Above the Fray

Thursday, November 27, 2003

A Pin Point

As Texas Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos said of his Republican colleagues:

"They don't want to govern. They want to rule."
Molly Ivins: Transparency, accountability and responsibility

Read the rest of this article to get the flavor of a Texas Democrat.. yes there are a few of them still there. When I lived in San Antonio, I really appreciated he columns.

To Put A Fine Point on IT

Hate speech:

Distinguishing fringe factions from the progressive majority is essential to wiping away the 'anti-American' smear against liberals.

It is a task complicated by the fact that, as a matter of constitutional principle, liberals consistently uphold the civil liberties of radicals at both ends of the spectrum. It's simple for conservatives to look patriotic by threatening dissenters or amending the Constitution to ban obnoxious behavior like flag-burning. But what could be more fundamentally American and patriotic than the liberal commitment to defend all of the freedoms symbolized by the Stars and Stripes?

The relentless disparagement of liberal patriotism by right-wing ideologues is an attempt to punish that commitment to free speech, and an abandonment of traditional American values of fair play and civic decency.

There is nothing truly conservative about the conservatives' compulsion to divide the nation for their own political gain. There us nothing patriotic about perverting the natural love of country into suspicion, bitterness, and hostility. (Strangely, many of the conservatives who seek to inflame hatred against their liberal neighbors would describe themselves as devout Christians - but then some of our most jingoistic warmongers also claim to be true
disciples of the Prince of Peace.)

- Joe Conason, Big Lies (p53)"

Arnie Update

We knew that this was going to happen, but just thought I would complete the 'thought line'

Kick the Leftist:

"He was just pretending

Arnold in August: Now, does this mean we're going to make cuts? Yes. Does this mean education is on the table? No.

People of California: Wow, he's so smart and strong! What a great candidate!

What Arnold did today: 'The governor's cuts to the higher education system total $159 million.'

People of California: Probably not paying attention.

# posted by Peter @ 2:53 PM"

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Flying Pigs?

I thought this would balance out the last post...everyone has their head in the trough as it were..or up the trough...but I digress

Yes, Pigs Can Fly If You Kick Them Hard Enough

"The Democratic minority on the House Appropriations Committee has written a report about Republican addiction to pork, "...

Another Voice

I have not had a chance to express my deep concerns about the tenor of the national discourse. I don't have the chops to write it well so I am going to let an excellent writer do my job for me...I am putting some of the key observations here, but I recommend that you read the full article. I think that this represents the feelings of a lot of folks. He says things that are not being broadcast, but I hear from folks all the time. Yet only whispered. There is a silent movement gaining momentum. A clash seems inevitable, but is most likely to be very messy

So why aren't these things being said? The climate right now is similar to the kind I have found in families and work place environments where 'bullies' have taken over the formal and informal rule and communication systems.

Essentially where the communication modes have been corrupted and reduced to basic intimidation [dismissiveness, condescension, derision, sarcasm, veiled threats, creation of alien others, expulsion, shunning, criminality, crazy making, double binds et. al] Essentially rule by 'Critical Parent' rather than Adults.

...What became especially clear was that -- even though I had always believed, and still do, that upper-class and urban liberals are prone to a phony compassion that only extended to various victim classes, rather like a parlor game, often rationalized with a tortuous intellectualism -- conservatives likewise were fond of wrapping themselves in my old-fashioned, working-class values (along with the American flag, of course) while utterly undermining the ability of ordinary, working-class people to make a decent living and obtain equal opportunity.

Conservatism, especially in the past 20 years, has come less to represent those old-fashioned values, and instead has become a watchword for rampant, unfettered corporatism. Republicans in Idaho particularly were fond of gutting my state's heritage -- letting "free enterprise" pollute our streams, wipe out fish runs and wildlife habitat, destroy the forests in which I used to hunt and fish -- while proclaiming they were doing so in the name of "liberty." They weren't the party of the little people, despite their pose, which so many people I knew bought into. They were the party of the fat cats who bellied up to the public trough, trashed our lands, and walked away fatter and fancy free.

In the end I realized that, when it came to everyone from personal friends to politicians, ideology mattered a great deal less than the person. The proof, in what is now my entrenched view, lies both in the personal integrity they exhibit and in the kinds of policies they promote. It came to matter less and less to me whether a person was Republican or Democrat; what counted, in a politician especially, was how straightforward and honest they were in dealing with the public, how well they balanced the needs of everyone with the rights of the individual, and most of all, how well they made better the lives of ordinary people.

Moreover, I came distinctly to distrust ideologues [Ed. crusader rabbits]-- because, I realized, ideas are more important to them than people. This observation arose first out of personal experience, because most ideologues are likely to reject friendships with those who don't think like them or fit their ideologies. I might be able to maintain a friendship with an ideologue (right or left) for awhile, but inevitably, they would reject me because I didn't fit the mold they wanted to make. Eventually this insight translated to my view of politicians and public figures as well. It has been for some time clear to me that hardened right-wing and left-wing partisans alike place their abstractions well above what happens to ordinary citizens in real life....

...Conservatism has become highly dogmatic and rigid in its thinking, allowing hardly anything in the way of dissent -- indeed, it is nowadays practically Stalinist itself, especially in the way it punishes anyone who strays from the official "conservative" line....

...it became clear to me that not only had the conservative movement grown into a dogmatic ideology, it had metastacized into a power-hungry, devouring claque of ideologues for whom winning was all that mattered. I also knew, of course, that not everyone who participated in the movement was like this -- but they were all too willing to let those who were run a steamroller over every basic principle of democratic rule -- especially its core of equity and fair play -- in the name of obtaining the White House.

[Ed. This is a 'zero sum game'; finite rather than infinite game. These kill systems eventually, these are anti growth, they crush rather than inspire, they create dispair rather than hope, they drain energy rather than unleash it, produce ols solutions rather than creating innovation, in short these 'short view' tactics are spirit killers. Spirit killers to that all that engage in this play. The problem is that the players don't notice the damage, they only see the winning...this is a disintegration, in slow motion... ]

...he [Dubya] has essentially allowed a cadre of genuine radicals -- specifically, the "neoconservative" ideologues from the Project for a New American Century -- to take control of both our foreign policy and the entire direction of the "war on terrorism." The result has been that we have spit in the face of our traditional allies, as well as the United Nations (and then had the temerity to come back to them demanding help when it all turned sour); only limited recognition that terrorism has a home-grown face as well; embarked on an invasion of another country with the September 11 attacks as a pretext, while such claims have not proven to be well-grounded; and completely divided the nation by making out dissenters from the radical direction in which he has taken the nation as "unpatriotic."...

...Even conservatives who have dared dissent have been drummed out of "the movement." The Stalinism inherent in this mindset was vividly on display, I thought, when longtime conservative Philip Gold of The Discovery Institute announced he was opposing an attack on Iraq -- for reasons, I should note, that were almost identical to mine, and which I think have proven prescient -- and he was promptly dropped from the Institute (which has, it must be noted, increasingly come under the influence of Christian Reconstructionist Howard Ahmanson in recent years). It should be noted, too, that Gold has been forced to reach the same conclusion as I: that "conservatism has grown, for lack of a better word, malign."....

..But I no longer much trust in the moral strength of my conservative friends. Whereas once I believed that the basic decency of average, mainstream conservatives was more than an adequate bulwark against the possibility of right-wing fascism from ever manifesting itself, I have been forced to conclude that, when swept along by the combination of a movement and the fearmongering of public officials, they are as susceptible to doing the wrong thing as their ancestors were in 1942, when they shipped off 110,000 Japanese Americans to concentration camps....

...I wish that I could be so confident as Markus; in fact, I devoutly hope (for obvious reasons) I am wrong, and that the specter that seems to me to be rising proves ephemeral. But so far, the signs are only getting worse. To me, the most significant trend has been the rising quotient of violence in conservative rhetoric that, as I discussed in one of the posts that drew Markus' response, is a clear sign of gathering fascist propensities. Yet most conservatives have simply pooh-poohed this kind of talk as so much paranoid fantasizing -- even though, as I argued then, many of the people making similar observations are not exactly prone to either paranoia or fantasies, but are respected thinkers; and the evidence is real, not ephemeral...

...And in fact, my longtime analysis of the state of fascism in the past always presumed that mainstream, ordinary conservatives, whose decency I've never doubted, would act in concert with liberals in preventing any such thing from occurring here. But liberals, or at least their political leadership, have been simply too spineless to effectively counter such aggression; and conservatives, it has grown increasingly apparent, are now content to sit back and watch...

....There is a special quality to eliminationist rhetoric, and it has the distinctive stench of burning flesh -- no matter where it emanates from.

If I thought for a moment that talk about committing violence against conservatives were as pervasive, especially in the public square, as it currently is against liberals, I do not doubt that I would do my best to attack it. But I almost never hear it from that sector now. For the past twenty or more years, I've been hearing it from the far right. And it deeply disturbs me when I begin hearing it from people who supposedly operate within the mainstream....

...People in key positions of media and conservative ideological prominence (Coulter, Limbaugh, even Bill O'Reilly) exhibit multiple symptoms of being pathological sociopaths, either antisocial or narcissistic, or a combination of both. And not only their fellow participants in the conservative movement, but mainstream centrists and even liberals are unable to figure out that there is something seriously wrong with these people because they are projecting their own normalcy onto them. They cannot perceive because they cannot believe -- that, above all, these people are not operating within a framework guided by the boundaries of basic decency that restrain most of us.

They are political muggers out of control -- and as their rhetoric encourages both the figurative and physical elimination of liberals, they become ever more likely to actually tread into regions of real violence....

...How is any kind of normative political discourse possible in this environment? How is it possible to be civil to people who constantly are placing you under assault? How can there be dialogue when the normative rules of give and take and fair play have not only been flushed down the drain, but chopped into bits and swept out with the tide? Do the advocates of civility place any onus on the nonstop verbal abuse, and absolutely ruthless, win-at-all-costs politics emanating from the conservative quadrant? And do they really expect liberals to refuse to defend themselves, when even doing so gets them accused of further incivility?

These conditions can be a prelude to immense system change. It remains to be seen if this will be the case. Or to reference a great poet 'this is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.'

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The vision Thing:

When Odin chose to sacrifice his right eye
for the secret of victory,

the secret turned out to be:

Watch with both eyes.

Mark A. R. Kleiman

Saturday, November 15, 2003

More Thoughts Reagan Film

I thought the flap over the Reagan film was a bit overblown, however, I came upon this:

Political: Off-the-record comments indicate Viacom didn't want to jeopardize relations with state and federal lawmakers, from whom Viacom constantly seeks favors; so, contrary to the notion of corporate-run politics, the Republicans now have a major corporation running scared.

Cultural: We may be entering an era in which mass culture is directly the servant of politics -- a first for the United States. Put the two together: What happens if corporations, in order to achieve their agenda of profit and dominance, take on the cultural agenda of the far right in order to please Republicans?

Until now only Rupert Murdoch's Fox empire has openly taken sides in our culture wars. If this becomes standard corporate practice ("the price of doing business," as they say) our atmosphere could resemble Germany's in the early 1930s, when, one by one, the major cultural venues gradually kowtowed to the Nazi Party, allowing no other visions to reach mass circulation.

Then think of the far right's cultural agenda: a fundamentalist Christian state; the rights of women, gays, and nonwhites severely curtailed and controlled; creationism taught as fact in public schools; history, science, and art subject to ideological whims.

What if that also becomes the corporate agenda? Most people in America, after all, work directly or indirectly for corporations that demand economic obedience; what happens if they begin also to demand right-wing ideological purity, in order to curry favor with the dominant party? Nothing less is at stake when, for the first time, a political party is allowed to dictate what may be broadcast on the public airwaves.

Makes me think again. BTW I don't think the reference to Nazi Germany is over blown nor purple prose. These remarks are framing the rise of a repressive government, not 'comparing someone to Hitler'

"'You won't believe what happens next'"Austin Chronicle

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

On PC 'censorship'

Some common sense on the Reagan film flap. It was silly. All of this TV history stuff is at worst poor quality and at best a polished cartoon; essentially PooP of little importance. Who cares?

Evidently the Bullies. These are the folks who want us to think they represent the conservatives in our country. These PPPundits are an embarassment to everyone..but I digress.

What we have here is a Taoist maxim demonstrated..they have become what they hate. The wayleft took the PC thing way too far into sillyness, while the wayright complained and sniggered. Now it is the wayright simpering about pain and victimization [snigger]begin[/snigger]. [sarcasm]Shocked, I am shocked that TV makes cartoons and bad weekly movies![/sarcasm]

It seems there's a good reason conservative activists prefer to paint their faces and travel by night. By day, they're dreadfully insecure and afraid of their own shadow. That, anyway, would explain perhaps the silliest political controversy ever: "The Reagans" mini-series ... scandal? ....

Rather than dismissing four hours of typical TV wasteland with a manly indifference of yesteryear, today's [snigger] quiche-eating conservatives [/snigger] threw a hissy fit.

Indeed, the son of the conspiracy's chief target, radio talk show host Michael Reagan, declared Hollywood's minor indulgence nothing less than being" "all about ... dismantling the conservative movement. Similar sky-falling proclamations uttered by the likes of he-men Pat Buchanan, Bill O'Reilly and Joe Scarborough made the figment of nineteenth-century [non pc alert]female hysteria [/non pc alert] seem mild by comparison. Plainly, conservative feelings are too delicate to abide anything but niceness -- enforced niceness, if necessary.

...America is indeed tougher than that, but by recent accounts its leading conservative inhabitants are not. They have seen the light of discarded liberal PC and it is, hallelujah, pretty good after all. Mandated political correctness may have approached strained absurdity on matters of gender and race, but when it comes to conservative politics, baby, PC is right on. Commoners' sensibilities can handle only so much....

It got even sillier. According to the exclusive-viewers club that has actually seen the film, "The Reagans" in fact portrays the former president as a loving husband and talented politician who presided over the Cold War's end through personal determination, was innocent of Iran-contra goings on and admirably stuck to his ideological guns. It did not, however, explore what conservatives regard as Reagan's successful fiscal policies. Inexcusable. Only a scheming Hollywood director out to manipulate the viewing public would omit the very real and sexy high drama of tax cuts....

Pity the Republicans, forced as they are into unseemly censorship -- the honest term for political correctness -- only to protect a carefully constructed if rickety iconography. Of no small irony is that many social conservatives railing against "The Reagans" grew to loathe the protagonist during his White House years, for his focus on supply-side oddities and evil empires rebuffed their cultural agenda - a large part of which entailed the ridicule of PC. Now, perforce, PC is all they have....

Afraid, be very afraid

Sunday, November 09, 2003

The Character Thing

This assessment seems 'fair and balanced'. Having had some brush with the Bushes, I can comfirm the view. If anything, this is mild. Scott Peck would identify him as one of the 'People of the Lie'

"I have known George W. Bush slightly since we were both in high school, and I studied him closely as governor. He is neither mean nor stupid. What we have here is a man shaped by three intertwining strands of Texas culture, combined with huge blinkers of class. The three Texas themes are religiosity, anti-intellectualism, and machismo. They all play well politically with certain constituencies. ...."

When the 1999 hunger stats were announced, Bush threw a tantrum. He thought it was some malign Clinton plot to make his state look bad because he was running for president. "I saw the report that children in Texas are going hungry. Where?" he demanded. "No children are going to go hungry in this state. You'd think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas." You would, wouldn't you? That is the point at which ignorance becomes inexcusable. In five years, Bush had never spent time with people in the colonias, South Texas' shantytowns; he had never been to a session with Valley Interfaith, a consortium of border churches and schools and the best community organization in the state. There is no excuse for a governor to be unaware of this huge reality of Texas. ...

Take any area -- environment, labor, education, taxes, health -- and go to the websites of public-interest groups in that field. You will find page after page of minor adjustments, quiet repeals, no-big-deal new policies, all of them cruel, destructive, and harmful. A silent change in regulations, an executive order, a funding cutoff. No headlines. Below the radar. Again and again and again.

Jim Hightower's great line about Bush, "Born on third and thinks he hit a triple,"
is still painfully true. Bush has simply never acknowledged that not only was he born with a silver spoon in his mouth -- he's been eating off it ever since. The reason there is no noblesse oblige about Dubya is because he doesn't admit to himself or anyone else that he owes his entire life to being named George W. Bush. He didn't just get a head start by being his father's son -- it remained the single most salient fact about him for most of his life.

BTW, when I lived in Texas, I always apreciate Molly's editorials. She combines humor with bite. Also, she eschews the PPPundits techniques of obfiscation and vilification. She is not a party hack either... rare to find these days.
Molly Ivins on Dubya

Suprise Suprise

I hate to tell y'all I told you so, but ITYS:

This scandal would seem to have everything: top politicians, indictments on multiple counts of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, the owner of a chain of Sin City strip clubs, promises of looser regulations on how much of the stripper a customer can see and feel.

Juicy stuff, sure. But what's it got to do with terrorism?

Nothing at all, everybody involved agrees. Yet FBI agents in Las Vegas used a provision of the controversial USA Patriot Act of 2001 to streamline their efforts to obtain the financial records of several suspects in the bribery case. It marks the first time it has come to light that a part of the Patriot Act, passed weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has been used for an investigation not relevant to homeland security.

Section 314 of the law allows federal investigators to obtain data from stockbrokers, banks and other financial institutions or people "suspected, based on credible evidence, of engaging in terrorist acts or money laundering." Because the law does not specifically require that the money laundering relate to terrorism, the application in a public corruption inquiry--such as in the so-called Operation G-Sting--is permissible.

"What it points out is how certain aspects of the Patriot Act are so expansive that they allow for invasions of people's basic rights in ways that go far beyond reasonable national security needs," said Allen Lichtenstein, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

"Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said very clearly we're not going to use this for just normal criminal investigations, that this is for national security and any member of Congress who doesn't vote for this will be aiding and abetting our enemies," Lichtenstein added. "We at the ACLU as well as others said as it was written, it [the law] allows for much expanded use of these procedures not just for terrorism, and if the government is allowed to use it, they will. Here they have."

What we have here is a failure to communicate... And folks wonder that kids don't trust their government..

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Law of Unintended Consequences

THIS week, a respected biologist was led into a Texas courtroom. He faces no fewer than 68 charges and could end up in jail for the rest of his life. Has the FBI finally caught the anthrax attacker? No. Thomas Butler merely reported that 30 vials of plague bacteria had gone missing from his laboratory at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Many of Butler's colleagues believe the justice authorities are making an example of him as part of a wider effort to ensure that scientists take more care with material terrorists might exploit. Whatever the outcome of the case (see right), that effort is having repercussions that go far beyond the fate of one scientist.

New Scientist has contacted more than 20 prominent figures in the US working in bioterror-related fields. Some refused to talk, and most who did did not want to be named. Their comments paint a disturbing picture. Some scientists, for instance, are refusing to work on projects involving agents that could be exploited as bioweapons, even though the US government is providing massive funding to boost such research.

Others are considering abandoning existing work. Irreplaceable collections of microbes essential for managing and tracing outbreaks, bioterrorist or natural, are being destroyed simply because labs cannot comply with the new rules. The climate of fear created by the Butler case is even threatening the US's ability to detect bioterrorist activity.

New Scientist has been told that labs in one state are no longer reporting routine incidents of animals poisoned with ricin, a deadly toxin found in castor beans, for fear of federal investigation.

And if any terrorist ever does make off with dangerous bacteria, it will be a brave scientist who tells the FBI. As one put it: "I don't want to end up in a cell with Tom Butler." In a letter sent to the US attorney-general John Ashcroft in September, Stanley Falkow, a respected researcher at Stanford University in California, goes further: "Trying to meet the unwarranted burden of what the government considers 'biosafety' is simply not coincident with the practice of sound, creative scientific research."

This would come under the Stu Ped file. I once had to make some decisions about ethics, and research and military applications... another story for another time.

US crackdown on bioterror backfiring

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

A Cause for Concern?

LegalWrites: The Phantoms of Lost Liberty:

"November 05, 2003 The Phantoms of Lost Liberty By Patrick Taylor

'To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends.'
-- John Ashcroft, December 2001"

John Ashcroft, in the above quote, meant to suggest that no liberties had actually been lost in the wake of the USA PATRIOT Act...

An expression of these phantom liberties can be seen in one of the oddest defences for the USA PATRIOT Act in the Preserving Life & Liberty website which informs people that they did not actually have the rights they imagined they had. And if you look up the court decisions and legislation, you realize that they are absolutely right. Many freedoms have been slowly whittled away over the years to the point that--as draconian as some aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act are-- the Act is in many cases superfluous. What remains true is that the USA PATRIOT Act greatly expanded the possible scope of these infringements on civil liberties.

When responding to the ACLU's concern that the USA PATRIOT Act could be used to brand organizations like Greenpeace as domestic terrorists, the DOJ called that a myth claiming:

DOJ : The Patriot Act limits domestic terrorism to conduct that breaks criminal laws, endangering human life. “Peaceful groups that dissent from government policy” without breaking laws cannot be targeted..

Currently, DOJ lawyers are trying to prosecute the entire Greenpeace organization for the actions of two of its members...but as this situation shows any number of laws could be used as a justification for prosecuting Greenpeace members as "domestic terrorists" provided that a judge could be found who thought their actions were "dangerous to human life."

DOJ: The Patriot Act specifically protects Americans’ First Amendment rights, and terrorism investigators have no interest in the library habits of ordinary Americans. Historically, terrorists and spies have used libraries to plan and carry out activities

They argue that they must convince a federal judge to allow them to seize library and business records however they do not mention that they can use FISA to do a run-around normal evidentiary rules.....

The FISA courts are secret courts that provide for limited civilian oversight and have different evidentiary standards than a grand jury...
However because the USA PATRIOT Act blurs the distinction between foreign intelligence and domestic criminal investigations there exists the possibility that search warrants that would not be allowed under a grand jury or a non-FISA court would be allowed to sneak past under the mantle of national security...

...Ashcroft and the DOJ have fought every reform and control tooth and nail, allowing no possibility for criticism of the Act. In fact, they have fought to repeal the sunset provisions, which would make the powers granted effectively permanent. Secret courts, secret evidence, interminable detention and overly broad definitions of terrorism are--and should be--incompatible with democracy.

Is this OTT or should it cause concern?