Saturday, September 09, 2006

Saturday Night September Emiliy Dickinson Blogging

Posted by olvlzl

September's Baccalaureate
A combination is
Of Crickets -- Crows -- and Retrospects
And a dissembling Breeze

That hints without assuming --
An Innuendo sear
That makes the Heart put up its Fun
And turn Philosopher.

Emily Dickinson

You Don’t Have To Believe It But Ridicule Won’t Win Their Support

Posted by olvlzl

You know it is one of the clearest realities of American life, so clear that it is beyond question; for the left’s agenda to be put into effect it will need the support of religious people. Some kind of religious belief is held by a very large majority of Americans, you don’t win elections without the support of the majority of the voters. If the left, by its own actions or by caricature, can be made the enemy of religion in general then the left can forget about holding power in the United States, ever again.

Reading leftist blogs you have certainly seen comments hostile to religion. The sometimes witty slurs against people who believe in one or more gods are certainly well known to you. If not, just wait around, one more is on its way. While sometimes quite funny, they tend to be repetitive. They could be intended as a fairly harmless indulgence for those hostile to religion but it isn’t politically innocuous.

I am bringing this up because I suspect there is an effort to stir up these questions just now. Articles in MSNBC-Newsweek and elsewhere might indicate an attempt to kick up a religious fight before the fall election. My interest in this is entirely in its effect on practical politics, I want the left to win this election, winning is the most important thing for the next two months. We can live with a certain level of atheist-religionist animosity, we cannot win an election with leftists falling for the bait the Republican right puts out for it. Leftists can be counted on to come to the defense of atheists who are targeted for discrimination. If atheists are in danger of life and limb, we must do that. But this all too timely row has nothing to do with life and limb. It is not pressing.

Absurdly, this time the bait seems to feature the question of an atheist not being electable as president. Since it’s proving hard enough to get any moderate-liberal elected you wonder why the left needs to deal with that just now.

Does an atheist have the right to be President? No. Let’s get that straight. No one has a right to be President. Holding an elected office is an assumed responsibility, assumed only with the permission of the voters, not a right. Our democracy would be a lot safer if everyone would remember this. Atheists have a right to run for President but no one has what is constantly mislabeled a right to assume the office except the legitimate winner of the election.

Is it unfair that an atheist who is honest about it has no chance of being elected as President? Yes, unfair. It is as unfair as the fact that a vegetarian, a Buddhist, an Animist or a Zoroastrian has no realistic chance of winning a real party’s nomination or gaining enough votes to win a presidential election. If you point out that the Constitution says there will be no test of faith to hold office, that’s enforceable against the congress, executive or judiciary, how are you going to enforce it against voters?

Will it remain so? Almost certainly it will remain so for the rest of our lives, there’s not much we do about it. Changing that situation cannot be done politically or by court ruling. It is a matter of cultural change, and, ironically, it will be a change that depends entirely on the acceptance of atheists by religious believers. Atheists who would like to change that might profitably ask themselves if insulting religious believers will hasten that day. They might consider if their, at times brilliant, mockery of religion* has perhaps played any role in their present day status with believers. When we talk about religion we are talking about people. Religion doesn’t exist outside of people who have feelings that inform their opinions and votes. Some religious people will never vote for us and we don’t have to worry about them. But there are many, I hope most, who we can convince to vote with the left. Those are the ones we need.

Atheists on the left should cut out the blanket mocking of religious people. What do they hope to gain by it? Nothing that is worth the cost. Interestingly, it almost always lacks the objective observational acuity necessary for realism, usually the pride of atheists. “Religion” takes in an enormous range of beliefs**. It is safe to assume that the range of religious variation is at least as wide as that found in politics. To lump together Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Catholics, Jains, Oomotists, etc. and to ridicule them over their religion as if it was any one thing is the sign of a lazy mind. The variation in these beliefs and the actions that come from them do make a huge difference. Pretending that they are all the same thing is just as unrealistic as conflating all political parties, ideologies, rump caucuses and majorities of one for characterization - based on the worst of the bunch- as “political people”. Attack away, as long as it is religious fascists who are the target, there is nothing to lose by doing so. But ask yourself if you really want to drive away people who might vote the same way you would.

A lot of the most important success of the left was grounded in the religion of the activists who did the necessary work. We have that on the best possible authority, the activists themselves. What good is there in mocking liberal religion? Atheists have also done good work for the left but you don’t usually hear religious leftists slamming them because of their atheism just as a matter of course. That kind of injustice would be remarkably atypical of religious liberals. It is a matter of fact that religious liberals have been outspoken supporters of the rights of atheists and other religious non-adherents.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by phrasing it as a question. This conflict will be promoted by the supporters of the Republican Party during this election season. It is brought up now because they know it could provide them with the margin they need to win this election. Atheists and knee-jerk leftists who ignore that this is a well worn tactic of the Republican right are counted on to do most of their work for them. Remember this, these kinds of wedge issues don’t have to succeed with a majority of the voters to work. They just have to deliver the margin of victory. Leftists who choose to strike a pose should be asked if they really think their ephemeral self-satisfaction is worth remaining out of power. It isn’t a price that is worth it to any rational leftist.

* Some of the mockery, when it has been against criminal behavior and moral hypocrisy by the religious establishment, has been well worth the cost. As the urgency of the problem addressed diminishes the benefit over cost ratio plummets.

** Including non-theistic forms of Buddhism

What Does ‘olvlzl’ Stand For?

Posted by olvlzl

The question has come up again, what does “olvlzl” stand for. While the temptation is strong to echo Groucho Marx and say, “he’ll stand for a lot” the fact is no one seems to be pushing that particular envelope at this time of my life.

Some of you may remember a commenter on many of these leftist blogs who went by the name EPT, a name chosen to honor the author of The Making of the English Working Class. As an aging gay man EPT was quite innocent of the fact that it was also the name of a product that was associated with urine. Having been ribbed about that and, shortly after, having had the letters olvlzl come up on the random letter generator of the comments board of the blog Mercury Rising*, EPT decided to see if there were any ways those letters could generate ribbing or anagrams. Finding none, he impetuously chose them as his own. Fate seemed to dictate it.

Echidne’s blog takes as its theme the great subject of feminism, it encompasses the lives and interests of more than half the human population. If feminism was represented in the way that subject deserves to be it would be ‘masculinist’ blogs that would be noteworthy as an alternative viewpoint.

My blog, olvlzl, has a much more modest theme, how the left can change its behavior to win politically. That theme, though more modest, requires that the ways that leftists characteristically act, speak and think be investigated to see possible self-defeating follies. What do we do that makes our agenda, so much in the interest of the vast majority of people, fail so regularly at the polls. It’s not all what they do to us, a lot of it is what we do to ourselves. A lot of what we do allows the right to caricature us, to lie about us in order to defeat us. As in the two longer pieces posted below it is also a matter of us giving them the rope to hang us with. That is a situation that cannot go unchanged either for what they do to us or what we allow them to do to us for whatever noble sounding reason. It is sometimes noble sound that signifies very little.

That is what the pieces I’ve posted here this weekend are about. If they are unsettling, this essential change without which we will never win, is bound to be. I hope that your disagreement and ideas will help to further the work of finding the way, they have taught me a lot in the four months I’ve been doing this. Most of all, I hope we will find ways to win. Everything depends on our winning elections, taking office and changing laws. Everything.

* I have seen no better coverage of the Mexican election online than that which Mercury Rising has posted. It is a wonderful and original blog which deserves far greater notice.

Adding Insult to Mendacity

Posted by olvlzl

ABRNC didn't even film it in New YorkCity! Geesh! Isn't there anything that gets produced here under Republican misrule?

What next?

For Example: Resources the Right Has at its Disposal and Which We Don't

Posted by olvlzl

So, who did fund the longest political hit ad in our history? Since on U.S. TV a program is what appears between ads, what else is the ABRNC crockudrama but a political ad?

I particularly like the part of Howard Dean's statement which I put in bold. We won't see responsible TV until they have their responsiblities as borrowers of public property, the airwaves, forced back onto them.

"The fact that the writer/producer of the piece is a well known conservative raises additional concerns and questions," said Dean. "The American people deserve to know who funded this $40 million dollar slanderous propaganda."

"Use of the public airwaves is a privilege conferred upon broadcasters in the public interest," Dean continued. "It comes with a responsibility to the American people and a responsibility to the truth."

When The Left Aids Its Enemies Why Should It Expect To Win?

Posted by olvlzl

It isn't free speech that I deny for fascists and Nazis, I believe that everyone has that as a matter of their having been born, "are endowed by their creator..." this piece is about the response of leftists, particularly the free speech absolutists such as Nat Hentoff to it.

The left has no obligation to do anything that could politically benefit our enemies. Not one thing. Our resources are very limited. We are always making choices in what we have the time and money to do. I don't follow their activities as much as I used to but I know that the state chapter of the ACLU here only took on a small number of cases due to lack of resources.

Fascists, Nazis and the right in the United States all explicitly work to deny people rights as innate as their right to free speech, they have huge resources at their disposal. I say that their advocacy for the abridgement and destruction of other peoples' and groups' rights, with increasing support on the Supreme Court, places their rights outside the area of our concern.

The pose of absolutism, re Skokie, has a politically damaging effect on the left. The Phelps citation was made because the issue was coming up and I imagined the self-defeating words coming out of the mouths of our defenders of the first amendment in support of people who would take away every one of my rights, likely including that to life itself. If my rights and my life mean less to a free speech absolutist than the rights of fascists who would rob me of them, then what other stand am I to take? Why should members of any group targeted by fascists sit quietly while they are aided by leftists?

In doing this I am far more generous than either group, fascists or absolutists. I only call for the deferment of the Phelps’ ability to make their hateful demonstration until it won’t impinge on the rights of people who have no choice about burying their dead, their right to speak would reman intact. If the fascists got their way someone would lose all of their rights and there would be no ACLU to file so much as an amicus brief.

The rumored plans for the Phelps to come to my home state of Maine to assert what we all know they assert at that time also influenced the writing of this. Just the threat had the family of a dead serviceman, his entire community and my state in termoil. Then the Phelps announced that they wouldn't be coming afterall. They got massive attention for themselves , the goal of a demonstration, afterall, without even bothering to show up. The family and community got a kind of pain no decent person would not try to prevent.

I hope no one missed that the piece didn’t call for leftists to take anyones speech rights away nor for the government to do it. We, dear fellow leftists, are not a court of law, we are not a legislative or executive branch, we are not even an unpaid government consultant we are not under any obligation to be even handed in OUR activities. We aren't now. We pick and choose as a matter of the most basic necessity. Let’s choose more intelligently is all I’m asking.

If someone doesn’t like the tone, I kind of get worked up about people who advocate stripping me of my rights and killing me.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I Won’t Be Fair to Fascists I Won’t Be Nice to Nazis

Posted by olvlzl

I won't be fair to fascists. I won’t be nice to Nazis. I will not give them a fair hearing. They've had their hearing and on their own terms. We've had their message aired universally, enthusiastically supported by conservatives here and abroad, and we have abundant examples of what happens when they achieve power. The combination constitutes probably the most ill-advised test of time given in recent history. And they've failed the viability test. We know the catalog of their crimes and we know that those crimes are the only part of their platform that they deliver on. They promise to kill people, to enslave people, to exclude people and to plunder the property of their victims. And that they can do. That is they can until either their own population or another has had enough and overthrows them. Victory, a higher standard of living, what they promise their supporters will be bought with that blood? No. They're not so good on that despite the lying Luce line.

Why anyone who pretends to be a liberal spends a second of their lives, though they live to be a hundred, being nice to them or defending their rights is one of the more idiotic results of the Code of Liberal Ethics. They've had their rights, as noted above. And their victims have had the full benefit of their exercise of those "rights". Why these liberal niceness scolds spend a second on the rights of fascists that they could spend on the rights of the victims of fascists is an exercise in ego of the worst kind. I will get to that in a minute after pointing out that I have made no guarantee of being such a nice person. No fascist should ever live in the expectation that they are going to see a benevolent smile from me. No liberal or leftist should expect me to be patient with the insistence that we be fair to them. As if the fascists were all going to attend a Developments in Contemporary Fascism seminar which will make living with them possible. Socialism develops, fascism has already found their true religion, racism, violence, slavery, theft and war.

If this apostasy isn't bad enough, it gets worse. I am an NMAS free speech absolutist. That, after L. Hansberry, means No More After Skokie. There is no reason for anyone on the left to come to the defense of the free speech rights of fascists.

Given their stated intentions and their history it is bizarre that any leftist would entertain considering the free speech rights of fascists. Why should any leftist give them the time of day nevermind a fully paid legal representation? The old reason given by the most easily stomached of our fairness monitors is that, "if they are silenced then we can be too". This argument has the virtue of replacing absolutist prissiness with an appeal to practicality. But it is empty. They haven't been silenced, they are all over the place. Ann Coulter's insane performance art is certainly not silent. And she's only one of the slew of dispund that fills the airwaves and makes it into print. We, dear friends, are entirely frozen out. Effectively blacklisted. The real left appears only slightly less often than plate spinners on our media. There is the pantomime of liberalism presented but it is such a transparent farce that even dismissing it gives it more attention than it deserves. Free speech sermons by liberal scolds is one of the more popular scenes of the farce.

As our friends in Canada sometimes point out, free speech is a right, it isn't the only right. Rights exist in tension, they don't exist outside of people and their owners don't exist in a vacuum. All rights may be absolute until they impinge on the rights of someone else. It is when they do impinge on other peoples' rights that things become less absolute than lends itself to facile philosophical contemplation between commercial pods and the length of a Village Voice column.

Let's take a variation on a classic. There is no right for a person to stand in the road outside your house and yell abuse at you for extended periods of time. Especially not at night. I doubt that someone could get away with standing outside your house and yelling adoration at you for several hours in the afternoon. It wouldn't be surprising if long and loud proclamations of affection met with a quicker and more forceful response by the police after your terrified call for help fifteen minutes into the incident. I have never heard a free speech absolutist defend this kind of speech and risk their own domestic tranquility. Why should a random night of sleep enjoy more protection than the one and only opportunity of an entire family to exercise the right granted by common decency, to hold a funeral free of the publicity stunts of hate cults? If a family can't bury their dead without the likes of the Phelps tribe turning their grief into a media availability, I don't want to be a part of your "free speech".

Free speech absolutists believe that they are acting out of high principle, I fervently want to believe it of some of them. There are free speech absolutists who I not only respect but love. But when you make free speech into an overriding absolute, an inflexible absolute, the principle becomes a petty scruple. It becomes moral schtick which includes the absolutist's imagined right, by virtue of their constitutional purity, to dispose of other peoples' rights without their consent and often in the face of their vigorous disapproval. The worst of them appropriate as the raw material of their media careers as "defenders of the constitution" the lives and rights of the victims of fascists, both past and future. Who the hell died and made them God?

first posted on olvlz Wednesday, May 17, 2006.

Parsing Rush Limbaugh

Just because it's a fun thing to do, and because learning to parse one wingnut helps us in parsing all of them. And because it's fun. Oops. I just said that.

Rush Limbaugh spoke to Katie Couric in her new series "Free Speech". I'm going to use his speech as the stuff dreams are made out of, at least dreams of parsing, which means that I'm going to give you a few lines of Rush and then my masterful (mistressful?) interpretation of the problems his speech contains. And so on.

Here's the beginning of Rush:

LIMBAUGH: My friends, it's time to face a hard, cold fact: Militant Islam wants to kill us just because we're alive and don't believe as they do. They've been killing us for decades. So it's time to stop pretending these terrorist incidents are mere episodic events and face the reality that our way of life is in grave danger. Now, this threat is not just going to go away because we choose to ignore it.

I've bolded the bits I'm going to rip apart here. First, note the "just because", combined with the earlier word "fact". Limbaugh is telling us that the militant Islamic terrorists have no other reasons for their hatred than the fact that we are alive and disbelievers, and he's telling this as a fact. Most educated observers know that the "just because" is not true, that there are many reasons for the American unpopularity in Islamic countries, and that many of these reasons have to do with the foreign politics of the United States. The problem here is not that Rush isn't partially right. He is, in that there indeed are some terrorists who would hate the non-Muslim world whatever else might be going on. But the numbers would be much fewer if the United States had a different foreign policy with respect to the Middle East. The problem is that Rush argues for the totality of his opinion as the only correct explanation for terrorism.

Now comes the really fascinating transition: Rush moves from Militant Islam (an ideology) to "they" (people). Who are "they"? He never defines this nebulous and frightening group, but I'd assume he means the terrorists. This is an important point, because later on he talks about "diplomacy" as if it was something the critics of the Bush administration advocate as the tool for coping with, say, bin Laden. This is pure hogwash, of course.

Then the third bolded bit: about the needs to stop pretending that these terrorist events are episodic and can be ignored. Who pretends this? It's a strawman Rush is building here, or at least something I've never heard of.

And finally, the fourth bolded bit: That "we" (who are these we?) choose to ignore the threat of terrorism doesn't mean that it will go away. I don't know who chooses to ignore the threat of terrorism. The liberal and progressive criticisms of the Bush administration policies are not because these critics want to pretend that terrorism doesn't exist. They are because these critics believe that the approach to fighting terrorism Bush has selected (make the terrorists into warriors by calling terrorism a war, rather than treating the terrorists as the slimy ratass criminals they really are and thus removing the halo of heroism from them) is wrong-headed.

Are you bored yet? Some people actually love sentence parsing. I'm going to continue a little longer, just in case you're one of them. Here's the rest of Rush's first paragraph:

Some say we should try diplomacy. Yeah, well, tell me, how do we negotiate with people whose starting point is our death? Ask them to wait for 10 years before they kill us? When good negotiates with evil, evil will always win, and peace follows victory, not words issued by diplomats.

Only two points concerning these sentences. First, when "some say we should try diplomacy", those "some" are not talking about trying diplomacy with bin Laden and other such terrorists. They're talking about matters between countries, mostly. Second, once we introduce "good and evil" we introduce both a religious approach to looking at these conflicts (something bin Laden does, too) and the impossibility of distinguishing that "good" and "evil" must be defined. Is it good to torture people? Or does it matter if it's the "good" who are doing the torturing? And notice the obvious reversal already pregnant in Rush's argument: If the terrorists define good and evil in similar moral terms, they clearly think that it's the United States who would win in any diplomatic negotiations.

And then the rest of Rush's comments (though I deleted his bye-bye bit):

But some Americans, sadly, not interested in victory, and yet they want us to believe that their behavior is patriotic. Well, it's not. When the critics are more interested in punishing this country over a few incidents of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay than they are in defeating those who want to kill us, when they seek to destroy a foreign surveillance program which is designed to identify those who want to kill us and how they intend to do it, when they want to grant those who want to kill us U.S. constitutional rights, I don't call that patriotic. Patriotism is rallying behind the country, regardless of party affiliation, to defeat Islamofascism. Patriotism is supporting our troops in the battlefield, not undermining the mission and morale.

Check out the first sentence I bolded. Rush is taking giant leaps here (I don't like the visual image that provided). He's referring to "some Americans" but he never tells us who these people are. He's telling us that these "some Americans" are not interested in victory (left undefined) and that this makes them bad patriots.

It's hard to address a sentence like that, because there's no "there" there. Sorta. What Rush is really saying is that there is only one way to be patriotic, and that is to support George Bush. Anything else is more like treason. If you don't support Bush you are not for victory, it seems. So according to Bush I want bin Laden to win and to take over this country and to put me into a burqa. Very funny.

The long sentence I bolded is essentially a rerun of the same argument. We must criticize nothing the government does, nothing. Because if we do it means we are not patriotic. Later, Rush argues that everybody should rally behind the country, regardless of party affiliation, to defeat what he so quaintly calls Islamofascism. This might not apply to Rush himself, of course, given the horrible things he said about Bill Clinton earlier on. And I'm really wondering how Rush would rally behind a Democratic president in a similar situation, at least without having a knife in his hand.

To finish off this post, I couldn't stop thinking that when Rush says that "patriotims is supporting our troops in the battlefield" he might have used that definition of support tongue-in-cheek. For what is it that Americans are asked to do to support the troops in the battlefield? To put some "Made in China" stickers on their SUVs? To go and shop? And what about the support the troops need once they come home? Like medical benefits for the permanently disabled?

That was fun, but I went on too long.

Have a good weekend. Olvlzl will be driving this blog for the next two days while I go cavorting.

No Prewar Saddam-Al Qaeda Ties

Yes, I know that it's boring to harp on about the same piece, but even minor goddesses have obligations:

There's no evidence Saddam Hussein had ties with al-Qaida, according to a Senate report on prewar intelligence that Democrats say undercuts President Bush's justification for invading Iraq.

Bush administration officials have insisted on a link between the Iraqi regime and terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Intelligence agencies, however, concluded there was none.

Republicans countered that there was little new in the report and Democrats were trying to score election-year points with it.

The declassified document released Friday by the intelligence committee also explores the role that inaccurate information supplied by the anti-Saddam exile group the Iraqi National Congress had in the march to war.

It concludes that postwar findings do not support a 2002 intelligence community report that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, possessed biological weapons or ever developed mobile facilities for producing biological warfare agents.

And what is this obligation I speak of? It's the obligation to inform all Americans who answered this question in a recent Zogby poll with "agree":

Do you agree or disagree that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terror attacks?

Two thirds of Republican respondents to the survey did so.

So yes, it's old news. An old inaccuracy (see how polite I'm here) which sprouted, grew and now has brought a harvest. But it's also not true.

Friday Cat Blogging

This is Hermione, blue lily's cat. Blue might join us as a weekend guest blogger with olvlzl when she has more time. Hermione looks wise to me, though I really don't know cats very well.

Have to start taking snaps of Henrietta the Hound. She is currently snoozing on top of her double-thickness dog bed. Like the princess and the pea story. She inherited Hank's bed and does she love the comfiness! All her limbs are poking out in luxurious abandonment.

The Enemy At Home

Via Eschaton, I read Michael Berube's post on Dinesh D'Souza's new book blurb. The book is titled The Enemy At Home, and that, naturally, is us. What have we done? Well, we are responsible for all the licentiousness and depravity on earth, things such as women allowed to drive cars and go out alone, and as a consequence, we indeed are the people truly guilty for the 911 events:

While everyone else in the liberal blogosphere is focused on the world-historical shenanigans of ABC-Disney-Rove's fictionalized docudrama, The Path to 9/11: Clinton Did It (original title: A Million Little Pieces of the Democrats' Plan to Undermine America), I figure that somebody around here ought to be paying attention to the Old Media, namely, books.

So it is in the spirit of bookselling hucksterism that I bring you the new fall line for Outer Wingnuttia, courtesy of Dinesh D'Souza:

In THE ENEMY AT HOME, bestselling author Dinesh D'Souza makes the startling claim that the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist acts around the world can be directly traced to the ideas and attitudes perpetrated by America's cultural left.

D'Souza shows that liberals—people like Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Barney Frank, Bill Moyers, and Michael Moore—are responsible for fostering a culture that angers and repulses not just Muslim countries but also traditional and religious societies around the world. Their outspoken opposition to American foreign policy—including the way the Bush administration is conducting the war on terror—contributes to the growing hostility, encouraging people both at home and abroad to blame America for the problems of the world. He argues that it is not our exercise of freedom that enrages our enemies, but our abuse of that freedom—from the sexual liberty of women to the support of gay marriage, birth control, and no-fault divorce, to the aggressive exportation of our vulgar, licentious popular culture.

The cultural wars at home and the global war on terror are usually viewed as separate problems. In this groundbreaking book, D'Souza shows that they are one and the same. It is only by curtailing the left's attacks on religion, family, and traditional values that we can persuade moderate Muslims and others around the world to cooperate with us and begin to shun the extremists in their own countries.

Yuh. If the Talibans on the two sides join together and fight the rest of us they might not fight each other. It could work... All we need is to put women and gays in little cages. Why didn't I think of it before? Shows why we need D'Souza's great writings to inform the lowlier forms among us.

Well, there's still the whole problem of the U.S. policies in the Middle East. But I'm sure if Osama bin Laden sees pictures of Hillary Clinton in a burqa he will immediately tell all the suicide attackers to cease and start making money for American companies.

Have you ever followed all the links about the conservative violations of sexual freedoms on the internet? Every day I see at least one story about a minister who raped children or solicited gay sex or something similar. And it's the capitalists who make money out of pornography.

D'Souza is a nutcase. But he's involved in this whole plot to make sure that we finally put all our energy against our real enemies: the horrible left which is both cowardly and weak and also so incredibly powerful that it's to blame for everything, even terrorism. Never mind that D'Souza's ideas would require getting rid of the good differences between bin Laden's thinking and the Western tradition. That's how sick these puppies are.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Lower Incomes Look To Conservatives

They look good. I've been visiting some blogs in Wingnuttia. Instapundit had a post about a week ago on the new income statistics (which for us latte-sipping limousine welfare queens showed that the real earnings of individuals have declined and that the share of nonlabor income (profit, interest income, rents) has risen). Now, I would have thought that all this is good news in Wingnuttia. Isn't capitalism one of the major religions over there? But surprisingly, quite a few righty bloggers felt the need to reinterpret the evidence or its meaning.

The most interesting of these interpretations is the idea that being poorer now is a lot better than it was in the past. Hence, there is no real need to worry about increasing income inequality or declining earnings. People have cell phones! And a television sets and McDonald's hamburgers! David R. Henderson summarizes this argument like this:

The bottom line is that the vast majority of us are doing well by the standard measures. Finally, (like Don Boudreaux) ask yourself this: Would you rather be in the middle 20 percent of the income distribution today or in the top 20 percent 50 years ago? How much do you value cell phones, cars that last 10 years, airline travel to Europe, iPods, and being able to fight cancer and win?

How much do you value health insurance? Without it the chance to fight cancer and win is a lot less, and health insurance is becoming an ever rarer benefit for even middle-income workers.

A somewhat different version of the same argument has been used to explain why we shouldn't worry about real poverty that much. First, the poor can buy cheap electronic gadgets; cheap, because the price of electronics tends to drop in real terms fairly rapidly after the product is first introduced. We are all equal on the internet, too! Second, the poor are a lot happier than the wealthier people.

Sadly, over forty million Americans have no health insurance, housing is more expensive in real terms than it has been for decades and higher education is out of reach for many, too. But there's always gadgets to play with and cheap fast meals to eat. And smiles aplenty, too, I guess.

Rush Limbaugh even suggested that the poor have too much, that the "liberal" state has given them food stamps and hence obesity. Interesting, huh?

It's almost as if it's the rich who should be really envious of the middle classes and the chubby/happy poor. Note that Mr. Henderson didn't offer us the choice of belonging to the top twenty percent of the income distribution today. We are meant to focus on how nice it is not to have that much income, compared to years past. We are not meant to think about the well-off of today.

But let's do so. Suppose that income differences really don't matter that much anymore, that it's in fact quite comfy to be poor or at least middle-class. If this is true, why would the rich want to get rid of the estate tax? Why would they want their taxes lowered? What do they have to gain by trying to have more than the iPods and the cars and the cell phones?

Clearly nothing much. And then add to that the sadness that follows greater incomes, and you have a fairly drastic case for a more progressive system of taxation.

Don't Look Now

But Bush has admitted to secret detention of terrorism suspects in foreign countries. But worry not! The scariest suspects will be transferred to Guantanamo:

President Bush's announcement that 13 top al-Qaeda suspects are to be moved to Guantanamo Bay to face military tribunals, and his call for Congress to prioritize legislation to beef up the legal foundation of those tribunals, is aimed at bolstering the legal basis of U.S. detainee policy. But the President's timing — some two years after the Supreme Court first challenged the legal basis for the practices at Guantanamo, and on the eve of an election season in which his own party is expected to suffer losses at the polls, partly because of the situation in Iraq — will be widely viewed as politically motivated.

The President's speech, filled with graphic details of terror plots, is clearly part of the ongoing White House campaign to shift the terms of the political debate over national security issues. As the Democrats are pointing to U.S. difficulties in Iraq and demanding the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the White House has begun to reemphasize the continuing terror threat to America — an issue that has tended to favor Republicans. The question of what legal rights Congress should legislate for detained terror suspects is also highly contentious, and putting it on the legislative agenda less than a month before the pre-election recess is clearly an attempt to frame the national conversation on terms least favorable to the Democrats.


By transferring name-brand al-Qaeda prisoners recognized as dangerous men — such as alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad — to Guantanamo from secret detention abroad is likely to strengthen the rationale for the off-shore facility, and for dispensing justice via military courts. It is also precisely because the Supreme Court has ruled that military tribunals do not offer detainees sufficient legal rights that the President has now urged Congress to pass legislation to address those concerns.

Have a lollypop, anyone?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A 9/11 Commission Member on "Path to 9/11"

Richard Ben-Veniste is interviewed by Keith Olbermann in this video. What Olbermann says earlier is also worth noting.

For those of you on dial-up, the interview concerns the accuracy of the way events during the Clinton administration are portrayed in the docudrama. Ben-Veniste points out a scene that didn't happen in reality and also notes that the docudrama gives the impression that Clinton was distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal from responding properly to the threat that was bin Laden. According to Ben-Veniste, the 9/11 Commission Report came to the conclusion that this was not the case.

Ben-Veniste also stated that he had not seen the second part of the docudrama, and hence he couldn't comment on the accuracies or inaccuracies in the way the program depicts the Bush administration.

I've been trying to understand why I feel so very outraged by this little wingnut venture. It's not that different from all the other wingnut ventures, after all. But perhaps it rates higher on my outragemeter because I feel that someone is trying to steal a small part of history from me, a part I actually lived through.

Still More on "Path to 9/11"

The conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt on the criticisms about the soon-to-be-aired docudrama:

The Disney execs met all through the weekend - unheard of in this business - debating what changes would be made and what concessions should be given. Here is what looks to be the conclusion:

- There will be a handful of tweaks made to a few scenes.
- They are minor, and nuance in most cases - a line lift here, a tweak to the edit there.
- There are 900 screeners out there. When this airs this weekend, there will be a number of people who will spend their free evenings looking for these changes and will be hard pressed to identify them. They are that minor.
- The average viewer would not be able to tell the difference between the two versions.
- The message of the Clinton Admin failures remains fully intact.

And the message of the Bush Admin failures?

Hewitt continues:

The scramble caused by this backlash was so all consuming that the execs spent their holiday weekend behind closed door meetings and revamped their ad campaign. But at the end of their mad scramble, they found only a handful of changes they could make and still be true to the events. The changes are done only to appease the Clinton team - to be able to say they made changes. But the blame on the Clinton team is in the DNA of the project and could not be eradicated without pulling the entire show. A $40 million investment on the part of ABC is enough to stem even Bill Clinton's influence.

Is the blame on the Clinton team in the DNA of the history or only in the DNA of this project? Nobody argues that the earlier administrations made no mistakes, but to argue that Bush wasn't mostly responsible for the events that took place on his watch is inane.

For example, I sure hope the docudrama includes that little bit about Condi Rice being interviewed for the 9/11 Commission. You know, where she said, with a quivering voice, that the report they ignored in the summer of 2001 was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in America".

Look, I don't know what is going to be actually shown in this docudrama. But that it's been shown to conservative pundits, yet unavailable to members of the Clinton administration and liberal critics, well, that smells. And not good.

A Fall Fashion Review

Thanks to Seeing The Forest for this preview of what we are all going to wear this autumn. Here are Dior's suggestions for busy and active women ready to take on the world:

This would be a good outfit for that important interview:

And this might do for meeting his parents for the first time. Shows that you have good child-bearing hips:

And this, of course, is what every mother should wear while changing diapers:

And here's how the father should dress (according to Klein):

Prudish Echidne. How dare she do that feminazi stuff on art! Everybody knows that people aren't actually meant to wear this stuff. It's just so...beautiful! So full of deeper messages.

Such as the impossibility of being a woman, I guess. How cumbersome, how idiotic, how lifeless is the correctly fashionable woman. And she can never sit down in those top two outfits. She can't see anything in the third one, either, but who cares. It's ART. The poor guy, now he can move quite freely and so can various parts of his anatomy. Just look at the wan faces of the women, their expressions of...what? (I guess they can't see the male model offering some eye candy.)

These pictures make me think of ropes and of being tied up, of a gentle kind of violence, of passivity and blankness. It's not that I can't see the point of the pictures, I do. But they are constructed on a living canvas, and there's something deeply unhealthy about the way this canvas is treated. There's more than a smidgen of misogynism in anyone who views women in these terms.

Sour Duck said it all much better in this post.

Why Protesting "Path to 9/11" Matters. Or Not.

"Path to 9/11" is the new docudrama (docudribble?) that ABC is going to broadcast on the tenth and eleventh of September. As I've already mentioned, the program is marketed to schools and it has been prescreened by Rush Limbaugh and various wingnut bloggers. Limbaugh thinks it's great, which means that it's most likely going to be biased towards an interpretation which favors the Bush administration. The programs are going to be shown without any advertisements. This either means that ABC is scared of possible boycotts or that the whole thing will be set up as a quasi-religious remembrance.

What's more likely is that it is an infomercial by the current administration, paid or unpaid. The reason why I suspect this can be found here:

ABC has been aggressively advancing its inaccurate and politically slanted miniseries, "The Path to 9/11," to the right wing. Big players like Rush Limbaugh have been provided copies, as have obscure right-wing bloggers like Patterico.

But ABC has refused to provide a copy to President Clinton's office. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger have also requested copies of the film from ABC, and both have been denied. Both Berger and Albright are harshly criticized in the film in scenes that, according to former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, are "180 degrees from what happened."

And here:

Last night on MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Roger Cressey — a top counterterrorism official to Bush II and Clinton — blasted ABC's docudrama "The Path to 9/11." Cressy said "it's amazing…how much they've gotten wrong. They got the small stuff wrong" and "then they got the big stuff wrong." He added that a scene where the Clinton administration passes on a surefire opportunity to take out bin Laden is "something straight out of Disney and fantasyland. It's factually wrong. And that's shameful."

Now why would it matter that a major television broadcaster chooses to pick a partisan view of the horrible events that took place five years ago, chooses to air this view right around the time of the anniversary when emotions are sore and minds easily hypnotized? Why would it matter that even schoolchildren will be provided by the same partisan view as if it was the whole truth? Why would it matter that only some can prescreen the docudrama?

Have some more potato chips. Did you hear about the dead missing white whale? Oh, and too bad for losing your job to outsourcing and your health insurance, too. How is that diabetes doing? Move on, nothing to see here. If you're not for Bush you're against us and the U.S.. Cut-and-run. Saddam was behind 9/11. If we leave Iraq the terrorists will follow us. Islamofascists are not our only enemies, you know.

And there's nothing ethical about using the memories of those who died five years ago for election gains, especially if the arguments are untrue. The word I'm looking for is "despicable".

Then there is the wider justification for trying to stick to truth in these sorts of stories: People are pretty gullible. A recent Zogby poll tells us this:

Half of American voters (50%) say there is no link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terror attacks, while 46% believe there is a connection. However, just 37% of respondents in the poll agreed that Saddam was connected to the attacks and that the Iraq War was justified as retribution for his involvement, while 48% believed that there is no connection between Saddam and 9/11 and the Iraq War has diverted America's attention from the War on Terror.

The percentage of Republican respondents who believe in Saddam Hussein's involvement is 65%. President Bush himself has recently argued that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, but his base still echoes the earlier messages of the administration. In other words, lying does work, and now the idea is to spread the lies to larger and larger segments of the population. In a few short years most everyone will agree that 9/11 was caused by Bill Clinton, and that George Bush was the brave hero who came and fixed all our problems.

Protesting the manner in which this docudrama has been dumped on us is important, for all the reasons I've listed. But there is a difficulty, and that is the great likelihood that our protests carry no weight in ABC's decision-making. The real customers of commercial television stations are the advertisers, not the viewers.

A Salutary Reminder For All Politics Wonks

Most Americans don't follow politics very much. A post on MyDD about the failure of the Republican campaign to cause fear of Nancy Pelosi states that the campaign has failed because Americans don't know very much about Pelosi:

The Quinnipiac survey shows that a 53 percent majority of Americans aren't familiar enough with Pelosi to form an opinion about her, the same amount as are unfamiliar with Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist. Close to two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) don't know much about Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid while no numbers were available for either House Speaker Denny Hastert or House Republican Leader John Boehner.

Sniff. It's a little heartbreaking to realize that the wonderful debates we have over politics are largely pointless, if the intention is to affect most Americans. Also, it's pretty clear why people vote on vague emotional feelings. That's all they have to inform them.

But then most Americans don't even vote.

The Son Is Shining

In Japan, the Royal Family finally has the heir they and the conservatives in Japan have pined for a long time:

Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth Wednesday to a male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, ending a potential crisis of succession in the world's oldest continuous monarchy and likely forestalling a heated debate over whether female royals should be granted the right to serve as reigning empresses.

A wave of elation at the birth of a prince -- the first in Japan since 1965, when the baby's father, Prince Akishino, was born -- swept over much of the country, lifting what conservatives had seen as a dark shadow over the 2,000-year-old monarchy, in which only males may ascend the throne.

Lack of such an heir had embroiled the imperial court in a series of palace intrigues and family spats largely centering on the pressures brought to bear on 42-year-old Crown Princess Masako, wife of Crown Prince Naruhito, to produce a prince.

But it was not to be Masako -- the former diplomat whose 4-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko, had become the cause celebre of reformists seeking an end to the male-only policy -- who would give Japan its prince. Instead, Kiko, 39, the highly traditional wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, Akishino, delivered the 5-pound 10-ounce prince at 8:27 a.m. after being checked in to Tokyo's elite Aiiku Hospital on Aug. 16 to ensure a safe birth.

Doctors performed a Caesarean section -- the first ever on a member of the imperial family -- because of complications caused by a low-forming placenta. The Imperial Household Agency, the secretive courtiers who control virtually all aspects of court life, confirmed to reporters in Tokyo that both mother and child were "healthy."

The prince now becomes the third in line to the throne, after Naruhito and the newborn's father. Although die-hard reformists insisted that a debate on female succession should still take place, analysts generally agreed that the prince's birth would significantly delay a meaningful discussion for years, perhaps even decades.


When I was a child I used to read a lot of older books. This made me quite aware that sons had been better than daughters for a long time, and that giving birth to sons had been a major requirement for women, never mind that women don't determine the sex of the child. But I still got this odd little feeling of...pain... while reading yet another story where the plot was about the much-desired heir. It took a lot of rationalization to ignore that feeling of being unwanted just because of my sex.

Nowadays I know that feelings comparable to fuzzy spots in a picture are my inner alarm mechanism for finding subtle injustices. That they appear as fuzzy spots or as an unpleasant feeling in my stomach just shows that I react to them emotionally before I've figured out what it exactly is that upset me.

Thus, the reason why I write about the possible future emperor of Japan is not the importance of his birth but the symbolic significance of the event, the reminder that women have never been valued as highly as men have been, that daughters have not been welcomed as openly as sons have been, that indeed they have often been viewed as a burden, something that must be brought up and dowried for the benefit of someone else.

All this may now be changing, in some parts of the world at least. Or so some of us hope. But sometimes I wonder if the change has really been as big as some surveys indicate. It could be that we in the West just know what surveys want us to say.
Added later: I've been listening to the BBC World News' coverage of this. A fascinating section contained opinions from the Japanese street on the issue. Four men and one woman spoke... Now, this is another one of those fuzzy spots in the photo.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Osama bin Missing

And now fairly officially will no longer be even hunted. This is a piece of news which, if true, will strike those of us who lost friends or family very hard so near the fifth anniversary of the deaths:

Osama bin Laden, America's most wanted man, will not face capture in Pakistan if he agrees to lead a "peaceful life," Pakistani officials tell ABC News.

The surprising announcement comes as Pakistani army officials announced they were pulling their troops out of the North Waziristan region as part of a "peace deal" with the Taliban.

If he is in Pakistan, bin Laden "would not be taken into custody," Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan told ABC News in a telephone interview, "as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen."

The Pakistanis are friends with Bush, remember. And this is what friends do for friends, I guess.

And in totally unrelated news, the American military has now died in numbers greater than those who died in the 911 massacres. True, these were also pretty much totally unrelated people, but as it seems that logic has nothing to do with any of these political events, can't we just call it a victory and bring the military home? After all, if the reason they are in Iraq is because of terrorism, well, Osama bin Laden is a free man in Pakistan, and he's the head of all the terrorists. Isn't he?

Well, Bush still seems to think so:

His [Bush's] speech on Tuesday - the day following the US Labor Day holiday - coincided with the country's traditional start date for election campaigning.

"Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them," he said.

But, he added, the US and its allies could be confident of victory in "the great ideological struggle of the 21st Century" because "we have seen free nations defeat terror before".

Perhaps he should pick up his cell phone and call his dear friends in Pakistan.

First link via this Kos diary.

More on "Path to 9/11"

This is the ABC docudrama about the events that supposedly led to 9/11. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Think Progress has found several problems with facts in the docudrama, and that only the wingnut blogs had access to prescreening for some time suggests that the story isn't told neutrally.

I'm actually more concerned with the idea of writing a docudrama about events that only ended five years ago. This sort of thing is usually done when writing about historical events from a long-ago era. Ideas and feelings and interpretations are put into the mouths of dead people, because we don't really have evidence on what might have happened.

Whatever you might think about that practise, at least there's a good reason for it, because the only fact-based alternative is silence. But this is not true about "The Path to 9/11".

And hence, the question must be asked? Whose interpretations prevail in this docudrama? All that I've learned so far suggests that it's the interpretations of the Bush administration. I hope I'm wrong, because the docudrama is marketed to schools and other countries, too.

I really hope I'm wrong, because to broadcast the docudrama on the two nights following the 9/11 fifth anniversary, and to do that without any advertising suggests an almost religious treatment. Or an infomercial one. But if the latter, who is paying ABC?

To protest all this, go here

Krugman on Government Paid Health Care; Echidne on Everything Else

A good article, behind the dratted paywall. But I can give you the gist of it fairly easily. Krugman points out that we have one stellar example of good medical care funded and delivered by the government, and that is the Veterans' Administration (VA) program, and then we have an example of a new program that isn't doing very well at all, and that is the Medicare Advantage program. Guess which one the conservatives are pushing and which one they're trying to kill away?

I'm sure you guessed correctly:

I've written about the V.A. before; it was the subject of a recent informative article in Time. Some still think of the V.A. as a decrepit institution, which it was in the Reagan and Bush I years. But thanks to reforms begun under Bill Clinton, it's now providing remarkably high-quality health care at remarkably low cost.

The key to the V.A.'s success is its long-term relationship with its clients: veterans, once in the V.A. system, normally stay in it for life.

This means that the V.A. can easily keep track of a patient's medical history, allowing it to make much better use of information technology than other health care providers. Unlike all but a few doctors in the private sector, V.A. doctors have instant access to patients' medical records via a systemwide network, which reduces both costs and medical errors.

The long-term relationship with patients also lets the V.A. save money by investing heavily in preventive medicine, an area in which the private sector — which makes money by treating the sick, not by keeping people healthy — has shown little interest.

The result is a system that achieves higher customer satisfaction than the private sector, higher quality of care by a number of measures and lower mortality rates — at much lower cost per patient. Not surprisingly, hundreds of thousands of veterans have switched from private physicians to the V.A. The commander of the American Legion has proposed letting elderly vets spend their Medicare benefits at V.A. facilities, which would lead to better medical care and large government savings.

Instead, the Bush administration has restricted access to the V.A. system, limiting it to poor vets or those with service-related injuries. And as for allowing elderly vets to get better, cheaper health care: "Conservatives," writes Time, "fear such an arrangement would be a Trojan horse, setting up an even larger national health-care program and taking more business from the private sector."

Government involvement in health care takes different stages. The minimum one, present everywhere in the world, is the government as a provider of rules and regulations about health care provision. The intermediate stage has the government pay for some services but the delivery of health care is by private firms. This is the way Medicare and Medicaid in this country operate. The next stage includes at least some actual provision of services by government-operated institutions. The VA is an example of that in the United States and the National Health System (NHS) in the United Kingdom. The NHS is of course a much larger provider system, covering almost all Britons.

Conservatives are very much opposed to government ownership of delivery systems and somewhat less opposed to government funding of private delivery. At least their mates get a cut in the latter... But from an economic point of view, the question of the most efficient way of delivering government-funded health care is a little bit more complicated. As Krugman points out, there are clear health benefits from continuity of care, and the VA system can guarantee that today. Still, continuity of care is available through the market, too.

But here is the basic question to be answered: Does competition between private firms for government funding provide care more efficiently than a government-owned and -operated delivery system? The extreme right and the extreme left answers to this question would be Pavlovian, I suspect, and would ignore the fact that the question must be answered by looking at actual evidence.

Most of this evidence suggests that competition in medical care may not guarantee low prices. This is because consumers have trouble judging prices. How do you judge prices of different care options when you can't really understand the quality implications? How do you judge prices when you are scared, unconscious or extremely unwell? How do you compare physicians in the skills and expertise they provide? How do you even know what treatments you need, except when the person who is going to sell you the treatment has told you about your needs? See how very tricky this all is?

Economists call the relationship between a provider and a patient one of agency: the provider is the patient's agent. But the provider is also the seller of the final treatments and stands to benefit from those sales directly. Because of the obvious scope for conflicts, medical care has traditionally tried to isolate the patient-provider relationship from direct monetary considerations. This solution, however, tends to make both parties in the relationship insensitive to the cost issue. It also means that most direct competition in the past has been in the seeming quality of care*, rather than in its price, because higher quality benefits both the patient and the provider.

If we insist on competition in lower prices, what might happen? Maybe the prices can be lowered by competitive bidding and better practices. But it might be as easy to alter the package of services that is being offered, even if such alterations are not good for the patient. How can the patient really tell that the quality is now less than before? Or it migh be possible to "cherry-pick" or "cream-skim" the market by picking the cheapest cases as customers of a particular firm.

In the context of Medicare, the government-funded health care system for the elderly, the cherry-picking would mean trying to offer care packages to the elderly which look more attractive to the healthier ones. This is pretty much what Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) did in the past when first becoming participants in Medicare. Once there were no more cherries to be picked, the HMOs lost any further interest in participation. But note that market competition of this type would leave the most expensive cases outside the private provision system, which would now seem more effective and cheaper, even if it wasn't.

On the other side of the market vs. government debate is the question of the costs of bureaucracy. A government-operated health care firm doesn't have to care about competition, and layers of additional bureaucracy can add benefits to the workers who manage the system. No profit requirement exists for such firms, and this can lead to inefficiency. Why try for low costs and high quality if there is no punishment for failing to reach either? The answers would depend on the motives of the bureaucrats and on the way they are being reimbursed.

Clearly, the whole question I'm jabbering about here is an empirical one. We can go out and find data and we can study the data. It's not a religious question, and the correct answer is not to assume that praying to the gods of free markets is always the right thing to do.
*By the "seeming quality of care" I mean additional resources. Consumers regard high-technology medicine and the availability of more advanced diagnostic services as higher quality of care, although they really are measures of inputs and not of outcomes.

A Waffle Post

No real waffles, sadly, though there is still some pear galette left from yesterday's block party. This post is about a different kind of waffle, the word-based one.

I overheard this in the news the other day (scribbled it down furiously):

drunk drivers who endanger our families and communities will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law

So it would be perfectly ok for drunk drivers to hit and kill lonely hermits? Or outlaws? Or perhaps people who don't really feel like they belong to a community? Or at least the law's arm would be only half-extended in those cases?

I hate that poli-babble. It's an attempt to evoke feelings other than the ones that should be evoked. What drunk drivers kill when they kill people is exactly that, people. - I also hate the term "working families", even though I know why it is used. It connects all that family-values crap with all that "honest working man" crap into one emotional digestive biscuit. But for me it brings up visions of little children working twelve-hour days.

To move to something totally different: I found a criticism of my name on a feminist blog:

Echidne of the Snakes (the name is very Mists of Avalon, but we'll forgive her) is calling on a boycott of eminient business publication Forbes for a recent article warning of the dangers of marrying career women, written by executive editor Michael Noer.

It is a silly name, of course, and hard to know how to pronounce. But then any name I would have picked for blogging would have been silly. The runner-up was Olive the Omnivorous Ovary. Still, Echidne has nothing to do with the Mists of Avalon. Funny how people get very different associations from things like names.

Today's Action Alert

ABC is planning to broadcast a docudrama "The Path to 9/11" on September 10 and 11. Read what Representative Louise Slaughter says about it.

According to Think Progress, the docudrama is based on one-sided opinions and information, and appears to be an attempt to rewrite very recent history into a better "My Pet Goat" story than truth might allow. With Bill Clinton as the president to blame.

For some information, check out Firedoglake.

To protest, go here.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I'm Confused

Have the podpeople finally taken over Ohio? Or is there something about this I just don't get right?

An Ohio legislative panel yesterday rubber-stamped an unprecedented process that would allow sex offenders to be publicly identified and tracked even if they've never been charged with a crime.


A recently enacted law allows county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or, as a last resort, alleged victims to ask judges to civilly declare someone to be a sex offender even when there has been no criminal verdict or successful lawsuit.

The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio's so-called Megan's Law.

The person's name, address, and photograph would be placed on a new Internet database and the person would be subjected to the same registration and community notification requirements and restrictions on where he could live.

A civilly declared offender, however, could petition the court to have the person's name removed from the new list after six years if there have been no new problems and the judge believes the person is unlikely to abuse again.

Does this really mean what I think it means? That someone can be declared a sex offender without a court case?

Think about the power this gives to all those who hate their neighbors or that strict teacher who gives nothing but Cs. Salem witch trials, anyone?

No. I must have it wrong. Or the podpeople have truly taken over.
Link via for your safety on Eschaton threads.

On Women and Paid Work

Some interesting news on this topic:

The percentage of women returning to the workforce is again on the rise, after hitting a recent low in March 2005.

Some experts had attributed the drop to a cultural shift.

With the career-minded baby boom generation heading toward retirement — the oldest boomers turn 60 this year — some pundits speculated that a younger generation of women raised by working mothers was less inclined to pursue a career while raising a family.

However, they may have spoken too quickly.

Among women age 20 and older, 60.8% were working or looking for a job in July. That's close to the all-time peak of 61% that occurred in April 2000 and again in June 2003. In March 2005, the number had fallen to 60%.

Although the changes were small in percentage terms, some economists who track the role of women in the economy see great significance.

"I think it's one of the most important issues going on the labor market right now," said Vicky Lovell of the Institute for the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research. "Because women have been the workers fueling economic growth. It would be of great interest if women found work so inhospitable to be withdrawing from it."

Since 1960, workforce participation among women ages 20 and over rose from 38% to a peak of 61% in April 2000 and in June 2003. The falloff that began in 2003 and bottomed out last year, may have only been temporary.

"I think they are coming back now because jobs are coming around," said Sylvia Agretto, an economist and co-author of the latest edition of the "State of Working America."

It's all speculation, of course. Nobody really knows what's going on, and the increase in numbers is very slight. But make no mistake: If the statistics had shown the same absolute change but in the downwards direction, we'd be reading dozens of articles about women returning home to mind the kitchen fires. And not because of worsening labor markets but because they really, really want to do so.

Logic would require that the same people who came out with those pieces a year or two ago would now write the reverse stories about women deserting their kitchens (and their children, of course) for the excitement and business suits of the labor markets. That we are unlikely to read such articles shows how asymmetric the arguments are: whenever the numbers go down it's because of sociological reasons and women's "free choices", but whenever the numbers go up it's your usual economics jargon. This really doesn't make sense.
For a post on the labor markets in general, check this one.

More Baby Owls

Click on the picture to make it bigger. Cute, aren't they?
Thanks to JohnJS for the picture.

What Is It All About? This Labor Day?

No, it's not a celebration of all the wingnut babies that are being birthed right now while I type. And it's not a celebration of that big political party in Britain, either.

It's a celebration of the end of the summer in this country. Now tell me, prithee kind sir/madam, what "labor" has to do with the end of the summer.

The answer, of course, is that Labor Day is a cleverly neutered form of the customary Worker's Holiday in Europe, the First of May:

Pullman, Illinois was a company town, founded in 1880 by George Pullman, president of the railroad sleeping car company. Pullman designed and built the town to stand as a utopian workers' community insulated from the moral (and political) seductions of nearby Chicago.

The town was strictly, almost feudally, organized: row houses for the assembly and craft workers; modest Victorians for the managers; and a luxurious hotel where Pullman himself lived and where visiting customers, suppliers, and salesman would lodge while in town.

Its residents all worked for the Pullman company, their paychecks drawn from Pullman bank, and their rent, set by Pullman, deducted automatically from their weekly paychecks. The town, and the company, operated smoothly and successfully for more than a decade.

But in 1893, the Pullman company was caught in the nationwide economic depression. Orders for railroad sleeping cars declined, and George Pullman was forced to lay off hundreds of employees. Those who remained endured wage cuts, even while rents in Pullman remained consistent. Take-home paychecks plummeted.

And so the employees walked out, demanding lower rents and higher pay. The American Railway Union, led by a young Eugene V. Debs, came to the cause of the striking workers, and railroad workers across the nation boycotted trains carrying Pullman cars. Rioting, pillaging, and burning of railroad cars soon ensued; mobs of non-union workers joined in.

The strike instantly became a national issue. President Grover Cleveland, faced with nervous railroad executives and interrupted mail trains, declared the strike a federal crime and deployed 12,000 troops to break the strike. Violence erupted, and two men were killed when U.S. deputy marshals fired on protesters in Kensington, near Chicago, but the strike was doomed.

On August 3, 1894, the strike was declared over. Debs went to prison, his ARU was disbanded, and Pullman employees henceforth signed a pledge that they would never again unionize. Aside from the already existing American Federation of Labor and the various railroad brotherhoods, industrial workers' unions were effectively stamped out and remained so until the Great Depression.


The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. But now, protests against President Cleveland's harsh methods made the appeasement of the nation's workers a top political priority. In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.

1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born. He was not reelected.

So this day was initially all about unions. You know, those horrible bugbears which keep every capitalist tossing and turning sleepless, however soft the feather bed might be.

The bad rap unions get in this country may be partly deserved. Some of the methods certain unions have used in the past have a maffia flavor. But the concept of unions is also a beneficial one. As John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, unions work as a counterveiling power for the large corporations, as something which makes wage negotiations fairer.

Without unions every single worker is all alone in the salary or wage negotiations, and on the other side of the table sits the whole power of the firm. That's not a very fair base for contracting.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


In politics the words "my people" come up sometimes. Not as much now, but still too often for some of us. The phrase often translates, "my people are more important than yours,". You can understand a little of it. Targeted people being fixed on the interests of their own group is a natural reaction. But not if it's exclusive. First, it's not just. Second, the interests of one group are usually linked with those of other groups. Exclusivity is stupid politics. There are chances to make things better that are lost if groups stay to themselves. And that doesn't just stand for groups. A single person can take effective action to advance the interests of an entire group which they aren't identified with.

The idea that sprang up in the 60s, that people couldn't "really" care about people in another group was, thankfully, not universally adopted. - But let me take this moment to thank traditional psychology for letting us all know how we "really" feel and how, at bottom, we're "really" all a bunch of selfish swine. - A lot of people saw that it wasn't true and that it was an injustice in itself. But the attitude was too common among groups on the left. It led to a lot of the self defeating fragmentation that started in bad feelings and ended in our mutual weakness. The effects on people who identified with two or more groups was particularly bad. To be rejected by a group you don't identify with is bad enough, but to have your own reject you?

Empathy turned into a dirty idea around the same time. "Bleeding heart liberal" was the test marketed slogan for it. Why this stuck is impossible to work out. Was it 60s macho, the cool but sexually uptight, tough guy type presented as a hero, the man who would kill you if you cared about him as the only "really" honest man in town? You can see why conservatives like that. There isn't any percentage in caring about other people. But why would the left adopt it? Fear for their sexual identity? Fear that needing help would mark them as weak? Why isn't as important as the effect. No one wanted to accept help from other people because it was suddenly humiliating to do so. Being empathetic made you a loser. Those are neuroses for the right, not the left.

In most of the successful work for civil rights a coalition of different groups made the margin of victory. You remember 'VICTORY' don't you? Groups came together out of shared interests but also on the even stronger bases of empathy and justice. Sometimes it took overcoming disagreements to get it done. There are conflicts in interests between groups but groups have internal differences too. And groups that have major differences in some ways have common interests in others. Coalition politics need maturity and patience. Even more than that it requires clear-eyed realism. But most, it requires empathy. That is the weapon the right tries to deprive us of when they ridicule us about it. Why we should listen to them on that when we know they lie about everything else is a mystery. We don't have to give it up. The only thing we have to fear is letting them make us weak that way again.

First posted on olvlzl Monday, June 12, 2006

Life Isn't A Machine It Is Not Book Keeping It Isn't A Circus Act

As used in the context of politics and social life, “balance” is a very strange word. It’s an even stranger virtue. The assumption that finding a balance is the same thing as being correct is part of the automatic standard operating settings of our country. It is one that is accepted without question.

The “balance” fetish sees society and politics as if they are a revolving machine that will fly apart if some kind of mystical governor doesn’t keep things in a state of equilibrium. While this is, I contend, just more of the absurd habit of seeing all of life in terms of mechanics there isn’t any reason to think about public life in those terms. It is an unthinking response that has some dangerous political consequences. What “balances” democracy, equality, freedom? You can balance many things but you can’t balance reality.

The most important political use of this “balance” comes in the context of news reporting and the parasitic limpets attached to it, opinion “journalism”. In that context something called balance has replaced the reporting of facts*. It used to be that a reporter was required to get two independent sources to verify the truth of what their primary source had said. Now, instead, they just have to get a second opinion and that opinion doesn’t even have to present facts in refutation, it just needs to refute. The excuse is that the “reader will get to decide who is right”. Well, I’m very sorry to have to say that I’ve decided that is a lie, a cheat and a fraud entered into for reasons of laziness, cowardice, economy and ideology.

The function of good journalism is to present verified facts that a reader or listener can reasonably rely on at least contingently. A reporter has to do their job well enough to go past the point of presenting a false dichotomy which the reader then chooses a side to be on. This wasn’t always done honestly but it used to be done a heck of a lot more often than it is now. It’s not an unimportant matter, the news is a lot more earthshaking than presenting a choice between clear or cream soups.

The excuse that the “reader gets to decide” is fundamentally dishonest. Presumably a reporter will know a lot more than the readers will even after reading the results of their work. Not even an unusually long report will have enough information for someone to form an opinion. But that question shouldn’t even enter into the business of reporting the news. The reporter is the one who gets to decide but news decisions can’t be a matter of pro or con, it’s a decision about what is supported by the facts as they have it in their power to discover them. If the reporter fails in that task it is up to the editor to decide that they haven’t got the goods yet.

I first started noticing this kind of phony balancing act back in the 70s in response to the already years long effort by conservatives to destroy journalism. It was a cowardly capitulation to an organized effort to paint an objective media as liberal.** The media began by “balancing” their straight news reporting with stuff from the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, The Heritage Foundation, and the Cato whatever. Have you noticed much in the way of ‘balance’ in the direction of the left, that is other than the typically soggy Milquetoast from the likes of the Brookings Institution? And we see today that the usual panel of talking heads on TV has one or more obvious right-wing representatives to “balance” one reporter.

With this decay of real reporting there has been the rise in several levels of “opinion” journalism, complete with excuses within the profession for why they are exempt from accurately presenting facts or even telling the truth. Analysis, op-ed, focus, feature columnist, right down to the lowest of the low, the pundit; the presentation of opinion by these entirely biased and interested parties is almost certainly cheaper than supporting a reporter through the difficult and expensive task of trying to uncover hard news. It is certainly more certain what the point of view expressed will be.

A democracy can withstand wars, depressions, insurrections, plagues and many other calamities, it cannot withstand the ignorance of the People. It cannot exist if a majority of its people believes that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and so the invasion was justified. It cannot stand if the majority of people know more about what goes on in Hollywood than inside the government. It is a measure of the failure of our news that Americans, with the most elaborate media structure in the history of the species are inadequately informed on issues they need to know in order to govern themselves.

I don’t believe in a right to be ignorant but like all opinion what I think doesn’t matter. But unless someone can find an alternative explanation I’ll have to believe that if people choose ignorance they will always lose their rights. People who are ignorant are unable to resist those who would manipulate them and exploit them, even without an effort to impose a dictatorship, they will likely stumble into one. Similarly, if the media chooses to pander to the least common denominator, if they seduce the population with infotanement for their corporate interests they don’t exist as a free press. A free press is always in danger of having the exercise of its freedom taken away from it. If they only report corporate propaganda they will find, in the fullness of time, that they are not allowed to do anything else. A free press is fully dependent on an informed and free electorate. Our media hasn’t given up free speech with a gag but with a simper.

* There is another aspect of this avoidance of news reporting posted at my blog.

** A couple of years ago there was a letter in the Boston Globe, I believe in response to a story about David Horowitz’ McCarthy style efforts against college teachers. It was the most succinct and sensible answer I have ever seen to these charges. The letter said that College teachers tend to be liberals because they read a lot.

Early Edition

Two interesting articles in the Idea’s section of the Boston Globe.

An annoyingly short but quickly read Article-Q&A with Andi Zeisler and Lisa Jervis.

A column about Walter Benn Michaels and the idea that economic issues should replace diversity issues in leftist politics. I’m inclined to understand his point but agree whole heartedly with Michael Berube, “My argument has always been that you can do both at the same time,".

The argument made by some that diversity issues are used by the oligarches as a means of dividing and conquering is certainly reinforced by the fact that it’s Dinesh D’Sousa who says of Michael’s contentions, “He’s on the right track,”. The public career of Dinesh D'Sousa is all about dividing and conquering. And the temptation to simply things to either or is universal. As Jervis says in the Q&A " Many progressive issues are informed by feminism: worker's rights, antipoverty work, antiracist work, the transgender and gender-queer movements, a lot of consumer-culture critiques. "

Anything that divides the left, that turns us away from concerted action will keep us from gaining the political power we need to change laws. Sometimes it's a matter of oversimplification and false choices. We can't have it all but we don't have to settle for less than we have to settle for.