Saturday, March 26, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro (1935-2011)

Geraldine Ferraro, the U.S. representative from New York's 9th District from 1979-85 and the first woman to to run on a major party presidential ticket, losing with Walter Mondale to Reagan and Bush in 1984, has died at the age of 75:

Geraldine A. Ferraro, the former Queens congresswoman who strode onto a podium in 1984 to accept the Democratic nomination for vice president and to take her place in American history as the first woman nominated for national office by a major party, died Saturday in Boston.

She was 75 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was complications from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that she had battled for 12 years, her family said in a statement. She died at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she had been undergoing treatment since Monday.

"If we can do this, we can do anything," Ms. Ferraro declared on a July evening to a cheering Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. And for a moment, for the Democratic Party and for an untold number of American women, anything seemed possible: a woman occupying the second-highest office in the land, a derailing of the Republican juggernaut led by President Ronald Reagan, a President Walter F. Mondale.

I don't wish to speak ill of her, but I never much cared for her. She was never all that liberal and in fact called herself a conservative (and, at least early on, "a tough Democrat," that is a right-leaning Democrat who leaned Republican at least in terms of temperament). And she was simply appalling in her support for Hillary (and in her various attacks on Obama) during the '08 Democratic primaries, proving to be something of a racist, and ending up just embarrassing herself and being dumped from the campaign.

Still, she was a remarkable woman in many ways, and what she did was undeniably remarkable, too. It wasn't easy to be a prominent woman politician at that time, just as it still isn't, but she broke new ground by running on the national stage and, even before that, was a powerful voice on issues such as gender equity, the plight of seniors, and the environment. She was certainly conservative on a number of other issues, and her record was pretty much the record of an ideologically-fluctuating moderate from a fairly socially conservative district, but, whatever her flaws, she was one of the most significant political figures of her time.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

The great circle of stupid

By Capt. Fogg

"An appeals court has ruled that anyone involved in an extramarital affair can be prosecuted for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony punishable by up to life in prison."

Or so says the Eagle Forum run by Rod Parsley, President and Founder of World Harvest Church in Ohio. Actually it's more likely that Judge William Murphy of the Michigan Court of Appeals was indulging in a bit of reductio ad absurdem in order to mock the obvious venality of the prosecution -- and in this case, the absurdity of the Michigan law is apparent without much reduction.

It's all about one Lloyd Waltonen who gave a cocktail waitress prescription drugs in exchange for sex and was charged with criminal sexual conduct, a felony, although the sex was consensual.

Of course those charges were dismissed, but on appeal The Michigan Attorney General, Mike Cox (I'm not making that up) in an effort to ruin Waltonen's life in any way he could, dredged up some statute stating that any sexual activity committed during the same time as a felony constitutes criminal sexual conduct. Since adultery is a felony in Michigan, (I'm not making this up) he technically could get life in prison for consensual sex, although that's never happened and never likely will unless of course we allow demented parasitic vermin like Parsley to become part of the judicial process. ( more on that later)

So what was apparently a disgusted judge trying to make a fool of the hypocritical and hyperventilating Mr. Cox, (who as you would expect of a moralizing Republican, has admitted to an adulterous and hence felonious relationship himself,) might as well have a target tattooed on his forehead.

All of this staged display of irony of course, has escaped not only the resident and hairy-palmed hand of God at The Center For Moral Clarity, the World Harvest Church and the Eagle Forum, but Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell's nominee for the Alaska Judiciary Council, Don Haase of Valdez. Haase, (he pronounces it Haze, but we won't go there this time) loves the idea of arresting people for obeying his religious laws, and why, you might ask? Premarital sex should be outlawed because it could "cause violence" and "spread disease," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. To his credit, he's either not quite as crazy as Parsley or perhaps less credit worthy, he's just trying to sound sane long enough to be confirmed, because while he doesn't claim that adultery or pre-marital sex should be a felony, he thinks it should be a crime.

Haase of course is a past president of Eagle Forum Alaska, a blog that advocates for what it calls conservative principles much like those of Medieval Europe. So we've come as close to full circle as we can while talking about idiots and madmen with no regard for freedom or the US constitution. We've come full circle from a secular liberal democracy and the counsel of intelligent and reasonable men as well.

(Cross posted to Human Voices)

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General Electric pays no taxes

You might want to sit down for this one. The Times is reporting that General Electric pays zero corporate taxes in the U.S.:

General Electric, the nation's largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.

The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.

Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.

Yes, quite extraordinary -- and, needless to say, deeply troubling.

And yet Corporate American continues to complain about how horribly it's being treated, how difficult it is to make a buck, how anti-business Obama is?

I'm not saying GE does nothing for America. It employs a lot of people, obviously, and it contributes a great deal to society, both for better (e.g., medical equipment) and for worse (e.g., weapons). And, yes, it has its not insubstantial philanthropic activities as well.

But getting away with paying essentially no corporate taxes whatsoever -- and being allowed to do so, given the "maze of [legal] shelters, tax credits and subsidies" it another other companies exploit for the sake of their own bottom lines at the expense of the public good -- is pretty despicable, not least at a time when so many people are struggling just to make ends meet, just to pay the bills and put food on the table.

Can you blame GE? Well, business is business, and business, at least in America, where it is not expected to have much of a social conscience, is about the bottom line, about making as much profit as possible. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, into thinking that what's good for business is good for America. It isn't, at least not always, or even mostly.

But this is certainly a sign of what's wrong with Corporate America and with the system that allows it to rape and pillage -- figuratively speaking, to an extent -- without any regard for the consequences, to benefit from a society that allows it to profit with reckless abandon without having to pay for anything in return.

Think about that as you're doing your taxes and as you feel the merciless taxman breathing down your neck. If you were GE, you'd be in the clear, with your money safely stashed away "offshore."

But you're not. You are who you are, and you're screwed.

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The Sound and the Fury

By Capt. Fogg

I'd just signed clear with 5N7M in Nigeria and my spectrum scope showed a big pileup on 20 meters in the area reserved for extra class phone operation, so I tuned in expecting some rare DX station everyone was trying to work. I wish I hadn't. I didn't hear dozens of stations shouting their call letters trying to be heard on the other side of the planet, what I heard is what passes for political discussion these days.

"Well whaddaya think of a president who thinks he's a dictator and ignores the constitution"
"you mean Bush?"
"No, I mean Oh-Bah-Ma! Thinks he can declare war all by himself. At least with Bush both times he got permission from congress -- this guy thinks he's a DICTATOR"
"Ahhhh, come on. . ."
"That's an impeachable offense! That's Treason!"

Of course I'm editing here. There were too many voices stepping on each other to include it all or even to call it a discussion, but that's American politics in all its unsound and furious ignorance.

Actually the War Powers Act requires that the president notify congress within 48 hours, which of course was exactly what happened. Whether or not that will filter down to the terminally Foxed and all those so desperate to portray Obama as everything Bush was and worse, I don't know, but where there's a will to hate, there's always a way to hate. As much as facts might contradict the idiot rage, they have as much a chance to bust the pileup as a 2 Watt QRP rig with a Buddipole.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Success in Libya

I'm still wrestling with the military intervention in Libya. I don't fully support it, mainly because I'm still not sure what the longer-term objectives are, but at the same time I'm not against it, and in fact, if I had to choose, I'd say I support it despite my very serious concerns and reservations.

And, yes, that's because I believe that sometimes war can be an effective instrument of peace. Is there inconsistency in that there is intervention in Libya but not in, say, Bahrain or Yemen? Sure. Is there a possibility of "mission creep"? Of course.

But I suppose the arguments in favour of intervention outweigh the arguments against it. Specifically, there were, and remain, significant humanitarian reasons to act.

And not being able to intervene everywhere, and not being willing to intervene in places with similar problems, isn't an argument against not intervening anywhere. We have to pick and choose. And it seems to me that the right choice was made with respect to Libya -- which, let us not forget, was not made by the U.S. alone but by an international alliance and, perhaps most importantly, the Arab League. And it is not the U.S. leading the intervention but NATO. And Libyans, other than Qaddafi and his thugs, seem to be welcoming it. As the NYT's Nicholas Kristof, hardly a warmonger, reports:

This may be a first for the Arab world: An American airman who bailed out over Libya was rescued from his hiding place in a sheep pen by villagers who hugged him, served him juice and thanked him effusively for bombing their country.

Even though some villagers were hit by American shrapnel, one gamely told an Associated Press reporter that he bore no grudges. Then, on Wednesday in Benghazi, the major city in eastern Libya whose streets would almost certainly be running with blood now if it weren't for the American-led military intervention, residents held a "thank you rally." They wanted to express gratitude to coalition forces for helping save their lives.

Doubts are reverberating across America about the military intervention in Libya. Those questions are legitimate, and the uncertainties are huge. But let's not forget that a humanitarian catastrophe has been averted for now and that this intervention looks much less like the 2003 invasion of Iraq than the successful 1991 gulf war to rescue Kuwait from Iraqi military occupation.

This is also one of the few times in history when outside forces have intervened militarily to save the lives of citizens from their government. More commonly, we wring our hands for years as victims are massacred, and then, when it is too late, earnestly declare: "Never again."

Yes, American troops were welcomed in Iraq, too, before things went horribly wrong. But Libya is not Iraq and this intervention is not that war. Could it become something like that? Yes, perhaps. But there are always risks. In the wake of the Iraq War and Occupation, should the military never be used this way? Is any and all intervention wrong?

Yes, I know. What about not just Bahrain but, say, Burma and North Korea? Well, again, we have to be realistic about when and where intervention for humanitarian purposes can succeed, as well as when and where an international coalition can be put together. Sometimes other measures are called for, like sanctions. I do not support military intervention in Iran, for example, which would likely be a disaster. But sometimes, just sometimes, you need to use force. With Qaddafi threatening mass murder of his own people, at a time of historic pro-democracy movements throughout the Middle East, this would appear to be one of those times.

And, so far, there has been significant success. Check out Juan Cole's list of the top ten accomplishments of the U.N. no-fly zone, which concludes:

The liberation movement at the moment likely controls about half of Libya's population, as long as Misrata and Zintan do not fall. It also likely controls about half of the petroleum facilities. If Benghazi can retake Brega and Ra's Lanouf and Zawiya, Qaddafi soon won't have gasoline for his tanks or money to pay his mercenaries. Pundits who want this whole thing to be over with in 7 days are being frankly silly. Those who worry about it going on forever are being unrealistic. Those who forget or cannot see the humanitarian achievements already accomplished are being willfully blind.

I appreciate the very persuasive arguments against this intervention and I respect many of those making them, including the likes of Glenn Greenwald and many Democrats in Congress. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they're being "willfully blind." In the end, they may be proven right. But we don't know how this will end, and, as of right now, even without a sense of what the longer-term objectives are, it is undeniable that a great deal has been achieved, much to the credit of those who have taken the risk to intervene with force.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bachmann, Bachmann, Bachmann!

I think it's great that Michele Bachmann's running for president. I really do. She's so good for the GOP, so much a voice of the conservatism of today. Without her in the race, well, it just wouldn't make sense.

Okay, she's not officially running yet, she's just planning on setting up one of those exploratory committees. But come on, you know she wants it, and she's got God behind her, so it looks like a done deal.

Oh, you think she's a joke, do you? Well, laugh if you wish.

With her impressive Tea Party bona fides, her reckless conspiracy theorizing, her self-focused faux feminism, and her general right-wing craziness, she's just what a ridiculously weak Republican field needs. (Well, okay, maybe it needs Palin, but she's just so self-absorbed and ignorant. Her "star" is brighter than Bachmann's, to be sure, but it's Bachmann who more determinedly Republican.

So I say again, with all the encouragement I can muster:

Run, Michele, run! You'll do great.

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Cry havoc

By Capt. Fogg

If there's anything being shoved down our throats these days, it's the claim that health care reform is being shoved down our throats. It's all part of the game the minority party is playing by trying to make you think the Democrats won the White House by some sort of fluke and that the desire for health care reform wasn't what Obama's majority of voters were hoping for.

It's been a year now and the screaming hasn't let up for a moment, but a recent poll shows that half the country favors the Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act, whether or not you call it ObamaCare and only 43% think it's "too liberal."

It would be amusing of course if the bumper sticker bumpkins did get their "end of an error" by electing Mitt Romney who like the rest of them is giving us that old soft shoe about just how terrible the new law is because as the unimpaired remember, Mitt only a few years ago was hoping his new Massachusetts health care reform would go nationwide. It's easy to call a politician like that a whore, but it's unfair to whores and I don't want to distract from his fellow streetwalker who has been spending a fortune with TV ads warning us of the holocaust, the calamity, the apocalypse sure to wipe us from the earth if we have to have health insurance rather than hope the emergency room can cure our cancer or heart disease -- at public expense. I mean never mind the war, conquest, famine and death -- this is health care!

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is Libya the antidote to Iraq Syndrome?

When President Obama announced on March 18, 2011, that he would deploy the United States military in order to enforce a United Nations resolution, there was little doubt that the intervention on behalf of the Libyan people was not solely dedicated to their protection, even if that was the primary justification for the mission.

Nobody's jaw dropped when Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told MSNBC three days later, "We are in Libya because of oil."

With the Arab world in chaos, anxieties over the future of oil production spiked gasoline prices by 20 percent in a matter of weeks. On par with the economy and the unemployment rate, gas prices determine elections. Unfortunately, high gas prices do not justify military intervention. Luckily, the potential for mass murder does.

The American people already have abandoned their aversion to yet another military endeavor, mainly because the administration and the media have joined forces to reassure the public that Libya is not an invasion, a war, or an occupation. 

Unlike "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan, which was an eye-for-an-eye assault on the elusive mastermind behind Sept. 11, 2001, and unlike "Operation Iraqi Freedom," which was sold to the American people based on false pretenses and hyped fears of mushroom clouds over major U.S. cities and weapons of mass destruction – and an invasion/war/occupation orchestrated by a millionaire oil company CEO who also happened to be the vice president, no less Libya, conversely, has the potential to become the antidote to "Iraq Syndrome," an engagement that not only unifies the American public but that also reverses the reputation of the United States as a war-mongering, war-profiteering world police force.

The Libya intervention is not only a "just" mission, it is also "just" a mission. The president has promised both America and the international community that no ground troops will be deployed. 

In Afghanistan, there was an evil terrorist roaming around the hills laughing about his attacks on the World Trade Center. In Iraq there were (allegedly) chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

In Libya there is a dictator, Muammar al-Qaddafi, who has authorized aerial bombings of his own cities and deployed the army to hunt down and kill civilian rebels unsupportive of his regime. "Any Libyan" who "undermines the sovereignty of the state," who commits crimes against the army, or who opposes his reign "will be punished by death," Qaddafi said.

"We will show no mercy and no pity to them," he warned.

This "mission" is a political win-win for President Obama. However involved, however bloody, however defined by historians, the first phase of bombing the military facilities of a dictator is sure to give Obama a boost in the polls.

Beyond quelling fears of ever-higher gas prices, the use of military force against a world enemy has the potential to erase the image of Obama as a weak leader and an inexperienced and incapable commander in chief.

By framing the engagement as a humanitarian relief effort aimed at protecting the civilian rebels being targeted, incarcerated, and murdered by Qaddafi's troops, the administration can win the hearts of both the pro-military conservatives and the foreign policy isolationists on the left.

Conservatives are easy. They love a good fight against a bad guy, and Qaddafi is about as bad as it gets (worse, or at least on par with, Saddam Hussein). What's the point in having the greatest military on earth – and spending more on defense than every other developed country combined – if you don't flex a little military muscle every now and then? Furthermore, if we justified the dethroning of Saddam, Qaddafi, given his latest antics, should be no question.

"Let me be clear. These terms are not negotiable.
These terms are not subject to negotiation.
If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution,
the international community will impose consequences.
The resolution will be enforced through military action."

Many liberals, on the other hand, prefer that America keep to herself. But they have a weakness for peace missions. With the support of France and Britain, the United States – by far the most militarily equipped for the initial strikes on key air force facilities – is leading the surge. But the intention is to turn the mission over to NATO, which would brand the intervention not as another U.S. war but as a unified international coalition fighting as one in order to ensure peace and democracy in the Arab world. By promising that no U.S. ground forces will be deployed, Obama has tried to turn the hearts of his own base. By employing the rhetoric of past commanders in chief – the "reluctance" to use military force, the pursuit of peace, the refusal of a dictator to agree to the terms of resolution drafted by an international coalition – Obama has earned a nod of approval from the entire world.  

As for the apolitical majority of American citizens, strong rhetoric about the coalition, about the humanitarian crisis, and about the potential of mass graves come second, third and fourth, respectively, to the bottom line. If gasoline prices fall in America because of the U.S. military's involvement in Libya, the ends will justify the means.

If Obama is lucky, historians will document the "mission" in Libya through a lens that focuses not on the political intentions or the casualties it caused, but on the national and international support it garnered.


The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.
All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people.
 – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

• "No time for doubters" – The Economist

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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God is dying: Reflections on science, religion, and the human spirit

Over at Cosmic Variance, a blog at Discover, Sean Carroll has a really interesting post up on whether the universe needs God. I recommend reading it in its entirety, but here's a taste:

Over the past five hundred years, the progress of science has worked to strip away God's roles in the world. He isn't needed to keep things moving, or to develop the complexity of living creatures, or to account for the existence of the universe. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the scientific revolution has been in the realm of methodology. Control groups, double-blind experiments, an insistence on precise and testable predictions – a suite of techniques constructed to guard against the very human tendency to see things that aren't there. There is no control group for the universe, but in our attempts to explain it we should aim for a similar level of rigor. If and when cosmologists develop a successful scientific understanding of the origin of the universe, we will be left with a picture in which there is no place for God to act – if he does (e.g., through subtle influences on quantum-mechanical transitions or the progress of evolution), it is only in ways that are unnecessary and imperceptible. We can't be sure that a fully naturalist understanding of cosmology is forthcoming, but at the same time there is no reason to doubt it. Two thousand years ago, it was perfectly reasonable to invoke God as an explanation for natural phenomena; now, we can do much better.

None of this amounts to a "proof" that God doesn't exist, of course. Such a proof is not forthcoming; science isn’t in the business of proving things. Rather, science judges the merits of competing models in terms of their simplicity, clarity, comprehensiveness, and fit to the data. Unsuccessful theories are never disproven, as we can always concoct elaborate schemes to save the phenomena; they just fade away as better theories gain acceptance. Attempting to explain the natural world by appealing to God is, by scientific standards, not a very successful theory. The fact that we humans have been able to understand so much about how the natural world works, in our incredibly limited region of space over a remarkably short period of time, is a triumph of the human spirit, one in which we can all be justifiably proud.

This isn't necessarily new to those of us who look to science instead of some mythological faith to answer our questions, including our existential ones, and to provide a comprehensive picture of our world, but it's well put and bears repeating at a time when science is under fire from the right and when religiously-rooted ignorance continues to threaten progress towards greater enlightenment.

I've always described myself as an agnostic as opposed to an atheist but that's only because I recognize that we don't have all the answers. (Okay, I also describe myself as a nihilist, but that's more philosophical, and I do tend to recoil from all-out Nietzscheanism. It's hard to be a nihilist and also a progressive liberal who tries to advance the cause of freedom and human dignity.) And I think such doubt with respect to absolutism, with respect to any claim to absolute certainty, to the Truth, is healthy. (Nothing has all the answers, and if you think you have them, or believe in something that has them, you're wrong. About that I am absolutely certain.) Indeed, I think such doubt is also what drives my appreciation for science, which, by the way, does not claim to have all the answers and which, contrary to, say, Christianity, is about recognizing that there's a lot we just know and that only through further investigation can we ever know more.

Anyway, I don't necessarily hold organized religion in quite the degree of contempt that Christopher Hitchens does, though it's close, but I can say I wasn't unhappy to read about a new study suggesting that religion may actually die out in the nine countries under investigation, including Canada. This makes sense, given the broad secularization that western countries have been undergoing for a long time. No, religion won't die out entirely, not unless all of our deepest existential questions are somehow answered for good, but we could certainly do with a lot less of it in the world.

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American enough?

Guest post by Hamid M. Khan

Hamid M. Khan is a Rule of Law Adviser with the U.S. Institute of Peace in Kabul, Afghanistan, and a fellow with the Truman National Security Project in Washington D.C.

(Ed. note: This is Hamid's fifth guest post at The Reaction. You can find his previous posts here (on Pakistan), here and here (on Obama's Cairo address), and here (on revolution in Iran). -- MJWS)


Recently, Rep. Peter King, with much fanfare and consternation, launched the House Committee on Homeland Security's hearings regarding "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." While the fanfare for these most recent hearings has largely dissipated, given the past furor over the Islamic center in Manhattan, the approach of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and, of course, the upcoming presidential campaign, it is unlikely this issue will die out, and American Muslims will likely have to stand up to answer questions about whether they are American enough.

Disheartening as it is, this ongoing inquisition represents nothing novel in our history. In fact, America's story is replete with chapters where politicians take pains to prod an entire polity to test whether they truly belong. Just ask African-Americans, the Irish, Italians, Jews, Catholics, or even the Japanese. More sadly perhaps is the fact that these same inquisitors will reflexively wrap themselves in the flag and swear an oath upon the Constitution, but fail to recognize them as living testimonials to a nation that has spent centuries, sometimes through great bloodshed, striving to recognize equality and unity despite diversity.

The blame, however, does not squarely rest with politicians. Another accomplice to the recent phobia rests with the media, which often fail to promote the stories of ordinary Muslims with as much effort as those extremists who sit on the fringes of both society and religion. Finally, American Muslims deserve some of the blame, not because they are somehow predisposed to extremist views (as if it were a pathogen only Muslims are susceptible to) but perhaps because we as a community have not shared our own unique experiences of being both American and Muslim with our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens.

For example, what can be more American than being raised in rural Wyoming? Add to that biography an early childhood dedicated to watching cartoons, eating copious amounts of McDonald's, playing Nintendo, riding one's bike and considering Superman one's hero? How much would it matter if the same person happened to be the son of Pakistani immigrants and instead of going to Sunday school read the Qur'an, learned the five daily prayers, and did not eat pork? What would you think of this person if his classmates elected him twice as their high school class president or if he was a state champion in speech or a member of the National Honor Society? Would it still matter if he also fasted during Ramadan?

How would you would judge someone, who because of his parents' successes in United States, decided he would dedicate himself to a career in public service and, to that end, pursue degrees in politics and later earn a law degree? Would you consider this person an asset to the cause of America if Congress had awarded him a Truman Scholarship and he had worked in the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, or even the British House of Commons in London? What if I told you this person worked for a federal appeals court judge and later served as an assistant United States attorney? Is that proof enough, or does the fact that he drinks a Coke rather than a beer make him less American?

When 9/11 happened, like every other American, he witnessed the unspeakable horror as the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon lay devastated, and the fields outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania were charred by the sacrifice of heroes. Rather than go on as usual, however, he openly challenged extremist positions under Islamic law, and in his spare time taught classes on the Islamic faith at two different universities and later turned away from a lucrative career in private practice for a full-time position teaching law to young students in Afghanistan so that they might avoid harboring a future al Qaeda in their homeland. Does it mean he is less American because he still offers alms to the poor because he sees it as a commandment from God?

Or is one sufficiently American if one were chosen to advise the U.S. Commander of Forces in Afghanistan about how an understanding of Islam and specifically Shari'a might be an advantage to winning hearts and minds to save American lives? How would you judge the same person if he decided to keep his wife and four young children behind in the United States to devote his energy, experience, and understanding of the Qur'an to help bring about peace to war-torn societies?

At the end of the day, there is no quaint definition of what it means to be an American. If our history has taught us anything, there are no set paths, only a shared set of values that are not often easily expressed. And even when they are, it is hard to imagine whether my experiences or the experiences of another could satisfy those who are so eager to declare whole groups of people as not one of us. In fact, these critics, at best, often only ask questions, but without listening to the answers. Perhaps it is in this fact that we find what is best about being American: that sometimes not answering these questions is enough.

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Oh, Really? Suddenly, FOX Discovers Wars Cost Money?

By Carl

The cost of the American and European assault on Libya already easily tops hundreds of millions of dollars, and has the potential to rise significantly if the operation drags on for weeks or months.

Coalition efforts to undermine Muammar al-Qaddafi’s air defenses and save the rebels from defeat have lasted for four nights already. If the U.S. role continues to be limited, with the Pentagon using its existing budget to cover the expense, the price tag on involvement will only rise moderately.

As of Tuesday, a U.S. defense official told Fox News the U.S. has fired 161 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libyan territory, with 24 missiles being fired overnight Monday into Tuesday. Each missile is priced at $1 million to $1.5 million apiece and dispatched B-2 stealth bombers -- round-trip from Missouri -- to drop 2,000-pound bombs on Libyan sites.

Fair enough. Wars do cost money and if only we hadn't, you know, run a budget surplus into the single biggest debt ever built on this planet, perhaps FOX would be right to point this out.

And yet, a few hundred million pails when compared to:

 The Pentagon has requested $553 billion for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, plus $118 billion in war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan.

So let me see...four nights = $100 million, times ninety would be...carry the one...$9 billion. So, its less than ten percent of the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars today, and those wars have been scaled back (in toto) from the Bush administration.

Now, go Google "Bush war cost: Fox News" and see if anything comes up...

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder's popularity plummets as he attacks labor unions

In Michigan, Governor (and would-be autocrat) Rick Snyder is deeply unpopular, not least because he has pulled a Scott Walker and attacked labor unions (and working people generally):

Last November, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) won a decisive 18 point victory in his race for the governor's mansion. Yet after less than three months of draconian budget proposals and unconstitutional assaults on collective bargaining, Snyder is hurting. A new poll finds that Snyder would lose his election if it were held today, and that a strong plurality of the state would support amending the state constitution to prevent Snyder from continuing his anti-union agenda:

Snyder's also earned the ire of the voters because of the perception that he's targeting collective bargaining rights. 59% of folks in Michigan think that public employees should have the right to collective bargaining while only 32% are opposed, and 49% of voters even favor a state constitutional amendment to guarantee collective bargaining rights while 37% are opposed to such a measure. While union households are obviously the most supportive of collective bargaining, nonunion households support it by a 53/39 margin as well so the voters Snyder is antagonizing on this issue go beyond who you might expect.

It's hard to see how anti-labor politics would ever go over well in Michigan of all places, but Snyder's clear overreach, against an overwhelming majority of the electorate (an electorate that has a long and distinguished union history and that has suffered some of the worst consequences of the Great Recession), shows just how extremist and out of touch Republicans are these days, both in that state and elsewhere. 

And now the people of Michigan, assaulted by their Republican governor (whom far too many trusted to be not this extreme, evidence of widespread delusion), may go so far as to try to amend the state constitution to safeguard their rights. They should have known better at the ballot box when they voted Republican, but this may be the only way to ensure that right-wing efforts to dismantle democracy, which won't end with Snyder, are blocked for good.

Well, another way is to vote Snyder and his Republican allies out of office at the first opportunity. Let's hope Michigan doesn't repeat its recent electoral errors.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Craziest Republican of the Day: Russell Pearce

Anti-American "tentherism" is rampant on the nativist, Tea Party right:

During a speech at the Oceanside Tea Party rally in recent months, Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearce (R) took this philosophy to a new extreme. In the speech, where he denounced the federal government's efforts to stop the implementation of the state's radical anti-immigrant law, Pearce claimed that Americans aren't even citizens of the United States, that they are rather citizens of "sovereign states," meaning that we should be loyal to the laws of individual states rather than the federal government:

PEARCE: U.S. history, most of us weren't around when the Constitution was written. But you remember we kind of existed before Congress, the states. We created the Congress, we created the federal government, by compact. Do you know what existed before the Congress, the states? Do you know, you're not a citizen of the United States. You're a citizen of a sovereign state. The fifty sovereign states makes up United States of America, we're citizens of those sovereign states. It is not a delegated authority. It's an inherent authority that states have over the federal government. [applause] It's about time somebody gets it right!

It's like the Civil War never happened. (Which I suppose Republicans like Pearce would like to think.) And it's like the whole Founding meant nothing.

Why do so many Republicans -- and this is a widely-held view in the GOP -- hate America?

This right-wing extremist thinks he's a patriot? Only if patriotism means trying to undermine the very foundations of your entire country.


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On Libya, Obama can do no right by the right

I'm still on the fence over the intervention in Libya, though I'm leaning more towards support than opposition. (Yes, I'm still something of a liberal interventionist, despite Iraq, despite Afghanistan.)

But I genuinely feel for Obama, who finds himself in a no-win situation politically -- unless everything breaks perfectly, which is highly unlikely. He's facing not just criticism from the left but calls for impeachment. And while the right, Republicans and the like, is generally supportive of intervention, nothing Obama does will ever be good enough, and we're already being bombarded with criticism that Obama isn't doing enough and took too long to make a decision. What is being responsible (or at least cautious and deliberative) to most of us is being weak to warmongers in the neocon circle. None of this is at all surprising -- partisanship? never! -- but it shows just how challenging it will be for the president to benefit from this, or even just to break even.

Andrew Sullivan, who thus far been a skeptic of intervention, exposes some of the conservative nonsense that is currently making the rounds, from the likes of Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Max Boot, and Hugh Hewitt, yet also acknowledges, against such criticism, that the intervention has already, to a key point, succeeded:

President Obama -- calm, judicious, even-tempered President Obama -- jumped into this lose-lose mess in one Tuesday meeting. And the most significant gain -- avoiding a massacre in Benghazi -- has already been achieved.

This is not to say that the rest of the military effort will go well. There are still so many questions, and there is still so much uncertainty, not least with respect to the allies' longer-term objectives, and so much that could go horribly wrong. But the conservative criticism, with the possible exception of calls from the likes of John Boehner for Obama to explain the intervention more clearly, is simply comic in its ideological superficiality. Conservatives are either advancing their dangerous, and failed, agenda (they still have an awful lot of blood on their hands) or trying to score cheap political points, or both.

It will certainly be difficult to Obama to come out of this looking good, but so far... well, so good.

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A survey on the role of emotions in politics

Please do me a favour -- and, more importantly, a favour for academic research.

I was contacted recently by a team of researchers at Appalachian State University in North Carolina that is currently studying the role of emotions in politics. They're conducting a survey that they hope will help them with their research. I can't take the survey myself, as I'm not a U.S. resident, but they tell me it only takes a couple of minutes. Their work looks extremely interesting and I'm eager to help them out (not least because they're fans of The Reaction and reached out to me and readers of this blog for our feedback). I'll post on the results of their research when they're done.

Please take a few minutes to do it. Here's the link to the survey:


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The Difference

By Carl
You want to understand the difference between this global recession and nearly every other?

About one-fourth of Egyptian workers under 25 are unemployed, a statistic that is often cited as a reason for the revolution there. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January an official unemployment rate of 21 percent for workers ages 16 to 24.

My generation was taught that all we needed to succeed was an education and hard work. Tell that to my friend from high school who studied Chinese and international relations at a top-tier college. He had the misfortune to graduate in the class of 2009, and could find paid work only as a lifeguard and a personal trainer.  Unpaid internships at research institutes led to nothing.  After more than a year he moved back in with his parents.

Millions of college graduates in rich nations could tell similar stories. In Italy, Portugal and Spain, about one-fourth of college graduates under the age of 25 are unemployed. In the United States, the official unemployment rate for this group is 11.2 percent, but for college graduates 25 and over it is only 4.5 percent.

The true unemployment rate for young graduates is most likely even higher because it fails to account for those who went to graduate school in an attempt to ride out the economic storm or fled the country to teach English overseas. It would be higher still if it accounted for all of those young graduates who have given up looking for full-time work, and are working part time for lack of any alternative.

Many of you, my loyal readers, know this already. Work is hard to come by. Money is even harder.

Companies are not hiring in droves, despite an economy that's turned around neatly in the past 18 months, and when they do hire, there's a buyers' market for skillsets out there. Who wants to take a chance on an entry-level naif when you can hire a desperate family man or woman for essentially the same salary who has experience at that position?

In the past, of course, the opposite was true: companies shed experience because they knew they could get cheaper and "teach 'em right" in the bargain when the time came to hire. This time, the recession hit home, literally. As housing values and prices plummeted and people worked harder to meet their mortgage payments, one layoff was enough to make them scramble and scramble hard to find work.

Which, of course, raises the question for Speaker Boener, "Where are the fucking jobs, man?" You can actually hold a legitimate floor debate about the "controversy" over In God We Trust on our currency, you can entertain not less than 100 anti-abortion bill submissions in three months, but you haven't passed one fucking bill designed to create one fucking job except to increase the military or bureaucracy.

Indeed, your recent "budget" legislation will cut 700,000 jobs, according to Moody's.

This is our future we're talking about here, Boener. Man up, put on your long pants, put away the tissues and start behaving like this matters.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Americans are stupid

No, no, no, that's not me talking -- perish the thought! -- that's Newsweek, which has conducted yet another test of American civic knowledge (or lack thereof) and found Americans, er, wanting:

How Dumb Are We?

NEWSWEEK gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship Test -- 38 percent failed. The country's future is imperiled by our ignorance.

Indeed, the results hardly make one optimistic. The test includes easy questions on the Founding (e.g., name one of the writers of The Federalist), the Constitution (e.g., what are the first ten amendments called?), key figures in U.S. history (e.g., what was Martin Luther King, Jr. known for?), and current political figures (e.g., name the vice president), and, well, Americans should be embarrassed.

But we knew all this already, didn't we? Did we need yet another "test" to learn that far too many Americans know next to nothing about their history and politics? We have some updated quantifiable "proof," I suppose, but otherwise I'm not sure the exercise is worth much. (Besides, political and historical ignorance is hardly an American phenomenon. Trust me, I've gone to school not just in the U.S. but in Canada and Germany as well and ignorance is alive and well everywhere, if not necessarily to this appalling degree.)

And yet, credit Newsweek, there is at least some attempt here to explain the ignorance:

It doesn't help that the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world, with the top 400 households raking in more money than the bottom 60 percent combined. As Dalton Conley, an NYU sociologist, explains, "it's like comparing apples and oranges. Unlike Denmark, we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn't even speak English." When surveys focus on well-off, native-born respondents, the U.S. actually holds its own against Europe.

Other factors exacerbate the situation. A big one, Hacker argues, is the decentralized U.S. education system, which is run mostly by individual states: "When you have more centrally managed curricula, you have more common knowledge and a stronger civic culture." Another hitch is our reliance on market-driven programming rather than public broadcasting, which, according to the EJC study, "devotes more attention to public affairs and international news, and fosters greater knowledge in these areas."

It also doesn't help that Americans don't seem to take primary and secondary education seriously enough, or that a sense of extreme complacency has set in. The problem is that the world is rapidly passing America by:

For more than two centuries, Americans have gotten away with not knowing much about the world around them. But times have changed -- and they've changed in ways that make civic ignorance a big problem going forward. While isolationism is fine in an isolated society, we can no longer afford to mind our own business. What happens in China and India (or at a Japanese nuclear plant) affects the autoworker in Detroit; what happens in the statehouse and the White House affects the competition in China and India. Before the Internet, brawn was enough; now the information economy demands brains instead. And where we once relied on political institutions (like organized labor) to school the middle classes and give them leverage, we now have nothing.

The article examining the results of the test is actually quite hard-hitting, exposing some of the brutal truth about an empire that is declining and falling before our very eyes.

America sinks further and further into ignorance at its everlasting peril.

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Fox News has learned. . .

No they haven't.

By Capt. Fogg

Alex Jones' Prison Planet website is the kind of place you expect to find very right wing viewpoints and so when I find agreement that Fox News lies, I feel good about it. It gives me a defense when people behind the Fox curtain accuse me of being a far-left Commie/Liberal liar, which seems to be the best they can do, considering all the evidence that Fox is indeed a lie factory and propaganda machine -- more than just simply being affiliated with and a sponsor of the GOP.

"The latest example comes from Fox News, who completely manufactured the claim that Gaddafi was using western journalists as human shields to prevent fighter jets from bombing his compound,"

writes blog editor Paul Joseph Watson today.

In a piece entitled, EXCLUSIVE: Libyans Use Journalists as Human Shields, Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin & Justin Fishel wrote, says Watson:
“An attack on the compound of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi on Sunday had to be curtailed because of journalists nearby, Fox News has learned.”
But there’s a problem, he says. One of the CNN journalists supposedly used by Gaddafi as a human shield subsequently appeared on CNN and labeled the claim,
“Outrageous and absolutely hypocritical. The idea that we were some kind of human shields is nuts,” CNN international correspondent Nic Robertson told Wolf Blitzer.

"Fox News has proven itself to be a complete tool of the US military-industrial complex. Nothing it now reports about the attack on Libya can ever be trusted."

says Prison Planet, QED -- and who can dispute it?

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Beware those who don't heed history's lessons: A review of HBO's Triangle: Remembering the Fire

"People forget the Triangle fire at their peril... If people want to know what deregulated industry would look like, look at the bodies on the sidewalk outside the Triangle building."
Leigh Benin, Adelphi University labor historian

With big corporations seeking to gain more and more power by using bought-and-paid-for politicians to strip away regulations and weaken workers' rights, there couldn't be a better time to look back at the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, which killed 146 people 100 years ago March 25 and brought about the reforms and labor movements billionaires and the historically ignorant seek to dismantle today. A well-done and brief primer on the fire and the events leading up to it and its aftermath premieres on HBO tonight. Triangle: Remembering the Fire debuts at 9 p.m. EDT and PDT / 8 p.m. CDT.

For those unfamiliar with the story of the Triangle fire, this 45-minute documentary gives you almost all you need to know about the 100-year-old tragedy and offers lessons needed for today as it seems we risk the rise of a new Gilded Age where tycoons value profits over the safety of their workers and the government at both the state and national level seems to be more-than-willing co-conspirators with its push to deregulate anything and everything. If one wants to look for modern examples of this, they need looks no further than the lack of safety enforcement at various coal mines that have cost many miners their lives, the BP Gulf disaster which killed their own workers and destroyed an ecosystem and the "fracking" techniques used in the search for natural gas that has been linked to poisoned water sources, cancer deaths and possibly even earthquakes, all of which exploration companies were exempted from environmental laws under the Bush Administration. This doesn't even take into account how the blind eye of regulators allowed financial speculators to cause the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression and a housing bubble that sparked a foreclosure debacle. Just last week, both parties in Congress, led by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., all still doing the bidding of the big banks, sought to delay the huge fees the banks collect on debit card transactions for another two years, weakening already toothless financial reform legislation. Obama's Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner also is rumored to further water down the reform by exempting currency derivatives from transparency requirements in the legislation. Yes, government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations shall not perish from the United States it seems.

In 1911, out of the ashes of the tragedy of the Triangle fire came reforms for workers, first in the state of New York, that laid the groundwork for FDR's New Deal when he became president 22 years later, reforms that politicians backed by rich businessmen seek to dismantle today as we've seen in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio with more on the way.

Tovah Feldshuh narrates Triangle: Remembering the Fire and her calm voice serves perfectly as an invisible teacher. The Triangle Waistshirt Company was one of many businesses associated with the garment industry in the early part of the 20th century in New York. Co-owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris had hit upon a new trend in ladies' fashion: basically, the blouse. For the first time, women were wearing separate tops just as men did. It made them rich and their company occupied the top three floors of one of downtown Manhattan's newest skyscrapers, the 10-story Asch Building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. The building, now known as the Brown Building and part of the NYU campus, still stands and has been registered a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.

With the huge demand for their product, the Triangle company workers tended to be on the job seven days a week for long hours and little pay and the people willing to be exploited this way did so because they had no other choice. They tended to be newly arrived European immigrants who had been fleeing famine and persecution. Not only did they not find the American dream in their work situation, most could only find living arrangements in tenements on the lower eastside. In the case of the garment industry, most of these virtual slaves were women, especially young women, some not even teenagers yet. To get as much production going as possible, the ninth floor of the Asch Building had been stacked to capacity with 300 sewing machines, leaving barely any elbow room for the workers inside. About a year and a half before the Triangle fire in November 1909, The International Ladies Garment Union Workers Union staged a massive strike demanding better working conditions for women. The 20,000 female strikers who took to the streets was unprecedented — and this was taking place more than a decade before women had the right to vote in the United States. It really was the first head-on clash between the tycoons of The Gilded Age and their corrupt political minions ensconced in Tammany Hall and the growing progressive movement. The strikers may have been women, but it didn't prevent Tammany from sending out police and hired thugs to arrest them and get rough. By the time the strike ended, the workers at Triangle returned to their sewing machines without any union recognition.

As we see today when the gap between what company CEOs make and the wages given to their average workers have reached startling disparities, similar differences existed at the time between company owners and the average Americans. For example, Triangle co-owner Max Blanck surrounded himself with servants and spent more than $100,000 to renovate his home, quite a contrast when the average American in 1911 only made $300 to $600 a year. Yet Blanck and other company heads didn't want to spring for the readily available sprinkler systems for new buildings or follow the recommendation of New York Fire Chief Ed Croker who, after a similarly tragic fire at a Newark, N.J., factory a mere four months before the Triangle fire had killed 25 workers, again mostly women, had suggested that buildings routinely practice fire drills. Company owners, always focusing on the bottom line, felt drills would affect work productivity and since no government regulations existed to enforce the sprinklers or the drills, they had no one twisting their arms to do the right thing.

What's so compelling about Triangle: Remembering the Fire is not just recounting all that missteps that led to the tragedy and can anger you a century later even when the event occurred long before you were born, but also the interviews with people related to both survivors and victims of the blaze. The filmmakers interview Suzanne Pred Bass who had two great-aunts who were in the fire, one who survived, one who didn't, presumably because they lost sight of each other in the smoke that quickly enveloped the ninth floor.

The cause of the fire has never been clear, but most believe a still-burning cigarette tossed into a trash can on the eighth floor quickly consumed the three floors. The switchboard operator on eight notified the 10th floor and the fire department immediately but in her haste, forgot to tell the ninth floor. Though the documentary doesn't confirm it as fact or legend, the story goes that of the two fire escapes on the ninth floor, they kept one locked so that when workers left for the day, they could be searched to make certain that they weren't stealing anything. Those who did survive from the ninth did so thanks to the heroics of elevator operator Joseph Zito who kept overloading his vehicle to get as many out as he could until it finally collapsed under the weight of the panicked who leaped down the elevator shaft to escape the flames. Most of the people on 10 were able to flee thanks to people in a neighboring building who got ladders across the space between the two buildings. Even though the fire department arrived two minutes after receiving the call, once they got to the Asch Building, the ladder trucks only reached to the sixth floor. Many of those who died were killed jumping to their deaths. At first, some bystanders thought they were tossing bundles of clothes out the windows to save them until they spotted the legs, arms and faces beneath them. Some hit the pavement so hard they crashed through glass plates on the sidewalk. In all, 146 died, 129 women and girls and 17 men. The blaze consumed all three floors in just 18 minutes from the time the blaze started and that 18 minute mark was when the last body hit the ground. Of the 146 deaths, 90 leaped to escape the flames.

The horror of what happened led Al Smith, a Democrat thick in Tammany Hall politics who would later lose the presidency to Herbert Hoover, to shake off the cronyism and lead the fight for reforms. New York led the way for proper workweeks and pay and, most importantly, safety conditions for its citizens. It even began to set up a pension system for those too old to work any longer, all ideas that Franklin Roosevelt would bring nationwide in the New Deal. The tragedy showed the need for strong unions and for the government to be for the people, not the corporations, and it is frightening to see the backpedaling that is happening today. Blanck and Harris eventually did face criminal charges for the deaths of their workers, but they were acquitted by an all-male jury and since they had lots of insurance, the fire didn't do much damage to them at all. Because many of the bodies were charred so badly, six couldn't be positively identified but in a separate feature, Triangle: The Unidentified, available only on HBO OnDemand, co-producer and historian Michael Hirsch uses research and genealogical techniques unavailable 100 years ago to give names for the first time to those resting in a mass grave in the Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn so now when the names of the dead are ready every year, those unidentified six can now join the other 140.

Triangle: Remembering the Fire premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT and PDT / 8 p.m CDT. You owe it to yourself to watch.

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