Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Label This One, "Are You Fucking Kidding?" Part 2

AP study finds $1.6B went to bailed-out bank execs

Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for many of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines.

Read the full story here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Label This One, "Are You Fucking Kidding?"

Congress gets $4,100 pay raise

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress members in 2008 will receive salaries of $169,300, a boost of $4,100 over the salary they have had since January 2006.

That 2.5% increase is mirrored by similar raises for associate justices of the Supreme Court, who will see their pay go from $203,000 to $208,100, and Chief Justice John Roberts, whose pay will rise to $217,400 from $212,100.

The salary figures were published in Tuesday's edition of the Federal Register.

Last year was the first since 1999, when the pay was $136,700, that members of Congress did not receive a cost-of-living allowance raise along with other federal employees. Democrats, newly elected to the majority, had vowed to block an increase in their paychecks until Congress raised the minimum wage.

With the minimum wage increase accomplished last year, House Democratic leaders joined with their Republican counterparts to oppose a procedural vote to bring the COLA issue to the floor, leaving the way clear for their automatic raise.

The congressional COLA is linked, under a complicated formula, to the cost-of-living increase awarded civil servants. As part of a 1989 ethics bill, Congress gave up its ability to accept pay for speeches and made annual cost-of-living pay increases automatic unless lawmakers voted otherwise.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, a leading critic of the COLA process, said in an interview that he's not proposing that members of Congress never get a pay raise. But he said that, in a time of budget deficits when many people are undergoing economic hardships, "at least we ought to have an up-and-down vote on it. The whole process appears so secretive."

Reluctance to openly discuss the salary issue comes at a time when Congress has been suffering low public approval ratings. In a December AP-Ipsos poll, 25% of those surveyed approved of the job Congress was doing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will also a pay boost from $212,100 last year to $217,400, the same as Chief Justice Roberts. The majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate and Senate president pro tempore Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., will get increases from $183,500 to $188,100.

Dick Cheney, in his last year as vice president, will receive $221,100, up from $215,700. President Bush's salary of $400,000 is unchanged.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Mark Your Calendars!

On February 11th, 2009 I will be presenting a lecture as a part of the Antheneum Series at Winona State University's Krueger Library. Presentations in the series are held on the second floor of the library and are free and open to the public.

The presentation is titled "From Michael Moore to Batman: A Survey of Post 9-11 Cinema" and I will examine how filmmakers, primarily those working in Hollywood, have dealt with the attack and its aftermath either explicitly or thematically in a wide variety of genres, from documentaries to historical dramas to comic book adaptations.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who Throws His Shoe? Honestly!

I'm guessing this is the reason all of Bush's visits to Iraq are unannounced and his appearance at the Republican National Convention was done via satellite.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Department of Homeland Idol Worship

From this article at CBS News:

A group of atheists filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to remove part of a state anti-terrorism law that requires Kentucky's Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can't keep the state safe without God's help.

American Atheists Inc. sued in state court over a 2002 law that stresses God's role in Kentucky's homeland security alongside the military, police agencies and health departments.

Of particular concern is a 2006 clause requiring the Office of Homeland Security to post a plaque that says the safety and security of the state "cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God" and to stress that fact through training and educational materials.

Weren't we past this? Doesn't this just seem so pre-1776? Or at least pre-Scopes trial? What part of "separation of church and state" do these people not understand?

Actually, there is a little irony to this since Jerry Falwell and others claimed that the 9/11 attack, which resulted in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, was precipitated by the United States abandoning Christian principles. So if god allowed 9/11 to happen, isn't he the biggest threat to national security and with them and not us? Or, to put it another way, does Jesus "pal around" with terrorists? And if that's the case, then why are we appealing to him for security?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Editorial on Minnesota Voting

VoteTrustUSA has put up this editorial by Mark Halvorson, David Klein, and Pamela Smith on why they feel secure about Minnesota's ongoing recount for Senate. An excerpt:

One reason for our optimism is that Minnesota’s election system minimizes problems and circumstances that have historically reduced voter confidence. The occurrence of such problems and circumstances in other states plagued the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The people, procedures, and technology comprising Minnesota’s election system are among the most respected in the nation. Minnesota’s election system has great potential to certify results that accurately reflect the will of the voters and in which voters can have confidence.

Minnesota’s reputation for electoral integrity begins with the state's choice of election technology: a system of voter-marked paper ballots which are read by optical-scan machines. A meaningful recount is possible because the paper ballots provide a permanent record of each voter’s intent. Such a permanent record does not exist in all states; over one third of the states use electronic machines that do not offer voter-verifiable paper records. Many top computer security experts have warned that paperless electronic voting is inherently insecure and does not provide for a real recount.

Minnesota’s election process is characterized by transparency and openness. Citizens can, and do, observe the process. For example, Citizens For Election Integrity Minnesota, The League of Women Voters Minnesota, and Common Cause Minnesota are mobilizing a non-partisan citizen observation of the recount to protect the integrity of the process.

Minnesota independently assesses the accuracy of the election system that uses optical scanners by auditing a random sample of roughly 5% of the ballots immediately after every federal election cycle; 16 states conduct post-election audits, which is the highest number ever, but not high enough. There is no question that every state should include a mandatory process to independently check the accuracy of election results that includes provisions to expand the verification when errors are detected. Moreover, such post-election review processes need to have mechanisms in place to see that the errors are corrected automatically instead of needing to go to a judicial or a legislative body. The audits, along with the 2008 primary election recount, have given Minnesota election officials statewide the experience in manually counting ballots and in determining voter intent necessary for the impending U.S. Senate recount.

This is all very positive but given how much money and effort is put into other projects, I am left to wonder why national standards similar to those of Minnesota (paper ballots, user friendly voting technology) are not adopted or assigned for all fifty states.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sean Hannity Needs a New Bitch

After twelve years of being Fox News' trophy liberal, Alan Colmes is leaving Hannity and Colmes to work on other things. Exactly what that means is unclear, and the article states he is just leaving the show to do "something else." Perhaps after the election and News Corp's recent economic troubles, Colmes sees the writing on the wall and is jumping ship before he is let go. Or, perhaps as in the Clinton years, the conservative wingnuts are circling the wagons and kicking out anyone who does not parrot the talking points. Or maybe Colmes finally got sick of the taste of Sean Hannity's boots.

Personally, I think Keith Olbermann should apply for the job. Just for laughs.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shock and Awe

This isn't exactly a Rorschach test, but is the White House staff giving us the shocker?

The image comes from here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Californication Clip and an Idea for Thanksgiving

Check out this clip from a recent episode of Californication. I loved the first season, but I have not been able to watch the current season because of schedule conflicts. I guess I'll have to catch up.

I love her line about "Barnes and Nobel bottom feeders."

Thanksgiving is coming up; maybe this is a good idea when the family tries to push me - or any of you - to perform grace.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Baby Killers Not Allowed to Participate in Faux Cannibalism

With an ongoing struggle with pedophilia, a serious clergy shortage, and church attendance declining, you would think that the Catholic Church would try to appeal to as many people as possible. But apparently not:

A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him "constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil."

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman said in a letter distributed Sunday to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville that they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote.

I would encourage Reverend Newman's parishioners to follow his advice and stop receiving Communion. In fact, they can stop putting money in the church coffers, stop sending their children to Sunday school, stop attending or volunteering at the church's festivals and fundraisers, stop going to midnight masses, stop putting up Christmas decorations, stop fasting for Lent, stop donating to Catholic missionaries, stop getting married in a church, and stop reading the Bible. For that matter, they could stop going to church altogether and stop pretending to believe that a sixty-year-old virgin turns wine into blood and crusty bread into human flesh and that eating it does anything to make us good or virtuous.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Interview with Ron Paul

In all the press coverage about the status and future of the Republican Party, much of the attention has been cast on Sarah Palin, some trying to name her as the heir to the party. For the Republican party's sake, and for the sake of the nation, I hope this is not the case but I suspect that some in the media, after having George W. Bush as a source of constant comedy and controversy for the past eight years, are looking for someone they can use. Palin would be the logical choice in this regard.

However, those within the party, those among its opposition, and those of us making commentary should give serious heed to Ron Paul. This man has the brains, the perspective, and the popular support to become the new leader of the Republican party and reshape it for the future. In a commentary written for CNN, Paul commented on the recent blunders of the party and its possible future:

The questions now being asked are: Where to go from here and who's to blame for the downfall of the Republican Party?

Too bad the concern for the future of the Republican Party had not been seriously addressed in the year 2000 when the Republicans gained control of the House, Senate, and the Presidency.

Now, in light of the election, many are asking: What is the future of the Republican Party?

But that is the wrong question. The proper question should be: Where is our country heading? There's no doubt that a large majority of Americans believe we're on the wrong track. That's why the candidate demanding "change" won the election. It mattered not that the change offered was no change at all, only a change in the engineer of a runaway train.

Once it's figured out what is fundamentally wrong with our political and economic system, solutions can be offered. If the Republican Party can grasp hold of the policy changes needed, then the party can be rebuilt.

In the rise and fall of the recent Republican reign of power these past decades, the goal of the party had grown to be only that of gaining and maintaining power -- with total sacrifice of the original Republican belief in shrinking the size of government.
* * *
The Republican Congress never once stood up against the Bush/Rove machine that demanded support for unconstitutional wars, attacks on civil liberties here at home, and an economic policy based on more spending, more debt, and more inflation -- while constantly preaching the flawed doctrine that deficits don't matter as long as taxes aren't raised.

But what the Republican leadership didn't realize was that ALL spending is a tax on middle-class Americans through price inflation and that eventually the inevitable consequence is paying for the extravagance with a financial crisis.

Party leaders concentrated only on political tricks in order to maintain power and neglected the limited-government principles on which they were elected. The only solution for this is for Republicans to once again reassess their core beliefs and show how the country (not the party) can be put back on the right track. The problem, though, is regaining credibility.

After eight years of perpetual (and unnecessary and unconstitutional) war, persistent and expanded attacks on our privacy, runaway deficits, and now nationalization of the financial system, Republicans are going to have a tough time regaining the confidence of the American people. But that's what must be done.

I think what Paul says here is important and provides a path for Republicans to participate in government and make their voice heard in a rational and congenial but also meaningful way. It also provides some perspective to Democrats, who now find themselves in power.

To anticipate and address any confusion, I haven't become a Republican. But I worry whenever the pendulum of political power swings too far one way or the other. I want the voice of the loyal opposition to be heard, even if I disagree with it, because the presence of the minority voice improves the focus of majority, demands that they provide a rationale for their actions, and gently reminds them that their power can be lost if they take it for granted. In the past decade, Democrats failed to fulfill that duty as the minority in the congress and the Republican party went wild like a college student on spring break, binging on power until it finally passed out on the steps of the capital with the word "change" written in marker over its bare back.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remember, remember, the 4th of November . . .

Last week Tuesday, while the country was (mostly) united in celebration over a major achievement in civil rights (even if it was primarily symbolic) and mass media outlets proclaimed the beginning of a new era, equality, justice, and fairness took a hit right on the nose that ought to have all of us concerned and even ashamed.

Proposition 8, a ban on gay marriage, was passed by voters in the state of California and similar propositions passed in Florida and Arizona. This is an extremely alarming development, especially since California and Florida have very active and visible gay communities. But what I find much more frightening is the legal precedent that this may set up: if a majority of voters want to take away a minority group's rights, they have the means and the legal authority to do so. This undermines every accomplishment in civil rights from the emancipation of slaves to women's suffrage to desegregation and makes Proposition 8 potentially a bigger threat to civil rights than the PATRIOT Act or the Military Commissions Act. And what's worse is that Proposition 8 was not shoved through the congress under the auspices of national security; it was passed by the voters in nearly the same margin that elected Obama to the presidency.

What is just as concerning about this is how religion has played into the argument and the strategy of the anti-gay movement. According to this article from the San Fransisco Chronicle, both Catholics and Mormons came to an agreement on this issue. Many religious people like to point out that the Christian church participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. I will concur but then remind them that nothing about the doctrine or dogma of these religions actually supported church member's work for equality among races. And now comes the startling news that a cross section of Christian sects, which have a long history of bloody and bitter competition, worked cooperatively in order to strip people of supposedly god-given rights. It is a simultaneously disgusting and enlightening revelation of the true priorities of these cults and how superstition is not just an annoyance. It can be downright dangerous.

I recently reread Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" and found this paragraph rather relevant:

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.

Thoreau's point is that voting is not the final decision on matters of justice. It can be an effective mode for achieving it but we are not bound to follow the majority off of a moral or ethical precipice. It is an important point to remember, especially when the majority does something extremely stupid.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes We Can Be Cynical

Moments ago, MSNBC projected Barack Obama the winner of the 2008 presidential election and the 44th President of the United States. The announcement was followed by footage of Obama supporters in Grant Park, Illinois, which continues as I write this, of people screaming and rejoicing while pundits proclaim the dawn of a new age in politics, race relations, and American culture as a whole.

I should preface what I have to say next with sincere congratulations to Obama and those who worked on his campaign. This was an extremely disciplined and well run campaign that was bigger than the office it pursued, even one as high as the presidency. This was a mass movement spearheaded by a man and his team which managed to embody the highest rhetorical and ethical principals.

While I am pleased to say that the election of Obama is an important moment, both for the immediate future and within the context of American history, I think some degree of perspective is in order. To provide it, consider this Zen story:

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

My point is one of healthy cynicism. As I said, this is an important moment. But it is not the end. When we wake up tomorrow, and likely when Obama is sworn in, the economy will still be in trouble, the environment will still be polluted, terrorists will still be a threat, poverty will be prevalent while health care will be scarce, and racism and sexism will still exist. And as the new president and the new congress take office, they will have to be watched vigilantly by us to ensure that they complete the tasks we have elected them to accomplish. We did not elect a messiah but a man and it is important that he and they be held accountable.

Yes we can? Perhaps. But much more important is whether or not we do.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"Where do we go now, sweet child of mine?"

Andrew Sullivan, a very conservative columnist and blogger, was one of the first voices on the right wing to announce his support of Barack Obama. With the election upon us tomorrow, Sullivan has posted a closing argument articulating the reasons for his support. An excerpt:

If I were to give one reason why I believe electing Barack Obama is essential tomorrow, it would be an end to this dark, lawless period in American constitutional government. The domestic cultural and political reasons for an Obama presidency remain as strong as they were when I wrote "Goodbye To All That" over a year ago. His ability to get us past the culture war has been proven in this campaign, in the generation now coming of age that will elect him if they turn out, in Obama's staggering ability not to take the bait. His fiscal policies are too liberal for me - I don't believe in raising taxes, I believe in cutting entitlements for the middle classes as the way to fiscal balance. I don't believe in "progressive taxation", I support a flat tax. I don't want to give unions any more power. I'm sure there will be moments when a Democratic Congress will make me wince. But I also understand that money has to come from somewhere, and it will not come in any meaningful measure from freezing pork or the other transparent gimmicks advertized in advance by McCain. McCain is not serious on spending. But he is deadly serious in not touching taxes. So, on the core question of debt, on bringing America back to fiscal reason, Obama is still better than McCain. If I have to take an ideological hit to head toward fiscal solvency, I'll put country before ideology.

Also, since the past is prologue, here is Keith Olbermann's Election Special:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

And if that doesn't quite sum it up for you, check out this site.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween 2008

Here’s wishing everyone a very happy Halloween (or Samhain if you prefer). On this Hallowed Eve, I’d like to reflect for a bit on why this holiday holds special meaning for me and why it has become one of the most popular holidays on the calendar.

As a child, the world of is full of magic and wonder. If raised in a religious home, as I was and many of us were, God is real and his works are to be taken seriously. But a sense of wonder about the world is not left to the supernatural. All kids love dinosaurs, sharks, and other beasts because of their sense of wildness. There is an awe-inspiring power in nature that can be glimpsed in documentary footage of a great white shark attacking a sea lion or can be imagined on the bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex on display in a museum. These animals, with their claws and fangs, remind us of a basic truth that children and animals know: life comes down to flesh and teeth. Part of the reason that Maurice Sendak’s book Where the Wild Things Are is so popular with children is to do with the underlying truth of the story; human beings, but particularly children, strain to be in touch their own bestial nature.

Adults try to forget this. We escape nature by building elaborate societies with grand architectural structures and even more complicated social rules and legal proceedings. Gradually nature is pushed further from our lives until it becomes something other, outside and apart from human experience. But truths are inescapable. At every level of civilization, from the darkest corners of a slum to the manicured lawns of suburbia, the barbaric component of human nature still rises to the surface. Sometimes it appears as benign as a backyard bonfire with drinks passed and stories exchanged. In some other instances, because of its suppression, the inner animal becomes a demon and explodes outward in a tragic act of violence.

In the under-appreciated film Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the horror director resurrected Freddy Krueger, acknowledging how the character had swollen as a cultural icon. Craven’s story takes place in a quasi-real world, where the character of Freddy had captured and contained an Id-like psychopathic specter in the celluloid. Once the films had ended, the specter was released, using the form of Krueger to wreck havoc upon civilization. This film is at least a thematic reworking of Bacchae by Euripides, an ancient Greek play in which Dionysus, the god of sex, music, lust, violence, and carnality, visits the city of Thebes. When the king rejects him, and by extension the carnal side of mankind, he sets off an escalating conflict that concludes in the king’s bloody end.

In the process of maturation, children are told to disown these truths if they want to be taken seriously in the adult world. Contemporary life takes the stories that give these psychological elements physical shape and locks them up in a closet. Within literary circles, which are primarily situated or attached to institutions of higher learning, narratives dealing with such subject matter, especially in mythic or fantastic settings, are suppressed. In cinema, horror films are usually dismissed by critics and released quietly by distributors. The wildness of humanity goes on unacknowledged by art and therefore unimpeded, and when it is acknowledged it is dealt with as an aberration rather than a normal part of life.

Ignoring our darker side does not make it go away and we know that, so we turn to religion or other moral systems in a desperate attempt to shackle the beast. But as often happens, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, those who fight monsters often become monsters themselves and the rules that started as basic guidelines for a smooth running society balloon into micromanagement of all aspects of the individual’s life from clothing and diet to sexual orientation.

And as these systems of morality have crumbled under the weight of their own hypocrisy, their icons and traditions have become hollow symbols and meaningless actions. But the final death stroke to these holidays has been commercialization. Easter may be about the resurrection of Christ but the Easter Bunny and Cadburry Eggs have largely eclipsed the Last Supper. This is itself a return to the pagan roots of the spring holiday. Christmas, which has become the most marketable holiday, has likewise lost its prestige, partially a victim of its own popularity. Santa Claus has ascended from Russian folklore to become more central to the holiday than the birth of Jesus. Religious leaders that bemoan the commercialization of their sacred rites are correct that it has robbed the days of their superstitious significance but they should also be thankful because these commercial foundations may be the only things sustaining their popularity.

Halloween, in its American tradition, never aspired to symbolize morality or illusions of spirituality. As such, Halloween is uniquely suited to embrace commercialization because it has no integrity to lose by doing so. And while American Halloween traditions began primarily for children, in more recent times the holiday has morphed into an adult holiday. In a secular society where other holidays have been lost their sense of authenticity and much of their popularity, Halloween has only grown and has now become a secular sacrament in which, like the hero of Maurice Sendak’s book, we dress up like an animal and allow ourselves to reveal in beastliness. And in that revelry we are finally able to come to embrace Dionysus and vanquish Freddy Krueger or at least those things that they represent.

Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey once wrote, “Good is what you like. Evil is what you don’t like.” I prefer to amend this statement to say “Good is what you like, bad is what you don’t like, and evil is what you like but is not socially acceptable.” Halloween is the last good holiday left on the calendar because it is a celebration of evil.

Here are some tricks and treats via YouTube for you:

The "Lost" Meaning of Halloween

"This is Halloween" from The Nightmare Before Christmas, covered by Marilyn Manson

Sounds of Cinema Halloween Special

For those of you who don't read the Sounds of Cinema blog . . .

Tune in October 30th and 31st for the Sounds of Cinema Halloween Special. I've been doing special Halloween shows for many years and I can honestly say this is the best one. It is very scary and makes for a fun listen, including music from films such as Friday the 13th, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Saw, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and House of 1000 Corpses. Whatever you may be doing for Halloween, this will make a great soundtrack for it.

The show can be heard:

89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato on Thursday, October 30th, 2008 at 11pm.

89.5 KQAL FM in Winona on Friday, October 31st, 2008 at 11pm.

Remember that if you're not in the broadcast area you can hear the show online at either station's website.

UPDATE: The show has been rescheduled to air on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato at midnight Halloween night.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

One Out of Four Children Left Behind

There have been three major tent poles that the Bush administration has set up over the past eight years. The first was the war on terror, the second was reforming the economy and tax system based on Reagan-era "trickle down" economic policies, and the third was education reform. At the end of Bush's term we are no safer from terrorism than we were before September 11th and the recent economic meltdown has shattered the conservative ideal of a deregulated economy, so the first two poles have collapsed. Now the third, education reform, completes Bush's failure as a president.

According to a new study:

Your child is less likely to graduate from high school than you were, and most states are doing little to hold schools accountable, according to a study by a children's advocacy group.

More than half the states have graduation goals that don't make schools get better, the Education Trust says in a report released Thursday.

And dropout rates haven't budged: One in four kids is dropping out of high school.

By now it's beyond obvious to say Bush was lousy leader, so instead consider the real threat here. The educational system, which produces the next generation of citizens--not to mention workers, thinkers, and leaders--is broken. At the same time the economy is floundering. This is a dangerous combination that, if left unchecked, can lead to a destabilization of the foundations of society. That sounds extreme but consider that John Galbraith warned that insular (systemic) poverty is sustained by poor educational facilities, a lack of jobs or the unwillingness of people to move to new places based on ethnic comfort zones, the dissolution of the family, and general despair. Given that checklist, the environment is ripe for a step into nationwide insular poverty.

But here is the upside, and there is one. Nearly every religious mythology has an apocalypse story in which a giant calamity takes place and when the dust settles a new and better world is created. These stories have the same basic features and they describe an underlying human experience, in which people are able to recreate their society and their reality. We may be at such a transformational point in our history.

Of course, that does not guarantee a positive outcome. The Great Depression saw the collapse of the world economy and out of that calamity came the positive social policies of the New Deal in the United States but also the rise of Communism and Fascism in parts of Europe. The economic crisis and this educational report, if accurate, tell us that we are at a major tipping point. What we choose in these next few months and years will likely reshape society, for good or ill, for a long time to come.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Did Ann Coulter go brunette?

Lately things haven't gone so well for Minnesota Republicans. First, Governor Tim Pawlenty was passed over for John McCain's VP slot in favor of Sarah Palin and now Senator Norm Colman risks losing his seat to Al Franken. And just last week there was the embarassing McCain rally in Lakeville, where McCain was booed when he tried to quell the racism of some of his supporters.

Today Michelle Bachmann--yes, that Michelle Bachmann, the one who represents Minnesota in the United States congress--went on Hardball with Chris Matthews and managed to associate liberals, academics, Democrats, and progressives with terrorists. But she didn't stop there. Bachmann also claimed that there is a vast anti-American conspiracy in the congress and throughout American culture.

Someone tell Michelle that Joe McCarthy called. He wants his soul back.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thank you, come again

I've always found it interesting how foreigners look at American culture and how their expectations are usually defeated when they find that the average American family does not look and live like the Kardashians. So when I saw this story, it really jumped out at me:

At Indian call centers, another view of U.S.
By Emily Wax

GURGAON, India - With her flowing, hot-pink Indian suit, jangly silver bangles and perky voice, Bhumika Chaturvedi, 24, doesn't fit the stereotype of a thuggish, heard-it-all-before debt collector. But lately, she has had no problem making American debtors cry.

For the past three years, Chaturvedi has been a top collection agent at her call center, phoning hundreds of Americans a day and politely asking them to pay up. As the U.S. financial crisis plunges Americans into debt, her business is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Indian outsourcing. It is also one of the few sectors of outsourcing in India that is still aggressively hiring.

Sitting in a narrow cubicle, her head-set switched on, Chaturvedi listens every night to increasingly disturbing tales of woe from the other side of the globe.

Few places in India absorb and imitate American culture as much as call centers, where ambitious young Indians with fake American accents and American noms de phone spend hours calling people in Indiana or Maine to help navigate software glitches, plan vacations or sell products. The subculture of call centers tends to foster a cult of America, an over-the-top fantasy where hopes and dreams are easily accomplished by people who live in a brand-name wonderland of high-paying jobs, big houses and luxury getaways.

But collection agents at this call center outside New Delhi are starting to see the flip side of that vision: a country hobbled by debt and filled with people scared of losing their jobs, their houses and their cars.
* * *

In the past, debt-saddled customers were often annoyed by Chaturvedi's calls from the open-air office at Aegis BPO Services. But now they seem depressed, defeated. Even the men sob into the phone, several agents said.

* * *

Talking to so many anguished Americans has taught these agents an important lesson: Live within your means. Agents with credit cards are vowing to pay them off every month, even during the upcoming holiday shopping season, when malls feature neon signs advertising flat-screen TVs and air conditioners.

* * *

India handles an estimated $16 billion -- or about 5 percent -- of delinquent American accounts. More complicated health insurance bills and mortgage payments are still largely handled inside the United States, industry executives say.

But the debt collection business will continue to grow as debt rises and companies look to cut costs, industry experts said. Aegis, which handles nearly a fourth of debt collection outsourced from the United States, is undergoing a rapid expansion. The company is erecting a second office building for 5,000 employees, many of them to be hired over the next few years. Most employees are college-educated and in their 20s. They earn about $5,000 a year, a competitive starting salary in India, but less than a fourth of what their American counterparts make.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Feed My Frankenstein

After spending days and weeks trying to make it seem as though Barack Obama is lunching with Satan, the hate, xenophobia, and racism (yes, I said it) finally reached critical mass at the end of last week.

Here are interviews with the crowd at the Ohio rally on October 8th. Note the insinuations about bloodlines and association.

To be fair, I think the cameraman in these interviews needs to work on his technique. He would have done better to just ask open questions and let these people speak for themselves rather than fight with people who aren't going to be swayed.

Here is footage from the same day at a McCain rally in Pennsylvania. Here the cameraman does a better job of capturing the attitudes of the supporters.

Finally at a rally in Lakeville, Minnesota, McCain tried to quell the outpouring of hate and got booed in the process:

I've seen this movie before. In the end, the monster throws Dr. Frankenstein out of a windmill while the villagers burn it to ground.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Oliver Stone: Bush would have died in Vietnam

W, Oliver Stone's biopic on George W. Bush, opens this week. The reviews so far have been mixed. At present it is coming in eighty percent fresh at (based on five reviews), but the positive reviews do not champion the film as a major achievement and the negative ones do grant Stone some credit.

Last Friday, Stone appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher and had some very insightful things to say about Bush, the wars, and the economy:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Scientists confirm shark's ‘virgin birth’
By Steve Szkotak

updated 12:49 a.m. CT, Fri., Oct. 10, 2008
RICHMOND, Va. - Scientists have confirmed the second case of a "virgin birth" in a shark.

In a study reported Friday in the Journal of Fish Biology, scientists said DNA testing proved that a pup carried by a female Atlantic blacktip shark in the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center contained no genetic material from a male.

The first documented case of asexual reproduction, or parthenogenesis, among sharks involved a pup born to a hammerhead at an Omaha, Neb., zoo.

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Big Brother is Your New BFF

Tastes, Ties, and Time: Facebook data release
September 25, 2008

In collaboration with Harvard sociology graduate students Kevin Lewis and Marco Gonzalez, and with UCLA professor Andreas Wimmer and Harvard professor Nicholas Christakis, Berkman Fellow Jason Kaufman has made available a first wave of data through the Dataverse Network Project.

The dataset comprises machine-readable files of virtually all the information posted on approximately 1,700 FB profiles by an entire cohort of students at an anonymous, northeastern American university. Profiles were sampled at one-year intervals, beginning in 2006. This first wave covers first-year profiles, and three additional waves of data will be added over time, one for each year of the cohort's college career.

Though friendships outside the cohort are not part of the data, this snapshot of an entire class over its four years in college, including supplementary information about where students lived on campus, makes it possible to pose diverse questions about the relationships between social networks, online and offline.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Naomi Wolf Interview

For your consideration, here is an interview with Naomi Wolf, the author of Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries:

I think Wolf says some extremely important things here, especially her points regarding the violation of the rule of law and the infringements upon free speech, but I also encourage everyone to consider her words critically. First, for a coup to be successful, as Wolf suggests has and is happening, the power must have the support of the people and Bush does not have it. Second, for all the curtailments on free speech, the press remains fundamentally free, but under a fascist state the press (meaning all modes of communication, including the Internet) must be controlled. Third, there will need to be a tipping point that sends us over, something that will give the leader justification to seize power. If the Bush Administration had wanted to take control and declare martial law, it would have allowed a complete economic meltdown to occur and then taken advantage of the chaos that resulted, rebuilding the republic however it wanted. So we may not be at five minutes after midnight, but the warning signs of police state are there nonetheless.

American Literature Gets Sweeded

Nobel Gas
The Swedes have no clue about American literature.
By Adam Kirsch
Posted Friday, Oct. 3, 2008, at 12:10 PM ET

When Saul Bellow learned that he had won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1976, he reacted to the news in the only way a great writer can or should: He tried hard not to care. "I'm glad to get it," Bellow admitted, but "I could live without it." This month, as the Swedish Academy prepares for its annual announcement, Bellow's heirs in the top ranks of American literature—Roth, Updike, Pynchon, DeLillo—already know they're going to live without the Nobel Prize. Horace Engdahl, the academy's permanent secretary, made that clear this week when he told the Associated Press that American writers are simply not up to Nobel standards. "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular," Engdahl decreed. "They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."

It did not take long for American writers to rise to the bait. The Washington Post's Michael Dirda pointed out that it was Engdahl who displayed "an insular attitude towards a very diverse country": It is a bit rich for a citizen of Sweden, whose population of 9 million is about the same as New York City's, to call the United States "isolated." David Remnick noted that the Swedish Academy itself has been guilty of conspicuous ignorance over a very long period: "You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures."

All of these criticisms are, of course, true. But the real scandal of Engdahl's comments is not that they revealed a secret bias on the part of the Swedish Academy. It is that Engdahl made official what has long been obvious to anyone paying attention: The Nobel committee has no clue about American literature. America should respond not by imploring the committee for a fairer hearing but by seceding, once and for all, from the sham that the Nobel Prize for literature has become.

Read the full editorial here.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Waking Up from the American Dream

Like many people, I've been getting a crash course in economics over the past couple of weeks trying to make sense out of this Wall Street mess. Also like many people, I am fairly outraged at the idea that my tax dollars should be given to people and companies who got themselves into this mess in the first place with no conditions and no strings attached.

Thomas Friedman has written an incisive op-ed for the New York Times that goes beyond commenting on the immediate crisis and penetrates into what is now a multi-generational problem in American culture:

Many things make me weep about the current economic crisis, but none more than this brief economic history: In the 19th century, America had a railroad boom, bubble and bust. Some people made money; many lost money. But even when that bubble burst, it left America with an infrastructure of railroads that made transcontinental travel and shipping dramatically easier and cheaper.

The late 20th century saw an Internet boom, bubble and bust. Some people made money; many people lost money, but that dot-com bubble left us with an Internet highway system that helped Microsoft, I.B.M. and Google to spearhead the I.T. revolution.

The early 21st century saw a boom, bubble and now a bust around financial services. But I fear all it will leave behind are a bunch of empty Florida condos that never should have been built, used private jets that the wealthy can no longer afford and dead derivative contracts that no one can understand.

Worse, we borrowed the money for this bubble from China, and now we have to pay it back — with interest and without any lasting benefit.

Yes, this bailout is necessary. This is a credit crisis, and credit crises involve a breakdown in confidence that leads to no one lending to anyone. You don’t fool around with a credit crisis. You have to overwhelm it with capital. Unfortunately, some people who don’t deserve it will be rescued. But, more importantly, those who had nothing to do with it will be spared devastation. You have to save the system.

But that is not the point of this column. The point is, we don’t just need a bailout. We need a buildup. We need to get back to making stuff, based on real engineering not just financial engineering. We need to get back to a world where people are able to realize the American Dream — a house with a yard — because they have built something with their hands, not because they got a “liar loan” from an underregulated bank with no money down and nothing to pay for two years. The American Dream is an aspiration, not an entitlement.
[emphasis added]

Friedman's last paragraph here is the most pertinent. Americans need to realize that they have, at least since the Reagan administration, been living beyond their means and in the process sunk into a sand trap of debt. Capitalism is built on greed but that greed must be mediated by prudence. Americans didn't do that. We bought cars, electronics, houses, and anything else that the consumer culture told us we had to have. Like a child with a credit card in a candy store, we didn't care if it was good for us, we did not ask if we really needed it, and we never considered how we would pay for it.

At the same time, Americans stopped making anything except debt. Manufacturing jobs went overseas and the uneducated or unskilled found themselves settling for lower and lower paying jobs. At the same time the educated workers became undervalued and found themselves either taking jobs alongside the unskilled or becoming a part of a system of debt, either by taking jobs with these organizations or taking on considerable debt in order to get educated. Americans lost the understanding or appreciation of work (I am speaking as though I am not a member of this group, but I assure you that I am) because it did not result in anything for their employer or for themselves. Instead, the populace began treading water, with the level of living expenses rising and the weight increasing debt pulling them down. The entire culture was mobilized into a new generation of lenders and debtors with no way out.

A couple of weeks ago, the American economy came extremely close to a total collapse and many citizens have had their retirements and other savings or investments threatened, damaged, or lost altogether. This is not about Wall Street. This is not about Main Street. This is about the entire system of American economics as it exists today and the full fruition of a deregulated economy. The system does not need to be rescued. It needs to be changed.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Dark Bailout

I have a post detailing my thoughts on the possible billion dollar bail out of Wall Street soon, but for now, enjoy THE DARK BAILOUT:

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine." - Solomon 1:2

With all the shit going on in the world at the moment this is pretty trivial, but I found it amusing.
Pastor David Allison of Havens Corners Church in Ohio has taken issue with Katy Perry's hit song "I Kissed a Girl" and posted the message "I KISSED A GIRL AND I LIKED IT THEN I WENT TO HELL" on the church's billboard. Here is an MSNBC video of the story and the community's reaction:

Aside from the message on the sign, which buries the needle on the douche bag-o-meter, the other gem of this story is Allison's insistence that he and the members of his church love homosexuals. Because nothing says love like telling someone they are damned to hell.

And here is a Youtube video of the offending song:

And speaking of crazy Christian leaders, check out this story on Sarah Palin's former pastor, who established his career witch hunting. Literally.

I generally don't like guilt by association, but people can be judged by the company they keep and since Palin apparently endorses abstinence-only sex education, teaching creationism in science classrooms, and credits this church as helping her political career it is relevent to the ongoing debate of her qualifications for office.

UPDATE: For some reason this post is not showing the comments link, so just click on the headline, scoll down, and comment away.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And it all falls into place . . .

I'm not a conspiracy nut. I don't buy into them largely because they give the supposed conspirators far too much credit. I did not buy into the "9/11 was an inside job" story because to do so demands that I believe that the people who brought us the "intelligence" on Iraqi WMDs, the Mission Accomplished speech, a never ending war in Afghanistan, deregulation of the mortgage industry, and the FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina could possibly have the skill to pull off the biggest conspiracy in American history.

No, they are not that skilled. But they are opportunistic, as the fallout of the September 11th attack proves. And now with the economy swirling in the bowl and foreclosures occurring left and right, the Republican party has found a way to turn this to their advantage.

From The Michigan Messenger:

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County, Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

“We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed.

State election rules allow parties to assign “election challengers” to polls to monitor the election. In addition to observing the poll workers, these volunteers can challenge the eligibility of any voter provided they “have a good reason to believe” that the person is not eligible to vote. One allowable reason is that the person is not a “true resident of the city or township.”

The Michigan Republicans’ planned use of foreclosure lists is apparently an attempt to challenge ineligible voters as not being “true residents.”

The result here is pretty obvious. Many who have lost their homes come from poor or less affluent neighborhoods, which tend to vote Democrat. And anyone who has lost their home is likely to show some rage at the the incumbent political party, so they are also likely to vote against the Republicans.

Like I said, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I would not dream of suggesting that the Republicans used deregulation to deliberately sabotage the housing market and disenfranchise Democratic voters while passing tax cuts to the wealthiest members of society and giving their friends and donors in the oil lobby incentives that resulted in the biggest profits in history. That would be crazy talk.

But it sure seems as though the Republicans are doing their best to make it look that way.

Monday, September 15, 2008

All Decks Brace for Impact

Here is a condensed version of this AP article posted at MSNBC.

Street scrambles as Lehman deal collapses

NEW YORK - A failed plan to rescue Lehman Bros. was followed Sunday by more seismic shocks from Wall Street, including an apparent government-brokered takeover of Merrill Lynch by the Bank of America.

A forced restructuring of the world's largest insurance company, American International Group Inc., also weighed heavily on global markets as the effects of the 14-month-old credit crisis intensified.

A global consortium of banks, working with government officials in New York, announced late Sunday a $70 billion pool of funds to lend to troubled financial companies. The aim, according to participants who spoke to The Associated Press, was to prevent a worldwide panic on stock and other financial exchanges.

Ten banks -- Bank of America, Barclays, Citibank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS -- each agreed to provide $7 billion "to help enhance liquidity and mitigate the unprecedented volatility and other challenges affecting global equity and debt markets."

The Federal Reserve also chipped in with more largesse in its emergency lending program for commercial and investment banks.

* * *

Futures pegged to the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 300 points in electronic trading Sunday evening, pointing to a sharply lower open for the blue chip index Monday morning. Asian stock markets were also falling.

Lehman Brothers announced early Monday that it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. All potential buyers walked away after the U.S. Treasury refused to budge on its refusal to provide any takeover aid, as it had done six months ago when Bear Stearns faltered and earlier this month when it seized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
* * *

The deal would not come without risks, however. Merrill Lynch, like many of its Wall Street peers, has been struggling with tight credit markets and billions of dollars in assets tied to mortgages that have plunged in value. Merrill has reported four straight quarterly losses.

And Bank of America's own finances are far from robust. As consumer credit deteriorates, the bank has seen its profits decline, and the company is still in the midst of absorbing the embattled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial, which it acquired in January.

The stunning weekend developments took place as voters, who rank the economy as their top concern, prepare to elect a new president in seven weeks.

* * *

The end of Lehman may not stop the financial crisis that has gripped Wall Street for months, analysts said. More investment banks could disappear soon.

The independent broker-dealers "are going the way of the dodo bird," said Bert Ely, an Alexandria, Va.-based banking consultant.

That's partly because some of the firms, particularly Merrill, made bad bets on real estate. But several analysts said that investment companies will need the deep pockets of commercial banks to survive the next few years.

* * *

The common denominator of the financial crisis, analysts said, is the bursting of the housing bubble. Home prices have dropped on average 25 percent so far. Roubini predicted they could drop another 15 percent.

The crisis has begun to slow the broader economy as banks make fewer loans and consumers have begun cutting spending. Many economists are now forecasting that the economy could slip into recession by the end of this year and early next year.

That, in turn, could cause additional losses for commercial banks on credit cards, auto loans and student loans. [Emphasis added.]
* * *

The International Monetary Fund predicted earlier this year that total losses from the credit crisis could reach almost $1 trillion. So far, banks have only taken about $350 billion in losses.

Commercial banks are also starting to feel the pinch. Eleven have closed so far this year, including Pasadena, Calif.-based IndyMac Bank, which had $32 billion in assets and $19 billion in deposits.
* * *

Individual customers are starting to get nervous about the financial health of their banks for the first time in generations, he said. Whalen's firm analyzes the safety and soundness of banks for business clients, but began receiving inquiries from individuals in the past two months for the first time, he said.

"If we don't get ahead of this, we are going to face a run on the retail banks by election day," he said. [Emphasis added.]

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stick Your Nozzle Inside My Pipeline and Fill Me Up

You just can't make this shit up:

Government officials handling billions of dollars in oil royalties engaged in illicit sex with employees of energy companies they were dealing with and received numerous gifts from them, federal investigators said Wednesday.

The alleged transgressions involve 13 Interior Department employees in Denver and Washington. Their alleged improprieties include rigging contracts, working part-time as private oil consultants, and having sexual relationships with - and accepting golf and ski trips and dinners from - oil company employees, according to three reports released Wednesday by the Interior Department's inspector general.

The investigations reveal a "culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" by a small group of individuals "wholly lacking in acceptance of or adherence to government ethical standards," wrote Inspector General Earl E. Devaney.

The reports describe a fraternity house atmosphere inside the Denver Minerals Management Service office responsible for marketing the oil and gas that energy companies barter to the government instead of making cash royalty payments for drilling on federal lands. The government received $4.3 billion in such Royalty-in-Kind payments last year. The oil is then resold to energy companies or put in the nation's emergency stockpile.

Between 2002 and 2006, nearly a third of the 55-person staff in the Denver office received gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies, the investigators found.

Devaney said the former head of the Denver Royalty-in-Kind office, Gregory W. Smith, used illegal drugs and had sex with subordinates. The report said Smith also steered government contracts to a consulting business that was employing him part-time.

At least now we know that the American public wasn't the only one getting screwed by the oil companies.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin and Exurbans

So the question on everybody's mind is: who the hell is Sarah Palin?

McCain must be a asking himself this question, since he only met his vice presidential pick once before offering her the job.

Howard Fineman has an interesting article about a demographic he calls "Exurban America," people who have moved to the limits of society to escape the stress and perceived danger (mortal and cultural) of urban and suburban life.

An excerpt:

In Exurban America, you can buy a new home with a driveway and enough bedrooms for a big, traditional family. You can be near to nature, and big playgrounds and spaces. You can be far away from the fears and fractiousness of an old downtown, but close enough to go t0 the zoo or a concert or take in a ballgame.

And (assuming gas prices aren’t insane — a fateful assumption, of course) you can buy a big home on less than a six-figure family income. You can therefore get close as to “Leave it to Beaver" America as most middle-class folks can afford or even find.

ExAm is where the country that traditionalists think existed decades ago still exists – and where people fervently want it to exist.

That makes it, on balance, more socially conservative than other, closer-in suburbs, not to mention core cities. Eager for a settled, traditional life amid the hustle and chaos of modern, 21st century economic competition, ExAm families tend to favor rule-setting religion, old-fashioned family values — and ample but efficient government that has no ties to old arguments over Business and Labor.

This is an interesting take on what Palin brings to the McCain campaign. McCain has long been criticized for not appealing to the conservative base of the Republican party due to his reputation as a maverick, although on issues like the war, tax cuts for the wealthy, immigration, health care, and civil liberties he has almost always toed the Republican line. But Palin not only votes consistently with conservative ideology, she has built her public image around it as well.

The Exurban lifestyle represents a revision of the American dream for 2st Century social conservatives, and this is where Palin brings in the cultural element to the McCain campaign; this is a purebred conservative who opposes abortion in any form (even for rape survivors) and appears to believe in conservative mainstays of guns, god, and government. According to Fineman, many of the Exurbans are conservatives, and may respond well to Palin's stances.

Palin also presents a curve ball for the Obama campaign. Like Obama, Palin is an outsider with a reformer attitude and her lack of experience means that she hasn't had the chance to make embarrassing gaffs, mistakes, and flip flops like McCain or Biden. At this point even Obama has had some political backtracking with his support of the FISA bill and his willingness to compromise on offshore drilling. But Palin has no such record, at least in part because she has not been in government long enough to have much of a record on anything.

There are two components of gender that are in play here. One, this is a fairly obvious lure for disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters, those for whom getting a woman into office, whether she is qualified or not, is of primary concern. It would be ironic for Hillary Clinton voters to turn to Palin as their New Hope since Palin is the polar opposite of every issue Clinton stood for.

The second gender issue is sexism, but it plays against the Democrats. If the Obama campaign criticizes Palin too harshly or if Biden verbally assaults her in the vice presidential debate, there is the risk of yoking sympathy for her. I know this isn't politically correct, but I will go ahead and say it anyway: if the Democrats are characterized as "hitting a girl," they could lose the election. Consider the spike in Hillary Clinton's primary results when she cried at a press conference. Now imagine if Biden completely and utterly destroys Palin in the debate, making her look like an incompetent idiot. If he did that to a male candidate it would be characterized as a triumph, but depending how it goes down, Biden could win the argument but lose the debate and be characterized as a bully.

I'm not sure if Palin is an asset or a liability for McCain. Probably a little of both. But it's going to be an interesting couple of months.

Friday, August 29, 2008

ACLU: Know Your Rights

The Republican National Convention begins Monday in St. Paul. The American Civil Liberties Union has put out a "Know Your Rights Card" as a pdf file. It can be downloaded from this page.

Here is the body of the text:

Criminal Laws Impacting Demonstration Activity

  • You must give your name to law enforcement if you are under arrest or reasonably suspected of a crime. If you do not, you might be detained until they identify you.
  • Illegal trespassing includes interfering with signs that mark a legal boundary, entering private property without a claim of right, or refusing to leave when the owner demands it.
  • Minnesota law forbids you from wearing a mask, or other disguise to hide your identity unless it is based on religious beliefs, entertainment, medical treatment or the weather.
  • You can be arrested for terroristic threats for directly or indirectly threatening violence in order to terrorize others or cause an evacuation of a building, place of assembly, vehicle
    or transportation facility. It is a crime to intentionally obstruct, interfere with or make
    passage dangerous on any public right-of-way.
  • You can be charged with disorderly conduct for disturbing an assembly, speech or conduct that is likely to provoke a violent reaction, or inciting an immediate breach of the peace.
  • A group of three or more people can be arrested for unlawful assembly for disorderly conduct that unreasonably interferes with or obstructs another’s use of public or private property. You can be arrested for not leaving an unlawful assembly when ordered by law enforcement.
  • Intentional acts or threats of unlawful force to a person or property by three or more people is considered an illegal riot.

What To Do If You’re Stopped By The Law Enforcement: RNC Edition

You have the right to engage in peaceful, protest activity in Minneapolis and St. Paul. However, the cities and the police department impose certain restrictions on these activities to
ensure public safety. This card guides you basic information on your rights as a protester demonstrating at the Republican National Convention (RNC), and what do to do if you are
stopped, arrested, or injured by law enforcement.

Your Rights As A Protester
You have the right to protest peacefully in public areas like streets, sidewalks or parks. But, the government can have ‘time, place and manner’ restrictions on speech. You may need to obtain a permit. Restrictions are permissible as long as they are reasonable but not permissible if based on the message content of a certain speaker or group.

  • Generally, you have the right to distribute literature, hold signs and collect petition signatures on sidewalks or in front of government buildings as long as you do not disrupt other people, force passersby to accept leaflets or obstruct traffic.
  • Drumming, dancing, singing and chanting are First Amendment protected activities. Street performers, mimes or puppeteers are also protected.
  • The USA PATRIOT Act prohibits willfully and knowingly engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct near or obstructing access to national political conventions. The penalty can include one year or more in federal prison.

To complain about police actions at the RNC, contact the ACLU of Minnesota by
visiting our website at and filling out an online form.

If arrested at an RNC-related protest and in need of a lawyer, call the ACLU-MN RNC-arrest hotline: 651.789.0443

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Colleges: Drinking age 'not working'
By Stephen Kiehl, Baltimore Sun
August 19, 2008

Top university officials in Maryland - including the chancellor of the state university system and the president of the Johns Hopkins University - say the current drinking age of 21 "is not working" and has led to dangerous binges in which students have harmed themselves and others.

Six college presidents in Maryland are among more than 100 college and university presidents nationwide who have signed a statement calling for a public debate on rethinking the drinking age.

"Kids are going to drink whether it's legal or illegal," said Johns Hopkins President William R. Brody, who supports lowering the drinking age to 18. "We'd at least be able to have a more open dialogue with students about drinking as opposed to this sham where people don't want to talk about it because it's a violation of the law."

The presidents of the University of Maryland, College Park; Towson University; the College of Notre Dame of Maryland; Goucher College; Washington College and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute signed the statement, along with the presidents of Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State University.

"How many times must we relearn the lessons of prohibition?" the statement says. "Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer."

Each state has the authority to set its own drinking age, but in 1984 Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which says that states with a drinking age lower than 21 will lose 10 percent of their federal highway money. After that law passed, all 50 states raised their drinking age to 21.

The first step for the presidents is to work for repeal of that law as part of next year's transportation reauthorization bill. They recognize the challenge, given the passions ignited by the issue, but say they are desperate to confront the problem of drinking on and off college campuses.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Science of Diversity

Peter Wood has published an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education in which he links the shrinking interest in math and science to larger cultural forces at work in academia. An excerpt:

The precipitous drop in American science students has been visible for years. In 1998 the House released a national science-policy report, "Unlocking Our Future," that fussily described "a serious incongruity between the perceived utility of a degree in science and engineering by potential students and the present and future need for those with training."

Let me offer a different explanation. Students respond more profoundly to cultural imperatives than to market forces. In the United States, students are insulated from the commercial market's demand for their knowledge and skills. That market lies a long way off — often too far to see. But they are not insulated one bit from the worldview promoted by their teachers, textbooks, and entertainment. From those sources, students pick up attitudes, motivations, and a lively sense of what life is about. School has always been as much about learning the ropes as it is about learning the rotes. We do, however, have some new ropes, and they aren't very science-friendly. Rather, they lead students who look upon the difficulties of pursuing science to ask, "Why bother?"

Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study. A century ago, Max Weber wrote of "Science as a Vocation," and, indeed, students need to feel something like a calling for science to surmount the numerous obstacles on the way to an advanced degree.

At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren't among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who "feel good" about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.

Read the full article here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

W Trailer

This is the trailer for Oliver Stone's biopic of George W. Bush. I posted this over on the Maverick at the Movies blog too, but this has so much promise that I wanted to share it here too.

Friday, July 11, 2008

"You say you want a revolution, man/I say that you're full of shit" - Marilyn Manson, Disposable Teens

Today, President Bush will sign the FISA law, which will retroactively legalize the Administration’s illegal wiretapping operation and give immunity to the telecom companies that aided and abetted them to do it. A nearly identical bill had been presented for a vote a few months ago and was defeated. This was seen as a sign of progress, part of the change Democrat Barack Obama has been calling for, the kind of action his supporters have rallied around him for. What the Bush Administration did was illegal and like their laundry list of other scandals, they have tried to cover their tails and the tails of complicit corporations by changing the law. Rule of law and preservation of civil liberties has never been a high priority for the Bush Administration; from the PATRIOT Act to the Child Online Protection Act to the FISA bill, the White House has been willing to shred the Constitution to consolidate the power of the Executive Branch, advance nonsensical ideological goals, and protect corporate allies. Today’s signing ceremony is a continuation of this trend.

But that is not the worst part. The FISA bill Bush will sign into law was supported by Senators on both sides of the aisle—including Barack Obama. It is more than disheartening; it’s disillusioning and demoralizing. I have been slow to join the Obama movement, and his capitulation on this matter confirms my suspicion that the man is an opportunist whose rhetoric is hollow and whose call for change is only cosmetic.

This does not make me a McCain supporter. That man is just as bad. And that is the problem. Just like the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, the Democrats are running to the center, trying to appease an imaginary constituency that wants a Republi-Crat politician; someone who is so compromised that they don’t actually stand for anything. This crowd does not exist. There is a desire, especially among those enlightened individuals who do not tie themselves to party allegiances, to elevate the discourse above party lines but that should not be mistaken for processing integrity into sludge.

To keep it in perspective, this is just one vote. But the passage of the PATRIOT Act or the authorization of the president to go to war in Iraq were also just one vote and the ramifications of those decisions are felt far into the future.

I hope Obama’s revolution is not over before it began, but maybe it never really existed in the first place.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Birthday America

I think this picture says a lot. Maybe not all, but certainly a lot.

Happy Fourth of July.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Sad Day for Comedy

George Carlin died last night of heart failure at age 71. While I have always been a fan of stand-up, Carlin's act went beyond comedy. Building on the work of Lenny Bruce, Carlin cultivated a confrontational stage persona that influenced nearly every major comic who followed, including Richard Pryor, Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Maher, Chris Rock, Dennis Miller, and Lewis Black. His "Seven Dirty Words" bit lead to a court case on profanity and indecency that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and Carlin himself was arrested for some of his provocative language.

Just as a savvy medieval jester understood the intricacies of court politics, Carlin had the ability to take the idiosyncrasies and hypocrisies of our culture and play them out on stage in a one man show, and in the process help us understand ourselves. His use of profanity was not just intended to shock, it was a commentary on how people reveal themselves through the subtleties of language. Carlin's attacks on religion and other social institutions elevated his work from diversionary entertainment into intricate cultural analysis. This was not just a man making people laugh; he was a man making people laugh at themselves and in our laughter we experienced moments of clarity into who we are as individuals and as a people.

Carlin was fond of saying that it is the duty of the comedian to find out where the culture has drawn a line and deliberately cross it, dragging the audience along with him, and making them happy they've traversed it. I've tried to take this on as a personal motto both in my work and in my daily life. I've certainly got a great deal left to do, especially in mastering that last component of making the audience enjoy the trip. But Carlin and his work endures as a shining example to the power of language and a prime example of just how formidable an intelligent man with a microphone can be.

Here are a few Youtube videos of some of my favorite Carlin moments:

Carlin the Modern Man

Carlin on the First Gulf War

Carlin on Stupid People

Carlin on Seven Dirty Words

Carlin on Religion

Carlin on Stuff

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cary Nelson on Academic Freedom

A friend embedded the following Youtube video on his blog. It's an interview with Cary Nelson on the use of contingent faculty and the future of academic freedom. The interview was conducted by Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mama Said Knock You Out

Two big stories this week, one mostly symbolic and the other with big implications.

First, Dennis Kucinich introduced articles of impeachment against George W. Bush. The articles included:

  1. Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq.
  2. Falsely, Systematically, and with Criminal Intent Conflating the Attacks of September 11, 2001, With Misrepresentation of Iraq as a Security Threat as Part of Fraudulent Justification for a War of Aggression.
  3. Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, to Manufacture a False Case for War.
  4. Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Posed an Imminent Threat to the United States.
  5. Illegally Misspending Funds to Secretly Begin a War of Aggression.
  6. Invading Iraq in Violation of the Requirements of HJRes114.
  7. Invading Iraq Absent a Declaration of War.
  8. Invading Iraq, A Sovereign Nation, in Violation of the UN Charter.
  9. Failing to Provide Troops With Body Armor and Vehicle Armor
  10. Falsifying Accounts of US Troop Deaths and Injuries for Political Purposes
  11. Establishment of Permanent U.S. Military Bases in Iraq
  12. Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of That Nation's Natural Resources
  13. Creating a Secret Task Force to Develop Energy and Military Policies With Respect to Iraq and Other Countries
  14. Misprision of a Felony, Misuse and Exposure of Classified Information And Obstruction of Justice in the Matter of Valerie Plame Wilson, Clandestine Agent of the Central Intelligence Agency
  15. Providing Immunity from Prosecution for Criminal Contractors in Iraq
  16. Reckless Misspending and Waste of U.S. Tax Dollars in Connection With Iraq and US Contractors
  17. Illegal Detention: Detaining Indefinitely And Without Charge Persons Both U.S. Citizens and Foreign Captives
  18. Torture: Secretly Authorizing, and Encouraging the Use of Torture Against Captives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Other Places, as a Matter of Official Policy
  19. Rendition: Kidnapping People and Taking Them Against Their Will to "Black Sites" Located in Other Nations, Including Nations Known to Practice Torture
  20. Imprisoning Children
  21. Misleading Congress and the American People About Threats from Iran, and Supporting Terrorist Organizations Within Iran, With the Goal of Overthrowing the Iranian Government
  22. Creating Secret Laws
  23. Violation of the Posse Comitatus Act
  24. Spying on American Citizens, Without a Court-Ordered Warrant, in Violation of the Law and the Fourth Amendment
  25. Directing Telecommunications Companies to Create an Illegal and Unconstitutional Database of the Private Telephone Numbers and Emails of American Citizens
  26. Announcing the Intent to Violate Laws with Signing Statements
  27. Failing to Comply with Congressional Subpoenas and Instructing Former Employees Not to Comply
  28. Tampering with Free and Fair Elections, Corruption of the Administration of Justice
  29. Conspiracy to Violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965
  30. Misleading Congress and the American People in an Attempt to Destroy Medicare
  31. Katrina: Failure to Plan for the Predicted Disaster of Hurricane Katrina, Failure to Respond to a Civil Emergency
  32. Misleading Congress and the American People, Systematically Undermining Efforts to Address Global Climate Change
  33. Repeatedly Ignored and Failed to Respond to High Level Intelligence Warnings of Planned Terrorist Attacks in the US, Prior to 911.
  34. Obstruction of the Investigation into the Attacks of September 11, 2001
  35. Endangering the Health of 911 First Responders
The legislation is about six years too late and not all of these are impeachable offenses, but the articles make up one of the most comprehensive lists of Bush's scandals, outrages, and offenses against the Constitution, the armed forces, and the Iraqi and American people, at least in relation to the war and to September 11th.

The House relegated the piece of legislation to committee hell and with Bush only having six months left in office the legislation is unlikely to actually lead to a formal censure or removal from office. Being savvy to the realities of politics, Kucinich knew this, but had them read out loud in the chamber--twice-- and into the record, with all present members of the House forced to listen. And that was what is really important here, for the present and for history; the president was held accountable and his offenses were set out for all to see.

Second, the Supreme Court ruled that terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts. This is a huge blow to Bush's dangerous attempt to consolidate the power of the Executive and Judicial branches into one and remove habeus corpus upon the accusation of terrorist activity.

Justice Kennedy had this to say in his opinion:

First, protection for the privilege of habeas corpus was one of the few safeguards of liberty specified in a Constitution that, at the outset, had no Bill of Rights . . . The Framers viewed freedom from unlawful restraint as a fundamental precept of liberty, and they understood the writ of habeas corpus as a vital instrument to secure that freedom. Experience taught, however, that the common-law writ all too often had been insufficient to guard against the abuse of monarchial power. That history counseled the necessity for specific language in the Constitution to secure the writ and ensure its place in our legal system . . . That the Framers considered the writ a vital instrument for the protection of individual liberty is evident from the care taken to specify the limited grounds for its suspension: "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it" . . . In our own system the Suspension Clause is designed to protect against these cyclical abuses. The Clause protects the rights of the detained by a means consistent with the essential design of the Constitution. It ensures that, except during periods of formal suspension, the Judiciary will have a time-tested device, the writ, to maintain the "delicate balance of governance" that is itself the surest safeguard of liberty . . . It is true that before today the Court has never held that noncitizens detained by our Government in territory over which another country maintains de jure sovereignty have any rights under our Constitution. But the cases before us lack any precise historical parallel. They involve individuals detained by executive order for the duration ofa conflict that, if measured from September 11, 2001, to the present, is already among the longest wars in American history. . . . The detainees, moreover, are held in a territory that, while technically not part of the United States, is under the complete and total control of our Government. Under these circumstances the lack of a precedent on point is no barrier to our holding . . . We do consider it uncontroversial, however, that the privilege of habeas corpus entitles the prisoner to a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate that he is being held pursuant to "the erroneous application or interpretation" of relevant law . . . Where a person is detained by executive order, rather than, say, after being tried and convicted in a court, the need for collateral review is most pressing. A criminal conviction in the usual course occurs after a judicial hearing before a tribunal disinterested in the outcome andcommitted to procedures designed to ensure its own independence. These dynamics are not inherent in executive detention orders or executive review procedures. In this context the need for habeas corpus is more urgent. The intended duration of the detention and the reasons for it bear upon the precise scope of the inquiry. Habeas corpus proceedings need not resemble a criminal trial, even when the detention is by executive order. But the writ must be effective. The habeas court must have sufficient authority to conduct a meaningful review of both the cause for detention and the Executive’s power to detain . . . Our decision today holds only that the petitioners before us are entitled to seek the writ; that the DTA review procedures are an inadequate substitute for habeas corpus; and that the petitioners in these cases need not exhaust the review procedures in the Court of Appeals before proceeding with their habeas actions in the District Court . . . It bears repeating that our opinion does not address the content of the law that governs petitioners’ detention. That is a matter yet to be determined. We hold that petitioners may invoke the fundamental procedural protections of habeas corpus. The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that frame work, a part of that law. [Emphasis added.]

The final words of this excerpt are the most important, as they summarize the argument so many of us have made since September 11th, 2001. Freedom and security are not mutually exclusive and giving up one to have the other is foolish and unnecessary. Bush and his associates have tried over and over to convince us otherwise, arguing that these special courts are necessary to protect Americans. But if these inmates are so dangerous, then why, according to the Times Online, of the 775 people imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, 420 have been released without charge?

Kennedy's opinion and Kucinich's list of Bush's offenses are documents that will be key to evaluating the disastrous legacy of this administration in years to come. That they come together in the same week is a terrific bit of timing.