the watch
bush lied, people died. escalate nonviolence.

Evict Bush!

Saturday, April 12, 2003  

Syria in the news, and a visit to World Net Daily

The country on every talking head's lips this evening was Syria. If Saddam, his family, his staff, his housekeeper, or, one gets the impression, any of his pets, have crossed the border into Syria, we might have to go after them. With a quickness. Is Assad crazy enough, it was wondered, to allow fleeing Iraqis to come into the country? A western educated man such as himself must know that it would open him up to attack.

After flipping from one yammerer to the next while enjoying an afternoon coffee, we landed on Christ Matthews talking to Joseph Farah, the editor of World Net Daily. You know, the guy who's written a book called Taking America Back. And WND, is of course, a site which advertises for Michael Savage non-stop and was Bill O'Reilly's first foot in the door.

What Mr. Farah had to say was that, of course we have to go after Syria. It's ridiculous to speak of any occupation in the Middle East in terms of Iraq, because the only situation that applies to is Syria's occupation of Lebanon. He went on to state that every single terrorist organization in the world has a headquarters in Syria (presumably, he's never heard of FARC, ELN, ETA, the IRA, Abu-Sayyaf...). Attacking them would liberate Lebanon and get rid of a brutal regime, "a two-fer" by his count.

During this interview, footage was played of President Bush's pronouncement that we expect "full cooperation" from Syria. Anyone paying attention to this administration's War on English will have noticed that the term 'full cooperation' has come to mean 'prepare to be bombed.' (Or sanctioned, or bankrupted, or have some embarassing detail made public about you...)

This is the way it starts. Unless some major event intervenes, it sounds like we're preparing to invade Syria, whose people can expect to be liberated of their homes, their limbs, their civic infrastructure, and any semblance of law and order.

Also, be sure to check out these exciting articles from World Net Daily:

Peace movement run by subversive and violent groups who would like to bring America to its knees.

What was Iraq's role in Oklahoma? Because Lord knows that a real WASP could never have done such a thing.

A repressed 14-year old whose book is sold at WND outraged that his earnings will be taxed. Indeed, he says that he has no representation because he's too young to vote. I wonder what his thoughts are on the taxation of immigrants, non-citizen residents, and the black citizens of Florida? His main complaint is that his tax money will go to such unconstitutional organizations as the UN and the Department of Education.

Henry Lamb opines as to why the UN should stay out of Iraq.

posted by Natasha at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK |

Over at Daily Kos, Steve Gilliard talks about the moral bankruptcy of the Washington cabal that has 'liberated' a country into an armed anarchy where even hospitals are being looted.

These topics really struck me this morning because last night on the news, I watched in disbelief as an 'important military mission' was completed in Baghdad. The mission? Why, to destroy an 'infamous' mosaic of George Bush Sr. in front of the entrance of a building. The mosaic was put there such that anyone coming in would be commiting the grave insult of stepping on his face. I watched a soldier breaking it up with some kind of pickaxe. I couldn't believe my eyes. Only minutes later I couldn't believe my ears, as Rumsfeld said that reports of looting and anarchy in Iraq were greatly exaggerated, basically no big deal.

We have time to destroy a mosaic, but not to guard hospitals. Or the museums where the nation's cultural history was preserved for the future. Or the property and businesses of the private citizens who will have to rebuild their society. Time to guard the oil wells, and the ports, but not to prevent carjackings. Not to disperse rampaging mobs.

As we went into this, many opponents of the war made the case that one of the primary reasons to oppose it was because the Bush administration would inevitably screw up the aftermath. Trust us, we really didn't want to be proved right so damn quick.

posted by Natasha at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK |

Health News

Hospitals say that insurance premiums are rising far faster than healthcare costs, setting a good deal of the responsibilty on the shoulders of the insurers. The companies' response?

..."The private sector shouldn't be getting into the blame game," said American Association of Health Plans president and CEO Karen Ignagni. "We in the private sector need to be working together to solve the three biggest problems in health care -- cost, access and quality," she said.

A bill is introduced in congress that would allow medical necessity to be used as a defense in drug trials in states that have medical marijuana laws.

Insomniacs appear to have lower stress tolerances than the general population.

Take your grandparents for a flu shot.

Men and women over the age of 65 stand to gain a host of health benefits from getting a flu shot, including a decreased risk of dying of any cause during flu season, scientists reported Wednesday. ...

The Economist examines why the drug war is bad health policy.

California's anti-tobacco ads working too well, as the tobacco lobby tries to have them stopped. Governor Davis says:

...How successful has our campaign been? According to the California Department of Health Services, smoking rates are declining faster in California than anywhere else in the nation. After 13 years of tobacco education and prevention campaigns, Californians have dramatically changed their smoking behavior. We now have one of the lowest adult and youth smoking prevalence rates in the United States. Between 1988 and 2002, per capita consumption of tobacco in California dropped by more than 60 percent. Californians who do smoke, smoke less than half the national average of packs (47.7 packs of cigarettes annually versus 99.2 packs).

Research shows that the more aggressive the anti-tobacco ads, the greater the decrease in overall tobacco use. Adult smoking in the state is at a record low. It has dropped from 21.7 percent in 1989 to 16.6 percent in 2002. Youth smoking is among the lowest in the nation...

In the rest of the country, Reuters reports that casual smoking is on the rise.

Medical confidentiality now more protected in federal law. Though, as the article points out, this Clinton era law is coming into force after the Bush administration had a chance to water down key provisions regarding health-related marketing.

Minority communities begin to fight back against environmental discrimination, or the practice of concentrating toxic and/or hazardous activities in areas where the residents are overwhelmingly poor and minority.

Regular use of the analgesics aspirin and ibuprofen may reduce the risk of breast cancer. But, as a word to the wise: Consistent use of both drugs increases the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, and ibuprofen can also increase the risk of liver damage, a side effect that becomes far more likely when combined with even small amounts of alcohol.

Links courtesy of Medline and Harvard World Health News

posted by Natasha at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK |

Managing Chaotic Change

Recently we received notice at work that we would have to move from our wonderful location in downtown Portland to the suburbs. For a number of people, reacting to this change is quite stressful, even for a group that has experienced lots of change in our past.

We've survived numerous layoffs as we watched our earlier company die and then being rescued from this painful death when fortunately, we were purchased by a very large company for our expertise and for our skilled people. All of this meant that we have experienced lots and lots of change. Each one of these changes have been very painful and quite challenging, yet, somehow most of us have survived.

And now yet again, we are moving -- and it makes one more change we have no ability to negotiate or delay or prevent. So my coworkers and I have experienced what they call "chaotic change" at least 5 times in the last 4 years. For one of these transitions, we were given some advice on what happens during these chaotic changes, what we might experience during that time and how to find ways to make the change work for us. This was very good advice.

However, this enlightened way to help us manage change was followed by a totally mismanaged change cycle by senior management within the same (transformed?) company. The next time the HR department bought a copy of Who Moved My Cheese for every manager so they could "help" their employees deal with the change. If you've never read this book, I can synopsize it easily: Message: Deal with it. Losers deserve what they get because they didn't go looking for the cheese. This particular change cycle was definitely straight out of Dilbert's best cartoons.

The Kreitzer paper referenced above says:

Continuous, or incremental, change goes on constantly, or at least it should. Continuous change is planned improvement in process, products, and performance and involves large commitments of people, time, and money. Much of this change is embodied in the quality improvement or continuous improvements efforts of an organization. This is the category of change most often described in literature and explained by Lewin's model, for example.

Discontinuous, or radical, change is more often than not driven by external forces, such as global markets, more players, more products, and new technology. Discontinuous change is messy, especially if organizations find they can not respond to the change. The demand for organizational change has accelerated at an extraordinary rate in recent years (Nadler, 1998). Emerging technologies and changing markets sweep through organizations at an ever increasing rate. Customers are quickly learning to expect more, better, quicker. An organization's desire to meet these challenges will lead to a chaotic condition of change if not well-managed.

Discontinuous change is chaos-like. According to Daft (1994), the science of chaos theory reveals the existence of randomness and disorder within larger patterns of order. This means that day-to-day organizational events are random and unpredictable. Chaos theory, then, is a paradigm shift away from the belief that organizational leaders can predict and control events and toward a philosophy that the organization must become fluid, adaptable, and stay connected to their customers. Managers will become less concerned with detailed planning and control and more concerned with facilitating teams and emerging ontological patterns.

Daft (1994) suggests a number of tactics that leaders and managers can use during times of change: communication, learning, participation, negotiation, and coercion. Two of those tactics that are key are communication and learning. He suggests that both communication and learning are used when solid information about change is needed by users and others who may resist change. Communication is an essential tool for accomplishing change (D'Aprix, 1996).

When I was thinking about this today, I suddenly flashed on the fact that the Iraqis are going through a very chaotic change (one much more chaotic than any I've known). And that change is supposed to be managed by an administration that prides itself on knowing how to run the government as a top-line corporate management team. Are they providing "training" in how to really deal with change to the Iraqis? And how are they communicating with them? Another thing that this paper on change says is that making a safe environment is essential for a successful change:

Those who are leading a change will be more successful if they lessen the threat to each person's comfort, confidence, and competence. The key is to provide a safe environment. And how do you provide a safe environment? That is probably the most important question, and your ability to provide a safe environment will most likely determine the success of the change that you are trying to lead.

In my opinion, the administration hasn't done their homework on creating an environment for faciliating change that will be successful for the participants. Creating a safe environment is essential for people to move from "fear" to learning to cooperate with each other. Once again, I question the actual management competency of BushCo. They seem to be following Dogbert's advice instead of trying to find ways to mitigate the effect on the people of Iraq. Should we ever trust another MBA president based the track record of the current President? No. Adding to retired General McPeak's suggestion that presidential candidate must pass an an IQ test, I'd like to have a "shows concern for real people" test as well, because the current occupant shows all the concern and compassion of Jack Welch while he was firing thousands of workers.

posted by Mary at 12:50 AM | PERMALINK |

Friday, April 11, 2003  

While I was away from my desk. . .

I was at other desks.


One of the issues I've been discussing with other bloggers is the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Virginia v. Black, the cross burning case. I believe SCOTUS made the correct decisions for the right reasons. The two rulings are:

•The states can pass laws that criminalize cross burning if it is done with specific intent to threaten; and

•The states cannot pass laws that criminalize cross burning if it is done as a symbolic expression of political views.

SCOTUS has left space for symbolic speech while carving out a somewhat wider area for the regulation of threatening expression. Read about Virginia v. Black at Silver Rights. If you want to know more about this complex case, follow the link to Nathan Newman.


I have found the photographs emerging from Iraq striking, but had difficulty processing the emotions they evoke. On one hand, many of the pictures regarding the war, taken both here and there, describe this as a time of triumphant American nationalism. On the other, what one sees behind the foregrounds of tumbling statues, waving flags and grimy but grinning troops, in scenes from Iraq, is devastation. I consider a pair of pictures, one taken in New York City, the other in Baghdad, in a"A tale of two photos."

-- Mac Diva

posted by J. at 8:25 PM | PERMALINK |

Venezuela Update:

It's been ages since our last Venezuela update, mostly because the crisis seems to have blown over. But it sounded like fun to revisit the latest news from the country.

Chinese Petroleum will invest millions in oil operations in the country. The Chinese state-owned oil company has a 10% stake in an international consortium slated to work on the project. ConocoPhillips is a major partner in the deal.

Venezuela has discovered new oil fields, accompanied by large natural gas reserves.

Oil will be pumped near capacity for the remainder of the year, and dismisses more oil workers who were involved in the walkout.

A severe drought may lead to electricity rationing, as significant amounts of the country's electricity is provided by hydropower.

The Canadian firm Crystallex will enter into a gold mining operation under government contract, and a Chinese partner will aid in the reactivation of another gold mine that has lain idle for more than 40 years.

Has Venezuela been pulled over the border into the Colombian civil war? This London Times article has more on the dispute, with both countries accusing each other of not doing enough to prevent FARC incursions and cross-border mobility.

Allegations of increased drug production on the Venezuelan side of the mountainous border with Colombia. Will our erstwhile Drug Warriors ever notice that every eradication effort in one country leads to production springing up in neighboring areas? And in virtually every case, both the production and the ever-migrating Drug War lead to paramilitary activity like this, where the country's wealthy citizens and drug lords finance death-squads trained in the US and Israel.

Venezuela Archives

posted by Natasha at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK |

Wandering to and fro...

Digby talks about why liberal extremists are far from being the left's biggest problem.

In the BBC: Looters run amok in Baghdad, Mosul,* and Safwan**. Turks speak out on Kirkuk. Belgian Arabs have a new voice in politics. The year 2002 set records for high temperatures. Kenyan cattle raiders attack in Uganda. And, everyone's favorite topic, cannibalism and prion diseases.

* ...US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld has denied Iraq was falling into chaos, describing the scenes of looting as "untidy".

"Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," he told reporters.

"I don't think there is anyone in those pictures or any human being who does not prefer to be free and recognise that you have passed through a transition period like this and accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom." ...

** ...One battered woman pleaded for protection from her abusive husband. When soldiers intervened, they found the man was also in possession of an AK47 rifle.

Iraq has a culture of gun ownership, so taking these weapons out of circulation is a top priority to ending the lawlessness which now blights the country.

"We've made it clear that people carrying around AK47s in their cars will be arrested," says Sergeant Martin. "If they're actually holding them, they risk being killed."...

Government Executive has the inside story on the major players in the bidding war over government contracts to rebuild Iraq. Lobbying firms have gone out of their way to recruit long-time government employees to help secure contracts for their clients. Also, a report on the shift of power to the executive branch and away from congress. The Republican take?

...“This administration clearly feels that the executive branch has historic prerogatives that ought to be defended, and they are prepared to take personal heat, as Vice President Cheney did over energy policy in the GAO fight,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. “The president is asserting the historic prerogatives of the president that he thinks, in some ways, Clinton allowed to be eroded.”...

Is America supporting regime change in Haiti? Otto Reich rears his ugly head once again, and even The Economist, AP, and Reuters step up to cook the numbers for the opposition to the Aristide government.

A British peace activist killed in Gaza while trying to pull two children out of the way of IDF fire towards a group of unarmed demonstrators.

'Irish Coffee' injection prevents stroke damage. Headline included as is because, well, wouldn't you?

posted by Natasha at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK |

Around the Web

Talk Left tells us of a vocal new bulwark against public ignorance of the Patriot Act's more grim provisions: librarians.

Kinuk posts some interesting war-time numbers, courtesy of Common Dreams.

Go say 'hi' to Big Air Fred at rantavation.

Ampersand talks about the Battlefield God quiz. And he has a whole bunch of other good posts, so wander around for a while.

An interview with a Saudi on what the so-far-non-exploding Arab street makes of the war in Iraq.

Kurdish peshmergas take Kirkuk and push into Mosul. Turkish military observers will be arriving in Kirkuk, where widespread looting has broken out. And a prominent Shia cleric returning to Iraq from the UK was knifed to death in Najaf. Not over yet.

Also from the Guardian, a peacenik ponders the outcome of the war. a rundown of countries worried about being next. Brazil's Lula doing alright so far. And an examination of the way male and female explorers and extreme sport participants are treated in the press.

Mark Morford tells us what we've won.

PS - Sorry about the light posting, been buried in homework, work work, and the occasional need not to look at any sort of glowing screen whatsoever.

posted by Natasha at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK |

Recent Readings

Last Saturday I mentioned that I had read an article by Robert Kuttner in the American Prospect that talked about how the Democrats have been losing lots of ground because the Republican "no-holds-barred" fighting has resulted in a rigged game. As JimJ talked about, when one side plays fair and the other does not, the side that does not, wins. I think the failure for the Democratic party was not recognizing this earlier, but rather, trying to "compromise" on the issues. Unfortunately, this meant that Democrats look like wimps and we've lost enormous ground on having a world that works as we would like to see (liberal, people focused, etc). And the problem is that the people that depended on the Democrats to stand up for them (labor workers, teachers, field workers, etc.) have been betrayed by the Congressional focus right now. Somehow we need to redirect the conversation back to the issues that make a difference to peoples lives. This article does a great job talking about this and now that it is online, I recommend it highly.

The other article that I found very interesting in that American Prospect is the one by Chris Mooney: Breaking the Frame. It has lots of ideas about how to frame our messages in ways that allow us to get beyond the media fog and also provide some hooks that into the American psyche that might be heard.

posted by Mary at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, April 09, 2003  

Argument about human nature

One thing I really like about visiting and commenting on dKos is that sometimes there is a real chance to discuss who we are and the differences in how we approach the world, and what forms our world-views. Kos has provided a forum that certainly attracts ardent liberals like myself, but also thoughtful conservatives who take the time to express how they see the world. In my view, this is one of the most interesting aspects of the conversation that goes on there. I don't believe we can really change things until there is a way to really hear someone who does not see the world as we do, find ways to build trust, as well as find solutions that will meet the each other's psychological needs.

Yesterday, there was one discussion that I think did a lot to flesh out some of the differences and motivations for why some people see the world with a "liberal" cast and others the "conservative" side. And today, there was a fascinating follow-up by JimJ that I wanted to share. I think that it is so important for those of us that are liberals to find ways to talk to people in ways they can hear. So I hope this will be just the beginning of an ongoing conversation in the blogworld.

The discussion started out with a fellow with the handle of freelixer posting lots of thoughts about how to combine a muscular foreign policy with a liberal domestic policy and thus engaging Grant Cooley and myself in this discussion. Freelixer started this thread with the following:

Peace is more likely not to be realized[d] through force than trust

But, given the monopoly we control on force, trust is more risky.

I agree Grant. It's going to take a lot of work to reestablish trust, and to go through the reconciliation and humility it would take to bring the world to a better psychological place.

Grant Cooley responded with the following:


In regards to trust, I am reminded of a characterization of the differences between basic conservative and liberal thought. My friend saw it this way, although I am not sure where he got the inspiration:

The right sees people as basically inclined toward evil and that society is what constrains those basic urges. The left sees people as basically good and that society has the potential for evil.

Given those basic concepts, if believed, those of us on the right are not given to trust and will only act magnanimously from a position of unassailable strength. Out of fear, I would prefer to think, rather than arrogance. [Ed: emphasis mine.]

I felt that exploring this issue of trust was essential so I added the following to the fray:

freelixer, how do you build trust? I think it is with acts that show you are trustworthy. Do you think that this can happen now? Here is an article about the bullying that is done as a matter of course by this WH and their henchmen in the congress. Are you willing to trust that they'll work with you when they can't ever find a way to work even with their friends?

I think there is a difference from the winner-take-all approach and the let's compromise approach. Scorched earth applies to domestic politics as well as international ones, and the radical right has been using these tactics for a long time. Remember Newt Gingrich? How about Rush Limbaugh? They are masters at poisoning the well of trust. In my opinion, working cooperatively always results in better outcomes than the winner-take-all model, but I'm not sure we have much hope to make it work right now. But we certainly have to try.

Grant followed up with his take on human nature:

I think that all of our basic natures are inclined toward evil. We had to be in order to survive our evolution. not psychokiller-evil, but lesser selfishness and greed. What makes us human is our ability to overcome those desires, not to deny their existence. We have always sought community and culture, but we have always defended that society and culture from others. We are headed in the right direction, towards an evolved being of good, but at this point in time, humans remain, in my opinion, evil. Unfortunately my current career path only seems to reaffirm that belief.

This view of humans and their nature is very alien to my own view and I offered the following observations:

Grant, the way I see humans is that we are all capable of unspeakable evil and incredible goodness. What makes the difference is what is called forth. And each of us is responsible for what we call out of others. Again, it comes down to expectations.

When people are asked to only consider their own comforts and only their own interests, they lose their ability to care about others. But, almost everyone can learn empathy and learn to be better than their base instincts.

And I've also found that when people are given the chance to do work that is valued by others and that considers others, they are almost always happier and more fulfilled than they ever can be with more possessions or more power.

When you see transformations in people's lives, it is often because they are given the chance to find their better nature. Why shouldn't we work towards that -- starting when people are little kids and still think the world is a place full of possibility?

So here you have some fundamental differences in two world views: one fearful of what the other will do because human's basic nature is evil, and the other believing that there is a way to encourage humans to act in ways that are good for society and themselves.

JimJ provided a wonderful follow-up today to all of our discussions and I'm posting it in its entirety.

JimJ's post

Please pardon the long post, but I don't think that most of this could be available anywhere else on the web and I'm not really interested in making my own blog right now.

I want to advance some wide ranging speculation on the sociobiological implications of the Bush administration. What really got me thinking about this was a post the other day by Mary which suggested that cooperation is the favored and most successful form of interaction between countries and individuals. I thought that we should consider statement a bit more.

Before I get going, I want to say that I am a professional evolutionary biologist, but I am not an expert in sociobiology or human behavior. I will try to confine my remarks to things that are fairly well understood in biology and only speculate a little (but that's the fun part).

In biology, there are essentially two ways in which organisms evolve altruistic or cooperative behavior:

1) Kin selection (which E. O. Wilson called hard-core altruism in his book On Human Nature) which focuses the benefits of altruistic acts on close relatives and;

2) Reciprocal altruism which is more complex and benefits those individuals in the population which are likely to engage in reciprocal acts of altruism with individuals who provide benefits to them. E. O. Wilson called this type of altruism "soft-core" altruism.

Kin selection is very important in the altruistic behaviors of animals ranging from social insects like bees and wasps to social mammals like the Belding ground squirrel and chimpanzees. It probably also plays an important role in human evolution, but I want to talk more about reciprocal altruism today.

Reciprocal altruism has been compared to the actions of a person shoving another person (even an unknown person) out of the way of an oncoming bus. For the altruistic individual this action poses grave risks because he or she could be hit by the bus and killed, so why do people engage in altruistic behavior if natural selection favors individual (Darwinian) fitness (measured by reproductive success)?

The explanation of most altruistic behavior owes much to game theory and the work of Robert Trivers. If we imagine a simple game called the prisoner's dilemma which deals with how two prisoners arrested as accomplices and locked in different cells decide to cooperate or betray each other. If we think about it, there are four possible outcomes from player A's prospective:

1) Both players cooperate and receive a reward for not ratting each other out. This reward is typically moderate.

2) Player A cooperates and player B defects, so player A incurs a strong penalty and reduction in fitness.

3) Player A defects while player B cooperates, so player A gets a reward greater than mutual cooperation (Outcome 1).

4) Both players defect and both players are punished and reduced in fitness.

If this game is only going to be played once, it is in a player's best interest to defect, but if players engage in this game over and over, altruistic behavior and mutual cooperation is the best strategy (The Evolutionary Stable Strategy, ESS).

For reciprocal altruism to evolve within a population, the population should have the following characteristics:

1) Individuals within the population must interact frequently and group membership must be relatively stable.

2) Many opportunities to act as an altruist or a beneficiary must occur in the individual's lifetime and with approximately equal proportions.

3) Individuals must have good memories for past acts of altruism and to rapidly identify and remember cheaters.

So if we think about altruism and cooperation from an evolutionary perspective, they are ultimately selfish acts done with the expectation of future altruism and cooperation from the individuals who receive benefits from the altruistic acts. It also predicts that in populations of sufficient complexity that meet the criteria, reciprocal altruism should be the dominant, but not only mode of behavior. There will always be cheaters in the population because cheating can provide great short term rewards.

Now let's consider the Bush Administration. This administration is basically an administration of defectors or cheaters (to use the terminology of the prisoner's dilemma game). It would appear to me that they cooperate only with those who share their objectives, "You are with us or against us."

How much did it benefit Mary Landrieu to cooperate with the Bush administration? She played the part of the good altruist and cooperated with them repeatedly, then when she came up for reelection, the Bushies defected.

How much has it benefited Tony Blair to cooperate with the Bush Administration? Tony Blair has staked his political future on cooperation with the Bush Administration, but they show no signs of cooperating with him on the things that are important to him.

Even congressional Republicans are learning that the Bush administration cannot be trusted to cooperate despite past cooperation on the part of congress.

One other important aspect of reciprocal altruism as it appears to work in biology is that the players must be able to identify defectors or cheaters and NOT COOPERATE WITH THEM. It is not in the interests of the other players in the game to cooperate with cheaters, it costs them long term and short term fitness.

The United States and members of the government of the United States government have a long history of using cooperation and reciprocal altruism to accomplish things, but by having a "cheater" administration we are teaching the world that this government cannot be trusted, and it will take a long time to regain that trust.

It seems to me that the "scorched Earth" unbending positions taken by this administration and many prominent Republicans can only lead to an erosion of cooperative behavior in the world (between governments) and between individuals in our society. They must be identified as "cheaters" and eliminated from the political structure because they are not reliable players. This erodes the quality of our political discourse and causes grid-lock as Democrats learn that it is not in their best interest to cooperate with the administration.

It would also appear to me that many aspects of basic Republican ideology favor hard-core or kin selected forms of altruism. For example, they favor eliminating the inheritance tax which would focus benefits on close relatives, and they object to affirmative action used as a criteria for admissions at universities and law schools but don't object to using legacy status for the same thing. Their opposition to many aspects of the social welfare system would fall into the same category, since they would appear to want to limit altruistic behavior to unrelated individuals to largely voluntary charity institutions (and since charity donations are tax deductible, it is hardly altruistic).

Democrats, on the other hand tend to see government institutions as a vehicle for soft-core or reciprocal altruism. The social safety net is a good example of this. We utilize government institutions to spread benefits to individuals to the population with the expectation that, should we need them, they will be there for our benefit too. This is reciprocal altruism in a nutshell.

This, it appears to me, is the fundamental difference in ideology between Democrats and Republicans, and I don't think there is any real doubt as to which form of altruism fosters a richer, more inclusive, and more dynamic society. Ultimately I think that the Republicans are taking us to a place that the vast majority of Americans will not like and the pendulum will swing back the other way, but there will always be this conflict between reciprocal altruists and non-altruists or hard-core altruists.



Thank you, Jim. I think that Jim has done an incredible job of explaining the differences between the basic Democratic and Republican philosophies and why the Democrats are committed to programs that help people. I also found his explanation about why it is important for us to understand that non-cooperation is a valid reaction and it confirms my own observations about what we need to do to stop the steady erosion of programs that we believe are valuable. It has become increasingly clear to me that we can't let bullies play in the game with us and we really do need to shut them out because they spoil it for the rest of us. It is here that we need to make a stand on fighting them and their agenda.

I also found that Grant's insight into what motivates him and other conservatives really interesting. Fear does lead people to certain conclusions about the world and their gut reaction about whether one should trust your fellow humans. My world-view and experience has been that fear can be overcome with hope. Hearing Grant's intrinsic beliefs explains a lot to me about where many people are coming from.

For me the Democratic view of humanity seems the most realistic, as I've seen and heard about people who overcome fear and find ways to cooperate for goals that have significant value. And I believe that the Democratic philosophy of human nature also is the one that provides the most hope for the future because we know if we help others now, we will receive what we need in the future through the acts of others who believe helping others is the ethical way to live one's life.

But to talk with people that come from a world-view that starts with fear means we have to find a way to talk to that fear. What I'd love to see is more thoughts on this topic. And I think it would be worthwhile exploring how to frame messages that can engage that part of people who really do want to have a world that is more hopeful and less fearful.

[Aside: one of the more wonderful things about the new media of blogging is how conversations can continue for days as people come back to respond to the earlier posts and add to the conversation. And being online and public means that it provides a wonderful mechanism of including lots of people in on the discussion and experience in framing arguments when carrying on these virtual conversations.]

posted by Mary at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK |

Courtesy of The Nation, go to MLK Online, and read the Beyond Vietnam speech if you hadn't before, or even if you haven't recently. These portions seemed particularly relevant:

...There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

...In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investment accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." [Sustained applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken: the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. ..

His words have held up pretty well since 1967, mostly, it seems, because he was a person who knew the difference between the merely urgent and the ultimately important.

posted by Natasha at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK |

What Now?

They toppled a statue in Baghdad today. Over 7,000 Iraqis are being held as prisoners of war. People are cheering in the streets as they loot government buildings and shops. To the great relief of everyone, not nearly as many people died as was feared. But...

The Kurds are still preparing to enter Kirkuk, and it's unlikely that the Turks will be any happier about the idea now than they were a month ago. Order has not been established, and fighting is still intense in some areas. The Shia and Sunni factions have remained quiet so far, but who knows what they'll decide to do. Steve Gilliard over at Kos lays out the fault lines pretty clearly, wondering if this war might not ultimately be more like a second Congo.

And what I've been wondering is where the hell the Iraqi army went? According to Fox News this January, the Iraqi army had a 350,000 person headcount. That's a lot of people. Now a large number of them will be conscripts who were glad to go home, but surely not all of them. The US didn't kill that many, or capture that many, nor does it have the capability of arresting that many even if they could be accounted for. In the end, there was no big last stand.

This means that over a quarter million people with military training may have simply melted back into the general population of the country. What their loyalties are, their hopes for what comes next, we don't know. If even 10% of that number decided to make life hell for US forces who overstay their welcome, they could do it.

Even if every single one of them hated Saddam with a passion (who didn't?), that doesn't mean that they'll continue to look favorably on US troops. It doesn't mean that loyalties to their tribal or religious faction might not eventually turn them against us. Especially if we don't come up with the goods we promised. Where's the food, the water, the jobs, the freedom and democracy?

In Somalia, the first US troop arrivals were indeed greeted with garlands of flowers. Six months later, they were cheering as US servicemembers were dragged through the streets. I hope for the sake of the military, that this won't be the case in Iraq. I hope that someone has made adequate provision for working to convince the Iraqis that a US occupation is the best possible choice, and can prove it by putting their lives back together pronto.

But our troops' lives are in the hands of the Bush cabal. Forethought, planning, diplomacy, follow-through, these concepts have no meaning to the current administration. Digby reminds us here about Afghanistan, where after the fireworks and the cheering stopped, the chaos and bloodshed has resumed. But this time without the watchful eye of the entire world press establishment, or the support of Washington for any kind of order.

Let's hope Iraq gets a better deal than that, though they probably won't. They'll be competing for aid with hurting state economies at home.

posted by Natasha at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK |

Defending the indefensible

Defenses of Sean-Paul Kelley are rare enough that I've decided to share this one, which the Agonist Watch, a new blog keeping tabs on you-know-who, referenced today. (My previous reportage on the scandal can be read at Mac-a-ro-nies.) The blogger at A Clever Sheep, Evano, goes to great lengths to defend Kelley in an open letter to writer Dan Gillmor.

Perhaps people visiting the site later believed that Sean-Paul's mysterious references to "little birdies" or "unnamed" sources were bonafides, but these lapses in attribution can just as easily be chalked up to Sean-Paul's personal voice -- humor and an air of espionage. My assumption was that some of his sources were from reader emails; in fact, half the value of Kelley's site was the wealth of comments from readers: they verified reports, suggested new sources, added new items, and contributed breaking news during the breaks Sean-Paul's biological nature required of him. Give it ten years of development and research and Google News may be capable of providing this service for the next Gulf War, without the bathroom requirements.

I rarely read anything I disagree with as much as I do this from anyone not committed to an asylum. There is no excuse for Sean-Paul Kelly's plagiarism, in my opinion. There is no evidence Kelley did anything but copy information from other sources, though he may have been better about attributing it to some of them than he was with Stratfor. (I'm sure there are people checking to see if he was.) However, the more offensive part of the comment is the reference to the Agonist's "personal voice -- humor and an air of espionage." That blanket could cover a heck of a lot. Most serial killers are expressing their 'personal voices,' and sometimes that of 'God' or a neighbor's dog, when they behave in ways I hope the ovine blogger would not approve.

Evano also attempts another dodge of the issue. He claims mainstream media does exactly the same thing the Agonist did. That is simply false. Though an anchor may not have confirmed attribution himself, you can bet his editor did. The information may turn out to be inaccurate, but it will rarely be unattributed.

Apparently not having embarrased himself enough, A Clever Sheep asks: "As for the charge that Sean-Paul was "stealing" information from Stratfor: that's a tricky one. Can information be stolen?" Of course it can. In fact, if I were to acquire the Clever Sheep's driver's license data, tax returns and a photo of him nude and post them to this blog he would bleat loud enough to be heard in Baghdad. When asked about his distress, he would say that information was not mine to post. The same is true of Stratfor's property and Sean-Paul Kelley. The Agonist made a contract with Stratfor that allowed for fair and limited use of the information it sent him. It did not engage him to republish practically its entire war coverage. To have done so what have been to enable a competitor to operate against it at virtually no cost.

I would prefer that liberal bloggers not defend Kelley at all rather than see us sink to the depths of irrationality in doing so. So far, most of the non-conservative bloggers I know are aware of the scandal have chosen not to comment. Some people may interpret that as a defense of the Agonist, but I don't think it is. The silence strikes me more as 'if you can't say something good about a person. . .' or a refusal to criticize the dead man blogging.

Meanwhile, news of the Agonist's perfidy has spread to another organ of big media USA Today. And, according to columnist Angela Gunn, it appears Kelley's supporters may have begun harassing the blogger who exposed the plagiarism.

Shame and scandal in the blog family …

For those who fear that the blogoverse could be subject to the same corruptions as mainstream journalism, bad news. The Agonist, Sean-Paul Kelley’s wildly popular war-news site, has admitted to obtaining a great deal of his information to a commercial intelligence-publishing outfit called Stratfor. Worse, according to the report in Wired News, Kelley was not only plagiarizing some information word-for-word from Stratfor’s paid news service, he occasionally credited Stratfor’s items to other sources (or left them uncredited). Kelley and Stratfor have apparently come to a relatively civilized arrangement about his use of their material, but the trouble may not be over yet. This afternoon, Kelley posted a cryptic note to readers: “Folks, I don't know who has been posting comments to Strategic Armchair Command, but please stop. I really don't want any more problems.”

Note: I have used a screen name and a blog name in this article to refer to its subject because there may be more than one blogger with Evano's real name.

-- Mac Diva

posted by J. at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK |

The Search for Spine, an update

Congressional Democrats have requested that the GAO investigate Halliburton contracts awarded over the last two years. Maybe there's hope for these guys, after all.

posted by Natasha at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK |

Spiritual Warfare, a chorus

At the above link, Stonerwitch explains the modern day fundamentalist christian version of spiritual warfare. I'd linked to this post before, but I keep thinking about the subject. It's a dynamic of thought which is demonstrably having a major impact on world affairs at present. This portion of her post in particular lays out the basis for American fundamentalist rhetoric, emphasis mine:

...There is an entire genre of Christian studies devoted to waging spiritual warfare, thoroughly grounded in contextually questionable Bible verses. The passage which provides the basis of the spiritual warfare meme is Ephesians 6:10-18:

[10] Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. [11] Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. [12] For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. [13] Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. [14] Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, [15] and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. [16] In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. [17] Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. [18] And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

There are countless other passages used for various reasons within the spiritual warfare teachings, but the only other one to which I want to draw your attention is Matthew 12:22-30:

[22] Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.

[23] All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" [24] But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."

[25] Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. [26] If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? [27] And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. [28] But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

[29] "Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.

[30] "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.

Sound familiar?...

Of course it sounds familiar. But the problem is that fundamentalists hear the second point, and miss the first. The struggle of spiritual warfare, in any useful and beneficial sense, is not with flesh and blood. The struggle is within, as anyone who has ever read a certain verse concerning specks in their brother's eyes will rapidly comprehend. Nor is that the only place where the historical figure that Bush, and the rest of the fundamentalist cabal, claims to respect the most said that a person must first get their own house in order before going out to lay down the law to others.

Estimated Prophet has a long, and rather good, post that touches on the dichotomy between internalized and externalized faith, and how many people who are reading the same holy book come away with very different interpretations about appropriate behavior. He finds this:

...In reading "Nothing Sacred: Women respond to religious fundamentalism and terror" edited by Betsy Reed I found it striking that in a article by Leila Ahmed called "Gender and Literacy in Islam" she touches on something very similar. She notes that the Islam she learned from her Grandmother and Mother was a way of being "A way of holding oneself in the world- in relation to God, to existence, to other human beings." She noticed that she was taught a pacifist sort of Islam; much as I would imagine Christian adherents the first century after the crucifixion of Christ would have practiced a pacifistic version of what grew to be called Christianity. Her mother recited for her what was the essence of Islam "he who kills one being" nafs, self, from the root nafas, breath, "kills all humanity"

Ms Ahmed realized that the people who studied classical texts, usually males, got a sense of Islam that allowed violence while that people who gained their sense of Islam aurally, person to person, did not gain a dogmatic sense of their faith. Men would have dogma imparted to them on Fridays at the mosque, women would recite the suras themselves, self- interpreting what it means to be a Muslim...

At a very opportune time, Al-Muhajabah talks about Jihad, or struggle, in Islam. From her post:

...In order to make sense of the theses, it is necessary to realize that the term "jihad" broadly means "struggle" and is used in the Islamic texts to refer to the struggle to establish justice at every level, from the individual to the societal. The struggle for justice may involve both violent and non-violent methods. Militant groups insist that "jihad" is synomous with "war" and therefore they focus entirely on armed struggle; indeed many of them argue that it is the only legitimate form of jihad.

Muslim non-violence groups agree with the importance of jihad but argue that non-violence is not only an acceptable method of struggle but in fact the best method of struggle. As the author points out, "As a technique, nonviolent action is not passive: 'It is not inaction. It is action that is nonviolent.' Hence, by definition, nonviolent action cannot occur except by the replacement of passivity and submissiveness with activity, challenge, and struggle."...

And Henri Tincq wrote about the problems that occur when two warring parties assume a mantle of piety and claim that god is on their side.

...For the reader of the Koran or the Gospel, nothing is more indefensible than this manner of invoking God in every instance, giving God's endorsement for human decisions, sometimes among those the most criminal, to confuse faith, weapons, and right. The faithful, like the agnostic, knows that God offers no protection against the temptation of Totalitarianism. History, on the contrary, reminds us that He has often lent a hand. Gott mit uns: in the name of God, people have tortured, murdered, subjugated their consciences, destroyed countries, attempted to exterminate the Jewish people...

Being a genuine minister of the Universal Life Church*, the founder of the BIOHAZARD** cabal, and having been forced to sit through more bible study in my youth than can possibly be healthy, I feel qualified to comment on the topic. At any rate, better qualified than our Proselytizer in Chief.

The Hardest Fight

The conflict in our world right now stems from the clash of two groups of people who want to impose peace by way of murder. Justice by way of repression. Order by way of destruction and fear. This will just never work. And it won't work because these tactics are based on a bone-deep ignorance of human nature, the ignorance of truths laid out plain as day in every faith, and a total lack of empathy.

I believe that the sentiments expressed in the inner meaning of spiritual warfare, of struggle, can be demonstrated to work as it says on the label when interpreted to have an inner, personal meaning. Forget the cultural trappings if you like, they aren't important, but the idea that the first fight is with yourself is key.

Probably everyone knows a person who has (and if you knew me personally, I wouldn't spring to mind here) a deep sense of inner peace that springs from what the Buddhists would refer to as self-cultivation. Even people who are not overtly religious, but have made a point of working to civilize themselves in relation to the world.

And I'm sure that everyone knows at least a couple folks full of the sort of nonstop indignation that takes a little too close and personal a look at what everybody else is up to. This describes all of us now and then, but it's at that time that we cease to be able to help anyone.

A person can't teach peace and justice while shouting, name-calling, being a busybody, or otherwise setting themselves up for what rational people know is a good opportunity for a pratfall. Because it's just at those moments when we become blind to our own behavior, weaknesses, stupidities. And everyone of us (very guilty party here) has plenty of those.

But though we know these things in our personal lives, and can verify that the world works like this through trial and error, (and error, and error, and error...) we forget. We know when we talk to our families and friends that when we're belligerent, the only thing we get is more hostility. We can be right until the cows come home, but we'll be sorry anyway. We know that when we approach the people around us with respect, generosity, and fairness, that even when we're wrong, they'll forgive us. Work with us.

And there's nothing harder than being angry, frustrated, exasperated, and five kinds of raving mad, than restraining ourselves to calm down before doing something stupid. That's a hell of a fight. A struggle that isn't for the faint of heart. There's nothing easier than lashing out like a wounded animal, because that's everyone's first impulse. Even the people who make it look easy.

It's this struggle that our country is failing. We're failing because we've acted out of anger, and are letting it consume our public dialogue. We're failing because instead of doing the difficult work of putting our own house in order, we're doing the lazy make-work of telling everyone else why they've got it all wrong. Of course they have got it all wrong, we all have. That isn't the point.

The point is which struggle we take on. Do we take the easy road, the external struggle, where there's always something "out there" that we have to get to before taking care of (so-called) trivial internal problems? Or do we take the hard road, the internal struggle, where we work to make our own homes, businesses, and country an example that encourages people around us?

Don't Take My Word

You can tell me all day about security this, and safety that. But if you think that being a bully and antagonizing people makes you safe, tell me a time in your life when you got into a big fight with a co-worker and felt that your job was thereby made more safe. Got into a shouting match with your partner and felt that it reduced the chance of a broken relationship. Got physically attacked and immediately felt more kindly towards the person who attacked you? When?

Everyday we work to build alliances, to avoid conflicts, and to help the people around us when that help is wanted, but not because we're weak. We do that because it's how we stay strong. How we avoid becoming the target of other people's anger. How we ensure that when good things come up, our names are at least on the list. How we act to create networks of friends and family that are a source of strength and comfort. And in others, these qualities are what help us determine whose presence will be welcome or unwelcome.

We know these things are true, but we forget. We forget when we snap at someone at the end of a busy day. We forget when we lose our tempers at inanimate objects. We forget when we're talking about foreign countries, which after all, are just large groups of people who react pretty much the way we would in their shoes. We forget to fight the hard fight, the one that looks suspiciously like doing nothing, even though it's the only way to accomplish any useful goal.

Why We Fall For The Fakes

There have always been individuals who go beyond the the level of being the local loudmouth, and wrap up whole groups, even entire countries, into their warped faux righteousness. And even though, when we know these types personally, we know enough to keep a wide berth, we forget with distance.

Given distance and an aura of authority, we stop being able to see what we would recognize right away up close. That the person inciting us to do bad or stupid things in the name of doing good is no better than the neighborhood gossip. We can't see the flaws that give the game away.

And we want to believe. We look at our own struggles, and we long to believe that this person talking so effortlessly about things we suffer with has got it figured. They know the way out. They remind us of our failings, just enough to make us discount our good judgement. They remind us of our noble goals, but without reminding us that there's no easy way to get there.

They make it seem easy, though only because it's just as easy for them to say it as it is for you to hear it. But when it comes to the doing, there's no mistaking someone who's given up on reforming themselves, because it's so much easier to let someone else do it. And the fact of the matter is that no one can take on that fight for someone else, anymore than you can hire someone to (as a monk once said) go to the bathroom for you.

So, I think we could use some spiritual warfare. But for gods' sake, can we all keep it to ourselves?

"You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:5

"Caesar's," they replied.
Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Matthew 22:21

* It sounded like a good idea at the time.

** The Bokononist Illuminati Order of the Holistic Association of Zen Anarchistic Reform Discordians; membership, 1. Bokononism says that everything is a lie, Discordianism that it is all true, and Zen, that it doesn't matter.

posted by Natasha at 2:38 AM | PERMALINK |

What about Aid?

One of the more ironic parts of this war is how Americans are supposed to be greeted with flowers and jubilation despite the death and destruction we've rained on their land. The current story for the reason for this war is to liberate the people of Iraq. And to make this claim, the Americans have to be seen as the bearers of aid and democracy. But, how is this aid being given and by whom? Body and Soul has been writing some thoughtful pieces about what this means.

As the troops enter Baghdad, the humanitarian crisis in Iraq has started to rise to the top of the agenda of many observers. Whether countries supported the USA in this war or not, many more of them than found in the coalition of the willing are pledging money to help the innocent Iraqis, including the Philippines, Germany, China, France, India, the EU and others.

One thing that goes without saying is that for every dollar the USA spends for humanitarian aid, it is a drop in the bucket to the money we spend on the war.

"The U.S. administration is spending to date $206 million on humanitarian relief and $300 million on food supplies to Iraq. This figure is dwarfed by the $62 billion being spent by the U.S. on its military campaign," Dr Jaime Miranda and David Barr of the International Health Advocacy Group said.

But the administration has been trying to make sure that they put the story out that they are concerned about the people of Iraq (and how would it be a liberation if you didn't concern yourself with the people of Iraq?). The US Agency of International Development reports:

The U.S. will provide 610,000 metric tons of food, worth over $300 million, to feed the people of Iraq. In addition this food assistance, USAID is spending to date over $206 million on humanitarian relief to Iraq. Organizations receiving this money include the Red Cross and Red Crescent, UNICEF, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organization for Migration, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. USAID has also provided emergency supplies in the region worth a total of $16.3 million more....

The question I've been thinking about lately is: What can we do to help the people of Iraq right now?

A key issue seems to be in determining whether the UN has a role in this effort and the Bush administration is having yet another visible power struggle in trying to determine what the scope of the role will be.

Another major problem seems to be the lack of control after the collapse of Saddam's government, which makes it very hard to deliver aid. Doctors Without Borders have suspended their operations after the disappearance of two of their personnel in Baghdad. Even getting aid into Iraq is dangerous.

However, there are still ways we can help. If you want to help, you can contribute to organizations that have been identified by the USAID as partners: Red Cross and Red Crescent, UNICEF, UN High Commissioner for Refuges, Save the Children and others.

Or you can help one of the other organizations that are not sanctioned by the US government, but that have set up relief efforts including Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group.

It is sad that our country wants the UN to pick up the pieces and to operate as a subservient junior partner to the US, rather than acknowledging the critical role the UN has in our interconnected world.

I'm glad to find a way to help, but it feels like so little and so late for the people in Iraq. I hope that there will be a time of peace for the children in Iraq (and the children in other parts of the world) so they can find ways to build lives beyond the terror and fear they have known.

posted by Mary at 12:49 AM | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, April 08, 2003  

Trouble in paradise

I've written about the burgeoning Sean-Paul Kelley scandal at Mac-a-ro-nies. The Agonist has admitted to plagarizing much of the content that led to his reputation as a war blogger. The story broke yesterday and is beginning to spread through the blogsophere. Technorati statistics for the blog remain high. However, Kelley is falling in The Truth Laid Bear ecosystem. Currently, he is number 19.

A quick and unscientifc survey of liberal blogs reveals:

DailyKos, currently manned by Billmon, still has The Agonist in its blogrolls, in two places actually. So do Talkleft and Atrios. Tapped doesn't, but I am not sure they ever did. Matthew Yglesias is one of few liberal bloggers to have commented on the matter so far, concluding:

At any rate, I don’t want to beat up on Sean-Paul and I hold no particular brief for Stratfor, but I think it’s noteworthy to look at how this, combined with the altered photographs, various issues surrounding embedded reporters, and the emergence of Al Jazeera as a kind of third force in the war point to a lot of troubles arising at the intersection of new technology and postmodern warfare.

However, I don't believe this situation is about technology. It seems to come down to whether a person is willing to lie to get ahead.

Reaction in the right of the blogosphere is one of mounting criticism. I will have more to say about that later.

-- Mac Diva

posted by J. at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK |

Interview with Bill Moyers

Salon has a really wonderful interview with Bill Moyers this week.* Moyers is one of my personal favorites, as he has a strong, compelling, yet ultimately compassionate voice that speaks up against injustice. These days about the only must-see TV I watch is his program, NOW which runs on PBS Friday nights. Moyers has produced some of the most compelling and interesting TV I've seen. And he shows what a powerful media television could be if only it was used to do more than titillate the viewer.

Moyers has a keen and powerful intellect, which he uses to explore some of the more interesting issues of our days. One series I particularly enjoyed was Healing and The Mind. But the topic that he keeps coming back to again and again is politics: What does it means to have a just world? How our current politics are corrupted by the power of money. Who are some of the people who are shaping our political discourse? And Moyers explores these topics by interviewing and listening to everyone, including right-wing theorists like Grover Norquist. And lately he has been covering the war with Iraq from every conceivable perspective.

Andrew O'Hehir's intro to his interview points out one of the reasons that Moyers is so good at what he does.

I think the secret to Bill Moyers' success is not merely his benevolent, avuncular manner but his gentle, almost singsong, folksy-yet-learned delivery (which he says he absorbed from the storytelling tradition of rural East Texas, where he was raised). If his writing can occasionally seem mannered, it also has a poetic verve and grace almost unknown in television. Here's how he ended a recent broadcast, ruminating on the ancient resonance of the headline "Marines cross Euphrates":

"And on these stones is all that remain of conquests, rebellions and battles -- the violent death of rulers -- prisoners of war disposed of by execution. For 5,000 years the story repeats itself, the victory of one, the defeat of the other. Tribes and gods turn on each other. Even Genghis Khan met his match trying to get here. The last word has always been written in the sand. Cities and states lie buried beneath it. The great figures who once held sway here -- Ashurnasirpal II, Tiglath-Pileser III, Shamshi-Adad V, King Nino, Queen Semiramis, King Shar-kali-sharri, Suleyman the Magnificent, the Ottomans, the British -- have all been carried away. Five thousand years from now, who will be crossing the Euphrates? What will remain from our time? And what will be remembered?"

Yes, Moyers combines beautiful words with evocative thoughts.

The Salon interview covered a wide range of topics including the war, what Moyers thinks of Bush, what his assessment is of the state of democracy and what it means to be an American.

Here is what he has to say about the American dream:

I just did a six-hour series, five years in the making, on the Chinese in America. I thought the timing would be unfortunate, but it turned out to be fortuitous. This is the first series I've ever done, in 30 years, in which I actually found the answer to the question that provoked me to do it. I wanted to find out what the Chinese had to say about becoming American, about the American dream.

One woman I interviewed, out of the dozens of people I spoke with while making that series, explained it all to me. She began to talk to me about eating chicken feet. You've seen chicken feet in Chinese restaurants, right?

Yeah. They're terrifying.

Well, yes, they're ugly, they don't look particularly nutritious, people are squeamish about them. She said to me, "As an American, I can eat chicken feet. But I don't have to eat chicken feet. I can turn around and eat at McDonald's and nobody questions me." I said to her, "What the hell does that have to do with the American dream?" She says, "That is the American dream! That I can compose my own life. That I can invent who I want to be."

We are creating a new American identity, and to take our identity as being opposed to the world, instead of being of the world, is the greatest mistake that George W. Bush has made.

Moyers' description of the American dream rings true. I remember talking with a young Vietnamese high school girl who had come here with her family after years of hardship. Her dream was to become an engineer. And she told me that if she had stayed in Vietnam, she would never have had a chance to realize this dream. There her role in her village would have been to stay in her parent's home until married and then move into the house of her in-laws to care for them. Here she can claim the opportunity to go to college, study what she wants and to make a life she chooses. Sometimes we forget what a powerful draw that is for people. America has always been a land where dreamers come to build their lives and we, the beneficiaries of their talents and energy, have gained from their presence.

* Even if you don't have a premium subscription to Salon, you can read the whole thing by a viewing the advertisement and then clicking on through. And I believe you will agree that this interview is worth looking at an ad so you can read the whole thing.

posted by Mary at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK |

Monday, April 07, 2003  

BTW - In spite yesterday's posting, I'm not in the middle of feverishly packing to leave the country for Canada. (Yet.) The fact that several people have taken that concern as an intention to book immediately seems to indicate more that this sentiment is taking hold in certain sectors of public discussion, than a personal issue.

For now, you're all stuck with me, right where I am. You may never get rid of me. Poor bastards ;)

posted by Natasha at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK |

Democracy Now Today

An interview with a peace activist in Palestine who watched a fellow activist and US citizen get shot in the face by Israeli troops. Brian Avery was wearing an orange vest that clearly identified him as an international observer, and was standing in an empty area with his hands up. There were no Palestinians nearby.

Boycotts and protests are gathering steam in India as the population becomes increasingly opposed to the war in Iraq.

Members of a sidewalk protest against the Carlyle Group in New York today were surrounded by police, not allowed to disperse, and arrested.

More information on the Oregon man currently being held without formal charges, more 'friendly fire', and the overflow in Baghdad hospitals, who have stopped counting the wounded and dead. If you can listen to the sound file, I recommend the roundtable with Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Alexander Cockburn, Michael Albert, and Nayla Razzouk.

Also from KBCS, for Seattle area residents: Greg Palast will be in town next Tuesday, April 7th, to read from his book "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy."

posted by Natasha at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK |

If you were living in the Middle East, and spoke Arabic, your view of the war might be more like this.

Update: Free Speech Radio News is reporting that Baghdad hospitals are having to perform amputations without anesthetics or antibiotics. They're being flooded with injured people.

"We don't want to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, because in a few days, we're going to own that country." Tom Brokaw - MSNBC March 19th, approx. 7 pm, shortly after the first official shots of the war.

posted by Natasha at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK |

Mr. Right is very wrong

Tony Rosen of  the I am Always Right blog, who claims his opinions are infallible, is so-o-o wrong. He says:

Leftist nonsense

Once more, for now, if you oppose the war, you have the Constitutional Right to protest. You have the right to voice your opinion. However, you do not have the Right to impede the lives of everybody else. That being said, you also don't have the Right to spew information which has already been proven to be totally false. For example, you can't truthfully state that minorities are disproportionally represented on the front lines in the military.

However, the troops killed in the first wave of casualties have been disproportionately minority. Most of the members of the ill-fated 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company, who died in a conflict with Iraqi irregulars March 23, were people of color. They included Pfc. Lori Piestewa of Tuba City, Arizona. The 22-year-old Hopi from the Navajo Reservation was the first woman known to have died in combat in Iraq. Photographs of servicemen and women killed in other battles released so far also reveal a high number of minority faces.

That is not surprising when one looks at the makeup of our volunteer military:

41% of the Army consists of minorities -- those who are African American or Hispanic

38% of the Navy is minority

* 26% of the Air Force is black or brown

and 38% of the Marine Corp is black or brown

Right Wingers degrade the disproportionate sacrifice of minority Americans by dismissing them as second-class soldiers because many are members of support units. Rosen echoes the party line about minorities being overrepresented among casualties of war: "This is just a bold faced lie. " However, if we have learned anything in this war, it is that support personnel in a war zone can be just as vulnerable to capture, injury and death as those with combat MOSes (Military Occupational Specialty).

Rosen is more ham-fisted than most conservatives in his sad excuse for analysis:

If anything, blacks are under-represented on the frontlines. Why is that? Because, leftest groups do not give them enough credit for brains.

I interpret that remark to mean somehow the Left has conspired to cause minorities to disproportionately join the military because of the high incidence of employment discrimination in civilian life. However, I lose Rosen's train of thought there. How does this conspiracy by, I guess, Barry, Natasha, Atrios, Nathan Newman and I, i.e., the Left, result in troops of color being "under-repreresented" [sic] on the frontlines? Perhaps someone can explain this to me. (Before doing so, read Rosen's entire entry. I would cite it, but his permanent links don't work. I guess infallibility has its limits.)

When I speak of sacrifices by military personnel, I don't mean just the worse of them, capture, maiming and getting killed. I also include low wages, dislocation from family and support structures, work experience that often is not transferable to the civilian world and stress that results in a high incidence of domestic violence and other problems among military families. Since minority group members make up so much of the volunteer forces, there can be no serious question they suffer disproportionately as a a result.

The surprisingly high degree of opposition to the invasion of Iraq by African Americans reflects awareness of the dilemma of minority soldiers.

Seventy percent of African Americans oppose the war in Iraq, at a time when 70 percent of Americans overall favor it, according to a national Gallup poll conducted March 22-25.

African Americans account for 23 percent of U.S. enlisted troops, nearly double their proportion in the general population.

Some observers, including Maria T. Padilla of the Orlando Sentinel, believe a renewal of the military draft might be necessary to make white, middle-class Americans shoulder their share of the sacrifices.

While non-Hispanic whites are the overwhelming majority of America's military force, they sign up in lower numbers than their proportion of the population. That is true for white men as well as women.

Our decisionmakers are likely to have been among that group, she observes.

. . .There's still a compelling argument for the draft based on the all-important concepts of equality, fairness and shared sacrifice. For it is also increasingly true that America's leaders (your state legislator, congressional representative and Washington bureaucrat) are unlikely to have served. These are often the armchair hawks who are gung-ho for the military and the war, but have never spent a day in basic training.

There's something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

This the real picture, not the irrational fantasy Tony Rosen entertains. Dark-skinned working-class people like Pfc. Piestewa and Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall D. Waters-Bey disproportionately compose our military and sometimes sacrifice their lives. Mainly middle-class pale-skinned men who have never fired an M-16 make our decisions. That must change.

posted by J. at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK |

Around the Web:

Talk Left discusses the material support statute that's become Ashcroft's new favorite bludgeon, and the Oregon man being held as a material witness for no reason that anyone is willing to declare. We are indeed going backwards in time, to a bad Madonna video. Material breach, material support, material witness... Which is pretty amusing, considering how spiritual this administration is supposed to be. (If that doesn't strike your funny bone, I don't want to know. I've had to temporarily suspend my evening ethanol. If there was ever a bad time to stop drinking...)

Mouse Musings (*%&* blogger permalinks) points us to an article about the Googlewashing of the phrase 'Second Superpower'. It's been effectively erased by a bunch of pie-in-the-sky New World Order claptrap weakly favoring the World Bank. Nor is it the only progressive meme to wind up down the memory hole. What is it they say? Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.

Regime change begins in Spain?

In the Asia Times, more on Israel's desire to revive an Iraqi oil pipeline that just happens to pass through Syria, why Iraq is not Japan, and Henry Liu talks about the limits of empire (a topic on which much has been written recently, but Liu's columns are a treat, imo.)

I'd link to the Atrios posts about military motivation for Southern Baptist preachers, the public enemy timeline, the FBI agents who harassed the family of a musician who played at a peace rally, and the from-rumor-to-expectation vector of a widening conflict, but again with the messed up links. Just head on over and read it all.

A senior German official says that an attack on Iran would be the end of NATO, and Jack Straw says that the UK will not attack either Syria or Iran. Here's my question to those who believe that US ambitions will end in Iraq: Why are all these European governments declaring opposition to something that we aren't going to do?

"President Bush has said that he does not need approval from the UN to wage war, and I'm thinking, well, hell, he didn't need the approval of the American voters to become president, either." - David Letterman

posted by Natasha at 3:09 AM | PERMALINK |

Sunday, April 06, 2003  

Fight or Flight

I wasn't sure if I really had anything to write about today, but in the comments to my last post, someone asked me:

...Look, if the people of the US who are disgusted with prevailing policies become habituated to moving away or (more probable) publically recanting their membership in this society, whose left? ...Why don't you look more closely at other countries. When they had craven, humiliating regimes, there were people there who resisted in the face of political persecution. Eventually they were admired for their courage. Where is yours?

Here's my rant, the long version: We now have a public where 70% of people base their foreign policy opinions on outright lies. This is a direct result of the media and political climate in this country. It is a result of leftist and moderate voices, even the voices of elected politicians, being shut out.

And the only reason why I would consider this a reason to flee instead of fight is because right now it's starting to come home to roost. Right now, we are at increased risk of attack due to our aggressive mideast policies. Right now, we are at increased risk of war with North Korea. Right now, we risk losing the aid and support of our allies, and we're looking pretty vulnerable.

I can lobby Bush (presuming he can still hear all us little people), I can work my damnedest to vote him out of office, email my representatives to put pressure on him, and I could probably even get together with a bunch of other citizens and sue him. But I can't put an effective cease-and-desist on Al Qaida, vote Kim Jong Il out of office, or personally request foreign governments to come to my aid. I therefore feel rather endangered by continuing to be in a country that behaves as ours does.

Yes, people have stood and fought oppressive regimes before, but generally they had no choice. They often either had nowhere to go, or were actively prevented from leaving. You think there aren't people living in Iraq and North Korea that would hightail it out of there in a split second if they had the chance? At this point in my life, I don't have a lot of choice, either. But to be perfectly honest, I'm scared.

Every time Rumsfeld or Perle open their big mouths and antagonize or threaten yet another country, it's apparent that I'm personally threatened by it. When yet another horrible picture of dead and injured Iraqis comes to light, it's plain as day that Al Qaida is going to use it as a recruitment tool. And every ally that publicly backs away from us makes us look less invincible, more open to attack. If this country was to try and spread this war with Iraq into neighboring countries, as they've now begun to hint they would (and didn't this current war start off as just such a series of hints and push polls?), it's my inexpert opinion that the likelihood of my living to a ripe, old age will go down by a not insignificant amount. The predilection for living in highly populated urban areas doesn't help.

Dead people are no use to anyone but the earthworms. They may be admired for their courage, heroism, and bravery, but they're just as dead.

In contrast, the vast majority of people on the planet are descended from someone who decided at some point that they'd rather live. I'm descended from people who decided that they'd had a lousy time in Europe, and crossed an ocean to get away. A couple generations ago, they decided that the middle of the country wasn't much better, so they moved out to the west coast. Maybe I'm congenitally incapable of being attached enough to a piece of land that I think it's worth misery and danger.

And I love this country, it's great, but I don't want to die for it. I'm only interested in living for things, which is why I'll take The Princess Bride over any amount of cantankerous, flag-waving, bible-thumping sermonizing any day. And I grew up in a house full of people theoretically willing to die for what they believe in. But you can't believe things if you're dead.

I don't even want for anyone else to die for this country, or any country. Can't we, as a society, as a species, find something more useful for several hundred thousand talented and dedicated people to do? If sending them off to kill and possibly die is the best thing we could come up with, I worry for us. For god's sake, that many people putting their heads together for a useful purpose could figure out how to make the country self-sufficient and secure enough that we'd never have to invade anywhere again.

At present, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not dropping out of my life, I'm not going to quit annoying my congressional spokesentities, and I'm not going to stop voting when I get the chance. But if something doesn't put a stop to this madcap adventurism, we get a little frisky with Syria, cross the line in Korea, those will be my taillights whooshing by you towards the nearest border. Canada, Mexico, whatever's close. Last I heard, there weren't any CIA-trained, cave-dwelling, hijacker recruiting, taepodong missile-owning, nuclear powered, crazy mother****ers after those two countries.

"Please, I want to live." - Wesley, The Princess Bride

posted by Natasha at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK |