Sunday, August 07, 2005


Saturday, August 06, 2005

My grandson was in first grade this year in the Hazelwood School District, and I am so impressed. He knew the alphabet when the year started, but that's all. A few times last summer, I tried to get him to connect certain sounds with particular letters, without much success. Now he can read, he can sound out unfamiliar words--a sea change in one year. Hazelwood is not a rich district with small class sizes, but Josh's teacher did her job.
At the Wednesday meetup, Peter Campbell spoke about the hidden agenda of No Child Left Behind, with its recipe for dismantling public schools in favor of schools managed by private, for profit companies. The means for accomplishing this goal is a requirement of the law called "Adequate Yearly Progress". It requires that every school, even high performing ones, improve test scores each year. By 2014 all schools must have 100 percent of their students passing the reading and math tests. As the Valley Girls have it, "AS IF!"
When I was still teaching, we had a new hot-shot superintendent one year who set forth high sounding goals for the district. She wasted a few hundred thousand dollars printing it all up on laminated paper for every teacher. In five years, we were going to see that 100 percent of our students were successful. I forget now what the definition of "successful" was in that piece of malarkey. No matter. The supe was gone in four years, off to peddle her silliness somewhere else. When year five rolled around, a few of us pulled out our laminated folders and had a good laugh.
Unfortunately, Adequate Yearly Progress is law in this country, and failing to meet the goals has consequences--for all schools but especially for poorly performing ones. Instead of helping schools in low socio-economic areas by giving them additional money to reduce class sizes and by providing adequate social services so that children are more likely to come to school prepared to learn, this law punishes such districts for the inevitable failure.
The consequences are severe. If any school, high performing or low, remains on the "needs improvement" list, it must stretch already overburdened funds in the following ways:
After two years: the school must pay for a transfer if any parent requests it
After three years: the school must pay for tutors
After four years: the school day and the school year are lengthened
After five years: teachers are fired and the school is taken over by a private, for profit company
Several unintended but nevertheless predictable problems result from the plan. First, many districts, worried about meeting the goals, are teaching students how to do well on multiple choice tests instead of spending time reading books and are cutting social studies, art, music and foreign language to concentrate on preparing for the test. (Only math and reading are tested now. Science will be added later.) Second, since the states are receiving inadequate federal funds to pay for writing and giving the tests, school funds are stretched even thinner. And finally, not surprisingly, many states are dumbing down the tests out of pure self defense.
Perhaps even Superintendent Kowal, wherever she is, disapproves of this bureacratic nightmare. At least her plan was relatively harmless and easy to ignore. This one, with its insidious aim of undermining public schools, has the potential to deep-six public education.

Friday, August 05, 2005

December before last, about six busloads of activists got plenty of local news cameras trained on them by protesting in front of a Wal-Mart on a freezing winter day. Next Wednesday, Wake-Up Wal-Mart is organizing another demonstration, this time in front of the Ferguson Wal-Mart on West Florissant. This one is more important because it is part of a nationwide campaign to open people's eyes about how much the "cheap" store really costs them. Local labor leaders hope to convince the national campaign to focus particularly on St. Louis, and a good turnout next week would make the national leaders take notice.
There will be a press conference at Commons Lane Elementary at 2:00 where several people, including state legislators (Maria Chappelle-Nadal among them), will speak. Feel free to attend. Then at 3:00 the Big Event. I hope some of you will attend. Here's the letter the local office sent out:
Where is it that you can find unremitting labor violations, flagrant disregard for wage laws and Cheetos for the everyday low price of $2.49?
That’s right, Wal-Mart. Wake-Up Wal-Mart
Next Wednesday, August 10th, we’re taking this corporate criminal to task. Did you also know that Wal-Mart, the world’s largest corporation, has been sued for denial of worker’s comp. and unemployment benefits, wage theft, malicious prosecution, retaliatory tactics, and discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, religion and physical handicap?
This is just the tip of the iceberg, too. Wake-Up Wal-Mart
Did you know that on average, each American teacher spends $500-600 out of their own pockets for classroom expenses? Did you know that taxpayers are being fleeced? Wal Mart also gets huge Property Tax kickbacks that negatively impact the budgets of School Districts all over Missouri and America. That's money that should go to teacher salaries or school supplies.
So what to do? What we do best, and that is get active. Wake Up Wal-Mart has announced a national day of action as the beginning of a back to school campaign that encourages teachers and parents against buying school necessities at Wal-Mart.
The AFT, the NEA, and Change for Missouri will be on hand to make sure that St. Louis becomes the focus of media attention, possibly on a national level.
We are asking one and all to join in a mass demonstration in front of the Wal-Mart on West Florissant, August 10th at 2:30 pm. You can Mapquest directions from this address:
Wal-Mart Store #1265
10741 West Florissant
Ferguson, MO 63135
If you don’t like the fact that your tax dollars pay to subsidize Wal-Mart's expansion and profit margin, then come show your support. Participation will be the key to our success, hitting them right where it counts--their pocketbook.
If you want to RSVP or have any questions, please contact one of us:
Christine Brooks
Joe Bruemmer
Cell: 314-910-0122

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Beth Maskow thought you'd like to read this excerpt from "How to Turn Your Red State Blue", published in In These Times last March:
Last fall, I spent seven weeks in the suburbs of Madison, Wis.,
canvassing undecided voters for John Kerry. Driving back one day from a long session pounding the pavement, our car passed two young Mormon missionaries on bicycles. They were dressed in their standard garb: grim but oddly stylish black suits, white shirts, skinny ties and backpacks, all of which were getting soaked in the rain as they struggled up a hill, standing on their pedals for extra leverage. "Now that," said a fellow organizer sitting in the backseat, "is canvassing."
Going door to door was hard enough. My pulse would quicken at each door, and after three hours tromping through numbing subdivisions I invariably got the urge to fill in numbers on my walk sheet, grab a soda and wait for the carpool to pick me up. And all we wanted was three minutes of someone's time to ask a few questions, give a short pitch and hand out some literature. A missionary who approaches a stranger's door is seeking nothing less than a complete reconstitution of that person's worldview. One imagines a lot of door slamming, unpleasant words and icy stares.
And yet the improbable fact about missionary activity is that it works, regardless of the faith's specific dogma. Mormons are the fastest-growing church in the country. Evangelical protestant congregations make up 58 percent of all new churches in the United States. Globally, Islam continues to reach into new and unfamiliar lands, experiencing explosive growth in China. Religions that actively proselytize - Pentecostals, Mormons, Muslims - grow, almost without exception.
There's a corollary to this in politics. Yale political scientists Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber have found in numerous studies of voter contact that face-to-face canvassing is far and away the most effective means of persuasion: Roughly one out of every 15 voters approached at the door will add their vote to your tally.
In a speech accepting his new position as chair of the Democratic
National Committee, Howard Dean stressed the importance of reaching out to unbelievers through retail politics. "People will vote for Democratic candidates in Texas, and Utah, and West Virginia," he said, "if we knock on their door, introduce ourselves and tell them what we believe."
Five months after the election, progressives' efforts have largely shifted away from people's doorsteps, toward saving Social Security, opposing reactionary judicial appointees and reining in the administration's foreign policy. But I can't stop thinking about those Mormons on their bicycles. What are progressives doing to win conversions to our faith?
Where are our young people on bikes approaching unfamiliar doors? How are we preaching the good news?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Political discourse is practically impossible, considering how quickly people on either side of the discussion just lose it. So Saturday night's conversation with our daughter-in-law's dad was fascinating. After dinner at Kim's birthday party, Connie and I started talking politics with Jim. A former union man and staunch Democrat, he has switched allegiances. He's a born again, good ole boy from Texas who follows the right wing line to the last jot and tittle. What made the talk so interesting is that he's skilled at holding his own in a debate, and he doesn't lose his temper. The same could be said for us, though my husband is calmer and more articulate. So the talk was ... spirited. But civil.
Now Jim doesn't mince words. Islam is a religion born in the pits of hell, he told us. So is Catholicism. And Connie and I, as unbelievers, are demonic. But he makes these observations in such an agreeable, matter-of-fact tone that I don't much mind being demonic.
We tried to make the point that Christ emphasized loving thy neighbor and caring for the poor and that today's evangelicals vote for politicians who enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Connie used the example of the rich young ruler who came to Christ asking what he had to do to be saved. Christ told him to sell all that he had and follow him. The rich young ruler went away saddened because he was unwillingly to give up his wealth. Jim pointed out that the rich young man had told Christ he had always followed all the commandments from his youth on, so when Christ ordered him to give up his wealth, He was pointing out the young man's hypocrisy in that he had NOT followed all the commandments because he coveted wealth. And besides, Jim said, Christ's main goal was to bring people to salvation. You can talk about the Sermon on the Mount if you want to, but in the end, it's not good works that count but salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Good argument. Well, Jim is a former seminarian; he ought to be able to defend his position. Still, the accusation that today's evangelicals ignore the poor rolled right off his back.
As for Bush's lies about WMD, those weapons are probably hidden in Syria. Wilson's report on Niger is immaterial because his own wife sent him there. Downing Street memos are "questionable" according to Fox. And gay marriage is an "abomination." Very few things, he said, are termed "abominations" in the Old Testament. We couldn't remember whether eating shellfish was also an "abomination". Moral: Don't argue pollutics with a former seminarian without first reviewing your own material. By the way, eating shellfish IS an abomination. And working on the Sabbath will get a person stoned.
Never mind. Even had we been perfectly prepared, we wouldn't have swayed Jim, and, of course, he couldn't have turned us into Republicans. So why did we bother? Because conversation is a starting place. Jim was once a Democrat, so there's hope, however faint. But even that isn't a reason. We came away wishing we had argued less and listened more. Of course, listening to an intelligent man spouting Fox News and Sean Hannity and pitying us for our misguided ideas gave the conversation a surreal feeling. (My word, he really believes that? That's what everybody tells me the right wingers believe, but, dadgumit, they actually do. He's saying these things with a straight face and a pure heart. Is he the kind of person who approved of burning demonic heretics like me at the stake in 1545?)
Nevertheless, if we had listened more, we stood a chance of having a "conversation" instead of a debate.
Or maybe we should have skipped the whole thing. All we definitely succeeded in doing was clearing the rest of the family out of the kitchen.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I knew two things as soon as I looked at the Post-Dispatch the morning after John Roberts was nominated.
First, I knew that Bush had found a stealth extremist for the Court. All that prose about Roberts's fine manners and his good heart told me that he wasn't going to be criticized as an extremist. Yet the delight with which the far right welcomed him told me that he was one. Not that I was ever in doubt as to the sort of nominee we'd get. Bush's evangelical base has been clamoring for the "right kind" of judge, and he will not deny them.
The second thing I realized was that a filibuster was not in the picture. Not unless the Dems manage to dig up some fairly filthy dirt. One of the fourteen senators who crafted the filibuster compromise--was it McCain?--said that Roberts would not qualify under the "extraordinary circumstances" clause that would allow a Supreme Court nomination filibuster. And none of the Democrats was openly disagreeing with him about that.
Perhaps if we had feistier Democratic senators than we do, much feistier, our party could successfully educate the public about the aims of the Federalist Society (see Sunday's blog). But we have Biden, Clinton and Kerry. Barbara Boxer can't do it alone. She tried after the electoral fraud surfaced and found out how lonely the rest of her party can leave her.
At least the Dems are hanging in there by insisting on seeing the records of Roberts's public service. And they ought to use Republican intransigence about producing them to wonder very loudly what the G.O.P. is hiding. And who knows, maybe they can uncover that fairly filthy dirt. There's time. At this point in the confirmation proceedings, Scalia looked like a shoo-in and no one imagined a challenge to Bork.
But if we're not that fortunate, the best the Democrats can do is warn the public what kind of judge they're about to get and say I told you so in the years to come. Above all, they must stick together and just vote no. It would be disastrous if ten or fifteen of them strayed off the reservation for the sake of some under the table quid pro quo. That kind of behavior would damage the party's credibility and make it that much harder to challenge Rehnquist's replacement.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Brad Blog has the amusing story (with photographic evidence) of Bush's latest insult to the press. As he walked away from reporters last week, he raised a finger. When Scott McClellan was questioned about whether it was a "finger of hostility", he said he wouldn't dignify such a ridiculous question with an answer. But the reporter persisted. (Has the White House press corps become emboldened by the experience of asking aggressive questions about Karl Rove?) McClellan answered:
I was there with him, and I'm just not going to -- I'm not going to dignify that with a response. I mean, I haven't seen the video that you're talking about, but I know the way the President acts. And if someone is misportraying it, that's unfortunate.

The next day, a White House spokesman said that: "Bush was definitely giving the thumbs up sign with regards to the upcoming CAFTA vote (Central American Free Trade Agreement)."
Below is the photo and to the right of that is a picture of Bush when he was governor of Texas. Judge for yourself for yourself whether it's a thumbs up or a finger of hostility. Oh and, by the way, is there anything this White House won't lie about?

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Yes, indeedy, Matt Blunt is playing with the big boys now.

With her usual whimsical flair, Molly Ivins zeroes in on a common initial reaction to John Roberts:
My first reaction to Roberts was: "Sounds like that's about as good as we can get. Quick, affirm him before they nominate Bork, Bolton or Pinochet." A conservative with good manners and no known nutball decisions or statements on his record? Hey, take him. At least he's not (whew!) a member of the Federalist Society.

The reason Ivins thought Roberts wasn't a member is that he sorta, kinda "forgot" to mention it. Actually, he was on the steering committee of the Federalist Society in '97-98.
So Roberts already looks disingenuous at best, and then the White House ups and decides it's entirely too risky to let the public in on his record as a government lawyer and refuses to release documents requested.
Excuuuuuse me, that is public record. Roberts worked for us, he was paid by the taxpayers, this is not a matter of national security. Where does this White House get off pulling this kind of stuff? Right away, it looks like they're trying to cover something up. Lawyer-client privilege? Are they nuts? Everyone's first reaction is, so what's he guilty of?

What he's guilty of is being a member of an ultra-conservative, extreme right wing organization:
Alfred Ross, of the institute of Democracy Studies, explains that "...if one goes through the publications of their practice groups, one can only gasp not only at the breadth of their agenda, but the extremism of their ideology."
The society has argued for the abolition of the Securities and Exchange Commission, severely limiting the Environmental Protection Agency, and rolling back gender equity laws (Title IX) and voting rights law. Its publications have criticized teaching evolution and attacked the principle of separation of church and state.
According to Ross, they recently launched a state judicial selection project to try to dominate the state, as well as federal, bench. This is all standard, ultra-right-wing claptrap. It's all about control.
If we can't shake loose the actual records on John Roberts, we certainly should pay attention to the group he's most identified with.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

217-215. That's how close the CAFTA vote was in the House. It would have been defeated without the help of 15 "Democratic" turncoats. Jonathan Tasini's article "Spanking the CAFTA Fifteen" explains why the vote matters and what labor should do about the defectors.
The treaty, like NAFTA before it, sucks jobs out of our economy. As William Greider pointed out a couple of weeks ago: "Germany and Japan, despite vast differences, both manage to keep advanced manufacturing sectors anchored at home and to defend domestic wage levels and social guarantees." We don't. Tasini is on the same protect our jobs page as Greider:
Trade is not just a single issue. So-called “free trade” is shaping the economy, here and abroad—it is the central issue upon which other economic policy issues revolve. To overlook a politician’s vote on trade means turning a blind eye to the legislative tool most responsible for shifting the power of self-determination from the hands of citizens to the corporate boardrooms of global capitalism.

Tasini notes that the national president of the fire fighters' association organized a protest against CAFTA. Instead of shrugging the treaty off as not affecting the jobs of his union members (firefighting cannot be outsourced), he understood that the loss of jobs helps push down wages and benefits throughout this economy.
But what's done is done. Maybe so, but if labor had taken action to punish renegade Democrats after NAFTA, maybe, twelve years later, CAFTA wouldn't have passed. Tasini recommends a spanking:
... For God’s sake, shouldn’t we at least cut off money to people who won’t stick up for the future economic livelihood of millions of workers?
Labor must declare immediately that unions will deny the CAFTA 15 their support. That means that, come campaign season, the CAFTA 15 will not find a single check in their mailboxes, nor receive an endorsement to grace their campaign literature, nor count on union members to make the thousands of phone calls or house visits that turn out voters. Let’s find primary opponents for each one.
Few politicians are guided by deep principle. Most understand one thing: power. And, just as important, once tasted, the absence of power is an enormously effective motivator. Nothing focuses the mind of a politician more than the thought of losing his or her seat. If labor had taken out one or two Democrats who voted for NAFTA more than a decade ago, I suspect that the CAFTA 15 might have numbered two or three—or maybe none.
The time for hardball politics is now.

Note: Ike Skelton is the only Missourian on the list.

"They keep talking about drafting a constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years and we're not using it anymore."
George Carlin

Thursday, July 28, 2005

PAY ATTENTION. Heed and act on the following Free Press letter. (Pardon my imperious tone, but this issue is critical.) I've boldfaced the two most important paragraphs in the letter.
By the way, before you contact the FCC, you might want to review the information about Comcast in the July 18 blog.
If you're fed up with constant cable rate hikes, poor service and a lack of local and independent programming, the FCC needs to hear from you -- right now.
The FCC may allow the three largest cable companies to control up to 90 percent of the cable TV and broadband market in the United States.
Cable costs are growing at more than five times the rate of inflation. But giant cable companies aren’t content to merely gouge you. As they control access to more American homes, big cable will have final say over the shows and channels you can watch.
In the future, video, telephone and Internet services will all be provided via the same "pipes." Giants like Comcast and Time Warner -- which are poised to get even bigger if the FCC approves their takeover of Adelphia -- are positioning themselves to be the ultimate gatekeepers of the media you’re allowed to access and create.
Tell the FCC not to give more monopoly control to cable giants.
The FCC needs to hear from you. Act now to stop the consolidation of the cable industry.
Robert W. McChesney
Free Press
P.S. The FCC needs to hear from thousands of concerned citizens. Please forward this message to everyone you know.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Katha Pollitt of The Nation is forcing me to eat some ill-considered words. On July 11, I wrote: "Call me a shortsighted if you will, but abortion is a minor issue. In fact, if Roe v. Wade were reversed, Republicans would suffer. Their main snare for suckering people away from the Democrats would evaporate." Don't bother calling me shortsighted. I'll do it for you.
As Pollitt pointed out, overturning Roe would open the issue in fifty state legislatures. If you think the nation's divided over abortion now, wait till you see that brouhaha. Sure, New York and California would legalize abortion and many others would not. In fact, that was the trend in 1970. New York was easing its ban on abortion, which meant that well-to-do women, no matter where they lived, could travel and get one, but many poor women were out of luck. The disparity is what drove the court to rule as it did in 1973. If Roe were overturned, the same disparity would exist again, with consequences not just for the women involved. I've reported on this blog before that a study done by two university social scientists discovered that twenty years after Roe, the crime rate dropped across the nation. Forcing women to have children they don't want or can't adequately care for has consequences for all of us.
We can't hand the right Roe v. Wade in hopes of watching them stew in their own juices. We're going to have to fight to keep it and find ways to talk to all those who aren't right wing zealots. In that regard, I think Howard Dean has the idea. On May 25, I quoted him:
When I campaigned for this job [as DNC Chair], I talked to lots of Democrats. And there are significant numbers of pro-life Democrats in the South. And one lady said to me, you know, “I’m pro-life. I don’t like abortion. I would never have one. I would hope my daughter would never have one. But, you know, if the lady next door got herself in a fix, I’m not sure I should be the one to tell her what to do.” Now, we call that woman pro-choice, but she thinks of herself as pro-life. The minute we start with the “pro-choice, pro- choice, pro-choice,” she says, “Well, that’s not me.”
But when you talk about framing this debate the way it ought to be framed, which is “Do you want Tom DeLay and the boys to make up your mind about this, or does a woman have a right to make up her own mind about what kind of health care she gets,” then that pro-life woman says “Well, now, you know, I’ve had people try to make up my mind for me and I don’t think that’s right.” This is an issue about who gets to make up their minds: the politicians or the individual. Democrats are for the individual. We believe in individual rights. We believe in personal freedom and personal responsibility. And that debate is one that we didn’t win, because we kept being forced into the idea of defending the idea of abortion.

We must argue our case with tact and shrewd tactics--and hope that the Court doesn't do a 180 on abortion.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Beth Maskow wanted you to see E.L. Doctorow's critique of Bush's uncompassionate conservatism. I especially appreciate Doctorow's final sentence.
An Essay on President Bush and Death --- by E.L Doctorow
Edgar Lawrence Doctorow occupies a central position in the history of American literature. He is generally considered to be among the most talented, ambitious, and admired novelists of the second half of the twentieth century. Doctorow has received the National Book Award, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howell Medal of the
American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the residentially conferred National Humanities Medal.
Doctorow was born in New York City on January 6, 1931. After graduating with honors from Kenyon College in 1952, he did graduate work at Columbia University and served in the U.S. Army. Doctorow was senior editor for New American Library from 1959 to 1964 and then served as editor in chief at Dial Press until 1969. Since then, he has devoted his time to writing and teaching. He holds the Glucksman Chair in American Letters at New York University and over the years has taught at several institutions, including Yale University Drama School, Princeton University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of California, Irvine.

I fault this president (George W. Bush) for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our twenty-one year olds who wanted to be what they could be.
On the eve of D-day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.
But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the WMDs he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man. He does not mourn.
He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the thousand dead men and women who wanted to be what they could be.
They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life...they come to his desk as a political liability which is why the press is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq.
How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going to war was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does not regret that his bungled plan for the war's aftermath has made of his mission-accomplished a disaster. He does not regret that rather than controlling terrorism his war in Iraq has licensed it.
So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters who have fought this war of his choice. He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew those costs. He did not understand that you do not go to war when it is one of the options, but when it is the only option; you go not because you want to but because you have to.
This president knew it would be difficult for Americans not to cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator. He knew that much. This president and his supporters would seem to have a mind for only one thing --- to take power, to remain in power, and to use that power for the sake of themselves and their friends. A war will do that as well as anything. You become a wartime leader. The country gets behind you. Dissent becomes inappropriate.
And so he does not drop to his knees, he is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the grieving parents and wives and children.
He is the President who does not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead; he does not feel for the thirty five million of us who live in poverty; he does not feel for the forty percent who cannot afford health insurance; he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of the chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills; it is amazing for how many people in this country this President does not feel.
But he will dissemble feeling. He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest one percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, and that he is decreasing the safety regulations for coal mines to save the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional class.
And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for God and the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party are doing to our democracy is choking the life out of it. But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneously aroused over-soul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over the world most of the time.
But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.
The president we get is the country we get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into and get us into, is his characteristic trouble.
Finally the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail: How can we sustain ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and ineffective war-making, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

Monday, July 25, 2005

I seldom care for puns, but the one in the title of Greg Palast's column about Judy Miller uses wordplay to emphasize truth:

Tell us your "source," Judy
Not published in The New York Times
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
By Greg Palast

The only thing more evil, small-minded and treasonous than the Bush Administration's jailing Judith Miller for a crime the Bush Administration committed, is Judith Miller covering up her Bush Administration "source."

Judy, Karl Rove ain't no "source." A confidential source -- and I've worked with many -- is an insider ready to put himself on the line to blow the whistle on an official lie or hidden danger. I would protect a source's name with my life and fortune as would any journalist who's not a craven jerk (the Managing Editor of Time Magazine comes to mind).

But the weasel who whispered "Valerie Plame" in Miller's ear was no source. Whether it was Karl Rove or some other Rove-tron inside the Bush regime (and no one outside Bush's band would have had this information), this was an official using his official info to commit a crime for the sole purpose of punishing a real whistleblower, Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband, for questioning our President's mythological premise for war in Iraq.

New York Times reporter Miller and her paper would rather she go to prison for four months than identify their "source." Why?

Part of her oddball defense is that The Times never ran the story about Wilson's wife. They get no points for that. The Times should have run the story with the headline: BUSH OPERATIVE COMMITS FELONY TO PUNISH WHISTLEBLOWER. The lead paragraph should have been, "Today, Mr. K--- R--- [or other slime ball as appropriate] attempted to plant sensitive intelligence information on The New York Times, a felony offense, in an attempt to harm former Ambassador Joseph Wilson who challenged the President's claim regarding Iraq's nuclear program."

A Karl Rove or Rove-like creature peddling a back-door smear doesn't make him a source. Miller's real crime is not concealing a source, but burying the story. A reporter should never, ever give notes to a grand jury, but this information is something The Times owes the public, not the prosecutors.

Why didn't The Times run this story? Why not now? Who are they covering for and why?

Maybe the problem for The Times is that this is the same "source" that used Miller to promote, as fact, her ersatz report before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam truly had nukes and bugs and chemicals he could launch at Los Angeles. That "source" too needs publication, Judy. ....

Miller and The Times have been all too willing to play Izvestia to the Bush's Kremlinesque prevarications. And that is what Miller is protecting: the evil called "access."

Might I add that Judy Miller, far from being the only one who commits this journalistic sin, is only one of that cowed group called the mainstream press.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Besides Rove/Plame, another "old news" story is coming to a head. Daily Kos reprinted these paragraphs from The Boston Herald, May 8th, 2004:
Signaling the worst revelations are yet to come, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the additional photos show "acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman." [...]

The unreleased images show American soldiers beating one prisoner almost to death, apparently raping a female prisoner, acting inappropriately with a dead body, and taping Iraqi guards raping young boys, according to NBC News.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the scandal is "going to get worse" and warned that the most "disturbing" revelations haven't yet been made public.

Notice the date: 2004. The administration has so far managed to censor those pictures, and in this country (unlike others around the globe) the media refuses to discuss the issue without the pictures. In the blog "Sodomizing Children. For Freedom." Kos bemoans the way our press hogties itself:
I'm tired of all of it. Just tired. I'm tired because the rest of the world has known this for a year, and we refuse to discuss it in this country. And in truth, we can't discuss it in this country without the (heavily censored) pictures, because without the pictures, the horrible, horrible actual pictures, the loathsome, brick-stupid f---ing news media doesn't see a story. And without the pictures, every bloated, pill-popping, corpse-like Rush Limbaugh clone in America will continue to claim it's all lies, all exaggerated, all phony.

Because, God f---ing knows, we would never even abuse even an inanimate Koran, and God help you if you report such a thing without the very pictures to see it happening before your eyes.

So why don't we have the pictures? A year ago, five civil rights groups sued to make them public and have been frantically held off in court since then. In June the administration asked to be given a month to redact the faces of those in the videos to protect the innocent. When the month was up, the administration asked that the videos not be released for the sake of safety for the individuals involved. The court has not ruled on that yet. Knowing the photos will inevitably come out, some Republican senators actually want to legislate stiffer rules for humane treatment of prisoners. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and John Warner plan an amendment to the $442 billion defense bill, but BUSH THREATENS TO VETO THE BILL if any such amendment is attached. Kos again:
Yes, according to the Bush administration, any attempts by Republican senators to legislate against, say, the sodomizing of detained children are unduly infringing on the president's fight against terrorists.

Senator Talent, who is on the Armed Services Committee (and has presumably seen the pictures), has had nothing to say about the issue, nor has Bond. But you can put in your two cents and see that our senators hear it. The People's E-Mail Network (PEN) is circulating a petition. (You'll have to erase my info.)
Let's see: Rove/Plame, the horrors of Iraq, the Downing Street Memo and now this. How many elements does it take to make a perfect storm?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

In case your eyes glazed over when you began reading the news article Friday about China floating the yuan (or in case you knew enough not to start reading it), here's a left-wing, down-to-earth economist,Greg Palast, to give you the scoop.
Friday Jul 22, 2005
by Greg Palast

In case you haven't the least idea what the heck it means for China to "float" its currency, let me put it in the language we economists use: China's float don't mean squat.

Yet our President, a guy whose marks in Economics 101 are too embarrassing to publish here, ran out to hail the fact that buying Chinese money will now cost more dollars.

The White House line to the media, swallowed whole, is that by making Chinese money (yuan) more expensive to buy with dollars, Americans will buy fewer computers and toys from China -- and US employment will rise.

This will happen when we find Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Economics Lesson #1: You can't change the value of goods by changing the value of the currency on the price tag. As my comrade Art Laffer wrote me, "If cheap currency makes your products more competitive, all automobiles would be made in Russia." Driven a Lada lately?

Economics Lesson #2: Don't take economics lessons from George Bush. Or Milton Friedman. Or Thomas Friedman. What that means, class, is don't believe the big, hot pile of hype that China's zooming economy is the result of that Red nation's adopting free market economic policies.

If China is now a capitalist free-market state, then I'm Mariah Carey. China's economy has soared because it stubbornly refused the Free – and Friedman-Market mumbo-jumbo that government should stop controlling, owning and regulating industry.

China's announcement that it would raise the cost of the yuan covered over a more important notice that China would bar foreign control of its steel sector. China's leaders have built a powerhouse steel industry larger than ours by directing the funding, output, location and ownership of all factories. And rather than "freeing" the industry through opening their borders to foreign competition, the Chinese, for steel and every other product, have shut their borders tight to foreigners except as it suits China’s own needs.

China won't join NAFTA or CAFTA or any of those free-trade clubs. In China, Chinese industry comes first. And it's still, Mssrs. Friedman, the Peoples’ republic. Those Wal-Mart fashion designs called, chillingly, "New Order," are made in factories owned by the PLA, the Chinese Peoples' Liberation Army.

In an interview just before he won the Nobel Prize in economics, Joe Stiglitz explained to me that China's huge financial surge -- a stunning 9.5% jump in GDP this year -- began with the government's funding and nurturing rural cooperatives, fledgling industry protected behind high, high trade barriers.

It is true that China's growth got a boost from ending the bloodsoaked self-flagellating madness of Mao's Cultural Revolution. And China, when it chooses, makes use of markets and market pricing to distribute resources. However, Chinese markets are as free as my kids: they can do whatever they want unless I say they can't.

Yes, China is adopting elements of "capitalism." And that's the ugly part: real estate speculation in Shanghai making millionaires of Communist party boss relatives and bank shenanigans worthy of a Neil Bush.

It is not the Guangdong skyscrapers and speculative bubble which allows China to sell us $162 billion more goods a year than we sell them. It is that China's government, by rejecting free-market fundamentalism, can easily conquer American markets where protection is now deemed passé.

And that is why the yuan has kicked the dollar's butt.

America’s only response is to have Alan Greenspan push up real interest rates so we can buy back our own dollars the Chinese won in the export game. The domestic result: US wages drifting down to Mexican maquiladora levels.

Am I praising China? Forget about it. This is one evil dictatorship which jails union organizers and beats, shackles and tortures those who don't kowtow to the wishes of Chairman Rob -- Wal-Mart chief Robson Walton. (Funny how Mr. Bush never mentions the D-word, Democracy, to our Chinese suppliers.)

Class dismissed.

P.S. My apologies that yesterday's "New Rules" link didn't work. I just discovered that it didn't, so if you'd like to listen, use this link, then scroll down to Maher's picture and click on New Rules.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Aside from The Daily Show, the most amusing and honest take on modern politics is Bill Maher's "New Rules". If you've never heard a segment, give yourself a humor break. (Parental Warning: There's one objectionable word in here, so if you object to cussing, you might want to pass.)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"I have opinions of my own -- strong opinions -- but I don't always agree
with them."
- George Bush

I realize that not everyone is talented with language and that there are many kinds of intelligence. Any car mechanic can make me feel like a dolt. So I ask myself, do statements like the one above prove that Bush is stupid? He's smart enough to play the good ole boy to perfection. He's smart enough to follow the advice of smart slimeballs like Rove. After he blew the first debate last fall, he shaped up and acquitted himself much more convincingly in the last two.

Obviously Bush's grip on the language is tenuous, one of the few things about him that amuses me. But it isn't proof positive that he's stupid. His self-righteous arrogance, on the other hand, is less amusing, and about that trait I have no doubts.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

America has more than a trade deficit; it has a truth deficit. So says William Greider, writing in The New York Times.
You can't keep spending more than you earn. It's as true for nations as it is for any household, and other advanced nations DON'T. The U.S., though, not only spends more than it earns, it has refused to talk about the problem. When Warren Buffett warned that the United States is on its way to being, not "an ownership society" but "a sharecropper society", Washington elites ignored him. But the truth has a way of insisting on being noticed. "Now that [our debt] is too large to deny," Greider says, "they concede that the trend is 'unsustainable'. That's an economist's euphemism which means: things cannot go on like this, not without ugly consequences for American living standards."
In one sense, only Americans are suffering from this trade (and truth) deficit.
Western Europe, whatever its problems, manages economic policy to maintain modest trade surpluses. Japan manages to insure far larger surpluses in recessions (its export income subsidizes inefficient domestic employers). China strives to acquire a larger, more advanced industrial base at the expense of worker incomes and bank profits. Germany and Japan, despite vast differences, both manage to keep advanced manufacturing sectors anchored at home and to defend domestic wage levels and social guarantees. When they do disperse production and jobs overseas, as they must, they do so strategically.

By contrast, Washington gives our multinationals a free hand, so they are raking in the profits. Wages here suffer as jobs are outsourced to the poorest countries without regard for the consequences on our economy.
American producers are generally free - and even encouraged by Washington - to shift production to low-wage locations. Companies regularly use this cost-cutting technique as a competitive weapon without regard to the domestic consequences. The practice works for companies and investors, but not so well for a nation.

Our country is like others worldwide, though, in one important respect: wages are depressed across the globe even as more and more capital accumulates in the hands of a few. As John Kenneth Galbraith once noted: "Intellectual myopia, often called stupidity, is no doubt a reason." It is myopic not to pay workers enough so that they can afford to purchase your goods. It's stupid to let your greed destroy your market. Greider feels that "governments must together shift the balance of power so labor incomes can rise in step with rising productivity and profits." In order to prevent global recessions and financial crises, the United States needs to lead in giving workers the world over a bigger share of the pie; and for its own good, the U.S. needs to rein in the damage our multinationals are doing to our citizenry.
Unfortunately, since our government is controlled by myopic corporations, such reform is unlikely.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hundreds of lobbyists, acting as pimps for corporate America, have designed a series of new bills and Republican whores in Congress are ready to prostitute themselves by voting in favor of them:
Let's consider first the prospective loss of hundreds of thousands more American jobs. CAFTA is NAFTA extended to the bottom of Central America, with results just as detrimental to our workers as the Clinton trade treaty was. The House is scheduled to vote on CAFTA July 28. You can let your representative know what you think of this bill by clicking here.
Then there's the Energy bill, which has two provisions that will cost ordinary taxpayers a hunk of change. The first is repeal of PUHCA. I'll let Molly Ivins explain it:
We are about to repeat one of the huge mistakes of the 1920s and '30s because we have forgotten why PUHCA (pronounced Pooka) was instituted in the first place. PUHCA is the Public Utility Holding Company Act, passed in 1935, which prevents concentration of ownership of power plants. Both the House and Senate versions of the energy bill contain a repeal of PUHCA.
As Kelpie Wilson points out in an article for Truthout, "For 50 years we have had reliable, cheap electric power that has allowed strong economic growth, and no PUHCA-regulated energy holding company has ever gone broke."
PUHCA was partially repealed in the '90s, and even that much deregulation was part of what led to Enron, Westar and other slight mishaps.
PUHCA puts utilities under strict regulation by both state and federal governments. It restricts ownership of utilities to public or private companies that are in the business of producing power.
The most likely candidates to take over power companies are the big oil companies, now awash in cash. There goes the electrical grid: Why fix it when you can charge more for doing nothing?

And speaking of all those oil profits, the framers of the Energy bill are determined to protect every last cent of it for Exxon and Mobil. The People's E-Mail Network (PEN) explains the second trick the whores will turn:
This year again the administration is trying to deliver a huge payoff
to their corrupt oil company campaign contributors, absolving them of
any future liability for polluting our water supplies with MTBE, an
insidious smelly solvent infiltrating water systems all over the country.
Let me get this straight, the oil industry, which is rolling in so much
windfall profits cash that their biggest problem is they don't know what to do
with it, THAT oil industry can't afford to clean up after their
environmental disasters? This measure barely passed the house but not in the
Senate and will now be settled in conference.

PEN makes it easy to register a protest on these two issues.
And finally, to make it easier for Republicans to continue getting elected so that they can do the bidding of their procurers, they are rolling back the campaign finance laws on soft money. Public Citizen has the story:
This legislation not only would legalize unlimited “soft money” once again by repealing parts of the recently passed Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, it would even erase some of the critical reforms enacted in 1974 after the Watergate scandal. Richard Nixon and Tom DeLay would both love this bill.
Here’s one flagrant example: Currently, wealthy individuals can give a total of no more than $101,400 to all candidates and parties in a two-year election cycle. The Ney-Pence-Wynn bill would raise this limit to $3 MILLION – a 30-fold increase. Imagine the corruption that a lobbyist for the big drug companies or the energy industry could buy with that kind of money!

Mainstream media usually just love a good sex scandal, but they won't touch these. I read about them on the internet, not in the newspaper. The brother and sister who got kidnapped in, what was it, Montana? The Post is still writing about them, but the New-Pince-Wynn bill? Nada.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Now that I've started typing this, I've finally closed my mouth, but I was agog at a Common Dreams article that United for Peace and Justice e-mailed. (By the way, United for Peace and Justice is one of the organizations mentioned in a news article today about how FBI anti-terrorist units monitored protest groups before the Republican convention last summer.)

Below is a summary of the article:
COMMENTARY: Comcast & Symantec blocked pro-impeachment e-mail without telling anyone
Written by Abe DeJamminen
Sunday, 17 July 2005
Will you receive this and be able to read it? -- It all depends on the whims of the gods at Comcast and Symantec, it turns out. -- David Swanson, a co-founder of After Downing Street and a writer and activist, discovered last week that Comcast was, without notifying the parties concerned, blocking "any Email with '' in the body of the Email," on the grounds that they had received thousands of complaints (of which they refused to produce even one). -- As a result, the effort to organize July 23 impeachment houseparties has been significantly impeded. -- Since "Comcast has a near monopoly on high-speed internet service in much of this country, including much of the Washington, D.C., area," writes Swanson, "Many members of the media and many people involved in politics rely on it. . . . Comcast effectively censors discussion of particular political topics, and impedes the ability of people to associate with each other, with absolutely no compulsion to explain itself." ...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

An article in the Sunday New York Times describes the shift among Washington Democrats toward consciously framing ideas in order to stop two Republican initiatives in their tracks:
By the time Washington's attention turned to the Supreme Court earlier this month, rejuvenated Democrats actually believed they had developed the rhetorical skill, if it came to that, to thwart the president's plans for the court. That a party so thoroughly relegated to minority status might dictate the composition of the Supreme Court would seem to mock the hard realities of history and mathematics, but that is how much faith the Democrats now held in the power of a compelling story. ''In a way, it feels like all the systemic improvements we've made in communications strategy over the past few months have been leading to this,'' Jim Jordan, one of the party's top strategists, said a few days after Sandra Day O'Connor announced her resignation. ''This will be an extraordinarily sophisticated, well-orchestrated, intense fight. And our having had some run-throughs over the past few months will be extremely important.''
The most critical run-through for Democrats, in light of the test ahead, was the defense of the filibuster, and for that reason, it offers some useful clues to how Democrats may try to frame the Supreme Court fight as well. The battle began late last fall, when Senate Republicans, feeling pretty good about themselves, started making noises about ramming judges through the Senate by stripping Democrats of their ability to filibuster, a plan the Republican senators initially called ''the nuclear option.'' The fight was nominally over Bush's choices for the federal bench, but everyone knew it was in fact merely a prelude to the battle over the Supreme Court; the only way for Democrats to stop a confirmation vote would be to employ the filibuster.
In January, Geoff Garin conducted a confidential poll on judicial nominations, paid for by a coalition of liberal advocacy groups. He was looking for a story -- a frame -- for the filibuster that would persuade voters that it should be preserved, and he tested four possible narratives. Democratic politicians assumed that voters saw the filibuster fight primarily as a campaign to stop radically conservative judges, as they themselves did. But to their surprise, Garin found that making the case on ideological grounds -- that is, that the filibuster prevented the appointment of judges who would roll back civil rights -- was the least effective approach. When, however, you told voters that the filibuster had been around for over 200 years, that Republicans were ''changing rules in the middle of the game'' and dismantling the ''checks and balances'' that protected us against one-party rule, almost half the voters strongly agreed, and 7 out of 10 were basically persuaded. It became, for them, an issue of fairness.
Garin then convened focus groups and listened for clues about how to make this case. He heard voters call the majority party ''arrogant.'' They said they feared ''abuse of power.'' This phrase struck Garin. He realized many people had already developed deep suspicions about Republicans in Washington. Garin shared his polling with a group of Democratic senators that included Harry Reid, the minority leader. Reid, in turn, assigned Stephanie Cutter, who was Kerry's spokeswoman last year, to put together a campaign-style ''war room'' on the filibuster. Cutter set up a strategy group, which included senior Senate aides, Garin, the pollster Mark Mellman and Jim Margolis, one of the party's top ad makers. She used Garin's research to create a series of talking points intended to cast the filibuster as an American birthright every bit as central to the Republic as Fourth of July fireworks. The talking points began like this: ''Republicans are waging an unprecedented power grab. They are changing the rules in the middle of the game and attacking our historic system of checks and balances.'' They concluded, ''Democrats are committed to fighting this abuse of power.''
Cutter's war room began churning out mountains of news releases hammering daily at the G.O.P.'s ''abuse of power.'' In an unusual show of discipline, Democrats in the Senate and House carried laminated, pocket-size message cards -- ''DEMOCRATS FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY, AGAINST ABUSE OF POWER,'' blared the headline at the top -- with the talking points on one side and some helpful factoids about Bush's nominees on the other. During an appearance on ''This Week With George Stephanopoulos'' in April, Senator Charles Schumer of New York needed all of 30 seconds to invoke the ''abuse of power'' theme -- twice.

The article is lengthy but thought provoking and informative. For example, the author, Matt Bai, wonders whether the Democrats' desire for quick fixes is tempting them to oversimplify Lakoff's ideas and even whether Lakoff himself contributes to that tendency. Furthermore, Bai submits the possibility that Democrats need better policy ideas than they have had and that no amount of linguistic facility will compensate for a dearth of ideas. For example the 1994 Republican "Contract With America" offered provocative ideas like reforming welfare and slashing budget deficits. The current Democratic agenda is vaguer, for example making health care affordable for everyone and fully funding education. Bai likens those plans, metaphorically, to a cotton ball--same old familiar fluff. Who could disagree with those proposals, but what do they really mean?
I don't necessarily agree with Bai's criticism, but I appreciated his thoughtful approach to a crucial subject, so I found his article worth taking the time to read carefully.