Wednesday, March 30, 2005

All work and little play

Cathy and the kids were away last night, leaving me a rare evening alone. So, what to do? Well, first, stay late at work, trying to get a little closer to caught up. Then, bring some work home (a book proposal to evaluate), trying to get even closer. But I had to do something just for me, so I decided to watch a couple of movies I hadn't seen but can't run when the kids are around: a mini "nuclear bomb" film fest.

Terminator 3 had the biggest smash-em-up street chase I've ever seen, and it was faithful to the best conventions of time-travel stories. But I over and over I found myself disbelieving that the T-X cyborg would keep on losing. Every ten minutes I'd think, "But the T-X would just" do something obvious, like fire a weapon or crush a limb. The moviemakers avoided the problem simply by not having the machine do what it was clearly capable of. (I suppose lots of people had the same reaction to The Lord of the Rings, wondering why a wizard didn't cast spells more often or the giants eagles didn't just carry the Fellowship.)

The Sum of All Fears was simply bad. There were only flashes of actual acting, and too many flashes of action for what should have been a character-driven, cerebral story. The bomb scene was excellent--accurate, with a drastic change in the level of "movieness" (score, visual effects, camera moves) that heightened the reality. But everything before and after was cardboard cutout.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Not in my name!

My government is torturing, even killing, in my name. Some of the victims are completely innocent and of "no intelligence value", but that's not relevant; Americans should not torture the guilty or the enemy, either. This is not a few bad eggs, and this is not all behind us. It's still happening today, it's systemwide, and although the government is attempting to hide it, whenever torture comes to light the feds are arguing that it's legal and justified. I'm disgusted with my government. (Links? They got 'em.)

Friday, March 25, 2005

Peace Corps vs. Sand Wars

Missed posting this a couple weeks ago... Atrios says we don't need mandatory national service: "If we need more actual recruits, sweetening the deal and fighting fewer crappy pointless wars would probably solve the problem."

Get yer federal hands off my body

Choice quotes recently about Terri Schiavo's body...

USA Today editorializes that just because doctors can get elected to office doesn't mean they're good at either job: "An estimated 14,000 to 35,000 Americans are in persistent vegetative states. Does Congress plan to meddle in the medical and legal judgments on each one? ... When the Founders wrote the Constitution, they devoted the largest section to spelling out the powers of Congress. Nowhere did they include the right to play doctor."

Mark Kleiman contrasts then and now: "If disconnecting Terri Schiavo's feeding tube is "murder," then the law Gov. Bush signed, and which is still on the books, permits murder. No one has yet explained how he could have been sincere in first signing the Texas law and then signing the Schiavo bill." (Bonus points for alerting us to the phrase "negative wallet biopsies".)

Digby lays down the with-us-or-against-us that every American is facing: "It's just this simple: The Republican party wants to tell you how to live your personal life while they systematically remove all government cooperation in ameliorating the risks this fast paced world creates. The Democrats want the government to leave you to make your own personal decisions while having it help you mitigate the social and economic risk our fast paced world creates. It is a stark choice."

(Speaking of quotes, notice that although President Bush spoke on the Schiavo case, he's treating the Red Lake shooting just like the Indonesian tsunami: "It didn't happen to anyone who might vote, so I don't care.")

Another win for the good guys

The people of Kyrgyzstan have thrown out their despot, with very little violence other than a few broken windows.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


Phrases that everyone should be reading during the 2006 election campaign:

  • "South Dakota senator John Thune, whose secretly-paid media mouthpieces worked closely with a gay hooker to smear his opponent,..."
  • "Delaware senator Joe Biden voted for the Republicans' Act of Moral Bankruptcy in 2005,..." (insert your own politician as appropriate)
  • "Regarding his vote for the Moral Bankruptcy proposal, Nebraska senator Bill Nelson said, "So far, I’ve voted against seniors and veterans." He went on to wonder why he would vote against violent protestors."
  • "Florida representative Allen Boyd fought to replace the guaranteed insurance of Social Security with a risky government-mandated stock account; then he voted to drastically limit the Constitutional right to file for bankruptcy in the event of a medical crisis, so that creditors could confiscate that fund in the unlikely event it had any money in it."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Oily predictions

Somebody mentioned Jim Kunstler today. I thought I recalled having heard of him before, and sure enough it turns out he's this James Kunstler, who used to work at Rolling Stone and has written several books. But what happened today is that somebody pointed me to his weekly blog. He's over the top in a few places, and he's frankly insulting to certain groups such as stock-car fans and evangelicals ("no major spokesperson of the "born again" sector has made a peep about Las Vegas, or against legalized gambling anywhere in the country" ???). But he's still damn insightful about oil, the economy, and the incompetence of our corporate masters. Beware: his insight won't increase your optimism. "The Democrats may have less credibility in the future because they were not obligated to defend a foolish status quo, and they did anyway." "Are we going to subcontract the Jolly Green Giant to go around America moving things closer together so we don't have to burn so much gasoline?"

Monday, March 14, 2005

Newspeak approved

Wow. The Justice Department just told federal agencies to ignore the findings of the Government Accountability Office on the illegality of covert government propaganda. Wow.

More fronts in the Assault on America

A Daily Kos diarist points us to the next few vile bills that will be coming through the Republican-controlled government.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Repugnant Republicanism

The key fronts in the present Assault on America:

Now, it's preaching to the choir if I say, as I have, that "the world is a better place because of liberals". But did Bush voters really understand how much worse it would be because of conservatives?

(I'm not sure this post is entirely what I was striving for. I like it and it jibes with all my heated emotions, but I can't pin down exactly what's wrong with it. RaptorMagic: It's like Daily Kos without the clarity.)

If you can handle just a little more Social Security discussion

The ultimate wrap-up on the plan to kill Social Security has been written. (Yes, Mr. Russert, "kill".) Very early, you know this piece is spot-on when it highlights the importance of a comment from one of Bush's animatronic supporters: "I want to know what problem everybody has with taking care of themselves". Well, I guess that answers my question (scroll down to "Here's what I wonder").


The funny people over at JibJab have had mixed success since the presidential campaign, so I don't make a point of watching all their animations any more. But they're currently running one from the Consumers Union that you'll find amusing: click "The Drugs I Need".

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Perhaps there is a god after all

Dan, I might have been wrong. Because I can't for the life of me imagine that the impartial laws of the universe should align so that I can never have the time to do a single thing during any weekday that I want to do, as opposed to the things that I must do. Only a Will—an intelligent design, so to speak—could account for this.

Open letter to Rep. Tauscher

I sent this letter to my Representative, Ellen Tauscher:

I read today of your signing a letter to Speaker Hastert, supporting the bankruptcy bill passed this week by the Senate.

I find this a shocking decision. This bill is evil: it severely slashes the rights of law-abiding citizens--real people--to further enrich a few huge corporations.

You call this a "mainstream solution". But there is no problem here to solve: the credit industry is taking in record profits because of its increasingly oppressive policies. The proposal coming to the House is nothing more than a government bailout of creditors' bad risk decisions, an attempt by banks to have their profit cake and eat it too. And it is not yet "mainstream" in America to deny a majority of Americans their Constitutional rights in favor of corporate profits.

Oppose this bill. Bankruptcy is a moral and practical means to offset, to a very small degree, some of the imbalance of power in our society. It should be preserved.

(Update: Quickly after sending this message by replying to the address from which I receive Ms. Tauscher's e-mail reports, I received a mail saying she had closed the account. She only accepts electronic messages through her web site, so that she can screen by street address for those living in her district. And the Postal Service page that her page redirects to contains some stupid Mozilla-killing script.

Thanks, Representative. As gratitude for expressing my opinion, I had to suffer through a program crash, a visit to a third-party site, and the priviledge of trying to communicate to you a second time.)

Breath of fresh gummint air

Yes, there's always bad news (paging Rep. Tauscher?). So we gotta celebrate when we can: Bush's pro-pollution proposal is being choked to death in committee.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Cross-post: on building a better House

I posted a long noodling piece about how to change the House of Representatives over at Edgewise.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Spoke too soon

When I said that without liberals, the work week would be 80 hours, I had no idea that the reactionaries in charge of our country already had a plan to get us back to that point this year.

Monday, March 07, 2005

We're all "deserving" poor

On a couple of e-mail lists I read, the discussion has been about whether Wal-Mart and welfare are evil, and who should get what from any kind of "dole". There was even a reference to a civil service position titled "Overseer of the Worthy Poor". (Paging Alfred P. Doolittle? Mr. Doolittle, to the white courtesy telephone please?) The discussion is downright Dickensian; the term "poor house" has even come up, for crying out loud.

"Deserving or undeserving?" is a moral question for today, not just for the Victorians or the Pilgrims. It is difficult, painful, and extremely context-sensitive. I believe we should set the government's bar for this the same way I believe we should set the bar for justice: no innocent person should be punished, even if it means some guilty ones get away. Community assistance—from federal to municipal, from cash to food to training—should be given to those who need it. It shouldn't be dependent on how they arrived in that situation unless they committed a crime. No person's basic need should be left unmet, even if this means giving to some who don't deserve it.

Many others have done a better job than I could explaining how we should look out for each other. As just one excellent, immediate example, take Josh Marshall on Social Security (emphasis added, brilliance in the original):

The concept behind Social Security is fundamentally different. The first premise is that if you put in a lifetime's work there is simply a level of destitution below which society will not let you fall. Maybe you made so little during your working years that there wasn't enough to save. Or maybe you just didn't plan ahead well enough. Or maybe you suffered some misfortune. Whatever. If you worked you won't be destitute when you retire. People who made big bucks through their lives don't get a particularly good 'deal' from Social Security, if you insist on seeing it in investment terms. But that's a distorting prism, sort of like thinking you got a rotten deal on your medical insurance if you never have a catastrophic illness.

I like to think of this as the moral equality of work. In our society, we allow the market to assign all manner of different cash values to different sorts of work or even the same sorts of work under different circumstances. And by and large, within some very small limitations like the minimum wage or certain non-discrimination laws, most of us think this is how it should be. I certainly do. (In this sense, I think collective bargaining amounts to another competitive arrangement within a market economy -- though doctrinaire free market folks have always seen it in contrary terms.)

But the cash value of work isn't the same as its moral value. And if you look at the values imbedded in all those Social Security actuarial tables, you see this principle: whether you were a janitor or a fast-food worker or a doctor or a tycoon, if you worked during your working years you shouldn't be left destitute when your working years are over (retirement) or when, through no fault of your own, you can't work anymore (disability).

In any case, that's only one way to look at it. More prosaically, you might just say that there are certain risks we choose to share across society. And this is one of them.

Here's what I wonder: why isn't there a clear, loud majority in this country for the idea that "there is simply a level of destitution below which society will not let you fall"? Are we still so completely indoctrinated in Puritanism, lo these centuries later, that we truly believe misfortune is a failure? that poverty is a symptom of sin? Or, on practical grounds, do people who think seriously about such things believe that American society is better off with some number of people being completely unable to meet their own needs?

People who oppose Social Security, or personal bankruptcy, or cash welfare to indivduals (as opposed to cash welfare to corporations, since the same people rarely oppose that) often do so on principled grounds; but I cannot imagine myself choosing their principles. How on earth can someone assert that each individual should be completely self-reliant, regardless of their circumstances? This is not a straw man; those who put "personal responsibility" at the top of their list of virtues do not, in the same breath, make exceptions for layoffs, cancer, or clinical depression. Emotional appeals to imagine themselves in such circumstances are ineffective; rational arguments that it's inefficient to have a large block of the population undernourished, unhealthy, or unmotivated fail to convince.

To cite another example only briefly: Personal bankruptcy is, in the U.S., a Constitutional right that politicians find it easy to strip away. Oh, this right has its defenders, but they are vastly outnumbered by the monied and powerful. But this is the interests of a very few winning out over the interests of the vast many. It doesn't matter whether you look at individual stories of how bankruptcy saved someone's life, or at the collective truth that our society needs this help but the powerful use it to manipulate us. (Don't want to read the words? Here's the accompanying chart.) Either way, there is no social benefit, no moral value in forcing people to live in indenture to a company. On moral and practical grounds, bankruptcy is a way of setting the floor below which we will not allow lives to fall.

These are long-term challenges but also immediate—this week!—debates and votes. Marshall's blog has an area devoted to the bankruptcy bill, including an excellent summary of how bankruptcy is intertwined with home prices, health care, unequal education, and so much more into the general decline in American economic health. And it won't get any better soon: Labor Blog tells us how right-wing nuts are strategizing the death of minimum wage and overtime protections.

So much for public policy. In addition to our civic evaluation about who gets how much help, we each have to make a personal one. When someone stops me and asks for money, if I have something, I give something. When someone asks for something I can give—as little as borrowing my ladder or as much as sleeping on my couch for a week—why would I not give it? It's the model I want my children to see.

There are few better things to do than to donate through the Untied Way [sic], "a program of small cash donations to individuals for use in self-identified need areas." Columnist Jon Carroll writes about this every Christmas:

We're all experts in how other people should get their lives together. There are the worthy homeless and the unworthy homeless. You may concentrate on the adjective, or you may concentrate on the noun. I'm a noun guy.

That 2003 column has some wonderful phrasing about being both a citizen and a human, about giving enough that you know you're making a choice, about not comparing their self-destructive expenditures with your own self-destructive expenditures. Those are variations on the theme Carroll wrote in 1996:

Go to your ATM and take out $100 in crisp $20 bills. The $100 figure is a suggestion only; $200 would be better and $40 would be splendid, too. What's one-five-hundredth of your annual gross income? Surely that's little enough to handle the need and want in your area.

Take these lovely bills and go to a busy area in your community. If your community does not have a busy area, downtown San Francisco is darned busy this time of year.

Walk along the street admiring whatever you choose to admire. When someone asks you for money, give that person a $20 bill. Repeat this process until all the 20s are gone. Voila and zip: the Untied Way.

Now it may be that some of the people to whom you give money will spend it unwisely. They will not use it to update their resumes; they might not even put it toward the purchase of a better pair of shoes.

Some of the people experiencing need and want are also suffering from confusion. This confusion is often chemical. Sometimes the chemicals are ingested; sometimes they are produced naturally by the brain. Naturally, it would be better if they sought help. It would be better if you sought help sometimes, too, and you have not always done so.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Boolean thinking

Daily Kos has a post pointing to a report that states aren't teaching children how to handle personal finances. Most states have "the ideas of saving, investing, risk management and other finance themes in their standards or guidelines" for curricula, but most aren't actually teaching these topics. Says the Kossack poster:
This reminds me quite a bit of the GOP stance on choice: We don't want to let women have abortions AND we don't want to teach kids about birth control. So, too, with the bankruptcy bill: We want to prevent people who face unbearable debt from ever getting a second chance AND we don't want to even bother teaching kids how to avoid such circumstances in the first place.
That sounds like a game all us progressives have played many time: Spot the Republican Cognitive Dissonance.

Talkin' 'bout my corporation

In a recent post about how "the American consensus" began to unravel with Goldwater, Digby quoted a Goldwater speech:

In order to achieve the widest possible distribution of political power, financial contributions to political campaigns should be made by individuals and individuals alone. I see no reason for labor unions—or corporations—to participate in politics. Both were created for economic purposes and their activities should be restricted accordingly.

This prompts me to finally post something that's been on my mind for a few months now: why not remove "personhood" from corporations, and perhaps from other groups and associations?

Right now, many of the things that companies can do are possible because they get treated as persons under the law. A company has things like privacy rights, political power, and legal standing because the courts treat it as a person. But what if we passed a law simply stating, in appropriate legalese, that "No law shall be construed as granting to a group or association any rights or status reserved to individual persons."?

It would probably have to be a Constitutional amendment, for all I know; and I'm sure there are a ton of complex considerations on both sides. Which groups or corporate bodies would this apply to—are there any for whom we would want to preserve personhood? And which rights or status—are there individual rights we would want to continue to extend to corporations?

What do you think? What are the pros and cons? Why should a corporation have a right to privacy, or a right to trial by jury, or the power of political donation?

(By the way, go read the entire Digby post, the thesis of which is, "There can be no doubt that Goldwater’s ideas are now mainstream.")

Thank you, Dee.

Mary had some ice-skates. / On the ice she loved to frisk. / Her friends thought she was stupid / Her little *.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!

Opinions You Should Have tells us:

In an aside, God said that mortals needed to lay off displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses. "You don't see me putting up copies of the Penal Code in my churches," He said."

Another domestic terrorist attack

The biggest threat of violence America faces comes from domestic terrorists. (For details, read David Neiwert's Orcinus, the only blog I have ever donated money to support.) Monday, we suffered another attack, and once again the Republicans who dominate our government will ignore it because identifying it as terrorism doesn't serve their imperialistic goals.

Do we have larger problems? Certainly; I think the cost of health care is a bigger threat to the future of our society than terrorism. But stamping out far-right hate within our borders should be very close to a top priority for all Americans.

Opposing the "right-wing Prozacosphere"

A very good political blog is The Poor Man. Just a couple of examples of the brilliance of "The Editors" there: