Archive for November, 2007|Monthly archive page

The Poor

As my wife works with the mentally ill, I find my Google Quote of the Day especially insightful today:

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.
– Herman Melville

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Glenn Greenwald

Glenn has a fantastic smackdown of Joe Klein and Time Magazine for publishing outright lies about the wiretapping bill currently under consideration in DC.  As is the case time and again in the So-Called Liberal Media, his lies directly benefit the GOP.  Mr. Klein has attempted to clarify what he said FIVE times now, yet he still hasn’t corrected – or even addressed – the underlying falsehoods in his original column.  When people do something they should be embarrassed of, but they remain unrepentant, it provides an amusing and gratifying sense of satisfaction to watch them twist in the wind.  The Germans have a word for this – schadenfreude.

By completely botching the story and followup, TIME has exposed to a much wider audience the disease that has been ravaging our democracy for over two decades: reporters-as-stenographers. Now everyone can easily see how absurd the media’s concept of “objectivity” is. Here’s what Molly Ivins said way back in 1987:

We are retreating to a fine old American press cop-out we like to call objectivity. Russell Baker once described it: “In the classic example, a refugee from Nazi Germany who appears on television saying monstrous things are happening in his homeland must be followed by a Nazi spokesman saying Adolf Hitler is the greatest boon to humanity since pasteurized milk. Real objectivity would require not only hard work by news people to determine which report was accurate, but also a willingness to put up with the abuse certain to follow publication of an objectively formed judgement. To escape the hardwork or the abuse, if one man says Hitler is an ogre, we instantly give you another to say Hitler is a prince. A man says the rockets won’t work? We give you another who says they will. . . .

The American press has always had a tendency to assume that the truth must lie exactly halfway between any two opposing points of view. . . .This tendency has been aggravated in recent years by a noticeable trend to substitute people who speak from a right-wing ideological perspective for those who know something about a given subject. . . .

The odd thing about these television discussions designed to “get all sides of the issue” is that they do not feature a spectrum of people with different views on reality: Rather, they frequently give us a face-off between those who see reality and those who have missed it entirely. In the name of objectivity, we are getting fantasyland.

After 20 years I take only one issue with her assessment.  The breakdown and dysfunction of the foundation of our democracy – the press – is no fantasy.

The Winning Candidate

Cthulhu in ‘08!

The stab in the back myth

The world’s finest military launches a highly coordinated shock-and-awe attack that shows enormous initial progress. There’s talk of the victorious troops being home for Christmas. But the war unexpectedly drags on. As fighting persists into a third, and then a fourth year, voices are heard calling for negotiations, even “peace without victory.” Dismissing such peaceniks and critics as defeatists, a conservative and expansionist regime — led by a figurehead who often resorts to simplistic slogans and his Machiavellian sidekick who is considered the brains behind the throne — calls for one last surge to victory. Unbeknownst to the people on the home front, however, this duo has already prepared a seductive and self-exculpatory myth in case the surge fails.

The United States in 2007? No, Wilhelmine, Germany in 1917 and 1918, as its military dictators, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and his loyal second, General Erich Ludendorff, pushed Germany toward defeat and revolution in a relentless pursuit of victory in World War I. Having failed with their surge strategy on the Western Front in 1918, they nevertheless succeeded in deploying a stab-in-the-back myth, or Dolchstoßlegende, that shifted blame for defeat from themselves and Rightist politicians to Social Democrats and others allegedly responsible for losing the war by their failure to support the troops at home.

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Hurricane Hunters

They fly into hurricanes. I used to run into burning buildings and I think they’re crazy. But they are great people for what they do. The following story comes from Jeff Masters, meteorologist and cofounder of Weather Underground, and details a mission earlier this year that almost went sideways (Kermit is the crew’s nickname for the airplane):

On February 9, Kermit flew into an intense winter storm 500 miles east of Newfoundland. … It was a bit of a rough ride, since the storm packed winds of 100-110 mph at flight level. Sea spray kicked up by the powerful winds reached all the way to flight level (3,000 feet for that particular mission), coating the windshield with a thick white coating of salt. The windshield washer failed, leaving the windshield partially opaque. It was an unusually dry winter storm, and the rain showers needed to rinse the windshield clean were difficult to find.

After a successful 4-hour flight, the aircraft dropped its final dropsonde, and turned north to complete its final sampling run. Suddenly, crew members observed flames coming from the #3 engine, accompanied by an audible popping sound. “Fire on #3, flames, flames, flames!” came the cry over the on-board intercom system. The pilots and flight engineers immediately began an emergency shut down of the #3 engine. As they worked to shut down the engine, the ominous call, “Fire on #4!” came over the intercom. The pilot immediately began an emergency shut down of the #4 engine.

With both engines on the right wing now shut down, the pilot cautiously ramped up power on the two engines on the left wing, turned the aircraft towards home base in St. Johns, Newfoundland, and attempted to climb. However, the aircraft was not able to climb on just two engines, and the pilot was forced to begin a gradual descent to 2600 feet.

The pilot notified the crew to review their ditching placards, and word was send to air traffic control informing them of the emergency. Three tense minutes passed, as the crew attempted to figure out what had caused the multiple engine failures. Speculation centered on the unusually heavy accumulation of salt on the aircraft–but excessive salt had never been implicated in engine failures before.

Then, the words they all dreaded, “Fire on #1!” burst out over the intercom. The flight engineer immediately pulled the emergency shutdown handle for the #1 engine, and Kermit began a 700 foot per minute descent towards the turbulent sea below.

The crew donned survival suits as the pilot issued a May-day distress call and prepared to ditch the aircraft. Beneath them, hurricane force winds blew over the night-shrouded North Atlantic waters. With waves easily reaching 20 feet, water temperatures near freezing, and 500 miles out at sea at night, prospects for survival were dim.

Four minutes remained to restart one of the flamed-out engines, and the pilot called for an immediate restart of the #1 engine. As the flight engineer worked to comply, Kermit passed through a brief rain shower that washed considerable salt from the aircraft. The attempt to restart the #1 engine succeeded, and Kermit pulled out of its descent just 800 feet above the waves–one minute from impact.

Gulp.

Gun Control

An interesting issue to say the least.  Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging Washington DC’s handgun ban, we should have a guaranteed controversial decision by the end of next summer.  Either cities and states will have to stop enforcing existing gun bans, or they’ll get the green light and many more will undoubtably follow.

This is a hard issue for me to contemplate because I grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans in a gun-free home.  I didn’t know anyone who hunted, outside of extended family and some acquaintences from school, and I never went along with those who did.  In fact the only time I’ve ever held a gun was to shoot clay pigeons with a 12 gauge when I was chauffeuring my little brother to his hunting license class one summer.  I don’t really have any experience from the pro-gun side of the issue, but I think I have some idea of its importance to many people.  I certainly understand the desire to protect yourself and your family if you live in a less-than-desirable location.

Unfortunately for those people, as the 2nd Amendment is written it really does appear that guns were meant for militias only.  In the bygone days of the minutemen this distinction was meaningless, as soldiers were quartered in their own homes.  The founding fathers nevertheless included the “well-regulated militia” phrase in the amendment to account for the eventual likelihood of permanent armies separate from citizens.

With that in mind I believe the correct decision for the Court is to interpret the Second Amendment as it is written – members of the armed services and the National Guard are the only individuals authorized by the Constitution to carry firearms.  It’s the only conclusion consistent with the law as it stands.

Hold on, that’s not the end of the story so don’t assault me just yet.  Remember that courts are charged with interpreting the law as it is, not as it should be.  The founders probably never envisioned the extent or even the existence of the gun crimes that we see in inner cities, and they certainly would not have agreed with leaving citizens with no means to defend themselves in such an extreme environment.

With that in mind, Congress should immediately begin work on a new federal law that allows possession of firearms for protection and for hunting/sport/etc.

It would be a huge mistake to simply round up all firearms and destroy them; there is truth in the old adage “when guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns.” A new federal statute is needed to strike an appropriate balance between protection of both self and community. Ironing out the details of such a law would be a messy, extended battle, but in the end clearing up the issue for cities and states will help us put a lot of animosity and wasted effort behind us.

To conclude, the Second Amendment does not protect the individual’s right to own or possess firearms, and the Supreme Court would be justified in interpreting it that way.  If this is indeed the conclusion they reach, a federal law allowing possession should immediately follow to clarify and codify the de facto compromise agreement between pro- and anti-gun lobbies that exists today.

And now, on to world hunger…

Pork

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Is Iraq getting better?

The numbers seem to indicate that they are, but are they the whole story?  Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey bitterly mocks the argument (emphasis added):

“Aren’t the numbers of dead down for the last few weeks? Sure. Ethnic cleansing works and death squads work. The Iraqi capital, once unified and cosmopolitan, is now cut up into insular little communities. Since the militias’ campaigns of murder, mutilation, intimidation and reprisal have achieved their ends, there’s no need to keep the slaughter going. Never mind the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and the destruction of the modern state.”

Dickey rails against the war’s “human costs and, on a broader scale, the incalculable price Americans already are paying in lost influence, reputation, business and security around the world. Once a nation to be admired for its ideals and feared for its strength, under this administration the United States has been transformed into a country derided for its hypocrisy and feared for its stupidity. Al Qaeda’s horrific attacks on New York and Washington may have triggered the blind rage and excused the willful blindness that led us to this pass, but an incurious public, a feckless press and a flaccid opposition have been complicit all the way, and they still are…”

I love it when someone is able to elegantly put words to the ideas and beliefs that float around aimlessly in my brain-pan.  If you include the White House’s ongoing efforts to establish a unitary executive to that list, you pretty much have the totality of why I feel we’re in such a bad way as a country.  I maintain hope that nothing is too permanent to be fixed and that we’ll soon correct course… some way… somehow.

Forgotten Vets

Eric Alterman has an excellent Think Again column up this morning:

The vacuum at the center of the Bush administration’s mistreatment of [veterans], both on the battlefield and once they return home, creates an opportunity for progressives to have their voices heard by an audience previously closed off to them. Each passing scandal makes it even more clear that its time for liberalism to reclaim its natural duty to engage in what Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne calls “G.I. Bill politics.”

When Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill in 1944, he committed the U.S. government to offering returning veterans college tuition and fees, textbooks, and a stipend, along with unemployment benefits and job counseling, in return for the service they rendered the nation. These veterans, FDR explained, “have been compelled to make greater economic sacrifice and every other kind of sacrifice than the rest of us, and are entitled to definite action to help take care of their special problems.”

A new G.I. Bill would be smart place to for progressives to begin. As Dionne has argued, such an approach would not only be fair and decent; it would demonstrate that progressives “honor two things at least. We honor service to country and community and say that that’s important. And then by rewarding service to country and community, we assert that government has the capacity to help lift people up.”

This is yet another aspect of current events that is being completely ignored by all of the presidential candidates.  After news of Walter Reed became stale everyone went back to the status quo.  It’s one more piece of evidence practically crying out for a third party to submit a candidate who is ready to make sweeping FDR-like changes to the way we have been doing things over the last decade.  Democrats have become so risk averse, so afraid of the tired, predictable smear attacks from the right, that they have rendered themselves virtually ineffective as a counterbalance and alternative to the Republicans.

When the Dems inevitably gain solid majorities and the White House after next year’s elections, I have no faith or expectation that they will substantially reverse anything the Bush White House has done beyond addressing the clearest of illegal activities.  Holding the GOP accountable for the past decade is only half of the job; the other half is to fix the mess.  I don’t think the Dems have the courage.

Where’s the Progressive Party hiding?  Does one even exist?

Fox Business News

Although few believed that the new Fox Business News network would be politically unbiased, it’s still a little breathtaking to watch its brazen unapologetic race for the bottom of the intellectual barrel.

Yesterday FBN anchor David Asman scored an interview with President Bush (what an unlikely development, Bush granting an interview with Fox). Mr. Asman’s very first question:

“You call yourself a supply-sider. Your speech today was all about tax cuts. But were even you surprised at how much revenue came in to the Treasury when you lowered those tax rates?”

Hooo-leeee shit. If Mr. Asman had any respect, or any notion that he might be a journalist, it vanished within the first 10 seconds of the interview. Asman’s fawning self-immolation aside, the White House’s own economists have acknowledged that the tax cuts haven’t even paid for themselves, much less increasing the revenue stream. Once again, the information is a matter of public record but repeating a lie often enough makes it a fact.

I took several economics courses in college. I understand why people are drawn to the notion of supply side economics. On paper it makes sense. But on paper, Libertarianism makes sense too. In practice they are both horrible ideas. Cutting taxes to increase revenue has failed each and every time it has been attempted. It doesn’t work. People just aren’t predictable enough. It’s time to acknowledge that fact and to start working on Plan B.