Saturday, October 1, 2005

Moral Clarity

From 'Frog-Marching' Bush to the Hague:
While England's punishment fits with George W. Bush's pledge to prosecute military personnel for wrongdoing in Iraq, a larger question is whether low-ranking soldiers are becoming scapegoats for the bloody fiasco that Bush created when he ordered the invasion in defiance of international law. Pumped-up by Bush's false claims linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, US soldiers charged into that Arab country with revenge on their minds.

In a healthy democracy, the debate might be less about imprisoning England and other "grunts" than whether Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other war architects should be "frog-marched" to the Hague for prosecution as war criminals.

The international community also has largely shied away from the issue of Bush's criminality, apparently because of the unprecedented military might of the United States.

If the leaders of a less powerful nation had invaded a country under false pretenses - touching off a war that left tens of thousands of civilians dead - there surely would be demands for war crimes prosecutions before the International Criminal Court at the Hague. But not for Bush and his War Cabinet.

[...]

But the cavalier treatment toward Iraqi lives can be traced back to the very start of the war. Determined to invade Iraq, Bush brushed aside international objections, prevented the completion of a United Nations search for alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and unleashed his "shock and awe" bombing campaign on March 19, 2003.

Bush and his high command authorized the bombing of one Baghdad restaurant - where civilians were having dinner - because of shaky intelligence that Saddam Hussein might be eating there, too. The logic apparently was that the goal of killing Hussein justified the slaughter of the innocent restaurant clientele.

As it turned out, Hussein was not there, but the attack killed 14 civilians, including seven children. One mother collapsed when rescue workers pulled the severed head of her daughter out of the rubble.

In another US bombing raid, Saad Abbas, 34, was wounded, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror. The bombing had killed his three daughters - Marwa, 11; Tabarek, 8; and Safia, 5 - who had been the center of his life.

"It wasn't just ordinary love," his wife said. "He was crazy about them. It wasn't like other fathers." [NYT, April 14, 2003]

The horror of the war was captured, too, in the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two arms when a US missile struck his Baghdad home. Ali's father, Ali's pregnant mother and his siblings were all killed.

As he was evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming a symbol of US compassion for injured Iraqi civilians, Ali said he would rather die than live without his hands.

The slaughter extended to the battlefield where the outmatched Iraqi army sometimes fought heroically though hopelessly against the technologically superior US forces. Christian Science Monitor reporter Ann Scott Tyson interviewed US troops with the 3rd Infantry Division who were deeply troubled by their task of mowing down Iraqi soldiers who kept fighting even in suicidal situations.

"For lack of a better word, I felt almost guilty about the massacre," one soldier said privately. "We wasted a lot of people. It makes you wonder how many were innocent. It takes away some of the pride. We won, but at what cost?"

Read the rest.

Friday, September 30, 2005

After the Roberts vote,

I think I can finally summarize the Democrat party's strategy when it comes to fighting those major battles over pressing issues such as Bu$hCo nominations, bankruptcy legislation, etc. Ready? Goes something like this after each new failure to act as an opposition party:

"wait til next time! We mean it...No really...Seriously...We're keeping our powder dry for the next battle...You heard correctly - wait til next time! ... Okay not the very next time, but the time after that...unless of course we might appear unreasonable in which case it'll be the time after that...Oh, wait...midterms elections will be coming up shortly, so that won't work either...We do have very lovely press conferences, though...And flash animation...Don't forget the flash animation..."

Meanwhile...

Susan Hu tells us that violence in Sudan continues to escalate and is spreading into Chad.

The Debacle in the Desert (aka Mess O'Potamia) also continues on with more deadly attacks.

How many "Number Two" operatives does al Qaida have? Seems to be an endless supply of them.

Meet the new boss...same as the old boss

The rap sheet on Roy Blunt (Tom Delay's replacement):

  • Tried to slip pro-Big Tobacco provision into a Homeland Security bill (!) - while he was sleeping with a Philip Morris (aka Altria) lobbyist.

  • Hurt the war effort by passing legislation that reduced competition by limiting military cargo shipments to certain companies such as UPS and FedEx - while his son Andrew was (you guessed it) a lobbyist for UPS.

  • Funnelled $76,000 to his son Matt's gubernatorial campaign in Missouri by laundering it through a bunch of various campaign committees - while Altria also tossed $24,000 to Matt's campaign, and $100,000 to one of those middle-man committees.

  • PAC took money from top GOP arrested scum-bag-man Jack Abramoff, to the tune of $8,500. It's all about the company you keep, ay?

  • Took a trip to Korea in 2002 paid for by a registered foreign agent - which is against House rules.

Link.

Crackers Pt. 3

Via TAPPED:

Which brings us to today's Wall Street Journal atrocity. Penned by Charles Murray, he of The Bell Curve fame, it argues that what we're seeing post-Katrina isn't poverty but a once-again visible "underclass," a sort of shadow society of unsocialized black men with no appetite for work, no capacity to hold jobs, and no ability to be helped through conventional methods. They are, quite literally, savages, unable to function in the world the rest of us inhabit. They are, as he puts it, the "looters and the thugs," not to mention the "inert women doing nothing to help themselves or their children." And government attempts to craft helpful policy will fail because, after all, it doesn't matter if you give a gorilla a college loan, it's still a gorilla.

I've no idea where Murray got the idea that the New Orleans evacuees lacked jobs rather than cars and social skills rather than transportation -- from deep within his own prejudices, I'd guess. And where he got the concept that these men and women are somehow incapable of holding jobs and unwilling to send their children to school -- that's all similarly obscure. The absence of autos affects the social and the unsocialized alike; the folks you see on buses are often en route to jobs they hold, contra Murray, perfectly well.

But if his argument is flawed, its aim is clear. All those stories of urban anarchy were, to Murray, accurate, everyday manifestations of the Black people we'd hidden from sight. The normal explanation, that their assumed bad behavior was a reaction to extraordinary circumstance -- that was the wrong part. This had nothing to do with Katrina; it was part and parcel of an inferior race, an incorrigible culture.

The Katrina aftermath has sure brought out the worst in some circles. The right-wingers continue to show their true colors. Murray's true colors have been visible for some time, and of course he gets column space in what is supposedly a "respected" conservative publication.

I read banned books

I've had so much on my mind as of late that I almost forgot to make note that this week has been Banned Books Week. Tip of the hat to The Heretik for the reminder. I've read some of the books that made the 100 most challenged books. My son is already following in that fine tradition by reading books from the Goosebumps series and the Harry Potter series. My fave book from the top 100 list: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. What's your fave banned book?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Footnote to the previous two posts

Here's a comment from one of Markos's string of obnoxious threads that deserves more attention than it will get from the so-called "Reform Democrat" crowd:
What is sad is that you've taken your logical whip and beaten someone to a pulp, foot on the corpse, whip raised exultantly.

Jesus. What is it with you people? With friends like you who needs Republicans?

It is amazing to read this thread and see the arrogance of certainty that prevails. I like folks who have the strength of their convictions, but I am afraid of those who engage in the interpretive act of history and then base strategy unequivocally on that history. Or--conversely--unequivocally base a strategy on a technology/medium that has no meaningful history over the long haul of time.

People come to political action through all sorts of doors. If someone finally becomes politicized by means of a march/protest/rally/street theater that had an ill-defined goal, why is that necessarily bad? Can one only become politicized via the Internet?

It is impossible to ascribe the end of the Vietnam war to any particular cause. The war was a component of a culutural system and its demise was due to changes in the inputs to that system.

The present "system" is different, but our understandings of the dynamics of the cultural system that permitted/produced/guaranteed? the war on Iraq are sufficiently limited that is a gross arrogance to discard any particular approach to ending the war.

I was at the march Saturday for my own reasons which make sense to me. I'm glad I went for many reasons, but here is the most significant. The cold distance of the huge, austere government buildings peopled by cold and distant law enforcement reiterated for me the absolute and funamental neccessity of maintaining a personal and human connection to the very real human suffering that our government is inflicting upon the world.

There is not enough eloquence on all of kos (or any electronic medium other than full-length film) to make that essential, visceral connection.

This site is too cereberal. Sometimes you have to get out in the gutters.

Blogs are not the be-all and end-all of activism. A potentially useful tool in getting the word out? Yes. But if anyone is going to contend that a few kilibytes of type on a screen by well-connected individuals or that clever flash animations are going to change the world, they're seriously out of touch. What continues to make mass protests, along with various other forms of direct action, so effective is the human connection.

A Saul Alinksy Compendium

Madman in the Marketplace has a post up at Liberal Street Fighter well worth checking out. Alinsky, of course, is best known for his book, Rules for Radicals - which is of course must-reading for anyone who's interested in the nuts and bolts of organizing for social change. The following links were originally posted by Dancin' Larry, whose writing and perspective I deeply appreciated from his days at DailyKos (back when that blog was still worth a damn).

Talkin’ Organizing, Vol. I: A Tale from the City

Talkin Organizing, Vol. II: Meet Saul Alinsky

Talkin’ Organizing: Vol III. Raising a Stink in Rochester

Talkin’ Organizing, Vol IV: Ego! Power! Leaders & Organizers

Talkin’ Organizing, Vol V: Rosa Parks, Community Organizer

Talkin’ Organizing, Vol. VI: How I Became a Citizen Activist

Talkin’ Organizing, Vol. VII: Interests, Friends, and Politicians

Talkin’ Organizing, Vol. VIII: The Do Re Mi

Talkin’ Organizing, Vol IX: Ends and Beginnings

Talkin’ Organizing, Vol X: Ethics, Means and Ends

Pens to the Pentagon

Alinsky Exercise: Rule #5 and “Virginia Fundies Gone Wild!"


Food for thought.

Etan Thomas Says It:

He gave a powerful speech at the DC demonstration that self-styled "liberals" like Markos seem all to ready to diss. Pass it on:
“Giving all honor, thanks and praises to God for courage and wisdom, this is a very important rally. I'd like to thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts, feelings and concerns regarding a tremendous problem that we are currently facing. This problem is universal, transcending race, economic background, religion, and culture, and this problem is none other than the current administration which has set up shop in the White House.

In fact, I'd like to take some of these cats on a field trip. I want to get big yellow buses with no air conditioner and no seatbelts and round up Bill O'Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Trent Lott, Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Bush Jr. and Bush Sr., John Ashcroft, Giuliani, Ed Gillespie, Katherine Harris, that little bow-tied Tucker Carlson and any other right-wing conservative Republicans I can think of, and take them all on a trip to the ‘hood. Not to do no 30-minute documentary. I mean, I want to drop them off and leave them there, let them become one with the other side of the tracks, get them four mouths to feed and no welfare, have scare tactics run through them like a laxative, criticizing them for needing assistance.

I’d show them working families that make too much to receive welfare but not enough to make ends meet. I’d employ them with jobs with little security, let them know how it feels to be an employee at will, able to be fired at the drop of a hat. I’d take away their opportunities, then try their children as adults, sending their 13-year-old babies to life in prison. I’d sell them dreams of hopelessness while spoon-feeding their young with a daily dose of inferior education. I’d tell them no child shall be left behind, then take more money out of their schools, tell them to show and prove themselves on standardized exams testing their knowledge on things that they haven’t been taught, and then I’d call them inferior.

I’d soak into their interior notions of endless possibilities. I’d paint pictures of assisted productivity if they only agreed to be all they can be, dress them up with fatigues and boots with promises of pots of gold at the end of rainbows, free education to waste terrain on those who finish their bid. Then I’d close the lid on that barrel of fool’s gold by starting a war, sending their children into the midst of a hostile situation, and while they're worried about their babies being murdered and slain in foreign lands, I’d grace them with the pain of being sick and unable to get medicine.

Give them health benefits that barely cover the common cold. John Q. would become their reality as HMOs introduce them to the world of inferior care, filling their lungs with inadequate air, penny pinching at the expense of patients, doctors practicing medicine in an intricate web of rationing and regulations. Patients wander the maze of managed bureaucracy, costs rise and quality quickly deteriorates, but they say that managed care is cheaper. They’ll say that free choice in medicine will defeat the overall productivity, and as co-payments are steadily rising, I'll make their grandparents have to choose between buying their medicine and paying their rent.

Then I'd feed them hypocritical lines of being pro-life as the only Christian way to be. Then very contradictingly, I’d fight for the spread of the death penalty, as if thou shall not kill applies to babies but not to criminals.

Then I’d introduce them to those sworn to protect and serve, creating a curb in their trust in the law. I’d show them the nightsticks and plungers, the pepper spray and stun guns, the mace and magnums that they’d soon become acquainted with, the shakedowns and illegal search and seizures, the planted evidence, being stopped for no reason. Harassment ain’t even the half of it. Forty-one shots to two raised hands, cell phones and wallets that are confused with illegal contrabands. I’d introduce them to pigs who love making their guns click like wine glasses. Everlasting targets surrounded by bullets, making them a walking bull's eye, a living piñata, held at the mercy of police brutality, and then we’ll see if they finally weren’t aware of the truth, if their eyes weren’t finally open like a box of Pandora.

I’d show them how the other side of the tracks carries the weight of the world on our shoulders and how society seems to be holding us down with the force of a boulder. The bird of democracy flew the coop back in Florida. See, for some, and justice comes in packs like wolves in sheep's clothing. T.K.O.'d by the right hooks of life, many are left staggering under the weight of the day, leaning against the ropes of hope. When your dreams have fallen on barren ground, it becomes difficult to keep pushing yourself forward like a train, administering pain like a doctor with a needle, their sequels continue more lethal than injections.

They keep telling us all is equal. I’d tell them that instead of giving tax breaks to the rich, financing corporate mergers and leading us into unnecessary wars and under-table dealings with Enron and Halliburton, maybe they can work on making society more peaceful. Instead, they take more and more money out of inner city schools, give up on the idea of rehabilitation and build more prisons for poor people. With unemployment continuing to rise like a deficit, it's no wonder why so many think that crime pays.

Maybe this trip will make them see the error of their ways. Or maybe next time, we'll just all get out and vote. And as far as their stay in the White House, tell them that numbered are their days.”

As good a candidate as any for my generation's Muhammad Ali.

Bu$hCo's America


Hat tip to Drunken Monkey Style Blogging.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Crackers Pt. 2


Bill Bennett today on his radio show:
"you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."
Every right-winger's fantasy. Think a bit about the context in which those remarks were made. A lot of white conservatives haven't moved that far beyond the "good old days" of the eugenics movement - in fact, many haven't moved away from the eugenics movement at all. Just to give you a little flavor of Bennett's intellectual origins, here's a clip from The Eugenics Archive:
World population grew at a steady rate during the 19th century. However, by the turn of the 20th century, several factors aligned to markedly increase the rate of population growth. Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch’s germ theory brought new knowledge of infectious agents and spurred programs to limit their spread – including of use of antiseptics, pasteurization of milk, compulsory vaccination, and improved sanitation. At the same time, mechanization in farming and food processing increased the supply of nutritious foods. These advances coupled to dramatically decrease infant and childhood mortality. The readily observable result was an increase in family size – especially among the urban poor.

The eugenics and birth control movements founded early in the 20th century were different responses to the specter of rampant population growth. Although both movements were involved in reproductive control, each was driven by different objectives and methods. While the birth control movement was concerned with limiting population growth, per se, eugenicists were more concerned with limiting the spread of supposedly dysgenic traits.

[...]

Davenport and other eugenic leaders, predominantly men, believed that the state should be empowered, by statute, to control reproduction by whole classes of people they deemed genetically inferior. Eugenicists focused on segregating the “feebly inherited” in mental institutions, ultimately seeking the legal remedy of compulsory sterilization. (They also employed immigration restriction to limit the growth of certain population groups.)

When 1970s rap group Last Poets was laying down tracks like "The Pill" (an anti-birth control rap) they did so from the perspective of a people who had been targeted for extinction by eugenicists. As I've mentioned before, at various points in time much of the eugenics movement was codified into state and federal law. The practice of forced sterilization of so-called "feebleminded" people - which included people of African descent, American Indian descent, etc. - was commonplace during the first decades of this century. Francis Galton and his intellectual heirs had taken the backward views that Europeans had regarding race for centuries and made them "respectable" by dressing those views with scientific jargon. Members of ethnic minority groups were deemed feebleminded by results of IQ tests that were inherently rigged in favor of the predominantly white upper classes.

As much as one would have hoped that the Nazi regime's refinement of the eugenics movement would have discredited its aims and perspective for good, the sad truth of the matter is that the movement never really went away. Neo-Nazi organizations such as The Pioneer Fund have been bankrolling the careers of a number of notorious late 20th and early 21st century eugenicists, including the likes of Richard Lynn, Roger Pearson, Arthur Jensen, and J. Phillipe Rushton. David Neiwert lists a number of other contemporary academicians who have embraced the eugenics movement (see Noxious Academics). Clearly some folks are more than happy to pawn noxious racism in the guise of "science." Media figures such as Bill Bennett are continuing to act as transmitters of a eugenics viewpoint, to the extent that they have "mainstream" credibility. And the Republican Party itself, which is essentially little more than the heir of Jim Crow and Orville Faubus, has had precious little difficulty in running virulent eugenicists, such as Tennessee congressional candidate James L. Hart, and of course Louisiana's own David Duke. Many of these individuals are pretty bald-faced about their racism: it's there for all to see. Others, such as Bennett, try to be a bit less forthcoming, by adding caveats that aborting all black fetuses would be "impossible" and "morally reprehensible" but (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) it would sure be "wonderful".

Asking uncomfortable questions...

Ray McGovern asks a few of his own:
Where do American religious leaders stand on torture? Their deafening silence evokes memories of the unconscionable behavior of German church leaders in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Despite the hate whipped up by administration propagandists against those it brands "terrorists," most Americans agree that torture should not be permitted. Few seem aware, though, that although President George W. Bush says he is against torture, he has openly declared that our military and other interrogators may engage in torture "consistent with military necessity."

For far too long we have been acting like "obedient Germans." Shall we continue to avert our eyes - even as our mainstream media begin to expose the "routine" torture conducted by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo?

Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman John Warner took a strong rhetorical stand against torture early last year after seeing the photos from Abu Ghraib. Then he succumbed to strong political pressure to postpone Senate hearings on the subject until after the November 2004 election. Those of us who live in Virginia might probe our consciences on this. Shall we citizens of the once-proud Old Dominion simply acquiesce while Sen. Warner shirks his constitutional duty?

We have come a long way since Virginia patriot Patrick Henry loudly insisted that the rack and the screw were barbaric practices that must be left behind in the Old World, "or we are lost and undone." Can Americans from other states consult their own consciences with respect to what Justice may require of them in denouncing torture as passionately as the patriots who founded our nation?

On September 24, The New York Times ran a detailed report regarding the kinds of "routine" torture that US servicemen and women have been ordered to carry out. This week's Time also has an article on the use of torture by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo.

Those two articles are based on a new report from Human Rights Watch, a report that relies heavily on the testimony of a West Point graduate, an Army Captain who has had the courage to speak out. A Pentagon spokesman has dismissed the report as "another predictable report by an organization trying to advance an agenda through the use of distortion and errors of fact." Judge for yourselves; the report can be found here. Grim but required reading.
As individuals and as collectives we're remembered by others - if at all - by our most salient actions. Often those deeds most salient are the most negative - that seems to be largely due to the way the human cognitive system is hardwired. Certainly there is something adaptive about that: someone who's done some really nasty sh*t in the past is someone to avoid if one wishes to continue to survive or at least remain unscathed. A nation known for starting unprovoked wars and torturing those it captures (as we've seen for example with the US government's actions in Iraq) is one that others will be understandably uncomfortable dealing with. The photos from Abu Ghraib have become our nation's legacy. That is a good part of what the rest of the world will remember long after this war is over, much as the images that emerged from the German death camps still haunt us today. I certainly have no qualms in noting the utter moral bankruptcy of Bu$hCo's apparent embrace of the use of torture. At least in the religious texts from which I draw for guidance I find nothing to support such policies. On a more pragmatic level, those negative deeds will come to haunt us on many levels, including militarily, politically and economically. And as the belligerent giant becomes weakened (as seems inevitable), there will be those with long memories who will be awaiting to exact their revenge. The wheel of karma is like that. Just as the German citizenry ran out of second chances to do the right thing and loudly oppose what their leaders were doing, we too will one day run out of second chances. The time for silence in the name of political correctness is long past.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The rumors of chaos were greatly exaggerated

The folks at NOLA.com have the 411 on what apparently really happened:
After five days managing near-riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice.

As the fog of warlike conditions in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath has cleared, the vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

"I think 99 percent of it is bulls---," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything. ... Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved."

[...]

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said authorities had confirmed only four murders in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina - making it a typical week in a city that anticipated more than 200 homicides this year. Jordan expressed outrage at reports from many national media outlets that suffering flood victims had turned into mobs of unchecked savages.

"I had the impression that at least 40 or 50 murders had occurred at the two sites," he said. "It's unfortunate we saw these kinds of stories saying crime had taken place on a massive scale when that wasn't the case. And they (national media outlets) have done nothing to follow up on any of these cases, they just accepted what people (on the street) told them. ... It's not consistent with the highest standards of journalism."

[...]

In interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Compass reported rapes of "babies," and Mayor Ray Nagin spoke of "hundreds of armed gang members" killing and raping people inside the Dome. Unidentified evacuees told of children stepping over so many bodies, "we couldn't count."

The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them. Nagin told Winfrey the crowd has descended to an "almost animalistic state."

Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.


There's much more to the story. Read the whole blog entry. I recall having some difficulty squaring the horror stories with some of the other unofficial oral history that was getting some limited coverage in blogtopia (e.g., Denise Moore's story is a good example of what I'm talking about). Our society seems all too willing to expect the worst of those who are poor and those who are black (hence the descriptions of almost "animalistic" behavior and cannibalism). It's that fear of a black planet I guess. And yet what happened goes more like this: people suffering to a degree that no one should ever have to suffer were generally cool with each other. In the absence of any "official" social organization (remember, the government was asleep at the wheel), folks gravitated toward creating their own informal efforts to organize for survival.

The horrifying news had its intended effect: the beginning of ethnic cleansing in the region. God forbid if a bunch of predominantly poor and predominantly black people actually moved back there. Even more horrifying a prospect: what if they were actually angry enough to start organizing themselves politically? The elitists can't have that, now can they? The poor will be purged.

Lenin's Tomb summarized the scene thusly:
Yes, New Orleans is to be rebuilt without its "underclass". God has, at long last, cleaned up public housing in New Orleans, with a little help from his loyal lieutenants in the Bush administration, whose confederates continue to reap rewards in abundance.

Unsurprisingly, some of the most morally serious and angry reactions to this have come from hip hop, so here's a bit of listening and reading: Mos Def: Katrina Klap; K.O. remixes Kanye West: George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People; Immortal Technique: Katrina and the Hand of God.

Watch this video

Why? A new video from Bring It On. Check it out.

Scoundrel, Investigate Thyself!

CBS is reporting that "Brownie" has been re-hired as a consultant to investigate his own complete and utter job failure at FEMA.

Read the rest here.

Monday, September 26, 2005

"Waltzing on the deck of the Titanic"


"Waltzing on the deck of the Titanic
Don't lose your head while others panic
Retain your poise
And pay no heed to the noise
While waltzing on the deck of the Titanic..."

Lyric by The Woodbys

A whirlwind tour of GOP financial mismanagement

This post from Bonddad deserves to be passed along:
There are a lot of Republicans like my Dad who vote Republican largely based on the perception Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility. This perception comes from the 1950s when Republicans were actually fiscally responsible. However, starting in 1980 and the "Reagan Revolution", that changed. The Republicans became the party of "borrow and squander". Regrettably, they have left the US with a legacy of debt that will burden our children, grandchildren and probably our great grandchildren. Moreover, as the US population ages and the baby-boomers retire, it could crush the US' national budget.

Below I will run through a history of US budget deficits and total debt. There is some debate among various economic factions about what debt to use when discussing the US' public debt which is divided into publicly held debt and intra-governmental debt. Publicly held debt is debt held by the public. Intra-governmental debt is held by various government agencies when they borrow from one another. I will use the total amount of debt which totals the combined public and intra-governmental debt. The reason is simple: regardless of who holds the debt. it is still a debt obligation of the US government and much be paid off on maturity.

All of the information here is derived from the Congressional Budget Office and the Bureau of the Public Debt.

Before we delve into the actual fiscal record of the various administrations, I want to deal with the Laffer curve. This economic theory states that tax cuts will eventually pay for themselves because lower tax rates will empower individual taxpayers to work harder because they are keeping more of their money. This harder work in turn leads to increased tax revenue. The Reagan administration used this theory to cut tax rates in 1981. However, it is very important to note that before this theory came into prominence among conservative ideologues, tax revenue from individuals was already increasing, essentially doubling every ten years. From 1962 - 1970 revenue from individual taxpayers increased from 45 to 90 billion dollars (non-inflation adjusted) and from 1970 revenues from individual taxpayers increased from 90 billion - 244 billion (non-inflation adjusted). The point of these previous observations is many factors aside from marginal tax rates are responsible for increased revenue from individual taxpayers.

Reagan

The beginning of the 1980s marked the Republican's return to power, as Regan took control of the presidency and the Republicans gained control of the Senate.

Reagan used the Laffer curve to justify cuts in marginal tax rates. As a result, tax receipts barely increased from 1981-1984, when receipts from individual taxpayers were 285 billion, 297 billion, 288 billion and 298 billion respectively. At the same time, outlays increased from 678 billion to 851 billion, respectively. As a result of the difference between receipts and expenditures, the federal budget deficit increased from 73 to 188 billion from 1981-1984. This pattern of events established in the early 1980s by the Republicans is clear: cut taxes on the wealthy, increase spending and hope the Laffer curve works.

Reagan raised taxes in 1983 as a result of his administrations concern over the growing federal debt load. However, he did not curtail his spending

Ronald Reagan started his term with total debt outstanding of 930 million and increased total debt outstanding to 2.7 trillion. This is a 13.71% compound annual increase. He never balanced a budget.

Bush 41

The biggest point of Bush's presidency was his breaking the "no new taxes" pledge. However, it is important to note this was the fiscally responsible thing to do. It is also important to note that the increased taxes did not help the budget situation in the slightest. Receipts from individual taxpayers increased from 991 to 1091 billion. At the same time, federal expenditures increased from 1.064 trillion to 1.381 trillion.

Bush I started his term with outstanding debt of 2.7 trillion and increased total debt to 4 trillion. This is a 10.32% compounded annual increase. He never balanced a budget.

Bush II

Bush essentially tried to do the same thing Reagan did - cut taxes and increase spending. He cuts taxes for the wealthy which decreased tax revenue from individuals from 1.991 trillion to 1.880 trillion. At the same time, he increased spending in turn increasing the deficit from 32 billion in 2001 to 567 billion in 2004.

Bush II started with 5.6 total outstanding debt and increased total outstanding debt to 7.7 trillion. This is a 6.5% annual increase. He has never balanced a budget.

Conclusion

Simply put, the Laffer curve is better named the Laugher curve; it is a joke. Tax revenue increases are just as likely the result of GDP growth.

More importantly, Republican economic thinking has dominated national economic policy for 17 of the last 25 years. It has accomplished nothing more than indebting this country for numerous future generations.

Of course, as a teen and young adult during the Raygun era, I could point to several libertarian friends who were trying to point out the financial mismanagement that was going on in the White House - enabled by Congress. Among the GOP true believers those admonitions fell on deaf ears.

I'm something of a deficit hawk for a number of reasons I suppose. To me the bottom line is that running up huge debts runs contrary to any effort to lay the groundwork for a sustainable future. Being fiscally prudent to me is as important as being environmentally conscious and fostering social equality and justice.

The world can't wait

Oklahoma's First Flag


The story of the Red Flag: We get our name from the first Oklahoma state flag which flew from 1911-1924 (there was no official state flag from 1907-1911).

The flag was changed during the post-WWI paranoia era because of the flag's association with Socialism. We think this is a crying shame because Oklahoma's agrarian-socialist history is not shameful but rather one of our state's finest hours.

Quote from the Red Flag Press. Image from Historic Flags of Oklahoma. Props to JMBZine.

The economy is humming along:

Greenspan: "US Has Lost Deficit Control":
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told France's Finance Minister Thierry Breton the United States has "lost control" of its budget deficit, the French minister said on Saturday.

"'We have lost control,' that was his expression," Breton told reporters after a bilateral meeting with Greenspan.

"The United States has lost control of their budget at a time when racking up deficits has been authorized without any control (from Congress)," Breton said.

The bloated deficits that we've witnessed during the Raygun/Bush era and the Shrub/Cheney era are simply unsustainable. If anything, we've witnessed under absolute GOP control of the federal government these last few years deficit spending that would have put Raygun to shame. That's saying something. Then again, what are the GOP's priorities? Sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, those priorities have everything to do with "drowning the government" (as Norquist would put it) in order for their elite cronies to live their deepest darkest social Darwinist fantasies at the expense of the rest of us. Personally, I'd rather our society invest in growing healthy human beings - fostering the sort of physical and social environment that that actually nourishes the human body & spirit. We don't have that now. Can't do that while plunging the nation into bankruptcy while playing empire. At some point our foreign creditors (e.g., China) are going to start wanting repayment, and once they start naming the tune, guess who's gonna dance.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Word!

A man with outward courage dares to die. A man with inward courage dares to live.

Lao-Tzu

Found at European Tribune.

Why am I not surprised...

Bu$hCo appeals to the public to donate their hard-earned money to the presumed effort to rebuild Iraq. With all those vocal war supporters out there (especially those of the 101st Fighting Keyboard Division and The Chair Force), this should have been a howling success. Not so fast. The grand total raised so far since the effort was launched earlier in September is.....drumroll please...$600! You read that right. Below:
An extraordinary appeal to Americans from the Bush administration for money to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq has raised only $600 (£337), The Observer has learnt. Yet since the appeal was launched earlier this month, donations to rebuild New Orleans have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars.

The public's reluctance to contribute much more than the cost of two iPods to the administration's attempt to offer citizens 'a further stake in building a free and prosperous Iraq' has been seized on by critics as evidence of growing ambivalence over that country.

This coincides with concern over the increasing cost of the war. More than $30 billion has been appropriated for the reconstruction. Initially, America's overseas aid agency, USaid, expected it to cost taxpayers no more than $1.7bn, but it is now asking the public if they want to contribute even more.

Newshog sums it up aptly:
Insta-skinflint, Powerlame, Little Green Mothballs, Captains Sixteenths, QandBigO, Charging RI-NoMoney, My Vast Right Wing Bankruptcy....

I could go on but I'm laughing too hard.

The chickenhawks are as unwilling to put their money where their mouths are as they are to put their necks on the line. Figures.

We'll rename the Freepers "Cheapers"...you get the idea. Couple that with the following from Hoffmania:
This is just too damned hilarious. Here's the earlier story:

Military families and other defenders of the war in Iraq were claiming their turn to demonstrate, responding to a huge war protest with a rally of their own on the National Mall.

Organizers hoped to draw several thousand people to their noontime event near the National Air and Space Museum. They acknowledged the rally would be much smaller than Saturday’s antiwar protest in Washington but said their message would not be overshadowed.

“People have been fired up over the past month, especially military family members, and they want to be heard,” said Kristinn Taylor, a leader of FreeRepublic.com, one of the sponsors of Sunday’s event.

BEHOLD THE POWER OF THE FREE REPUBLIC! Here's how it turned out.

Military families and others defending the war in Iraq took their turn Sunday to demonstrate on the National Mall, if in much smaller numbers, and counter the massive protest against the war a day earlier.

About 100 people had gathered before a stage set up on the eastern portion of the mall as the noon rally began. A large photo of an American flag served as a backdrop for the stage, and country music blared from speakers while other banners and signs proclaiming support for U.S. troops waved in the breeze.

To the west, near the Washington Monument, workers were taking down the stage used for Saturday's marathon anti-war protest that attracted 100,000 people according to police estimates.

Support for Bu$hCo's "noble cause" is laughably underwhelming. Hat tip to Shakespeare's Sister for some of the above.

Making the world safe from populism

via Left I on the News:
"The United States went through a similar process of populism, and our party structure found a way to contain it."
--Thomas Shannon, discussing recent trends in Latin America (especially Venezuela) during his nomination hearing

Eli also gives us a definition of populism:
Populism: "A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite."
Yup - pretty nasty stuff that must be contained by the elites, eh? We sure as hell wouldn't want us rabble actually controlling our destinies now would we.

ESP-Disk is back

From the All About Jazz Label Profile:
Sometimes it does take a bit of a reminder—especially in the days of corporate conglomerates managing almost every aspect of one's media experience—that the history of improvised music has been forged not only by left-field artists and visionaries, but also by record labels just as independent as their rosters. Commodore, Savoy, Dial, Transition, Blue Note, Prestige, and a host of musician-run private productions (Saturn, Strata-East, Incus, FMP) have all contributed to the direction of jazz, cementing the notoriety of major players as well as giving the decidedly obscure a chance to make their recorded mark on history.

Though there are currently too many independent productions to count releasing improvised music, there were far fewer choices—even among indies—forty years ago. In terms of the jazz vanguard of the post-bop era—those innovators like Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Sunny Murray and Pharoah Sanders that separated improvisation from chord structure and straight-time and gave it to the realm of action and “all time”—an independent production and distribution system was necessary to get this new music to the public. If you were playing avant garde jazz in New York in 1965, Bernard Stollman was your man and ESP-Disk was your label.

[...]

In the late '60s, Stollman contracted with Philips and JVC to release selected titles from the label in Europe and Japan, under the Fontana and Globe monikers: “they had an opportunity to lease them for two years and then they dropped it.” Though some titles were released, Stollman wasn't paid in full for the license. Also, in the late '60s, Vietnam was one of the major sticking points in world relations and it even came down to ESP and its countercultural image. “What they licensed was anti-war and it's entirely possible that Philips decided they didn't want to be spreading music which criticized the American government.”

The US government was, during the Goldwater period, also closely monitoring the activities of countercultural businesses: “I had a staff member who was from the intelligence community and he tried to wreck the company... he worked constantly to try and undermine me and antagonize artists towards me. He was a monstrous individual.” By this time, ESP was in serious financial trouble: “I was out of business in '68, but I kept going for six years on money in the bank. I was just disregarding the reality, but I went on putting out new records... [with the Fugs and Pearls Before Swine] I had three albums moving to the top of the charts and overnight, it was done.” In 1974, ESP officially closed up shop; Stollman put the masters in safe-deposit box and became, for a time, a New York state prosecutor.

In the 1980s, the catalog was licensed by Base in Italy and in the '90s by Germany's ZYX Music—neither of which properly paid Stollman for the use of the catalog. Following the brief lease of some titles by Calibre and Abraxas in Holland and Italy (Abraxas, in fact, was bootlegging ESP until recently), Stollman and a small staff have re-started the label, primarily focusing on reissuing original tapes in 20-bit surround sound with new liners and photographs, audio interviews with the artists and some material never before issued (though a recent solo piano recording of Ellis Marsalis is the first piece of a planned series of new artists).

“The history of this label is as an iconoclastic label that releases new music. I don't really want to repeat 1965, so I don't see any reason why I can't go forward with new music.” Yet Stollman recognizes that ESP is certainly one of the most influential record labels in the business: “Now that I'm back, it seems to me that I had something to do with introducing change and innovation to the industry... now, artists are not going to be pushed around by record companies in terms of content and repertoire.”

Stollman cites Eremite, Hat Hut, and Boxholder as among the contemporary indies that have supported and expanded upon the ESP ethos of a unified aesthetic and documentary style, presenting new and archival music by unknown and established artists. One thing is for sure, though: in creative music, the label is just as much the artist.

Visit ESP-Disk on the web.
The same reviewer also takes on a couple of the first reissues from the reborn ESP-Disk label: Frank Wright: The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings (a 2-cd set that pulls together his two recordings for the label along with some never-before-released interviews with the artist); and Albert Ayler's first two albums for the label reissued as Prophesy/Bells. Note that a compilation of Ayler's complete ESP-Disk cannon is expected to be released in a matter of weeks, and that ESP-Disk has also this year issued a previously unreleased summer 1970 live gig (Live on the Riviera).

The whole ethic behind ESP-Disk - that the artists had complete control over the entire process, from recording to final song selection - is one that I can dig on. The label definitely had that DIY vibe that characterized the punk era with which I would be more familiar. ESP-Disk albums had a "look" to them in terms of packaging, along with a definite rawness in terms of the recorded music itself - there's a certain Zen to the jazz recordings that is hard to describe. You just gotta hear it. One thing's for certain, none of the jazz recordings could be characterized as easy listening. Open ears and an open mind are required.

I'm partial to the recordings from the ESP-Disk heyday (1965-1966) - in particular recordings led by Ayler, Marion Brown, Giuseppi Logan, Noah Howard, and Marzette Watts. There were some gems from the 1970s that also deserve props - The Revolutionary Ensemble's Vietnam, The Sea Ensemble's We Move Together, and Frank Lowe's Black Beings. It's good to have ESP-Disk back, and I'll be intrigued with whatever new artists ESP-Disk manages to discover.

The "bad apples" theory is rotten to the core

82nd Airborne Implicated In Detainee Abuses

Three former members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division say members of their battalion in Iraq routinely beat and abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004 to help gather intelligence on the insurgency and to amuse themselves.

The new allegations, the first involving members of the elite 82nd Airborne, are contained in a report by Human Rights Watch. The 30-page report does not identify the troops, but one is Capt. Ian Fishback, who has presented some of his allegations in letters this month to top aides of two senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John W. Warner of Virginia, the chairman, and John McCain of Arizona. Captain Fishback approached the Senators' offices only after he tried to report the allegations to his superiors for 17 months, the aides said. The aides also said they found the captain's accusations credible enough to warrant investigation.

In separate statements to the human rights organization, Captain Fishback and two sergeants described systematic abuses of Iraqi prisoners, including beatings, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, stacking in human pyramids and sleep deprivation at Camp Mercury, a forward operating base near Falluja. Falluja was the site of the major uprising against the American-led occupation in April 2004. The report describes the soldiers' positions in the unit, but not their names.

The abuses reportedly took place between September 2003 and April 2004, before and during the investigations into the notorious misconduct at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. Senior Pentagon officials initially sought to characterize the scandal there as the work of a rogue group of military police soldiers on the prison's night shift.

"They wanted intel," said the sergeant, an infantry fire-team leader who served as a guard when no military police soldiers were available. "As long as no PUC's came up dead, it happened." He added, "We kept it to broken arms and legs."

The soldiers told Human Rights Watch that while they were serving in Afghanistan, they learned the stress techniques from watching Central Intelligence Agency operatives interrogating prisoners.

Captain Fishback, who has served combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, gave Human Rights Watch and Senate aides his long account only after his efforts to report the abuses to his superiors were rebuffed or ignored over 17 months, according to Senate aides and John Sifton, one of the Human Rights Watch researchers who conducted the interviews. Moreover, Captain Fishback has expressed frustration at his civilian and military leaders for not providing clear guidelines for the proper treatment of prisoners.

In a Sept. 16 letter to the senators, Captain Fishback, wrote, "Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment."

Torture does not occur in a vacuum. There are social forces that invite human rights abuses, such as those above, as well as the ones reported about in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. Like it or not, the leadership sets the tone - if that leadership is unclear and inconsistent (plausible), or is consistently in favor of the use of torture (also very plausible), then don't be surprised when you start reading or hearing about the ensuing abuses.

"Sorry about the occupation and all the dead people,

but we really must be off. Another time, perhaps. Cheerio!"

Britain to pull troops from Iraq as Blair says 'don't force me out':
For Blair, the question of withdrawal is one of the most difficult he is facing. The Prime Minister has abandoned plans, announced last February, to publish his own exit strategy setting out the milestones which would have to be met before quitting: instead, the plans are now being negotiated between a commission representing the Shia-dominated Iraqi government, and senior US and UK diplomats and military commanders in Baghdad.

Officials familiar with the negotiations said that conditions for withdrawal would not demand a complete cessation of insurgent violence, or the end of al-Qaeda atrocities.

[...]

It was revealed yesterday that an Iraqi judge issued the warrants for the arrest of the two rescued soldiers, accusing them of killing one policeman and wounding another, carrying unlicensed weapons and holding false identification.

The continuing preparations for a military withdrawal come, however, as officials are bracing themselves for a new political crisis in Iraq next month, with what many regard as the inevitable rejection of a new constitution by a two-thirds majority in three provinces, sufficient to kill the document and trigger new elections.