Saturday, June 12, 2004

Some poetry courtesy of beat-era poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Totalitarian Democracy: a New Poem

Always good to see that some of the old beats are still alive and kicking, with something to say. Hope you'll dig the words this fellow American-in-exile-within-America's-borders is dropping. Here it is:

The first fine dawn of life on earth

The first light of the first morning

The first evening star

The first man on the moon seen from afar

The first voyage of Ulysses westward

The first fence on the last frontier

The first tick of the atomic clock of fear

The first Home Sweet Home so dear

The sweet smell of honeysuckle at midnight

The first free black man free of fright

The sweet taste of freedom

The first good orgasm

The first Noble Savage

The first Pale Face settler on the first frontier

The last Armenian and the last Ojibway in Fresno

The first ball park hotdog with mustard

The first home run in Yankee Stadium

The first song of love and forty cries of despair

The first pure woman passing fair

The sweet smell of success

The first erection and the first Resurrection

The first darling buds of May

The last covered wagon through the Donner Pass

The first green sprouts of new grass

The last cry of Mark Twain! on the Mississippi

The First and Last Chance Saloon

The ghostly galleon of the half-moon

The first cry of pure joy in morning light

The distant howl of trains lost in book of night

The first morning after the night before thinking

The last new moon sinking

The last of the Mohicans and the last buffalo

The last sweet chariot swinging low

The first hippie heading for the hills

The last bohemian in a beret

The last beatnik in North Beach with something to say

The last true love to come your way

The last Wobbly and the last Catholic Anarchist

The last paranoid Lefty

The last Nazi

The first bought vote in the first election

The last hand caught in the last cookie jar

The last cowboy on the last frontier

The last bald eagle with nothing to fear

The last buffalo head nickel

The last living member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade

The last Mom and Pop grocery

The last firefly flickerng in the night

The first plane to hit the first Twin Tower

The last plane to hit the last Twin Tower

The only plane to ever hit the Pentagon

The birth of a vast national paranoia

The beginning of the Third World War

(the War Against the Third World)

The first trip abroad by an ignorant president

The last free-running river

The last gas and oil on earth

The last general strike

The last Fidelista the last Sandinista the last Zapatista

The last political prisoner

The last virgin and the last of the champagne

The last train to leave the station

The last and only great nation

The last Great Depression

The last will & testament

The last welfare check for rent

The end of the old New Deal

The new Committee on Unamerican Activities

The last politician with honest proclivities

The last independent newspaper

printing the news and raising hell

The last word and the last laugh and the Last Hurrah

The last picture show and the last waltz

The last Unknown Soldier

The last innocent American

The last Ugly American

The last Great Lover and the last New Yorker

The last home-fries with ketchup-to-go

The last train home at midnight

The last syllable of recorded time

The last long careless rapture

The last independent bookstore with its own mind

The last best hope of mankind

The lost chord and the lost leader

The last drop of likker

The cup that runneth over quicker

The last time I saw Paris Texas

The last peace treaty and the Last Supper

The first sweet signs of spring

The first sweet bird of youth

The first baby tooth and the last wisdom tooth

The last honest election

The last freedom of information

The last free Internet

The last free speech radio

The last unbought television network

The last homespun politician

The last Jeffersonian

The last Luddite in Berkeley

The last Bottom Line and the last of Social Security

The first fine evening calm and free

The beach at sunset with reclining nudes

the lovers wrapped in each other

The last meeting of the Board

The last gay sailor to come aboard

The first White Paper written in blood

The last terrorist born of hate and poverty

The last citizen who bothered to vote

The first President picked by a Supreme Court

The end of the Time of Useful Consciousness

The unfinished flag of the United States

The ocean's long withdrawing roar

The birth of a nation of sheep

The deep deep sleep of the booboisie

The underground wave of feel-good fascism

The uneasy rule of the super-rich

The total triumph of imperial America

The final proof of our Manifest Destiny

The first loud cry of America über alles

Echoing in freedom's alleys

The last lament for lost democracy

The total triumph of

totalitarian plutocracy


Cut down cut down cut down

Cut down the grassroots

Cut down those too wild weeds

in our great agri-fields and golf courses

Cut down cut down those wild sprouts

Cut down cut down those rank weeds

Pull down your vanity, man, pull down

the too wild buds the too wild shoots

Cut down the wild unruly vines & voices

the hardy volunteers and pioneers

Cut down cut down the alien corn

Cut down the crazy introverts

Tongue-tied lovers of the subjective

Cut down cut down the wild ones the wild spirits

The desert rats and monkey wrenchers

Easy riders and midnight cowboys in narco nirvanas

Cut down the wild alienated loners

fiddling with their moustaches

plotting revolution in hopeless cellars

Cut down cut down all those freaks and free thinkers

Wild-eyed poets with wandering minds

Soapbox agitators and curbstone philosophers

Far out weirdos and rappers

Stoned-out visionaries and peace-niks

Exiles in their own land!

O melting pot America!

Props to Dr. Menlo of American Samizdat for the link.

Back from our day trip

Had a good time with the kids. The Cimmarron Heritage Center was having a dedication today, so we managed to partake of some free snacktime goodies, and otherwise had a good time letting the two kids loose to check out some of the interactive exhibits (the center has a small working model of a dinosaur dig site, a sandbox so kids can play archeologist and discover arrowheads, a dug-out like the kind that many of the homesteaders in the Oklahoma panhandle would have lived in, etc.). It had been three years since I last took my son, so it was cool to see how the museum was progressing.

Checked out Boise City's local nursery, picked up a new cactus for the office and got some advice about getting an outdoor cactus garden started.

Finally, we made our way west to Kenton, a very small town (population 23) surrounded by some absolutely gorgeous mesa country. One of our stops was to the main business in town, "The Merc", which is a one-stop gas station, burger joint, convenience store, and tourist info center.

One of the great things about most of the OK panhandle folks is that they're pretty much "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" in the way they approach life. To me it's no surprise that the storefront looks exactly like it's picture. Some trivia: Kenton is the only community in Oklahoma that is in the Mountain Time Zone.

Got to point out the Black Mesa from the highway to my son (my daughter is still a bit young to care much), and was able to point out Rabbit Ear Mountain in the distance (a landmark near Clayton, NM) from the highway as we started our journey back home.

All told, a good day. The kids had a great time, and my wife got a much-needed day off.

Update: I forgot that Geocities is stinky about external links to pictures, so I uploaded the storefront image elsewhere. Hope it works.

Forecast calls for light blogging

Taking the kids to the Cimmaron Heritage Center tomorrow. And if time permits, perhaps a drive up to Black Mesa.


Torturegate: The Continuing Saga Unfolds has updated its compendium of Abu Ghraib photos, such as this one:

Human rights violations are no laughing matter. In the SF Examiner, there is an article about a Guardsman who alleges witnessing torture of detainees in Iraq. Mark Dow writes that the US has a long record of abusing foreign prisoners in its own Gulags. The Berkeley law professor who helped to craft the mislabelled "Patriot" Act and who helped to craft those legal memos that claimed that the US could skirt Geneva Convention and War Crimes Act restrictions in the war without end against Al-Qaida and the Taliban dismisses any responsibility for the torture that has ensued in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If there is any good news to be found, it's that some US religious leaders representing Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim faiths are publicly apologizing in an ad to appear on Al-Jazeera for the US human rights violations at Abu Ghraib. That there are religious leaders who are willing to stand up and be counted in these trying times is indeed comforting, and offers a reminder that being religious does not require one to embrace a fascist-style intolerance and dehumanization of others.

Wasting away in wingnutterville

searching for my lost shaker of salt. Some wingnuts say that it's the lib-ruhls to blame, but we know it's the wingnuts' fault. (With apologies to Jimmy Buffett, of course)

So why the snarky intro, you may ask? Seems a snarky comment by Ted Rall about Ronnie being dead prez flambé in Beelzebub's crib has got some real loonies crawling out of the woodwork.

The offending remark (which not surprisingly I found mildly amusing):

How Sad...

...that Ronald Reagan didn't die in prison, where he belonged for starting an illegal, laughably unjustifiable war against Grenada under false pretenses (the "besieged" medical students later said they were nothing of the sort) and funneling arms to hostages during Iran-Contra.

Oh, and 9/11? That was his. Osama bin Laden and his fellow Afghan "freedom fighters" got their funding, and nasty weapons, from Reagan.

A real piece of work, Reagan ruined the federal budget, trashed education, alienated our friends and allies and made us a laughing stock around the world.

Hmmmm...sounds familiar.

Anyway, I'm sure he's turning crispy brown right about now.

Suffice it to say, that post led to one hell of a shitstorm in right-wingnut circles, and Mr. Rall's email inbox soon overfloweth. Kindly, Rall posted a selection of those emails here and here (where he also comments about the Hannity and Colmes gig). Rall also has fun with good old Rush "Oxycontin" Limbaugh who has declared Jihad on Rall - and Rall's sarcastic editorial comments on the Limbaugh transcript are classics.

One thing that becomes clear as day, whatever venom may come out of Rall's pen or keyboard pales in comparison to what the right-wing's true believers and their idols (Hannity, Limbaugh, ad nauseum) dish out on a regular basis. If you want to truly get a feel for the dark, racist, homophobic, and psychopathically violent underbelly of American society (I can no longer in good conscience use the term "civilization" and I even wonder if "society" is appropriate), check out Rall's hate mail. As I've said before with regard to the hatemongering and threats that characterize the right-wingnuts' idea of political discourse, they're freaky-deaky (but not the good freaky-deaky).

While you're at it, Tom Tomorrow has plenty to say about the latest shitstorm. All I can say that Matt Drudge and Fox News talk shows attract some real nutcases. God bless America - we're going to need all the divine intervention we can get as long as America's own home-grown Sturmabteilung exists.

World O'Crap has a run-down on a lovely stream of bile spewed by Hannity at Rall during Rall's interview (along with Rall's very Reagan-esque response), in a post titled The Psycho Pot From Hell's Tirade Against the Kettle. The blog onegoodmove has a link to a video clip of the exchange in Quicktime Movie format. Enjoy!

Friday, June 11, 2004

Media Pundits, Repeat After Me:

The House and Senate did not both come under Republican rule during Reagan's time.

The Berlin Wall did not come down when Reagan was in office.

Reagan is not the president who left office with the highest approval rating in modern times.

Reagan was not "the most popular president ever."

Reagan did not preside over the longest economic expansion in history.

Reagan did not shrink the size of government.

Reagan did preside over what was at the time the "biggest tax cut in history" but it was almost instantly followed up by the "biggest tax increase in history."

Reagan was not "beloved by all." He was loved by some, liked by some, and hated by some with good reason.

The truth shall set you free. Props to Rorschach of No Capital and Atrios for the lowdown.

Some Reagan quotes for your amusement

Sick of Reagan coverage (ass kissing?) is a cool compendium of some of the more idiotic things Ronald Reagan said during his political career. And indeed my recollection of Reagan as prez (during my teens and early 20s) was of a man capable of saying things that were factually wrong or nonsensical - albeit always with the sort of charm and wit that our current (p)resident's single remaining working brain cell could not even begin to imitate.

Most of the quotes really suggest a great deal of insensitivity to pressing social concerns more than a lack of intellect, although the quotes taken from his final term in the White House continue to give me the impression that Alzheimer's may have just begun to take its toll on his mental health. There's even a quote there that I remember quite well from 1987 where he even acknowledges that his denials of his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal were factually wrong, and I'll at least give him props for being willing to publically acknowledge making a huge mistake. Surely that took some gumption on his part, though hardly something I'd put in the "above and beyond" column. Still, the character require to own up to a mistake is something that is simply beyond the grasp of the current (p)resident.

Overall, the quotes present a reminder of why I didn't cast a vote for Reagan in 1984 (at 18, he was the first Prez that I voted against), and why I would have not cast a vote for him for any office (save perhaps for dog catcher) under any imaginable circumstances. That George W. Bush pales in comparison to Reagan, whose presidency wasn't much to look at really, is even more tragicomical.

I'll endorse changing the $10 spot on one condition

Use Ray Charles' image instead of Reagan's. Maybe we could give our whole currency a facelift. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Scott Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald and as a nod to the younger among us, Tupac Shakur.

Feel free to leave your nominations in the comments.

If your candidate for President sucks,

his numbers are in the tank, everything he and his cronies touch turns to manure (and the stuff they touched last year has fossilized into coprolite), then run a dead former President instead. After all, Ronnie won't mind. He's as dead as dead gets. So what if some of his family gets upset. After all, they're either America haters like Ron Jr. or heretics who go against Dear Leader's pronouncements against stem cell research. And if Rove is lucky, maybe the GOP base will forget who they are really voting for and mistake Dear Leader for their beloved Ronnie.

Beauty is only skin deep

Ugly goes right to the very core.

Brigitte Bardot fined for inciting racial hatred:

PARIS - French actress-turned-animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot was convicted Thursday of inciting racial hatred and ordered to pay $6,000 — the fourth such fine for the former sex symbol since 1997.

The Paris court sentenced Bardot, 69, for remarks in her book “A Scream in the Silence,” an outspoken attack on gays, immigrants and the jobless that shocked France last year.

In the book, she laments the “Islamization of France” and the “underground and dangerous infiltration of Islam.”

“Mme. Bardot presents Muslims as barbaric and cruel invaders, responsible for terrorist acts and eager to dominate the French to the extent of wanting to exterminate them,” the court said.

France’s 5-million-member Muslim community is the largest in Europe.

Bardot, who was not present for the verdict, denied the charges in a tearful court appearance last month, saying her book did not target Islam or people from North Africa.

She told the court France was going through a period of decadence and said she opposed interracial marriage.

“I was born in 1934, at that time interracial marriage wasn’t approved of,” she said.

“There are many new languages in the new Europe. Mediocrity is taking over from beauty and splendor. There are many people who are filthy, badly dressed and badly shaven.”

In her book, she also attacks homosexuals as “fairground freaks,” condemns the presence of women in government and denounces the “scandal of unemployment benefits.”

Bardot’s attacks on Muslims prompted anti-racism groups to launch legal proceedings against the former star, who turned her back on film after 46 films to concentrate on animal welfare.

Bardot, who in her 1960s heyday was the epitome of French feminine beauty, was fined $3,250 in January 1998 after being convicted of inciting racial hatred in comments about civilian massacres in Algeria.

Four months earlier, a court fined her for saying France was being overrun by sheep-slaughtering Muslims.

Props to Margaret Cho, who has plenty to say about Ms. Bardot, none of which is particularly flattering - as should be the case when describing an apparent ideal Le Pen spokesmodel.

The fallout from the torture scandal continues

Junior Caligula can make statements such as the following "anwer" to a press conference question with the usual arrogant smirk, but the problem does not go away. First, to the press conference:

Q: Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we've learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law.

So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that's not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

BUSH: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you.

We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws. And that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions from me to the government.

Condescending non-answers may or may not work well with the press corps (at least these cats are more awake than they were this time last year), but I find such answers far from comforting. Especially when we consider that Rumsfield gave the a-okay to the rather harsh interrogation rules at Guantanamo Bay, including the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners and similarly that the use of dogs to "frighten and intimidate" prisoners at Abu Ghraib was ordered by military intelligence personnel (and high-ranking at that).

This of course is the sort of news that leads one to ponder if we might see members of the Bu$hCo crew tried as war criminals. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing George W. Bush trade in the flight suit for shackles and an orange prison jumpsuit, finally facing the consequences of his regime's actions that turned America from a nation that already had a shady human rights record (albeit with at least some lip service paid to international law and the Geneva Convention) to a full-blown rogue nation. Requiring these clowns to face the music is likely our last best hope for getting back into the good graces of the world community - and contrary to the con game the neocons are selling, we need that world community more than ever.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

American values vs Evildoer values

It's all so perfectly clear, now. Jesus' General is on a roll.

Looks like the Iraq occupation is going quite well

Rebels Launch an Array of Attacks Across Iraq. Let's see, more attacks on troops, sabotaging of oil pipelines, insurgents who have the nerve to demand their country back in Iraqi hands and refusing to back down.

With regard to the line about the June 30 deadline in which the US will "try" to return "some measure of sovereignty" to Iraqis, I'll say this: this is no time to "try" to return only partial sovereignty. This is time to return what should not have been stolen in the first place. In other words, it's time to do, not "try." And lame half-measures will not work. My guess is that the Iraqis are more than capable of cleaning the mess that the White House neocons made, and it's best to step aside now.

George W. Bush. Worst. President. Ever.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Exercise your brain:

Bush to the US Constitution: Drop Dead

Written loosely in the form of Socratic dialog to explain the Convention Against Torture treaty, how it was signed and ratified (explaining how this process is outlined in the US Constitution), and reflecting on what would possess a subsequent president to thumb his nose at the treaty and the Constitution.

I liked this post by Raed Jarrar:

on what Islam means to a secular leftist Iraqi:

Islam for me, as a secular leftist, is more than a mere religion

Islam is my cultural heritage that I will protect and maintain until the last moment of my existence.

Islam is the small ornaments in my architecture, the small details of the doors of Al-Mustansiryya school in Baghdad, the arches of the Abbasi palace, the domes of Al-Kathum shrine and the wooden windows of my grandfathers’ courtyard house.

Islam is the small kids playing in the narrow streets of the crowded neighborhoods in Baghdad and Cairo, it is the charming smell of the mosques of Najaf and Karbala, the spicy taste of the Iraqi Dolma, the colorful pigeons flying at the time of dawn in Al-Hamedyyah market in Damascus, the warm palm trees surrounding Shatt Al-Arab in Basra.

Islam is the genius poetry of Quran every morning, the strong voice of Um-Kalthum every evening, the soft sound of Athan every sunrise.

Islam is the shy smile of my woman.

Neither neo-conservatives like bush nor long-bearded right-winged fundamentalists like Bin Ladin can hijack my life and history from me.

On to more weighty matters

Some more fallout from the widening Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal (which has of course, gone way beyond that one prison) can be found in the increased media scrutiny that Junior Caligula and his henchmen are receiving. Take this WaPo editorial, Legalizing Torture, for example:

There is no justification, legal or moral, for the judgments made by Mr. Bush's political appointees at the Justice and Defense departments. Theirs is the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of "national security."

...Perhaps the president's lawyers have no interest in the global impact of their policies -- but they should be concerned about the treatment of American servicemen and civilians in foreign countries. Before the Bush administration took office, the Army's interrogation procedures -- which were unclassified -- established this simple and sensible test: No technique should be used that, if used by an enemy on an American, would be regarded as a violation of U.S. or international law. Now, imagine that a hostile government were to force an American to take drugs or endure severe mental stress that fell just short of producing irreversible damage; or pain a little milder than that of "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." What if the foreign interrogator of an American "knows that severe pain will result from his actions" but proceeds because causing such pain is not his main objective? What if a foreign leader were to decide that the torture of an American was needed to protect his country's security? Would Americans regard that as legal, or morally acceptable? According to the Bush administration, they should.

Scathing words from the editorial staff of a mainstream US newspaper. My, have times changed since those halcyon days of early 2003, when most of our mass media was mesmerized by Bu$hCo's every pronouncement.

While we're at it, journalist Jim Lobe reports that prison torture was approved by the top brass, looking for ways to ignore international law. It also seems that in a pattern that is pervasive with Bu$hCo, ,the White House routinely ignored the advice of the Pentagon's own experts on international law. But of course: those legal eagles would most likely have urged a much less cavalier path than the one the neocons had already chosen.

In the "I can't make this stuff up" Department:

Pope fears Bush is antichrist, journalist contends. I'm not sure quite what to make of it, but makes for an entertaining read if nothing else. A clip:

WASHINGTON DC -- According to freelance journalist Wayne Madsden, "George W Bush's blood lust, his repeated commitment to Christian beliefs and his constant references to 'evil doers,' in the eyes of many devout Catholic leaders, bear all the hallmarks of the one warned about in the Book of Revelations--the anti-Christ."

Madsen, a Washington-based writer and columnist, who often writes for Counterpunch, says that people close to the pope claim that amid these concerns, the pontiff wishes he was younger and in better health to confront the possibility that Bush may represent the person prophesized in Revelations. John Paul II has always believed the world was on the precipice of the final confrontation between Good and Evil as foretold in the New Testament.

Junior Caligula as the Anti-Christ? It surely makes for an amusing image.


Now that's a concise summary of Reagan's legacy. Props to Neologic for posting the cartoon. An aside: Neologic is a cool Okie blog you should check out.

Destructive Obedience, American Style: File Under Sexual Humiliation

Forced Nudity of Iraqi Prisoners Is Seen as a Pervasive Pattern, Not Isolated Incidents

But forced nudity of prisoners was pervasive in the military intelligence unit of Abu Ghraib, so much so that soldiers later said they had not seen "the whole nudity thing," as one captain called it, as abusive or out of the ordinary.

While there have been reports of forced nakedness at detention facilities in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the practice was apparently far more aggressive at Abu Ghraib, according to interviews, reports from human rights groups and sworn statements from detainees and soldiers. The detainees said leaving prisoners naked started as far back as last July, three months before the seven soldiers now charged and their military police company arrived at the prison. It bred a culture, some soldiers say, where the abuse captured on film could happen.

Detainees were paraded naked past other prisoners and guards; some were ordered to do jumping jacks and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the nude, according to a several witnesses. Also, a father and his grown son were stripped, then forced to stand and stare at each other. The International Committee of the Red Cross, visiting in October, found prisoners left naked in their cells for days, modestly trying to shield themselves behind cardboard from meals-ready-to-eat boxes.

Suffice it to say, there's more. A real world analog to the Milgram obedience experiments and Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, with approval from those decent Christian folks in the White House.

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Today I am Proud to be an American!

Mary L. Walker - Christian, Republican, Patriot, Torture Attorney.

Picture via, Atrios.

Make sure too to check out the post by Billmon titled Praise the Lord and Pass the Thumbscrews. Mary L. Walker is the archetypal Conservative Christian Republican Gal, who is truly living the sort of existence that Ann Coulter can only dream about.

Monday, June 7, 2004

Silence is not golden. The truth shall set you free!

Especially when it comes to hashing out the political legacy of a former President. Reagan may have been, in his personal life, the sweetest guy on the planet. I wouldn't know. We didn't exactly travel in the same circles. What I can assess is the effects that the policies that he and his White House inner circle advocated and executed, with of course the help of whatever enablers he could find along the way in the other branches of government and in the mass media. As I've tried to round up some other summaries that reflect bits and pieces of my own thoughts about Reagan the political figure these past however many years, one thing becomes clear: his legacy is far from pristine. I'll leave the maudlin handwringing and crocodile tears to the usual suspects among America's right wing, and the so-called "responsible" Democrats. Me? I ain't buying it.

As Nathan Newman notes, Reagan was truly an enemy of working people. His union busting (think of the air traffic controllers' strike of 1981 as a prime example) was the stuff right-wingnut legends are made of. Newman also reminds us that the Reagan administration's trade policy was one that was largely responsible for the starvation of many in the third world.

William Rivers Pitt also has a thoughtful, respectful, yet hard-hitting essay on Reagan. Worth a read. Note: Props to onegoodmove for highlighting this one.

The East Timorese have also not forgotten Reagan's legacy, though their memories are far from flattering. You see, Reagan was a good friend and reliable backer of Indonesia's Suharto, who was responsible for the massacre of approximately a third of the East Timorese population.

Another sad legacy of the Reagan era: the death of rational political discourse. To the victors goes the privilege of writing or rewriting history, and Robert Parry offers a stark reminder of just how extreme that rewriting has been in order to concoct a "feel good history" of the Reagan years.

It's not like no one saw through the myth. Quite a few of us did see through the fairytale story of the Reagan reign of error back in the 1980s. Through zines, activist groups, lyrics and so forth quite a number of us kept the light of truth alive. It was easy to feel like voices in the wilderness at the time. After all, the 1980s was in many respects a "feel good" decade where greed was good, Rambozo the Clown became the new American Idol, and it was "morning in America." The truth was ugly in many instances. On the human rights tip, the legacy is indeed a dark one as the Reagan administration actively supported right-wing terrorist thugs throughout Central America either to prop up brutal dictators or to destroy a movement that had successfully overthrown a brutal dictator (Nicaragua ring a bell, anyone?). Pinochet was given a free pass, in spite of the fact that his human rights record was an abomination. The Chileans can no doubt thank Ronnie for preventing justice from ever being served with regard to Pinochet. The consequences of "Reaganomics" are still being felt today - exacerbated by Junior Caligula's attempt to create the sequel to the Reagan deficit catastrophe. But, yeah, he was a nice guy.

Quick Update: Let's add a few more links to the mix. Greg Palast may be added to the chorus of those who say of Ronnie's demise good riddance. What makes his account especially powerful is his recollection of what life was like in Nicaragua around 1987 - pretty much hell on earth for anyone with any serious medical problems as one of the White House's actions at the time was to prevent medications from being sent to Nicaragua. Real nice.

Christopher Hitchins of Slate also has some sharp words regarding Reagan's more idiotic meanderings. And Cuba's Radio Reloj reacted by stating that Reagan should not have been born. Fightin' words, to be sure, but given the experience of much of the third world, understandable.

More anti-eulogies may be found via The Smirking Chimp. Randolph Holhut writes of Ronald Reagan's Squalid Legacy. To the claims of Reagan as "great leader", Peter Preston of The Guardian states that on the contrary, Towering he wasn't. Timothy Noah reminds us that Ronald Reagan was an excellent role model for our current Chimperor in Thief, George W. Bush in his column, The man who taught Republicans to be irresponsible. Paul Waldman muses on why there's no liberal Ronald Reagan. Suffice it to say, the answer is likely to be multifaceted including differences in the psychological make-up of conservatives and liberals as well as the lack of inspiring leadership from the Democrat party brass. We don't do hero worship very well (which is fine by me), but we definitely could do much better in the leadership department than we have. Finally, David Corn provides us a nifty list of 66 (unflattering) things about Ronald Reagan.

While the right-wing may be busy myth building, there are plenty of us around who are willing to deconstruct the myth - patiently, persistently, and stridently if need be.

Some much needed musical self-indulgence

Just got a couple cds in the mail. Both are sessions led by sax legend Pharoah Sanders: Elevation, and Love in Us All both recorded towards the end of his tenure with the Impulse! label (mid 1970s). Both are beautiful, and probably under-appreciated albums in Sanders' very impressive cannon. I'd been living with my cdrs of these albums cobbled together from somewhat dodgy mp3s that I'd found here and there over the years (and given the difficulty of finding even remotely reasonable priced copies of these cds - Japanese imports - was quite thankful for even dodgy mp3s), so this is indeed a treat. The albums definitely have that 1970s vibe to them, but the cool thing with Sanders is that he was just ahead of his time enough to where these 30-year old sessions sound remarkably fresh today.

The end of an era

Conservative era, that is. Something that has struck me about contemporary conservatives is how oddly retro most of them seem. Most of these cats like George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, etc. seem like they are stuck in the 1980s which in its own twisted and warped fashion was a period of nostalgia for the 1950s. We see it in Bush's proposals to fund manned space flights to Mars, in the rehash of warmed-over Reaganisms that weren't all that satisfying two decades ago, in the desperation to find a new ideology to replace Communism with which to go to war (Islam appears to have won out, and one hears "Muslim" said in the same way that 1980s-style conservatives said "Communist"), in the desire to continue a culture war with the 1960s counter-cultures that long ago ended. Somehow, the world moved on, but these cats didn't.

Steve Gilliard aptly captures the intellectual bankruptcy of the contemporary conservative movement in his latest post, The End of the Conservative Era. One of the big draws of the so-called New Right of the 1960s was its presumed bold ideas. As time wore on, we've seen many of these new ideas put in practice, and an opportunity to reap the consequences.

Simply stated, the American political, social, and economic landscape is littered with the corpses of failed policies based on the mantras chanted by the now old New Right. The mantra of no new taxes has paradoxically led both to tax increases (at the state level) and service cuts - take a look at our crumbling infrastructure, or think about the most recent rounds of federal tax cuts during the Bush II regime the next time you're driving on a bridge to get to work.

That's assuming of course that you have a job. The "unfettered free market and free trade" mantra has led to a loss of jobs at various levels including skilled manual labor and skilled professional labor. Sure, someone is benefitting economically, but it isn't the average American.

The right-wing's collective sexual hang-ups are legendary, of course, and we've had ample opportunity to see what happens when those hang-ups lead to public policy. Abstinence programs in schools? Failures - if we define success in terms of preventing teenage pregnancies. Efforts to remove sex education from schools does not prevent sexual experimentation, contrary to the popular misconceptions of most conservatives; rather the consequences are that teens have considerably less savvy regarding prevention of unplanned pregnancies, stds, etc. Maybe that's not a very PC thing to say in Junior Caligula's early 21st century America, but right-wing political correctness be damned!

The mantra of "privatization" has also its shares of miserable failures. In the school systems, as an example, rather than improve the caliber of educational services, as Steve points out, about the best that can be said of charter schools is that they do no worse than public schools (they just end up costing more $).

The list can easily go on. To me the continued success of a movement is measured by the ability of its proponents to adapt as the political, social, and economic environments change, and as they receive data about the successes and failures of those policies which they've advocated. I don't see that happening with the conservative at this time. Instead of looking forward, we see a wistful reminiscence for years past. Nostalgia. The thing with nostalgia is it gets old in a hurry.

Speaking of torture:

Pentagon Report Set Framework For Use of Torture:

Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn't bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn't be prosecuted by the Justice Department.

The advice was part of a classified report on interrogation methods prepared for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after commanders at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained in late 2002 that with conventional methods they weren't getting enough information from prisoners.

The report outlined U.S. laws and international treaties forbidding torture, and why those restrictions might be overcome by national-security considerations or legal technicalities. In a March 6, 2003, draft of the report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, passages were deleted as was an attachment listing specific interrogation techniques and whether Mr. Rumsfeld himself or other officials must grant permission before they could be used. The complete draft document was classified "secret" by Mr. Rumsfeld and scheduled for declassification in 2013.

...A military lawyer who helped prepare the report said that political appointees heading the working group sought to assign to the president virtually unlimited authority on matters of torture -- to assert "presidential power at its absolute apex," the lawyer said. Although career military lawyers were uncomfortable with that conclusion, the military lawyer said they focused their efforts on reining in the more extreme interrogation methods, rather than challenging the constitutional powers that administration lawyers were saying President Bush could claim. [Emphasis added.]

A quick note: the article Tristero links to is located at the Wall Street Journal. It must be bad if a noted neocon mouthpiece is reporting unflattering stories about Dear Leader's administration. Reports such as this one add some more evidence that the torture we've read and heard about at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere is not the work of a few bad apples but is behavior that was sanctioned from the top brass - in the White House.

Updated: Josh Marshall's take on the WSJ article is also critical reading. Here's a highlight:

But that whole discussion is different in kind from one passage in the report. I quote from the piece ...

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."

So the right to set aside law is "inherent in the president". That claim alone should stop everyone in their tracks and prompt a serious consideration of the safety of the American republic under this president. It is the very definition of a constitutional monarchy, let alone a constitutional republic, that the law is superior to the executive, not the other way around. This is the essence of what the rule of law means -- a government of laws, not men, and all that.

Indeed. I'll wager you this: if Junior Caligula has dictatorship in mind, it'll be far from benevolent.

The world didn't stop just because Ronnie died:

Nor do scandals magically disappear, as this article reminds us:Pattern Emerges of Sexual Assault Against Women Held by US Forces. That's a story that hasn't received as much play in the mass media as the homoerotic photos and footage of the torture of male prisoners at Abu Ghraib, but equally worthy of attention.

A friendly reminder about Hubbert's Peak:

After the Oil Runs Out:

If you're wondering about the direction of gasoline prices over the long term, forget for a moment about OPEC quotas and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and consider instead the matter of Hubbert's Peak. That's not a place, it's a concept developed a half-century ago by a geologist named M. King Hubbert, and it explains a lot about what's going on today at the gas pump. Hubbert argued that at a certain point oil production peaks, and thereafter it steadily declines regardless of demand. In 1956 he predicted that U.S. oil production would peak about 1970 and decline thereafter. Skeptics scoffed, but he was right.

It now appears that world oil production, about 80 million barrels a day, will soon peak. In fact, conventional oil production has already peaked and is declining. For every 10 barrels of conventional oil consumed, only four new barrels are discovered. Without the unconventional oil from tar sands, liquefied natural gas and other deposits, world production would have peaked several years ago.

Oil experts agree that hitting Hubbert's Peak is inevitable. The oil laid down by nature is finite, and almost half of it has already been extracted. The only uncertainty is when we hit the peak. Pessimists predict by 2010. Optimists say not for 30 to 40 years. Most experts expect it in 10 to 20 years. Lost in the debate are three much bigger issues: the impact of declining oil production on society, the ways to minimize its effects and when we should act. Unfortunately, politicians and policymakers have ignored Hubbert's Peak and have no plans to deal with it: If it's beyond the next election, forget it.

To appreciate how vital oil is, imagine it suddenly vanished. Virtually all transport -- autos, trucks, airplanes, ships and trains -- would stop. Without the fertilizers and insecticide made from oil, food output would plunge. Manufacturing output would also drop. Millions in colder regions would freeze.

Fortunately, oil production does not suddenly stop at Hubbert's Peak; rather, it declines steadily over time. But because production cannot meet demand, the price of oil will rapidly and continuously escalate, degrading economies and living standards. People complain now about gasoline at $3 per gallon. After Hubbert's Peak, $7 per gallon will seem cheap. Spending $150 to fill up the SUV? Ouch!

How to minimize the impact of declining oil production? Conservation and new finds can help. Higher mileage standards for autos and trucks could cut U.S. oil use by 20 percent or more. New oil fields continue to be discovered, but they are small. No giant Saudi Arabia-type fields have been found in 30 years. The small fields contribute ever diminishing amounts of oil. But while conservation and new oil can delay Hubbert's Peak and ease its impact, they cannot prevent it. Moreover, even if the United States conserves oil, other countries might not. A practical long-term, non-oil solution to the problem of Hubbert's Peak is needed.

We need new technologies, especially for transportation, which accounts for two-thirds of U.S. oil consumption. Possible options are synthetic fuels from coal, hydrogen fuel from nuclear and renewable power sources, and electrified transport: light rail, rail and maglev. Processes for synthetic gasoline, diesel and jet fuel are well developed but expensive. The environmental problems from coal -- mining, carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants -- are serious and require more attention. Hydrogen fuel produced by electrolysis from renewable power sources is environmentally clean, but it has serious technical problems. Producing the hydrogen equivalent in energy to the oil now used in U.S. transport would require 10 trillion kilowatt hours of electric energy; we would have to triple our electric generation capacity.

A more practical approach would be the electrification of transport. Switching half the truck and personal auto miles to electrified transport would require an increase in electric generation capacity of only 10 percent. Electrified transport is clean, non-polluting and energy-efficient. Light rail and rail systems are already in wide use. First- generation maglev systems are operating, and lower-cost second-generation systems are being developed.

As oil production declines, the combination of electrified transport and synthetic fuels from coal can meet the challenge. Hydrogen fuel is probably not practical, but research and development on it should continue in the hope of a breakthrough.

Whatever non-oil transport technologies prove best, making the transition from our present systems will take many years. It took decades for the first automobiles and airplanes to evolve into effective systems, and decades to build the interstate highway network. We can't afford to wait until Hubbert's Peak occurs. We should begin now to plan and implement the new, non-oil technologies. If we don't, our economy and living standard will be in serious trouble.

James C. Jordan is an energy and environment policy consultant and a former energy program director for the Navy. James R. Powell, a former senior scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, was a co-recipient, with Gordon Danby, of the 2000 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Engineering, for their invention of superconducting maglev technology. He is a director of Maglev 2000 of Florida Corp.

A gem from Tristero:

You can read the rest of the post here. In the meantime, the line that I found especially interesting (with some context):

Rightwingers: Of course I'm using Reagan's death to attack Bush's health policies. Why? Because Bush is completely wrong. Support for government research that could have helped prevent or mitigate Reagan's suffering could only become a partisan issue because Bush himself made it a partisan issue, not me. Not even Reagan permitted his ultra-conservatism to interfere with America's primacy in basic medical research.

I've been concerned for a while about the state of the sciences in the US for a while now, as there has been an overall decline. About a month ago, a NYT story highlighted a disturbing trend: we're seeing a decline in the publication of empirical studies in scientific journals, a decline in generating new Ph.D.s in the sciences, and a decline in funding for basic research in the sciences. Although some contributing factors to those trends are likely outside of our control, such as increased affluence in other parts of the world, at least one factor is in our control: the extent to which basic research is politicized. Now, the NYT article does not address this latter concern, but we have seen evidence that the current president's administration is rather hostile to research that generates empirical findings that are contrary to its own narrow political and religious agenda. The ban on stem cell research comes most readily to mind. If we are seeing the very beginnings of a brain drain in the US, one factor to consider is that the sort of environment conducive to conducting scientific research is no longer to be found here.

Let's take a look at Western history over the past three millenia. The period spanning the apex of the Greek empire to the Hellenistic era was one that was especially fertile for the development (embryonic though it may have been) of a variety of sciences, including astronomy, physics, the biological sciences, the medical sciences. Most of the major groundbreaking work occurred in these fields (along with philosophy) during that era. After that era, the sociopolitical environment needed to foster further research no longer existed. True, the Hellenistic and Roman Empire eras produced some advances in the sciences, but they were considerably fewer and further between. Scientists continued their work until the Roman Empire effectively collapsed, although their work and their personal safety were increasingly under attack from the Church (which by that time had political and military backing from Rome) as the sciences were increasingly viewed as products of the devil.

One might notice similar trends in the Middle East during the Medieval period. The Arab world produced a great many advances in the various sciences during a relatively dark period in Western Europe, in large part because the political powers of the time were willing to allow most research to progress unfettered, although by the time of Averroës the political climate was changing and a relatively fundamentalist approach to Islam became the rule of the day.

Why highlight this? Simply because we find that as go the sciences, so eventually go national economies. One of the likely byproducts of the dominance of political life by religious fundamentalists is not only a decline in the sciences (which fundies disdain any way) but also a decline in the economic well-being of a society that has depended upon those advances. Although I would hesitate to contend that we're witnessing the collapse of the sciences and face an imminent economic collapse, I do think it's crucial that we soberly look at the trends and ask ourselves if there is a window of opportunity to influence those trends.

Sunday, June 6, 2004

More Alternative Views of Reagan

I'm aware that I am far from alone in my general view of the late Ronald Reagan: the guy seemed likeable enough, but his presidency did far more harm than good (although I'll also concede that he made a far better president than does the current White House resident in thief). I found the cult of personality that surrounded Reagan to be disturbing, to say the least, back in the day. In a sense, his cult has never really receded. I often think that if the Evangelical Protestants could cannonize individuals as saints, he'd be at the top of their list. It doesn't take much to imagine Pat Robertson or Tim LaHaye selling St. Ronnie bracelets and coffee mugs to soothe those newly converted souls til the Rapture. But I digress. Criticizing Reagan's policies during his tenure in the White House would typically bring responses of shock and outrage - "how could you, he's such a nice man." Well, there's some nice guys out there doing some pretty terrible things, or at least sitting by and twiddling their thumbs while terrible things occur on their watch. I don't think Reagan's cult of personality was quite as zealous as the cult of George W. Bush, which has taken the art of the political cult to a much different level. All the same, if I had lived anywhere other than the Los Angeles/Orange County area I could easily imagine Reagan's followers taking a few steps back from me for fear that lightning would strike.

Some more around blogtopia for your consideration, starting with Magpie of Pacific Views who offers this assessment of the Reagan legacy in Ronald Reagan: A crankier view. A clip:

As governor of California, Reagan devastated both the state's system of higher educations (as a way to punish student 'radicals') and eliminated a community-based mental health system. (This magpie remembers when the mentally ill weren't a major feature of the California street scene.)

Under Reagan's presidency, deficit spending increased and the US national debt almost tripled, with a large part of the spending increases going to the military in order to counter the 'Soviet threat.' (After the fall of the Soviet Union, we found out how hollow that threat was.) His administration cut social programs, undermined organized labor (remember PATCO?), hugely escalated the war on drugs, and sponsored the deadly 'contra war' in Nicaragua.

We could go on.

Now that Reagan has died, we're going to be subjected to interminable rosy assessments of his presidency and political contributions to the nation, and testimonials as to what a nice guy he was. While we're sure we'd probably have enjoyed Reagan as an eccentric neighbor, he never should have become governor of California, let alone president of the United States. His rise to political power is an example the dangers of a political system that values style and appearance over content, and political sloganeering over policy. Rather than remembering him fondly, we should recall the damage he did in the process of bringing 'morning to America.'

Billmon of Whiskey Bar also has much to say about Reagan, and notes some interesting symbolism in Reagan's 1980 election victory and in Reagan's death. To compare and contrast here's a couple clips:

In hindsight, it's easy to see that Reagan's election was the end of many things - the end of the '70s, and the mood of experimentation that went with it (the '70s were when the '60s went mainstream); the end of the "Vietnam syndrome," and the temporary popular revulsion against imperial military adventures; the end of the political alignment that emerged from the New Deal, the end of the New Left and its hopeless ambitions - the end, really, of the post-World War II era.

...To me, the tremendous conservative nostalgia for Ronald Reagan is a sign of a movement that is, if not in decline, then poised on the cusp of it. It's an implicit admission that the golden age, when a conservative ideologue like Reagan could win the support of an overwhelming majority of Americans (and not just the instinctual cultural loyalty of red state America) has passed away.

The contrast with Bush the younger - desperately scrambling to avoid defeat in a bitterly polarized electorate - is painfully clear. In it's obsessive desire to glorify Ronald Reagan, the conservative movement is retreating psychologically into its own past. Its a sign that the political era that opened the night Reagan was elected may also be nearing its end.

To which I can only say: Rest in peace.

Billmon has much more to say in that post, and really deserves a read.

In a subsequent post, Billmon attacks the "great man" approach to understanding Reagan, by noting:

But to me, Reagan represents something a little bit different, and possibly revolutionary: Not a great man, but an actor who played the role of a great man - and with considerable panache and success.

...Reagan's claim to greatness, on the other hand, is essentially theatrical. To be sure, the America he found when he took office wasn't in such great shape - Vietnam, Watergate, inflation and the daily humilation of the Iranian hostage crisis had seen to that. But it was hardly on the rocks in the same way it was when Lincoln or FDR were inaugurated.

In some ways, Reagan's biggest triumph was the creation an atmosphere of existential crisis, in he could play the stereotypical role of the man on a white horse. He had a brilliant script, written by a new type of PR consultant (Michael Deaver generally gets the top credit) ready to exploit the synergies of the merger between politics and show business. And, like all great myths, it had enough correspondance with the reality of the times to be believable.

But there was always a kind of stage set quality to it - the sense that if you looked behind the facade all you'd find would be plywood and paper mache. The memoirs of many of the administration's principles - not to mention Edmund Morris's bizarre biography - all reinforce this sense of unreality. On camera, reagan was the Great Communicator. But off camera, he seems to have reverted to a kind of good-natured but mindless passivity - like an actor waiting in his trailer between takes.

Or to take a rant from a Gil-Scott Heron rap, B-Movie:

But oh yeah, I remember, in this year that we have now declared the year from Shogun to Ray-gun - I remember what I said about Ray-gun. I meant it: Acted like an actor. Hollyweird. Acted like a liberal. Acted like General Franco when he acted like Governer of California. Then he acted like a Republican. Then he acted like somebody was going to vote for him for President. And now we act like 26% of the registered voters is actually a mandate. We're all actors in this, I suppose.

To take the Gil-Scott Heron thang as far as I can take it, Junior Caligula (or Ray-gun, the Sequel) has become a Re-Ron of a B-Movie actor acting like President, and most of the audience is realizing that Re-Rons and sequels are stale, paling in comparison to the original - and that the original wasn't all that great to begin with. Nostalgia. That's what we want. The good old days that in truth never really existed.

Update (June 7th): Here's yet some more takes on Reagan's legacy via the consistently excellent blog, The Sideshow:

Epicycle has a run-down on Reagan's reign of error.

Apres moi, le deluge by GOTV offers yet another alternative take on Reagan's presidency, reminding us that the 1980s "morning in America" was far from a good one.

Finally, The Sideshow itself has this reminder that Reagan presided over the largest tax hike in US history. I'm sure that's something GOP types would like us to forget - along with the Reagan budget deficits that were the largest in US history (until George W. Bush came along, that is and successfully broke Reagan's record).

Update Update: Zeke L, commenting on Reagan at Daily Kos offers this cool meme: "Ronald Reagan was not a great man, but he played one on TV."

And the blog, Southpaw, offers a whole slew of posts on Reagan here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. The basic upshot I think can be summarized thusly: It's one thing to be respectful of those who have just passed away. It's quite another to remain silent while the revisionists spin a web of lies about their lives and legacies. There's no need to remain silent. We owe it to ourselves and to what's left of our country.

And don't forget to check out Salon's excellent summary of Reagan.

Jesus' General Puts Reagan's Legacy In Perspective:

I just about fell out of my chair when I read this tribute to Reagan, Remembering the Gipper. Nearly spilled my coffee too (French Freedom Roast blend). A clip:

Now is not a time for mourning; it's a time for celebration, because Ronald Reagan is with Jesus. My guess he's sitting on a golden throne right now regaling the hosts of heaven with folksy stories about his Hollywood days.

Scattered throughout his audience are people whose lives he touched; folks he helped send to heaven. Guys like the homeless man who froze to death as the Gipper was telling the world that the poor had only themselves to blame.

I'm sure that the thirty-two women who, in May of 1982, were tortured, raped, and then thrown from helicopters by the Honduran Secret Police are sitting at Ronnie's feet as he spins his yarns. Certainly they're grateful that the Gipper's Ambassador, John Negraponte, lied to investigators about his knowledge of the incident, thereby sparing their families the heartache of knowing their wives and daughters were dead.

Read the rest. Patriotboy takes Reagan tributes to the next level. Word.

Speaking of shining a light on hatemongerers

Maxspeak gives an excellent example with the post Evil Jew Financier Watch, which takes an exchange with Tony Blankley on Hannity and Colmes and shines a light on the anti-Semitism inherent in Blankley's remarks (and in the process shows the true colors of the crowd trying to smear George Soros).

Containing Authoritarianism: Some Recommendations

We'll call this a Bob Altemeyer-inspired list of ideas for keeping authoritarianism at bay. What follows is a modification of some concluding thoughts Altemeyer had about a decade ago:

1. Hold a mirror up to authoritarians. Apparently, Altemeyer's research suggests that many authoritarians are rather surprised when their authoritarian inclinations are pointed out to them.

2. Now is not the time to ditch anti-discrimination laws. If anything, we need to strengthen them. Oddly enough, even authoritarians will obey these laws even if they dislike doing so (after all, such laws are sanctioned by authorities). If enforced, such laws not only protect those groups most at risk of being discriminated against but also bring authoritarians into contact - as equals - with people whom they would otherwise go out of their way to avoid (and contrary to the old truism "familiarity breeds contempt," familiarity actually appears to diminish some of authoritarians' prejudice).

3. Secular education deserves our continued unwavering support. Why? It brings authoritarians into contact with a wider circle of acquaintances who in turn expose authoritarians to a wider range of ideas, lifestyles, etc. That very experience fosters a degree of tolerance that would be lost otherwise.

4. One of the worst things that mass media has done is to over-hype stories dealing with crime and violence. Barry Glasner's book, The Culture of Fear highlights an important trend in US mass media: even as the violent crime rates fell during the course of the 1990s, news coverage of violent crimes continued to increase. Similarly, the threat of terrorist attacks - while real - has also been greatly overplayed in mass media outlets. Hyping a "dangerous world" perspective increases right-wing authoritarianism among the US population, at the expense of our civil rights and liberties. One role that we in blogtopia can play is to act as a buffer against the fear hype.

5. Turning to our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, let's note that one role these institutions can play is that of actively discouraging ethnocentrism, self-righteousness and other trappings of an authoritarian mentality. In fact, one can find members of various religious communities who are indeed endeavoring to do precisely that.

6. Liberal and progressive reformers who value the right to protest should do so nonviolently, and should be especially wary of militants who join their ranks as such individuals are more likely to incite violence. Violent protests tend to drive the population at large in the direction of authoritarianism, which is counterproductive to reformist aims.

7. In dealing with intergroup conflicts, it's best to bear in mind that the militants on each side probably have more in common with each other - we might even say they are mirror images of one another psychologically. To reduce conflict, it is important for the nonauthoritarians and moderates among these groups to see beyond militant hatred and to reach out to their counterparts on the other side. Doing so will go a long way to taking the edge off the conflict.

8. The best approach to dealing with hatemongering is to shine the light of truth upon it - firmly, consistently, persistently. Purveyors of hate speech, whether on talk radio, in newsprint, or the internet are more than willing to use the trappings of freedom of speech while it is convenient for them to do so, but keep this in mind: their first actions in power will be to do away with those very freedoms. As we've seen with the rise of various authoritarian institutions and regimes throughout the course of human history, the dissidents are the first to be silenced by whatever means necessary - examples: the Catholic church's silencing via intellectual intimidation and physical violence of various "heretics" including the Gnostics; authoritarian 20th century regimes such as Hitler's, Franco's, Stalin's and Pol Pot's. To believe "it can't happen here" is a potentially fatal mistake.

9. To me it goes almost without saying that it is very unwise to elect highly right-wing authoritarian individuals to public office - regardless of party affiliation.

10. As I noted in a previous post yesterday late last night/early this morning, it's worth bearing in mind that any of us can be easily influenced by hate literature - even if only in the short-term. In the longer term, even when the sources of hate literature are discredited, there is still the potential of the message having a "sleeper effect" in which the recipient of the message becomes unduly influenced.

Some food for thought.

Alternative interpretations of Reagan's legacy

Yesterday's news that former President Ronald Reagan had passed away undoubtedly led to many a tribute to his legacy. Although perhaps politically incorrect in contemporary America, there are alternatives to the glowing spin that his been put on his presidency and its consequences. These alternative perspectives are ones that point out the Reagan era was in truth a relatively dark period in America's history (ironic given Reagan's infectious optimism). So in the interest of being fair and balanced, let's add some different takes on what Reagan's two terms in office have wrought.

We'll start first with Juan Cole's post, Reagan's Passing, with a clip:

Reagan had an ability to project a kindly image, and was well liked personally by virtually everyone who knew him, apparently. But it always struck me that he was a mean man. I remember learning, in the late 1960s, of the impact Michael Harrington's The Other America had had on Johnson's War on Poverty. Harrington demonstrated that in the early 1960s there was still hunger in places like Appalachia, deriving from poverty. It was hard for middle class Americans to believe, and Lyndon Johnson, who represented many poor people himself, was galvanized to take action.

I remember seeing a tape of Reagan speaking in California from that era. He said that he had heard that some asserted there was hunger in America. He said it sarcastically. He said, "Sure there is; they're dieting!" or words to that effect. This handsome Hollywood millionnaire making fun of people so poor they sometimes went to bed hungry seemed to me monstrous.

...Then when he was president, at one point Reagan tried to cut federal funding for school lunches for the poor. He tried to have ketchup reclassified as a vegetable to save money.

...Reagan's mania to abolish social security was of a piece with this kind of sentiment. In the early 20th century, the old were the poorest sector of the American population. The horrors of old age--increasing sickness, loss of faculties, marginalization and ultimately death--were in that era accompanied by fear of severe poverty. Social security turned that around. The elderly are no longer generally poverty-stricken. The government can do something significant to improve people's lives. Reagan, philosophically speaking, hated the idea of state-directed redistribution of societal wealth. (His practical policies often resulted in such redistribution de facto, usually that of tossing money to the already wealthy). So he wanted to abolish social security and throw us all back into poverty in old age.

...Reagan hated environmentalism.

...Reagan's aggression led him to shape our world in most unfortunate ways. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that Ronald Reagan created al-Qaeda, it would not be a vast exaggeration.

...Reagan's officials so hated the Sandinista populists in Nicaragua that they shredded the constitution. Congress cut off money for the rightwing death squads fighting the Sandinistas. Reagan's people therefore needed funds to continue to run the rightwing insurgency. They came up with a complicated plan of stealing Pentagon equipment, shipping it to Khomeini in Iran, illegally taking payment from Iran for the weaponry, and then giving the money to the rightwing guerrillas in Central America. At the same time, they pressured Khomeini to get US hostages in Lebanon, taken by radical Shiites there, released. It was a criminal cartel inside the US government, and Reagan allowed it, either through collusion or inattention.

There's more of course, and you should check out the rest of Cole's thoughtful post.

Next, check out Steve Gilliard's post, Ronald Reagan 1911-2004. Here's a clip that I think aptly summarizes Reagan's legacy:

The hagiography started as soon as they announced Reagan's death. How he ended the cold war, how he was a decisive leader, all this nonsense about Reagan which is just ridiculous.

...Reagan's legacy is a dark one, one of backing murderers and robbing America of a fairer future. It wasn't that he was an evil man, or a bad one. It is what he believed and what he supported caused so much pain and misery for so many people, who had to live with the results of his policies.

Again, Gilliard seems to have a fairly accurate take on the dark side of Reagan's legacy that bears consideration.

Next up, Kurt Nimmo's post "Ronald Reagan, the Gipper of Imperialism" reminds us of the ugly shadow his administration cast upon Central America:

"World grieves loss of Reagan," writes CNN, not bothering to mention that there are millions of people who are not grieving, especially in Latin America where Reagan's foreign policy is directly responsible for the murder of thousands of people. Surprisingly, the Washington Post mentions Latin America's less than enthusiastic remembrance of the Gipper.

"But in Latin America, views of Reagan's legacy were more mixed. Former Mexican foreign minister Jorge G. Castañeda, whose father served as foreign minister from 1979 to 1982, said Reagan was extremely unpopular in Mexico when he was president because of his policies in Central America ... Reagan's involvement in civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador was viewed in Mexico as unwarranted meddling that was 'interventionist, rooted in Cold War rivalries and disrespectful of international law,' Castañeda said. 'Not only were his policies viewed negatively, but he pressured Mexico enormously to change its foreign policies.'"

Reagan set the stage for the current crop of criminals and sociopaths in the White House and the Pentagon; in fact, many Bush alumni are Reagan Iran-Contra gangsters.

Susan Davis has a entertainingly snarky and dead-on summary of Reagan's legacy in her very brief Counterpunch article, In a Nutshell:

Any kid from Dixon, Illinois can make long as they cultivate a relationship with the FBI, bust a union or two, rat out their Hollywood friends, and fire a few philsophers.

After that, it was a down hill coast for Ronnie.

Phil Gasper, also at Counterpunch, says Goodbye and Good Riddance. Some clips:

But Reagan's economic policies were a disaster for working-class Americans. Reagan presided over the worst recession since the 1930s, and economic growth in the 1980s was lower than in the 1970s, despite the stimulus of military Keynesian policies, which created massive federal budget deficits and tripled the federal debt. By the end of the decade, real wages were down and the poverty rate had increased by 20 percent.

...Reagan was many things, but "gifted" was not one of them. "Poor dear," remarked British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, his closest international ally, "there's nothing between his ears." As for a "moral man," Reagan's morality included union busting--beginning with his dismissal of striking air traffic controllers in 1981--an unprecedented war on the poor, opposition to civil rights and support for apartheid South Africa. The "moral" Reagan trained and supported terrorists, including the Nicaraguan contras ("the moral equal of our Founding Fathers") who killed over 30,000 people, and Islamic radicals in Afghanistan who later formed the al-Qaeda network.

Reagan was also a liar. In November 1986, he publicly denied that his administration had been illegally selling arms to Iran and using the proceeds to fund the contras. One week later he was forced to retract this statement, but denied that the sale was part of a deal to free U.S. hostages. The following year, Reagan admitted that there had been an arms-for-hostages deal, but denied he knew anything about it.

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo has his own take on Reagan with his post, mourning in america, or, the wrong repubbb president dies. A clip:

repubbbs are quick to let reagan take credit for the collapse of the soviet union, as if he had anything to do with the corruption that ate away at its over-entended infrastructure.

And one more for the road, courtesy of Times New Roman Online, with a post titled Into the Fires of Mount Doom:

Though he might be gone, his legacy and his political offspring are clearly alive and well—thriving in fact. Nearly all the power politicos have been bound to Reagan: Perle (his Asst. Sec. Defense), Wolfowitz (Director of Policy Planning for the State Dept and then as Asst Sec State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs), Cheney (Sec Defense for Bush Sr.), and Rumsfeld (no small hand in Reagan’s foreign policy), not to mention his VP’s boy, are chafing in his over-sized saddle, reaping the whirlwind of the kind of greed-blinkered thinking with a smile that Reagan personified. Dutch gave them a pretty face to their collection of warped and frustrated ideas. In his political wake they have now done more damage to the United States and the West by association than Reagan would have ever tolerated during his administrations, but they still do it in his name—and presumably will continue to do so in his memory(largely because Bush junior’s name means jack shit).

...A dark cloud may have fallen upon the Beltway, but perhaps his death heralds the beginning of the end—the turning of the tide. Like the death of Sauron from Lord of the Rings:

When Sauron’s tower crumbled, all the orc’s perished in the chasm of a spent Mount Doom. Now that the ring that bound them has fallen will the orcs of the current administration, once so near to victory, be soon to follow? Ashes to ashes…bush to bush.

Note: slightly edited to correct a grammatical error on my part. I guess I was thinking faster than I could type.

In the mood for lists:

Conservative Opposition to Liberal Progress, by Frank Wallis (Power Skeptic). Some excellent food for thought. Check it out.

You never forget your first

I'm a little late in acknowledging this, but apparently Off the Kuff qualifies as my first track-back ping. That track-back feature works after all. Charles Kuffner summarizes the aftermath of Strayhorn's ill-conceived crusade regarding the Unitarian Church's tax exempt status by stating that it was not a religion(the courts were not amused) as well summarizing the good, bad, and ugly of the various opinions of Strayhorn's actions. I'll also offer some props to Kuffner for noting what to me seems to be the obvious:

Now after all this, if you still believe that Texas is some kind of barbaric place that ought to be sawed off or given back to Mexico or whatever, well, other than pointing out that some folks have been saying the same sort of things about Cambridge, Massachussettes this week, there's not much more I can say to you. I like it here just fine, and I make no apologies for that. I'm not going to spell out why - for one thing, it'll sound too much like I doth protest too much, and for another, it's not something that can really be conveyed by words. You have to try it for yourself, and either you get it or you don't. If you don't, that's fine. This is a big country, and there's surely someplace that suits your needs. I'd just as soon you not be here if all you're gonna do is bitch about it.

Get past the love affair that Texas voters seem to have with authoritarian politicians (a problem that coincidentally enough afflicts Oklahomans as well), there's much about Texas and Texans that I find most cool. Of course I may be a bit biased as I spent much of my childhood years in San Antonio, and have more relatives and in-laws who live in Texas than I would care to count.

Some thoughts on the effects of hate speech

One of the reasons I have come to appreciate David Neiwert's blog, Orcinus is because of Neiwert's journalistic research on the effects of the mainstreaming of right-wing hate speech on the political and social life of early 21st century America. Neiwert's work, in fact, dovetails quite nicely with psychological research on right-wing authoritarianism.

In Bob Altemeyer's book, The Authoritarian Specter (1996), the author devotes one chapter to a series of attitude change experiments that he conducted during the early to mid 1990s. For those of you unfamiliar with how social psychologists conceptualize the term "attitude", the following definition will help: an attitude is basically a judgment or evaluation of some person, product, or idea. That judgment may be positive, negative, or indifferent (think along the lines of good/bad, favorable/unfavorable, agree/disagree).

Altemeyer's series of attitude change experiments followed a basic pre-test/post-test design. Participants were first asked to complete a questionnaire on their attitudes toward some particular group or idea (e.g., homosexuals, feminists, the validity of the Nazi Holocaust that led to the deaths of millions of Jews) and also were asked to complete Altemeyer's Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) Scale. A few weeks later, the same participants would be randomly assigned to either a hate speech condition (where they would read some tract or pamphlet containing hate speech) or a neutral condition, and were subsequently asked to complete the same attitude questionnaire that they had completed a few weeks earlier.

Altemeyer then compared pre and post test attitudes toward the specific target (see above) in order to determine if either of the treatment conditions led to a change in attitudes toward the target. The basic upshot of Altemeyer's experiments can be summed up as follows: as a general rule, exposure to hate literature led to a significantly less favorable attitude toward the target of that literature, whereas participants in the neutral conditions typically showed no significant change in attitudes. What I find especially interesting (and troubling) is that this effect was found regardless of participants' level of RWA. Low RWA participants were affected just as strongly by hate literature as high RWA participants.

One can see readily why hate propaganda is so effective. People, regardless of ideology, seem to be easily suckered by hate propaganda - even when they should know better. Hitler's observation in Mein Kampf that, "[t]he receptivity of the great masses is extremely limited, their intelligence is small, and their forgetfulness is enormous," appears to have some empirical validity.

By pointing out what hate propagandists are up to, bloggers like David Neiwert give us the tools to vigorously oppose the Big Lie that these propagandists try to push - whether it's some form of neo-Nazi revisionism or homophobic diatribe: namely by providing readers with contrary empirical evidence and challenges to the logic/rationality of the hate propagandists' claims.

Knowledge is indeed power.

Situationist Thought Sunday

A quote I stumbled upon while reading:

* the militant " at the service of the established order right from the start, even though he may have had quite the opposite intention."

Guy Debord, quoted in Len Bracken's essay The Spectacle of Secrecy, a review of Debord's 1990 book, Treatise on Secrets: Commentaires sur la societe du spectacle.

The rest of the essay makes for a fascinating read.