Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Easy answers department

According to an August 29 article in the NYT,
[r]esidents in 14 states and Washington can now appeal to their doctors for prescriptions for medical marijuana to help them with their pain.
But only one of those states - Rhode Island - has a law that offers legal protection to students, employees, and tenants who use medical marijuana. The result is that
workers have been fired for failing drug tests despite having prescriptions saying, in effect, that what they are doing is legal according to the laws of their states.
This, the Times says, has created "a new legal gray area" that has left
company officials scratching their heads over how to enforce a uniform policy for a drug that the federal government has not recognized as having a legitimate medical purpose.
Scratching their heads, huh? A real conundrum, eh? Well, let me help you out. Here are two answers that even corporate executives should be able to grasp:

One is, have a policy that says you can't be fired or otherwise disciplined for legal use of a substance for which you have a prescription.

Two is, don't do the fucking drug tests! End all pre-employment testing, dump random testing, and only test on an individualized basis in the case of someone you have actual cause to believe is stoned at work in a way that interferes with their job performance.

Problem solved. See? Easy.

Footnote: I know some employers, particularly in areas involving public health and/or safety, are required by law to do testing. Leaving aside the fact that the phrase "public health and/or safety" has sometimes been stretched beyond all rational limit, at least some of those employers still could institute the first option.

The ultimate truth of the matter is that most drug testing has nothing to do, even hypothetically, with "public health and/or safety." It's a matter of employers doing it because they can. Not because it's necessary, but because they can. At root, it's an exercise in power, in dominance, not in safety.

Building up

I want to revisit the ginned-up "controversy" over Park51, the proposed Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. Just over two weeks ago, I asked those who insisted that their objections weren't based on bigotry or expressions of fear-mongering but were only about "sensitivity" to "hallowed ground," just how far away the project would have to be to be acceptable. "A half-mile? A mile? Delaware? How far?" I asked.

Well, it seems that the other day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose refusal to buckle to the shrieking banshees has been admirable, asked the same question.
“The question will then become how big should the no-mosque zone around the World Trade Center be?” Bloomberg told a Muslim-American audience at a dinner celebrating the breaking of the fast during Ramadan. “There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it, too, be moved?”
In response, the Daily Caller tried to get an answer to the question of "how far away is far enough" from some opponents of the project. Not surprisingly, the effort was a failure.
[F]ew of them have specified, (even when pressed), just how far away the mosque needs to be in order to receive their approval. Many of them oppose it on grounds that it is insensitive.... But when asked to suggest a specific distance that the site needs to be from Ground Zero, few are willing to elaborate further.
One, Robert Spencer of the paranoid website Jihad Watch, not only refused to answer the question, he claimed even asking it was an attempt to "trap" him.

Those who did offer an opinion on the matter were as revealing as those who refused. One such was Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who said another "two or three blocks" would be enough.
“Something that would not be within eyesight if it weren’t for intervening buildings or that you couldn’t hit with a rock from Ground Zero,” [he said.]
First off, if you can throw a rock two and a-half city blocks (something over 200 yards) there are several NFL teams that want your phone number. Second, if it weren’t for intervening buildings? What the hell kind of crap is that? I could see Australia if it weren't for intervening ground. Taking Land at his word, two or three blocks wouldn't be nearly far enough; if "intervening buildings" must be ignored, the project would have to be over the horizon. In other words, the answer is bullshit, utterly meaningless.

Then there was self-described neoconservative Stephen Schwartz, executive director (and apparently sole full-time employee) of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, which he helped found in cooperation with Daniel Pipes. It's a rabidly right-wing (in the political, not a religious, sense) outfit that claims the mantle of moderation while spewing David Horowitz-style venom at anyone and everyone who isn't sufficiently rabid. (And for a website supposedly devoted to issues related to moderate Islam, it spends an awful lot of space on Israel, defending it and attacking Palestinians, particularly Hamas.)

Schwartz said there is no "specific distance that should be maintained between any given mosques and Ground Zero." It's just a "question of insensitivity." Which is kind of odd since his website keeps publishing articles he writes smearing Feisal Abdul Rauf with a lot of guilt by association and six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon dot-connecting. It also just reprinted a piece from the right-wing Toronto (Canada) Sun claiming that the project is actually an attempt to
tak[e] hold of the legal-political framework of liberal democracy to secure grounds for their anti-liberal agenda of advancing acceptance of Sharia in the West.
That is, Park51 is actually part of a vast conspiracy to turn the US into an extreme Islamist state operating under Sharia law. It seems that "insensitivity" is or at least should be rather low on the list of Schwartz's actual concerns.

He went on to say that
[i]f the Rauf-El Gamal plan goes forward, it should be located in a place where it will not call attention to the horrors of September 11 and not stir conflict over Muslim/non-Muslim relations. Such a location could still be in lower Manhattan - but it must be carried out without the associations with 9/11 that Rauf and El-Gamal, I think naively, have attached to it.
"Naively?" Did he just say "naively?" Schwartz has accused Rauf of being "involved with Islamic groups aligned against America," of association with "fanatical Jew-haters," and of spreading "propaganda for the Iranian clerical dictatorship," among other things. But now, when his words might circulate among folks beyond the bug-eyed droolers who populate his fetid section of the political landscape, we're supposed to believe that Schwartz just thinks Rauf is merely "naive." Again, I call bullshit. Indeed, I call liar, liar, pants on fire.

In fact, I call bigotry. This doesn't have a goddam thing to do with naivete on Rauf's or anyone else's part. This is about politics, about political power, and about advancing a reactionary agenda.

That's why the opponents keep screeching "too close" while refusing to suggest what is not "too close." Because that doesn't matter to them. It's not the point. If the project did get moved, even if it was moved just a couple of blocks, they'd be slapping each other's butts in a victory dance. Which is why all the watery-kneed suggestions for "compromise" from some who say such an act of "understanding" would create some kind of "unity" are so thoroughly idiotic: At root, this is not about the location of the project - it's about making the developers move it. It's about proving that "they" have to be "sensitive" to "our" feelings. It's about, that is, emphasizing that "they" are "they" and "we" are "we."

Schwartz said it himself: "If the plan goes forward, it should be located in a place where it will not call attention to the horrors of September 11." Muslims are not allowed to have any connection to 9/11. They are not allowed to say that they reject the extremists who plotted destruction. They are not allowed to make any distinctions between those who attacked and those who didn't. No, 9/11 belongs to "us" and "they" can have no connection to it. Because "they" are not "us."

William Saletan, writing at Slate, expressed a similar notion. Referring to Rauf, he said:
A man who was born outside the United States (he's a naturalized citizen), speaks English with an accent, and preaches a minority religion that was invoked by the 9/11 plotters is claiming insider status against Christian, native-born Americans. This might work in the ethnic mixing bowl of New York. But in the broader United States, it sounds pretty crazy.
Bottom line and I've said this before but it bears repeating: This is about exploiting American nativist xenophobia - the kind which, to our shame, we have seen numerous times before in our history and which Saletan comes dangerously close to endorsing with his "claiming insider status" crack. It is about labeling some people or some group as "other" and "foreign" and "alien," as not us, as not part of the American community, in pursuit of a radically reactionary political agenda. In this case, the target is Muslims and the intent is to brand them as non- or even un-American, as dangerous and a threat to be guarded against and resisted, an argument made by people who know keeping you scared, perpetually scared of the threatening "other," is the best way to protect and advance their own power.

If that seems overstated to you, recall that the aptly-named Newt Gingrich called the project “an assertion of Islamist triumphalism” and part of “an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization,” adding that those who approve the project are “apologists for radical Islamist hypocrisy.”

(He also said “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” Exactly why he wants to make Saudi Arabia the arbiter of religious freedom in the US escapes me, but understanding the lizard brain is always difficult.)

All this makes it important to remember that the single most important factor in enabling discrimination, in empowering hatred, indeed in justifying murderous violence, against another person or group, in finding them undeserving of rights even down to the right to live, is defining them as "other."

There can be no legitimate compromise with people such as Stephen Schwartz. They are not interested in it and see your proposals for compromises as weakness on your part and as an encouraging victory on theirs. You have to fight them. You may lose - but that's better than playing a rigged game.

Footnote: Just as a sidebar, another argument against Park51 is that the site, indeed the whole surrounding area, "belongs to the survivors of those who died."

No, it doesn't. 9/11 was not an attack on those who died - which, as has been noted, included some Muslims. The victims just happened to be there. It was, as I've argued before, an attack on the symbols of economic (the WTC), military (the Pentagon), and political (the fourth plane was believed to have been intended for the White House or the Capitol) America. It was, that is, both a physical and a symbolic attack on the US. Symbolically, on all of us regardless of our political, ethnic, or religious persuasion. The site is no more the possession of those families than, say, the families of those who died at Pearl Harbor can claim exclusive philosophical possession of that site.

Oh, and since not all "the survivors of those who died" oppose the project, just which of the survivors would people like Schwartz say get to make the decision?

Like the saying goes, some questions need only be asked.

Another Footnote: Something I always wonder, prompted by Saletan's reference to "native born Americans." So those people are here and are citizens by a geographical accident of birth. Rauf, on the other hand, came here deliberately and went out of his way to become a citizen. Doesn't that in at least some sense give him cause to say he's more of an American than those who reject him, since he's American by conscious choice and they are by pure chance?

And One More Footnote: Just to give you a bit more insight into the dark recesses of Stephen Schwartz's "thought" processes: Remember the May flotilla that tried to bring supplies to Gaza before it was attacked on the high seas by the Israeli Defense Force? According to Schwartz, that wasn't a nonviolent direct action to challenge the illegal and immoral Israeli blockade. No, it was a "sea raid by Turkish-led radicals." Which, interestingly, is exactly the Israeli government's position.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An even quicker thought prompted by both of the preceding

Have you noticed how often in discussing various programs such as Social Security, along with welfare, jobs, health care, and so on, we make reference to certain multiples of the federal poverty line?

For example, OWL says that "48% of Americans 65 and older live at or below 200% FPL." There are various public programs that relate benefits to how your income relates to FPL; some of them refer to 100% of the limit, some to 135% of the limit, some to 200%, some state programs even go to 300% of FPL.

So here's the thing: If you can have an income double or even triple the federal poverty line and still be eligible for some forms of public assistance, doesn't that mean that the federal poverty level is set too fucking low?

Two quick thoughts prompted by the preceding

1. In discussing the future of Social Security, we keep hearing how in 2037 the system will be "broke" and thereafter will only be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits. Leave aside the question of how a system that can continue to pay such benefits for as far out as projections go can be called "broke" and note the particular modifier "scheduled."

Social Security benefits are given a Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) yearly connected to inflation. Your initial benefits at any given retirement age are based on your earnings. While it hasn't been true of late, historically, over the long term, wages tend to rise faster than inflation. Which means in turn that over the long term, initial benefits tend to rise in real terms, that is, after adjusting for inflation. Thus, those "scheduled" benefits, over time, provide new retirees a higher and higher standard of living as compared to those who retired in earlier years.

What all that ultimately means is that people who retire in 2037, even getting just 75% of "scheduled" benefits, will still retire with a standard of living comparable to people retiring now. Even if we do nothing, people retiring in 2037 will be no worse off than those retiring today. That standard of living is no great shakes - the average benefit is $1164 a month, or just under $14,000 a year - but it doesn't change the fact that the "75% of scheduled benefits" line is deliberately deceptive crap.

2. Another bit of crap is the argument for raising the retirement age based on the assertion that when Social Security was established, life expectancy was just 57, so the idea was that few people would live to 65 to collect benefits. Even assuming the figure is correct, the use to which it is put is bullshit because that figure represents life expectancy at birth. Recall that in addition to the improvements in public health and sanitation over the last several decades, in the mid-1930s there was no vaccine for measles (introduced in 1963), for mumps (1967), for rubella (1969), for influenza (1945), or for chickenpox (1988). Even the vaccine for pertussis ("whooping cough") was just being introduced in the mid-'30s. Many children died young. Life expectancy at birth tells you little about life expectancy for people scores of years older.

I didn't find data for the mid-1930s, but I did find data for 1950 that compared life expectancy at birth with that of people who were 65. At birth, life expectancy was just over 68 years. At 65, life expectancy was 14 years - that is, on average, a person who was 65 in 1950 would expect to live until the age of 79. (As of 2005, the figures were: at birth, just short of age 78; at 65, just short of 84 - the shrinking difference largely due to reductions in infant and youth mortality.)

So for someone like Alan Simpleton to say that retirement age was originally set at 65 because life expectancy was only 57 is either a boldfaced lie (a "lie" being understood as a statement intended to deceive or mislead) or a statement of such staggering ignorance as to disqualify him from any standing to have a further opinion on the subject.

Noted more or less in passing

Long-time readers of Lotus - if there are any - will likely not be surprised to hear that I had a somewhat different take on the Alan Simpson kerfuffle, that the thing I reacted to was not what most were talking about.

A number of commenters seemed to be most upset that he used the word "tits" in writing to a woman as if that was something so totally over the line as to beggar the imagination. Well, frankly, BFD. The term may be crude, but it's hardly worth a lot of media and blog gasping and I simply can't imagine that Ashley Carson of OWL, recipient of the email in question, got the vapors when she read it. (On the other hand, the "get honest work" crack, now that really was offensive - especially as compared to being a professional politician.)

Rather more important but rather less the object of comment was the bit about the country being like "a milk cow with 310 million tits!" We're all just "milking [the system] to the last degree," Simpson opines. Apparently, "geezers" are not the only ones among us who are "greedy." It's the entire population. Oh, except, of course, him and his rich cronies who of course reap no special tax benefits, oh no, that's of course different and those are of course completely justified. (Which is why any tax increases on the rich and superrich are off the table in any discussion of cutting the deficit.)

But the thing that got me, the thing about which I've seen little if any comment, is the overall attitude of his email. There was a palpable, an overwhelming, an utterly astonishing arrogance. His sense of his own personal importance, his own personal superiority to the "babblers" and the "lesser people" he has referred to elsewhere, was breath-taking. This is the person, this is the kind of person, who the powers-that-be think is best qualified to determine the future for the rest of us.

Alan Simpson is not on the President’s Fiscal Commission despite such attitudes, he's there because of such attitudes. And don't you forget it.

Footnote: After being knocked from pillar to post in blogs and the commercial press, Simpson wrote an apology to Carson. Carson, to her credit, said she was "very appreciative" of Simpson's apology, then immediately renewed her call for his firing from the commission. Good on her.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Harry Reid is a fuck-brain, lame ass coward

I know I'm violating my rule against single-line posts with a link, but I wanted to say that and you already know why.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Noted in passing, with a desire to take a long nap

I know I don't usually comment on political races, but I'm making a sort of exception here because the real point is not the race, it's the coverage.

If you want to know everything and I mean everything that is wrong with how the media covers political issues and political campaigns, check this out. It's all about how Sharon Angle is "learning the fine art of politically shrewd phrasing" and thus "becoming a more deft and potentially formidable candidate."

The evidence of this is a tape recording of a business networking breakfast where she campaigned last week. In one case, she was asked her position on federal recognition of same-sex marriage and her answer was about replacing Social Security with a "personalized retirement plan." In another, she dodged a question about ending legal prostitution in Nevada, saying she'd leave it to the counties. In a third, she was asked about teaching evolution in public schools and went on about how evolution and creationism are both "theories" and "we don't know, we weren't there" and how if we're to "raise logical thinkers," we have to "allow for the debate."

All this was regarded with admiration as examples of an increasing skill at campaigning. In fairness, the author did note how what Angle said in those cases either evaded or contradicted her previous statements (and, in the case of evolution, reality) but the overall focus was not on that - not on the lies or the evasions or the ignorance - but on the political skill she showed in the course of lying, evading, and being bone-headedly ignorant and how, in the words of the one person quoted on it, this is "a good sign for Angle supporters."

It is an absolutely distilled example of horse-race coverage and a prime bit of evidence as to why we are so woefully uninformed and easily buffaloed that we will fall for the kind of crap that gets spewed on a daily basis. We are so screwed.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Footnote to the preceding

BP giveth and BP taketh away.
National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen said Friday that the blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is not yet dead, and that BP will proceed with a relief well to permanently kill it.

"Everyone agrees we need to move forward with the relief well, but the question is how to do that," Allen told reporters.
While the "static kill" appears to have successfully placed a layer of cement and mud to seal the well from the top,
engineers don't know the thickness or strength of the layer of cement currently plugging the annulus,
the area between the inner pipe and the outer casing of the well. So while they kinda think they got it under control, they don't know for certain. So onto the relief well.

But that raises a new problem: concern that if material is pumped in too fast via the relief well, or "bottom kill," it could increase pressure in the pipe enough to blow out the cement now plugging the annulus, dumping more oil into the Gulf before the well is finally plugged for good. So yeah, relief well but "how to do that" is, like the man said, still a question.

Let's recall that this began on April 20. (Of course it actually began considerably earlier in the corporate decisions that lead to the disaster - but I'm talking "began" in the "immediate disaster" sense.) That's pushing four months ago and maybe - maybe - the well is plugged. What does that say about our knowledge, our technology, our ability to deal with similar disasters? What does it say about the risks we have run, the risks we are running, the risks we will continue to run? What is says to me is that - even including the effects of Deepwater Horizon - we've been damn lucky. But luck can't run forever.

Especially not if we keep doing crap like this:
In a deal that has sweeping, long-term implications for millions of people living and working along the US Gulf Coast, the Obama administration has agreed to base the payments by BP to the oil disaster fund on the oil giant’s profits from its drilling operations in the Gulf.
That "disaster fund" is the $20 billion BP agreed to put up to pay for claims against the damage it caused.
After depositing the first $3 billion into the fund, BP must provide collateral to guarantee the remaining $17 billion it has pledged to deposit over the next three and a half years. ...

BP will give as security “interests in production payments pertaining to the [company’s] U.S. oil and natural gas production,” the bulk of which is located in the Gulf of Mexico.
Get that? The collateral for the fund is BP's profits from continuing to pump in the Gulf. Even the "Wall Street Journal"
noted Monday that an agreement tying the escrow fund to production revenues “would give both sides an incentive to continue production in the Gulf, scene of the U.S.’s worst-ever offshore oil spill.” ...

Tying the disaster fund directly to Gulf oil revenue has obvious political advantages for the company, as the Journal pointed out, “because it could make the administration and BP partners of sorts in developing the Gulf.” It would forestall measures such as the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month effectively banning BP from new offshore drilling in the Gulf, because such a move would then threaten the stream of revenue for the disaster fund.
That is, this agreement actually, ultimately, serves to protect BP's interests in the Gulf of Mexico, currently worth over $11 billion a year to the company. I'd call this a lemonade from lemons trick on BP's part except that the proposal for the collateral didn't come from BP, which argued it was unnecessary. It came from the Obama administration.

"And over there at the juicer, that's Ken Salazar! Let's give him a big hand. Keep squeezing those lemons, Ken!"

Given the behavior of both BP and the O-crowd in this, I am reminded again of the words of C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters: "The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."

Footnote to the Footnote: According to the "Wall Street Journal" as quoted by PBS's "Newshour,"
Michael Bromwich, the Interior Department's new offshore-drilling chief said that the agency had relied too much on the oil and gas industry it was supposed to police....
Gee, ya think?

Y'know, there was a time public radio was worth listening to

Those days have passed.

The public radio program "Marketplace" is produced by American Public Media, the second largest producer of public radio programs in the US. On Wednesday's show, reporters Bob Moon and Adriene Hill spoke about t-shirt entrepreneurs basing designs on BP's Gulf oil disaster, aiming either to raise money for relief and restoration or just to make a living. It included this exchange:
Moon: OK, now follow me here on this. A lot of these shirts are decrying the environmental damage that this oil spill has done. But I wonder: Aren't the t-shirts themselves having some environmental impact here?

Hill: They sure do. The average cotton t-shirt takes more than 700 gallons of water to produce. You've got to grow the cotton, you've got to produce the fabric. There's also a lot of petroleum that goes into shipping the cotton to fabric makers, fabric makers to t-shirt makers, and the t-shirts back to the U.S. So there's oil involved here. There is a touch of irony.
Okay. Let me leave aside the fact that she had the argument at her fingertips, including the rather arcane fact of how much water it takes to produce a cotton t-shirt, which means either that she is an expert on the environmental impact of clothing or, far more likely, this supposedly offhand exchange was actually scripted in advance. Let me get to my question, which is this:

Making these t-shirts is different from making any other t-shirt exactly how?

It's really not? Oh. Well, in that case:

The environmental impact of these shirts is comparable, even "ironically," to corporate criminality that lead to the deaths of 11 workers and dumping nearly 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in likely the biggest environmental disaster in US history exactly how?

That's what I thought.

Credit where it's due

Yes, it's true, Barack Obama has done some good things. In fact, Matthew Rothschild at "The Progressive" compiled a list as part of his response to Robert Gibbs' inanity.

I think some of those items (such as citing the Lilly Ledbetter Act) give him more credit than he deserves, some (such as canceling the F-22, a system the Pentagon did not want) don't really count as accomplishments, some (such as "moving toward" getting rid of DADT, which so far is only words) are overstated, and some (such as "banning torture") exist more in rhetoric than reality - but that doesn't change the fact that there are some good things on that list and while they may not be "big" things, they are not small to the people directly affected. So yeah, he has done some good stuff.

And now he's done another.
President Obama threw his support behind a controversial proposal to build an Islamic center and mosque near New York's ground zero, saying Friday that "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country."

"That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances," Obama said at a White House Iftar dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Well, damn good on him. And, for that matter, on NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose earlier dramatic defense of the project has, like Obama's remarks, pissed off the ignorant and brought out the boobs and the bigots.

Today, Obama backed off his comments slightly, saying he was not addressing the "wisdom" of the project, but only the principle of freedom of religion. Good on him anyway.

Oh, and speaking of boobs and bigots, NY GOPper Peter King said
[i]t is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero. While the Muslim community has the right to build the mosque they are abusing that right by needlessly offending so many people who have suffered so much.
Wait. Back up.
While the Muslim community has the right to build the mosque -
Stop right there. They have the right to build the mosque? Then STFU, you lizard-brained slimeball and stop trying to stir ethnic hatreds that you intend to marshal for your own selfish political benefit.

Footnote: Just like the racists who will deny that their wink-wink-nudge-nudge dog whistling has anything to do with race, so here the haters of religious freedom insist their rants have nothing to do with religious freedom. Oh, no, it's about being "courteous," about being "sensitive" and how those people are neither, well isn't it obvious they just don't care about the feelings of real Americans which of course they're not, they're other, they're not us and so we don't have to extend any courtesy or sensitivity to them and well, sure they can build their evil, foreign, not-actually-a-church-type-thing where they want, just not there.

Well, to those people I have a question: Just how far away would be acceptable to you? A half-mile? A mile? Delaware? How far? And how many of you even knew that there are already two mosques in lower Manhattan, one just four blocks from the "sanctified ground?" Don't you get it that this is just crap being stirred up by the troglodytes because they think it's beneficial to them to keep you pissed and scared?

Or are you really just bigots who don't actually believe in the freedom of religion and the tolerance you spout off about?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gibbs' fibs

I'm not going to waste your time going over Robert Gibbs' "petulant, self-pitying outburst" about how :sniffle: those mean ol' lefty meanies are so mean; I've no doubt you've heard all about it.

Well, except to note that the whole thing reminded me of some cliché guy in a bar whining that his wife doesn't understaaand him.

Well, and except to say I told you so: These people are not on our side and despite their bogus claims to the contrary, they are not looking for people to "let us know when you believe we are screwing up" but for unquestioning foot soldiers.

Well, and - okay, okay, I will waste a little of your time on three particulars of what he said.

First was his claim that we
will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.
Leaving aside the fact that contrary to some of the pushback that "no one" has proposed eliminating the Pentagon, some have (the War Resisters League, for example, and I have given talks on nonviolent national defense), I found it interesting and quite revealing that he presented those as two equally unrealistic possibilities. Which does say something about what the White House was really thinking during the health care debate.

Second was his line that we "wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president." In that he's quite correct. It's not our job to be "satisfied." It's not our place ever to sit back and say "Okay, it's all taken care of now, nothing more to do." It's our job to keep arguing, advocating, pushing for what we believe in.

Some years ago I wrote to a friend that
[i]n a real sense, the essence of any peace [or social justice] movement is to lose - because once any victory is won, it's time to move on.
That's because our role lies in
trying to push beyond, whether in the issues we address, the tactics we employ, or even the analysis we present, where society is already willing to go.... We have an obligation to say the things that otherwise wouldn't be said, to raise the issues that otherwise wouldn't be raised, to agitate and educate in ways that otherwise wouldn't be used for agitation and education. We have an obligation to be what others aren't yet willing to be, to perpetually say "We can do better."
The day we become "satisfied" is the day our usefulness ends.

The third, however, is the big one for me:
Progressives, Gibbs said, are the liberals outside of Washington “in America,” and they are grateful for what Obama has accomplished....
I am goddam mother-fucking fed up with people trying to define me and people like me out of being "American." So "in America" all the liberals/progressives/whatevers are "grateful" to the O-crowd and therefore if you're not, you're not "in America?" Bullshit. Utter bullshit, Gibbs, and you are a scum-sucking, toad-faced maggot for even suggesting it. How dare you!

Gibbs never explained what constitutes the "professional left" and in any event I doubt he would consider me part of it - I'm hardly a professional in any sense of the term - but I am "outside of Washington" in a small town in New England and I damn well agree with that "professional left" in the critique and the criticism of Obama's flip-flops, betrayals of promises, failures on the economy, his embrace of Wall Street, his endorsements and even expansions of Shrub policies on detention, secrecy, and executive power, his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and threats of war against Iran - extending that list would be effortless.

So, Mr. Gibbs, I stand with the "professional left" and if you want to say or even imply that as a result I am not "in America," I'm going to tell you where you can take you narrow-minded buffoonery and stick it. In fact, I'm willing to do it for you.
Footnote: Of course, this business of trying to define some people out of being "American" is not new; one of my favorite examples was when in the '60s "TV Guide" sent out a promotional letter which included the line "If you know your audience you will never confuse the War Resisters League with Americans." And right now we can see it in the move by some of the knuckle-draggers to ban mosques - because, don't you know, Muslims are not really Americans, so that freedom of religion thing doesn't apply to them.

But it is a relatively new thing coming from the left half of the US political spectrum. Still, not entirely new: As a candidate, Barack Obama defended his patriotism by impugning the patriotism of others. So perhaps I should have been less taken aback by Gibbs' crude dismissal of the Americanism of political opponents, still, for some reason it really hit a nerve.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Second quick thing

One reason the timing is bad is because there are two things I was working on that deserved a fuller treatment but now won't get it. But I will mention them here in abbreviated form:

1. The decision by Judge Vaughn Walker overturning PropHate as violating the 14th amendment to the Constitution is both welcome and surprising. Initially, advocates thought the suit was a long shot, but the refusal of the state to defend the provision and the inability of the defense (the supporters of bigotry) to come up with any rational basis for discrimination, lead to the result.

What I found most remarkable was the language Walker used, particularly his assertion in rejecting the idea that there could be a rational basis for a legitimate government interest in denying same-sex marriage because that "argument" was based on old, outdated notions of gender roles that no longer fit modern society. For other courts to reject that argument is to reject the whole idea of social progress and to embrace those outdated notions.

Equal rights will come. It will happen. It is happening, it's happening against entrenched resistance but it is happening. As MLK said, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

2. Even so and despite that hope-filled quote, there are days when I am glad I will not live long enough to see the world I see coming.

A time when personal privacy is a quaint distant memory and every secret of our lives is up for auction, to be sold to whoever thinks they can make a profit off it.

A time when even as our privacy as individuals is disappearing, even as the government is seeking more and more power to obtain more and more information about us with less and less oversight, the privacy, that is, the secrecy, of government is expanding and attempts to pierce that secrecy are attacked.

Even now, to the almost complete silence of the supposedly liberty-loving leftists who screamed about Shrub "ripping up the Constitution" but who now appear to simply have been seeking political advantage, the O-crowd is embracing some of the worst parts of that record, turning it into what a new report from the ACLU calls "a new normal." A new normal where the government cannot be held accountable for its actions in "the war on terror." A new normal which will become the baseline for establishing a new new normal and an even newer new normal as we become inured to each new shift.

We are the frog and they are the ones controlling the heat.

First quick thing

Some stuff is piling up: We've got some healthcare bills that have reached the point of being a true burden, there are some other personal things to deal with, we're having to spend hundreds of dollars (so far) in a battle against a flea infestation (our vet tells us we are far from alone in that; this has been a very bad year on that score), my preferred browser just stopped working and even a reinstall didn't fix it, and my computer appears to be on its last legs.

All of which is a way of saying I will likely be a little distracted for a while. I intend to leave little quickies so you know I haven't disappeared again but don't look for essays. (That may be a good idea in general: My post on "Everything you need to know in two sentences" has been linked three places and gotten me dozens of hits.)

Friday, August 06, 2010

Another year

Time moves on. Memories dim. Awareness fades. The number who were there decreases. Other concerns, other events, fill our attention.

But the reality remains. Undimmed, unfaded, undecreased.

Today, August 6, is the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. And while you'd be forgiven for thinking that the only nuclear weapons-related issue in the world today is whether or not Iran will get them, the fact is that there are, today, over 25,000 nuclear weapons in the world, including, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, nearly 8,000 deployed weapons of which over 2,200 are on alert, ready for use in as little as minutes.

Here's the good news:
By the end of 2012, the United States plans to reduce its deployed long-range weapons to 2,200; Russia plans to reduce to approximately 2,000. These reductions meet the terms of the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Strategic Offensive Reductions, more commonly known as SORT or the Moscow Treaty.
SORT was to expire at the end of 2012, but in April the US and Russia came to a new SALT agreement, covering not only numbers of deployed weapons but verification protocols. The agreement provides for a further reduction over time in the number of US and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 each, a 30% reduction below the SORT numbers.

Meanwhile, also in April the US issued a new nuclear posture review, making what the Friends Committee on National Legislation called "a modest incremental step in the right direction," one which turned out better than it might have due to the direct intervention of Barack Obama. (See? He can do some good things! And yes, I can admit it.)

Okay, now the bad news:
Most of the nuclear weapons deployed today would explode with a force roughly 8 to 100 times larger than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which averaged the equivalent of 18,000 tons of TNT). The deployed warheads are primarily on long-range land- or submarine-based ballistic missiles that can deliver the warheads thousands of miles with great accuracy.
And remember, there are nearly 8,000 of them.

At least eight and perhaps nine nations possess nuclear weapons and somewhere between 10 and 20 more are "nuclear capable," meaning they have the technology and industrial base to produce nuclear weapons within five years. (Interestingly, despite what the news, parroting the official line, would have you believe, Iran is not on that list.) Treaties like SALT and SORT apply only to the US and Russia; no other nation ever has had or now has its nuclear arsenal limited by treaty.

Then there are the little-noted "undeclared nuclear powers," those nations that have or have access to nukes but aren't called nuclear powers. (Some still include Israel in this category since it does not formally admit to having nuclear weapons, but its possession of them is so widely known and accepted that most just call it a nuclear state.) The significant undeclared powers are Turkey, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Italy, all of which nations are home to US nuclear weapons and all of which have planes capable of delivering those weapons to a target and the pilots and crews trained to do so. They avoid being called nuclear powers because the weapons themselves are technically under the control of the US, but the fact is they function as an extension of the US nuclear arsenal.

We may have forgotten nuclear weapons, we may have allowed ourselves (with relief) to be convinced they are no longer an issue. But they have not forgotten us. And they will not as long as they continue to exist.

A Footnote: Five years ago I wrote about some little-known history about the development and use of The Bomb. It began this way:
This week marks the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the week there will be, if past experience is any guide, a few news stories recalling the events, a few photographs of paper cranes showered over the monument in Hiroshima's Peace Park, and a few "it must not happen again" editorials all expressing with appropriate regret the "necessity" of the bombings. It will, in short, be a week of comforting, reinforcing, oft-told tales - that is, of myths.

That is perhaps more fitting than we realize, because the nuclear weapons age was born in a myth....
I think you'd find it interesting reading. And you may want to follow it up with this short post, which was a footnote to that one.

Another Footnote: That nuclear posture review also said the US rejects the development of "new" nuclear weapons. That might be another good thing but what constitutes a "new" weapon can be a slippery matter. During the Reagan administration, a good deal of effort went into arguing that "modernization" of weapons, making them more accurate, more powerful, more destructive, even adding additional warheads in some cases, did not constitute a "new" weapon. Attention is still required.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Everything you need to know in two sentences

Last Wednesday, the UN General Assembly voted 122-0 that access to clean water and sanitation is a fundamental human right.

The United States abstained, along with Canada and several European and other industrialized countries.
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