Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday cat blogging

Abbey trying to stay warm on the radiator.

The worst generation

My wife is trying to help her niece pay for tuition at the University of Minnesota, which prompted me to look at just how much tuition is these days. This chart shows that for undergraduates the cost of tuition only is $10,320. When I started at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1976 the annual tuition was $663. The difference is about a 1,700 percent increase. Is it any wonder that the generation growing up today will be the first in US history to have an inferior education to those who came before? We baby boomers, who grew up with the most material wealth of any society in history, have bequeathed to our children, through 40 years of Republican politics, a civilizational death-spiral, where things that were routine in our youth, such as the ability to go to college or a doctor are more and more in jeopardy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Health care fail

The health care bill in the Senate is a recipe for disaster not only in the sense that it makes us slaves to the insurance industry, but it will ensure skyrocketing premiums and Democratic electoral losses. Voters will never again trust Dems to "reform" health care.

In the whole equation Joe Lieberman has assured himself a win and the Democrats a loss. If the bill passes it will turn out to be political poison; if it fails the Dems look inept. Democrats may then suffer heavy losses in the 2010 elections, in which event Lieberman will become a Republican. That is Lieberman's repayment to Obama for helping him beat Ned Lamont in his Senate run. And Obama just takes it.

Firedoglake: Progressives return fire; demand to kill the bill

Dave Johnson: This health reform bill is political suicide

Bernard Weiner: The self-destruction of Barack Obama:
President Obama has lost his 2012 bid for re-election.
He has made key decisions in three areas that, unless he alters his approach (not likely), could well guarantee a Republican victory: an embarrassingly rolled-out, badly-compromised health-care reform bill; his continuing slavish subservience to those on Wall Street that took the country into the economic toilet; and his sad imitation of CheneyBush's imperial campaign in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tony Blair continues to lie

You wouldn't know it from consuming our traditional media, but England is conducting an inquiry into the false assertions that led them into the war on Iraq. An article in the New Zealand Herald News makes clear that former PM Tony Blair is still lying about the war:
Yesterday Blair told the BBC that he would have gone to war even if he had known Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. He would have deployed "different arguments" to remove Saddam, Blair said - undermining his long-held case that Saddam needed to be toppled because of the threat of WMDs.

"I would still have thought it right to remove him. Obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments, about the nature of the threat. I can't really think we'd be better with him and his two sons still in charge."

What kind of naked liar would say he would use "different arguments" for the same outcome ?? Especially with something so important as making preventive war? His statement makes clear he is still lying - if he would argue for the same outcome, but make different arguments, what is the REAL reason he agreed with our idiot, lying president to make the worst strategic military disaster in 2,000 years? My guess is Blair went along with Bush purely to ingratiate himself, which is why he will NEVER admit the true reasons for his horrible judgment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

California should tell Obama and Duncan where to shove their pennies

Arne Duncan and President Obama are now trying to force Charter schools and mandated testing down the throats of schools in US states. California, the most ungovernable state in the nation, is trying to reconcile whether it really wants money from Obama's "Race to the top" program, with its onerous and counterproductive mandates, in exchange for what amounts to less than one percent of the money the state will spend on schools. The history of Charters are stuffed with one failure after another - corruption, mismanagement, and inferior educational attainment. The only reason anyone would want more Charters would be to intentionally destroy public education or to defund teachers' unions.

As I've written before, every few years some new administration in Washington or in the states comes up with new mandates and incentives for "reforming" public education, even though the carrots or incentives offered really add up to nothing, and the rules proposed basically only provide punishment for those already hurting. It is deeply disappointing, but not surprising, that the Obama administration would continue this hurtful pattern.

I hope the Californians raise up their collective spine and tell Obama and Duncan to mind their own business, quit working with disgraced Republicans like Newt Gringrich to destroy public education, and shove their pittance "Race" money up their collective asses.

UPDATE: Excellent piece in Counterpunch by David Macaray titled Education's Dismal Cycle: When in doubt, just blame the teachers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Destroying the movement you rode in on

Back in the early Democratic presidential primary days of 2008 John Edwards and Barack Obama were fighting it out for the liberal, anti-Hillary vote. Arguably one of the things that helped Obama push Edwards aside was the right wing narrative that Edwards was some kind of effeminate "Breck girl." Ann Coulter called him a "faggot" at a CPAC dinner, and a story planted in Politico alleged Edwards was getting $400 haircuts.

As Glenn Greenwald makes clear in his book "Great American Hypocrites," feminizing of political opponents has been the Republican electoral method ever since about 1980. Successive Democratic presidential candidates have been destroyed in this way, including Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and even Barack Obama. In Clinton's case it didn't work too well because, ironically, of his philandering ways.

In his book Greenwald describes how the haircut story played out after the Politico story, leading to a pilfered video of Edwards preparing for an on-camera interview primping his hair. The video, seen more than a million times on Youtube, was overdubbed with the song "I feel pretty."

The $400 haircut story made its way through the right wing Drudge-o-sphere and rather quickly jumped to the traditional media. But what was the genesis of the story? Politico didn't say, and Greenwald only implies the story came from right wing operatives.

But last month we learned from Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's new book that his campaign was responsible for the planting of the $400 haircut story. Ben Smith at Politico confirmed they were his source.

I'm not sure how Greenwald reacted to the news, since he hasn't written about it yet. But my guess is he wouldn't be surprised, given how much the Obama administration has become like the Bush administration over the past 10 months. Still it is sad to read of the self-defeating tactics used by Democrats to attain power. Obama may have beaten Edwards partially because of his "feminizing" smear, but he set back the progressive cause and hurt not just the his party but the entire progressive movement by affirming, through their use, right wing smear tactics.

You'd think with pundits like Maureen Dowd trying to do the same to Obama by calling him "Obambi" he would have been sensitive to using such tactics. Where is the change when the putative leader of a movement employs tactics and narratives successfully used against politicians of his own party - including himself! - for decades against someone from his own party?

This isn't the first time Obama has acted like a Republican. His Education Secretary is running around the country with Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton (?!) promoting the failed experiment of Charter schools and the unfair and ineffective policy of teacher merit pay. His health care reform refused to confront health care insurers and drug companies. His Afghanistan policy caved to the War industry. He has continued to defend war criminals and illegal spying on US citizens. Now we find out he used right wing smear tactics to help get himself elected. Pundits can say what they want about Obama, but one thing he hasn't brought is real change.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tim Pawlenty's Minnesota Wrecking Crew

I'm just finishing up reading Thomas Frank's excellent book The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. It's an interesting book because it accurately places responsibility for the Republicans' destruction of our country within the conservative ideology itself.

Conservatives hate government like DNR agents hate Asian Carp or Eurasian Watermilfoil. Since they hate government from the outside, when they get inside they eviscerate it through policization of bureaucracy, economic starvation, corruption as a policy, inattention and outright destruction. They make government fail as an inevitable outcome - goal, even - of their ideology.

As but one example George W. Bush destroyed FEMA as a professional organization by replacing professionals with unqualified political hacks, then privatized and outsourced some of its most important functions. He watched idly by as Katrina swamped the Gulf Coast. The aftermath was a horrendous comedy of errors. Later, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said that the mis-handling of Katrina proved that government was inept, and could not be trusted to reform health care. So - they destroy a piece of government, then use that piece's ineptitude to discredit all government.

Up until Barry Goldwater campaigned on radical right wing conservatism in 1964, ideology was not a dominating factor in American politics. Indeed, the postwar period up until about 1970 is seen by historians as a time of unprecedented consensus. The period ended when radical conservatives, who had demonized government as inept and illegitimate, made inroads to take over the Republican party. Since then conservatives and Republicans have moved in tandem to the right, dressing up plutocratic policies as somehow populist. The result has been the destruction of public trust and assets in historic proportions.

Here in Minnesota Tim Pawlenty is actually a good state analog to the Republican Party's destructive ways. First and foremost he is nothing if not a conservative ideologist. With a smiling face and affable personality he has delivered harsh blows, many to the state's least powerful and most vulnerable, with a velvet fist, using curious words like "unallotment." For eight years Pawlenty has mis-managed the state's budget, producing huge deficits nearly every year. Since he refused to raise taxes (as opposed to the billions raised through "fees"), and had enough Republican control of the legislature, each budget balancing meant reducing state spending, usually on the constituency least likely to be able to complain.

An Interstate bridge over the Mississippi fell on Pawlenty's watch - in part the result of his policies of starving the state of needed funds for transportation, which resulted in delayed repairs and replacements, costing the state at least $60 million in economic impact, not including the cost of the new bridge. In one case he tried to get construction contractors to finance their own first year of work, a tactic which ended up costing the state millions and delaying the reconstruction of a large traffic interchange for a year or more. Each day, it seems we hear of new degradations. The City of Minneapolis is so financially strapped it is reducing the number of police officers. The state's largest public hospital is so hard hit by the governor's budgeting that it will no longer treat people from outside the county.

At the University of Minnesota, tuition has nearly doubled in the seven years of the Pawlenty administration.

Pawlenty is no piker on the corruption front, either. As but one example, he chose an environmental "manager" from the state's biggest polluter, 3M, as the head of the state pollution control agency (MPCA). She later had to quietly slink away amid a growing scandal over slow-walked research by the MPCA looking into 3M groundwater pollution. Predictably, she then went on to a cushy job at the nation's worst environmental criminal, Koch Refining. And just last week a $50 million scandal erupted over the state's "out of control" Charter schools.

This is what would await the nation - a practiced government wrecker in charge - if by some twist of fate Pawlenty should become president. The biggest obstacle to a Pawlenty win in a general election might be his record of destruction here in Minnesota. In that case the contest could hinge on whether or not the traditional media understands what has happened here in the past eight years. Like his national counterparts, the governance of Tim Pawlenty was designed for failure. When government fails Republicans know they have succeeded.

UPDATE: Certainly there are other degradations: 18,000 kicked off the health insurance program Minnesota Care by his budget cut; another 35,000 lost medical services because of Pawlenty killing General Assistance Medical Care in his unallotment. Remember that when BridgeFAIL touts his health care cred on the campaign trail.

UPDATE II: Add air quality fail to governor Gutshot's record.

Remember, also, that Pawlenty was first elected Governor through illegal campaign contributions that resulted in a $600,000 fine.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Trouble in Obama-land?

Paul Craig Roberts harshes on the Obama administration's caving on health care reform and the Afghan war. Without explicitly saying it, Roberts reinforces my position that issues like health reform present a zero-sum game: someone must lose. Unfortunately Obama and the Democrats refuse to make either the health insurers or the war industry lose. That leaves only their own supporters to bear the loss. Kos points out why this is a big problem. IMHO the major problem is refusing to take on conservatives on their ideology.

UPDATE: Andrew Bacevich chimes in:
"What Afghanistan tells us is that rather than changing Washington, Obama has become its captive. The president has succumbed to the twin illusions that have taken the political class by storm in recent months. The first illusion, reflecting a self-serving interpretation of the origins of 9/11, is that events in Afghanistan are crucial to the safety and well-being of the American people. The second illusion, the product of a self-serving interpretation of the Iraq War, is that the U.S. possesses the wisdom and wherewithal to guide Afghanistan out of darkness and into the light."

Verizon's open source gamble pays off

As a big fan of open-source software I was an early adopter of T-Mobile's Android phone the G1. Android is the open-source mobile phone software that is based on Linux and written by the development teams at Google. I've had it for about 10 months and I can tell you as someone who once had a mobile phone powered by Microsoft that it is a tremendous improvement.

A month or two ago other telecoms finally caught on, and Sprint and Verizon are now offering Android phones (as an aside - I used to use Sprint, until Android came out. Sprint at the time pointedly said it would NOT support Android - so I left).

The Verizon phone Droid, which is apparently much improved over my G1 (including Android 2.0, which apparently my phone won't run, and better hardware) has now sold almost 1 million units.

And Verizon is killing ATT in the network coverage wars. You'll remember that ATT sued Verizon over television ads comparing the two company's 3G coverage maps. Verizon initially said of the ATT suit that " the truth hurts." Now they've been proven right as ATT has dropped its suit and Verizon is swamping the airwaves touting its network advantage over ATT.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Finish the job

How many times have I heard and read that the U.S. is going to "Finish the job," or "Win the war" in Afghanistan? But what does that mean? Does it mean eradicating Afghanistan of the Taliban? Why would anyone think that is possible? The Taliban are a subset of the 40 million Pashtun who live in the area. Do we plan to kill them all, or just "pacify" them forever? Nation building is one thing, but undertaking to change the character of an entire, dirt-poor and uneducated populace is hubris and conceit on steroids. In the end, there will not be, cannot be, "victory" in Afghanistan.

UPDATE: As of October 2008 officials were saying that the Taliban had severed all ties with al Qaeda.

Bombs by Christmas

What a lovely gift of lead we'll be giving to the Afghans! War makes peace!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Obama administration affirms right wing education ideology

Today on Meet the Press President Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan talked about how the administration's strategy in public education is to ignore "inputs," focus on "outcomes," and "not reward failure." How removing resources and ignoring conditions at troubled schools would improve them Duncan didn't say.

Here again is another unfortunate Obama capitulation to the conservative movement ideology, which has been attacking public school teachers and unions and calling for "outcome based education" for years. On this very MTP show teachers and unions were attacked by name.

There are a number of fallacies in Duncan and the conservatives' argument, chief among them the implicit belief that children are some sort of automatons upon whom you can exert teaching strategies that will automatically get them to an educational point deemed satisfactory. I shouldn't have to explain that children are complex and varied beings who bring radically different experiences to public school, and have to reconcile those experiences with the goals of public education, and that there are other factors besides teachers and their unions that affect education.

Duncan's main point seemed to be that "We need to start to focus on outcomes, not inputs. " But how can "outcomes" be predicted and controlled without controlling the "inputs"? In the case of education there are many "inputs," but in Duncan's view, and those of the other MTP guests, the only one worth talking about are teachers.

Some of the other "inputs" have a far greater impact than a teacher. For example, many children are damaged by the time they get to school with ailments ranging from fetal alcohol syndrome to having been raised in a violent home or by a television. Preschool years are crucial to the physiological development of the brain. Tracks laid down in the early brain can be difficult to undo. Domestic violence or drug abuse may continue in the student's home.

Certainly socioeconomic status has a lot to do with the success or failure of a student. SES goes a long way beyond the student himself or herself. It is in fact determined by the SES of his or her parents. Are Duncan and conservative critics asserting that schools, in order to succeed, must in part raise the SES of the families of their students? That might be implied, but the simple narrative of the bad teachers and their greedy unions has been so driven into the American consciousness by the conservative movement that even Democrats refuse to acknowledge other causes of school failure.

Under-funding of schools is another factor that contributes to success or failure. But addressing funding would involve increasing taxes, which as we all know is off the table. Whatever "reforms" are contemplated must be done on the cheap.

Thus teachers and schools become the focus of so-called "reform" efforts aimed at increasing standardized test scores. Obama's education policy not only hurts his relationship with another prime constituency, public school teachers, it will actually hurt students in a number of ways.

Perhaps most importantly the Obama/Duncan approach is a long-term political loser because it engages conservative ideology on its own terms, then adopts both the right wing ideology and, to some degree, the policy, that, in the end, will not produce results.

Explicit in this discussion is the idea that somehow the state of our education system is responsible for the country's current economic condition, and that it somehow represents a way back to prosperity. Newt Gingrich said on MTP " is the number one factor in our future prosperity..." But - it's not. We can't educate ourselves out of the economic bind we are in. As Paul Krugman wrote in Rolling Stone magazine, "Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser." Fortune magazine reported that between 2000 and 2004 "real annual earnings of college graduates actually declined."

For going on 25 years each administration in Washington and in the states has proposed some new "reform" aimed at improving education and closing the learning gap between racial groups. I don't need to tell you that these "reforms" have not helped, but in fact hurt public education. What would be the effect of having your professional world re-oriented by political opportunists every few years? Instead of capitulating to right wing ideology I've got an idea: How about funding schools to a proper level and letting states and local school boards run their districts the way they want? After all, they're the ones who pay for it. And if we really want students to do better the only way is to look at all the "inputs," not just the politically handy targets.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The month Democrats lost the majority?

November may be the month that the national Democrats lose their congressional majorities, and the month that Barack Obama increased his chances of being a one term president.

Obama supporters - and I was one - I voted for him - can rightfully point to a number of small but significant achievements of the young administration. As but one example is the passing of the SCHIP program, which provides health insurance to children. But when the rubber has hit the road, Obama has too often continued Bush administration policies and caved to interests that Democrats thought they were dispensing with in the November 2008 elections. I realize that the administration is only 10 months old, and there are some retrograde Democrats in congress. Neverthless, we didn't send them to Washington to give the appearance of change - we sent them for real change. Sure, Obama is much better than Bush or McCain. But who wouldn't be?

What Obama and the Democrats don't seem to understand is , as Lester Thurow would put it, many of the political issues under consideration present a zero-sum game. For citizens to win someone has to lose. The prime example is the attempted compromise with health insurers in the debate over health care reform, where for consumers to win insurance companies must lose.

In other areas Obama has rewarded failure in a way that compromises him politically while providing little actual benefit. Examples include rescuing banks and insurance companies in a way that privatized profits but socialized losses, to defending Bush administration rendition and secrecy in the courts. And the Democrats have for some reason dropped the single most important issue to organized labor, one of its most steadfast constituencies, card check for union elections. Now Obama is apparently going to escalate the war in Afghanistan, even as leading voices are providing him cover if he decided to reverse course there.

Note that these compromises have not gained them support from those they compromised with nor from his left and young base, which are both growing increasingly disenchanted with Democratic leadership.

Health care is the perfect example of the folly of attempted compromise. Here are the incontrovertible facts: We spend double on health care in the U.S. over any other country in the world, yet get worse results. Tens of millions have no health insurance, and treating them helps drive up costs for those who do pay. So-called "insurance" companies specialize in denying coverage to their policy holders who actually use the insurance. Nearly every other Western democracy has either single-payer or socialized medicine. The problem in this country is so obviously the dominance of the insurance companies that the only way you couldn't see it was if your job required you not to see it.

It's the same with Medicare Part D, possibly one of the worst government programs ever enacted. Part D was so stupid that insurance companies had to be bribed with $8 billion in government money to even provide the policies. The government was also forbidden from using its huge buying power to negotiate lower prices with drug companies. The laws were stacked against the consumer. Insurers are free to change their drug formulary at will any time, but consumers can only change plans once a year, in a set "window."

But President Obama has refused to directly take on the interests that must lose in this debate for us to win. He and Rahm Emanuel reportedly negotiated a secret deal with the drug companies before debate even began that included $80 billion in profit concessions in exchange for not addressing the inequities in the drug marketplace. Similarly he has tried to negotiate with the health insurance industry, promising them more profits if they agree to help cover nearly everyone.

Make no mistake: The health insurance reform passed by the Democrats in the House will lead to Democratic congressional losses. Here's why: The bill will not, cannot work. Take the individual mandate. The bill specifies that individuals who do not purchase insurance from the private companies will pay a tax penalty in lieu of their purchase. Buried in the bill are the specifics of those penalties. It specifies that individuals will pay a 2.5 percent surtax on their adjusted gross income, up to some specified average cost of insuring that individual through the health insurance exchange. Let me say that again, the maximum penalty will be the average cost of the insurance. The minimum will be 2.5 percent of adjusted gross income.

Take a 50 year old who has $50,000 in adjusted gross income but doesn't buy insurance. That person would pay a penalty of $1,250. Ask yourself what insurance company is going to provide full medical insurance to a 50 year old for $1,250? They wouldn't. So that 50 year old goes without insurance until he gets sick, after which he merely buys insurance, since the companies cannot discriminate against pre-existing conditions. After he gets better he dumps the insurance.

Multiply that perverse incentive to NOT buy insurance times millions of people and you understand that the insurance companies will hike premiums beyond all recognition. I understand that not all citizens will be getting their insurance in this way, but at some point fewer and fewer people will buy insurance, driving rates higher and higher. The bill pays lip service to some government agency approving rate increases, but how could they be denied when the insured will over time primarily be only sick people?

You get the picture. Compare what was passed to the simplicity of just adding Medicare Part E that would allow everyone to buy into, or a single payer system. Legislation for those two plans would be under 200 pages, I bet, and would be easy to understand. But that would take away the insurance companies' control of the market, and with it much of their profits, and that is something the Obama administration and the Democrats in congress are loathe to do. So, after all this fighting about health care reform, the final product may very well end up being a giant fail. And if and when it does, the Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Katherine Kersten knows her audience

From Kersten's column today in the Strib:
"Sex between men and women creates new human beings."
Thanks for clearing that up.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why is the Star Tribune protecting rapists?

Two recent incidents reveal a disturbing trend to cover up for rapists at the out-of-bankruptcy Star Tribune.

The first case involves an amendment proposed and passed in the Senate by Al Franken that prohibits the federal government from contracting with firms that prohibit female employees from taking on-the-job sexual assaults to court. The story has many angles. Who knew employers could prevent employees who had been sexually assaulted from suing? And what kind of person - legislators - would vote against such an amendment? The amendment was spurred by a woman who worked for Halliburton in Iraq and was raped by multiple men who then held her hostage in a shipping container for a day; yet, because of a mandatory binding arbitration clause in her contract, she could not sue the men.

Franken's amendment passed 68-30 on October sixth, with 30 Republican no votes. Both the proposal and the passage of the amendment were reported all over the country. The proposal and its passage were not even mentioned in the Strib until a drive-by reference in an October 8 post in the blog Hot Dish Politics, which was titled "Franken gets testy over statistics," implying, as an October 9 letter writer pointed out, "that the real story is Franken's demeanor in front of the Judiciary Committee." On October 15 Hot Dish Politics turned to the rape amendment again, only this time to note how Jon Stewart on The Daily Show had assailed the 30 Republicans who voted against it. Missing was any knowledge of the irony that their own newspaper had yet to even report on the issue. The amendment was again casually mentioned in a Strib profile of Franken on October 18, 12 days after the amendment passed. Note the story was NOT about Franken's amendment, but about the Senator himself. To this date (October 23) the paper has yet to run an article about the amendment. Even Media Matters has taken note of the Strib's strange behavior towards the senator and his rape amendment.

The second case involves a report from the Huffington Post about how women who have been sexually assaulted are routinely denied health insurance as a result. One of the cases in the story revolves around a woman in Florida who was raped and then subsequently denied health insurance because apparently the insurance industry considers having been raped a pre-existing (and thus, non-insurable) condition. The Huffington Post report was published on the same day that the Strib ran a story derived from national news reports on a baby who had been denied coverage in Colorado by United Health for being underweight, despite the fact that the baby was perfectly healthy.

So on the same day the Huffington Post is reporting that women who have been raped cannot get health insurance, the Strib is writing copy that the rest of the world knew about days ago. In fact, the Strib only seems to report on United Health's bad behavior when other, non-Minnesota media first make it an issue. That was what happened when the Strib was forced to report the denial of coverage to a baby story.

And when the Strib does finally get around to carrying other media reports on United Health the stories written are narrowly drawn - restricted to the actual cases reported - and don't seem to offer any original research, nor even putting together the various reports to add context to the story. That's what happened in the baby insurance story. Days earlier national media had reported on another Colorado case of a baby being denied coverage for weighing too much. Only - this fact didn't make it into the Strib story.

The rape-as-pre-existing condition story would also have been easy to add on to the Strib's derivative "reporting" on babies being denied coverage, but for some reason was not. Even today - the 23rd - the "newspaper of the Twin Cities" has not even mentioned the problem of rape victims trying to get health insurance. Given that the paper has still not covered Senator Franken's amendment, passed by the full senate, protecting rape victims' right to sue, the ignoring of the rape-as-pre-existing condition story looks more and more like a deliberate omission. So I ask, what does the Star Tribune have against rape victims?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sliced his testicles

The case of British national Binyam Mohamed, who was caught up in the post-911 US psychosis and then "rendered" to various torture-loving countries is coming to a head in the UK. US courts have blocked CIA reports that tell of his torture at the hands of the Americans. But there is a problem: reports were sent simultaneously to British officials, who recorded the reports in memos and then saved them. Mohamed is suing in British courts to have those records unsealed to reveal the government's complicity in his torture. Until now those courts have gone along with the Obama administration in the coverup of this torture.

Now, however, the British courts are on their way to revealing exactly what happened to Mohamed while in US custody, and it's not pretty. Forget about those arguments about waterboarding. Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel! What was it with the Bush administration perverts? They "stressed nudity" in treating captives, and one of their favorite forms of torture was forced enemas. Now we find out, not from our own media or our own government, that the creeps at the CIA were cutting prisoners' testicles! What are the chances you'll ever read about this in the Star Tribune?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How to destroy a governing coalition

If the Democrats in Congress eventually pass anything like the Baucus bill it will in a stroke destroy the coalition that brought Obama and the party to power in 2008. When citizens, especially young voters, discover what's in the bill they will either revolt to a third party or disengage and allow the Republicans to return to power.

The bill, as Wendell Potter has testified, should be called the Health Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act. The whole thing makes no sense. Individuals will be required to buy health insurance from private industry. If they don't they will be financially penalized. But not penalized too much. On yesterday's Thom Hartmann show he had on John "The dog ate my research" Lott to talk about the bill. The two showed a rare agreement in the horrible nature of the bill. Lott pointed out that the cost of the penalty is less than the cost of coverage, and that when you take away the insurance company's right to charge more for existing conditions there becomes an economic incentive to forgo insurance and wait until you actually get sick, then go buy insurance for treatment. If and when you get better you can then drop the insurance.

The problem is that the entire scheme cannot succeed because it contains three mutually exclusive goals: 1) Cover all Americans; 2) Lower the costs, and 3) Protect the existing health insurance industry. All of the maneuvering is necessary to avoid switching to a rational system of single payer, which would of course make private health insurance more or less superfluous. Obama's problem is that he wants to please the insurance companies, which is impossible if you also want to lower costs and cover all Americans. The result is the convoluted Baucus bill which will probably turn out to be a high-cost disaster to Americans but a boon to the insurance companies, and relegate the Democrats back to minority status.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bush admin perverts "stressed nudity"

Another must-read from Robert Parry:
Bush's Interrogators Stressed Nudity
The CIA shared with George W. Bush’s Justice Department the details of how an interrogation strategy – with an emphasis on forced nudity and physical abuse – could train prisoners in “learned helplessness” and demonstrate “the complete control of Americans.”
This report comes after another that showed that one of the Bush admin's favorite torture techniques was the Christian practice of forced enemas.

I'm sure we'll *never* read about what perverts the Republicans are from our local Star Tribune, which is obsessed with making governor BridgeFAIL president.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dear Star Tribune:

Yesterday David Brauer came up with a memo from a headhunter firm looking for a new publisher for the Strib. We've all known about the paper's turn to the right and stupidity for about a decade now, but we've never seen it spelled out in the organization's own documents. In honor of the document I sent the following letter in today, knowing it has about a -2 percent chance of being published:

* * *

For about 10 years now I've seen this newspaper lean then careen rightward. The installment of a movement conservative as the director of political coverage (Doug Tice) and the hiring of another movement conservative (and a racist to boot) - Katherine Kersten - as a columnist signaled the change. Now it's out in the open with the publication of a document sent out by a headhunter firm looking for a new publisher for the Strib that described the "challenge" facing a new hire:

“A unique challenge is continuing management’s successful efforts to change the widespread image of the Star Tribune from a strongly liberal paper to a strictly non-partisan news source and a more moderate and less strident editorial page voice.”

Notice how the document says "image" - admitting the paper isn't really liberal, just that righties perceive it as such. This tack to the right will win the paper no new right-wing readers - they are unconvincable, but it has already lost credibility and readership among true liberals who have a brain, since the paper has been deliberately dumbing itself down for a decade. This pandering to the right is *politically motivated* reporting - the exact opposite of your professed neutrality, and another chip in your already tarnished reputation.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The sadistic fucks of the Bush administration

We're all well aware of the torture justifiers of the Bush administration - Bush, Cheney, Addington, Yoo, Bybee, Delanhunty (who now works at the "Christian" University of St Thomas in St Paul). What we weren't aware of until now is what sick fucks those bastards are. Not only did they approve torture, they apparently did it with relish, micromanaging every bit of torture, then documenting it like the Nazis. If Eric Holder doesn't go after these guys he and the president are almost as culpable as the pricks of the Bush administration.

To get a little taste of the kind of info being sent to the CIA and the White House, consider this: One of the torture techniques was forced enemas. I don't know about you, but one of the things that most says "Christian" to me is a forced enema.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bill Maher's blind spot

Throughout Bill Maher's movie Religulous the comedian deservedly skewers his subjects for the absurdity of their beliefs. A reasonable person would of course agree with Maher - the myths of the bible and other 2,000 year old religions are so patently false and absurd - not to mention un-edifying - that an inquisitor like Maher can find no cogent reason why people believe them.

On his show Real Time last week Maher had as a guest Sam Harris, the famous debunker of religious myth who pins the blame for religious belief on a "social disorder" that prevents non-believers from pointing out the absurdity of modern religious practice. Harris also rightly pins approbation on moderates who are tolerant of religious mythology, no matter how dangerous it is, with basically a live-and-let-live perspective, unwilling to confront others on their beliefs. Maher only half jokingly mused that religious belief might somehow be rooted in a neurological disorder.

And therein lies the key problem both with Maher's movie and his views about religion in general: Even though he posits as the reason for his work the quest for why people believe religious mythology, he actually shows no insight into what people get out of it, or why they cling to it so tenaciously even though it is so obviously false. This lack of understanding robs Maher's work of an empathy for his subjects that would make it that much more powerful. I find no reason why Maher would not understand this important point, given that Ernest Becker explained it all so elegantly more than 30 years ago in his seminal book Denial of Death, built on the work of Freud's associate Otto Rank.

People believe in religions, no matter how absurd, for one main reason: As the only creature on earth capable of understanding their own eventual demise, humans require a death-denial strategy to merely get through each day. So haunting is the specter of death and nothingness that people are willing to believe almost any myth to avoid the paralyzing fear that would basically render them unable to act. The fact that we now rely on 2,000 year old myths that were nutty to begin with doesn't help things. But in matters of life after death, any promise of eternal life will do in a mortality stormTM.

People's belief in religion is not a neurological disorder, as Maher joked, nor a social disorder, as Harris speculated. It is a somewhat logical and handy, if increasingly ineffective, coping mechanism for dealing with the fear of death. These beliefs are what Otto Rank called "necessary lies" we tell ourselves in order to get through each day. In Ernest Becker's words, these lies we tell ourselves are the reason that to be neurotic is actually to be normal. A dearth of death-denial lies leaves a person anxious and fretful and unable to act. Rank believed that the quality of our lives is in a large sense determined by the quality of our immortality lies. Those that take a large toll on our time, our reason or our compassion, i.e., are inferior to those strategies that allow us to fully use our minds and hearts in ways that don't fundamentally hurt ourselves or others, and allow us to comfortably expand into our own private universes.

This hole in Maher's world view deprives his work of empathy for his subjects who so distort their lives with religious faith. Maher's work would be that much more convincing if he was able to show sympathy for his subjects, elevating it beyond the mere (deserved) mockery of religion.

The fact that modern people cling to their religion so tenaciously actually points to its fundamental weakness. And in fact, though people admit to religious belief most are not actually believers. Money and medicine are the real backstop of immortality today. Doctors are the equivalent of the ancient priests - they even wear white "robes." Just look at how people fight disease, even when they are death's door. If they really believed in heaven why would anyone even seek medical treatment for catastrophic disease? After all - if you're on the way to heaven why would you subject yourself to something like chemotherapy? You wouldn't.

So even though people don't really believe in the immortality promises of religion they cannot afford to take chances in the realm of final death. Modern man finds it is more comforting to cling to the weak and unbelievable promises of ancient religion, while hedging his bets with piles of money and the priests of modern medicine.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Early Spring walkabout in Arizona

Hello again imaginary audience. For me personally there is nothing more effective at Spring fever alleviation than a trip through parts of Arizona. A few weeks ago I spent three days with a friend in Phoenix, then embarked on a four day drive through some of my favorite parts of the state. I should add that I had no fixed plan - I just winged it, starting from Tucson.

First I drove from Phoenix to Tucson first on highway 60 west to the town of Superior, then via state highway 77, which runs through the San Pedro valley southwest of Phoenix. It's a beautiful drive and keeps you off the Interstate.

Once in Tucson I checked in at the Westwardlook resort, which is my favorite place to stay.

View from the hot tub at the Westwardlook

Though they have a four star restaurant at the Westwardlook, I don't like it that formal, so I usually eat at the outdoor cafe. In honor of my wife who couldn't make the trip I ordered a Prickly Pear Margarita, which is a little sweeter than a regular Margarita, so it goes down pretty easily.

The next day it was off to Kitt Peak Observatory - about 60 miles southwest of Tucson. I knew from other trips, mainly to Nogales, that anytime you travel near the Arizona/Mexico border you're bound to encounter swarms of border patrol, including roadblocks where every car traveling north is stopped. I had planned to visit the observatory then continue on west to Organ Pipe National Park and the town of Ajo. However, after considering the pain of dealing with roadblocks and the border patrol I decided to make the trip to Kitt Peak just a day trip. I did pass one roadblock on the way south, and was stopped by the same unit, which had moved south, on my return. When you combine the militarization of southern Arizona and the militarization of our airports you begin to understand what it must have been like to live behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

The road to Kitt is pretty much flat as you drive southwest from Tucson. After about 40 miles there's a turnoff to the left that is a 12 mile road full of switchbacks that leads to the top of the peak.

This is a view from about halfway up, looking northwest.

A view up the mountain as you near the observatories.

Here's some tourist at Kitt Peak; behind him is the solar observation telescope, which analyzes infrared waves from the sun.

A view of one of Kitt's traditional telescopes. It's clear from taking a tour of the mountain that the place could use a bit of an upgrade. No doubt the people there are making heroic efforts to coax the most out of old equipment, but I hope they're getting a little of that Obama stimulus money to buy some new computers and such.

The next day I drove from Tucson to Flagstaff via the backroads. The road from Globe to Show Low is a particularly beautiful drive. About halfway you cross the Salt River (see photo below) in a spot where it looks remarkably like the Grand Canyon, and where there is a trailhead to rafting and hiking in the Salt and Black River Recreation Area.

In the right-center of the picture (click to enlarge) you see the access point to the upper canyon of the Salt River off of US 60 (Arizona 77).

The reason I drove to Flagstaff was for a trip to Wupatki National Monument the next day. Wupatki is an ancient puebloan settlement (map) that was occupied up until about 800 years ago, when climate and other factors forced its dissolution.

Click for larger view

This is a view of the main Wupatki settlement, looking down on the complex from the east. To the left you see the main apartment dwellings; in the near center is the community room, a place for ritual ceremonies; at the bottom center in the ballfield where the Puebloans played a form of basketball.

I find it interesting when there to imagine the Puebloans as they lived. The landscape was different 800 years ago - there was much more water, and the plain was covered in native grasses. But you get the idea that it was a somewhat difficult life at Wupatki, having to look for water and fuel far afield. But maybe the payoff was the amazing beauty of the desert landscape and the suitability of the geography for community living.

This picture and the one below are of the ballfield.

Down near the ballfield is a thing called the "blowhole," basically an opening in the ground that leads to underground spaces where the air pressure may be lower or greater than the surface air pressure. If the pressure underground is greater the hole "exhales," and vice versa if the pressure is lower underground.

At Wupatki there is a great view to the southeast of San Francisco Peak, which is a 12,000 foot mountain just north of Flagstaff:

If you click on the above picture and look closely in the center you'll see there's an opening in the desert that was probably an ancient wash that the Puebloans used as a community gathering place. They built their homes on the edges of these things, probably because the living spaces provided good protection from the wind.

To get back to Phoenix from Wupatki I took the scenic route to Sedona, then over to Jerome and on to Prescott. Below is a picture of Jerome when approaching from the northeast:

Jerome is an old mining town that almost turned into a ghost town when the mine closed, but is now sort of an artists colony. It sits on a steep hill where the streets are almost terraced parallel to the hill.

From Jerome I took the overland route to Prescott, a road that wound around the mountains for about 15 miles before emerging back into the valley. After that it was a short trip to Phoenix and the flight home. All in all I'd have to say a very successful trip.