Politics

Shame on Us

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

In the second-to-last Real Time with Bill Maher, the talking head from the American Enterprise Institute pointed out how disappointed he was that the Economist ran a cover which implied that the United States should be ashamed of itself for the Katrina disaster. He said the left wing loves to “Blame Us First”, but he doesn’t buy into that; he’s still proud to be an American.

You’re not ashamed? I think I might understand why he thinks that way. For example, if you’re walking by a cliff, and see some poor guy slip and almost fall of the cliff, and now he’s there hanging off the edge, you would be compelled to go help that person. So you run over to him, put your hand out, and he grabs your hand, and you try with all your might to pull him up. But you just can’t do it, and so eventually you lose your grip and he falls anyway.

One might ask the question, should you be ashamed of the way you acted?

You might feel regretful, you might feel sorry, but you definitely shouldn’t be ashamed of yourself. You did what you could to save him, but he couldn’t be saved. You still did the right thing, it just wasn’t good enough.

Except now imagine that instead of rushing out to grab this guy, you just pulled up a chair, sat down, scratched your chin, and said, “You know, you probably shouldn’t have been walking so close to the edge.”

And as that guy is screaming there for help, you just sit there, emotionless, and debate the should-have’s and could-have’s, instead of getting up saving him.

And he falls to his death.

That’s what the US Government did, and, more particularly, that’s what the right wing that supports it did. And it’s shameful. It’s very, very shameful.

It’s not that people died. It’s that people died and we sat back and told them, “You had it coming to you. Tough shit.”

Land of the Free. Home of the Brave.

Recall the President

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005

Liberal Doomsayer pointed out Maher’s last concluding remarks as particularly “poetic”. I’ll have to watch them when I get home, but for now I appeased myself by reading the transcript, which follows:

And finally, New Rule: America must recall the president. That’s what this country needs. A good, old-fashioned, California-style recall election! Complete with Gary Coleman, porno actresses and action film stars. And just like Schwarzenegger’s predecessor here in California, George Bush is now so unpopular, he must defend his jog against…Russell Crowe. Because at this point, I want a leader who will throw a phone at somebody. In fact, let’s have only phone throwers. Naomi Campbell can be the vice-president!

Now, I kid, but seriously, Mr. President, this job can’t be fun for you anymore. There’s no more money to spend. You used up all of that. You can’t start another war because you also used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.

Yeah, listen to your mom. The cupboard’s bare, the credit card’s maxed out, and no one is speaking to you: mission accomplished! Now it’s time to do what you’ve always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service. And the oil company. And the baseball team. It’s time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or spaceman?!

Now, I know what you’re saying. You’re saying that there’s so many other things that you, as president, could involve yourself in…Please don’t. I know, I know, there’s a lot left to do. There’s a war with Venezuela, and eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote. But, sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You’ve performed so poorly I’m surprised you haven’t given yourself a medal. You’re a catastrophe that walks like a man.

Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire metropolis to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we’ve lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two Trade Centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans…Maybe you’re just not lucky!

I’m not saying you don’t love this country. I’m just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side. So, yes, God does speak to you, and what he’s saying is, “Take a hint.”

I particularly like “eliminating the sales tax on yachts.” Oh Bill, sometimes you’re just so damn spot on.

Incompetent Government

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

Great short letter to the editor in the NYTimes today caught my attention:

To the Editor:

David Brooks says liberals “need to explain how a comprehensive governmental failure is going to restore America’s faith in big government.”

Of course it won’t. But it should provoke America’s intolerance of incompetent government.

Such failure is not inevitable; government built the levies, and parts of government were trying to improve them. And bereaucracy is not limited to government; I have seen many documents in private industry that were just as absurd as New Orlean’s emergency preparedness plan.

Rather than attack the idea of government–even while grudgingly admitting its necessity–we must understand which parts of the New Orleans plan worked and which ones didn’t, and why some government agencies were effective while others were useless.

–Bruce Burger, Seattle, Sept. 11, 2005

Very well said.

I Just Didn’t Know: Republicans invented the reality then, and are doing it now

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

I just didn’t even know this happened.

I knew about the Swift Boat ads, and I knew about a bunch of POWs trashing Kerry’s war record only because he spoke out against the war when he returned back to the states. But I simply did not know the extent of this. Take a look at this great student-written article about it. Apparently a broadcasting company named Sinclair pushed to have a documentary named “Stolen Honor” broadcast on TV just days before the 2004 election. To see what the documentary is about, check out NewsMax’s “news report” on it. I put that in quotes because it begins sounding like an AP article but ends just accepting the thesis of the documentarian hook, line and sinker, and making the creators of this documentary seem heroic.

The basic premise of the film isn’t that Kerry did bad things during war. The basic premise is that he was a traitor because he chose to be against the war while the fighting was still going on. The film includes all sorts of references to POWs who say that their torturers used to refer to Kerry, that Kerry is lionized in modern Vietnam as a hero for the enemy, and that the museums in Vietnam worship Kerry as helping fight the good fight for the Vietnamese.

Of course, this is all bullshit, and even if it were true, it doesn’t mean Kerry’s a traitor. It is true that Kerry was against the Vietnam war, but guess what–historical revisionism is with him on that one. The Vietnamese can idolize whomever they want, the important thing was that Kerry had the courage to come home and admit that this war was wrong. Did he benefit politically from it? Maybe. But that’s a better way to advance your political career than George W. Bush, who was just handed his career by his daddy.

Almost all historians who have studied Vietnam and written anything about see it as nothing more than a war in error, whose nature caused soldiers to act in a completely amoral way simply due to their yearning to survive. No one blames the soldiers for being amoral–the circumstances bred that. There was no fucking law in Vietnam, it was kill or be killed. But it is the task of a government and its generals to prevent those situations–to plan strikes on concentrated enemy forces. We just dropped soldiers into a foreign jungle and expected them to only kill the bad guys. Some plan we had.

Anyone who thinks that Vietnam was a just war, and that someone is a traitor to be against it, is seriously living in a dream world. It was a god-damn mess, and we raped and killed people, gave them cancer with Agent Orange, pillaged villages and lost many soldiers, and all for a war that was very much political from the start (part of the grand national obsession with communism, which has only been replaced by terrorism as of late).

But more than that, this documentary was solely based on a quote of Kerry’s taken out of context, as usual for these Republican scumbags. Take a look at FactCheck’s analysis.

I know Kerry is long off the radar and the 2004 was a long time ago at this point, but this still baffles me. Just look at how the documentarians refer to it as the documentary “that made history.” It even quotes a NYTimes article which says “”Stolen Honor”…should be shown in its entirety on all the networks, cable stations and on public television,” yet another quote taken out of context. The NYTimes review was actually very negative on the film in general, and said its only value was to show how those being tortured in POW camps felt betrayed when people came out against the war. But the review goes on at length about how various things are blown out of proportion in order to try to make the film a political propaganda piece against Kerry. When the author of the review wrote it should be shown on all news stations, he was being a bit ironic. He said that because he would then say, “This histrionic, often specious and deeply sad film does not do much more damage to Senator John Kerry’s reputation than have the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s negative ads, which have flooded television markets in almost every swing state.” In other words, the political damage has been done, so at this point may as not worry about it.

Why am I worrying about it? Because this points in general to the state of our media. Conservatives don’t like objective analysis. so they have a real easy answer: we’ll just invent the reality. I still remember one of the scariest, and craziest quotes I had ever come across:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

Conservatives don’t like global warming, so they pretend it isn’t happening. They don’t like evolution, so they pretend that isn’t happening. They don’t like Kerry, so they pretend he was a traitor to his country. They don’t like opposition to the war in Iraq, so they pretend it is doing lots of good. They don’t like blame for Katrina, so they pretend that “no one is to blame”, or that the poor people Left Behind in that state are to blame for settling down there, or that Democratic politicians are to blame for not doing something about it.

In short, they are creating the reality. NewsMax, Fox, Weekly Standard, Think Tanks, etc. When a conservative says to me the media is liberal, I’m no longer going to respond with the laugh I usually do, saying something like “I wish that the media were liberal. That would make us all a lot better off.” Instead, I am just going to talk about this, and ask them: tell me, what liberal media won John Kerry the 2004 election? Oh, that’s right. The one that pushed out propaganda on public airwaves calling Kerry a traitor. That liberal media.

Arghh, this stuff gets me so angry sometimes!

(p.s. I never really supported Kerry anyway, but for completely different reasons. I didn’t support him because he wasn’t at all radical, he was as close to the center as democrats go. He would have held off the Bush onslaught of 2004-2008, but he wouldn’t have brought our country back to a place I’d like to be–a place where social justice and fairness enter at all into the role of government. But with a President as bad as Bush, Kerry looks like Mahatma Ghandi.)

Interference in the “free market” is always bad?

Monday, September 12th, 2005

A great little exchange on the second-to-last Bill Maher show about global warming:

MAHER: Doc, let me ask – let me ask you this. This administration loves to pretend that there is a debate going on about scientific issues, because, really they’re a bunch of Jesus Freaks, quite frankly. So they pretend that people are debating, or scientists are debating, about evolution, when I don’t think they are. They certainly pretend that there’s a debate about global warming. Now, you’re a scientist. You hang out with scientists. Even when you guys are drunk, when there’s no cameras around, have you ever heard another scientist say he doesn’t think global warming is happening?

SCHNEIDER: I’ve heard a few, but the vast, vast majority believe not only that global warming is occurring and that we’re about a degree Fahrenheit in the planet warmer than we were a century ago, but the vast majority of those who know something about it believe that at least half of that in the last 30-40 years is due to our using the atmosphere as an un-priced sewer to dump our tailpipe and our smokestack wastes. And every time we try to talk about getting a tax on those emissions, they tell us it’s an interference in the free market, as if, somehow, we should get our garbage collected for free.

How true. Interference in the free market, beh. Well, guess what, economists? The free market doesn’t realize that the environment isn’t an infinite resource, and our generation and the few afterward will pay for that oversight.

She says she’s 18, but you’re a sexual predator and pedophile

Sunday, September 11th, 2005

In this article you see quite an amazing statement by one of the guys who busts “sexual criminals”…

“These girls are only 13, 14 or 15 saying they are 18. Some of the things they are writing are leaving them open to sexual predators and pedophiles,” said Drass.

Excuse me, but if I have sex with a girl who tells me she’s 18, I may have committed a crime, but I did so unknowingly. Having sex with someone who tells you she is of the age of consent but isn’t doesn’t make you a sexual predator or a pedophile. Sexual predators and pedophiles seek out underage people because they are easy victims.

But it’s strange–these cops are so singly-focused in making big busts that they can hardly tell the difference between a pedophile and someone who has sex with someone underage but never knew the girl’s real age.

Shouldn’t the parents have to take any responsibility if their children are pretending to be older than they are and thus having illegal sex with people? You can only go so far “shielding” your kids from harms before you just have to sit down with them and tell them the reality of life. But most parents are so thick-headed they don’t even want to talk to their children about sex (hell, most parents have never even let their kids see them naked). Is anyone thinking that perhaps the taboo we have on sexuality in this country is what leads kids to have such strange misconceptions, so that eventually there are 14 year olds who think it’s cool to list on their profile, “I like rough sex and I like it 10 times a day.” Why don’t parents just talk to their kids, it’s the only god-damn reason you’re a parent in the first place.

Why do parents think leaving kids on the Internet unattended is any different from letting your kids walk into the public square unattended, or make random telephone calls unattended? The Internet is a way to contact people, and communicate with them; often, people you do not know. An “innocent child” who cannot make judgements for him/herself should simply not be on there without a full armament of knowledge about the reality of the situation.

Meanwhile, the real victim here isn’t the 14 year old who thought it would be cool to have sex and so lied about her age to lose her virginity, but the guy who sincerely thought she was 18 and ends up going to jail for it.

Bill Moyers speaks The Truth: The New American Political Movement is Religion

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long, long while. Bill Moyers elucidates the religious and moral situation of the United States with a clarity simply not found elsewhere.

Here is an amazing passage I am posting only to whet your appetite, but you really should read it yourself.

Not many people at the time seemed to notice that Osama bin Laden had also been reading his sacred book closely and literally, and had called on Muslims to resist what he described as a “fierce Judeo-Christian campaign” against Islam, praying to Allah for guidance “to exalt the people who obey Him and humiliate those who disobey Him.”

Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a “holy war” as defined by fundamentalists on both sides. You could see this pathology play out in General William Boykin. A professional soldier, General Boykin had taken up with a small group called the Faith Force Multiplier whose members apply military principles to evangelism with a manifesto summoning warriors “to the spiritual warfare for souls.”

After Boykin had led Americans in a battle against a Somalian warlord he announced, “I know my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol.” Now Boykin was going about evangelical revivals preaching that America was in a holy war as “a Christian nation” battling Satan and that America’s Muslim adversaries will be defeated “only if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”

For such an hour, America surely needed a godly leader. So General Boykin explained how it was that the candidate who had lost the election in 2000 nonetheless wound up in the White House. President Bush, he said, “was not elected by a majority of the voters – he was appointed by God.”

Not surprising, instead of being reprimanded for evangelizing while in uniform, General Boykin is now the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. (Just as it isn’t surprising that despite his public call for the assassination of a foreign head of state, Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing was one of the first groups to receive taxpayer funds from the President’s Faith-Based Initiative for “relief work” on the Gulf Coast.)

We can’t wiggle out of this, people. Alvin Hawkins states it frankly: “This is a problem we can’t walk away from.” We’re talking about a powerful religious constituency that claims the right to tell us what’s on God’s mind and to decide the laws of the land according to their interpretation of biblical revelation and to enforce those laws on the nation as a whole. For the Bible is not just the foundational text of their faith; it has become the foundational text for a political movement.

Homeland Security, or the Department of Peace?

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

I really have been so caught up in my own nonsense that I haven’t even deeply parsed and analyzed what has gone on since the feds fumbled dealing with the Katrina approach and aftermath, but I will say this.

We spend billions of dollars on supposedly preventing unseen harms, on supposedly stopping catastrophes before they happen. The irony here is that we knew this catastrophe was coming, and we did nothing. The catastrophe happened and we still did nothing. And people suffered from its aftermath, and only then we did something (but only slightly more than nothing).

As I said in an earlier post on a completely different topic, we should just all come to our fucking senses and not spend a god-damn dime on homeland security. You think that’ll open the flood gates for terrorism? Fine. Let them come, let them attack. If the Bush administration is allowed to think in terms of “this many innocent lives may be sacrified for the greater good,” then I will too. I can deal with 3,000 people dying if it means we have $300 billion dollars to spend to save and ameliorate lives in this country.

The typical conservative response is to get completely sensitive about it. “You wouldn’t say that if one of your family members were among the 3,000 who had to be sacrificed.” Sure I wouldn’t. And George Bush wouldn’t be charging ahead in Iraq if it were his daughters whose lives were on the line. And I wouldn’t cross the street if I knew once I step foot on the other side, one of my friends had to die. But that isn’t a way to reason about things. Sensitive situations simply push away the moral issue and replace it with a familial one. We study this very much in Ethics, for example:

A train hurtles down it’s track, towards a junction. The junction can either leave the train upon it’s current track or divert it. On the current track stand five people. On the diversion track stands a single person. All, like the train driver, are unaware of the imminent collision. Only you, standing at the junction box, are aware of what is about to occur.

You therefore have a choice before you; to leave the junction box lever untouched and see five people die, or to close the lever and in doing so shift the train to the diversionary track, and see one person die.

What do you do?

“Well, ” you think to yourself, “I would rather no one died at all, but since there’s no getting away from it, it’s better than only one person dies, rather than five, so I will close the lever.”

A variation of this thought experiment, which points to the difficulty of choosing one life over another, has the single person be your mother, and the five others be five anonymous bystanders. In this variation, you have a choice: let the train kill 5 bystanders, or let the train kill your mother.

Of course, most people respond to that thought experiment by saying they’d rather kill the five people, especially since killing the five requires little action, while killing your mother would require the push of the lever. But that obscures the main issue: if the people were anonymous, you’d choose one death over five. Therefore, the fact that you are so intimately connected to your mother should not enter into it when we reason about what the morally right decision is.

In this case, I look at our Homeland Security spending as having many, many hidden harms. One, it enthrones the military-industrial complex yet again, putting weapons manufacturers at the forefront of our capitalist system, and allowing them to feed the politicians with the things they need and get big contracts in return. In this sense, we all pay a kind of tax to weapons dealers, and we pay it without even being able to measure what kind of protection this tax affords us.

Second, it creates a constant state of panic, which shrouds other important domestic and foreign political issues. Security, terrorism, homeland security: these have become the #1 issues of our time, almost a national obsession. Healthcare, unemployment benefits, fair capitalism, small business support, science and research, all of that has taken a back seat. And, it is reflected in the federal discretionary budget.

Meanwhile, the paradox is that so far, we only have, in America, the 3,000 deaths of September 11 as our major loss of life directly from Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations, yet we probably have between 10 and 100x that many deaths from other preventable causes that could be saved with the use of the hundreds of billions we toss into the anti-terrorism toliet bowl. (Among others, people who can’t afford healthcare, the homeless, domestic violence, gun violence, suicide, drug overdose, crime-related deaths, on and on).

Furthermore, we have the upcoming generational deaths that are much harder to measure but are equally important: pollution, environmental disasters, and chemical tampering with our food, which could each lead to cancers and other health-related disorders.

Aside from this, we have a less grave but perhaps even more important loss: the flight of our brain share. Our educational system is crumbling alongside the competition, and the best our incompetent government can do is yell “privatize!” We have poor, smart kids who can’t afford an education, and these kids will end up in drugs, crime, or both. We have high school systems that encourage apathy, lack of civic duty, and unchecked consumerism, and we have the least intellectually curious generation possibly ever. These harms mean that when I get older, and look over the society that the Bush administration has shaped, I will not even see the tiny, rare bits of political activism you see around us today. The Left, I’m afraid, is really dying, even from the bottom-up.

Did I seem to tread off-topic? Well, I didn’t. All of this is related to how singly-focused we have become on “homeland security.” I just keep repeating to myself what my Dad said to me a long time ago: “Do you think that when fascism was taking hold in Italy, we all knew it was happening? Fascists don’t arrive waving flags of fascism and calling themselves fascists. Fascists arrive looking like you or me, telling us all that we need protection, and that they have a vision. You then follow along, because it sounds good, and because you’re scared. And then before you know it, you’re no longer asking questions; you’re just following orders.”

Intelligent Design? Show me the science.

Monday, August 29th, 2005

By a philosopher I much enjoyed reading during my Consciousness class, Daniel Dennett. Read it.

To Snip?

Saturday, August 27th, 2005

I need to read this.

UPDATE: I heard about the same studies mentioned here (re: circumcision lowers HIV rate among Africans) years ago in a documentary on the topic.

However, the context not provided here is the actual paradox in circumcising to prevent HIV. What the study finds is that of men who have sex with HIV infected women, you are say 70% less likely to contract the virus if you are circumcised. However, mass circumcision would do nothing but slightly slow the spread of AIDs, since Africans will treat the procedure as “protection” and therefore not use condoms or any other form of protection.

The proper way, instead of slicing off as many foreskins as you can find, is to distribute condoms, educate the people to use them, and get people to start having safer sex. Not only is this cheaper, but it’s, morally-speaking, much more sound.