Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Okay, here it is, the very brink of October 1. The new old - or old new or maybe the ... never mind - Lotus. My promise is to have something posted every single day. It may be long or short and it may be serious or sarcastic or a geek post. But dammit, there'll be something.

I went missing these past two weeks because moving proved to be more of a hassle than expected and we're still some time away from being settled here. Sometimes the short moves, which this was, are harder than the long ones.

More to the point, moving required a shift in our internet access, with the result that for the moment, only one of our two computers can be online at a time. Unfortunately for me, that one is my wife's so she gets first dibs on its use. So until I get a router, I'll have to choose my times. More importantly, all my cool programs for rapid links to news sources are on my computer. I do expect that just a few days of having to locate the links and enter them by hand will inspire me on that router business.

On weightier matters, I have my own thoughts on the wildfire in the financial industry, which I'll lay out later today. Bottom line on the cause, though: The banks and investment houses got greedy.

(Did he say "got?")

More banal insights this afternoon and/or evening.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Not big, just low

It really is. It's just low.

From Eli over at Left I on the News I hear that the National Park Service is poised to put into place new regulations affecting the possibility of public protests during the inaugural procession in January.

It seems that back in March, the US District Court for DC ruled that the NPS's practice of exempting the corporate-funded Presidential Inaugural Committee from the ordinary permit process was unconstitutional. The effect of the exemption was to give a private organization exclusive rights to determine who could be present along the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue - and, Judge Paul Friedman ruled, "the Inauguration is not a private event."

The NPS did not appeal the ruling. Instead, it is now issuing re-written regulations in what I see as a transparent attempt to circumvent the ruling and thus still give the PIC the ability to limit those along the route to "invited guests," guests which, it's safe to say, will not include protesters.

More information is available at this link, including how to make a public comment on the proposed regs. (Use the link toward the bottom; the ones at the top don't work.)

Admittedly, I'm not sure this is a big huge deal (although it does have the potential to become one if the use of such permits creates more or less permanent "no protest zones" in public spaces) but it's just so... so... so low, so cheap, so slimy, that at the very least it shouldn't pass without objection.

Be quick, though: The period for public comments ends September 22.

Footnote: The original suit aimed at protecting the right of protest along the route was filed by the ANSWER Coalition, that group that all right-thinking, sober, serious liberals reject for its radicalism because they know in their right-thinking, sober, serious minds that their own right-thinking, sober, serious approach to issues such as stopping the war has been shown to be much more effective than, you know, making a fuss about it or anything.

Countdown: Twelve days to the Lotus SurgeTM.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not another word

Updated No. Not one. Not one more fucking word about Democrats or even about "more and better" Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, facing political pressure from high gas prices and a struggling economy, has backed off her emphatic opposition to offshore drilling.
Instead, she's advanced a proposal that would allow drilling 100 miles of both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts - a distance reduced to 50 miles if a state approves.
Even though analysts have pointed out that offshore drilling will not have any effect on energy prices any time in the near future, congressional observers said that with the November election approaching, high gas prices and a sour economy have put political pressure on Democrats to go along with Republicans who have been pushing an expansion of drilling.

Pelosi "doesn't want some of the Democratic members - especially from the more conservative districts, and there are a lot of them - to lose their seats," said former congressman Mickey Edwards, a lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University.
Expanded offshore drilling has been banned for more than 20 years. That ban is to expire on September 30 but instead of moving to renew the ban, Pelosi and company cravenly capitulated to GOPpers and the oil industry out of sheer political cowardice. They don't give a damn about the environment, they don't give a damn about the fishing industry (too many small owners equals not enough big contributions), they don't give a damn about the public or the public interest, all they care about is getting and staying elected, protecting their perks, securing their sinecures, preserving their pensions.

No, I am not going to say that every single Congressional Democrat is a scumbag. But the leadership is composed of scumbags. The leadership is composed of cowards. There may be individual Democrats worthy of support, even of your vote. The leaders of the party - and therefore the party as a whole - are not among them.

Countdown: Fifteen days to the Lotus SurgeTM.

Updated to note that I wrote that very quickly and a main point I wanted to make is probably too well hidden: Nancy Pelosi and company were supposed to be the "more and better Democrats" we were (and are) supposed to focus on electing while ditching other forms of activism.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A tribute...

...to the persistence of memory.

This is, naturally, a day late but that's how the month is going. Still, since some other folks noted the anniversary of the September 11 attacks - I particularly liked this one from James at Never In Our Names - I figured I would, too. What I've chosen to do is to post some things I wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 to see how my thoughts and predictions have stood up to the passage of time.

The first is an email, September 13, 2001, in response to an online friend asking how I was feeling in the wake of the attacks. The part in brackets is from the friend.
[ How are you doing? ]

I’m hanging in there. Stressed and sad like most, I expect - and fearful of what happens next, wondering what’s going to be the next loop in the cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation, a cycle in which everyone (including us) views themselves as the wronged innocents. And, as the reports of attacks on, harassment of, and threats against Arabs and Muslims in the US begin to come in, as people equate Arab with Muslim and Muslim with fanatic (much as if they equated American with Christian and Christian with the KKK) and as cries of, in one form or another, “kill them all” start to rise, reminded of the dictum that those who deal in vengeance tend to become that which they say they oppose.

“We will never be the same” is an instant cliche. And it’s certainly true - the question for us as a people now is what the change will be. I’ve been thinking of the last verse of “There But For Fortune” by Phil Ochs:

Show me the country/Where the bombs had to fall./Show me the ruins/Of the buildings once so tall,/And I’ll show you a young land/With so many reasons why/There but for fortune may go you or I.”

We have indeed been fortunate, and still are. A good question now is when faced with misfortune (not in the sense of bad luck but of bad events) will we as a people act as mature adults who will think about what we do and what it will accomplish or as spoiled brats flailing wildly at any convenient target within reach?

The magnitude of the event remains a little hard to grasp, perhaps (perhaps) more so for those of us who grew up in or around NYC, for who the twin towers were a natural part of the skyline. I’ve been told that the closer people are to NYC, the more the shock hasn’t worn off and the further away, the more anger there is. If there’s a silver lining at all, maybe it’s that the magnitude of the tragedy will keep us focused on the task of rescue and rebuilding long enough for the unreasoning anger to dissipate at least a little.
The second is another email reply to another friend on the same day.
[ Such sad news. Hope no-one close to you is caught up in this. ]

No, no one I know personally. But there’s always more of an impact when it’s something you know, something you can picture. I remember when the World Trade Center was built. Now I’ll remember when - and how - it came down.

Apparently, the delay between the first and second hits enabled a good portion of the second tower to be evacuated. Nonetheless, the loss of life will be huge; I wouldn’t be surprised if it ultimately reached 5 figures.

Now what happens? I’m afraid of what this could mean to the future. Already there have been incidents of violence and threats against Arabs (who are ALL Muslims, of course, as we all know) and mosques (because ALL Muslims are rabid extremists, of course, as we all know). Even someone I know online who would usually be considered rather liberal said she has “no problem with that” when I expressed a worry about “anti-Muslim xenophobia” because “I never met a nice Arab who wasn’t a Jew-hating racist at heart,” using the attack to justify her own concealed bigotry.

Meanwhile, the White House is promising an “extended military campaign.” We may be in for hard times, times which will not include asking any questions about why it happened that don’t involve “security lapses.” Even wondering about motivations beyond “unreasoning hatred” and being “uncivilized” simply won’t be allowed and risking such a thought is liable to get you branded an apologist for terrorists.

We’re headed, I expect, for more cycles of retaliation and counter-retaliation, everyone insisting their enemies are subhuman devils and they themselves are the offended innocents. It’s gonna get worse.
This is the big one; it's an unpublished op-ed piece dated October 2.
In the wake of September 11, a blunt truth: Barring divine intervention, and I for one do not count on that, we will never “rid the world of terrorism.” As long as there are people there will be those, both individuals and governments, prepared to commit the most venal cruelties against innocents to gain political ends. What we can hope to do is control terrorism, limit it, minimize it.

But if the history of the Middle East over the last 30 years proves nothing else, it proves beyond question that neither terrorism nor “counter”-terrorism, neither retaliation nor counter-retaliation nor counter-counter-retaliation will stop the circle of death - particularly not so long as those on each side insist on seeing themselves at the wronged innocents only defending themselves against unreasoning violence or oppression or exploitation (or all three) while viewing their adversaries as evil brutes fully aware of their own brutality. Another cycle of mayhem is simply not an answer.

If we want to limit, to minimize, terrorism, we have to understand the roots of it, understand what produces it, understand what moves people to embrace such desperation-driven fanaticism. And that in turn requires seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, which is where most of the mainstream commentaries attempting to answer the question “Why do they hate us?” have failed. The authors have projected themselves into the Muslim world and tried to think of what they might resent about the West in general or the US in particular. That is, they have changed their imagined location but not their eyes, still seeing the world through the filter of their own perceptions and desires. So they wind up producing answers like “They hate us because we’re rich” or “we’re modern” or “we support Israel.” Such answers are so removed from context that even to the extent they’re right, they’re useless, the more so because they add up to the unintentionally-revealing “They’re backward, jealous, anti-Semites who hate us because we’re better than they are.”

So for a moment, just for a moment, try to see the world through the eyes of an average person on the ground in the Middle East. This is how the world might look to you:

For centuries the West has looked down on you, regarding you, your culture, and, if non-Christian, your religion as inferior. (There is a reason bin Laden keeps referring to American “crusaders.”) They think of you as “ragheads” or “towelheads.”

Every time a strong Arab leader rises and tries to become independent of the West, they get slapped down. The only regimes that survive are those too weak or too corrupt to threaten Western interests. (One such “threatening” government was that of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, who was overthrown in a CIA-engineered coup in 1953 after he attempted to nationalize oil reserves. The result was the 26-year reign of the Shah, whose army was practically stamped “Made in the USA.”) Yes, you resent the West’s wealth but it’s not so much that they’re rich and you’re poor, it’s that they’re rich because you’re poor, that their wealth is built on exploitation and economic domination.

In just the past 20-plus years, you’ve seen the US pick a fight with Libya in the Gulf of Sidra, bomb Tripoli, openly try to kill Moammar Khadaffi, bomb a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan on the spurious claim it was a chemical weapons factory (leading to thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of deaths due to inadequate supplies of medicines), stand by along with the rest of the West while Muslims were slaughtered in Bosnia (stepping in only when European interests were threatened), shell Beirut, shoot down a civilian Iranian airliner, and fire cruise missiles into Afghanistan.

Then there’s Iraq, it’s infrastructure systematically destroyed in a war which it seems to you had nothing to do with the West except to humiliate another strong Arab leader. In the runup to that war you saw foreign troops stationed near the holy sites of Islam at the insistence of the US despite Saudi Arabia’s reluctance and warnings that doing so would be deeply offensive to conservative Muslims - which it was. (One thus offended being Osama bin Laden.)

For 10 years you have seen the bombing of Iraq continue, so much so that a few months ago a Pentagon press representative referred to one such raid as “routine.” Sanctions imposed by the West have cost the lives (by UN estimate) of 500,000 Iraqi children over the last 10 years, a death toll which then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright described in 1996 as “worth it.” Worth it, yes, you say - as long as it’s Arab children who are doing the dying. [I noted later that some sources dispute that total, saying it may have been “only” 370,000.]

And you see the US justify both the bombing and the sanctions on the grounds that Iraq “defies UN resolutions” while at the same time it pours billions of dollars in economic and military aid into Israel despite the fact that for 30 years Israel has openly defied UN resolutions about Palestinians and the occupied territories. It’s not even so much that the US supports Israel, it’s that the US does it to the detriment, the denigration, the denial, of the Palestinians.

If that was your world, what would the West, what would the US, look like to you? Like a noble friend? Or like a selfish, conceited, arrogant bully which figures it can do as it damn well pleases without cost to itself? And amid all this, what is the only force that has offered you hope, offered you help, offered you a model that has defied the West, offered you self-respect? Islamic fundamentalism. Seen through such eyes, the question “Why do they hate us?” answers itself.

This doesn’t mean excusing the terrorists who brought such ruin and pain to the streets of New York on September 11. We are all responsible for what we do and their acts deserve nothing but condemnation: Understanding does not mean approving.

What it does mean is that our best targets for “attack” in this “extended campaign” are not the actual terrorists (who likely number no more than a few thousand) but the tens of thousands, the millions, among who they recruit and from who they draw their strength. Our best weapons are bread and butter, not bombs; our best tactic reconstruction, not retaliation; our best strategy justice, not jingoism. The best way to minimize terrorism is to ensure that the dispossessed have a genuine stake in the world and don’t see us as grasping bullies - and the best way not to be seen as a grasping bully is not to be one.
These last two aren't complete pieces but excerpts. The first is from a letter to The Nation dated October 16, replying to a column by Eric Alterman in which he condemned some unnamed folks for their reactions to 9/11, saying they should be “rejected for reasons of honor and pragmatism.”
In any political dispute, it is a dreadful tactical mistake - one of which the left has been too often guilty - to let your opponents define the terms of debate. By decrying “the refusal to draw [a] line” between “principled dissent” and an ill-defined “‘Hate America’ left” Alterman effectively acknowledges that questions about our patriotism - however we individually define the word - are proper ones and thus repeats this same blunder. His proposed course of action does not defuse the right’s attack, it legitimizes it.

If “patriotism requires no apologies,” neither should it require conscious demonstration. Instead of trying to prove we are part of “responsible debate” by slicing others out of that range, we should simply assume that we are and act on that basis. I’ve long maintained that the left in this country has been at its strongest and most influential when we have spoken the truth as we understand it without giving a flying damn if anyone was offended or not. Our task must be to present ourselves and what we believe, clearly, strongly, unreservedly, and unashamedly. Time and energy wasted defensively declaring what we don’t believe are just that - and we’ve little enough of either to start with.
Finally, an excerpt from a December 24 letter to Mother Jones. Todd Gitlin, still living off his radical credentials from the '60s, had written a piece blasting what he called the "blame America first" crowd, the single requirement for membership seemingly being not sharing his resurgent sense of flag-waving patriotism.
As deeply as I mourn the victims of the World Trade Center attacks, as much as I admire the dedication of the firefighters and rescue workers, the EMTs and RNs, who rushed to get to the place everyone else rushed to get away from, as hard a wrench as I felt the first time I saw the post-attack profile of New York (with sky where the twin towers should’ve been), I still insist that the question for us as Americans is not, cannot be, what Osama bin Laden could have or should now think or do differently, but what we could have or should now think or do differently. The clock of history did not start on September 11 and refusing to face our own complicity in creating and maintaining the conditions of desperation-driven fanaticism in which such as al-Qaeda can take root and grow (and continue to recruit) is the surest way we as a nation can guarantee a continuation of terrorism directed against us.
I have to say that on the whole I think these thoughts and predictions have held up pretty well. Certainly better than those of Alterman and Gitlin (and a fair number of others we could name, I expect). Do you disagree? Say so and say why.

Footnote: For another perspective on patriotism, try this.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Once more with feeling

I just wanted to quickly repeat what I said a few posts down that posting here will be very scanty for the month of September and folks probably shouldn't bother looking here more than once a week.

Every time I think "I should say something about that" - such as Barack Obama's nauseating assertion that the "surge" has "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams" or the news that a county in Virginia is actively misinforming college students about their voting rights - I immediately think "But what I really should be doing is packing."

So I pack.

As I also said earlier, I do intend a renewed commitment to this thing come October 1, a commitment to having something posted every day, even if it's just one of my famous geek posts. I do think that what I put up here is worth reading (at least for the most part) but I also think there hasn't been enough to keep people coming back. I'm going to do my best to remedy that.

One thing that won't change is my tendency to focus far more on topics and events that are not filling the pages of the Big Blogs unless I think I have something to say or a perspective to add that is noticeably different from what is already out there. Put another way, I don't want to just be going, either directly or by implication via essentially carbon-copy content, "me, too" or "what so-and-so said." If I can't add anything, I'll just let it slide.

I'd better go pack something. See you soon.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Unimportant but I'll note it anyway

Just after 1 AM today, someone in Austin, Texas (I have a fair idea who) became my 50,000th hit.

A small thing, I realize, but I still felt like making note of it.

(Actually, I passed 50,000 a while ago because I had a few thousand hits before I hooked up with Sitemeter, but this is the "official" crossing of that line.)

And BTW, yes I am both furious and frightened by what's been going on in St. Paul - frightened, I will say, less by the brutality, illegality, and conceited arrogance of the cops than by the cavalier attitude of the mainstream press (which is largely content to limit itself to what the cops and the city government hand them) and the almost ghoulish indifference to the implications displayed by way too many among the public (who either shrug it off as not worth noticing or, worse, celebrate the cops' assaults on both conscience and the Constitution).

There is one thing that keeps me going at times like this: historical perspective. I have recently read two books about the battle for civil liberties in 20th century America, one spanning the majority of the century and using the history of the ACLU as an organizing theme, the other concentrating on the debate over free speech in wartime during and after World War I, with the case of Eugene Debs the central focus.

The lesson I take from those two books is that things can be worse. Indeed, things have been worse and not all that long ago in historical terms. But we survived and even managed to expand our rights over time. Sometimes it was the result of the "aroused populace" we so often invoke. Other times it was legal battles. Other times it was just that it was other times and society had changed until the legal details had no choice but to get dragged along.

So yes there are dark times ahead, made darker by the pompous dismissal of "old styles of protesting" by some who damn well should know better but are too wrapped up in their sense of "importance" to the campaign of Barack Obama (or whoever would be the "liberal" Democratic standard-bearer of the moment) to think it through. But remember that the title of this blog includes the phrase "surviving a dark time." Ultimately, I think, I believe, we will. But it will not be easy and the darkness will not be lifted by an Obama win. It will be a struggle.

Even so, there can be happiness in the fight. Let's make sure that at the end, we can say with Joe Rauh, "tell them how much fun it was."
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