Saturday, August 04, 2007

Irresponsible Corporate Media Makes Responsible Government Impossible

Posted by olvlzl

Note: I was going to write a followup to this piece in light of this weeks bridge disaster and the soon to be laid aside interest in bridge inspection and repair. However, that wasn't possible. The reason the matter, clearly a matter of saving lives this week, will be laid aside is due to the collusion of conservative politicians and the media which supports them. It is the "tax and spend" chanters who have brought us to this. While it is profitable for their campaign supporters to build an enormous and complex infrastructure, it costs money to do do it right in the first place and to maintain and eventually replace a superannuated structure. That's when the howls of the right wing begin and responsible voices are silenced.

The Boston Globe had a column by David Luberoff last year which clearly explains the origins of the emerging Big Dig disaster. He points out that the project, originally funded through the federal highway system, lost a lot of its federal support half-way through. Instead of facing that reality, the politicians in Massachusetts didn't make up the difference with state and local taxes and tolls. One of the truest things in life is that while you often don't get what you pay for, you never get what you don't pay for. You know that's true when you are dealing with a large corporation like Bechtel with armies of bean counters making sure that they get maximum profits from their projects.

What went wrong in the face of warnings by people who knew what they were talking about - Massachusetts has probably the highest percentage of those on the continent- is just beginning to be studied. While they are looking at that I hope someone will look into the more general political atmosphere that led to the bad decisions. I don't only mean the steady stream of Republican governors during most of the Big Dig.

Given their refusal to monitor themselves for accuracy and responsibility, we won't get the media's role in promoting gross irresponsibility in politicians. At least not from them. But it really does largely fall on the media. Through call-in shows, wise-guy on-air personalities, connected owners and those who have created today's media sewer, anyone who steps up and tells the truth, "You want this done, you are going to have to pay for it," gets their head handed to them. They make lying and dereliction of duty requirements for retaining a political office or civil service job. Reporting with enough time or column space to really explain an issue costs more while the truths uncovered are insufficiently entertaining to maximize profits. And some of those truths might be most unwelcome at the club.

The Republican Party, who used to pride themselves on responsibility, now specialize in this kind of winning through lying. With the media fully in support they tell lies designed to win elections. Most people have a weakness for believing what they want to hear. The busy public, without the technical knowledge or time to look at the details buys the lies until reality strikes and they can't ignore it any longer. How else do you think Bush I lost to Bill Clinton despite the insane press adulation following Bush War I and the war they waged against Clinton as soon as it was clear he had a chance to win?

But if you want good government, safe and effective civil engineering projects, the rest of the benefits that only government can deliver, then we can't wait for the disaster to deliver the real news. The cost in lives, time and remedial action are multiplied many times by the lies and propaganda spread by the media.

The often repeated line, "Good, fast or cheap. Pick two." sums up the current political climate that this irresponsibility has produced. But as the Big Dig is beginning to prove, good is the only way to get faster and cheaper. Maybe the same applies to news media getting it right. But getting it right isn't what today's profit-driven and cynically self-interested media is all about.

The Globe had an article in which Michael Dukakis defends his administration's role in the Big Dig. Having read about the project from its beginning, he makes a good case. But Dukakis is just a boring detail guy the press rejected two decades ago.

Friday, August 03, 2007

On the Duggars

I happened to come across a piece which celebrates the birth of the seventeenth child into the Duggars family. Now, the number of children this family wants to have may be their own business (though that could be debated from an environmental angle, say, and also if they cannot afford to feed all of those children), but the announcement made me think how differently the choice to have lots of children is viewed from the choice to have a few children and work outside the home.

The latter choice is viewed as wrong by a sizeable number of Americans, though naturally only in the case of mothers who are employed. Fathers are quite free to be employed, never mind how many children they have. But mothers who have jobs outside the home are suspected of child neglect or even worse. Yet having seventeen children is not treated in a similar manner. But think about it: How could Michelle Duggars possibly spend the amount of attention on each and every one of them that many of those motherhood experts specify? (Jim Bob, the father is obviously not expected to spend time with the children.)

My guess is that it is the older siblings who pretty much bring up the younger ones. This may not be bad, but surely it would be regarded as horrible if it was a consequence of the mother having a job and therefore delegating child-minding to someone else.

Or think about how this case is viewed in comparison, say, to all those stories about welfare queens who have more children supposedly only because it gives them more money. The Duggars are not criticized for having more children than they can afford to support properly.

What is the difference in these kinds of comparisons? The Duggars tell a story which both shocks us (seventeen children!) and also supports very old patriarchal norms about what a good mother is. She stays at home and has lots of children, basically. That this might not be good for the children is ignored, because the other myth is more powerful.

Friday Cat Blogging

This is fourlegs' Maddie. Fourlegs takes great kitten pictures.

What is the point of sudden photographs of animals on political blogs? I think they are an important change of pace and a reminder to be in touch with all things which fundamentally matter: the trees, the animals the rocks, the rain, the sun. We are animals ourselves, whatever the wingnuts wish for, and we need to stay grounded. Besides, the pictures are calming and cheering and often funny. And a way to signal that the weekend is coming.

Speaking about the weekend, this weekend I'm going to post a couple of things sent in by some of you lovely and talented readers. If there is interest in doing more of these kinds of posts we may continue doing it during the times when I need to participate in such divine acts as sleep.

The Yearly Kos

I'm not in attendance at that conference, myself, and if you are not there, either, you can follow several of the events electronically (though right now they are off the air). I've heard that there are even events in the Second Life game. Or you can read what bloggers such as Atrios or the people at TAPPED say about the conference speeches and events. Or of course go to the Daily Kos and follow links from there.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

On Minimum Wage and Kama Sutra Chocolates

I have written a longer piece on how the recent federal raise was passed. I meant to write a piece on the theories behind the minimum wage but my dog got sick and making economic theory into luscious tidbits of sheer funniness took more than I had to give.

If you are not too keen on that topic, how about chocolates shaped like acts of love? Trish Wilson shows you a picture of one. I think these could turn out to be very popular.

Preventing Disasters

The Minnesota bridge collapse may have absolutely nothing to do with the topic of this post but it made me think again about the particular problems the political system creates in attempts to prevent similar disasters. For example, consider an elected politician who notices that the area's infrastructure is in poor shape and who works to repair it. These repairs require higher taxes, let's say. Suppose that the roads and bridges are then all fixed and new elections come around.

What do you think this politician's competition will run on? Probably on how the government has been spending too much and taxing too high, and how it is time for a lean-and-mean new government (which, of course, doesn't need to fix the infrastructure now, either). And these arguments might very well win the day.

Now suppose the initial politician in my story had instead neglected the infrastructure problems until some major accident occurred in which people died. Suppose that only then would this person rise up and start fixing bridges and roads everywhere, while also turning up at every patriotic rally. All this patching up could cost more than a thorough maintenance program might have cost. But the politician is now a hero, and in a much better position to get re-elected.

When is a leader a good leader? The first type appears preferable on logical grounds, but the second one is more likely to be viewed as a good leader. Yet people had to die for change to come about. Well, in my story at least.
Cross-posted on TAPPED.

Off Tune

President Bush was not the great communicator today when addressing the Minnesota bridge collapse:

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I just finished a Cabinet meeting. One of the things we discussed was the terrible situation there in Minneapolis. We talked about the fact that the bridge collapsed, and that we in the federal government must respond and respond robustly to help the people there not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity, that bridge, gets rebuilt as quickly as possible.

To that end, Secretary Peters is in Minneapolis, as well as Federal Highway Administrator Capka. I spoke to Governor Pawlenty and Mayor Rybak this morning. I told them that the Secretary would be there. I told them we would help with rescue efforts, but I also told them how much we are in prayer for those who suffered. And I thank my fellow citizens for holding up those who are suffering right now in prayer.

We also talked about -- in the Cabinet meeting talked about the status of important pieces of legislation before the Congress. We spent a fair amount of time talking about the fact that how disappointed we are that Congress hasn't sent any spending bills to my desk. By the end of this week, members are going to be leaving for their month-long August recess. And by the time they will return, there will be less than a month before the end of the fiscal year on September the 30th, and yet they haven't passed one of the 12 spending bills that they're required to pass. If Congress doesn't pass the spending bills by the end of the fiscal year, Cabinet Secretaries report that their departments may be unable to move forward with urgent priorities for our country.

This doesn't have to be this way. The Democrats won last year's election fair and square, and now they control the calendar for bringing up bills in Congress. They need to pass each of these spending bills individually, on time, and in a fiscally responsible way.

The first two paragraphs were tagged on and the transition is very bumpy.
Via Best of Both Worlds.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Just Say No

President Bush is planning to do lots of vetoing in the near future. He has threatened to veto the long-awaited legislation to shore up hurricane protection along the Gulf coast. And he has threatened to veto the Lilly Ledbetter legislation which would extend the time frame for employees to sue a firm on the basis of wage discrimination. And he has also threatened to veto legislation to broaden the State Children's Health Insurance Program so that it would cover the health insurance needs of more children. So it goes.

Cross-posted on Eschaton

Some YouTube Fun

It's not really the Republican presidential candidates talking about their stance on abortion but it could be.

Meanwhile, in Ohio

The patriarchs of the far right have proposed a bill which would make it compulsory for the "father of the fetus" (should be embryo) to give permission for a woman's abortion. If he doesn't give permission she can't have an abortion. The only cases where a woman is left in complete authority over her own body are when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, as documented by the police (or by DNA test in the case of incest) and when the woman's health or life is at risk.

What is the point of this proposed bill? It is obviously an anti-abortion bill and perhaps a fathers' right bill, too. But it doesn't work for many fathers' rights people who actually would like to see the reverse put into a bill, i.e., a requirement that a woman can't give birth without the prospective father's approval. That has to do with child maintenance payments.

I got the link through and the discussion there has veered to a debate over the rights of men not to become fathers. This bill is all about the right of men to become fathers even if it means that the woman is forced into motherhood. A different thing altogether. I have written about this dilemma earlier, and in general I think neither men nor women have the "right" to become parents (because such a "right" would ultimately imply forcing someone else to be the other parent), but that both women and men should have the right not to become parents.

What complicates that argument in a way which makes full equality tricky is that pregnancy takes place in the woman's body. If we had fetal incubators I'd be happy to argue that both the woman who gave her egg and the man who gave his sperm should have equal rights to decide on the pregnancy. But as long as the pregnancy takes place in the woman's body it is she who should have the final say on whether to continue it or not. This does mean that a man doesn't have the same rights to decide on the termination or the continuance of a pregnancy as a woman does. Until those fetal incubators step out of the science-fiction novels we need better contraceptives for men and better education for boys so that they understand the inherent risks in every act of intercourse. Girls are taught that fairly well in many families, though not all.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Engagement Rings and Loans For Weddings

How much should an engagement ring cost? Three times the man's monthly salary? Ten times? What is the reason behind a very expensive engagement ring? Why not put a down payment on a house instead?

I have been looking at the way the wedding industry has changed this one rite-of-passage into something that costs more than your average university education, and even quite poor families are expected to come up with that sort of money. And the work that goes into the planning! At least a year's worth of invitation cards and guest presents and arguments about the bridesmaids' dresses!

Ok. I'm a curmudgeony and non-romantic goddess, probably. But I think this whole wedding bidness has gone haywire. Do your parents really have to use their retirement savings for your wedding to prove that they love you? Because that is what I have seen happen in some families. The wedding fever looks like a disease: previously quite sane women suddenly demand ten wedding showers, with the same aluminum pots appearing as presents in each of them. They also demand a set of twelve little engraved glass dishes for the sugared almonds that they will never serve later on. And the cost of those wedding dresses! A family of four could camp for a year with the price.

Oh my, how sourpuss that all sounds. Let's try something more understanding. There is a romance in a lovely wedding, and for many this is the one time when women can star in a major role. It's also fun to have big bash to celebrate the love and the promise to stay together, and perhaps an expensive engagement ring does signal love very well, given that to buy it the man must abstain from other forms of consumption. A trial of the will, in some ways, but I still think it is a cruel custom, on the whole. And yes, you could put a down payment on a house with the cost of the average wedding in this country.

Does the wedding fever have something to do with the pretty high likelihood that the marriage will end in a divorce? Is it like a form of magic which should make the ties bind for good? I'm not sure. I have a feeling that I miss on some fundamental appeal of the expensive wedding. If so, I'm sure that you will let me know in the comments.

Many of the current wedding customs are traces of the old ones, of course. The shower gifts, for instance, used to consist of various household linens that the friends of the bride made for her, because she would have no time for that later on, what with the children and the cows and the sheep and all the other chores of a farm wife. Likewise, the gifts at the wedding were to equip the young couple for their future lives together. Maybe some of them were a type of dowry, something to give the bride who would from the wedding day onwards work for room and board in the groom's family. It was the wealth that she was bringing in.

Weddings have also always been a way of advertising wealth, and this is probably one of the reasons for the current lavish weddings. Nothing wrong with that, for those who can easily afford such weddings, but there is real hardship for those parents who don't actually have the money.

What is the feminist angle to the booming wedding industry? Is there one? Well, many of the old traditions are based on patriarchal norms. Even the assumption that it is the bride's parents who pay for everything has its roots in the kind of world where a very young girl is married off from her parents' house. She has had no time to accumulate money herself, and her work in the future will accrue value to the groom and his family. It would make sense, then, for her parents to equip her as best they can.

But this custom looks odd when the bride is, say, thirty, and has been working for years and when the parents are nearing their own retirement and have already paid for her college education. Even the custom of the groom buying the wedding ring looks a little odd, given the current society. Of course old customs can be nice and quaint, but some of them do look a little silly to me.

It isn't really the hullabaloo around a wedding that I'm criticizing here, but the idea that the value of wedding is directly related to how much it costs. Love need not be all about money.

And Even More on Ledbetter

The bill passed in the House. Next is Senate. And then Bush will veto it, because women, minorities, the disabled and so on do not deserve equal treatment in the labor markets.

Laura Ingraham Gets Media Attention

Via Atrios, I learn that:

Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham revealed on her nationally syndicated radio program that CNN has offered her a one-week guest-host gig for the 8pm ET slot.

Laura Ingraham has the honor of writing the worst book I've ever read. It's about Hillary Clinton, and there is a chapter on New Age spirituality which starts by Ingraham saying that if Clinton was a New Age spiritualist this is what would be wrong with it and then just goes on pretending that Clinton is one. The whole books is like that. I couldn't believe my snake-eyes, but then it was all quite cheering, because it can't be too hard to get into print in this country. So there's hope for me and my book about cannibal neocons on a weird planet. Isn't there?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Bill O'Reilly's Wars

He is a weird one, even for a wingnut pundit. His most recent venture is to "destroy" the Daily Kos website by urging firms not to support the Yearly Kos conference and by sending stern letters to Democratic politicians who plan to participate in the Yearly Kos. You must admit that this is an odd thing for someone who runs a television show to do. He sounds a little obsessive-compulsive to me.

O'Reilly has accused the Daily Kos of being a hate site and really left wing. I wonder what O'Reilly would do should he ever meet a real live communist? There are not many of those in this country, and much of what goes under the title of "the left" here would be regarded as moderately conservative in most European countries. Maybe this is why I find O'Reilly's campaign a little hilarious.

Another reason for that is the very tame nature of most commentary on Daily Kos. Most Kossacks sound to me like movement Democrats, and there's a fairly large handful of somewhat conservative people there, too. Not to mention anti-feminists and also the usual number of crazy trolls. Sure, something stupid can certainly be found on a website that gets like a zillion visits a week. But O'Reilly's own website gives a good share of hateful comments, too.

And More on Ledbetter

The bill will be voted on tonight. What bill? The one trying to correct the Ledbetter case which this conservative Supreme Court decided to mean that nobody can sue for wage discrimination after a few short months. From an e-mail from ACLU:

H.R. 2831 would fix the Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, in which they ruled that workers have only 180 days from the initial discriminatory pay decision to file a wage discrimination claim. This bill, which addresses wage disparity based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability, clarifies that such discrimination is not a one-time occurrence that starts and ends with a pay decision, but that each paycheck represents a continuing violation by the employer.

You could call your representatives to shore up support for the bill. Though Bush has already promised to veto it. Because W stands for women?

The Dangers of Opinionating

Are there any? I'm thinking of the concrete dangers here, such as becoming disrespected as an authority if you get something badly wrong. Or losing your well-paying perch at some major news organization because you were talking out of your ass. Or at least not getting invited back to the O'Reilly Show or Hardball because you got your facts wrong. Do such frightening consequences exist?

I doubt it. The blogger Culture of Truth posted some pundit quotes about the Iraq war last night on Eschaton threads, and I looked for some more, to see what happens to people who get something very, very wrong. My conclusion is that they get rewarded for it.

FAIR has a long list of quotes which should make the people who made them blush a little, at a minimum. For instance, here is Christopher Hitchens in 2003 on the idea of invading Iraq:

"This will be no war -- there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention.... The president will give an order. [The attack] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling.... It will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation. And I say, bring it on."

And here is David Carr in the New York Times also in 2003:

"This has been a tough war for commentators on the American left. To hope for defeat meant cheering for Saddam Hussein. To hope for victory meant cheering for President Bush. The toppling of Mr. Hussein, or at least a statue of him, has made their arguments even harder to defend. Liberal writers for ideologically driven magazines like The Nation and for less overtly political ones like The New Yorker did not predict a defeat, but the terrible consequences many warned of have not happened. Now liberal commentators must address the victory at hand and confront an ascendant conservative juggernaut that asserts United States might can set the world right."

I'm imagining all the statements we ever make dangling behind us on long strings ending in little cartoonish thought bubbles. As we move along the path of life some bubbles get loose and float off like balloons, never to be seen again, but other bubbles stick to us as if glued. To us ordinary folks, at least.

But I think pundits own Magic Scissors which they use to cut off those threads so that nothing they ever said in the past really matters for their present credibility. That's the joy of punditry, really: It's all about being outrageously original, and this is a bit easier if you can be outrageously wrong at the same time.

On Ledbetter

Remember that case in the Supreme Court? The one where they decided that you only have a few months to sue for wage discrimination? The House is debating a bill to make the period during which you can sue longer. Will see what the Republicans do with that. Vote should be tonight.

Back in the U.S...., Back in the U.S...., Back in the U.S.S.R.

That is about all I have to say on this bit of news:

A surgeon general's report in 2006 that called on Americans to help tackle global health problems has been kept from the public by a Bush political appointee without any background or expertise in medicine or public health, chiefly because the report did not promote the administration's policy accomplishments, according to current and former public health officials.

The report described the link between poverty and poor health, urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy, and called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate. A copy of the report was obtained by The Washington Post.

Three people directly involved in its preparation said its publication was blocked by William R. Steiger, a specialist in education and a scholar of Latin American history whose family has long ties to President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Since 2001, Steiger has run the Office of Global Health Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Well, I do have a little bit more to say about this. One important role for the government is the provision of accurate, helpful information of the kinds that the market has no incentive to produce. Even conservative scholars agree on this role. But the Bush administration does not.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Garden Story

Bleeding Hearts

The white form of dicentra spectabilis, the common bleeding heart, is a lesson in pure elegance. It grows happily in quite deep shade which it relieves with the fresh green of its filigreed leaves and the heart-shaped ivory pendants of its inflorescences. Combined with hostas and pulmonarias, it offers just the right touch of lightness, like the finely wrought lace on the otherwise stern dress of an Elizabethan gentleman.

Gardeners love the bleeding heart for its kind-natured temperament. It is easy to grow (although the white form somewhat less so than its pink sibling), starts flowering early enough to be used with tulips in the same colors for an unbeatable combination, yet continues, at least in northern gardens, for several more weeks after the tulips have packed it in. Its only character flaw is its penchant for early dormancy. In my garden it goes underground by the end of July, leaving its absence as notable as its presence was earlier.

This can be avoided by choosing some other form of dicentra, such as dicentra eximia. But the romantic in me prefers the common bleeding heart. The Finns call it the broken heart, and this is how I always think of the plant; a sufferer from unrequited love, true, but one which valiantly tries to go on, producing love offering after love offering in the shape of small hearts for all to admire. Yet each and every one of them emerges broken.

At last it simply can't tolerate this any longer. Like so many unhappy young lovers in books, plays and operas, it chooses an early death over a loveless existence.

So sad, don't you think? But also so right, somehow, if we wish our gardens to reflect all life, not just its happy hours.