Friday, December 31, 2004

Silt 3.0: Looking back at 2005

If you want to see how next year will play out without the hassle of having to live through it, check it out here. Absurd yet plausible. Inevitable even.

Meanwhile, on the home front....

(This items works a lot better if you can whistle the theme from the Andry Griffith show while you read it.)

From the police blotter section of the local daily:

Family Disturbance. A woman on the first block of Center Drive came home form work around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and found her son napping on the couch. He had left the socks on the floor so she called 911 because she wanted him out of her house.

Kinda puts that Sue-nummy thing in perspective, eh?


Thursday, December 30, 2004

Compassionate fellowship from the Westboro Baptist Church

I like to think myself as PoMo as the next guy -- able to spot even the most subtle satire. And there are some wonderfully subtle pseudo-God Squad websites out there, like the Landover Baptist site (I think). But I throw up my hands at this one -- www.godhatesfags.com, the website of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Among other strangeness therein:

WBC engages in daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth. We display large, colorful signs containing Bible words and sentiments, including: GOD HATES FAGS, FAGS HATE GOD, AIDS CURES FAGS, THANK GOD FOR AIDS, FAGS BURN IN HELL, GOD IS NOT MOCKED, FAGS ARE NATURE FREAKS, GOD GAVE FAGS UP, NO SPECIAL LAWS FOR FAGS, FAGS DOOM NATIONS, etc.

The headline on the press release the top link points to: "Thank God for Tsunami & 2000 dead Swedes!!!"

If this site represents somebody's idea of humor, I would love to see a mainstream church or three express a little old-fashioned outrage. If it represents serious and heartfelt beliefs, it is the most vile and outrageous thing I have seen on the vile and outrageous Internet, and we should do all we can to publicize it. The first step in upending the absolutist claims of the fundamentalists is to set them against each other. And putting this kind of insanity on the front page will force the slightly less wacky religious right to disavow it, and thus admit that thumping the Bible does not guarantee righteousness or virtue.

Yuck.

Update: As it turns out, so far the rest of the religious right isn't just ignoring this obscenity, they are even ignoring the tragedy in Asia itself.

DU - Republicans claim Iraq and Osama weren't worth it

A few choice quotes:

This brash act by a brash child-man is a direct threat to the security of every citizen inside our own borders for the people against whom he acted are non-forgiving and have no fear of death

Given the present set of facts, there is no Constitutional predicate on the basis of which Congress has the authority to initiate war, even with a declaration of war.

In war, there is no substitute for victory. Victory, as commonly understood, with respect to an assault on Iraq, has not been defined, let alone declared to be the objective of any such attack.

The strategic position of the United States in the world may be diminished, rather than enhanced, by an attack on Iraq. Many regimes friendly to the United States will be placed at severe risk if they are seen to assist, or even favor, the U.S. attack.

If we "succeed", what have we gained? If we don't begin a war, what have we lost?


Yes, all from conservatives. The punchline, of course, is that these comments were made during the Clinton Administration. For folks who claim the world is governed by absolutes, these cons show an impressive relativistic skill -- what was terrible idea when Bill Clinton offered it became a great one when proposed by the new "child-man."

Iraqi poll workers resign en masse

Three militant groups warned Iraqis against voting in Jan. 30 elections, saying Thursday that people participating in the "dirty farce" risked attack. All 700 employees of the electoral commission in Mosul reportedly resigned after being threatened.

The warning came a day after insurgents in Mosul, which has seen increased violence in recent weeks, launched a highly coordinated assault on a U.S. military outpost. The United States said 25 insurgents were believed slain and one American soldier was killed in the battle, which involved strafing runs by U.S. warplanes.

The United States, which has said the vote must go forward, has repeatedly sought to portray recent attacks that have killed dozens of people as the acts of a reeling insurgency, not the work of a force that is gathering strength.

The radical Ansar al-Sunnah Army and two other insurgent groups issued a statement Thursday warning that democracy was un-Islamic. Democracy could lead to passing un-Islamic laws, such as permitting homosexual marriage, if the majority or people agreed to it, the statement said.


Two observations:

(1) Stories like this bring into stark relief the absurdity of trying to hold an election under these circumstances, and make clear that the insistence on the current timetable is about the interests of the US, not of Iraq.

(2) They know they can not say it out loud (yet), but the Bush cabal obviously shares the Islamic fundamentalist hostility to democracy, and at least some of the reasons for it.

FEMA: Disaster Aid To Floridians Approaching $3.3 Billion

Since President George W. Bush declared Floridians eligible for disaster aid beginning with Hurricane Charley on Aug.13 and continuing through to Hurricane Jeanne on Sept. 26, 2004, assistance totaling $3.28 billion has been approved for a variety of programs. To date, 1.19 million storm victims have applied for federal and state assistance.

Death toll from the 2004 Florida hurricanes: 117

Death toll from the tsunami is estimated at 114,000. The Bush Administration has pledged $35M.

U.S. Businesses Overseas Threatened by Rising Anti-Americanism

The Bush administration's foreign policy may be costing U.S. corporations business overseas--according to a new survey of 8,000 international consumers released this week by the Seattle-based Global Market Insite (GMI) Inc.

Brands closely identified with the U.S., such as Marlboro cigarettes, America Online (AOL), McDonald's, American Airlines, and Exxon-Mobil are particularly at risk. GMI, an independent market research company, conducted the survey in eight countries December 10-12 with consumers over the internet.

One third of all consumers in Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom said that U.S. foreign policy, particularly the "war on terror" and the occupation of Iraq (news - web sites), constituted their strongest impression of the United States.

Twenty percent of respondents in Europe and Canada said they consciously avoided buying U.S. products as a protest against those policies. That finding was consistent with a similar poll carried out by GMI three weeks after Bush's November election victory.


George Bush, like a bad sitcom, has been brought to you by these very corporate interests. And in the snakepit where the neocons, the Holy rollers and the corporate lobbying complex twist and turn, you know there has been a deal with the Devil, even if you can't quite decide which one is Beelzebub. Adam Smith's invisible hand brought them, and thus us, to this place -- a place where we are becoming an international pariah, the South Africa to the world. And when these countries and consumers wake up to their power and organize the kind of boycotts used so effectively against apartheid, perhaps they will achieve what we have not.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

From Whiskey Bar: Praise the Lord and Pass the Thumbscrews

Insight into the ugly minds that reconcile God and torture.

Blumenthal on the Putsch

The transition to President Bush's second term, filled with backstage betrayals, plots and pathologies, would make for an excellent chapter of I, Claudius. To begin with, Bush has unceremoniously and without public acknowledgement dumped Brent Scowcroft, his father's closest associate and friend, as chairman of the foreign intelligence advisory board. The elder Bush's national security adviser was the last remnant of traditional Republican realism permitted to exist within the administration.
...
Bush has long resented his father's alter ego. Scowcroft privately rebuked him for his Iraq follies more than a year ago - an incident that has not previously been reported. Bush "did not receive it well", said a friend of Scowcroft.

In A World Transformed, the elder Bush's 1998 memoir, co-authored with Scowcroft, they explained why Baghdad was not seized in the first Gulf war: "Had we gone the invasion route, the US could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land." In the run-up to the Iraq war, Scowcroft again warned of the danger. Bush's conservative biographers Peter and Rachel Schweizer, quoted the president as responding: "Scowcroft has become a pain in the ass in his old age." And they wrote: "Although he never went public with them, the president's own father shared many of Scowcroft's concerns."

The rejection of Kanter is a compound rejection of Scowcroft and of James Baker - the tough, results-oriented operator who as White House chief of staff saved the Reagan presidency from its ideologues, managed the elder Bush's campaign in 1988, and was summoned in 2000 to rescue Junior in Florida. In his 1995 memoir, Baker observed that the administration's "overriding strategic concern in the [first] Gulf war was to avoid what we often referred to as the Lebanonisation of Iraq, which we believed would create a geopolitical nightmare."

In private, Baker is scathing about the current occupant of the White House. Now the one indispensable creator of the Bush family political fortunes is repudiated.

Republican elders who warned of endless war are purged. Those who advised Bush that Saddam was building nuclear weapons, that with a light military force the operation would be a "cakewalk", and that capturing Baghdad was "mission accomplished", are rewarded.


At least one of these spurned thinkers had better be working on the mother of all kiss and tell books.

Warm & fuzzy feedback from the right: Editor & Publisher.com

On the Thursday before Christmas, Al Neuharth, former Gannett bigwig and founder of USA Today, suggested in his weekly column for that newspaper that the U.S. should start bringing home our troops from Iraq “sooner rather than later.”
...[O]ur brief article about the Neuharth column (which did not endorse his position) got linked at numerous other Web sites, and drew more letters than virtually any story we have ever posted
...
Frank Butash, West Hartford, CT.: “Apparently it's easier to run with jackals than to stand up for your country when it needs support.”

Kenneth Genest: “They had two of these in World War 2. One was called Tokyo Rose and the other Axis Sally. Their job was to discourage the American soldiers. I see they have one now at USA Today.”

Dan Clawson, Fresno,m CA.: "A disgrace to the men and women who serve. USA Today supporting the terrorist cause."

Jerry Martin, San Francisco, CA.: “Yet another self-defeating fool with a large bank account shoots himself in the foot. Their dissent equals treason. The terrorists got him just like all the other rich liberals who side against our victory. They forget that wars end, and then the country takes stock of who was where. I encourage the fool to keep mouthing against our victory over the Muslim jihad, he'll pay the social price in the end.”

T. Conway: “Mr. Neuharth has made a serious business mistake. Watch the circulation drop over the next year. The Los Angeles Times experienced the same drop after they attacked Gov. Schwarzenegger...some never learn. P.S. What side did Mr. Neuharth fight for in WW II?”

Peter Kessler: “And as for the good war, WW II, the lefties were four-square for that one. Yes sir, they were saving the USSR, Stalin and Communism. It's sad we didn't join Hitler until he wiped out the USSR. Alger Hiss and the Uptown Daily Worker (The New York Times) be damned. I see you've joined the club. Well, you're probably a founding member.”

Joe McBride, Fort Dodge, Iowa: “Mr. Neuharth, thanks to you and your ignorance the terrorists are probably booking their flights to the U.S. now! If we pull out of Iraq with the job unfinished the terrorists will be bombing McDonalds, and blowing up malls and schools here, killing our innocent men, women and children.”

Craig Wood, Waianae, Hawaii: “Today's press undermines our troops and supports our enemies. They convince parents that supporting your President is dangerous. They concentrate their ire on any fight that involves the United States and ignore all others. Like the sex scandal in the Congo with United Nations forces…. But, let some Army private put panties on an Iraqi's head and all hell brakes loose.”

Duggan Flanakin, Austin, Texas: “Neuharth should be tried for treason along with a lot of other blowhards who should be spending their energies condemning the barbarism of our enemies, the same people who destroyed the Twin Towers.“

Yeesh. What furies will be loosened if any of those folks wander into this turnip patch?

Elvis water

So you threw down the 28 large for the Virgin Mary on grilled cheese, or perhaps acquired the Jesus on a fish stick. So what does the discerning host serve with such sophisticated culinary fare? Why Elvis water, of course. Owing, I guess, to the lack of references to Elvis in either New or Old Testament, the holy water went for a mere $455. But all together, definitely a meal fit for the King.

I am a bit disappointed that no one has seen fit to follow up on my call for the Ten Commandments in a bowl of Alpha Bits.

Will the ship list to starboard?

My first thought was "Stephen King script treatment."

Ron Suskind pyschoanalyzes the Cabinet appointments

Whatever the roots of Mr. Bush's overriding devotion to loyalty, it partly stems from his disdain for the concerns of old-style meritocrats, the kind of people who wince when the president places his confidence in someone like Mr. Kerik. Mr. Bush has never been comfortable in America's so-called meritocracy. Undistinguished in college, business school and in the private sector, he spent nearly 30 years sitting in seminar rooms and corporate suites while experts and high achievers held forth.Now it appears that he's having his revenge - speaking loudly in his wave of second-term cabinet nominations for a kind of anti-meritocracy: the idea that anyone, properly encouraged and supported, can do a thoroughly adequate job, even better than adequate, in almost any endeavor.It's an empowering, populist idea - especially for those who, for whatever reason, have felt wrongly excluded or disrespected - that is embodied in the story of Mr. Bush himself: a man with virtually no experience in foreign affairs or national domestic policy who has been a uniquely forceful innovator in both realms.History will judge whether his actions are visionary or reckless. In the meantime, he is applying his intensely personal method for judging merit to pick a group of largely no-name cabinet officials for his triumphal second term.

This seems spot-on to me. And, sadly, Bush was, at least in one sense correct. It took a whiz kind like Robert McNamara to give us the first Vietnam, but Bush's crew of mediocrites managed to give us the second without working up a sweat.

Asleep at the switch again

Juan Cole points out how Bush's callous indifference to the tsunami tragedy also represents a telling failure from the standpoint of US self-interest:

US President George W. Bush has missed an important opportunity to reach out to the Muslims of Indonesia. The Bush administration at first pledged a paltry $15 million, a mysteriously chintzy response to what was obviously an enormous calamity. Bush himself remained on vacation, and now has reluctantly agreed to a meeting of the National Security Council by video conference. If Bush were a statesman, he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia (which has suffered at least 40,000 dead and rising).

Indeed, the worst-hit area of Indonesia is Aceh, the center of a Muslim separatist movement, and a gesture to Aceh from the US at this moment might have meant a lot in US-Muslim public relations. Bin Laden and Zawahiri sniffed around Aceh in hopes of recruiting operatives there, being experts in fishing in troubled waters. Doesn't the US want to outflank al-Qaeda? As it is, the president of the United States is invisible and on vacation (unlike several European heads of state), and could think of nothing better to do than announce a paltry pledge. As Harris and Wright rightly say, the rest of the world treated the US much better than this after September 11.


But all's right with the world, because even if a vacation takes precedence over a disaster at least 30 times larger than September 11, there is alsways time for Clinton-bashing.

New take on old Vatican anti-semetism

The bitter, long-running controversy over the attitude of Pope Pius XII to the Holocaust has taken a new turn with the publication of diaries that prove he opposed the return of Jewish children to their parents after the Nazis' defeat.

The diaries were kept by Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, from 1945 to 1948 when Pius XII was on the Vatican throne and Cardinal Roncalli was papal nuncio to Paris.

The diaries document the efforts by Cardinal Roncalli to reunite Jewish families torn apart by the war and whose children had been taken under the wing of the Catholic Church. The future pope's role in helping Jews escape from Nazi persecution has long been acknowledged. But the diaries show Pius XII was hostile to such efforts.

In 1946, Rabbi Herzog of Istanbul came to see Roncalli in Paris to ask that Jewish children rescued during the war and taken care of in Catholic convents should be returned to the Jewish community. Cardinal Roncalli was happy to oblige: he wrote authorising him "to use his authority with the relevant institutions, so ... these children may be returned to their original environment."

But Pius XII, who has frequently been accused of anti-semitism, sent a message via the Vatican's Holy Office ordering that Jewish children who had been baptised as Christians after being separated from their parents should not be returned unless they could be guaranteed a Christian upbringing. Children "who no longer have parents" were not to be handed over. If the parents eventually showed up, only those children who had not been baptised should be restored, the Pope proclaimed.


From Pope Pius's perspective, I'm sure this made perfect sense.The Jews would all go to Hell, so why not try to save a few? And along the way, give them the benefits of education in the Catholic approach to things like... buggery.


Almost as if they had their own Dept. of Homeland Security

The many ironies of the Novak affair

A journalism professor gets to the essence of the Plame outing:

how is (press) independence advanced when reporters insist that they are constitutionally entitled to serve as protected instruments of state calumny against private citizens?


Aid Grows Amid Remarks About President's Absence

From the Washington Post via Raw Story:

"The Bush administration more than doubled its financial commitment yesterday to provide relief to nations suffering from the Indian Ocean tsunami, amid complaints that the vacationing President Bush has been insensitive to a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.

As the death toll surpassed 50,000 with no sign of abating, the U.S. Agency for International Development added $20 million to an earlier pledge of $15 million to provide relief, and the Pentagon dispatched an aircraft carrier and other military assets to the region. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in morning television appearances, chafed at a top U.N. aid official's comment on Monday that wealthy countries were being stingy with aid. 'The United States is not stingy,' Powell said on CNN.

Although U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland yesterday withdrew his earlier comment, domestic criticism of Bush continued to rise. Skeptics said the initial aid sums -- as well as Bush's decision at first to remain cloistered on his Texas ranch for the Christmas holiday rather than speak in person about the tragedy -- showed scant appreciation for the magnitude of suffering and for the rescue and rebuilding work facing such nations as Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Indonesia.


After a day of repeated inquiries from reporters about his public absence, Bush late yesterday afternoon announced plans to hold a National Security Council meeting by teleconference to discuss several issues, including the tsunami, followed by a short public statement.
...
Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: 'The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.' '
...
Some foreign policy specialists said Bush's actions and words both communicated a lack of urgency about an event that will loom as large in the collective memories of several countries as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks do in the United States. 'When that many human beings die -- at the hands of terrorists or nature -- you've got to show that this matters to you, that you care,' said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.


There was an international outpouring of support after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and even some administration officials familiar with relief efforts said they were surprised that Bush had not appeared personally to comment on the tsunami tragedy. 'It's kind of freaky,' a senior career official said.
...
Gelb said what appears to be a grudging increase in effort sends the wrong message, at a time when dollar totals matter less than a clear statement about U.S. intentions. Noting that the disaster occurred at a time when large numbers of people in many nations -- especially Muslim ones such as Indonesia -- object to U.S. policies in Iraq, he said Bush was missing an opportunity to demonstrate American benevolence.

'People do watch and see what we do,' he said. 'Here's an opportunity to remind people of the good we do, and he [Bush] can do it without changing his policy on Iraq or terrorism.'
...
Among the world's two dozen wealthiest countries, the United States often is among the lowest in donors per capita for official development assistance worldwide, even though the totals are larger. According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of 30 wealthy nations, the United States gives the least -- at 0.14 percent of its gross national product, compared with Norway, which gives the most at 0.92 percent."

Well, of course they don't see much of a need to attend to anything in that part of the world since brother Neil has sworn off Thai hookers. But Gelb is spot-on: the appropriate humanitarian--Christian--responses here are blindingly obvious, and it's also a slam-dunk opportunity to create a little good will in a geopolitically delicate region of the world. But the Boy King can't be bothered to set aside his cowboy fantasy for even a few minutes to convey his concerns and dig into the biggest honking wallet on the planet.

Court Backs Firing of Waitress Without Makeup

A female bartender who refused to wear makeup at a Reno, Nevada, casino was not unfairly dismissed from her job, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.
Darlene Jespersen, who had worked for nearly 20 years at a Harrah's Entertainment Inc casino bar in Reno, Nevada, objected to the company's revised policy that required female bartenders, but not men, to wear makeup.

A previously much-praised employee, Jespersen was fired in 2000 after the firm instituted a "Beverage Department Image Transformation" program and she sued, alleging sex discrimination.

In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling in favor of Harrah's. All three judges are males appointed by Democratic presidents.


This from the 9th Circuit... you know, the one the Bushies want to break up for being too liberal. Reminds me a little of the "Switch in time that saved the Nine" back in the 1930s when Franklin Roosevelt thretened to expand the number of seats on the Supreme Court to try to stop the Court from invalidating the New Deal. Intimidation worked then, too.

More ammunition for tort reformers

Navy SEALs Sue AP Over Iraq Prison Photos

"LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Six members of a Navy special forces unit and two Navy wives sued The Associated Press on Tuesday, saying the news agency endangered the servicemen's lives and invaded their privacy by publishing photos showing the men interacting with Iraqi prisoners.

The lawsuit says the agency erred by not obscuring the identity of the six SEALs in photos that accompanied a story distributed worldwide earlier this month, contending publication of the photos jeopardizes future covert operations and harms the servicemen's careers.

...

The story was written by San Diego reporter Seth Hettena, who is named as a defendant. The story did not name the Navy members or the wife who posted the photos on what she believed was a private Web site.

...

The lawsuit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, states that Hettena took the photos from a Navy wife's "personal digital photo album without notice or permission." It says that the woman, identified only as "Jane Doe," believed the nearly 1,800 photos she posted on the Internet site were protected from access by unauthorized users and required a password to view.

The initial AP story, transmitted Dec. 3, noted that the photos were found on the commercial photo-sharing Web site Smugmug.com using the search engine Google, and were not password-protected until after the reporter purchased copies online and began inquiries."

The possibilities for careers in covert ops must be limitless for guys who can't resist mugging for the cameras after a catch and then posting the photos on anything with the prefix "www." Up next: six members of the Big Red One sue KBR after being burned by spilled coffee served in cups that did not explicitly state "Caution: The beverage you're about to enjoy is extremely hot!"

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Ex-official tells of Homeland Security failures

The government agency responsible for protecting the nation against terrorist attack is a dysfunctional, poorly managed bureaucracy that has failed to plug serious holes in the nation's safety net, the Department of Homeland Security's former internal watchdog warns.

Clark Kent Ervin, who served as the department's inspector general until earlier this month, said in an interview last week that airport security isn't tight enough and that little has been done to safeguard other forms of mass transit. Ervin said ports remain vulnerable to terrorists trying to smuggle weapons into the country. He added that immigration and customs investigators are hampered in their efforts to track down illegal immigrants because they often lack gas money for their cars.
...
Ervin lost his job this month in mysterious fashion. Appointed by President Bush in December 2003 when Congress was out of session, Ervin was never confirmed by the Senate. Nor was he renominated by the White House this month when his "recess appointment" - which lasted until the congressional session ended - expired Dec. 8.

A key senator won't say why. Elissa Davidson, spokeswoman for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wouldn't comment on why Chairman Susan Collins, R-Maine, never held confirmation hearings for Ervin. "The decision not to renominate Clark Kent Ervin was purely a White House decision," she said.


See how bad the government is? The solution is to... invade Iraq.... no, wait (sound of cue cards being shuffled)... privatize Social Security!

Hill Staffer Arrested for Alleged Theft of Plasma TV From Rayburn Room

The House Small Business Committee’s chief economist was charged by Capitol Police with the attempted theft of a plasma television Thursday night.

Well, fencing stolen goods IS a small business....

Susan Sontag dead at 71

"We live in a culture in which intelligence is denied relevance altogether, in a search for radical innocence, or is defended as an instrument of authority and repression. In my view, the only intelligence worth defending is critical, dialectical, skeptical, desimplifying."

Amen.

Update: Of course, the erudite scholars with the monopoly on Christian values over at Little Green Footballs see things a little differently. Stop over for loads of data reaffirming the strong correlation between stupidity and cruelty.

U.S. Slips in Attracting the World's Best Students

Here's a shocker:

"American universities, which for half a century have attracted the world's best and brightest students with little effort, are suddenly facing intense competition as higher education undergoes rapid globalization.

The European Union, moving methodically to compete with American universities, is streamlining the continent's higher education system and offering American-style degree programs taught in English. Britain, Australia and New Zealand are aggressively recruiting foreign students, as are Asian centers like Taiwan and Hong Kong. And China, which has declared that transforming 100 universities into world-class research institutions is a national priority, is persuading top Chinese scholars to return home from American universities.

'What we're starting to see in terms of international students now having options outside the U.S. for high-quality education is just the tip of the iceberg,' said David G. Payne, an executive director of the Educational Testing Service, which administers several tests taken by foreign students to gain admission to American universities. 'Other countries are just starting to expand their capacity for offering graduate education. In the future, foreign students will have far greater opportunities.'


Foreign students contribute $13 billion to the American economy annually. But this year brought clear signs that the United States' overwhelming dominance of international higher education may be ending. In July, Mr. Payne briefed the National Academy of Sciences on a sharp plunge in the number of students from India and China who had taken the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam, a requirement for applying to most graduate schools; it had dropped by half.

Foreign applications to American graduate schools declined 28 percent this year. Actual foreign graduate student enrollments dropped 6 percent. Enrollments of all foreign students, in undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral programs, fell for the first time in three decades in an annual census released this fall. Meanwhile, university enrollments have been surging in England, Germany and other countries.

Some of the American decline, experts agree, is due to post-Sept. 11 delays in processing student visas, which have discouraged thousands of students, not only from the Middle East but also from dozens of other nations, from enrolling in the United States. American educators and even some foreign ones say the visa difficulties are helping foreign schools increase their share of the market.

'International education is big business for all of the Anglophone countries, and the U.S. traditionally has dominated the market without having to try very hard,' said Tim O'Brien, international development director at Nottingham Trent University in England. 'Now Australia, the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand and Canada are competing for that dollar, and our lives have been made easier because of the difficulties that students are having getting into the U.S. International students say it's not worth queuing up for two days outside the U.S. consulate in whatever country they are in to get a visa when they can go to the U.K. so much more easily.'"

Once they gain a little momentum, it's going to be the other countries that won't have to try very hard. Foriegn students aren't going to be much interested in attending universities in a wildly anti-intellectual, xenophobic country that's hard to get into, that requires them to check their civil liberties at the door, and that legislates against investment in cutting edge scientific research ("intelligent design" theories excepted). Of course, none of this will get much notice beyond the Times, its readers and those in academia; the long-term economic implications of this brain drain are way beyond the grasp of a populace preoccupied with putting parental warning stickers on textbooks that include evolutionary theory.

US Tsunami aid in context

via Eschaton: We pledged $15M. Budget for the Boy King's coronation: $30-40M (excluding security costs, which believe you me will be huge -- gotta make sure Michael Moore can't get any shots of folks throwing eggs like last time).

Monday, December 27, 2004

David Dreier: Blacks die sooner, so should favor SS privatization

So says republican David Dreier onTV's Late Edition, in his promotion of President Bush's so-called Social Security reform.

That's just so special, David. But while you're at it, why not let folks in on what a great deal it is for you, since you and your fellow ho-mo-sexuals will get an even better deal, seeing as you all drop in your 40s. As a 52 year-old gay Republican, I guess you are living on borrowed time in more ways than one...

Funny, but I assumed that Dreier was on his way to political purgatory after being outed by BlogActive, Raw Story and Hustler Magazine. I guess gay-baiting is just red meat for the red state rubes. Walking the walk really doesn't matter-- just ask Ken Mehlman. Maybe Dreier can get a guest spot on red state favorite Will & Grace.

From middle class to food stamps

Since 2000, ... more than 6 million ... Americans have joined the ranks of the millions of American families who find it increasingly difficult to perform a most basic function - to put food on their tables.

The economic indicators are numerous.

Following a seven-year decline, the number of Americans on food stamps has shot up 39 percent since 2000, according to federal statistics. Every state, except Hawaii, has felt the impact. In Arizona, food stamp rolls have increased 104 percent, in Nevada, 97 percent; Oregon, 79 percent; South Carolina, 68 percent; Missouri, 65 percent.

Texas has added nearly 1 million people to its food stamp rolls in only four years.

Part of that increase was fueled by states' increased efforts to enroll a greater portion of people eligible for food stamps and the placement of people back onto the rolls who had been initially knocked off during welfare reform. Most of it, however, social workers say, is the growing number of Americans unable to feed themselves without help.

"Clearly, most of this is because of increased need," said Carol Adams, head of the Illinois Department of Social Services. Illinois has seen a 31 percent increase in the number of people on food stamps since 2000.


The issues the blogosphere whines and bitches about pale, of course, in light of the massive natural disaster around the Indian Ocean. There is nothing we can do to prevent a tsunami, though a warning system could help lower the toll. But the economic polarization of the US is a man-made, avoidable injustice, made all the worse by its intentionality. An earthquake is amoral; our government is immoral.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Group releases video of Mosul attack

A group in Iraq released a videotape that describes the Dec. 21 attack on the U.S. army base in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

The group posted the video on its Web site on Sunday. The video showed what appeared to be the blast inside the dinning facility at a U.S. military camp in Mosul.

Another shot, apparently taken from a vehicle driving outside the base after the explosion, showed a fireball rising up and the torn tent that housed the hall.
...
In Sunday's video, dated Dec. 20, three rebels dressed in black and carrying AK-47 automatic rifles described their planned attack.

The vidoe showed a map of the camp with the dining hall clearly marked, as a member of the group was pointing to many other areas with an army knife.

It also showed a masked rebel, wearing an explosives-laden vest, hugging other group members before leaving to the U.S. base. He was identified as Abu Omar Al Museli, suggesting that he was from Mosul.

The men said that that Al Museli would break into the base through the perimeter fence.

"He will take advantage of the change of guards. We have been observing their schedule for a long time. This lion will then proceed to his target and we will take advantage of lunch time. He will storm the dining room where the crusaders and their (Iraqi) allies are gathered," one of the men said.

"Let Bush, Blair and Allawi know that we are coming and that we will chase them all away." He added.


I can't imagine a more horribly graphic demonstration of the hopelessness of our occupation of Iraq than this. Our troops will not be able to handle the strain of fighting a war in which they cannot even find a safe haven in their own base camps. There is a saying to the effect that if you can't tell the enemy from the folks you are trying to defend, you are fighting the wrong war. Is there anyone left who can deny that fact now?

Conservative Students Target Liberal Profs

"Traditionally, clashes over academic freedom have pitted politicians or administrators against instructors who wanted to express their opinions and teach as they saw fit. But increasingly, it is students who are invoking academic freedom, claiming biased professors are violating their right to a classroom free from indoctrination.

For example, at the University of North Carolina, three incoming freshmen sued over a reading assignment they said offended their Christian beliefs.


In Colorado and Indiana, a national conservative group publicized student allegations of left-wing bias by professors. Faculty received hate mail and were pictured in mock "wanted" posters; at least one college said teacher received a death threat.

And at Columbia University in New York, a documentary film alleging that teachers intimidate students who support Israel drew the attention of administrators.

The three episodes differ in important ways, but all touch on an issue of growing prominence on college campuses.

In many ways, the trend echoes past campus conflicts — but turns them around. Once, it was liberal campus activists who cited the importance of 'diversity' in pressing their agendas for curriculum change. Now, conservatives have adopted much of the same language in calling for a greater openness to their viewpoints.
...
To many professors, there's a new and deeply troubling aspect to this latest chapter in the debate over academic freedom: students trying to dictate what they don't want to be taught.

'Even the most contentious or disaffected of students in the '60s or early '70s never really pressed this kind of issue,' said Robert O'Neil, former president of the University of Virginia and now director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.
...
Leading the movement is the group Students for Academic Freedom, with chapters on 135 campuses and close ties to David Horowitz, a one-time liberal campus activist turned conservative commentator. The group posts student complaints on its Web site about alleged episodes of grading bias and unbalanced, anti-American propaganda by professors — often in classes, such as literature, in which it's off-topic.

Instructors 'need to make students aware of the spectrum of scholarly opinion,' Horowitz said. 'You can't get a good education if you're only getting half the story.'

...
'I feel like (faculty) are so disconnected from students that they do these things and they can just get away with them,' said Kris Wampler, who recently publicly identified himself as one of the students who sued the University of North Carolina. Now a junior, he objected when all incoming students were assigned to read a book about the Quran before they got to campus.
'A lot of students feel like they're being discriminated against,' he said.

...
'It's often phrased in the language of academic freedom. That's what's so strange about it,' said Ellen Schrecker, a Yeshiva University historian who has written about academic freedom during the McCarthy area. 'What they're saying is, 'We want people to reflect our point of view.''

Horowitz's critics also insist his campaign is getting more attention than it deserves, riling conservative bloggers but attracting little alarm from most students. They insist even most liberal professors give fair grades to conservative students who work hard and support their arguments.

Often, the facts of particular cases are disputed. At Ball State, senior Brett Mock published a detailed account accusing Wolfe of anti-Americanism in a peace studies class and of refusing to tolerate the view that the U.S. invasion of Iraq might have been justified. In a telephone interview, Wolfe vigorously disputed Mock's allegations. He provided copies of a letter of support from other students in the class, and from the provost saying she had found nothing wrong with the course.

Horowitz, who has also criticized Ball State's program, had little sympathy when asked if Wolfe deserved to get hate e-mails from strangers.

'These people are such sissies,' he said. 'I get hate mail every single day. What can I do about it? It's called the Internet.'"

(AP, via RawStory).

No surprise that this is an operation backed by David Horowitz, an arrogant, intellectually dishonest weenie who continues to blaze the trail for well-to-do, middle-aged white guys who just can't catch a break in George Bush's America. While I find the whole mess to be a reprehensible waste of time, part of me would like this to go all the way to the Supremes to watch David Souter and John Paul Stevens crush their argument into fine powder.

Wampler, by the way, seems to be doing quite nicely. He's now a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, and was given a $5,000 scholarship via the Ronald Reagan Future Leaders Scholarship Program sponsored by the Phillips Foundation earlier this year. One assumes he has been successful over the past few years avoiding any and all exposure to points of view that he knows he would hate anyways. And, as blog-IT-o ergo sum noted last month, he is active in student politics as well, making college campuses safe for guys with affiliations to the John Birch Society.

Apparent assassinations kill 5 Iraqi officials

Gunmen killed five Iraqi officials in what appeared to be three separate assassination attacks, sources said Sunday.

Iraqi police officials and Ministry of Interior sources said one of those killed was Col. Yassin Ibrahim Jawad, a high ranking police officer.

Masked men attacked Jawad's vehicle in a drive-by shooting on Sunday while he was traveling to work in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Baya.

The gunmen also wounded two of Jawad's bodyguards, one of them critically.

On Saturday, in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Khadmiye, unknown gunmen killed two local council members in a drive-by shooting, Baghdad police officials said.

In Taji, about 13 miles (20 kilometers) north of Baghdad, a third shooting killed a local council member and a relative.


Where does the line form to run for Iraqi office?

Inauguration Day schedule

CourtesyJesus' General

Jesus Christ Action Figure TV Commecial

Going straight to hell, these folks are....

Not sure about these folks, though idolatry IS idolatry...(Check out the very fashion-forward Jean-Paul Gaultier/Fifth Element outfit on Goliath...)

Colin Powell chosen to drop ball in Times Square New Year's Eve

Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited Powell extensive experience with ball-dropping, including his WMD speech before the UN, the war in Iraq, and his complete failure to rein in the neocon children running US foreign policy.

Imagine that

Ex-hostage: Militants wanted Bush re-elected

"PARIS - French journalists held hostage for four months in Iraq said their militant captors told them they wanted President Bush to win re-election.

In a four-page account of their ordeal, one of the reporters, Georges Malbrunot, also wrote that they saw several other hostages who were later decapitated. The journalists said their captors viewed foreign businessmen working in Iraq as their enemies.

One of the captors from the group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq said Bush’s re-election would boost their cause, Malbrunot wrote in Friday’s edition of Le Figaro, the French daily he works for.

'We want Bush because with him the American troops will stay in Iraq and that way we will be able to develop,' Malbrunot cited the captor as saying."

You will be shocked, shocked to learn that the piece does not go on to get the reactions of the countless pundits at MSNBC, CNN et. al. who spent the election season talking out of their asses, insisting that OBL and the Iraqi insurgents were praying to Allah for a Kerry win.


Rumsfeld Says Iraqis Must Stop Insurgents

Hey, Ayad, grab a shovel:

"BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- In his Christmas eve encounters with U.S. military commanders and hundreds of their troops, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld heard - and said - little about armor or troop shortages, issues that have made him a political target in Washington among both Democrats and Republicans.

His main message over a four-city tour was quite different: that the insurgency has staying power and a seemingly endless supply of weapons, and the time has come for ordinary Iraqis to realize that they - not the Americans - will ultimately decide who prevails in this conflict.
...
During his visit, Rumsfeld said it would be unrealistic to predict that the level of violence will recede once the Jan. 30 elections are held. In the end, he said, it will be a 'uniquely Iraqi solution,' not American.
...
Faced with a chore like digging a ditch, a typical American, he said, will grab a shovel and start digging. In Iraq now, however, the task is to step aside and get the Iraqis to dig their own ditches.

He warned against allowing the Iraqis to become too dependent on the U.S. military. More independence is what's needed, he said."

OK, Rummy's admission that the violence ain't ending after the elections is vaguely refreshing--the BushCo spin about all the bloodshed being an election-driven phenomenon is particularly galling since they were spewing similar bilgewater in the run-up to the "transfer of power" last summer.

However, the main thrust here is that the administration intends to abdicate responsibility for this disaster at the earliest possible date--cleaning up the mess isn't our responsibility, for goodness sake, it's the Iraqis' job. And we're going to make sure that's what the American public believes by the time the really important elections--our midterms in 2006--roll around.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Kobe-Shaq Christmas

The long-anticipated showdown came today. And a Merry Christmas was had by all. Kobe Bryant got what he wanted most -- 42 points and enough highlights for a month's worth of ESPN shows. Shaq got a team that plays like a team and a 104-102 overtime win despite fouling out late in the 4th -- their 11th in a row.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Falluja returnees angry, "city unfit for animals"

Iraqis reacted with anger, frustration and resentment on Friday after many returned to Falluja to discover their homes in rubble and their livelihoods ruined following last month's U.S. offensive.

"I saw the city and al-Andalus destroyed," said Ali Mahmood, 35, referring to the district of the city he returned to briefly on Thursday but now plans to leave after seeing the mess.

"My house is completely destroyed. There is nothing left for me to stay for," the teacher said, adding that he would rather live in the tented camp outside Falluja that has been his family's home for the past two months....
An Iraqi Health Ministry official said his greatest concern was the resentment Falluja's people were likely to feel when they saw how much damage had been done to their homes.

That was certainly the case on Friday. While those who fled were at pains to say they had nothing to do with the rebels who made Falluja their stronghold, many of them have since become angry and militant as a result of the offensive.

"Would Allah want us to return to a city that animals can't live in?" said Yasser Satar as he saw his destroyed home.

"Even animals who have no human sense and feelings can not live here," he said, crying.

"What do they want from Falluja? This is the crime of the century. They want to destroy Islam and Muslims. But our anger and resistance will increase."


In order to save the village...

Insurgents operate at will in Mosul

Insurgents have been able to "operate at will" in Mosul, where 22 people died in a bomb attack this week, because the US forces and the Iraqi authorities have failed to tackle them, an intelligence assessment by senior US officials in northern Iraq concludes.
The report, seen by the Guardian yesterday, was drafted before this week's suicide attack on the mess tent at Camp Merez.

It was made after the uprising last month, when most of Mosul's police force either deserted or defected and parts of the city fell, albeit briefly, to the insurgents.

It does not specifically mention threats to US bases, but it catalogues a series of errors and missed opportunities in intelligence gathering, recruitment to the Iraqi security forces, and operational issues.

Its assessments and recommendations reflect many of the concerns expressed in briefings of the Guardian recently by General Carter Ham, the US commanding officer in Mosul, and senior Iraqi officials in the city.

Tuesday's explosion was the worst single attack on the US forces since the invasion in March last year, and has thrown Pentagon officials and the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, on to the defensive, on account of their apparent failure to protect the US troops in Iraq adequately.


If you start from the assumption that the insurgents are not crazy about our election plans for Iraq, I think you have to look at stories like this one as mere dry runs for what is coming in the days leading up to the election. And that day is likely to be marked by so much bloodshed that even our government will have to take notice.

How many points is the spread in dog years?

A few decades ago, the expertise of so-called Wall Street wizards was effectively debunked by the "random walk" theory, which proved that over the long haul, the so-called experts were no better than chance, and that a portfolio based on throwing darts at the stock listings would perform as well as one picked by a bunch of expensive analysts.

My local newspaper has applied this theory to the sports pages, with predictable results. Every week, its four sports columnists make public their picks for the coming NFL games. They match wits against a dog. Two of the humans have identical winning percentages of 51.8%. One is at 46.4%. The laggard comes in at 42.7%. The dog? Comes in 3rd out of the five at 48.2%.

Do you choose to conclude that here, as on the Street, expertise is meaningless? OK. That once the appropriate spread is factored in, sports betting becomes purely random? Fine. That dogs might make good sports writers? No objections here.

Simply stunning...

...in every sense of the word. Just in case you were wondering what the dress that Mr. Bluememe wrote about looked like, here you go:



Jacqueline Duty in her prom dress (Photo: Lexington Herald-Leader).

The solo shot was lifted from a story covering the scandal at WorldNetDaily. They really should have used the photo up at The General's place:







Now, the general has admitted to exercising a little artistic discretion in composing the photo. But it does capture the spirit of the thing, no?


Whiny, obstructionist Republicans

GOP May Challenge Wash. Governor Recount


"SEATTLE (AP) -- In what may be their last hope of reclaiming an evaporated lead in the Washington governor's race before turning to the courts, Republicans have asked county auditors statewide to reconsider ballots that were rejected on Election Day.

With the counting and re-counting finally exhausted Thursday, Democrat Christine Gregoire emerged as the victor by a mere 130 votes. The final tally: 1,373,171 votes for Gregoire; 1,373,041 for Republican Dino Rossi.

But Republicans have vowed to leave no stone unturned in the breathtakingly close race that has dragged on for nearly two months.

'I know many Washingtonians are hoping this will end soon, but I'm also sure that people across this state want a clean election and a legitimate governor-elect,' Rossi said after the final tally from a grueling hand count was announced Thursday. 'At this point, we have neither.'"

In the Republican universe, the only clean elections are the ones that they win.

Bush signals a hard push on choices for courts

The Boy King's Christmas gift to half of the United States is a finger in the eye:

"WASHINGTON President George W. Bush said this week that when the new Congress convenes in January, he would renominate 12 candidates to the federal appeals courts who were denied confirmation in his first term.

His statement, made on Thursday, signals his willingness to begin what is expected to be another bitter fight with Senate Democrats over what they assert are his efforts to shift the courts in a markedly more conservative direction.

'The president nominated highly qualified individuals to the federal courts during his first term, but the Senate failed to vote on many nominations,' the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said in a statement announcing Bush's intentions to move aggressively on the issue in his second term.

Although the announcement appears at odds with postelection remarks by Bush that he would reach out to opponents, it is in line with what had been a principal campaign theme for him and Vice President Dick Cheney, namely that Bush would battle Democratic opposition to his judicial choices.

The White House statement, which also called for the renomination of eight candidates for the federal district courts, quickly produced expressions of dismay from Senate Democrats, who said Bush was not seeking any compromise with them in hopes of improving relations on the issue of judges.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has been a leader in opposing many of Bush's judicial nominees, said: 'In this opening shot, the White House is making it clear that they are not interested in bipartisanship when it comes to nominating judges. This starts to poison the well when everyone on our side was hoping to make a new start.'

But the most notable reaction came from Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who is expected to become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

'It has been my hope that we might be able to approach this whole issue with some cooler perspective,' Specter said in an interview. 'I would have preferred to have some time in the 109th Congress to improve the climate to avoid judicial gridlock and future filibusters.'

The eight candidates for the federal district courts were less controversial than the appeals court nominees, but they were also not voted on in the current Congress.

When Bush sends the 20 names to the new Senate next month, however, there will be at least two factors that will be different from the current situation. Democrats blocked 10 of his appeals court nominees by filibuster. But the Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate to 55 from 51, making it more feasible to acquire the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster, which is the threat of extended debate.

Among the candidates whom Bush said on Thursday he would renominate is William Haynes 4th, the Pentagon general counsel, who has been deeply embroiled in controversy over memorandums he wrote or supervised that secretly authorized harsh treatment, even torture, for detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq. Haynes's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, Virginia, was suspended when the issue erupted and he was asked by the Judiciary Committee to provide material about his role in the issue and failed to do so.

Other candidates Bush said would be renominated who had been blocked by Democrats include Priscilla Owens of Texas, William Pryor Jr. of Alabama and Janice Rogers Brown of California.

...
Pryor, who was named to the appeals court by Bush during a congressional recess, thereby sidestepping the Senate, is a former Alabama attorney general. He was known during his tenure in Alabama as an outspoken opponent of legalized abortion and an advocate of a greater role for religion in government. Pryor's work as a judge has been largely unnoticed, but he did provide a critical vote upholding a Florida law against adoption by gay couples.

Brown, who sits on the California Supreme Court, was opposed for her stark opinion upholding the state's referendum against affirmative action and her vivid speeches criticizing the growth of government. Some of her colleagues wrote that she had gone too far and used needlessly scathing language to extend the reach of the anti-affirmative-action proposition.

William Myers 3rd, nominated for the Ninth Circuit, was opposed because his critics said he could not be fair on environmental cases, citing his long career as a lobbyist for the ranching and mining industries."

You're going to hear the terms "unify," "unity," "bipartisanship," "come together," and the like ad nauseum from Georgie and his minions in the coming months. Don't ever forget that this is precisely what he means when he talks about "working together."

Thursday, December 23, 2004

'Seinfeld' Festivus display vies with Nativity

More Christmas-haters....

When a Florida church group put a Nativity scene on public property, officials warned it might open the door to other religious -- and not-so-religious -- displays. They were right.

Since the Nativity was erected in Polk County, displays have gone up honoring Zoroastrianism and the fake holiday Festivus, featured on the TV sitcom "Seinfeld."

The Polk County Commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to permit the Nativity scene to remain across the street from the courthouse, as well as to make that area a "public forum" open to any type of display.

But the commission insisted that unless someone claims a particular display and submits a written request asking it remain, it would be removed. By Wednesday evening, no one had claimed the Festivus display, and the commission said it would come down; a woman claimed the Zoroastrianism display, which was to stay.

The debate began December 15 when a handmade creche with the figures of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus was erected by a Bible study group from the First Baptist Church of Bartow.

"The real spirit of Christmas is the birth of Christ," said Marvin Pittman, a retired law enforcement officer and member of the congregation. "We felt it needs to be in the public eye, so we did it."

Other displays are fine, too, he said, adding, "If somebody wants to do that, it's their right."

And true to form, the site almost immediately sprouted alternative displays, including a simple sign that reads: "Festivus for the Rest of Us -- Donated to Polk County by the Seinfeld Fan Club."


We can't make this stuff up, folks. Well, OK, we could. But we didn't.

Juxtaposition

Josh Marshall nails it

from Talking Points Memo, re: the eroding support for Iraquagmire:

During the election, I always thought that the dynamics of the campaign were providing what we might call an artificial floor for support for the war -- both at the level of its management and the whole idea of going to war in the first place.

Here's what I mean -- it comes down to an issue of cognitive dissonance.

The dead-even political polarization of America remains the defining fact of our politics. Close to 50% of Americans were dead set on voting for President Bush almost no matter what. Or they were dead set on voting against John Kerry. For our purposes, it's the same difference.

I think that many Bush supporters simply couldn't take stock of the full measure of the screw-up in Iraq during the election because doing so would have conflicted their support for President Bush. Iraq and the war on terror so defined this election that support for the war and the president who led us into it simply couldn't be pried apart.

Perhaps it wasn't so internalized. During the slugfest of the campaign supporting Bush just meant supporting the war and this is what people told pollsters when they were asked, because one question was almost a proxy for the other.

You can even do a thought experiment by imagining how many conservatives during election season would have been so staunch in their support for the war if it were being fought under a President Gore or a President Clinton. The question all but answers itself.

In any case, I think what has happened is that the end of the campaign season has departisanized the war -- at least to a measurable extent -- and folks who were emotionally and intellectually committed to reelecting the president (just as there were people on the other side with similar commitments) are now freer to see the situation in Iraq a bit more on its own terms.


Now all we have to do is deal with the 59M loonies who operated inside this box.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The tangled web

I started with this headline over on Yahoo:
Teen Sues Over Confederate Flag Dress .

A teenager is suing her school district for barring her from the prom last spring because she was wearing a dress styled as a large Confederate battle flag.
...
She said she worked on the design for the dress for four years, though she acknowledged that some might find the Confederate flag offensive.

"Everyone has their own opinion. But that's not mine," she told reporters outside the courthouse. "I'm proud of where I came from and my background."
...
The Sons of Confederate Veterans has promised to help pay some of her legal expenses.



The civil libertarian in me sees her as another Nazi marching in Skokie -- I support her right to be as racist, ignorant and just plain stupid as she wants to be.

Then I wandered over to the website of the Sons of Confederate Veterans website. What a fascinating bunch of fellows.

I learned that The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution. The tenacity with which Confederate soldiers fought underscored their belief in the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. These attributes are the underpinning of our democratic society and represent the foundation on which this nation was built.

And lest we get the wrong idea about the SCV, they make it clear that The SCV rejects any group whose actions tarnish or distort the image of the Confederate soldier or his reasons for fighting.

If you are interested in perpetuating the ideals that motivated your Confederate ancestor, the SCV needs you. The memory and reputation of the Confederate soldier, as well as the motives for his suffering and sacrifice, are being consciously distorted by some in an attempt to alter history. Unless the descendants of Southern soldiers resist those efforts, a unique part of our nations' cultural heritage will cease to exist.


According to their Chief of Heritage Defense, this group stands 35,000 strong. And strong they are urged to be, for the battle goes on.

Heritage Defense in the SCV is a constant struggle against more numerous, better funded opponents who are entrenched in the media. Our membership numbers 30-odd thousand men, many of whom, unfortunately, are members only because they appreciate history or are involved in the mushrooming hobby that is genealogy. They have no desire or intent to confront those who would be most happy to deny public acknowledgement of the heritage we seek to preserve, and would make us feel shame rather than pride in our ancestry. This observation is made without any intent to denigrate those members I might describe, but only to make this point -- we are not fighting with our full strength.

I should also note that not all media is antagonistic. We all know members of the media who are sympathetic to our mission. Unfortunately, even those who seek to treat us fairly are usually forced by editorial policy or corporate fiat to acknowledge our opponent’s point of view, and therefore help them perpetuate their hateful propaganda. You know the line, which goes something like this: “… the Confederate Battle Flag, which some see as a painful reminder of (insert some injustice which the opponent likely never endured here).”


Anyone care to take a guess at the fill-in-the-blank "injustice"? After spending some time wandering throught their site, I have come to the conclusion that it couldn't possibly be slavery, because that word appears exactly once on the entire site, in the following context in a seven-year old press release:

Peter W. Orlebeke, Commander-in-Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, stated " The Derby School should teach truth rather than run from it. It is incomprehensible that a so-called educational institution is unaware that the War Between the States was fought over issues such as the rights of individual states to set their own tariffs, establish their own governments, and receive full profit from their agricultural production. They should know that the question of slavery was brought into the war by Lincoln in late 1862 as an emotional one to bolster the sagging Northern war effort and that emancipation was not just a Northern concept, but a Southern one as well, championed by the likes of Gen. Robert E. Lee."


When we shake our heads at the way the Irish, the former Yugoslavians and damn near everyone in the Middle East is still fighting hundred or thousand-year old battles, we should understand that there are folks in the good old USA still doing the same.

Support our troops

Assuming you're not Donald Rumsfeld, you don't have the power to give our troops in Iraq the best Christmas present possible (that would be tickets home for everyone) or even the second best option (that would be equipping them properly).

However, you're not completely helpless. The DoD has a page of links to organizations sponsoring support programs. Pick one that's doesn't offend you, and find out how to send someone overseas a toothbrush, cookies or just a reminder that we haven't forgotten them.

And while you're at it, take a minute to drop holiday greetings to Rummy and Paulie, reminding them to get their asses into gear on that first option.

U.S cuts aid to food charities

The first in what will undoubtedly be a series (collect them all):

"In one of the first signs of the effects of the tightening U.S. budget, in the past two months the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping millions of people climb out of poverty.
.
With the federal budget deficit expanding and President George W. Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities that it is unable to honor some promises.
.
Groups have been told they will have money for food only in emergencies like that in Darfur, in western Sudan.
.
The cuts to charities, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.
.
As a result, Save The Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves.
.
The programs helped with food supplies through improvements in farming, education and health.
.
'We have between five and seven million people who have been affected by these cuts,' Lisa Kuennen, a food aid expert at Catholic Relief Services, said.
.
'We had approval for all of these programs, often a year in advance,' she added. 'We hired staff, signed agreements with governments and with local partners, and now we have had to delay everything.'
.
...

One administration official involved in food aid voiced concern that putting such a high priority on emergency help might be shortsighted. The best way to avoid famines is to help poor countries become self-sufficient with cash and food aid now, said the official, who asked not to be named because of the continuing debate on the issue.
.
'The fact is, the development programs are being shortchanged and I'm not sure the administration is going to make up the money,' the official said."


The money saved should fund the SDI program for an additional, oh, twelve seconds or so.
.

Average rent out of reach for minimum wage earners

"In only four of the nation's 3,066 counties can someone working full time and earning federal minimum wage afford to pay rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment, an advocacy group on low-income housing reported Monday.

A two-bedroom rental is even more of a burden - the typical worker must earn at least $15.37 an hour to pay rent and utilities, the National Low Income Housing Coalition said in its annual 'Out of Reach' report. That's nearly three times the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

'You get pushed into a situation where some necessities don't get paid for' because more salary must be devoted to housing, said Sheila Crowley, the coalition's executive director. 'For people on low-wage fixed incomes, that's a chronic way of life.'

About 36 million homes in th U.S. are rented. About 80 percent of renter homes are located in nearly 1,000 counties in which a family must work more than 80 hours a week - or more than two full-time jobs - at minimum wage to afford the typical two-bedroom apartment, the coalition said.

The coalition's ``housing wage'' assumes that a family spends no more than 30 percent of its gross income on rent and utilities, since anything more is generally considered unaffordable by the government.

...

The national report quoted federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data that showed hourly wages rising about 2.6 percent over the past year, slower than the 2.9 percent rise in rents recorded in the Consumer Price Index.

...

States with more residents in rural areas were generally the most affordable, although no state's housing wage was lower than the federal hourly minimum wage of $5.15, which has not changed since 1997."

And that doesn't even take into account the folks working in jobs like sales floor positions at Walmart, who take down something in the neighborhood of $8.00/hr.

Daily Kos :: How We Lost Two Clinton-Clinton-Gore Voters

My parents always vote, and neither of them has ever voted for a losing Presidential candidate. (Gore does not count, because he, in fact, did win.) In fact, I don't believe my father has ever voted for any candidate--even city council--who did not win the election; he's like an oracle.

They were both teachers. My mother was in the peace corp. My father is an education reformer. Both of them are well-educated and watch the news. They are pro-choice. They believe in separation of church and state. They support gun control. They understand that insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are crooks. And they don't like outsourcing.

They both voted for Clinton--and though they were outraged by his affair with Monica, they didn't take it out on Al Gore. They voted for Gore and neither of them like Bush.

And so, my sister and I remain humiliated and angry that we could not convince them to vote for Kerry. We would send them articles, we'd rant, we'd rave, we'd explain until we were blue in the face, and the responses we would get back were baffling.

I love my parents, and I will always love them, but this election put a wedge between us. It brought out some ugly things in them, but I believe those ugly things are a reflection of the electorate--and that we have to understand them in order to win.

My parents are part of the 11% of Gore voters that we lost to Bush this year. We would have won if we held onto that 11%. We need to understand people like them and how to bring the best out of them, and counteract their worst instincts.




This kind of thing just tears me up strategy-wise. This dKos contributor talks in very blunt terms about how her middle-of-the road parents went to the dark side, and what we need to do to get them back.

I want to win, but I just can't see myself wanting to go to the stupid irrational places these folks would ask us to go in order to win back their (empty) minds.

'Tiz a puzzlement.

the road to surfdom

Chasing blogs around often leads you to snippets of wisdom in unexpected places. This from a comment on a posting about the growing irrelevance of the U.S. in the view of the powers that be in India:

To say that the war in Iraq is 'insane' (which of course it is, from the sentimental standpoint where things like human rights, democracy, or global public opinion are of any consequence) is like saying that the War On Drugs is insane -- a completely naïve analysis that assumes our wars are undertaken for their publicly defined goals. I think most people in Latin America, as well as most blacks in the USA, could inform you about the real goals of the War On Drugs. It's meeting those real goals quite nicely, or else the policy would change.

Why should we imagine that Iraq is any different? Someone, I assure you, is benefitting, and that someone was certainly too smart to believe his own masterful PR onslaught about how quick 'n easy it would be and how few troops and civilians would die. That someone will continue to benefit no matter how far the US standard of living erodes, and no matter which nation or economy or currency is in the ascendancy -- it's a globalised world, remember? Do you think this guy is holding T-bills?? The US federal government, with all its three branches, is just his PR wing. You'd better not believe he depends on it to be his guarantor.

So, indeed, the US is in a sad decline. But just as Reagan's rising tide didn't actually lift all boats, the ebbing tide is pretty much irrelevant to the people who've been calling the shots. It's funny that in this era when everything is privatized and deregulated, and multilateral bodies call more and more of the shots, people still have this weird voodoo faith in national governments. Noticed the rise of 'private security contractors,' aka mercenaries?

Dems Claim Win in Wash. Governor's Race

"OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Democrats have claimed victory in the race for Washington governor by a razor-thin margin of eight votes, citing preliminary results of a hand recount they say puts Christine Gregoire in front for the first time. Republicans maintained the race was still too close to call.

The stunning turnaround was reported late Tuesday by the head of the state Democratic Party, who said party officials' analysis of hand-counted returns from King County - the last county to finish the grueling process - showed that Gregoire had eclipsed the dwindling margin that Republican Dino Rossi has held since Election Day.

'We're confident Christine Gregoire has been elected the governor of the state of Washington,' Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt said. 'I believe Dino Rossi should concede.'

Neither King County nor the state Republican Party could confirm the recount results that led to the Democrats' analysis. GOP officials have said they were likely to take the matter to court in the event of a Gregoire win.

Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said Republicans were studying the recount data but had not drawn any conclusions. 'It's just too close to call,' Lane said."

Democrats at the national level should take a lesson from Berendt here--he's playing this perfectly. Got an edge? Put the Repubs on the defensive and make them the disruptive, spiteful obstacles to smooth democracy.


Merry Christmas to you too, you immoral fucktard



"I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk."--Ken Adelman, 2/13/02




"...my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."--Dick Cheney, 3/16/03


"Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties"--George Bush to Pat Robertson, 3/03



"The families have made tremendous sacrifices, and we appreciate all that they do. And the President also tells them that your loved ones who are in harm's way will have everything they need to complete their mission. We will make sure they have the best possible equipment and the resources they need to carry out that mission. And that's what our commitment is."--Scott McClellan, 12/21/04

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

More Christmas-hater News

Menorah vandalized again

From Nyack, NY: Hours after residents, local officials and clergy gathered at Veteran's Park to attend a rally against the recent vandalism to a Hanukkah menorah, the menorah was vandalized again.

Eight of the nine bulbs were ripped out of the menorah, which sits next to a Christmas tree and a nativity scene, and one was left hanging out of its socket, said Orangetown Police Sgt. Jim Brown.
...
Ehrenreich, who replaced the bulbs after the first attack, said the menorah was kept up for the rally even though Hanukkah ended last Wednesday. He said the menorah was to be taken down today.

Mayor John Shields, who organized the rally with the Nyack Clergy Association, said he was "horrified."

"I am speechless," he said. "Now, I'm wondering if people are just trying to gain attention."

Along with other recent incidents, the vandalism has caused concern in the town.

Two Orangetown men have been charged with hate crimes in connection with vandalism at four homes — three were painted with swastikas.

Swastikas also were found at Pearl River schools this year, and anti-Semitic pamphlets were distributed in Orangetown. A menorah in Pearl River was heavily damaged last year.

...

Eve Dworkin of New City said when she saw the menorah damaged the first time, it "felt like a slap in the face."

As she drove to work yesterday she was upset to see the menorah once again vandalized.

"Nyack is so multicultured," she said. "You'd think having a menorah and a Christmas tree next to each other would be fine in Nyack. But I guess not."


Tell me again about the embattled holiday here?

Erosion of value of Bush's "capital"

Fifty-two percent of respondents to a new poll think Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign amid recent criticism in Congress over his handling of the war in Iraq.
...
As for Bush, 49 percent of respondents said they approved of the job the president is doing. That number is down from his November approval rating of 55 percent. Bush is the first incumbent president to have an approval rating below 50 percent one month after winning re-election.


Maybe it is the result of grade inflation, what with all those mail-order Medals of Freedom in circulation.

mid-week diversion

L.A. Kobes dropped one last night to the always-tough Memphis Griz. Kobes captain Bryant went 2 for 16, and oh-for six behind the arc. You da man. Perhaps coach Kobe should have a talk with Director of Operations Kobe about finding more Kobes to play for captain Kobe.

Monday, December 20, 2004


...satire, on the other hand, is alive and well.

Irony is a lost art...

Maverick U.S. States Prove Popular at Climate Talks

Not all Americans are unpopular at this week's U.N. conference on climate change.

Negotiators and green groups have embraced maverick U.S. states and companies moving ahead on emissions control, although the Bush administration has few friends at the conference after bowing out of the Kyoto agreement on fighting global warming.

"Making concessions to bring this administration into the process at this time is futile. Engagements should be with California and other states and private business," said Steve Sawyer, a climate expert for Greenpeace in Amsterdam.
...
"When designing our energy policy, Germany will always look to California because it's the best example," said Barbel Hohn, environment minister in Germany's largest state of North Rhine-Westphalia.


Young tourists, take note: when backpacking through Europe, a Golden Bear flag on your backpack might be just as effective as a Maple Leaf.


Poll: For First Time, Most Say Iraq War Was a Mistake

via (washingtonpost.com):

President Bush heads into his second term amid deep and growing public skepticism about the Iraq war, with a solid majority saying for the first time that the war was a mistake and most people believing that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should lose his job, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

While a slight majority believe the Iraq war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, 70 percent of Americans think these gains have come at an "unacceptable" cost in military casualties. This led 56 percent to conclude that, given the cost, the conflict there was "not worth fighting" -- an eight-point increase from when the same question was asked this summer, and the first time a decisive majority of people have reached this conclusion.


There is an old definition of a liberal: someone who is right about most things, but too soon.

This story also casts Shrub's "I've earned some capital -- now I'm going to spend it" in a new light. I originally was struck by what a bizarre way that is for a Harvard B-School grad to speak (one does not generally "spend" capital -- unless, that is, one is a trust fund baby), but I now see that he had best spend it fast, because he may not have it much longer.




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