffs, or help to achieve both growth and equity or any other goals we share in common.
But it isn't doing that anymore. The decline of progressive income taxes, trade union bargaining, good public education, the social safety net, and politicians responsive to citizens needs; an inability to confront public problems such as global warming and millions lacking health insurance are all indicative of the erosion of democratic means.

The reason for this, Reich suggests, is that new technologies born in the 70s led to the rise of global supercapitalism. This happened as a result of techonologies developed by the government during the Cold War leading to innovations that broke down the stable – almost oligarchic – system of capitalism that had existed previously from about 1945 - 75. The previous system had been dominated by a few large companies that played such a central role in the economy that it was vital that they kept production running smoothly, which led them to negotiate with government and workers for equitable benefits to society; this stability translated into a narrow range of consumer/investor choice.

The innovations of the Cold War allowed for increased competition for customers and investors, leading to more choice and better deals. With the new innovations smaller companies lobbied for deregulation so that they could take advantage of the innovations, find niche markets, and offer more consumer choice than had existed during the previous era. But with the intensified competition companies could no longer afford to negotiate to protect the common good. Increased competition led to increased desire to influence politics for any possible advantage over rivals, with increased lobbying in turn leading to increased competition among politicians for money.

The public is of two minds about supercapitalism: it wants corporations to be stewards of society but also low prices for quality products.

As consumers and investors we want the great deals. As citizens we don’t like many of the social consequesnces that flow from them. The system of democratic capitalism in the Not Quite Golden Age struck a very different balance. Then, as consumers and investors we didn’t do nearly as well; as citizens we fared better.
With the democratic capitliasm of before we had institutions (such as regulatory agencies, strong unions, and biggest business setting stable mass production values) - John Kenneth Galbraith’s “countervailing powers” - of small interest groups across the nation offering democratic flexibility and coordination. We have no such countervailing forces to today’s supercapitalism. While this system is very responsive to our consumer/investor needs, it does little to address our civic needs.

According to Reich, we've made a sort of Faustian bargain as a society. We get great deals and spectacular technology, but our values as citizens lack an outlet.

Our desires as consumers and investors usually win out because our values as citizens have virtually no effective means of expression … this is the real crisis of democracy in the age of supercapitalism.
Reich also argues that the rise in CEO salary is a function of supercapitalism, with the CEO taking on an economic function similar to that of celebrities and athletes who take home large percentages of the revenue they help generate. The disparity in income between CEO and worker is indicative of the way that supercapitalism has created a large concentration of wealth at the top of our society. The previous democratic capitalism had seen the most equal distribution of wealth in American history.

Although Reich feels that this disparity in wealth is dangerous for democracy, he suggests that we as a society have created the market forces that led to the inequality and as such should not scapegoat the super-rich.

As citizens, we may feel that inquality on this scale cannot possibly be good for a democracy. It undermines solidarity and mutually on which responsibilities of citzenship depend. It creates a new aristocracy whose privileges perpetuate themselves over generations. It breeds cynicism among the rest of us. But the super-rich are not at fault. By and large, the market is generating these outlandish results. And the market is being driven by us as consumers and investors. That does not make it right, however.
Reich also believes supercapitalism is now spreading across borders and eroding democratic instiutions in other nations. Despite many citizens being alarmed at the results of supercapitalism at home and abroad, our behavior as consumers and investors continues to promote the system. Reich asks (and answers):

If most people are of two minds about supercapitalism, why does the consumer-investor side almost always win out? The answer is that markets have become hugely efficient at responding to individual desires for better deals, but are quite bad at responding to goals we would like to achieve together.
For example, our consumer/investor demands are aggregated by large companies like Wal-Mart which have the ability to drive down costs for consumers across multiple business models, but there is hardly any comparable entity that aggregate the values of citizens.

Some might suggest that the answer to is to purchase our conscience, but Reich details that this is a very poor substitute for voting our conscience: "The only way for the citizens in us to trump the consumers and investors in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases and investments a social choice as well as a personal one."

In other words, we can decide as individuals and a society what kind of increased costs/investor return reductions we’re willing to tolerate to trade off for the promotion civic values, environmental regulations, worker protections, the prohibition of contributing to human rights abuses, etc.

But the debate that would be necessary for us as a society to to make those decisions is not happening.

And that's largely because our elected officials now represent the corporate money they depend on to stay in office. With run-away bipartisan lobbying, even debates that seem to be about public interest aren’t. Scratch the surface and what we really have is one corporate interest going after another one; the extent to which the "public interest" is being served by one private interest is relative to the other private interest. Reich gives numerous examples, but to spotlight one, take the debate over offshore drilling. Successfull opposition didn’t really come from environmental groups like you might expect - it came from coastal tourist industries.

Another consequence of the overflowing of corporate money in Washington D.C. is the deleterious effect on the public of understanding of any give issue lobbying has; meaning that the public is less likely to recieve impartial information about an issue, making it less capable of coming to the sort informed decision that is the basis of a functioning democratic society.

The corporate takeover of politics also affects how the public understands the issues of the day. Part of the task of lobbying is to provide evidence for the greater wisdom of your point of view, which often requires the work of economists, policy analysts, and other data gatherers and numbers crunchers, as well as wordsmiths able to make almost any decision sound reasonable. Legislators need to be able to justify their decisions – if not to the broad public directly, at least to a skeptical media sensitive to outright payoffs. Regulators must convince judges they have not acted arbitrarily. Because every side in these contests needs to make the best possible case, large amounts of money are made available to engage experts to provide arguments they may know to be only half-truths or, on occasion, outright deceptions. The result is a broader form of corruption – the corruption of knowledge.
This has seen the rise of corporate paid "expert" driven debate. But when very large sums of money are involved, "[s]cruples, like other marketable commodities, can be purchased if the price is right.” “Academics and professors end up selling their integrity. The m.o. of such "debates" is that a common fact is challenged by having some “expert” testify against the established fact claiming (or, rather, manufacturing) doubt over it and thus justification for not taking public action on an issue.

This corruption of knowledge is even now extending into univertiy research. What's more:

Even when the government pays for neutral expertise, it doesn’t necessarily get it. A major academic study released in 2006, finding antidepressants to be safe and effective for pregnant women, was financed by the Food and Drug Administration. But according to the Wall Street Journal, most of it thirteen authors, among them prominent professors, were serving at the same time as paid consultants to corporations that manufactured antidepressants. This is not to suggest that these professors – or, for that matter, any experts – understand themselves to be taking bribes that compromise their professional integrity. But human beingas are remarkably adept at rationalizing comfortable arrangements. Money induces a generous frame of mind, willing to overlook evidence that might trouble an expert whose judgement is not clouded by a consulting contract.
This dominance of “expert” policy making “in effect, leads the public to assume the only issues of importance are those that bear on the welfare of consumers and investors, rather than on the well-being of society or the planet as a whole.” The same message dominates almost all public debate: “Public policies are to be judged by a utilitarian calculus of whether they improve the efficiency of the economy. They are presumed to be wise if consumer-investor benefits exceed consumer-investor costs; unwise, if the opposite holds true.”

What’s missing is the consideration of the social costs. Will inequality increase? Job insecurity? What are the global ramifications? How will it effect human rights and the environment? Etc.

“Corporate social responsibility” as an answer is meaningless, argues Reich. Corporations are created to generate profit for investors, that’s their purpose. Citizens must determine what values corporations are to adhere to through laws and regulations. Asking a corporation to act responsibily is to ask it something it is not capable of: responsibility is a function of human conscience but corporations are a legal enitity, not people.

Reich details how companies that have remained socially virtuous are punished by consumers and investors, making it difficult for them to stay competitive. See the case of Levi-Strauss, a company which quit using production in China after Tianeman Square, but when consumers quit buying their higher costing jeans the desicion was reversed in 1998. Again, when market forces are expected to substitute for democratic ones, our consumer-investor side wins out.

In the past, muckrakers like Nader, Tarbell, and Sinclair’s weren't so much attempting to pressure a particular company to cease some behavior, rather than making an effort raise the public's awareness of an issue in order to galvanize public action in order to make it illegal for any company to engage in such behavior. There efforts were “not substitutes for political action but preconditions for it.”

Leaving “social responsibility” to the market is futile because it is unaccountable to citizen values. Plus, focusing on single companies such as Wal-Mart obscures vital debate. Instead of focusing on Wal-Mart’s low employee wages or the lack of employee insurance and what not we should debate the minumum wage and health insurance; if a company is following the rules then social pressure alone is going to be futile ultimately, says Reich.

Health insurance was provided to workers in the first place because it’s a form of payment that avoids taxation.

Even though employer-provided health care has diminished since [the previous era of democratic capitalism], in 2006 it still constituted the biggest tax break in the whole federal tax system. According to recent estimates, if health care benefits were considered taxable income, employees would be paying $126 billion a year more in income taxes than they do now. In other words, employer-provided health care is a backdoor $126 billion-a-year government health insurance system that’s already up and running.
This system, however, doesn’t help those who need it most (people who lose their jobs) and distorts the labor market by creating job stagnation (out of fear of losing health insurance if one switches jobs.) Employers try to avoid health insurance cost by hiring low risk workers and trying to defer insurance to spouses; people earning a lower salary get less insurance but need more. Wal-Mart could be pressured into providing health coverage but the pattern across America wouldn’t change significantly which is why having democratic discourse over the issue is important. In effect, we have a 126 billion “backdoor government health insurance system” that benefits mainly upper-income citizens.

Reich recommends decoupling health insurance from employment, then using the 126 billion dollars of taxable income as a downpayment on a universal system of progressive insurance.

But we can’t even begin this conversation as long as the focus is on pushing Wal-Mart to give its employees better health insurance coverage, and as long as this effort occurs outside of and apart from the democratic process. By making it into a moral mission against Wal-Mart, advocates divert attention from what should be a national debate about public policy into a battle over the brand image of a single big company.
Reich summarizes

Democracy and capitalism have been turned upside down. As we have seen, capitalism has invaded democracy. Legislation is enacted with public rationales that bear little or no relation to the real motive of the corporations and their lobbyists who pushed for them and the legislators who voted for them. Regulations, subsidies, taxes, and tax breaks are justified as being in the “public interest” but are most often the products of fierce lobbying by businesses or industries seeking competitive advantage over one another. The broader public is not involved. Citizen voices are drowned out. The public rationales mask what’s really going on – which companies and industries gain and which lose.

At the same time, a kind of faux democracy has invaded capitalism. Politicians and advocates praise companies for acting “responsibly” or condemn them for not doing so. Yet the praise and blame are disconnected from any laws and rules defining responsible behavior. The message that companies are moral beings with social responsibilities diverts public attention from the task of establishing such laws and rules in the first place. It also suggests companies are the moral equivalent to citizens who posess rights, including the right to be represented in a democracy. The praise or blame is soon forgotten, and barely effects the behavior of consumers and investors. Meanwhile, the real democratic process is left to companies and industries seeking competitive advantage.
Reich does not make the following point, but I would add that although it is the proper role of democracy to aggregate our citizen values and respond accordingly to the consequences of supercapitalism (“widening inquality as most gains from economic growth go to the very top, reduced job security, instability of or loss of community, environmental degredation, violations of human rights abroad, and a plethora of products and services pandering to our basest desires”) we now have a political atmosphere where anyone who proposes such action is labeled a communist.

To restore the balance between capitalism and democracy Reich offers some possible solutions:

- Effect into law something limiting the amount of money corporations can flow into politics. Companies might be interested in such legislation in order to avoid an escalating arms race of lobbying expense; but those who profit from the existing system will remain the largest impediment.

- The only way to stop companies from giving consumers good deals at the expense of high social costs is to make them illegal.

- Corporations are not people: “Corporations should have no more legal rights to free speech, due process, or political representation in a democracy than do any other pieces of paper on which contracts are written.”

- Do away with the corporate income tax because it is inefficient and inequitable.

Reich believes that abolishing the corporate income tax would improve capital markets because the system as is in inefficient in that it "creates an incentive for companies to overrely on debt financing relative to shareholder equity, and to retain earnings rather than distribute them as dividends." Instead, the dividends should be distributed back to shareholders because "decisions by millions of shareholders about how and when to reinvest these funds are likely to be, as a whole, wiser than decisions made by a relatively small number of corporate executives. "

The tax is inequitable in that lower income investors are often taxed at a corporate rate higher than what they pay on the rest of their income while higher incomer investors are taxed at a corporate rate lower that what they pay on their other income.

Reich follows with more suggestions:

- Corporate income should be treated as the personal income of shareholders and taxed like any other personal income.

- Citizens should be skeptical of “social responsibility” from corporations and from politicians scolding companies for not doing something or for doing something unless its illegal or required by law; and the same skepticism should apply to interests targeting particular companies for public criticism.

- Corporations can’t commit crimes. Executives working for corporations commit crimes. Corporations can be held civically liable for actions, though.

- “The goal of governmentt policy should be to make Americans more competitive, not to make American companies more competitive.” Penalizing a company for sending jobs abroad or being foreign based is silly. Government should subsidize R & D if the company is going to be in America and train American workers, regardless.

- Corporations should have no right to sue or challenge laws and regulations; only citizens do. Investors, consumers, employees have the right already to go to court as individuals or in class action suits – corporations should not litigate on their behalf. Furthermore, many corporations have shareholders that aren’t even US citizens, which means giving corporation court rights gives non US citizens the right to challenge US laws. For example, California’s autoemission standards were sued by automaker companies, 7 of which had a majority of foreign shareholders.

- Shareholders shouldn’t be made to contribute to political activity they don’t approve of. Instead, give them special dividends or extra shares “representing their pro rata share of that expenditure” resulting from some particular polical lobbying or activity. “Another way to redress the imbalance would be to allow taxpayers a tax credit of up to, say, $1000 a year, which we could send to any organization that used the money to lobby on behalf of our citizen values – groups seeking, for instance, a higher minium wage, a cleaner environment, or limits of videos and music featuring lurid sex and violence. The group would have to be nonprofit, but the choice of group and goal would be up to each of us. The point would be to give the citizen in us a louder voice in our democracy.”

Reich concludes:

The purpose of capitalism is to get great deals for consumers and investors. The purpose of democracy is to accomplish ends we cannot achieve as individuals. The border between the two is bereadhed when companies appear to take on social responsiblies or when they utilize politics to advance or maintain their compettive standing.

We are all consumers and most of us are investors, and in those roles we try to get the best deals we possibly can. That is how we participate in a market economy and enjoy the benefits of supercapitalism. But those private benfits often come with social consts. We are also citizens who have a right and a responsibilty to participate in a democracy. We should have it in our power to [include]* those social costs, thereby making the true price of the goods and services we purchase as low as possible. Yet we can accomplish this larger feat only if we take our responsibilities as citizens seriously, and protect our democracy. The first step, which is often the hardest, is to get our thinking straight.
Hopefully, more works like Supercapitalism can help spark the missing public debate that may right the ship of state and put us on course towards an era of superdemocracy to couple with the existing supercapitalism.

See here to listen to the author discuss his book and to read an excerpt of the first chapter.

*I can't tell what I have scribbled in my notes and don't have a copy of the book with me any longer. I'm guessing what the word is until I can check the book and insert the corret word.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Vote her out

A representative from Oklahoma stated that homosexuals are more of a threat to America than terrorism.

According to Oklahoma lawmaker Sally Kern, gays are more of a threat to America than terrorists. Also, they are “going after our young children, as young as two years of age,” “infiltrating” city councils across the country, and have completed a hostile takeover of Eureka Springs, Ark.
Hatewatch goes on to explore the most outrageous of Kern's claims and possible source material for her hate-mongering.

Does District 84 really want a bigot of this class representing them? For shame if it does.

And if someone from Bill O'Reilly's staff happens to read this somehow ... please, if Mr. O'Reilly has any integrity left could he possibly devote some of the passion he has for attacking singular comments out of thousands at the HuffingtonPost to tackling something like this? You know, because if you want to try and compare something to the demonization of Jews by the Nazis, any reasonable person is going to have to concede that an elected politician saying homosexuals are a threat to America is a bit more troubling than a handful of crude and obnoxious comments attacking a particular individual.

Update: In the Hatewatch post I linked to they describe how Paul Cameron was likely the source of one of Kern's claims:

Though she doesn’t cite specific data, Kern’s claims about the deadly lifestyle and shortened life spans of gays and lesbians are probably fueled by the pseudo-scientific reports of crackpot psychologist Paul Cameron, a popular speaker on the anti-gay lecture circuit of the Christian Right who portrays gays and lesbians as dangerous, diseased perverts whose average life span is only 45 years. Cameron’s work has been thoroughly discredited by mainstream social researchers. One of his most infamous studies found that “lesbians are 300 times more likely to die in car accidents than
heterosexual women.”
In an article about the anti-gay movement, the SPLC noted that:

Exhibit number one in demonizing homosexuals is the Christian Right's Paul Cameron, a leading "scientist" on the evils of homosexuality who heads the hate group, Family Research Institute. Cameron's work, which has been cited both by the Christian Right and prominent Republicans, falsely claims that gay people are disproportionately responsible for child molestation, for the majority of serial killings, and for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

"Of all the vices," Cameron concluded in one pamphlet, "only homosexuality constitutes a conspiracy against society." Cameron's "science" echoes Nazi Germany in that these disparaging descriptions of homosexuals are reminiscent of themes found in the ugly history of anti-Semitism, where Jews were historically associated with disease, filth, and child stealing. Cameron has been thrown out of legitimate professional organizations for his crackpot and inhuman science.
Guess who has previously given a venue to someone who promoted the Nazi sounding lies of Cameron? That's right! Our pal Bill O'Reilly.

Update 2: A high school senior whose mother died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing has written a moving letter to Rep. Sally Kern.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Darwin's dictum

"About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorise; and I well remember some one saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!" - Charles Darwin

Michael Shermer explains further

Charles Darwin’s dictum holds that if observations are to be of any use they must be tested against some view — a thesis, model, hypothesis, theory or paradigm. The facts that we measure or perceive never just speak for themselvesbut must be interpreted through the colored lenses of ideas. Percepts need concepts, and vice versa. We can no more separate our theories and concepts from our data and percepts than we can find a true Archimedean point — a god’s-eye view — of ourselves and our world.
Also see here for Shermer's first article on this subject in his first Skeptic column for Scientific American.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What if?

Batu, a grandson of Ginghis [Khan], soon conquered the Crimea, then ravaged what is now Bulgaria as well as fourteen Russian cities, turning their shattered remnants into vassal states. Next he turned his atention to Europe, with the objective of reaching "the ultimate sea." The Mongols under General Subatai divided into three groups, conquered Poland and Hungary, and swept into Austria, where they prepared for a probe into the heart of Europe in 1241. At that moment, Ogotai Khan [son of Ginghis] died. Batu Khan was a potential candidate for Great Khan, so he withdrew his forces to the steppes. In the event, he was not chosen and devoted his efforts to consolidating his conquests around the Urals. He held sway over the Cuman steppes and over various Russian kingdoms and never returned to the scene of his former conquests.

Batu Khan's withdrawal coincided with the return of cooler, wetter conditions, which brought improved pasturage to the steppes. His kingdom flourished during generations of good pasturage, when warfare died down. Although Batu always maintained ambitions of returning west, good grazing conditions at home allowed his people to pasture a huge territory from the Volga-Don to Bulgaria. There were no incentives for ambitious conquests when grazing was plentiful and trade flourished with lands to the south.

But what would have happened if the climatic pendulum had not swung, and if droughts had intesified on the steppe? To judge from earlier centuries, warfare and restless movement would have continued, and almost certainly, Batu Khan and his generals would have returned to the west. His spies had already given him a clear picture of the kingdoms that confronted them, and of their armies with their heavily armored knights, who had proved no match for Mongolian archers and horsemen. He would have followed his original plans, drawn up with General Subatai: invade Austria and destroy Vienna first, then move against the German principalities before turning his attention to Italy. If all went well, he would have then marched into France and Spain. Within a few years, perhaps as early as 1250, Europe would have become part of a huge western Mongolian empire.

--Brian Fagan, The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

Requote of the day

"If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America--even those designated as 'unlawful enemy combatants.' If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It's a transformative issue" - former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Can't keep up with the corruption anymore

Via Think Progress

AP reports that, between March 2004 and February 2006, “dozens of U.S. troops in Iraq fell sick at bases using ‘unmonitored and potentially unsafe‘ water supplied” by KBR. The Pentagon’s internal watchdog said soldiers experienced skin abscesses, cellulitis, skin infections, diarrhea and other illnesses after from using the discolored, smelly water.
Ok, great. Just a few days ago this was in the news

Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation’s top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.

When Texas pipe-fitter Danny Langford applied for unemployment compensation after being let go by Service Employers International Inc., he was rejected, he was told, because he worked for a foreign company.

More than 21,000 people working for KBR in Iraq – including about 10,500 Americans – are listed as employees of two companies that exist in a computer file on the fourth floor of a building on a palm-studded boulevard here in the Caribbean. Neither company has an office or phone number in the Cayman Islands.

The Defense Department has known since at least 2004 that KBR was avoiding taxes by declaring its American workers as employees of Cayman Islands shell companies, and officials said the move allowed KBR to perform the work more cheaply, saving Defense dollars.

If someone tells you there aren't two Americas then you can give them this. Get caught with some marijuana and end up in jail. War profiteer through your stock options and you get to be the Vice President.

Blog recommendation

I've linked to his work numerous times now, but I didn't realize that Scott Horton has a blog at the Harper's website

No Comment

A quote from this post ought to give an idea of I think the blog bookmark worthy

The Bush regime, bolstered by a surging 17% public acceptance in one poll, moves more closely towards a façade of legality for its national surveillance state. It acknowledges its abuse of other legislation and will suffer no consequences for that abuse, and in a symbolic coup de grâce, Bush will veto the latest Congressional prohibition on torture–for indeed, torture is the very talisman of his unchecked rule and his arrogant indifference to the rule of law. And in the midst of this, where, this weekend, are the three presidential finalists? They busy themselves with the accumulation of delegates for their march on the White House. They will mutter fine sounding words on the campaign trail—sentences will glimmer with “freedom” and “liberty”—but they will offer no action that shows those words have content.
And this one.

What were those legal principles that allowed the Justice Department to find that torture was not torture, and that torture was therefore lawful? When we pull back the curtains, and shine a bright light, we find it rested on the same royal prerogative that Charles Stuart maintained all the way up the steps to the scaffold. Apparently the king can do no wrong. And evidently, the king determines what the law is. And when the king has made his determination, then it is binding on the attorney general, who is, apparently, no more than an extension of the royal will.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Global warming alarmists wrong again!

If you've been listening to the communist socialist liberal fascists known as "scientists" you might have been worried about rising sea levels as a result of global warming that could potentially devastate coastal civilization. Fortunately, I understand that if you want to know about science you've got to go the the proper authority: Neal Boortz.

See, once again the global warming hoax has been exposed by the brilliant Neal Boortz. Those "scientists" don't tell you about the big picture. Why worry about rising sea levels this century if sea levels are going to drop 10 million years from now? Heck, 80 million years from now the ocean levels are supposed to drop 120 meters!

- Sarcasm off - It never ceases to amaze, the power of ideology to blind someone to reality ... the very article Boortz links to says:

Still, the projected rate of fall works out at 0.015 centimeters a century -- irrelevant when the U.N. Climate Panel estimates that seas will rise by 18-59 cms by 2100 because of global warming stoked by human use of fossil fuels.

"Compared to what is expected due to climate change, the fall is negligible," said Steinberger. Cities from Miami to Shanghai are threatened by rising seas that could also swamp low-lying island nations in the Pacific.

Rising temperatures raise sea levels because water in the oceans expands as it warms, and many glaciers are melting into the seas.

Antarctica and Greenland now contain enough ice to raise sea levels by 50 meters if they all melted, the article said. If all ice on land were gone in 80 million years' time, the net drop in ocean levels would be 70 meters rather than the projected 120.

Friday, March 07, 2008

TV on the net

At the ABC Full Episode Player, every episode of the hit show Lost (Seasons 1- 4) is available for free viewing in High Definition. Several of the main characters are named after major philosphers, including David Hume.

At CBS, every episode of Jericho (Seasons 1 - 2) - which is sort of the anti-24 - is available for free viewing. If watching 24 makes people think that the United States should torture people, maybe watching Jericho will get them to think twice about giving up on the rule of law and the open society because of fear of an external threat.

Also at CBS, every episode of the original Star Trek series (Seasons 1 - 3) is online for free. Star Trek is still to this date one of the most successful vehicles for the promotion of humanist values in popular culture.

Quote of the day

"The members of Donk-Quaeda have used their House majority to block the renewal of the Protect America Act. Which, as the name clearly states, impowers the NSA to tap your phones without a warrant." - Stephen Colbert

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Neal Boortz vs democracy

Yesterday I flipped to the second daily broadcast of the Neal Boortz radio program to hear him in the midst of again ranting about a subject that is very dear to his heart: eliminating from the voter ranks anyone who might vote differently than he does.

According to Boortz, if you think that America is a democracy you should not be allowed to vote. Well, I'll give him this: if only people who think America is not a democracy vote, then America most probably will not be a democracy anymore.

Boortz went onto to state that we're a republic and not a democracy. This is the most typical trait of Boortz. He has a juvenile understanding of some issue and then acts as if he's making some profound statement when in reality he's saying something trite that should have been corrected before he got out of elementary school.

Yes, we are a republic. Yes, we are not a pure majority rules democracy. But what form of a republic are we? We are a representative liberal democracy. These things aren't mutually exclusive.

It is telling that Boortz cites one of the worst aspects of the founders - that they did not allow everyone of age to vote - to buttress his argument in favor of creating a class of second class citizens. Why doesn't he just come out and say what he really means? That he should get to appoint every political office because anyone who disagrees with him is a communist or a fascist. Like other kinds of 100%ers, Boortz thinks he has access to Truth and anyone who doesn't see it his way must have some defect.

Today Boortz told a caller who said the Democrats are bringing socialism to America that it's actually fascism they're bringing. Boortz said that he is currently reading a book on the subject, which no doubt means he's reading Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg.

And it's a bit ironic that Boortz has supported an administration that has done more to erode our constitutional republic than any other adminstration in US history (e.g. via stuff like this) and supported in this election the candidate (Huckabee) who believes that the Constitution should be rewritten to make America a theocracy.

Meanwhile, last night Bill O'Reilly did another segment on his show about Arianna Huffington being a Nazi because his staff - who are apparently now on duty 24/7 searching the HuffingtonPost comments section - found 3 or 4 comments out of thousands calling Hillary Clinton a bitch, with one saying that she should be punched in the nose or something. The comments were objectionable and demonstrate and irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton but they are still qualitatively different than the sort of tribalistic hatred of the Nazis. What O'Reilly has uncovered is run of the mill ... you're going to find that kind of stuff on any give issue that people care about if you look for it. Plus, I'm not certain how it is that a commenter saying punch H. Clinton in the nose means Arrianna Huffington is a Nazi, but Bill O'Reilly saying that George Soros should be hanged doesn't make himself one.

One of the comments cited asked why Obama supporters are such right-wing tools. 1. That doesn't make any sense 2. How is that remotely like Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda?

But more importantly, why does Bill O'Reilly care about what a few commenters - not the actual bloggers there - at HuffingtonPost are saying when Glenn Beck is wondering on CNN HN if Obama is the anti-Christ and Boortz is telling his audience of millions that Obama and Clinton are fascists while simultaneously advocating for dinenfranchising people who vote for Democrats?

Answer: O'Reilly isn't interested in Boortz or Beck because they aren't on his radar. They aren't on his radar because they haven't said critical things about him (that he knows of.)

Scientific American on the militarization of space

"Space Wars - Coming to the Sky Near You?"

A recent shift in U.S. military strategy and provocative actions by china threaten to ignite a new arms race in space. But would placing weapons in space be in anyone's national interest?

  • Although the “high ground” of outer space seems to offer clear military advantages, nations have so far resisted placing weapons into Earth orbit. That strategic forbearance may be changing.
  • The National Space Policy adopted by the U.S. in 2006 seemed to open the way to the further militarization of space. Soon afterward, China tested a ground-based antisatellite missile.
  • But space weaponry could trigger a costly international arms race. Satellites and space weapons will remain vulnerable to attack no matter what defenses are mounted.
  • And space warfare, or even “live” tests of the weapons, could create so much space debris that Earth orbit would become unnavigable to civilian satellites and crewed spacecraft.
Read on ...

Holy shit ... she really is crazy

Via Jesus General

Delusions of grandeur, much? Ingraham believes that to be an effective family therapist you must listen to her show? And notice how after finding out the guest doesn't listen to talk radio Ingraham wants to dig up info on the guest so that she can personally "destroy her" with ad hominem attacks. Ingraham begins saying "she's a big liberal" - you can hear the dripping contempt she has for "liberals". The guest actually works with the conservative Heritage Foundation, but to the Manichean ego-maniac, if you don't listen to Lord Ingraham, Goddess of the AM you're a "liberal" and an idiot.

And this psycho is Bill O'Reilly's regular Friday guest host.

Edit - Commenting further, notice how reflexive it is for Ingraham to start looking to attack the guest's character. In the worldview of Ingraham and so many of her ideological cohorts, to disagree with them on something (in this case apparently that one must listen to AM radio) means that by definition there must be something wrong with your character. If they can find (or in many cases - fabricate) something wrong with a person's character then they don't have to bother considering why someone might disagree with them on an issue. It isn't so much about the person being attacked as it is about them finding someway to reduce cognitive dissonance for themselves; in short, a way of circumventing having to think.

Recall that this is exactly what happened to Glenn Greenwald for criticizing the hypocrisy of Malkin-sphere bloggers.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It is going to be bad

"[I]n a populistic culture like ours, which seems to lack a responsible elite with political and moral autonomy, and in which it is possible to exploit the wildest currents of public sentiment for private purposes, it is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible." - Richard Hofstadter, "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt"

If a Democrat becomes president expect to have our public discourse overtaken and overwhelmed with the most extreme, insane, and rotten attacks and smears from the conservative movement that you can possibly imagine. We've already been hearing the buzz about both Obama and Clinton being fascist/communist Hitler/Stalin reincarnated and what not ... and now we have a primetime host working for CNN wonder on air if Obama is the antiChrist.

BECK: Let me ask you, because I got — I get so much e-mail on this, and I think a lot of people do, and I`ve only got a couple of seconds. They say Glenn, you and the media, you`ve got to wake up. Barack Obama`s making people faint and cry and everything else. And he`s drawing people in.

There are people — and they said this about Bill Clinton that actually believe he might be the anti-Christ. Odds that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ?

HAGEE: No chance. He has a lot of charisma. There`s a media love affair with him right now. He is a very formidable political person. I believe the best leader for America in the future is John McCain.
Did that really happen? Did two lunatics really just consider if Obama is the anti-Christ on a major (supposedly) news network? This is passable discourse now?

Belief that Bill Clinton was the anti-Christ was a principal belief of militia movement extremists. If either Obama or Clinton becomes president look for a resurgence in the patriot movement, with these folks going off into the woods, stockpiling weapons, and preparing to wage war with the anti-Christ.

But excluding some sort of national catastrophe, the real threat is not going to be them. (Although the families of those killed by Timothy McVeigh might beg to differ.) The bigger threat is the one Hofstadter recognized, that this kind of endless mindless drivel that comes from the Drudge-Hannity-Limbaugh axis of misinformation will create a political climate in which rational pursuit of our well-being and safety is impossible.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Public schools and Neal Boortz

The reason I was so upset with Boortz's nonsense about public school's being a tool to brainwash children into being government serfs and what not isn't that I believe the public school is beyond criticism, but because Boortz's dualistic black-and-white outlook obscures the issue into farce. Sure there are flaws with public schooling, but there are also flaws with homeschooling and private schools. For example, Boortz often speaks critically of theocratic Christians ... doesn't he realize that this group is one of the biggest proponents of homeschooling?

The Carpetbagger Report summarizes some recent reports on the perfomance of public schools students and private schools. Surprise, surprise ... the results do not fit Boortz's Manichean take.

White House continues to quietly roll back the open society

Via Think Progress

On Friday, the White House issued a new executive order effectively gutting the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), “created in 1976 in the wake of widespread abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies.” Under the order, many of the IOB’s investigative powers will now be transfered to DNI Mike McConnell. “Rather than intelligence agencies reporting their activities to the board for review, they will now report them to McConnell,” the AP notes. Smintheus has more.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: someone needs to examine Bush's use of Executive orders the way Charlie Savage examined his use of signing statements. If we can't have a Congress that actually performs its constitutionally mandated roll of oversight of the presidency, can we at least document for posterity how democracy is slowly being dismantled?

This latest effort to make sure that the public knows nothing about the actions of its government is in addition to a covert effort to kill the Freedom of Information Act Office.

From one extreme to another

As much as I find Jonathan Hoenig's willingness to legalize animal cruelty for the sake of property rights dogma sickening, animal rights extremists targeting animal researchers is even more so.

Denialism blog has the details, so I'll just outline what happened with links.

First extremists flooded a researcher's house doing around 20,000 dollars of damage. They had stated that they had been trying to decide whether to flood or fire the house. Well, they came back and set her home on fire after all.

In another story, animal rights extremists attempted to break into the home of a researcher while she was throwing a birthday party for her daughter.

As Mark Hoofnagle put it

The fundamental problem isn't the absence of appropriate safeguards and regulation of science, we have plenty. The problem is an ideological movement that lies about how we do research, and the scientific basis for using animals in research. It is classic denialism.
The worst part about these extremists is that their actions actually hurt the cause of animal rights. There is room for discussion within our society about what level of rights we are willing to extend to animals and what not. But when animal rights extremists resort to these kind of terroristic tactics (activist commenters at Denialism said Hoofnagle deserves to die) they have said that there is no such space for debate. And shutting down that discourse does more harm to animals than anything else.*

*Edit - "The worst part" is a figure of speech that I typed out without actually thinking much about. The worst part is obviously the effort to threaten and intimidate researchers.