Saturday, December 26, 2009

Initial thoughts on the Iraq Debate Workshop and Mesopotamian Debating Tournament--with more to come

Here's the real foundational stuff about the opening up of debate in Iraq, and an attempt to articulate how it relates to the concerns and values I took with me to Duhok:

Call this a World Debate Party, call it replacing weapons with words, but this is the vision concerning the role of debate education in building peaceful societies.

There has to be a general orientation towards verbalizing disagreements, conflict resolution, adjudicated verbal conflict, a tradition of debate at every level of social and political interaction--and I would contend economic interaction as well. We must place one another in situations of reciprocal discourse and judgement and agree to abide by one another's transparent and honest norms. We must debate about the norms themselves.

This project is generally egalitarian, at least moderately redistributive, and requires thinking about how other people think, which means it requires a massive campaign of public participation whenever it's done. I have my own beliefs about the economy and, in the spirit of deliberation, I have elected to bracket them at least concerning whether some kind of market distribution is desirable. In this instance, I am concerned about the way we communicate our problems and objections to one another, although the ability to communicate in this way is inevitably limited and contextualized by economic relations. But we should talk about that too.

This project is culturally respectful, but unapologetically universal--we understand we all have differences, but every culture communicates, and every culture has a culture of debate--although it's sometimes hidden and sometimes exclusively controlled by elites. Our desire to be Prometheus, stealing the fire of debate and simply offering it (we offer debate far more than we teach it) is really our only form of cultural arrogance, and we think it's a forgivable one. We think everyone should have the ability and be afforded the respect to speak and participate in public discourse. Believe it or not, there are some academics who accuse us of trying to impose a "liberal" model of discourse on the world in order to grease the skids for U.S. and Eurocentric hegemony. Far better, they believe, to leave repressive hierarchical societies on their own...or, I guess, to simply invade them, since such an academic-political strategy of "leaving people alone" has never been able to articulate a theory of how we inevtably communicate with these cultures.

I think the fear of universalism can be taken too far, and usually is.  Fear of being imposing means we eventually fear looking for commonalities with other people. It also mistakingly identifies all members of a "culture" (eg all Americans) with the interests of their ruling classes. My interests in Iraq were not Dick Cheney's interests, and we need to be capable of articulating that when we talk about engaging other countries.

The profound experiences I had communicating with these Iraqi students about violence, death, war, and security made me realize --once again, and in a real way this time-- that we have cut off ordinary Iraqi or Afghani citizens from the discussion about the invasions and occupations of their countries. That they are the people we on the progressive side need to be listening to the most. And we can't be afraid to listen to the people who wanted America to invade--there weren't many of them, but they were not all greedy death merchants. We have to articulate an alternative foreign policy, and the first step in doing that is communication with those affected most by our foreign policy. That's a progressive project, and it will produce inevitably progressive conclusions.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Question

So... Santa Claus: socialist redistributor of wealth, or tyrannical, elf-exploiting boss?

In either case, happy holidays everyone.  Lots to come on the blog and other venues in the coming days.  For now, peace and solidarity!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

no public health insurance for you!

After days of secret talks, it looks as if the Democrats are giving in on a government-run public option. "In place of a government-run plan," Associated Press reports, "officials said the Democrats had tentatively settled on a private insurance arrangement to be supervised by the federal agency that oversees the system through which lawmakers purchase coverage. Additionally, the tentative deal calls for Medicare to be opened to uninsured Americans beginning at age 55..."

According to Reuters, "Democratic Senate sources said the substitute proposal would create a non-profit plan operated by private insurers but administered by the Office of Personnel Management, which supervises health coverage for federal workers."

Except that we've been down this road before. Non-profit cooperatives are to a "robust" public option as a handshake is to a passionate kiss. As McJoan at Daily Kos points out, (citing Politico) private emails among insurance company lobbysists are declaring victory based on this outcome. 
The bill without a public option is little more than a big ol' wet kiss to the insurance industry, a gift of some $600 billion and millions of new subscribers. Sure, they'll have a few more hoops to jump through to figure out how to dump people and deny their claims, but they'll still be able to do it. There are bits and pieces in the legislation that will help control costs, but without a program that expressly challenges the status quo of employer-based private insurance, it can't be called "reform."

If the insurance companies come out of this declaring victory, it's not reform.
60+ percent public support is not enough to overcome corporate opposition. We may have won a few table scraps, but it looks like we've lost the most significant part of the battle. This is a failure of democratic deliberation brought about by the intervention of corporate resources --nothing more and nothing less.

This outcome was made possible because Obama himself, and even many "liberal" democrats, fundamentally believe that a world where the rich get better care than the poor is an acceptable world--one not worth the effort and risk of a foundational attack.  Obama admitted such an outcome was inevitable long ago when he said the market culture of America rendered single payer inappropriate.  "Obama’s case against single-payer," writes Alan Nasser, "frames health-care priorities in the language of atomic individualism. Hence, the range of possible outcomes is determined for the worse before discussion begins." 

thought for the day

Relief from poverty, financial support, debt forgiveness, microloans, work programs, and the like are not "charity" or "handouts." Those terms connote that nothing was earned in exchange. Government-mediated material support is a return on the surplus value generated from generations of work --paid and unpaid-- from American workers: laborers, immigrants, the indentured, low-wage workers yesterday and today, all of whose labor generated trillions of dollars in uncompensated value to the success stories used as advertising for the American Dream. That's why we all deserve health coverage. It's why we deserve decent shelter, and a chance to keep houses we may be in danger of losing. It's why food, health care, shelter and education are human rights rather than crumbs of privilege. Ultimately, it will be our right to demand those social goods and acquire them by all available and ethical means. Because we're not talking about stealing or getting something for nothing. We're talking about getting what's rightfully ours.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

...because we really don't care about them

In some ways, Glenn Greenwald's column the day after Obama's Afghanistan speech refutes some of the unstated premises of my post below.  But it also highlights some of the conclusions, I think:
While Obama's speech last night largely comported to what his aides spent days anonymously previewing, there was one (pleasantly) unexpected aspect: he commendably dispensed with the propagandistic pretext that we are fighting in Afghanistan in order to deliver freedom and democracy to that country and to improve the plight of Afghan women. Many Democrats (the self-proclaimed "liberal hawks") love to support American wars on the self-righteous ground that we're going to drop enough Freedom Bombs to liberate millions and invade other countries in order to re-make other peoples' cultures for their own good. In order to maximize support for his escalation, Obama -- like Bush so often did -- could easily have relied on that appeal to our national narcissism and exploited justifiable disgust for the Taliban in order to manipulate "liberal hawks" into supporting this war on human rights grounds. During the build-up to the speech, it was predicted by several influential Obama advisers that he would do exactly that. Indeed, when announcing his prior Afghanistan escalation in March, Obama played up the humanitarian rationale for this war.

But there was almost none of that in last night's speech. As Ben Smith correctly notes, Obama did not even mention -- let alone hype -- the issue of women's rights in Afghanistan. There were no grandiose claims that the justness of the war derives from our desire to defeat evil, tyrannical extremists and replace them with more humane and democratic leaders. To the contrary, he was commendably blunt that our true goal is not to improve the lives of Afghan citizens but rather: "Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda." There were no promises to guarantee freedom and human rights to the Afghan people. To the contrary, he explicitly rejected a mission of broad nation-building "because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests"; he said he "refuse[d] to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests"; and even vowed to incorporate the convertible factions of the Taliban into the government.
Not only did he refrain from those manipulative appeals, he made explicitly clear that we are in Afghanistan to serve our own interests (as he perceives them), not to build a better nation for Afghans. Nation-building, he said, goes "beyond ... what we need to achieve to secure our interests" and "go beyond our responsibility." We're there to serve our interests and do nothing else. That should throw cold water on all on the preening fantasies of all but the blindest and most naive "liberal war supporters" that we're there to help the Afghan people.
But Greenwald goes on to concisely point out that making Afghanistan and its people better off isn't even likely to be an unintended consequence of our occupation.  This, of course, means that the defeat of Al Qaeda will spur more enemies to eradicate in the future.  Business is business.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Christmas Song for Teabaggers and Free Marketers

It's true: Christmas is just a bunch of socialist hooey.  It's time for the Randians, libertarians, traditional Republicans, and atomistic individualists among us to reclaim their true voice, and celebrate the anti-Christmas:


From "Scrooge"
(Leslie Bricusse)

Scavengers and sycophants and flatterers
and fools
Pharisees and parasites and hypocrites
and ghouls
Calculating swindlers, prevaricating frauds
Perpetrating evil as they roam the earth
in hordes
Feeding on their fellow men
Reaping rich rewards
Contaminating everything they see
Corrupting honest me like me
Humbug! Poppycock! Balderdash! Bah!
I hate people! I hate people!
People are despicable creatures
Loathesome inexplicable creatures
Good-for-nothing kickable creatures
I hate people! I abhor them!
When I see the indolent classes
Sitting on their indolent asses
Gulping ale from indolent glasses
I hate people! I detest them! I deplore them!
Fools who have no money spend it
Get in debt then try to end it
Beg me on their knees befriend them
Knowing I have cash to lend them
Soft-hearted me! Hard-working me!
Clean-living, thrifty and kind as can be!
Situations like this are of interest to me
I hate people! I loathe people! I despise and abominate people!
Life is full of cretinous wretches
Earning what their sweatiness fetches
Empty minds whose pettiness stretches

Further than I can see
Little wonder I hate people
And I don't care if they hate me!

Thanks to my friend Marina Gipps for reminding me that this song existed!  Happy Holidays!

Lack of consultation with Afghan local leaders continues cycle of war and waste

The solvency deficit incurred by a military surge in Afghanistan is, above all, material. Obama's commitment to continue to prioritize firepower and bloodletting is an embrace of excess, designed to demonstrate the will to be wasteful. This, Team Obama hopes, will placate several layers of the polis.  Whatever their motivations, the surge probably will not work, and whatever does get spun as eventual success or stability in the long run will end up being far more wasteful than alternatives would have been.

Nicholas Kristof has a pretty effective piece in today's NYT comparing Obama to both LBJ, who inherited and escalated in Vietnam, and Gorbachev, who did the same in Afghanistan (the connotation of the latter being uncomfortable for both Obama and the history of U.S. policy in Afghanistan). By ignoring the opportunity to deliberate with the people of Afghanistan, Obama perpetuates the role of ignorant conqueror, and at a huge material cost.
“To me, what was most concerning is that there was never any consultation with the Afghan shura, the tribal elders,” said Greg Mortenson, whose extraordinary work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in “Three Cups of Tea” and his new book, “From Stones to Schools.” “It was all decided on the basis of congressmen and generals speaking up, with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elders’ messages is we don’t need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops.”
For the cost of deploying one soldier for one year, it is possible to build about 20 schools.
Kristof lists several more development projects which could have served as more effective anti-insurgent tools than boots on the ground. Notable among them is the National Solidarity Programme, which builds up things like drinking water infrastructure, weaving and other small production projects, and schools. When people are educated (by their standards--yes, emancipation can be both universal and local), they tend to stop believing in reactionary ideologies. When they're occupied--saturated, as they are about to be--with foreign troops, their lives and economies and intellectual histories don't develop, and hatred grows. Even if there's some argument for the need to defend these projects, the United States and other nations could do so effectively, and a case for such defense-oriented guardianship would be more palatable to a war-weary public than a poorly defined dump of troops. But that would fail to satisfy this urgency for destructive excess Team Obama feels the need to demonstrate, to prove a kind of toughness, placate the political id, and keep defense contractors happy.

Meanwhile, Kristof reports, George Rupp says that, for the cost of supporting one U.S. soldier, you can build National Solidarity Programme projects in 20 villages. Think.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dear Liars:

Despite your best efforts, the millions of dollars you've wasted on PR campaigns and shout-down-zombie-shock-troops, as of today, "60 percent of Americans believe a public option should be included in final healthcare legislation."  

So even though the public might not get one, it won't be because you've successfully brainwashed the country.  It might be because you've shoved large amounts of cash down the open throats of a few of our elected representatives.  In that case, when you claim that "the people have spoken," you're talking out your ass. 


If Michelle Malkin has seen this by now, undoubtedly she's somewhere furiously typing a screed blaming the administration for it.  

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Don’t know what the big deal is about the imposters who crashed the White House for one night. What about the imposters who crashed the White House for 8 years?"

~Will Durst, via Facebook.  Quick, to the point, and you wonder why you didn't think of it. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Honduran "Elections" Not Even Clean Enough to Qualify for Int'l Monitoring...

Upside Down World, an independent, reader-supported press site covering Latin America, reports that the Honduran elections have been marred by "a climate of harassment, violence, and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly". Groups such as Amnesty International are decrying police shootings and restrictions on assembly, including "a decree prohibiting gatherings of more than four people." Police are refusing to provide names or details of arrests. Allegations include
...a crackdown on a peaceful march in San Pedro Sula where marchers were tear-gassed, beaten, and detained. Authorities also shot a man in the head at a checkpoint on the eve of the elections, and raided the offices and homes of various civil society groups, including a Quaker agricultural cooperative. Opposition broadcasters had their signals jammed, and the authorities threatened criminal charges for anyone advocating a boycott of the election.
Because going after the Quakers is always a good touch.  Thus, it is no surprise that "all of the major organizations that observe international elections, including the Organization of American States, European Union, and the Carter Center, had refused to send observer delegations to this election." When Carter won't even monitor your elections, son, you're in some trouble.

Belén Fernández reports live from Honduras:
The Virtual Observer section did not include an option to watch oral cellular phone transmission of electoral data, which was the process that had been hyped by the TSE and the Honduran media as enabling rapid determination of the next president and that was based on the distribution of 20,000 specially-purchased phones to electoral tables around the country. Rapidity was less of a priority among other organs of the Honduran state such as the National Congress, which had postponed consideration of Zelaya’s restitution until December and thus underscored the illegitimacy of the elections; as for the effectiveness of cellular transmissions of critical data, this was called into question by the frequency with which Honduran cell phone communications were reduced to such phrases as: “Can you hear me?” ... As for TSE magistrate [Enrique] Ortez’ proclamation that the countries of the world had the moral obligation to recognize the Honduran electoral process, it would seem that moral obligations might also be assigned to electoral magistrates claiming to speak for 7 million Hondurans.
 The U.S. State Department "welcomed Honduras' presidential election as a necessary and 'important step forward' for the country, but said that more needs to be done to achieve reconciliation." 

quote of the week

"People in France live longer than Americans and dress like really cool hipsters in their old age. If that's Socialism...I'm there..." - Marina Gipps

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Horton Principle

I enjoy the work of Kansas City Star columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, and I have to hand it to him; I had thought I might have beaten other people to the punch on thinking (and posting) "Willie Horton" when told of Maurice Clemmons, granted clemency by Mike Huckabee and now a person of interest in the ambush murder of four police officers in a coffee shop south of Seattle, Washington.  
But I think Abouhalkah overstates his impact scenario...
But, if Huckabee pardoned a man who went on to kill four cops, this will be a lot worse than the Willie Horton incident of the 1988 presidential campaign. Huckabee's credentials to lead the Republican party to victory in 2012 would evaporate if Clemmons indeed is the killer in the Washington case.
Indeed, sure, let's wait and see whether it costs Huckabee like it did Michael Dukakis in 1988; Dukakis approved a furlough program that allowed a convicted murderer, Willie Horton, to commit assault, armed robbery and rape while on a weekend furlough. Lee Atwater (the guy Karl Rove wishes he could be) coordinated a campaign that made Willie Horton a household word (and, eventually, a verb, as in, to "Willie Horton" a political opponent). Like Horton, Maurice Clemmons is African American, which makes it more likely that this would be thrown at Huckabee in the primaries than the general election (although Clinton's people didn't seem to have a problem throwing a little racism around in 2008).

But it's also entirely possible this will go nowhere.  Yep, I said go nowhere.  "The rules," whatever they may be, of two-party bourgeois politics do not preclude the exploitation of shame and failure, and they certainly preclude nuanced distinctions that could vindicate a clemency gone wrong.  But the fact remains that some candidates can do bad things--costly when other pols do them--and come out okay.  These perpetually enacted inconsistencies seem to favor the GOP.  Bush the Younger enjoyed the highs of cocaine, maryjane, and alcohol, and everyone knew it; but more than a few politicians to W's left have been brought down by a joint or two.  Theocrats, in particular, have their own rules governing redemption, guaranteeing a pass to their men (invariably men) who commit personal or policy transgressions. 

So while what Clemmons allegedly did (he is presumed innocent, another principle the mainstream media will abandon where he is concerned) is far worse than what Horton did, and while in a fair, consistent, deliberatively ethical world this would be clear, applied accordingly to the decision calculus of voters and opinion-makers, the capriciousness (a meanspirited capriciousness, if that's possible) of American politics leaves this cowboy doubtful. 

Hat tip, as they say (I find the term awkward) to Meg for alerting me to this story.


I have to say, understanding the context of these remarks, and having grown up on the Wasatch Front, well, go Max.  Don't hold back, man...
BYU senior quarterback Max Hall may have known he'd face a reprimand from the league for violating the rule on sportsmanship, but after throwing the winning touchdown pass in BYU's 26-23 overtime win over Utah, he apparently did not care.

Hall didn't hold back his contempt for the opponent.
"I don't like Utah. In fact, I hate them — I hate everything about them," said Hall.
"I hate their program. I hate their fans. I hate everything. So, it feel good to send those guys home. They didn't deserve it. It was our time, and it was our time to win. We deserved it. We played as hard as we could tonight, and it felt really good to send them home and to get them out of here, so it is a game I'll always remember."
A year ago, Hall lost a fumble and threw five interceptions in a loss at Utah. Since that date, he's been the brunt of criticism from both fan bases and media.
On Saturday, Hall avoided throwing an interception but did throw two touchdowns. His 12 completions against the Utes was a career low.

Saturday, speaking to a room full of reporters, he was asked to elaborate on why he has issues with Utah. "Do you really want me to go into it? I think the whole university and their fans and organization is classless. They threw beer on my family and stuff last year and did a whole bunch of nasty things. I don't respect them, and they deserve to lose."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pre-Kurdistan 1

On December 10, I'll be on a plane, beginning a journey with lots of stops and transfers, culminating in a 3-hour ground journey from Erbil to Duhok on the 12th, to begin a week of lecturing and coaching debate at the Iraq Debate Academy and Mesopotamia Debating Tournament.

This incredible opportunity results from my fortune of knowing three people, all of whom will be in Duhok with me during this important week: Muhammad A. Ahmad, who was in a lab I co-directed at the 2007 Asian Debate Institute in Seoul; Jason Jarvis, director of that institute and a longtime academic colleague, and Alfred Snider III, one of the great debate coaches and a significant force in the internationalization of academic debate. After returning to Kurdistan from his education in Korea, Muhammad formed Iraq Debate, whose mission, in their own words, is the following:
1. Iraq Debate’s mission is to promote debate culture among Iraqis, especially Students across the universities and schools, to provide them with the modern concepts of analysis and communication skills so that they can meet the challenges which face Iraq. Iraq's challenges and diversity means that it can and should be a leader in Debate Education and Research.
2. Promoting the value of Education.
3. Showing Iraq's unique cultures and civilization to the world.
4. Promoting a sense of community.
5. Promoting Peace through dialogue and understanding.
The organization has already begun international travel and has received favorable media coverage--although (all my friends in the media take note) it needs plenty more.

I am indescribably excited about this teaching and learning opportunity, particularly as it occurs on the tail-end of my career in academia and academic debate. I'm excited to visit Kurdistan because the Kurdish people are heroes who have been through a lot. More importantly, the peoples of Iraq, regardless of how we in the west feel about the means by which they were liberated from Saddam Hussein, deserve engagement by non-governmental organizations devoted to critical thinking and pluralism. It may fall short of many of my absolutist notions of social justice, but communication, even in a context soiled by occupation and geopolitical games, is better than killing. And I happen to think Jurgen Habermas is right in believing that the conditions of genuine argumentation are the conditions of solidarity (my words, not Jurgen's, but I know he'd agree).

Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq, although it is much more than simply that.
Iraqi Kurdistan or Kurdistan Region is an autonomous, federally recognized region of Iraq. It borders Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria to the west and the rest of Iraq to the south. Its capital is the city of Erbil, known in Kurdish as Hewlêr. The establishment of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq dates back to the March 1970 autonomy agreement between the Kurdish opposition and the Iraqi government after years of heavy fighting. Kurdistan is a parliamentary democracy with a national assembly that consists of 111 seats. The current president is Massoud Barzani who was elected during the Iraqi Kurdistan 2005 elections that are held every four years. The three governorates of Duhok, Arbil and Sulaymania accumulate a territory of around 40,000 square kilometers and a population between 4 and 6.5 million. Disputes remain between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish government about predominantly Kurdish territories outside the current borders of Iraqi Kurdistan, e.g. Kirkuk.
I hope to learn a great deal more about both Kurdistan and Iraq in the coming weeks.

I am overwhelmed by the thought of jumping into the cradle of civilization. The last flying leg of my journey will be Amman, Jordan to Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. Erbil's Citadel is 8,000 years old, and is one of the longest (if not the longest) continuously inhabited structures in the world.

The mound has been formed by successive layers of settlements: Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Persian and Greek. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian King Darius the Great in a battle which was fought thirty kilometres north of Arbil. The area of the Citadel is over ten hectares; the population is about 5400, only a fifth of whom are descendents of original families.
The new international airport terminal where we'll land, in Erbil, has been long-anticipated. We'll see what it's like.

Joe's Trippin' gave two pieces of financial advice concerning Kurdistan:
Iraqis (at least the Kurds) are shockingly honest about pricing. There isn't much need to bargain. There is only one ATM in Arbil that works only half the time. Brings cash! [sic]
And I found some more good advice about transportation, given that I'll need to take a few (incredibly inexpensive) taxi rides...
Taxis seem to only travel on roads controlled by Kurdish forces. There are LOTS of security checkpoints, probably 10 or more on a 3 hour journey, usually before and after towns. You have nothing to fear at these checkpoints, in fact you should be grateful for them keeping Iraqi Kurdistan safe from terrorists. At some the soldier will just wave the taxi through, but at most ID will be checked. Have your passport ready. At some checkpoints, they'll want to check on foreigners more carefully, and you may end up being questioned by the head official. Just be honest and open and you should be fine. But, if they're suspicious of you, it helps to have a local Kurdish contact who can vouch for you. ... Dohuk - Erbil: 20,000 dinar ($16) per person. 80,000 dinar per car. Approx 3 hours. The road goes close to Mosul, but doesn't actually pass through. Apparently the road is controlled by Kurdish forces, but a few soldiers I saw had Iraqi flags on their shoulders...
Wow, overwhelmed and excited to be going here...I will be blogging, recording spots for the Shared Sacrifice podcast, and communicating using any and all means I have access to during this groundbreaking trip. Speech is universal, argument is universal, talking is building, and peace. Dear readers, I hope you will follow my journey wherever you are.

afghanistan fail 2: the 25% solution

The shocking 25% awol/desertion rate for members of the Afghan army certainly explains why the occupiers are losing (the occupiers are training the insurgents). But mainstream media coverage of the statistic also reveals the depth of naivete and contempt with which the affiliates of empire treat the people of Afghanistan.

We are essentially told that stifling the success of Afghan resistance hinges on One Man and One Man Only: General Stanley McChrystal, alternatively monster and ubermensch. In the end, the combination of failure and arrogance among military elites and political hacks compels them to (basically) lie to Congress:
Meanwhile, the Defense Department (DoD) sought to obscure the problem of the high ANA turnover rate in its reports to the US Congress on Afghanistan in January and June 2009, which avoided the issues of attrition and desertion entirely.
Entirely? Seriously? The actual number of occupying troops needed to subdue the entire nation (an accurate description of what is necessary, given the U.S. desire to stick with Karzai) is 600,000. That such a number is not even being contemplated is a testament to the will of the people, the ordinary working people in the U.S. and Europe who won't sustain such an obscene number, a majority of whom wish the occupation to end altogether. The fact that this desire is shared by the peoples of Afghanistan shouldn't need restating, but the 25% statistic is another powerful reminder anyway.

[All this reminds me, too, to suggest reading about the Pashtun people, although I am always leery of emphasizing nationalism too much. Culture is real, and forging solidarity requires understanding. This is just something miseducated Americans don't learn about when we should.]

It looks pretty bad for the President, in any case. Con Coughlin of the Telegraph points out that
... the President has convened no fewer than nine sessions of his war council in the White House situation room, where he has pressed his advisers to provide exhaustive details on the policy options. ... Mr Obama has dropped heavy hints about what his overall strategy will be. In essence, the plan is to destroy the enemy and bring the troops home, all within a clearly defined time-frame. Or, to use the phrase coined by the US press, a policy of “escalation and exit”. ... The latest opinion polls show that the majority of Americans are opposed to the war in Afghanistan and want an immediate withdrawal. More worrying for the President’s political mortality is the fact that his personal approval rating has suffered the sharpest drop of any president in the past 50 years during the same stage of their first term, mainly because of what is perceived to be his dithering over Afghanistan. And even if, as is being widely predicted in Washington, the President approves an Iraq-like surge, the chances of it achieving the level of success needed to undertake a withdrawal by the time he seeks re-election in 2012 are remote.
Stupidity, arrogance, humiliation, an insistance on pushing and punishing and killing and other noncreative solutions to conflict. That's what this ruling class has in store for us, folks. That's the best they can give us on foreign policy. We can do better than that. An approach that treats the people of Afghanistan as ends in themselves rather than means to an end would be a good start, but such a policy can only be an extension of governments that do the same at home.

Update on the extent of said stupidity: Our correspondent in Detroit alterts me that Obama won't be signing the landmine treaty. (Like many crimes against humanity, the use of landmines is currently "under review" by the administration.) Clearly, he's too smart for us or something...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

here's a little ditty about SNT

from the twitter to the mp3
the online PS delivering messages to the FB
somebody analyze this for me
social networking technology
does it make us free?
does it promote community?
does it feed the hungry?
it could be made to do all three

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

we should all just move there

David Sirota brought this to my attention:

The 34,000 troops Obama will send will not be enough to saturate Afghanistan, which is the only way the U.S. could "win" the occupation. "The U.S. Army's recently revised counterinsurgency manual estimates that an all-out counterinsurgency campaign in a country with Afghanistan's population would require about 600,000 troops." Get that? 600K, folks.

Image courtesy of The Click

Our criticism and theirs: what to say when you hear "Hussein"

Progressives need to criticize Obama unrelentingly for his corporate ties, his incompetent incrementalism, and his cowardice in the face of the minority GOP.  But we also have to distinguish our criticism from theirs.  The mark of an intelligent, thoughtful left is the ability to criticize Obama's ruling class ineptitude and liberal naivete while simultaneously condemning any racist, nationalist, or other right wing attack on the president. 

So, when you hear people refer to him as "Hussein," be aware that it's an enthymeme, and a powerful one.  And here's what you can publicly say (in person, on social networking sites, etc.) when you hear it:

"Hey righty--The only reason to call him "Hussein" is to evoke an "enthymeme" (look it up) equating him with what you are not gutsy enough to come right out and say. We don't refer to presidents by their middle names normally. Such language is irresponsible and deliberately provocative. It also reveals that you are a reactionary crank rather than a serious political critic."

Because they're not helping us.  Just hurting the president's credibility is not enough.  Hitler's arguments against the liberals were not the same as the socialists' arguments against the liberals.  The difference is worth dying for, and you can be sure that the right will be willing to kill for it soon enough. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

life imitates onion

Unintentional? Who knows?  The story starts like this, and reads like an Onion headline:

"Capitalism is still alive and well, say the world's two richest men..."

Exporting Hate: fighting them there because they can't win here...

The Antigay Highway: New Report Details Mutually Beneficial Relationship Between US Evangelicals and African Antigay Clergy Religious Right ReligionDispatches

"A new report documents the trend of evangelicals like Rick Warren exporting sexuality issues to Africa, whose clergy, in turn, support the minority antigay view in mainline denominations, weakening them.

"Renewal groups, such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy, have long sought to conservatize or split mainline American churches—frequently over gender or sexuality issues—and liberal scholars have traced many of the mainline schisms that have dominated headlines over the past several years to groundwork laid by groups like the IRD.

The report documents "a clear trend of the US Christian right exporting its battles over social and sexuality issues to Africa. .. As a result ... a culture of vicious repression of gay rights has emerged, shaped by US evangelicals ranging from more 'respectable' figures like Rick Warren, to fringe activists like Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively (author of anti-gay book The Pink Swastika, which suggests that Nazism was a gay plot).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hate is Everywhere: Radical Rabbi Says Kill Gentile Babies

In "What's Wrong With Traditional Religion" episode infinity plus five...
Just weeks after the arrest of alleged Jewish terrorist, Yaakov Teitel, a West Bank rabbi on Monday released a book giving Jews permission to kill Gentiles who threaten Israel. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro, who heads the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in the Yitzhar settlement, wrote in his book “The King’s Torah” that even babies and children can be killed if they pose a threat to the nation. Shapiro based the majority of his teachings on passages quoted from the Bible, to which he adds his opinions and beliefs. “It is permissable to kill the Righteous among Nations even if they are not responsible for the threatening situation,” he wrote, adding: “If we kill a Gentile who has sinned or has violated one of the seven commandments - because we care about the commandments - there is nothing wrong with the murder.” Several prominent rabbis, including Rabbi Yithak Ginzburg and Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, have recommended the book to their students and followers.
Loonwatch rightly asks: What if Shapiro were an Imam?

Shapiro advocates 'creating a "true balance of terror" through savagery..."Children should not be exempt from this fate,"' his book adds. the West Bank Rabbi writes. "There is a reasonable explanation for killing infants if it is clear that they will grow up to hurt us, and in this situation, the strike should be directed at them." Now, Judaism's authority is never a stable thing. The more important question is the material fruits of such language. Whether it's settlers burning olive trees or this--
During the Israeli onslaught against Gaza earlier this year, Mordecahi Elyahu, one of the leading rabbinic figures in Israel, urged the army not to refrain from killing enemy children in order to save the lives of Israeli soldiers.
--the point is that it has undeniably real impacts, just as the garbage spewed by Osama Bin Laden, or some mullet-headed Grand Cyclops or whatever. And the vast majority of Jews, Muslims, and rednecks I know are better than that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

quote of the day

This is a good one, from Eric "Postcapitalism" Schechter's FB note this morning:
But the libertarians are like the jesuits of the market fundamentalist movement. Do you remember the Jesuits? They were terribly good at logical arguments, but they also bore some of the responsibility for the Inquisition. Logic doesn't always get you the best answers. I'm actually the author of a textbook on mathematical logic, and so I can tell you this with great certainty: Logic merely shows you the consequences of your assumptions; it does nothing to help you choose your assumptions.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

sobering news on two fronts

Well, the GOP has edged ahead of the Dems, according to Gallup, in anticipation of the mid-term elections. It all seems to hinge on who "the independents" are. I have suggested in the past that all the conservatives boasting that Bush's ineptitude made them leave the GOP are lying to themselves--that they'll come back in droves, as they appear to be doing--and will re-identify eventually, once they discover that they really can't "live off the grid" proverbially or literally.

Meanwhile, this very sad and enraging statistic on Veterans' Day: Last year over 2200 veterans died due to lack of access to health care, particularly in the form of health insurance. I hope people aren't reluctant to spread that statistic around today on social networking sites.

music because it's wednesday

If you haven't heard The Books yet, give this a listen, then acquire their album The Lemon of Pink. In this video, a f***ing impressive solo by Paul de Jong begins at around 3:05. It may just make you fall in undying love with this quirky duo from New York.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"a Crumbulated Genesis"

I share Naomi Seidman's enthusiasm for R. Crumb's new illustrations of Genesis.  It may be the most delightful and, in its own way, profound release of the year.  Seidman writes:
For those of us who were reasonably familiar with both the Bible and underground comix, the experience was not of being introduced either to a new artist or to an ancient literary work but rather of their unexpected juxtaposition: Where Genesis and Crumb had until now occupied distinct areas of the brain or psyche (the academy versus the comic book store? The cerebrum versus the reptilian cortex? The superego versus the id?), they now coexisted on the cramped quarters of a single page. There are some peculiar pleasures in the union of these realms, in a biblicized Crumb, a Crumbulated Genesis.

I've included instructional pictures in this post--for future potential idiots

Not sure whether to put this in the Hate Crimes Department, the News of the Stupid Department, or refuse to categorize it altogether due to its profound absurdity. In Florida, A Marine reservist has been charged with attacking a Greek Orthodox priest whom said reservist believed was a terrorist. A terrorist dressed in religious garb. With no weapons. Asking for help.

"When officers returned to his apartment for an additional interview, his lawyer was present and he was uncooperative, they said."

Thanks to Meg, who runs Wyoming News Underground, for bringing this to my attention, although I am also irritated that she did, because now all day long, instead of celebrating the anniversary of the Marine Corps in honor of my father, I will think about this intellectually-challenged reservist.

I mean...

                                                        This is a Greek Orthodox priest...

                                                    ...and these are your typical Al Qaeda terrorists...

My favorite, well-understated part of the article (and the real clincher as to why this guy is deserving of a Darwin award even though he didn't die): "Bruce also told police he heard Marakis yell, 'Allahu akbar!' — Arabic for 'God is great,' according to Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. Marakis, however, does not speak Arabic, McElroy said. He speaks Greek."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Same-Sex Unions (not marriage) Win in Washington: why would you oppose this?

The narrowness of today's vote in Washington state, approving Refendum 71 and same-sex partnerships, presents a very good opportunity to call out conservative groups who are opposed to even "marriage-lite" as uncompromising and extreme. This will further harden such groups but separate them from the more "moderate" position that supports civil unions but opposes "marriage."

It's yet another instance in which those who scream about us uncompromising radicals are themselves unwilling to compromise, even in a way that will grant basic, stripped-down, second-class civil rights.

What do we do with "hate lyrics" from good artists?

For those who are unfamiliar with the context of the conversation, I don't have time to re-trace its entire history. But the specific discussion --a Facebook discussion-- concerns what to make of artists (we've specifically discussed Immortal Technique) whose otherwise impressive lyrical catalogues contain hateful slurs against marginalized groups.

There seem to be two debates happening here: One has to do with how we should interpret and engage lyrics we find objectionable in artists we otherwise like. I like that debate. The other is whether we should defend an artist's right to hate queers (or by extension other groups different than them, particularly minority or marginalized groups). I don't want to participate in that debate. On the "fragmented communities good/bad" debate I've pretty much made up my mind and will sail with those who have made up their mind a similar way; my looming life changes reflect this commitment.

I am also beginning to think that in order to be intellectually honest about this, I need to disregard my like or dislike for particular artists and just "study the phenomenon."

The foundational question, and we can dance around it all we want, but we wouldn't even be talking about this if there weren't this foundational question: Given that we have decided, as progressives, to reject _normative homophobia_ and the moral and political positions that subordinate homosexuality, do/does the artist(s) in question cultivate that normative/political/moral subordination?

Given that foundational question, I would ask three additional questions in regard to particular artists deploying homophobic lyrics: Has there been any media/alternative media commentary about this? Is there a case to be made for irony or some other alternative interpretation? Is it consistent with the artists' other relevant lyrics?

Finally, if an artist offers up a personal interpretation of their lyrics, we should in some sense privilege that interpretation, but as we know, it's not decisive; there is room to weigh the artist's intent with other considerations.

The answers generated by these questions won't always be definitive or final. Interpretation, as we know, doesn't have a final end point and some would perceive these questions as being too certainty-seeking. But as has been clear from the outset of this conversation, I am not demanding people stop listening to artists whose lyrics marginalize.

PS: I like Steve Greaves' review of IT here, because it both respects and questions.  Sometimes you'll go to those lengths when you recognize an artist's brilliance and are appalled by their ignorance. 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday morning thoughts

My friends inspire me. Their cleverness, and their nuanced synthesis of faith and cynicism, remind me to be honest. Each of my friends has taught me something. They each carry a spark of the universe of reason. Today, I am thankful for them.


A lamentation from a British friend for the return of UK troops from Iraq and Afghanistan yielded a good conversation this morning, during which I said: "It's not that I don't care about the people of Iraq or Afghanistan--I'm teaching for a week in Kurdistan in December--It's that what we've engaged there in the last seven years hasn't helped anyone--not them, and certainly not the families and communities of U.S., British and other soldiers. People on both sides need to demand a better system, a new way of thinking, and an end to these destructive policies of rich, destructive old men."


This is, by official Stannardian declaration, FUNNY AS HELL!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hey, Ben Nelson!

Ben Nelson, Democrat from Nebraska, on whether he'll join the Republicans in a filibuster against reform legislation that includes a public insurance option with an opt-out provision for states (radical, ain't it?):

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), another public option foe, wouldn't commit when asked last week. "I believe in playing chess, but that's about three moves ahead of me, and I'm not prepared to make those moves until I see some other moves in between," he told HuffPost.

Hey Nelson, here's a concept for you: Maybe the life, health, and security of the citizens you work for isn't a f***ing chess game.

"I use silly, insensitive metaphors!"

Line of the Week

A great opening line, from Steven Wishnia today at Alternet; aspiring journalists take note:

"More members of Congress have publicly questioned whether President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii than have endorsed legalizing marijuana."

Well done sir.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Highest Ranking Drug Smuggler on the CIA Payroll Is...

By now you may have read this.

Keep in mind that the drug trade in Afghanistan fuels the insurgency in Afghanistan. Viewed from some angles, that insurgency may have a right to exist and be insurgent, and I'm not calling out "Law and Order" or anything. Just saying that this is an example of how utterly ass backwards the foreign policy of the ruling class can be--and that it's going on right now. This isn't a history class where we learn how the U.S. stumbled and overplayed and got its ass kicked in Vietnam, or a story about George H.W. Bush's directorship of the CIA. This is now. Our tax dollars are propping up a drug-smuggling gangster, the brother of the Afghan president now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

excellent reading on LDS-Skouson-Beck

"For me as a Mormon, Glenn Beck’s invitation to return to childish things forces me to confront anew the unsavory aspects of my religion’s past, and all the things we Latter-day Saints are now attempting to heal."

This post, written by a creative writing instructor at BYU and cross-posted at Kos, Street Prophets and TPM Cafe, through a solid, enlightening narrative testimony (and testimony is important to Mormons), offers a context for the Cleon Skouson-Glenn Beck connection. I think it also calls on my LDS friends to renounce Beck, although such a message is derivative and soft advice, rather than the kind of screed I would probably write.

Reading and discussing this post would be a great use of your time. If enough people are interested, I'd gladly facilitate a podcast conversation on it.

Why did Beck’s infantile sneer matter? Because Beck is a Mormon. Because his mocking presence in the small town of Marshall, Missouri meant he was sticking his tongue out at patrons in every library in the nation. Because the city of Provo, Utah — where I still live and now teach — sometimes invites him to be part of our Freedom Festival and host our "Stadium of Fire," as though his ultra right, self-assured conviction and his simplistic view of contemporary issues comprise a worthy résumé. Because he is a disciple of W. Cleon Skousen, whose conspiracy theories resulted in students spying on each other and on their professors at BYU and fomented terror and suspicion throughout Provo — even at Provo High — and created a climate which made Darius fear for his family’s life. Because Beck has said such race-baiting things as, "This president has exposed himself as a guy ... who has
a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture" (July 28). (What on earth does he mean by "white culture"? Is it in the tradition of the Coen Brothers’ white supremacists in O brother Where Art Thou?: "We have gathered here to preserve our hallowed culture and heritage...") Because on Fox News he loops a tape of Reverend Jeremiah Wright saying "Not God bless America...", as though it were something new and newsworthy, and as though Wright had never said anything else. And because people think he represents me and even Darius, inasmuch as we all call ourselves Latter-day Saints.

property thought for the day

The power over the production and distribution of material things is the power over life and death. Property rights, however, are derivative. Individual sovereignty doesn't so much arise spontaneously from God, but emerges, derives, from the breakdown of divine, feudal, and finally aristocratic sovereignty. A man's home is his castle--just like the castles of the sovereigns of old. As property itself is considered the province of princes in feudal relations, the use of force --and in the larger sense, in myriad other ways, the control over life and death--is also the exclusive province of the prince. Market relations render both man's castle and his ability to use force contingent on his share of, and role in, production and distribution.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Madisons and the Riot Act, part one

Elliott and Elena Madison are in trouble, and if you're an anti-capitalist activist in particular, their trouble is your trouble--because police presence at economic summit demonstrations, WTO conferences, and sites of confrontation between capital and the anti-capitalist movement are always heavy-handed (there's a reason for this, folks). For starters, Elliott "was arrested on September 24 at a motel room for allegedly listening to a police scanner and relaying information on Twitter to help protesters avoid heavily-armed cops -- an activity the State Department lauded when it happened in Iran."

It got worse. And more surreal. An interstate rioting law?
Prosecutors revealed yesterday that Elliott Madison, 41, and his wife, Elena, 39, are under investigation for allegedly violating a little-used interstate rioting law. FBI anti-terror agents raided the couple's Jackson Heights home on Oct. 1 and seized riot gear, including a dozen gas masks, fireworks, books, photographs and electronic equipment.

I assume it's this interstate clause of the Federal Riot Act. When does a demonstration become a riot? Rhetorically, when the state has an interest in disrupting it. I am contacting Martin Stolar, the Madisons' attorney, who, in his motion to throw out the search, said
In this day and age, federally authorized agents entered the private home of a writer and urban planner and seized their books and writings. The warrant's vagueness and lack of specificity encouraged the agents to use their own discretion and their own views of the political universe to seize, or not to seize, items which they thought were evidence of a violation of the federal anti-riot statute. The law and the Constitution do not allow this. If there really is a grand jury investigation with possible future prosecution under [a federal anti-rioting law], the use of this statute as applied to demonstrations, demonstrators, and their supporters has profound 1st Amendment implications.

A nod to an "Examiner" -- Milwaukee Progressive Examiner Jerome McCollom -- who while disagreeing with the tactics and possibly even the message, nevertheless recognizes how an injury to one is an injury to all.

An individual, Elliott Madison, who used twitter to inform fellow protestors of police movements during the arrest has been arrested. Weren't we in the US (rightly) praising Iranian protestors who used twitter in Tehran when their rights were violated? The "rationale" of this arrest is that he was interfering in prosecutions. But that rationale assumes that those who are engaged in exercising their fundamental free speech rights are guilty of some crime. That is and should not be the mentality of a law enforcement arm in a free nation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are Progessives Overconfident? Shared Sacrifice Nightly

Are Progessives Overconfident? Shared Sacrifice Nightly

Join us tonight at 8PM mountain time!

Hmm? Interesting.

Iran denies secret nuclear talks with Israel: official

Israeli media reported earlier in the day that an IAEC representative met with a senior Iranian official last month in Cairo to discuss nuclear-free issue in the Middle East. Meirav Zafary-Odiz, director of policy and arms control for IAEC, and Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), met several times in Cairo at the end of September, with the representatives from other countries joining in, Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported. The newspaper referred it as "the first direct meeting between official representatives of the two states" since 1979.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Live Blog: University of Wyoming Health Care Debate

Here I am at the health care debate between the UW College Republicans and Democrats. I'll be posting updates on this post throughout the evening. If you're following this blog during the debate, simply hit "refresh" every few minutes to see what I've added. Hopefully, readers can fact-check any controversial or questionable claims made tonight.

The program is sponsored by Kappa Kappa Gamma, AAPISA, UW Debate, Criminal Justice Club, Forensic Science Club, Cardinal Key, Alpha Epsilon Delta, Freshman Senate, Student Health Advisory Committee, and FaceAIDS.

Eric Blomfelt, director of Risk Management at UW, is moderating the debate. There are three debaters on each side. Curiously, nobody thought to ask representatives from the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, or other third parties.

I probably won't be able to designate each speaker by name. Instead, I will hold the entire GOP team responsible for everything said by that team, and apply the same standard to the Democrats.

As this debate begins, I wonder if someone will raise the point that, according to today's news, "57 percent of all Americans now favor a public insurance option, while 40 percent oppose it."

College Dems Opening Statement:
120 people die every day because of lack of adequate health care coverage. 62% of bankruptsies. 178,000 small business jobs lost to high health care costs. Insurance companies seeing record profits while the number of uninsured grows. This is due to seeing health care as a commodity. Motive of insurance companies is to increase profit for shareholders. Purchasing health care is not like purchasing a car. Sometimes the "rational economic choice" is to die. Alternate plans don't address uninsured. A public health care option "is the only way to provide for the public good." No system will be perfect, but can't keep leaving health insurance to private market. "Public health is public good."

College GOP Opening Statement:
Our founding fathers built a system that did not require large government. U.S. Constitution limits the government's authority. "Do you believe you know how to best spend your money, or should the government spend it for you? We believe in personal responsibility."
46 million uninsured figure is inflated: 10 million of those are illegal, 18 million have a yearly household income of 50,000 or more. It's their choice; they buy other things like cell phones and internet and cable TV.
We can have reform without an increase in the size and scope of government or deficit. 4 key strategies:
1. Tort reform
2. Portability from state to state.
3. Health savings accounts.
4. Preventative care provision in all health insurance plans.

Dems are questioning GOP on exaggerated savings of tort reform, in light of CBO report. GOP responds it's only one component [a little evasive here] GOP questioning the CBO report's accuracy.
GOP says "would you agree that our healthcare system is the best in the world." Dems respond by saying insurance companies do the scary things the anti-reform crowd says the government will do.

GOP says we should require insurance because it's not like cars: "Health insurance only affects yourself." This isn't true. Other people's sick kids make my kids sick, etc.

Dems say we need a mandate: People need basic coverage and safety net. This is a weak response: the Dems need to unapologetically point out that we all affect each other. The Dems correctly point out that mandating health insurance WITHOUT a public option just gives insurance companies the right to raise their prices to a captive market. Emergency room visits cost a lot because you're paying for other people.

Dems ask: how can market cover everyone if it's profitable to drop people. GOP replies that their 4-step program will lower costs. Some debate over what the CBO says concerning the deficit.

Dems re-state that "public health is a public good." They concede that people make bad choices (eg smoking) but that there are other genetic problems that aren't fairly distributed.

GOP woman: Let's place responsibility where it belongs, on the individual. According to National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 60-80% of health problems are due to personal choice (did I hear those numbers right?). GOP side favors raising premiums on smokers.

Exciting exchange: Dems are pressing GOP on exactly how their proposals would actually INCREASE coverage. One GOP person sarcastically says poor people are already covered by medicaid and "we've seen how good those programs are" (sarcasm? and if so, how does that help their side?)

The GOP doesn't really answer the question because covering all Americans isn't on their moral radar.

GOP says we can decrease costs by "standardizing care for all." Standardized medical forms too. Price disclosure for procedures and drugs. [Should these all come in the form of regulations?] Currently insurance companies negotiate with drug companies, meaning different people get different prices. We need to standardize prices. [So the GOP is calling for standardized prices? Really? How? Government intervention, certainly...]

Dems concede the need for standardization of care--but says market can't do it. Dems would, it seems here tonight at least, be in favor of a single payer system. But Dems basically concede this very curious admission that prices must be standardized. They point out that people are left out of the negotiation process between insurance companies and drug companies--another curious GOP admission.

So as of now, the GOP seems like they're conceding a lot of points that they don't understand hurt their argument, and making a lot of vague references to cost-cutting without taking a position on the imperative of universal coverage. Although the audience may not necessarily agree, so far the Dems seem much more together, and less doctrinaire, than their GOP opponents.

GOP says: Bureaucracy. Dems reply: Bureaucracy is a "buzz word." A GOP guy says "I agree that there needs to be work done with insurance companies." What does that mean?

Dems switched one of their speakers mid-debate, and this guy seems a little late to the game; he's sort of bringing up a bunch of stuff that was already hashed out before he arrived.

GOP: CBO report was flawed: Didn't include payment increases planned for doctors who treat medicare patients. Policy won't kick in until 2019 anyway, meaning plan might lower the deficit before the policy kicks in, but might increase it later.

GOP says the government will tax "Wall Street stock transactions" which they see as unacceptable.

Dems respond that "every legislator in congress" trusts the CBO report. [Is this true? It doesn't seem like this is true?]

The GOP has tagged a new guy in too. As a debate coach, I don't think this is a good strategy.

GOP says a public option will only increase access at the expense of everyone else.

GOP now says that the public option will push private insurance out of business. There will be no private insurance companies left.

Dems: Millions are uninsured or underinsured now. GOP cost-cutting measures don't go anywhere near covering people. The new guy on the Dem side says insurance companies won't be driven out of business.

GOP says "It's not government's job to cover everybody." The person in poverty "made a lot of bad decisions that everyone else in this room shouldn't have to pay for." We shouldn't establish a precedent like that.

Dems respond: Some things are important enough to be a public good. Police example.

The GOP is concerned about privacy. Cited Canadian wait lists--average time of 17.3 weeks over 12 areas of specialization. Canada's "priority list" means this will violate privacy, as well as letting the government decide who should get care. We SHOULD be afraid of government bureaucracy, GOP says. Will lose privacy if we adopt any plan. Then he says "it'll be just like Canada" after prefacing their point by saying "I'm not trying to say that what you're proposing will be just like Canada."

Dems say to GOP: tell me how your 4 point plan will cover every American. GOP replies "we don't need to cover every single American."

Somebody asked a lame question: "Although facts play an undeniable role in policy propositions..." how do each sides' proposals reflect "values."

GOP answers: "To a degree, we need to take care of the poor." The choice to help people should be individual, not governmental. Support programs like medicaid, but Constitution was written as "protection from big government." Anothert GOPer "where does that stop? does government control stop?"

Dems: This is a slippery slope argument. Right now, the market system doesn't provide health care to individuals. Everyone must be covered. [I still don't think they are making the public good argument very well] Majority support the public option.

Lots of back and forth on most of the points I've already listed. I might not update again until the summary statements.

GOP rightly points out that Baucus bill leaves 25 million Americans uninsured.

Dems are spanking GOP in crossfire section--that insurance companies will continue to cut people from their coverage in the status quo.

Closing statements:

GOP: This debate comes down to the question "what is the role of the government?" Democratic proposals will "increase people's taxes exponentially" [really? "exponentially?"] We should make healthy lifestyle decisions.

Dems: Do we believe in the social contract? We have fire protection, military protection, police protection, etc.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It is difficult to articulate the case against the occupation of Afghanistan if one is not ready to accept some stark and unpleasant realities. Top shelf: (1) that whatever the ideals of liberal internationalism, or neoconservatism, or any arguments for nation building, this sort of thing doesn't "work" without a great deal of innocent blood, and seldom works at all in the long run; (2) that a withdrawal will result in large sections of Afghanistan being run by fundamentalist totalitarians who keep women in a state of permanent servitude, enforced with floggings and occasional executions--though there's no guarantee our continued occupation will prevent that or not result in equivalent brutality.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Perry stays secret on many things, including forensics files"--Dallas Morning News

"Many believe he is the most secretive modern-day governor Texas has seen." He's certainly dropping the ball on the Cameron Todd Willingham case, records of which he refuses to release.

Perry stays secret on many things, including forensics files
Posted using ShareThis

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Lamentation

My friend Russell Fox makes a reasoned case that Barack Obama doesn't deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. I would have liked to see Russell attend to the more obvious reason why Obama doesn't deserve a peace prize: He's a corporate-supported warmonger who campaigned on a promise to "win" the war in Afghanistan: a war inspired not by the attacks of 9-11 (which were not carried out by Afghans, after all) but by U.S. aspirations for oil and regional hegemony.

Unfortunately, the characteristically immature, racist, and hysterical reaction to the award on the part of many conservative pundits has put Americans who pay attention to these issues in the position of feeling as if they have to choose sides. Criticizing Obama for accepting the award is now, for all intents and purposes in this strange-bedfellows state of politics today, tantamount to hopping in bed with birthers and McVeighites. So even if I don't think he deserves the award, I don't see a whole lot of public space from which to criticize the choice. Not when the alternative is to give aid and comfort to incipient fascists who fantasize about Obama being assassinated or thrown out in a military coup.

public service follies

I see Facebook is running ads for Partnership for a Drug-Free America (which, as others have pointed out, should be called "Partnership for a Truth-Free America"). Facebook is probably running the ads for free, too, since that's how PDFA usually operates--and is part of the reason why they get away with using fallacious data. (EG, their "flatliners" commercial, which "showed an EEG "flat-line" of someone supposed to be on some kind of drug. What was actually being displayed were brain-waves of a person asleep or in a coma.")

More conservative garbage

"I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota."
~ Erick Erickson: RedState blogger, conservative, racist moron.

It's really tough to criticize Obama in nuanced, intelligent ways when people like Erickson are spewing such excrement.

It speaks volumes about the decline of conservatism that a leading blogger on a leading right wing blog could find no better method of criticism than appealing to a race meme.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

More numbers and faces

Now we know more about the cost in sheer body count of being in the middle ages concerning health care coverage. In fact, we now know that 3,000 Americans die every two months because of inadequate or non-coverage. People like beautiful Nikki White...

Nikki White died at the age of 32. She had lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that was untreated because she could not afford health insurance. ...if Nikki had been a felon, the problem could have been averted, because courts have ruled that prisoners are entitled to medical care.

Hyperbole? "When Nikki White died at the age of 32, her doctor boldly stated that the young woman didn’t die of lupus but of 'complications of a failing health care system.'"

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Washington Times and Fox News now unleashing mobs on private citizens (including kids)

Stay classy, dying right wing...

Wash. Times and Fox News now unleashing mobs on private citizens (including kids)

Posted using ShareThis


A note from Jim Hightower this morning:
corporations are even offshoring America's debt collectors. The LA Times reports on a call to a hard-pressed woman in Fort Worth. "Hello, Ma'am, how ya doin' today?" asks the caller in down-home American accent. "My name is James Harold," he says, "and you owe us $11,000." James' name and accent are fakes. His real name is Sharoon Hermoon, and he's sitting in a cubical 8,000 miles away in Islamabad. He's part of a Pakistani crew of a dozen twenty-somethings working on what's called the "deadbeat beat" for Touchstone, a call center owned by a U.S. corporation. These long-distance arm twisters don't merely have accents, they have something else, too: a wealth of personal information on the American people they're dunning. Working for U.S. finance firms, they not only have details of the person's debt, but also things like the person's income and how much they spend. And when debtors don't respond to their calls, the Islamabad center use tracking software to contact the person's co-workers, neighbors, and relatives to apply even more pressure – and embarrassment.

Let them eat dirt

Chuck Todd reported on Facebook and Twitter that the lunch for the Geneva talks between the U.S., Iran and others featured the following delectables: "Buffet style: Trout almondine, Sablefish, Assorted cheeses, Choc mousse, Creme brulee, coffee and wine."

Meanwhile, The Observer reports that "The sale of coffins has dramatically risen in Uganda in the last few weeks, following reports of a looming famine in the East African region."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

you keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means...

I think Obama is incompetent. I just don't think so the way you think so.

me & the Iranians

If, as it appears, Iran's government is developing nuclear weapons, then we need to remember our common interests with the Iranian people. They just want to survive, raise their families and live in peace. So do we. The 9400 warheads maintained by the U.S. are a hideous, colossal waste and an instrument of exploitation. Solidarity with the people of Iran and a pox on both our ruling classes.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's on in Honduras

A little over two hours ago CNN reported that the coup-government in Honduras is holding Brazil responsible for harboring Jose Manuel Zelaya in its embassy in Tegucigalpa. As a result, the coup-government claims, Zelaya's presence has caused instability.

This is childish doublespeak. The coup government of Honduras has had the people under a state of siege for weeks now. If they were smart, they'd have seen Zelaya's return as inevitable; for them to now accuse Zelaya or Brazil or anyone but themselves of instigating instability is laughable and, I think, rather evil.

Wouldn't this make for a great science fiction story?

A race of beings emerging from a warlike state of nature begins behaving cooperatively in their attempt to master the material externalities around them. They develop agriculture, husbandry, and productive industry. For whatever myriad explanations, hierarchy ensues, manifested most starkly in (1) material distribution and (2) access to both the reception and production-distribution of information. This results in a small class of these planetary dwellers enjoying almost complete material and ideological control.

Among other strategies to maintain this control, the elite beings keep the rest of their race in a state of deliberate under-education; more to the point, among the elite beings, there may be some debate about whether their non-elite counterparts (who outnumber them by approximately 80-1) should receive an enriching, empowering education, a functional, technical education, or no education at all. Most of the time, the middle position prevails, since technical skill among approximately half of these worker-citizens is necessary to keep the by-now-rather-complex infrastructure running for maximum material convenience. However, the more conservative and authoritarian elements of the elites constantly exercise pressure on their government to cut off the provision of resources to the education system, able to appeal to several configural, unrelated, and largely contrived arguments, from hypocritical appeals to resource shortages (hypocritical because the elites are busy funding all sorts of generally non beneficial things) to theological and ideological attacks on the entire educational enterprise.

So emerges an increasingly permanent, larger, and progressively more problematic mass of uneducated beings, their heads filled with mythology and distrust, given to anomie and alienation, malleable for immediate political purposes by some elites but ultimately unmanageable, or controllable only through unbearable brutality.

In fact, similar sci-fi stories abound. As I was writing this allegory, I remembered "The Cloud Minders," an excellent Star Trek TOS episode, as well as the Residents' album "Mark of the Mole," and I could probably think of four or five short stories, novellas, and novels that at least play with, and perhaps even epitomize, the structure of my story. But what inspired this particular angle was the education question. It has ever been thus: Reinhold Niebuhr's classic turn of phrase captures the problem as paradox: "dominant classes have always tried to withhold the opportunity for the exercise of rational functions from underprivileged classes and then accused them of lacking capacities, which can be developed only by exercise."

I would love to edit an anthology of science fiction stories, one perhaps from every age or era, dealing with the question of material hierarchy and its resultant ideological control.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Creationism is stupider than a sack of bones

Viewing this video of a creationist instructor talking to an audience of children at the Big Valley Creation Science Museum makes me question the limits of free speech. Those kids can't defend themselves against the dumb shit they are hearing from this cretin, and they think it's "science." Watch this one to be simultaneously amused and enraged. And remember--this is what creationists and their naive "moderate-pluralist" allies mean when they say their perspectives should be given equal time. They mean ludicrous, insulting crap like this.

It was a little hard to dance to, I'll give it a 6...

My first thought is, oh hell, now the Republicans will blame this on the hapless foreign policy of the Obama administration (they're hapless, but not for easing back on American thuggishness). But then I was gripped with the regret that I hadn't actually attended the speech. Muammar G-g-g-gaddafi that is. His first visit to America, more a comedy tour than a visit by a head of state.

He tore up a copy of the UN charter in front of startled delegates, accused the security council of being an al-Qaida like terrorist body, called for George Bush and Tony Blair to be put on trial for the Iraq war, demanded $7.7tn in compensation for the ravages of colonialism on Africa, and wondered whether swine flu was a biological weapon created in a military laboratory. At one point, he even demanded to know who was behind the killing of JFK. All in all, a pretty ordinary 100 minutes in the life of the colonel.

Note to The Guardian's Ed Pilkington: That last sentence was a little awkward; either make it its own paragraph to give yourself comedic pause, or eliminate it altogether for comedic understatement (I prefer the latter).

Tearing up sacred things in front of audiences in New York is not always good for your career...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hey conservatives: stop lying about ACORN

Once again, the right is lying about ACORN--in this case, not only Fox News, but the individuals who made those notorious videos--and they're apparently lying on an epic scale.

I may not have a huge dog in the ACORN fight, but I have the biggest dog in the world in the truth-telling fight. Moreover, as a friend of mine said today, "[We] took their first time home buyers class - it was amazing. They do good work. They help people get and keep their homes. Any large organization can have employees who make bad decisions. I would just like to say - cut them some slack. The good outweighs the bad by far."

Police report filed by ACORN exposes false claims by individuals behind videos

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Shared Sacrifice Weekend--Melissa Sue Robinson

Our guest tomorrow is Melissa Sue Robinson, Mayoral candidate in Nampa, Idaho: progressive, transgender activist, and human rights campaigner. You can read about Ms. Robinson at
Call-in number is (347) 327-9615. Don't miss this important interview.

Shared Sacrifice Weekend--Melissa Sue Robinson

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