As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, May 14, 2004

Wisconsin fights back

I'm watching the latest Bush campaign ad, which focuses entirely on his education bill, No Child Left Behind. One of the quotes is, "As President, he signed the most significant education reforms in 35 years." Whatever you think of the actual law, the problem is, he didn't fund those education reforms, and now one state is opening the floodgates on telling the truth about it. Here's the story:

Madison, WI, May. 14 (UPI) -- Wisconsin's attorney general has ruled the state may have no legal obligation to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In an opinion Thursday Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager invited the state Department of Public Instruction or a Wisconsin school district to sue the government over the 2-year-old education mandate that is a centerpiece of President George W. Bush's re-election campaign.

"This is the first ruling of its kind in the United States," Stan Johnson, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We urge school districts or states to go to court and correct this injustice."

Is there anything this government does that doesn't end up in court? Other stories on the subject spell out the real issue: the Bushes are trying to force the states to pay for a federal measure. I guess that's one way to drive down spending: don't pay for anything! But I thought we got rid of lunacy like this during the nullification crisis of Andrew Jackson.

Kudos to the Wisconsin AG for standing up for her state and attempting to stop the madness.


Kerry: Get back to work

I actually think the Kerry campaign is doing a decent job. They weathered the $50 million Bush ad storm until events on the ground made it ludicrous ("Hey, he wants to raise the gas tax!... um, what torture pictures?"). I think these theme weeks (education week, health care week) have a powerful effect, not nationally but in local papers, which could be even more important. Kerry's plan for teachers was big news here in LA because it was announced in the Inland Empire, just outside of the city. And I understand that he wants to get out among the people and do some retail campaigning. But it seems to me like this would be a good time to go back to Washington.

Republicans made a lot of hay this week by claiming, rightly, that Kerry missed what would have been the tying vote on extending federal unemployment insurance benefits. And Kerry's kind of lame excuse was "they made it look like it was the deciding vote when it really wasn't." But the point is, you shouldn't put yourself in that position. You don't allow the opposition to make quotes like this:

"Last month, John Kerry was pushing for the extension of unemployment benefits. Today, he had the chance to actually vote on that question but was too busy playing politics when he would have made the difference in the Senate," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.

"John Kerry's rhetoric on the campaign trail is hiding a long list of missed votes and empty promises on the issues he claims are priorities."

You just shouldn't leave yourself open to stuff like that. And furthermore, I'd say this is a good time to be a senator, if you want to get on the nightly news. Kerry is not on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who have been able to beat on Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz the last couple weeks, making stars out of Senators like Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island. However, these are Kerry's assignments:

Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation
Committee on Finance
Committee on Foreign Relations
Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

In addition, he's the ranking member on the Subcommittee for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Not that North Korea's a threat to us or anything).

Doesn't the Finance Committee meet on appropriations, like the latest call for an additional $25 billion for the war in Iraq? Doesn't the Foreign Relations Committee call hearings about foreign policy, not exactly a Bush strong suit at this time? And most important, wouldn't all Senators be able to question a prospective Secretary of Defense nominee during confirmation hearings, should Rumsfeld be forced out the door? With all the shit hitting the fan in Washington, don't you think a sitting Senator could make a lot of noise and garner a lot of publicity by doing his job? Plus, it would stand in stark contrast to our President, who takes every opportunity to go on vacation.

... I will give him this. After Thursday's campaign stop, Kerry did go back to Washington and did what every Senator has the right to do: viewed all the pictures of Abu Ghraib made available to Congress. He then delivered this withering attack on, of all places, Fox News:

"This administration has made a grievous error in the laxity of command control," Kerry told the Fox News Channel in an interview. "And I am convinced this didn't happen just because six or seven people decided to make it happen in a prison. It happened as a matter of what was going on in terms of interrogation and the laxity of command up and down."

Kerry blamed Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for first casting doubt on the protections afforded prisoners by denying detainees from Afghanistan formal standing under the Geneva Conventions.

"I would never have thrown out the door or window, the obligations of the Geneva Conventions. Why? Because I know as a former combatant, that had I been captured, I would have wanted our moral high ground, with respect to those Geneva Conventions, to be in place," Kerry said.

"By being selective and saying they (the Geneva Conventions) apply here, then they don't apply here, and so forth, we invite others to be equally as selective and it puts American troops in greater danger."

...Thanks for listening to me, Senator! Um, that is, listening to me, before I wrote this...


Thursday, May 13, 2004

Limbaugh update

David Brock's Media Matters group is going on the offensive about last week's Rush Limbaugh quotes that the military guards at Abu Ghraib heaping abuse upon Iraqi prisoners were simply "having a good time." They're running a TV ad about it:






That's pretty damn awesome. Media Matters has truly become a thorn in Rush's side. He's spent quite a lot of airtime talking about it:

LIMBAUGH: And there's this new website that the Libs have set up out there, and one of the things they have is a couple of guys that transcribe this program, and they select certain out -- outtakes or excerpts, and they put them on the Website, and it's become a clearinghouse for Lib propaganda.  So the Lib media goes there, sees what's there, and then repackages it as news.

I'm not sure how you take "they were having a good time" out of context. This goes on and on, by the way, it reads like 10 minutes of airtime. I'm going to be beat over the head for this, but one of the things Rushie boy says kind of rings true in a demented way:

LIMBAUGH: You know, there are all kinds of people in this country, some of them Democrats, elected Democrats, who say, "We need to see all these pictures from this prison, from the Abu Ghraib prison.  Need to see them.  We need to see every sordid detail, because we have a right to know, the American people need to know what's being done in their name, we want to see it.  All the sodomy, we want to see those light sticks, have you heard about this?"  What are those light sticks?  I can't think of the name of them.  Some prisoners were apparently sodomized with these light sticks.  Now, remember when a cigar was used in the oval office?  "Hey, it's just sex. It's not going to get in the way of the way anybody leads or does their job.  There's nothing here."  Now all of a sudden, we've got to see all of these pictures.

OK, I'm not about to compare prisoner abuse favorably to consensual sexual activity. However, I do believe that the reason this story is still hanging around in the media is because there's a sexual angle. Literally dozens of scandals have come and gone through the last few years of the Bush administration: Enron, WMD, Valerie Plame, dishonest accounting with the Medicare bill, to name a few. But Valerie Plame wasn't outed as a high-class hooker, or a cross-dresser, she was outed as a CIA operative. That stays in the news for a day and a half. But at Abu Ghraib, we have naked men, and women holding dog collars around their necks, and the like. This would be a horrible story if it was just beatings, but the nakedness does tend to keep it in the news cycle. That's more a critique of the media attention span than public outrage over Abu Ghraib. If there weren't any pictures, but acknowledged abuse, it'd be a two-day story, and we all know it. Such is the prurient interest of this deeply repressed, almost deviant society in which we live. I'd add to that as further proof the shocking number of Google hits for the full Nick Berg beheading video, as this Daily Kos story makes clear. The other multitudes of scandals Bush has caused are no less damaging to our democracy and our status in the world. But you see, this one has pictures. With naked bits all blurred out and stuff.


Who turned out the lights?

A couple weeks ago, we reported about how NASA put a ban on all interviews about the upcoming environmental disaster flick "The Day After Tomorrow." Which is, you know, a fictional movie from the makers of Godzilla and Independence Day, so obviously they're dangerous truth-tellers. Well, if today's New York Times is to be believed, maybe the reason NASA doesn't want to talk about it is they don't know what the hell's going on:

Globe Grows Darker as Sunshine Diminishes 10% to 37%

In the second half of the 20th century, the world became, quite literally, a darker place.

Defying expectation and easy explanation, hundreds of instruments around the world recorded a drop in sunshine reaching the surface of Earth, as much as 10 percent from the late 1950's to the early 90's, or 2 percent to 3 percent a decade. In some regions like Asia, the United States and Europe, the drop was even steeper. In Hong Kong, sunlight decreased 37 percent.

Here's the fun part:

Yet the dimming trend — noticed by a handful of scientists 20 years ago but dismissed then as unbelievable — is attracting wide attention...

"There could be a big gorilla sitting on the dining table, and we didn't know about it," said Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at the University of California, San Diego. "There are many, many issues that it raises."

The dynamics of global dimming are not completely understood. Antarctica, which would be expected to have clean air, has also dimmed.

"In general, we don't really understand this thing that's going on," said Dr. Shabtai Cohen, a scientist in the Israeli Agriculture Ministry who has studied dimming for a decade. "And we don't have the whole story."

Dr. Gerald Stanhill of the Israeli Agriculture Ministry noticed similar darkening in Israel. "I really didn't believe it," Dr. Stanhill said. "I thought there was some error in the apparatus."

So basically, if you boil that down, "We're fucking up the planet so much, we don't even know how." We've heard so much about global warming over the years, never global dimming. But clearly, there are effects to polluting the Earth since the Industrial Revolution. Which is to be expected. Which makes the current government's dismissal of the situation all the more disturbing.

And then there's this:

"I have a very strong feeling that probably solar radiation is increasing during the last 14 years," [Dr. Atsumu Ohmura of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich] said. He based his hunch, he said, on a reduction in cloud cover and faster melting rates in glaciers.

But clearer, sunnier days could mean bad news for global warming. Instead of cloudiness slowing rising temperatures, sunshine would be expected to accelerate the warming.

So maybe the Bush administration policies are a blessing in disguise. If they continue to allow polluters to cover the atmosphere with soot and noxious gases, it'll actually cover the ozone layer like a gaseous Band-Aid! Maybe that's the plan. I'll check the latest EPA report.

Incidentally, MoveOn.Org is going on a campaign to hand out flyers at the aforementioned "The Day After Tomorrow" to educate moviegoers about the real effects of climate change. If you want to volunteer and help out, click here.


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

This is policy

The thing that makes neocons and administration flacks shudder in the night is the sneaking suspicion that this Abu Ghraib scandal represents a strictly delineated policy of using torture methods to extract information from, or simply humiliate, prisoners of war. They have to believe this was 7 rogue privates, which in my view is as nutty as saying there was one lone gunman. The truth is that the more we learn, the more we see this pattern repeated over and over, not just in Abu Ghraib, but at the Baghdad Airport, in Bagram, Afghanistan, in Guantanamo Bay. It's also instructive to note that this is a Secretary of Defense whose entire reign in the position has been characterized by tight control of the planning, administering, and aftermath of American military force. He ignored State Department pleas for coalition-building. He willfully dismissed expert planning about how to secure the country after the war. He scoffed at experienced general's notions of how many troops would be needed to secure Iraq. He was determined to streamline the Army and fight more with less. He refused to put postwar Iraq under anyone's control but the Pentagon. In short, every single thing having to do with Iraq was under his thumb. And that included interrogation. From Newsweek:

Donald Rumsfeld likes to be in total control. He wants to know all the details, including the precise interrogation techniques used on enemy prisoners. Since 9/11 he has insisted on personally signing off on the harsher methods used to squeeze suspected terrorists held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The conservative hard-liners at the Department of Justice have given the secretary of Defense a lot of leeway. It does not violate the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, the lawyers have told Rumsfeld, to put prisoners in ever-more-painful "stress positions" or keep them standing for hours on end, to deprive them of sleep or strip them naked.

This is policy. Your government has decided for you that it's OK to torture people. And they'd still be doing it if it wasn't for a shutter-happy soldier with a digital camera. Hell, they probably are still doing it, in places that are more locked-down. But the point is, to pin this on a bunch of drunk-on-power privates offends the intelligence.


Back, and somehow the news is no better?!

Hey there, I took a vacation in lovely Philadelphia (my hometown, if you're there in the next month check out the Manet and the Sea exhibit), and took the opportunity to become blissfully ignorant of all that's going on in the world. That is, until I heard the voice of Nicholas Berg's father (A Philadelphia-area resident) recounting the horrible crime performed upon his son.

And the cycle of violence continues. I hope we use more violence to stop the violence, that really seemed to work the last time. And I hear that in light of this act, the moral relativists out there are claiming victory, that somehow because we didn't behead Iraqi prisoners (we only killed 30 or so of them, probably), that we are the champions of good. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe became the first high-ranking official I know of to publicly spout the "they deserved it" defense, saying, among other things, that:

"...these prisoners, they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cell block 1A or 1B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents, and many of them probably have American blood probably on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.

Maybe we're concerned about their treatment because it directly affects our treatment, but what do I know? And maybe we should keep in mind that, according to the Red Cross, 70 to 90% of these prisoners had likely been arrested by mistake. So you're right, Senator Inhofe, they're not there for traffic tickets. They're not there, in fact, for ANYTHING.

Not that I expected to return to a saved world full of peace, but still, it's depressing.