3.31.2005

as if we need another

A new reason to hate the MTA. This morning the New York Times reports:
The chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has thrown his support behind the Jets' $720 million bid for the rights to build a stadium over its railyards on the West Side of Manhattan, all but assuring that the authority's board will approve a sale to the team at its meeting this morning, according to two people who spoke yesterday with the chairman, Peter S. Kalikow.

The team's proposal has been championed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who sees the stadium as the centerpiece of the city's effort to lure the 2012 Olympics...
So much for the highest bidder. The Cablevision bid is being called "not credible". Not credible is how these people decide to spend our money.

compassion

We saw the movie "Vera Drake" last night, just out on DVD. (Thank you Netflix!). I thought it was very well done. Writer and director Mike Leigh is a master at illustrating complex themes through his story, without ever using characters as billboards. Since I struggle to do that with my own writing, I know how hard it is, and I am very impressed.

I felt a deep kinship with the character Vera Drake, a working-class woman who "helps girls out," as she calls it, by terminating early pregnancies. I am very prone to this stirring feeling of solidarity, be the characters striking office-cleaners ("Bread and Roses") or Alabama bus boycotters. I believe we are all part of the same struggle - that everyone working for justice is linked, across all cultures and all times.

The movie "Vera Drake" also illustrates abortion as an act of morality and compassion. The fetus is a form of life; that much is clear. A human being in a persistent vegetative state is also a form of life. Terminating certain forms of life can be necessary, can be preferred, and can be moral.

3.30.2005

bump in the road

I got a little package from Ottawa last Saturday - a large envelope with a sealed business envelope inside. The enclosed letter instructed me to bring the sealed envelope to the doctor who did my medical evaluation for immigration, who would then open said envelope and instruct me further.

I wasn't authorized to open the envelope myself - it had to be brought to the doctor sealed. The Ancient One who did our exams has hours only a few afternoons a week, and the office is very inconvenient, so it would be a few days before the mystery could be solved. This left plenty of time for my imagination to run wild. I tried to be reasonable... with limited success.

I was a wee bit anxious over what could possibly have gone wrong. And I was not happy about the prospect of Dr Old stabbing me in a vain attempt to draw more blood. (A pun? I pun unintentionally.) I am not at all afraid of needles - I get blood drawn regularly without the slightest flinch. But this man left my arm looking like a Jackson Pollack. And we're in short-sleeve weather now.

Well, I finally saw him yesterday afternoon. And of course it turned out to be nothing. I do need a blood test - but he sent me to a lab for it. Whew. The test itself is inconsequential, a function of some medication I'm on. Dr Old said Ottawa always manages to find something to ask about.

The lab will send the results to the doc, the doc will send them to Ottawa, and Ottawa will then send their recommendation to Buffalo. Onward.

feeding frenzy

I kind of can't believe I'm blogging about the Schiavo insanity again, but when the media blankets an event as it has this one, there are bound to be some unusual takes. "These are their stories." [kah-chunk]

One. Has anyone asked the Feeding Tube where it stands? How will the Feeding Tube's quiet voice be heard above the din? Get Your War On brings us that lost perspective, and thanks to BWV for pointing it out.

Two. The Curmudgeonly Crab has something to say about irony. Did you know that women are not the property of their husbands? It's true! Did you know it's OK to maim and kill people in order to save a brain-dead person? See, there's a lot you don't know!

These people just love blobs of cells. Blobs of cells in the uterus, blobs of human remains in a bed, they just can't get enough of those cell blobs.

And three. Antonia Zerbisias, an excellent columnist for the Toronto Star, comments on what robbed Terri Schiavo of her consciousness in the first place: bulimia. I write about eating disorders (see here, for example), and I've been wondering about the connection. Zerbisias writes:
A once fat teenager who had lost 65 pounds, Terri Schiavo was so terrified of regaining her excess weight that she willingly purged her body of sustenance, and in a rather violent fashion.

"The irony is very cruel indeed," observes Jean Kilbourne, an expert on how women are portrayed in advertising, and author of Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. "I don't think it's an issue of vanity. I think it's much, much deeper.

"Women, young women, get the message that their value depends entirely on how they look and, these days, on being extremely thin."

Of course, nobody knows what, if anything, is in Terri Schiavo's mind right now. Maybe if, somewhere deep down inside, Terri really does have consciousness, she wouldn't mind seeing herself on TV over and over again looking slack-jawed and stupid.

Why care, if it saves her life?

Which brings us back to the media, who are profiting mightily from Schiavo's terrible fate, with this perfectly made-to-measure big ratings story.

Throughout this wrenching moral and political uproar, they alone have escaped castigation.

Yet they have much to answer for. They and the advertisers that feed them are the ones who promote unrealistic images of tall, willowy women without an ounce of excess flesh — except of course in the two right places.

"Imagine," says Kilbourne, "if all this energy and media attention focused instead on the self-loathing and hatred of their own bodies that our culture generates in women, and the rampant eating disorders that often result. Now that might save the lives of many young women for whom it is not too late."
The author quoted is certainly correct: the issues involved in eating disorders are much more complex than a desire to be thin. If it's true that Schiavo's husband was controlling, then it's likely at least one of her parents were as well. People with eating disorders often grow up in an overly controlling environment, where their own thoughts and feelings are dismissed and discarded in favor of other people making decisions for them. Controlling one's body becomes the refuge of last resort.

There are other potential factors, too, such as sexual abuse, and a general lack of self-esteem, which of course could stem from any of the other factors.

Many thanks to Zerbisias for exploring this. I've linked to the Common Dreams version because it's easier to read. The original column is here.

3.29.2005

something you'll never see again

Uh-oh. I have something in common with David Brooks.

With Opening Day around a quick corner (yay!), the conservative pundit is considering withdrawing his loyalty from his beloved Mets and bestowing it on the new team in his town, The Nationals, who are the reincarnation of the Montreal Expos.

I, too, have changed allegiances, and it still causes me some confusion. And I didn't just jump from Team A to Team B. After nearly 30 years, I switched sides in the oldest and most heated rivalry in American sports. (If you're interested - which I understand you probably are not! - I wrote about it here.)

Allan and I have been re-watching the 2004 post-season - he has the whole thing on DVD - as our own personal Spring Training. Last night the Red Sox completed their historic comeback, the Yankees completed their historic collapse, and Yankee Stadium belonged to Red Sox Nation. I felt a little pang, but mostly the joy in my heart told me which side I'm now on. I don't like to see certain players (Mariano, Bernie... can't think of anyone else...) lose. But I do love to see those Yankee fans heading for the exits.

So here it is, folks. A one-time offer, never to be repeated on these pages. I am about to quote David Brooks. Brooks whose opinions are loathsome to me. Brooks who I believe is a complete fraud, since he's way too intelligent to believe half of what he writes. But also Brooks, who is a serious baseball fan. He writes: "...but I go into the season adrift and uncertain, tempted by my lowdown cheating heart, caught between a lifetime love and an enticing new fling."

That describes how I felt going into last season, 2004. By now, I've learned that this budding new love in my heart is no casual fling.

****

The Red Sox and Yankees open the 2005 season against each other, both in the Bronx and at Fenway. This means the Yankees will be in the visitors' dugout when the Red Sox raise the American League pennant that was so very nearly theirs, and that beautiful World Championship flag that changed the world forever. The fun begins this Sunday night.

what's goin' on

Marvin Gaye asked the question, now Paul Krugman does the same. Read it. Think about it. People still wondering why I'm leaving the country need look no further.

++++++

What's Going On?
By Paul Krugman

Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people's beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.

We can see this failing clearly in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, a culture of tolerance led the nation to ignore the growing influence of Islamic extremists until they turned murderous.

But it's also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence.

Before he saw the polls, Tom DeLay declared that "one thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America." Now he and his party, shocked by the public's negative reaction to their meddling, want to move on. But we shouldn't let them. The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.

One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards.

Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right.

Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through "Terri's law." But there has been little national exposure for a Miami Herald report that Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement agents to seize Terri Schiavo from the hospice - a plan called off when local police said they would enforce the judge's order that she remain there.

And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law.

The religious right is already having a big impact on education: 31 percent of teachers surveyed by the National Science Teachers Association feel pressured to present creationism-related material in the classroom.

But medical care is the cutting edge of extremism.

Yesterday The Washington Post reported on the growing number of pharmacists who, on religious grounds, refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills. These pharmacists talk of personal belief; but the effect is to undermine laws that make these drugs available. And let me make a prediction: soon, wherever the religious right is strong, many pharmacists will be pressured into denying women legal drugs.

And it won't stop there. There is a nationwide trend toward "conscience" or "refusal" legislation. Laws in Illinois and Mississippi already allow doctors and other health providers to deny virtually any procedure to any patient. Again, think of how such laws expose doctors to pressure and intimidation.

But the big step by extremists will be an attempt to eliminate the filibuster, so that the courts can be packed with judges less committed to upholding the law than Mr. Greer.

We can't count on restraint from people like Mr. DeLay, who believes that he's on a mission to bring a "biblical worldview" to American politics, and that God brought him a brain-damaged patient to help him with that mission.

What we need - and we aren't seeing - is a firm stand by moderates against religious extremism. Some people ask, with justification, Where are the Democrats? But an even better question is, Where are the doctors fiercely defending their professional integrity? I think the American Medical Association disapproves of politicians who second-guess medical diagnoses based on video images - but the association's statement on the Schiavo case is so timid that it's hard to be sure.

The closest parallel I can think of to current American politics is Israel. There was a time, not that long ago, when moderate Israelis downplayed the rise of religious extremists. But no more: extremists have already killed one prime minister, and everyone realizes that Ariel Sharon is at risk.

America isn't yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren't sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.

++++++

3.28.2005

amazing photo

This photo was included as a pull-out poster in a recent mailing from the International Paralympic Committee. It was originally published in Sports Illustrated and won the 2005 World Press Photo prize in the Sports Action category.

I can't post it, but you can see it here. It might take a moment to orient yourself and figure out what you're looking at. Great, huh?

All the 2005 winners are here and selections from 50 years of this prize are here. The "50 year gallery" is tough to look at, since the winning photos often depict the horrors humans inflict on one another.

today's assignment

I've got two things for you to do today, or at least this week. I'm a little late to both of these, but perhaps you missed them, too.

Thanks to Common Dreams, I read Norman Solomon's column about MoveOn.org's stance - or lack thereof - on the US's occupation of Iraq. I was extremely surprised to learn that MoveOn is not calling for troop withdrawal, and not even supporting the House of Representative resolution calling for a rapid exit.

This is very disappointing, given MoveOn's ability to reach millions of progressives, including many armchair activists who rely on their inbox for direction. (I'm not being snide. It's a reality, and MoveOn has tapped into it brilliantly.) I also find it more than a little strange, given this is the organization that helped produce and distribute "Uncovered".

MoveOn claims it is determined to remain a grassroots, member-driven organization, and avoid top-down organizing. According to Solomon, its leadership believes that there is no clear majority among membership about Iraq. But, Solomon says, they haven't been asked lately:
When I asked Eli [Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org] for clarification, he replied: "We've been talking with our members continuously on this issue. We've surveyed slices of our membership in January and in December, and surveyed our whole membership last spring. That's how we know there's a breadth of opinion out there."

But last spring was a year ago. And any surveying of "slices of our membership in January and in December" came before the Woolsey resolution offered an opportunity to find out how the MoveOn base views the measure. In any event, there will always be "a breadth of opinion" about this war -- a fact that does not trump the crucial need for clarity of purpose.

If MoveOn leaders were willing to submit the House get-out-of-Iraq resolution to MoveOn's rank-and-file in an up-or-down vote, the chances of a substantial majority would be excellent. Too bad the leadership of MoveOn.org is currently unwilling to find out.
Whether or not they're asking, we can let MoveOn know how we feel. If you're MoveOn member - and many American readers of wmtc probably are - please tell them where you stand on the issue. It's not easy to contact them - they prefer you post in their "Action Forum" - but you can give them your opinion by clicking here and choosing "other question or problem". A subject line like "support the peace movement" or "support US our of Iraq" and a simple two- or three-sentence statement should do the trick.

OK, that's one.

The second task is more time-consuming. Sorry about that. This weekend, while I was being paid to read (hey, someone's got to do it...), I read a long article in the New York Times Magazine by one of my favorite writers, Alex Kotlowitz, called "The Politics of Ibrahim Parlak". The story is no longer available through the Times' site, but it's been captured in a few places on the net, such as here at Smirking Chimp.

It's a fascinating and very sad story of how the so-called war on terrorism targets the wrong people and ruins their lives. Parlak is a model immigrant and would be a model American citizen. Instead, he is being treated as a criminal, a former terrorist, and facing deportation to a country that has already imprisoned and tortured him for his beliefs. The story raises questions about the very elastic and ever-expanding definition of terrorism, and what kind of society the US has become.

Please take the time to read the whole story, and if you are as moved as I was, visit this site to offer your support.

Thank you and enjoy your day.

P.S. I corrected the text from the political cartoon I quoted here. (I had written it from memory while I was at work.) Unfortunately I don't know whose cartoon it is.

3.26.2005

my new hero

Headline from Common Dreams: "Man Sells Device That Blocks Fox News". Wow! It's a little thingy that screws into the back of your television set to filter out Fox News.

The inventor of Fox Blocker, a former registered Republican, says his product is not just about preventing people from watching Fox, "which he acknowledges can be done without the Blocker. But he likens his device to burning a draft card, a tangible example of disagreement. . . . After buying the $8.95 device online, would-be blockers are shown a letter that they can send to advertisers via the Fox Blocker site. 'The point is not to block the channel or block free speech but to raise awareness,' said Kimery, who works in the tech industry."

The Fox Blocker even improves on the TV-B-Gone, a keychain-sized universal remote that lets you turn off televisions in public places.

For more information - or to order yours! - go here. Buy a dozen and give 'em out as gifts!

defector

Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom has an idea that would make my life a whole lot easier.

Walkom agrees, as do I, that the American conscientious objector Jeremy Hinzman did not qualify for refugee status in Canada based on his refusal to serve in Iraq. I admire Hinzman (and all war resisters) no end, but he's not facing persecution and can't claim to be a refugee. That's pretty clear.

If you haven't been following this story, here's some background: Jeremy Hinzman's website, an interview with Hinzman by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, and a story in the Star after his bid for refugee status was denied. I object to the newspaper's use of the words "dodger" and "deserter", which is why I offer the two other links as well.

Anyway, back to the columnist who wants to help people like me. During the Vietnam War, draft resisters were able to drive across the border, settle in, then apply for resident status from inside Canada. Most Americans who muse about moving to Canada think this is still the case. People I speak with are always surprised to learn that there's any immigration process at all; they assume I could move to Toronto the same way I could move to, say, San Francisco.

However, since 1976 people wishing to emigrate to Canada have had to apply from outside the country. But Walkom notes:
During the Cold War, for instance, Canada created a special category for immigrants from Communist countries. We called them defectors and they were almost always allowed in.

So let's consider Hinzman and other U.S. deserters to be defectors from George W. Bush's America. Most Canadians don't agree with his war in Iraq and neither does the federal government. Why not follow through?

Let's allow these defectors to apply for permanent resident status — not as refugees but as immigrants — after they've crossed the border.

And then let's apply the same standards we would for any other immigrant: Do they have useful skills? Do they pass security checks? Are they free of criminal records?

If these standards were applied to Hinzman and his wife, social worker Nga Nguyen, they would almost certainly be accepted. So, why don't we let them make their case as potential immigrants? We can only win.
I don't want to be labeled "a Bush refugee", since I was leaving no matter who won the 2004 election. (And by the way, who did win?) But a defector - that's just perfect.

what a pity

There's a story in today's New York Times about how difficult it is to be a U.S. Army recruiter these days. Gee, I wonder why that would be?

It seems that recruiters are buckling under the strain. They are suffering from physical ailments, depression and even mental breakdowns as the army reprimands them for not meeting their quotas.

This reminds me of a political cartoon I have on my bulletin board, saved from the anti-apartheid movement days of the 1980s. It depicts a white soldier named South Africa standing with his foot on the head of a black man. Ronald Reagan watches, saying, "Gee, I sympathize, that constant pressure must be hell on your foot."

3.25.2005

life in a blender

I didn't have too much to say today, but our friend Crabletta wants to wish you all a good morning. She believes in the culture of life and would like you all to help.

3.24.2005

culture of what?

Let's not let this "culture of life" bullshit work its way into our vocabularies! Pop Culturist speaks to the vigilantes outside the hospice in Florida:
Hey you people out there holding signs bowing your heads down in prayer, did ya know that just last week in Texas a baby was removed from life support against his mother's wishes? All because of the Texas Futile Care Law. When he was Governor, Bush signed this law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient's family's wishes.

Recently, Republicans voted to eliminate medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terry Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.

Did you know that Bush, as Governor of the Lone Star state. signed for the execution of no less than 152 people. It has been said that statistically 7% of all people that are sentenced to death are innocent, so it is safe to assume that Bush signed for the deaths of about 11 innocent people.
I will add to Pop's comment: they were 152 people, regardless of their crimes. They were people and their state government murdered them.

I didn't intend to say one word about this whole thing. But this "culture of life" thing is just too much.

And one more word: IRAQ.

"there was a white horse..."

Yesterday Allan and I took a tour of Grand Central Terminal, one of the world's great public spaces, and one of New York's greatest buildings. The Municipal Art Society, an urban planning and preservation group, conducts a tour every Wednesday.

The tour was more a social history of the Terminal than an architectural tour, which was still fascinating, but a little disappointing for me. We thought we'd be taken into areas that are inaccessible to the public, especially the catwalks in the huge windows. Apparently the tour used to include that, but hasn't for many years. Despite these minor disappointments, it was very interesting and extensive.

If you visit New York, even if a two-hour tour of a building doesn't grab you, do see Grand Central. A few blocks away you can visit the main branch of the New York Public Library, with its famous Reading Room, another grand public space. Grand Central and the Reading Room were both restored to full splendor in the late 1990s (and the Reading Room was also technologically upgraded). They are not to be missed.

Of course, as an architecture fan, I'd been meaning to do the Grand Central Terminal tour for years. But yesterday I realized how fitting it was that I went just as I'm about to leave the city.

When I first moved to the city on my own, in 1983, I read - for the first of several times - Mark Helprin's A Winter's Tale. This book forever changed the way I look at the city, and it remains one of my absolute favorite novels.

Grand Central's great celestial ceiling figures prominently into the story. At the time, my commute took me through the building, and I would always remember to glance upward. No matter how crowded my commute (the subways sucked in those days!), no matter how harried I felt, gazing up into that immense space was so soothing.

It's hard to explain how one can feel a personal connection with a building, but I feel that for Grand Central, and the feeling stemmed from that book.

The story begins: "There was a white horse, on a quiet winter morning when snow covered the streets gently and was not deep, and the sky was swept with vibrant stars, except in the east, where dawn was beginning in a light blue flood. The air was motionless, but would soon start to move as the sun came up and winds from Canada came charging down the Hudson. ..."

3.23.2005

to the post office we go

The FBI has confirmed that I, too, am felony-free. Tomorrow we mail off our next round of immigration documents. These are:
- financial records for the preceding four years,
- proof of current employment,
- proof of common-law partnership, and
- FBI certificates of no record.

I did another cool New York thing today. Details tomorrow.

Whoo-hoo! We are almost there!!

stewart speaks

Since I rarely watch TV news, I've been only vaguely aware that the US mainstream media has taken a break from the Michael Jackson trial and MarthaWatch to go all-feeding-tube, all the time. And I vowed to myself that there'd be no mention of this bizarre fiasco in wmtc.

After ALPF sent this very good story on how a similar case couldn't happen in Canada, I wavered a bit: "The so-called religious right doesn't have anything like that influence in Canada. Overwhelmingly, people of all religions -- and none -- accept that life should not always be prolonged."

Love that so-called! And the mention of people of no religion. Imagine that. But still, I couldn't quite bring myself to break my Vow Of Feeding-Tube Silence.

Finally, Jon Stewart decided for me. Here, lovingly transcribed by yours truly, is Stewart's recent Daily Show take on the whole sickening, hypocritical mess. I only wish I could transcribe Stewart's brilliant delivery. You can watch it here (choose "Congressional Meddle" and "Schiavo Controversy") or read it below.

Enjoy.

++++++

Congressional Meddle

But of course our top story tonight, as everyone knows, Congress got together over the weekend to discuss an urgent matter.

[Voice of congressperson] The measure of a nation's commitment to the sanctity of life is reflected in its laws and to the extent those laws honor and defend its most vulnerable citizens...

[Stewart] Oh my god, we're getting universal health care!!!

Or... not.

Actually the health care Congress is talking about is not so universal. In fact it only concerns Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman whose tragic case is at the center of a right-to-die battle between her husband, her family, and of course... her United States Congress.

[Faces and voices of various Congresspeople: "This new federal law will help Terri... What about Terri... Praying for Terri... Terri didn't use a living will... Terri... Terri... Terri... Terri is alive...]

[Stewart] Wow, they called her Terri. Imagine what they'd call her if they'd ever... met her. Or knew her. Or seen her in person.

Monday morning Congress passed an order to bring Ms Schiavo's case before a Federal judge, who they hope will order her feeding tube be reconnected. So if you were wondering just how sick you had to be before Congress acted to improve your health care...

That whole diabetes and asthma thing your kid has? [bleep] 'em.

Now. Leading the charge, Senate majority leader Dr. Bill Frist, who offered his learned medical judgment.

[Frist: I wanted to know a little bit more about the case itself, so I've had the opportunity to review the initial tapes that were made. It doesn't look like that she is in persistent vegetative state.]

So your professional medical opinion, after watching, uhhh, a couple of video tapes, you feel she's not in a vegetative state at all, in fact, just needs, maybe, better lighting.

We kid, of course, about Senator Frist's medical expertise. He has in the past shown himself expert with diagnostic medicine.

[Clip of Frist being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos, in which Frist will not confirm or deny that he believes the HIV virus can be transmitted through tears or sweat.]

That's the guy making life-or-death medical decisions on behalf of the country. You know, I'd cry, but I'd have to put a condom on my face.

So Congress passed a legislation. Unfortunately it can't become a law unless the President signs it, and the President's on vacation in Crawford, and even a tsunami wouldn't drag him away from his ranch, so there's no way that he's com--[footage of W getting off plane] WHAAAA? It's a miracle!!

For the first time ever, President Bush cut his vacation short, to fly back to Washington to sign the emergency legislation. It's consistent with the President's strong believe in the culture of life.

[Clip from news conference: "I think it's also important to note that President Bush, when he was Governor Bush, in 1999, signed a Texas law that was just used a few days ago, to allow a hospital to withdraw -- over the parents' objections -- the life support of a six-month old boy."]

[Stewart] To be fair, that law does make a patient's inability to pay part of the decision. [whispers] Will you excuse me? [Turns aside, opens mouth and howls. Screen goes to "please stand by" cartoon and generic standby music plays for several seconds. Stewart returns.] Cable's back!

****

Next Stewart goes to "Senior Ethicist" Stephen Colbert. Their bit in part:

[Stewart]...It seems like the Schiavo case is above all a family matter, and a tragic one. The courts have ruled consistently in Mr Schiavo's favor, but now Congress has chosen to get directly involved. Is this a new precedent about the government's role in individuals' lives?

[Colbert] Absolutely, Jon. Like all Republicans, this Congress believes the government should get more involved in the lives of individuals. They want to think outside the Beltway, roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They're tired of Washington gridlock, getting nothing done for everybody. So instead, they're going to try to get one thing done, for somebody.

Stewart asks how it would be possible, in a country this size, for Congress to take on people's problems on a case-by-case basis.

[Colbert] Jon, you've got 435 congressmen, 100 senators, one Commander-in-Chief -- you get a van! You roam the country solving people's problems. It'll be just like Queer Eye -- only they'll hate gay people.

Bob Garber of Flint Michigan needs a kidney? Well, Bob Garber, you're gonna get that kidney, thanks to the Bob Gardner Gets A Kidney Act of 2005.

[Stewart]... Haven't the courts already...

[Colbert] The courts, Jon? The problem with the courts is sometimes they make decisions we don't like. Then you have to take action. Not to do so would violate Congress' Constitutional right to have neither checks - nor balances.

[Stewart] Actually I think it's supposed to be that Congress is checked and balanced.

[Colbert] I don't think so, Jon. That would be a violation of their separation - and powers.

[Pause] [Stewart] That's separation of powers...

[Colbert] Look, we can speak semantics all night long...

[Stewart] All this strengthening of power seems to go against the Republicans very core principles...

[Colbert] Jon, there are principles for every occasion. It's true that Republicans used to argue very much against state's rights - but that was when they didn't control the Federal government... Now they do. So... there's that.

++++++

Thank you, Jon Stewart, for your voice of sanity.

3.22.2005

world water day

Today is World Water Day 2005. To my mind, water privatization is the scariest demon of this young century. Read about it here and in this excellent article by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke in The Nation. That story is two years old, and awareness has grown somewhat since then, but we have a long way to go. They write:
The antidote to water commodification is its decommodification. Water must be declared and understood for all time to be the common property of all. In a world where everything is being privatized, citizens must establish clear perimeters around those areas that are sacred to life and necessary for the survival of the planet. Simply, governments must declare that water belongs to the earth and all species and is a fundamental human right. No one has the right to appropriate it for profit. Water must be declared a public trust, and all governments must enact legislation to protect the freshwater resources in their territory...
Read more here.

3.21.2005

we are not felons

Well, Allan isn't, anyway.

Finally, we've received one of our "certificates of no record" from the FBI. It's actually the fingerprints that we sent them, with the words "NO ARREST RECORD" and the date stamped on the back.

A loyal reader in Colorado (hi Nick!) said his took ten weeks to come back; we're in week nine, so that was right on the money.

Assuming my fingerprint card is not far behind, we are poised to take that next big step.

3.20.2005

it's raining again

That's the name of one of my favorite blogs. The author occasionally comments here under the name Cin. Cin lives in Vancouver and is originally from, I believe, Chile.

It's Raining Again is a meditation on art, politics, the creative process, life in a vibrant city, living with animals, choosing optimism, choosing joy. Cin writes a lot of what I would if I kept a more personal journal online. (Does that make me narcissistic? I'll just say I feel a real click of recognition with her thoughts.)

Cin, if you ever want to write about why you moved to Canada, and your thoughts on being an expatriate living there... at least one person in NYC would like to read it.

even the right is more left

I already know something about Canadian conservatives, from our own RobfromAlberta. If he is a representative sample, they are a more rational breed than their American counterparts.

But this week's Conservative Party convention has taught me a thing or two more. I don't pretend to know much about it, but all the stories I've seen indicate that the party has moved to the center (centre) in order to be more unified.

ALPF was kind enough to send a clip from the Edmonton Sun with the welcome headline "Anti-abortion Fight Fizzles":
The Conservative party abandoned the fight for an abortion law yesterday after four decades of bitter national debate that sparked court challenges, police raids and passionate protest. The historic vote at the party convention left anti-abortion advocates with no mainstream political vehicle for the first time ever as the party opted to stake its fortunes a little closer to the political centre. . . .

One jubilant pro-choice delegate crowed that the decision will instantly make the party a more viable force in the next election campaign - especially with female voters.

"Legislatures have no place in women's bodies," said Nargis Kheran of St. John, N.B., who earlier told the convention crowd women "do not need you to tell us what to do."
I've always thought that pro-choice is the true conservative position on abortion, as it means less government interference in citizens' private lives, supposedly a principal tenet of conservatism. In the US, of course, that's been completely trashed by the religious right. Canada's non-religiosity is a beautiful thing.

3.19.2005

invisible potted plants

I see it's been several weeks - ack, possibly months! - since I quoted the brilliant Katha Pollitt, my fellow New Yorker and abortion-access activist. In this week's Nation she writes about the ridiculous dearth of women on the Op-Ed pages of major US print publications.

It's really worth your time to read the whole column. Bloggers might be especially interested. The blogosphere has changed a lot of things about media. Sexism isn't one of them.

speak out for peace



You can click on the photo for a list of anti-war activities taking place all over the globe this weekend. Thanks to Al at Not the Country Club for the pic & link.

You can also visit UFPJ to search by region or city.

Speak out for peace. Add your voice to the growing chorus.

two years in

This weekend marks the two-year anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

As of today, 1696 "coalition" forces have been killed in combat, and 11,220 are listed as wounded by the Department of Defense.

Somewhere between 17,000 and 20,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. There is no estimate on how many have been disabled, orphaned or left homeless.

No weapons of mass destruction of any type, or equipment to make them, have been found.

No link between Iraq and the terrorist attacks of September 11th has been found. It has been proven that none existed.

Baghdad and other Iraqi cities lack reliable electricity, fresh water and other basic resources.

Saddam Hussein has been deposed.

An election has been held. A substantial number of Iraqis boycotted it as fraudulent. There are very few signs that a secular democracy will be established.

A small group of hand-picked multinational corporations are making vast sums of wealth from the war, through the privatization of military services (including detention and interrogation), the rebuilding of oil-related equipment that the US destroyed, and other oil industry-related activity.

US military strikes against a civilian population have increased anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world, thereby increasing the risk of anti-US terrorism.

Many former high-level intelligence sources believe the invasion of Iraq diverted resources from the war in Afghanistan at a crucial time, resulting in a missed opportunity to find Osama bin Laden.

The Bush administration is the first in US history to engage in war while giving substantial tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, thereby increasing the burden on the middle and working class.

The US has no exit strategy.

3.18.2005

blood for oil

Independent journalist Greg Palast writes:
The Bush administration made plans for war and for Iraq's oil before the 9/11 attacks, sparking a policy battle between neo-cons and Big Oil, BBC's Newsnight has revealed.

Two years ago today - when President George Bush announced US, British and Allied forces would begin to bomb Baghdad - protestors claimed the US had a secret plan for Iraq's oil once Saddam had been conquered.

In fact there were two conflicting plans, setting off a hidden policy war between neo-conservatives at the Pentagon, on one side, versus a combination of "Big Oil" executives and US State Department "pragmatists."

"Big Oil" appears to have won. The latest plan, obtained by Newsnight from the US State Department was, we learned, drafted with the help of American oil industry consultants.

Insiders told Newsnight that planning began "within weeks" of Bush's first taking office in 2001, long before the September 11th attack on the US. [emphasis mine]
Palast has made a film about the plan, based on a joint investigation by BBC Newsnight and Harper's Magazine. You can watch it online, up to 7 p.m. EST today: go here.

The full story is in the current issue of Harper's Magazine. I don't believe you can read it online, you have to buy the magazine. So go do that.

3.17.2005

spring is almost here

"It's time to break that cycle, and it needs to happen from the top down. That's why the truth needs to come out, however ugly the truth might be."

What ugly truth could Representative Tom Davis of Virginia be referring to? Abu Ghraib? Torture extraditions? Enron, Worldcom, Tyco? Wrong! It's steroid use in Major League Baseball.

What a waste of time.

Sunday night, April 3: Yankees vs. Red Sox on ESPN. Be there.

bad news for the earth

As I'm sure you know, yesterday the US Senate voted 51-49 on a resolution that begins to clear the way for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Five decent Republicans crossed party lines to vote for the resolution (i.e., against drilling): Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Senators Collins and Snowe, both of Maine, Smith of Oregon and Arizona's John McCain.

And three indecent Democrats sold out: Senators Akaka and Inouye, both of Hawaii, and that scumbucket Landrieu from Louisiana.

Arctic drilling is still not a done deal. To become law, the Senate budget bill must be reconciled with the House budget bill, which Congress has been unable to do in recent years. So the fight is still on to delete Arctic drilling from any budget that actually winds up on W's desk. But there's no way to soft-soap this. It's bad.

polar bears
It's especially bad for these guys.

birds. priorities.

Birds again. Canada says, be gentle. US farmers say shoot the bastards. Somehow this seems very fitting.
Many Americans already think Canadians are too permissive with drug users, too lax toward terrorists, too lenient with criminals in general. Some are convinced we blithely let mad cows stumble into the United States.

Now U.S. agriculture officials have another bone to pick with Canada, which they have accused of being soft on starlings.

Fruit farmers in Washington state want British Columbia authorities to join them in a trapping and poisoning program to help rid the border region of the speckled pests instead of merely frightening them away with noisemakers. ... Killing birds -- "population control" in official parlance -- is not provincial policy.
Why doesn't surprise me? If you care, read more here. If you don't care, blame ALPF.

But seriously folks. This is yet another, albeit small, illustration of a difference of priorities and approach. In comments to this post, RobfromAlberta sent a link to a Weekly Standard story (I won't link to them - if you want to read it, do the work), deriding what they call "Bush refugees" - Americans living in Canada. I'm not sure how the people quoted qualify for that label, since they couldn't have left post-election. But hey, the WS can't be bothered with accurate details.

The story is ridiculous, based on gross distortion and exaggeration. Another big surprise. It says: "The headline in Ontario's Windsor Star tells you all you need to know about Canadian triumphalism: "Cheers to us, we're No. 4.""

Crabletta notes:
As for the "We're number four" quote, what a great illustration of how differently neocons and progressives view the world. Labash apparently sees this as a sign of weakness and inferiority. I read a quote like that and I think Canada sounds like an incredibly sane place to live. Plus, it's just a funny thing to say. Maybe the neocon missed the irony? They've been known to do that.
Yes indeed. And this reminded me of a conversation I had not long ago with an old friend.

In explaining my choice of Canada over the US, I used my standard line, "When was the last time Canada invaded another country?" He said, snidely, "Well, they probably can't. They barely have a military."

He sounded like having a military was an act of god or nature, and the US happens to be endowed with more of this god-given specialness than its northern neighbor. I replied that, yes, Canada probably doesn't have the resources to launch an invasion, and that's a function of purposeful choices - and isn't that wonderful.

The US chooses to spend on its military. (Though not, it must be noted, on the needs of the rank-and-file - only on the high-tech weaponry that benefits corporate America.) Canada makes other choices: health care, for example. Personally, I'd rather be number three in the world's top places to live than number one in exporting death and destruction.

a constant surprise

I haven't been doing very well on my plan to check off one "NYC to-do" each week. But spring is coming, so I can pick up the pace, and we still haven't heard from the FBI, so unfortunately there seems to be time.

Yesterday I went to the Noguchi Museum, housed in a converted factory in Long Island City, a neighborhood in Queens just over the East River from Manhattan. Noguchi was a fascinating artist, and it's a little gem of a museum.

Isamu Noguchi was a sculptor and designer, but those labels don't even hint at his creativity and versatility. He created gardens, fountains, "playscapes", and sculpture of amazing grace and beauty. He designed lamps and furniture whose shapes have become so familiar that we forget how fresh and innovative they once were. For a long time, he collaborated with the great choreographer Martha Graham on designs and sets for her dances. And he was astonishingly prolific, working in the US, Paris, Japan, China, Mexico, India and elsewhere, in stone, metal, wood, clay, basalt - and in water and light.

I really enjoy his sculpture, especially the large outdoor pieces. As with most visual art, I can't articulate why I like it and I have no need to ask what it "means". I just find it very pleasing.

On the way back into Manhattan, taking a subway line I seldom use, I passed through some newly renovated stations - light, whimsical mosaics, so unexpected. New York is a constant surprise.

Let's see: therapeutic massage in the morning, a wonderful small art museum, cool public art in the subway, discover a tea salon in the Village with free wireless internet (one iPAQ + one pot of Irish tea = heaven) then meet my sweetie at a French bistro for dinner. Now that's what I call a really good day.

3.16.2005

dinos

The argument over Social Security privatization isn't about rival views on how to secure the program's future - even the administration admits that private accounts would do nothing to help the system's finances. It's a debate about what kind of society America should be.

And it's a debate Republicans appear to be losing, because the public doesn't share their view that it's a good idea to expose middle-class families, whose lives have become steadily riskier over the past few decades, to even more risk. As soon as voters started to realize that private accounts would replace traditional Social Security benefits, not add to them, support for privatization collapsed.

But the Republicans' loss may not be the Democrats' gain, for two reasons...
Don't miss yesterday's Paul Krugman column, not least because he continues to expose Joe Lieberman for the Republican that he really is.

W & Co are throwing about this "$600 billion" figure - according to them, that's what it costs each year we wait to "fix" Social Security. "Fix" is to privatization what "liberating" is to blowing Iraqi people to bits.

The $600 billion figure is bullshit. "So," Krugman writes, "anyone who repeats the $600 billion line is helping to spread a lie." And that includes several so-called Democratic leaders. Read more, or go straight to the source.

3.15.2005

doggie love

Allan just found another way for me to waste time. If you love dogs, you must visit Dogster, the coolest dog site I've ever seen. It just won a People's Choice award, so I'm sure it's zipping all over the web.

Of course I've already registered Buster, Cody and the dearly departed Gypsy and Clyde.

Does anyone know how I can make paragraph breaks in text that you enter into form boxes? HTML paragraph and line-break codes don't work.

great news from california

Another victory! A California state judge ruled yesterday that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, thus overturning a proposition passed in 2000 defining marriage as between a man and woman.

Judge Richard A. Kramer of San Francisco County Superior Court said "the denial of marriage to same-sex couples appears impermissibly arbitrary," thus violating the equal protection clause of the state's Constitution.

According to the New York Times, Judge Kramer's ruling "left no argument against same-sex marriage unexamined, and virtually no glimmer of light for the attorney general's office or the other groups that filed briefs in support of current state law". Whoo-hoo!

The judge compared some of the arguments made by same-sex marriage opponents to those made in cases dealing with interracial marriage laws. "The idea that marriage-like rights without marriage is adequate smacks of a concept long rejected by the courts," he wrote, "separate but equal."

New York Times story here; gay.com story here.

This is especially exciting because I know this is a fight we are going to win. Full citizenship for gay Americans is coming. Like all freedom movements, it faces many obstacles, but it will not be stopped.

more bird news

There may be eggs in the nest!
The red-tailed hawks known as Pale Male and Lola, having endured the destruction of their Fifth Avenue nest in December and the ensuing media storm before rebuilding with thousands of twigs from Central Park, appear to have crossed another critical threshold in their unlikely battle for turf in the center of Manhattan.

According to several naturalists and bird watchers who monitor the hawks' behavior closely, there are eggs in the nest.

If so, New York's most celebrated birds have entered a new chapter, fraught with its own peril, in an unlikely saga that has melded raw nature with urban life and captivated bird lovers around the world. [More here.]

hawks5
expecting?


hawks3
pale male stands guard

In animal news closer to home, our struggle to save Buster's eyesight continues, and I'm starting to feel like it's a losing battle. Two problems are under control - at an extremely high maintenance cost - but a new problem has appeared. That makes two mysterious and untreatable conditions. We're starting to discuss how a dog copes without vision.

Interesting note. Buster's "intra-species aggression" (as his craziness is known) is set off by the sight of other dogs, not sound or smell as is the case with most canines. When he had to wear a funnel collar after some minor surgery, and so had no peripheral vision, he was the calmest he's ever been, happily trotting down the sidewalk, blissfully unaware of other dogs within his usual meltdown range. So ironically, a blind Buster could be advantageous... But we're going for a second opinion.

3.14.2005

canada invades u.s.!

But being short on military, they send only owls...

An extreme decline in the rodent population in the boreal forest has caused thousands of owls to head south in search of food.

More than 2,000 great gray owls, 200 hawk owls and 300 boreal owls have been spotted in Minnesota, northern Michigan and other parts of the upper US. More typical numbers would be last year's: 35 great gray owls, 6 northern hawk owls and 1 boreal owl.

This massive bird migration is called an "irruption", and apparently an irruption of this proportion is extremely rare.

OK, this qualifies as my most off-topic post ever. The connection to Canada, though real, was just an excuse to post photos of these amazing birds. I love birds of prey, and these faces are magnificent. The maps (which you probably can't see well here) are their territories.

owls

Click here and then on "follow the rats" (on the right) for larger pictures.

it's nice to live in canada

According to an annual quality of life survey, five Canadian cities are the most livable places in North America, and among the top 25 best places to live in the world.

For the second straight year, Vancouver placed third worldwide behind Geneva and Zurich. Toronto was 14th, Ottawa 20th, Montreal 22nd, and Calgary came in at 25th. I am truly impressed.

Among US cities, Honolulu and San Francisco ranked highest for livability (both 25th), mainly because of lower crime rates relative to the rest of the country. Boston, New York, Portland, and Washington follow at 36, 39, 42, and 42, respectively. Houston ranks lowest at 68. (Way to go, Texas!)

I've been chewing this over, wondering how Boston can rate ahead of New York in anything - yes Allan, except baseball. But I will grudgingly concede that it is probably easier to live in Boston than New York. Not better, just easier.

The survey also gives a separate ranking based on personal safety and security. The world's least secure city? Baghdad.

The lowest-scoring North American city in the personal safety category was Atlanta. (KK, are you reading this? Get out while you can!)

From the results: "The analysis is based on an evaluation of 39 quality of life criteria for each city, including political, social, economic, and environmental factors, personal safety and health, education, transport, and other public services."

CTV story here and summary of survey results here. Many thanks to ALPF!

3.13.2005

insert your own joke here

Bored stupid here at work, I went off to find a window. From 40+ floors up in the middle of Rockefeller Center, that can be a treat.

Sure enough, it's a sparkling clear night. I can see the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the New York Life tower, even the Statue of Liberty in the distant harbor. Ah, New York.

The top of the Empire State Building is lit in blue and white. Hmm, let's see. It's not St. Patrick's Day - too early, and that's obviously green. Israel Independence Day is blue, but that's in May. Blue and white on March 13... No idea.

Back at my desk, I googled "empire state building lighting colors". Take a look for yourself. You'll never guess.

Someone please make a good joke here. Redsock, I'm counting on you.

shameless plug

Steve over at the The Shameless Antagonist is writing great stuff about torture, corporate media self-censorship and all the things that make America great. I recommend it.

That is all.

lakoff - a clarification

Based on some reader comments, I think I was misunderstood, or that George Lakoff's ideas may have been misunderstood at wmtc.

In "Moral Politics," Lakoff doesn't say that the Democrats lost the election because they support same-sex marriage. (By the way, do they support same-sex marriage? Most of them were too squirrelly to take a stand!) And he definitely doesn't say that they lost the election because of gays and lesbians.

Rather, Lakoff is saying that the Democrats have allowed the Republicans to cloak themselves in the appearance of morality - to be perceived as the more moral party. And that, to be effective, the Democrats need to do a better job of articulating their own morality and their own values, such as tolerance, justice, equality, and other liberal values. That the Dems should be less issues-oriented and more values-oriented.

I definitely reject it. I just wanted to be clear on what I was rejecting.

oops!

Sometimes I can't figure out if these guys are clueless - so entrenched in their own world view, that they can't accurately assess the real world around them - or if it's all part of their diabolic plan. I usually go with The Satan Factor, but items like this make me wonder.
In the weeks after Baghdad fell in April 2003, looters systematically dismantled and removed tons of machinery from Saddam Hussein's most important weapons installations, including some with high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms, a senior Iraqi official said this week in the government's first extensive comments on the looting.

The Iraqi official, Sami al-Araji, the deputy minister of industry, said it appeared that a highly organized operation had pinpointed specific plants in search of valuable equipment, some of which could be used for both military and civilian applications, and carted the machinery away.

Dr. Araji said his account was based largely on observations by government employees and officials who either worked at the sites or lived near them.

"They came in with the cranes and the lorries, and they depleted the whole sites," Dr. Araji said. "They knew what they were doing; they knew what they want. This was sophisticated looting."

The threat posed by these types of facilities was cited by the Bush administration as a reason for invading Iraq, but the installations were left largely unguarded by allied forces in the chaotic months after the invasion. [Emphasis mine again.]
Cranes and lorries?? We're standing in our socks and getting groped in the airport, and people are driving cranes and lorries into weapons installations?

hand in glove

More fake news, and not the Jon Stewart variety.
Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

This winter, Washington has been roiled by revelations that a handful of columnists wrote in support of administration policies without disclosing they had accepted payments from the government. But the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source. [Emphasis mine.]
Story here.

And some people blame the election results on the Dems not blathering about morality? When the government controls the media, it's kind of hard for the opposition to get its point across.

And by opposition, I mean spineless wannabes.

3.12.2005

"it's shades of vietnam again, folks..."

Redsock gives us more Seymour Hersh. This is how the US brings democracy to the world. It hurts to look at it, but look we must. Please read it. Please demand the war stop.

thoughts on george lakoff

Well, not on George Lakoff himself, I don't know the man. On the ideas of his that I've read.

Lakoff is the author of an essay, first published in The Nation, called "Our Moral Values", and two very popular books, Moral Politics and Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.

I tried to read both books at the urging of a hyperactive person on my voter-registration trip. She was a recent convert to activism and couldn't stop talking about Lakoff and his supposedly new approach. I tried to read them... but failed. Couldn't get through either one.

After the election, the "Moral Politics" essay was making the rounds big-time. It was all over the internet, and appeared several times in my inbox. Each time, I had the same reaction. I tried to be open to it, but found myself rejecting it, for reasons I found difficult to articulate.

So when Crabletta recently asked me to share my thoughts on Lakoff, I used it as an opportunity to try to flesh them out. So, some thoughts on "Our Moral Values".

I agree Democrats should not try to act like Republicans. Lakoff and I are in complete agreement there. However...

I am unconvinced that the Democrats lost the election because the Republicans are seen as the party of morals and the Democrats are seen as the unprincipled party of "anything goes". If this were true, how do we account for Clinton's election and re-election?

I am unconvinced that the Democrats lost the election because of gay marriage or abortion rights. It may be true that the anti-gay-marriage fervor increased reactionary voter turn-out. But I still don't think the majority of American voters vote in national elections based on these issues. Those that do would never, ever vote Democrat. Hard-core anti-choicers don't vote Democrat. But most Americans are not hard-core anti-choice. They are ambivalent about abortion and don't think the government should be in the business of deciding individual, personal decisions.

I spoke to thousands of voters in the crucial battleground states, either personally, or looking at the survey results of the phone crew I coordinated. To the question, What issues are most important to you in the upcoming presidential election, an infinitesimally small fraction of them mentioned gay marriage or abortion rights. Those who did generally said they were voting to preserve individual freedom on both issues.

So it's not that I disagree with anything Lakoff wrote. I disagree with the premise on which his essays are based.

It lets the corrupt, corporate media off the hook for its part in swaying the electorate with lies and deception.

It does not allow for the very real probability of fraudulent elections in several key counties.

It assumes the Republicans won the election because they were perceived as more moral. If they won the election at all, it was, I think, because:

- they continued to instill and stoke the public's fear of terrorism, and to capitalize on that fear,

- using extremely adroit media manipulation and complicity, they appeared to be fighting that threat,

- using those same skills, they spread lies about John Kerry, and

- they cheated.

I believe this. There is lots of evidence to back it up.

I'm not absolving the Democrats or saying the Kerry campaign didn't make mistakes. There were problems there, too. But no campaign is perfect. The Republicans made many missteps, but the media helped them recover.

I have a very basic problem with trying to out-moral the morality police. I don't think the government should be in the business of discussing morals. I want to see election campaigns be less about morals, not more. I think if Democrats run around proclaiming "We are the more moral party!", they have already conceded the fight.

an orgy of redescription

Therapists call it re-framing. Orwell calls it Political Language. Naomi Klein wonders, "Can Democracy Survive Bush's Embrace?". From her recent column in The Nation:
"Brand USA is in trouble. . . it's a problem for business," Bono warned at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The solution is "to re-describe ourselves to a world that is unsure of our values."

The Bush administration wholeheartedly agrees, as evidenced by the orgy of redescription that now passes for American foreign policy. Faced with an Arab world enraged by its occupation of Iraq and its blind support for Israel, the US solution is not to change these brutal policies; it is, in the pseudo-academic language of corporate branding, to "change the story."

Brand USA's latest story was launched on January 30, the day of the Iraqi elections, complete with a catchy tag line ("purple power"), instantly iconic imagery (purple fingers) and, of course, a new narrative about America's role in the world, helpfully told and retold by the White House's unofficial brand manager, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Ooo, snap! (Channeling Jon Stewart there.) To think Friedman used to pass himself off as liberal. Now he'd probably say those labels are meaningless. Sure, once you lose all integrity, everything is meaningless. Klein concludes:
George W. Bush likes to say that democracy has the power to defeat tyranny. He's right, and that's precisely why it is so very dangerous for history's most powerful emancipatory idea to be bundled into an empty marketing exercise. Allowing the Bush Administration to fold the liberation struggles of Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine into its own "story" is a gift to authoritarians and fundamentalists. Freedom and democracy need to be liberated from Bush's deadly embrace and returned to the movements of the Middle East that have been struggling for these goals for decades. They have a story of their own to finish.
The stuff in between is really good, too. It's here.

good guys vs bad guys

Stomach-turning story on the front page of this morning's Times. It begins:
Two Afghan prisoners who died in American custody in Afghanistan in December 2002 were chained to the ceiling, kicked and beaten by American soldiers in sustained assaults that caused their deaths, according to Army criminal investigative reports that have not yet been made public.

One soldier, Pfc. Willie V. Brand, was charged with manslaughter in a closed hearing last month in Texas in connection with one of the deaths, another Army document shows. Private Brand, who acknowledged striking a detainee named Dilawar 37 times, was accused of having maimed and killed him over a five-day period by "destroying his leg muscle tissue with repeated unlawful knee strikes."

The attacks on Mr. Dilawar were so severe that "even if he had survived, both legs would have had to be amputated," the Army report said, citing a medical examiner.
Read more to learn about attempted drownings, oral and anal rape, and other tortures the good guys have been using.

The "love it or leave it" crowd tells us this is either (a) one bad apple or (b) deserved, since these victims are all terrorists anyway. Neither argument stands up to even the slightest scrutiny. In fact, neither is really an argument. It's simply blind obedience.

Blind obedience is fascism.

If the military chain of command who encouraged and permitted torture can get nothing else through their amoral, power-mad heads, they should at least understand that their actions expose American troops to enormously increased danger.

3.11.2005

the madrid agenda

From the Guardian. Read it. You know I only post the good stuff.

Our new Guernica
by Timothy Garton Ash

"I am your choice, your decision: yes, I am Spain." Thus the poet WH Auden, responding to the Spanish civil war in 1937. A lifetime later, Spain is the theatre of another war that affects every European, every citizen of any democracy. This is a war that won't be won by men with guns and bombers from the air. It's a war to avoid another war.

On one side of a broad city street, here in Madrid, you can view Picasso's Guernica at the Queen Sofia Art Centre. Probably the single most famous artistic image of war in the modern world, this commemoration of a town bombed during the Spanish civil war shows, in giant angular segments of black, grey and white, distorted and dismembered body parts - legs, arms and, most of all, heads, with each mouth open in a howl of pain. Just a few metres away, on the other side of the street, is the Atocha railway station. Here, on the morning of March 11 last year, Guernica was repeated. In the space of a few seconds, living, breathing men and women - mothers, wives, fathers and sons - were torn into dismembered body parts by the impact of bombs planted on suburban commuter trains. We must imagine their mouths still open in a last howl of pain.

The memorial to the victims in Atocha station is no Picasso. At first glance, it could be two self-service ticket machines. On closer examination, these turn out to house metal keyboards on which you can type a message of commemoration or solidarity, linked to a scanned image of your hand. Between the two memory machines hang large white cylinders on which people can write whatever they like. "Never again", features several times. "Aznar, Bush and Blair are the assassins." And a voice of touchingly ungrammatical Polish optimism: "Don't stay in hopeless. Polska."

The Atocha memorial lacks any hint of artistic grandeur. Yet its very banality is also somehow appropriate - for this war will be won or lost not in some grand showdown but in a trillion tiny everyday encounters, like those of commuters pouring off a suburban train.

You can understand this better if you walk back up past the Guernica museum to the Lavapies neighbourhood, where many North African immigrants live and several of the March 11 Islamist bombers used to hang out. Here, in Tribulete street, you can view the bolted metal door of one of the small telephone shops, called "locutorios", from which immigrants can make cheap calls home. But the owner of this locutorio, Jamal Zougam, used his telecommunications expertise to prepare the mobile phones that detonated the train bombs by remote control. His premises are now up for rent, but the door still bears the legend New Century Locutorio. New century indeed.

Lavapies does not feel like a ghetto. In its narrow streets, Spanish and north African shops are still mixed up together. So are the people. But I have the sense of a community which could go either way: the strengthening of peaceful coexistence or a downward spiral to low-level urban civil war.

Perhaps the most impressive thing the Spanish people have done in the year since the "11-M" attacks is the thing they haven't done. They have not struck back, scapegoating Moroccans or Muslims of any nationality. A recent report by Human Rights Watch pays this cautious tribute: "To our knowledge, there have not been any clearly documented cases of racist violence that can be attributed directly to the March 11 bombings." It goes on to quote the president of the association of Moroccan workers and immigrants in Spain: "The reaction has overall been exemplary, that of a society that knows how to distinguish between a few terrorists and a community."

Nonetheless, talking to people in Lavapies you glimpse a society close to some tipping-point. A Spanish bar-owner, his voice quivering with anger and alcohol, tells me how he hates people like his former neighbour Zougam, the mobile phone bomber. "If I had had a gun on March 11," he says, "I would have shot them here myself." Muhammad Said, a 19-year old Moroccan in hand-painted sneakers, complains about increased police harassment since the bombings. Why, only three days ago the police roughed up a friend of his and confiscated his mobile phone, just because it showed a photo of Osama bin Laden! So was Bin Laden a hero to this friend of his? Yes, of course. But Said himself is training to be a plumber, and says he's been kindly treated by his teachers. A man on the cusp, then, between integration and alienation.

I ask another Muhammad ("just call me Muhammad"), a voluble 16-year-old, about last year's bombings just down the road, at the Atocha station. Well, he says, he doesn't like to see people dying "even if they are Christians and Jews". But in this case, because of what Aznar did in the Iraq war.

Later, in a heavily guarded conference centre on the outskirts of the city, I sit with an illustrious galaxy of politicians, international officials and thinkers, at a memorial summit convened to discuss "democracy, terrorism and security". The central idea of this intelligently conceived conference is that "democratic government is the only legitimate - and still the only effective - way of fighting terrorism". It aims to produce, in a Madrid Agenda, the most comprehensive plan of action yet seen for a democratic response to terrorism.

I look forward to studying the result. What states and international organisations do next will plainly matter a great deal, from coordinated police and intelligence work to immigration policies, from competing strategies for the democratisation of the wider Middle East to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The resulting policies have a direct impact on our own Arab streets, as both Muhammads' comments make clear.

But this war to avoid a larger war will only be won if ordinary citizens across Europe are consciously engaged in it, through millions of commonplace interactions with people of different colour and faith. These are the experiences that determine whether the Muslim immigrants who already live among us in such large numbers will turn towards or away from Islamist extremism, and eventually terrorism. This is not the "war on terror", in which the mighty armies and security apparatuses of powerful states are repeatedly outmanoeuvred by a few technically ingenious people who are prepared to sacrifice their own lives. It's a war to prevent such people wanting to become terrorists in the first place.

A great French historian once said that a nation is "a plebiscite on every day". So is this peaceful war to prevent the emergence of terrorism in the alienated minds of ordinary men and women. It's a war of small things, of tiny, everyday acts.

Back in Tribulete street, there is an Arab restaurant called La Alhambra, which people charged with involvement in the March 11 bombing used to frequent. When I went there, I met two Spanish women who were studying Arabic and getting acquainted with their neighbours' culture. Although they were Spanish women without headscarves, they were greeted warmly by the Arab restaurant-owner. That, too, is the Madrid Agenda.

****

Timothy Garton Ash's website.

mourning in spain

Today is the first anniversary of the bombings in Spain that killed 192 people, and a Spanish day of national mourning. Timothy Garton Ash writes from Madrid about the Spanish people's response to "11-M", and the current climate in Madrid: "Our new Guernica". And guess what? There are choices. War is not inevitable. It's an excellent piece; I might post more from it later when I have time.

Here's a Spanish story (in English) about the national day of mourning. It closes with:
The one group not to take part in any of today's events are the members of the March 11th Association of those Affected by Terrorism. They say they will spend the day in silence and so they have closed their doors to the public for the first time in a year. On that door 192 black ribbons hang this morning – all prepared by the mother of one of the victims.
As a New Yorker - which means I am a person affected by terrorism, if only emotionally and mentally - my heart goes out to the Spanish people today. The first anniversary of September 11th was very meaningful to me. I remember we were planning a vacation, but I felt a strong need to be in the city on that day. We went to a commemorative concert in Central Park - the New York Philharmonic performed works of joy and freedom. Thousands of New Yorkers held candles, coming together to look back, and to look ahead.

W & Co were downtown at Ground Zero, capitalizing on their good fortune, as usual. When the music was over and the big screens turned on for a feed of the "official" ceremony, we immediately stood to leave. Dozens of people all over the lawn did the same.

I know wmtc has at least one reader in Spain, though I've no idea who it is. If anyone can tell us about the mood in Madrid one year later, I'd be very interested.

top of the world

The observation roof at the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza - where I spend my weekends as a corporate drone - will soon reopen. When it closed in 1986, it was NYC's third highest observatory. Now it will be the second.

Here's what visitors to the deck will see...

view from 30 rock
view from 30 rock

...and here's a really good story about it by David Dunlap, who writes about the physical city for the New York Times. I enjoy his writing.

3.10.2005

two victories

Last Friday, under virtually unanimous international pressure, the US dropped its politically motivated demand that a UN resolution to promote equality for women contain an anti-abortion-rights amendment.
Under intense global pressure, the United States on Friday dropped its demand to amend a declaration reaffirming the U.N. blueprint to achieve equality for women. . .

U.S. Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey said the United States would join other nations in approving the declaration endorsing the 150-page platform for action adopted at the 1995 U.N. women's conference in Beijing.

The proposed U.S. amendment would have reaffirmed the Beijing platform and a declaration adopted with it — but only "while reaffirming that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion."
But the United States found itself virtually alone, with nations from Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia all opposed.

The attempt to amend the one-page declaration had overshadowed the start of a two-week review of the Beijing platform that began Monday, angering many of the 130 governments and 6,000 representatives of women's and human rights organizations. They had hoped to focus on obstacles to women's equality in the economy, the family, education and political life — not on the abortion issue.
But then, that assumes the United States government gives a shit about women's equality. Nope, it only cares about fetuses. Fetuses are the most important creatures on the planet. Fuller story here.

And yesterday, the Senate Environment Committee deadlocked 9-9 over Moron's so-called Clear Skies bill. (As Lewis Black says, It will clear the skies - of birds!) The bill will die in committee. Lincoln Chafee, Senator of Rhode Island, was the lone Republican to join one Independent and seven Democrats in voting against the bill. Chafee said: "It just seems a shame to me that Congress is the last bastion of denial when it comes to climate change."

This is a huge victory for everyone who breathes. The administration will keep trying to pass it - either to revive it in committee, or use a procedural trick to bring a vote on the Senate floor, or piggyback it on to some spending bill. Vigilance is important.

To read more about how this legislation threatens our health and environment, go here.

Also, today is National Appreciation Day for Abortion Providers. March 10 is the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. David Gunn, the first abortion provider to be murdered by anti-abortion terrorists. Today the reproductive rights movement remembers and honors Dr. Gunn and others who daily risk their lives to make reproductive choice possible.

3.09.2005

click if you dare

A website dedicated to the woman we here at wmtc affectionately call "That Crazy Woman". From the StopAnnCoulter.com mission statement:
We feel that Ann Coulter is hurting America on a regular basis. She regularly lies, distorts facts, and uses childish insults in order to advance her radical ideology. This, of course, could be simply ignored if she didn't have significant influence. . . . The purpose of this website is to dismantle that myth. . . .

It is important to note that this is not a website fueled by partisanship. . . . This is not an anti-conservative website. The staff of StopAnnCoulter.com feels very strongly that intelligent, informed debate is essential to maintaining the strength of our democracy. Ann Coulter, however, knows absolutely nothing about informed debate, and she must be stopped. . . .
Assuming they're not actually sending hit men after her, I'm all for it.

they like it and they stay

According to a recent report (and ALPF's LOD!), immigrants to Canada are much more likely to become citizens than immigrants to any other country.

The report, summarized in this Globe and Mail story, says 84% of eligible immigrants were Canadian citizens in 2001, compared with 40% of foreign-born US residents, 50% in the UK and 75% in Australia.
Even though immigrants are eligible to apply to become a citizen only after they have lived in Canada for three years out of the previous four, the decision to become one happens quickly after arrival. The majority of immigrants decide within the first six months of their of residence whether they intend to become citizens.

The study cites several factors that influence the decision: attachment to birth country and Canada, rules in their home country regarding dual citizenship, time, cost and knowledge of the citizenship process.
I've heard from several people, mostly from South Asia, that it's incredibly difficult to become an American citizen, and so much easier to become a Canadian citizen, that it's a no-brainer.

The story also notes that "Americans living in Canada are the least likely to seek citizenship. Even among those Americans who have been in Canada for more than 30 years, 32 per cent are not citizens." This makes sense to me, given the progpaganda Americans have heard since birth: "the greatest country on the face of the earth". Also, the ease of travel between the two countries might keep Americans living in Canada more connected to their homeland than someone from China or India.

People always ask me if I'm going to become a Canadian citizen, then ask me if there is dual citizenship. I'm still not clear on that one. The people I know who are dual citizens - either of the US and Canada or the US and the UK - have one parent born in each country; they are automatically eligible for dual citizenship. I'm still not sure how that would work for us. But honestly, I don't care. I feel it's not a decision I have to make yet, so I just put it aside.

peace warrior

I read a great story yesterday about one man's efforts to increase understanding and decrease the decibel level. Mark Rosenblum, a professor at New York City's Queens College, teaches a course on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Students learn all they can, examine their stance, then present their best case - for the other side.

I'm trying to imagine having to debate for capital punishment or against abortion rights. Could I do it? Whether or not I was successful, the exercise would force me to understand the other side's point of view.

Rosenblum began the course in response to hostility on campus towards Muslim students after 9/11. His class was extremely diverse, including Orthodox Jews and Muslim student activists. Class would routinely run twice as long as its scheduled time, and students were so moved by the experience that they continued meeting on their own, after the semester ended.

Rosenblum and some students are now exploring ways to continue the format in a non-campus setting.

It's a great New York story, too. Rosenblum says: "Queens College is an educational gift. It is not a Torah academy or a Koranic school where you have segregated populations. This is a secular place where people voluntarily come together to get an education. That is the heritage of this city. I have to try to take advantage of the real demographics here in New York, not as the melting pot, but as the entry point to the United States. A global city in a global world."

Read the whole story here, it's really cool.

what a surprise

How long were we waiting to see this headline?
Data Is Lacking on Iran's Arms, U.S. Panel Says

A commission due to report to President Bush this month will describe American intelligence on Iran as inadequate to allow firm judgments about Iran's weapons programs, according to people who have been briefed on the panel's work.

. . .

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections in Iran for two years, has said it has not found evidence of any weapons program. But the agency has also expressed skepticism about Iran's insistence that its nuclear activities are strictly civilian.

. . .

In its report, the panel is also expected to be sharply critical of American intelligence on North Korea. But in interviews, people who have been briefed on the commission's deliberations and conclusions said they regarded the record on Iran as particularly worrisome. . . .
Apparently the only way to be safe from US attack is to actually have nuclear weapons, like North Korea. Also, of course, to be in a non-oil-producing region...

the troops are us

Last week, the W administration announced a plan to raise revenue on the backs of those who can least afford it and least deserve it, the nation's veterans. In yesterday's Letters to the New York Times, veterans and those who care about them respond:
To the Editor:

Veterans should do what they did in war: fight for all Americans and for the values of this country, for equality and justice.

I know of no veteran who risked his life for a tax cut for the wealthy but plenty who fought for a compassionate country that takes care of its less well off, children and the elderly.

President Bush's cynical strategy to try to use us to achieve his unconscionable domestic cuts will not work. But there is a more cynical game afoot.

The administration is raising trial balloons to pit veterans' benefits and retired pay against active-duty needs, especially the need for more, higher cost systems.

Veterans must not only fight for the disadvantaged; we must fight for the needed equipment for our troops, but not unnecessary systems.

Armor kits for Humvees are not expensive but are not being provided, while $250 million-per-copy aircraft are.

So veterans must fight a two-front war with this administration. Fortunately, we know how to fight.

Richard L. Klass
Arlington, Va., March 6, 2005
The writer, a retired Air Force colonel and aerospace marketing consultant, is president, Veterans Institute for Security and Democracy.



To the Editor:

If the president uses his proposed cuts in veterans' benefits as a "bargaining chip," it will be among the most despicable ploys used by this administration.

President Bush's bellicose approach to world politics has generated thousands of new veterans in need of medical care. Now he wants to cut back on that care almost before the veterans become eligible.

Veterans should use all the clout they have to pressure Congress to force Mr. Bush to acquire some fiscal responsibility.

Taxes should not have been cut while fighting a war. His war.

Robert W. Vitolo
Waterville, Me., March 5, 2005



To the Editor:

A strategy for veterans is to remember how this administration has treated them and those who serve.

Too few troops were sent to secure Iraq; those sent had inadequate personal and vehicle armor. Meanwhile, families scrabbled to buy survival gear for their loved ones.

Now the Republicans are establishing a $250 yearly sign-up fee for veterans wishing to use the services of the V.A. hospitals, establishing new V.A. hospital fees and increasing V.A. prescription co-payments.

Top this off with tax cuts for the rich.

Any veteran who supports this administration's treatment of serving troops and veterans is betraying the band of brothers.

Donald Edge
Cherry Hill, N.J., March 7, 2005
Support our troops?

These troops are working people, just like us. Their job is immeasurably harder than ours, not one we envy - and for many of us, not something we admire. For me, a volunteer military person is perhaps the ultimate Other. But put in this context, we have more in common than not. The only war going on here is an ancient one: the ruling class against the rest of us.