Saturday, September 20, 2003

A Texas Hoax May Be the President's Waterloo

The gist: The Texas drop-out reduction miracle is a hoax that shall one day be chronicled in, perhaps as the urban legend that helped to bring down a president. The Texans have taken an approach to reporting drop-out figures that is roughly based on Maier's Law: "If the facts don't conform to the woefully underfunded mandate, lie and lie again."

There are days when I am thankful I live in Oklahoma and not Texas (well, that's pretty much every day, come to think of it).

Friday, September 19, 2003

Bill Moyers Commentary on the Ties that Bind

Bill Moyers is one of those television journalists for whom I have deep respect. The main thrust: the French are not the enemy; we have historical ties going back to the Revolutionary War. The French can however be characterized as thinking that Bush's go-it-alone policy is wrong, and are not afraid to say so.

Favorite passage:

Our taxi driver in Paris was listening to American jazz when he stopped for us. The owner of the little restaurant in the old bohemian district of Montmarte wore an American T-shirt and played American ballads while we had our lunch. A young Swedish woman, working in France, invited us to join with her French friends in a moment of silence on the anniversary of 9/ll.

Just an aside: the French (as well as numerous other Europeans) have been very receptive to American jazz, and have been very accomodating hosts to American jazzers who often have difficulty finding gigs in the U.S. A fair amount of the avant-garde jazz movement has been supported by French labels, both in terms of new recordings and reissue programs. The French admiration for this musical form seems to go back quite a ways (at least back to the 1930s), and has been referred to in French literature dating back to the late 1930s (e.g., Jean Paul Sartre, who in his classic novel Nausea used jazz music as a vehicle to explore his ideas on freedom).

Food for thought.

Conservatives Deconstructed

I am quite simply amazed that a journal article by a bunch of social psychologists that appeared a few months ago in Psychological Bulletin has received as much media attention as it has. In case you hadn't heard of the article in question, it's titled “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” by Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway. Typically whatever is published in the social sciences remains pretty well marginalized, appearing in academic journals and perhaps in books that collect dust in libraries and professors' offices. So why are George Will and a host of other conservative pundits raising sand over this article? Maybe it hits too close to home? Apparently, the research reported suggests that what draws people to conservative ideologies is self-interest (nothing terribly earth-shattering to me; heck, I'd offer that self-interest drives attraction to any of a number of ideologies). Some of what makes rigidly right-wing ideologies attractive are their promise to meet psychological needs among a subset of our population: namely the need for cognitive closure, the need to avoid ambiguity, and so forth.

At this point I think I'll refrain from an in-depth commentary on the article, as it's still on my list of articles to read (though rapidly making its way to the top of the stack). I will say this, though: the researchers who authored the article have excellent reputations for their academic and methodological rigor, and I would consider it folly to dismiss their work without attempting to understand their arguments and their means of deriving their conclusions. As I said, I'll likely have my own two cents before very long. Stay tuned....

Ahoy! Part of President Bush's Sept. 7 Address In Pirate-Speak.

"Iraq be now t'central fore. Enemieso'freedom be makin' a desperate stand thar -- and thar they must be defeated. This will take time and require sacrifice. Yet we will do what be necessary, we will spend what be necessary,t'achieve this essential victory in t'war on terror,t'promote freedom andt'make our own nation more secure. "

I think that sounds considerably more articulate than President Slappy usually sounds.

The above translation courtesy of Talk Like A Pirate Day, which is today!

Stupid PR Tricks

The winner of this dubious distinction this week? It's not Dubya and it's not Cheney (though they certainly deserve runners-up status). It's .....drum roll please...the RIAA. Seems the music industry execs are bound and determined to do everything they can to alienate consumers. I realize that sales and profits are down, but here's a clue for the RIAA: maybe they should look at the economy. People don't tend to buy a lot of cds when they are out of work or are afraid that their job is about to be outsourced to Bangladesh. Here's another clue, RIAA: your product is overpriced. I really don't care to spend $17 for 60 minutes of disposable filler. Let's face the fact that Britney and Christina look much better than they sound, and that one can only listen to so many songs extolling the virtues of bling and cha-ching before throwing the stereo system out the window. Personally, much of what the industry produces really is not worth the hard drive space or the time needed to download a few files. But hey, my heart does go out to those poor starving executives. It's so difficult having to subsist on a smaller fleet of Maseratis this year than what one is normally accustomed to. Let's make it simple for the RIAA peeps: go to your computer, and download the file of the song where the Scarecrow laments "If I only had a brain." Meditate on that song. The answer to your problems will be found there.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

"A picture is worth a thousand words"

Saw this on the Pacific Views blog.

This one bears posting

The take home message: Resist and resist vigorously.


Saying 'no' to the war in Iraq

By James Carroll, 9/16/2003

THE CATASTROPHE in Fallujah -- 10 Iraqi policemen killed by US forces acting, as one Iraqi said, ''just like Saddam'' -- can be the occasion of new recognitions. The normal ecology of war is chaos and confusion. But once in a while something occurs to snap the ambiguities into focus, and the real character of what is happening becomes apparent. Indeed, that is the meaning Aristotle gave to the word ''catastrophe'' in his analysis of the tragic form. Ten of the very men Iraqi recovery needs most -- dead by the hands of our soldiers? Pro-American police at risk from Americans? A tragedy for sure, but here is what the incident reveals:

This ''accident'' was not, in fact, an aberration. The killing of allies and of innocents is part and parcel of what the American occupation involves now. Death has overtaken strategy.

Whether the soldiers who killed the Iraqi policemen ''intended'' the act or not is irrelevant. American pietism excuses dastardly outcomes when they are committed with good intentions, but morality is measured more by consequences than purposes. No US soldier is ''innocent'' in this enterprise.

But every US soldier in Iraq has been taken hostage. The hostage takers are not the terrorists but the small clique of Bush administration officials who have violated US tradition, international agreements, and the sacred trust that commanders owe their soldiers.

Those who fault the Bush administration for the failed details of this operation (too few troops, poor planning, not enough foreign support, etc.) miss the larger point that there was no ''right'' way to invade Iraq and there is no ''right'' way to occupy it. Iraq belongs to Iraqis.

The corruptions of Bush policies in Iraq are infecting the entire nation. Such aggressive violence requires deceit, and lies are more welcome in Washington than at any time since Vietnam. The Justice Department is increasingly an instrument of repression. On the eve of elections, the American people are in the grip of a vast ennui.

So what is to be done? Such recognitions change the context of what is required now. Instead of politics, it is time for resistance. One needn't assert a facile moral equivalence to know that the relevant precedents for the present circumstance in the United States are the broad-based citizen resistance movements that mobilized against Hitler in the 1940s; against the Vietnam War in the 1960s; against the Kremlin in the 1980s. This means:

Hope shifts away from the Democratic politicians vying to replace Bush. By timidly giving the vague appearance of opposition while assuming the broad necessity of America's ongoing military presence in Iraq, the candidates are Bush's effective collaborators.

''Supporting the troops'' gets redefined. Instead of muting criticism out of fear of undermining military morale, declare that US soldiers have been conscripted into an unnecessary and therefore immoral war. The troops must simply be removed from Iraq.

The cutting edge of the political debate becomes money. All funding for the American occupation, including the $87 billion Bush requested last week, must be opposed. Military appropriations must be cut off.

Patriotism is asserted more by opposition than affirmation. The Bush administration has cagily turned large-hearted American expressions of love for the nation into license for a criminal foreign policy. Just as Bush has kidnapped our young people in uniform, he has captured the flag. For now, the way to take it back is to take it down.

Refuse to be deceived even while being lied to. There is no way for an American president to engage in such an unprecedented act of aggression without trying to disguise its true character. The very audacity of Bush's manipulations stimulate a cooperative self-deception in the population. That above all must be resisted.

Mortal danger becomes apparent. Bush policies have reinvigorated suicide bombers across the world while simultaneously igniting a new round of nuclear proliferation. The prospect of that combination -- nuclear weapons in the hands of suicidal fanatics -- poses the greatest risk in human history. Bush himself has thus become the ultimate suicide bomber.

Hence resistance. Public life in America must take its energy now from the word ''No!'' Such opposition does two things. As happened especially in the Soviet empire, it can transform politics, moving even the Democratic candidates from timid calls for adjustments at the margins to demands for substantial change of policy. And meanwhile, a life lived in resistance remains a human life. In a time of rampant public immorality, it is the only way to live humanly.

The catastrophe at Fallujah can be the occasion of such recognition. But catastrophe, as Aristotle also taught, is the occasion of reversal. The time to turn the momentum of Bush's war back upon itself has come.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.

Eighth Pillar of Wisdom? Iraq Is a Deep Morass

By Michael Keane.

Summarizes the main principles of guerilla warfare as outlined by T. E. Lawrence (i.e., Lawrence of Arabia), and how they are playing out in the current Iraq situation. In essence, the guerillas both physical and psychological fortresses for their operations, they have a reasonably friendly population as a base of support, and can capitalize on the low "force-to-space" ratio of U.S. & "coalition" troops. In one word for the U.S.: quagmire.

This last passage is especially pertinent as it reminds us that those who do not pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it:

After liberating the region from the Turks in World War I, Britain ruled the newly formed country of Iraq under a mandate from the League of Nations. The population's gratitude for having been freed from 400 years of Ottoman oppression was short-lived. There were uprisings and assassinations of British soldiers and civilian administrators.

Lawrence was sent back to Baghdad to report on conditions there. He wrote these haunting words: "The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. We are today not far from a disaster."

(Emphasis is mine).

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Scourge of Militarism

An article by Chalmers Johnson that's worth a read. The main thrust of the article is that the US Constitutional Republic is facing perils and possible dissolution in the future post-Bush landscape that parallel the perils and eventual dissolution of the Roman Republic in the post-Julius Caesar landscape.

Editorial: Truth / Too little of it on Iraq

An editorial summary of Cheney's Sunday morning spiel on "Meet the Press."

The main points:

1. Cheney's assertion that the nation ignored the terrorist threat before 9/11 is at best a half truth. Apparently the Clinton Administration had taken the threat posed by Al Qaida quite seriously and was working on plans to take military action. It was the Bush team that ignored the threat once they took charge. My guess is that the White House knew about the intelligence but chose to minimize its importance.

2. Cheney's recent statement that "we don't know if there is a link between Iraq and 9/11", which the editorial says is roughly the equivalent of saying we don't know if the sun will rise tomorrow morning. It's a safe bet that the sun will rise as always, and that there is no link between Iraq and 9/11.

3. Cheney continues to insist that Iraq was the geographic base for the 9/11 attacks. False. Look a bit further east to Afghanistan.

4. Cheney continued to repeat the same tired old lies regarding Iraq's WMD capability. Give it a rest Dick. It's pretty obvious no one else except some starry-eyed true believers is buying it, and whatever mind-altering substances they're on are ones I wish to stay far away from. Speaking of mind-altering, maybe someone should check to make sure that his heart is pumping enough oxygen to his brain. Maybe that explains his inability at grasping reality.

I'll end my rant here for now.

Bush’s Radical Fiscal Immorality

This excerpt states the issue of the Dubya fiscal nightmare (exacerbated of course by the Iraq quagmire) in stark terms. Now let's see if the Democrat legislators have the courage to try this approach:

Which brings us back to Bush’s fiscal immorality. Bush says that our effort in Iraq will "require sacrifice." Please tell us, Mr. Bush, what sacrifice is being asked of the most fortunate Americans? In ordinary times, claiming that tax cuts mostly for the rich are needed to boost economic growth would merely be garden-variety political fraud. When Bush makes this case in the context of financing a war on our kids’ credit card while shortchanging critical needs at home, it is morally obscene.

Democrats need to make a stand here. They must insist that new spending for Iraq be paid for dollar for dollar by repealing tax cuts going to the wealthiest. They should be prepared to filibuster in the Senate to draw national attention to Bush’s fiscal immorality.

It’s a defining showdown they can win.

If Democrats frame this debate properly and speak with one voice, Bush won’t be able to sell the con that Democrats "don’t support our troops." The issue is how you pay for it. The contrast couldn’t be starker.

We’ve reached a tipping point in public opinion with Bush’s $87 billion speech, in which the president’s radical fiscal immorality can be easily explained and understood. It shocks average Americans. And it should.

All in all, Matt Miller's column dovetails quite nicely with that of Robert Reich's recent column in USA Today. Let's get real: the extravigant tax cuts for the rich are a luxury this nation can ill afford given our economic difficulties, the increasingly expensive Iraq occupation, and outrageous budget deficits. Something has to give. Leaving a mess for the rest of us (and our children) to clean up is simply not acceptable.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Telling kids to say 'no' to war

A feature article on two members of Veterans for Peace.

Their credo: "We find it sad that war seems so delightful, so often, to those that have no knowledge of it. We will proudly and patriotically continue to denounce war despite whatever misguided sense of euphoria supports it."

To me, I view war as the ultimate expression of a breakdown in communication; a failure to resolve conflicts between nations. There's nothing glorious about failure, and most of the time such failures can be prevented.

Two columns that go together

Those Crazy Conservatives, and Feeling 'dragged along'?.

The first column summarizes the stink right-wing commentators and columnists have been making about an article published in Psychological Bulletin earlier this year, which examines the conservative personality. Apparently, conservatives share several traits, among them: a lack of tolerance for ambiguity, and a high need for closure.

A quote:

Actually, it's long past time for psychology to more aggressively break out of the consulting room to ask how our lives are affected by the greater culture, instead of focusing so intently on family dynamics. It would be virtually impossible, for example, to explain in personalistic terms why Americans have so willingly swallowed the Bush administration's lies about its tax cuts and the Iraq invasion. This study, however, goes a long way in explaining how an intolerance for ambiguity and the urgent need for closure can cause us to reach premature conclusions -- especially when we are terrified by events like Sept. 11. Thus right-wing populism gains its greatest foothold when our terror and need for security are amplified -- either by reality or the voice of demagogues.

Now in the above light, read the second column which quotes Hermann Goering:

...the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

What Goering described is precisely what the Bush Administration has been doing in the wake of 9-11. Fear, low tolerance for ambiguity, and high need for cognitive closure go hand in hand. Tyrants and would-be tyrants thrive under these conditions, as people are most prone to rush to hasty judgment.

Of course it goes with out saying that being conservative does not imply psychological disturbance. However, the traits mentioned above are ones that may make conservatives in particular vulnerable to the siren song of tyrants.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Betrayal of Trust

A column by linguist George Lakoff.

Some excerpts:

But lying, in itself, is not and should not be the issue. The real issue is a betrayal of trust. Our democratic institutions require trust. When the president asks Congress to consent to war – the most difficult moral judgment it can make – Congress must be able to trust the information provided by the administration. When the President asks our fighting men and women to put their lives on the line for a reason, they must be able to trust that the reason he has given is true. It is a betrayal of trust for the president to ask our soldiers to risk their lives under false pretenses. And when the president asks the American people to put their sons and daughters in harm's way and to spend money that could be used for schools, for health care, for helping desperate people, for rebuilding decaying infrastructure, and for economic stimulation in hard times, it is a betrayal of trust for the president to give false impressions.

If the real rationale for the Iraq War has been self-interested control – over oil resources, the regional economy, political influence, and military bases – if it was not self-defense and not selfless liberation, then President Bush betrayed the trust of our soldiers, the Congress, and the American people. Mere lying is a minor matter when betrayal is the issue.

Now read some articles on Bush Administration deception:

The Latest Bush Gang Whoppers and Talking Points Memo's coverage of the apparent indefinite shelving of the anticipated Kay report on the WMD search in Iraq. While you're at it, here's a CBS news report on Iraq's nuclear weapons program which the UN characterizes as in disarray and unlikely to be able to support an active effort to build weapons. And while that's going on, let us not forget that Soldiers' paychecks in danger of shrinking. Now that's the way to support the troops, eh Dubya?

Have Bush & Co. betrayed our trust? Damn straight they have.

Tax wealthy to pay for Iraq war: Test patriotism's deeper meaning

A sensible solution to the additional $87 billion that Dubya wants to fund his war in Iraq: make the people who've gained the most from his term in office foot the bill for once. Surely the wealthiest 1% of our nation will see it as their patriotic duty for the "War on Terrorism," and will gladly do without that massive tax cut. Right.

Either Cheney is a Complete Liar

or is Too Stupid to be Vice-President Based on His September 14th "Meet the Press" Interview

Favorite line:

Same on biological weapons we believe he'd developed the capacity to go mobile with his BW production capability because, again, in reaction to what we had done to him in '91. We had intelligence reporting before the war that there were at least seven of these mobile labs that he had gone out and acquired. We've, since the war, found two of them. They're in our possession today, mobile biological facilities that can be used to produce anthrax or smallpox or whatever else you wanted to use during the course of developing the capacity for an attack.

Ah yes, the "mobile labs." As I recall they were used to inflate weather balloons...or maybe inflate balloons for Saddam's grandchildrens' birthday parties, for all the Bush cabal would know.

Der Fuhrer

The pose says it all.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Patriot Act Alert

Police Use New Anti-Terror Laws to Capture Common Criminals Like Drug Dealers, Money Smugglers

As someone who has a profound respect for the Bill of Rights, I cannot help but be disturbed by this article. First they went after presumed "terrorists." We said nothing. Then they went after criminals. Again, we said nothing, since no one really likes common criminals much any way. Then they went after political dissidents, whom they branded as unpatriotic and anti-American? Could very well be the next step. This is how tyrannies evolve, and at this point in time we are potentially watching the evolution of a tyrannical state here in the U.S.

9-11 Bush Knew

A collection of articles that refute the assertion by the Bush cabal that they didn't know about the impending attacks on the WTC and Pentagon.

Shorter Cynthia Oi

Be informed. That's the best defense we have as citizens against the would-be tyrants in our government.

Baked Alaska on the Menu?



Skeptics of global warming should come to this Eskimo village on the Arctic Ocean, roughly 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It's hard to be complacent about climate change when you're in an area that normally is home to animals like polar bears and wolverines, but is now attracting robins.

A robin even built its nest in town this year (there is no word in the local Inupiat Eskimo language for robins). And last year a (presumably shivering) porcupine arrived.

The Okpilak River valley was historically too cold and dry for willows, and in the Inupiat language "Okpilak" means "river with no willows." Yet a warmer, wetter climate means that now it's crowded with willows.

The warming ocean is also bringing salmon, three kinds now, to waters here. The Eskimos say there were almost no salmon a generation ago.

"The weather is different, really different," said 92-year-old Nora Agiak, speaking in the Inupiat language and wearing moose-skin moccasins and a jacket with wolverine fur. "We're not getting as many icebergs as we used to. Maybe the world moved because it's getting warmer."

In the past, I've been skeptical about costly steps (like those in the Kyoto accord) to confront climate change. But I'm changing my mind. The evidence, while still somewhat incomplete, is steadily mounting that our carbon emissions are causing an accelerating global warming that amounts to a major threat to the world in which we live.

Alaska has warmed by eight degrees, on average, in the winter, over the last three decades, according to meteorological records. The U.S. Arctic Research Commission says that today's Arctic temperatures are the highest in the last 400 years, and perhaps much longer.

The U.S. Navy reports that in areas traversed by its submarines, Arctic ice volume decreased 42 percent over the last 35 years, and the average thickness of ice below water declined 4.3 feet. The Office of Naval Research warns that "one plausible outcome" is that the summer Arctic ice cap will disappear completely by 2050.

"We've got climate change," Robert Thompson, a native guide, says flatly. He notes that pack ice, which always used to hover offshore, providing a home for polar bears, now sometimes retreats hundreds of miles north of Kaktovik. That has caused some bears to drown and leaves others stranded on land.

(After a polar bear was spotted outside Kaktovik's post office one snowy morning, the locals explained what to do if you bump into a famished polar bear: Yell and throw stones, and above all, don't run!)

For hundreds of years, the Eskimos here used ice cellars in the permafrost. But now the permafrost is melting, and these ice cellars are filling with water and becoming useless.

Kaktovik's airstrip, 50 years old, has begun to flood because of higher seas, so it may be moved upland. Another native village, Shishmaref, has voted to abandon its location entirely because of rising seas.

In the hamlet of Deadhorse, I ran into an Arctic native named Jackson Snyder, who said that winters were getting "a lot warmer — doesn't get much below 50 below anymore."

That may not seem so bad. But while there will be benefits to a warmer Alaska (a longer growing season, ice-free ports), climate change can also lead to crop failures, spread tropical diseases and turn Bangladesh into tidal pools. The pace of warming may be far too fast for animals, humans or ecosystems to adjust. My advice is that if you're planning a dream home in New Orleans or on the Chesapeake, put it on stilts.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reflecting a consensus of scientists, concluded that human activity had probably caused most global warming in recent decades. It predicted that in this century, the seas will rise 4 to 35 inches.

Some 14,000 years ago, a warming trend apparently raised the sea level by 70 feet in just a few hundred years. Today's computer models don't foresee a repeat of that, but they also can't explain why it happened then.

That's why I'm changing my mind about the need for major steps to address carbon emissions. Global warming is still an uncertain threat, but it may well become one of the major challenges of this century. Certainly our government should do more about it than censor discussions of climate change in E.P.A. reports.

Unless we act soon, we may find waves lapping the beaches of Ohio.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

A classic Hunter S. Thompson quote that aptly summarizes this little bombshell: Jack Straw allegedly "begged" Tony Blair to back off from Iraq war plans just days before hostilities began. Not quite sure what to make of this one yet.

Colorado Republicans Want Affirmative Action for Conservatives at State Universities

An update on something I mentioned a few days ago. Again, much of the GOP action here is based on the false premise that universities are hotbeds of "left-wing radical indoctrination." The data that I am aware of completely refutes that assertion (as does personal experience as both a student and faculty member at several universities). This is an issue that gets my dander up: give the article a read.

Update: I love this headline: Mind police are at it again

And another editorial that asks the question: When is a Quota Not a Quota?. When it benefits Republicans, of course.

Post 9-11 Reality Check

A basic summary of the mess President Whistle-Ass and cronies have made of domestic and foreign policy. Since their reality check bounced, we're stuck paying the bill.

Bush Seeks to Expand Access to Private Data

From the NYT. Looks like the Dubya cabal is continuing to carry the torch for Patriot Act II. It should be by now pretty obvious that this administration is a menace to civil liberties.

New York, You’ve Been Used

From William Rivers Pitt (if you aren't reading his column, you should):

I told you, a moment ago, about the most disturbing part. I told you, also, that these PNAC plans were formulated in that ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses’ report written long before September 11. I didn’t tell you about page 51 of that report. Page 51 of a report that has become the basis for our war in Iraq, and our new and aggressive foreign policy stance. Page 51 of the report that is now the heart and soul and ideology of this government. Page 51, and one simple sentence: "The process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor."

More food for thought.

America's Hidden Battlefield Toll

Some more of the bad news on Iraq that our Great Misleader would rather you no know.