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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

March 25, 2006
Where the Money Meets the Mark

Fiscal rhetoric meets electoral reality

Seems that Republicans up for re-election are crossing that imaginary line that separates the "fiscal conservatives" from, well, what they really are.

At a St. Louis fundraiser last June, President Bush lauded Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), who was then unopposed and building an impressive campaign war chest, for working to tighten Washington’s belt.

“I want to thank Jim Talent for his understanding that you can’t be all things to all people when it comes time to spending the taxpayers’ money,” Bush said. “You have to set priorities, you have to have goals and you must show fiscal discipline.”

Talent, now locked in a tight reelection race against Democratic state Auditor Claire McCaskill, voted last week to circumvent Bush’s austere $873 billion discretionary-spending cap, breaking from the party’s tough recent rhetoric on fiscal restraint and demonstrating the value of popular programs on the campaign trail.

The article goes on to say that most Republicans facing a vote in November voted for the pork earmarks.

“Lawmakers still believe that the road to reelection is paved with government spending,” said Brian Riedl, a federal budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Well, when you have nothing else to offer....

The most stalwart conservatives are furious, not only because the money was added but also because they viewed Specter’s victory celebration as excessive.

“The Republican Party is now principally moderate, if not liberal,” Specter told reporters after the 73-27 roll call, which included a one-vote majority of the 55-member Republican Conference and every Democrat in the chamber.

I know we all agreed not long ago that asking legislators and politicians to pass a quiz full of obscure political references before they could take office would prove nothing, but don't you think they should at least be able to tell a "liberal" from a "conservative"?

Republicans are pretty much always the party responsible for massive budget bloating. They're enormously fond of pork and they never met a defense spending issue they didnt like.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)
Immigration

In Bills' Small Print, Critics See a Threat to Immigration

A little-noticed provision in two key Senate immigration bills would reshape the handling of immigration appeals cases and has touched off an outcry from several legal scholars, federal judges and the policy-making group for the federal courts.

Sounds like enough people noticed it to matter.

The measure would designate the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit here, an administrative court that focuses primarily on patent cases and currently handles no immigration appeals, as the only court in the nation to handle immigration appeals. Such appeals are currently shared by the 12 other federal appellate courts.

The Bush Administration really does want to make the government completely impotent, doesn't it? I can't think of any other explanation for their consistent determination to do stupid things in ways that won't work.

(And not just our government. I could go Google for it, but I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader. What is that word that means a government by corporations? It's a sort of Anarcho-capitalism, I guess.)

Posted by AnneZook at 09:48 AM | Comments (8)
It's About Time

Senator Sets Hearing on Censure of Bush

Thanks to Feingold, they're having to decide whether or not to censure the guy for authorizing illegal spying on USofA citizens.

But this is the sentence I liked:

Some Republicans have seized on the issue to rally their supporters by arguing that the censure plan is evidence that Democrats would try to take some action against Mr. Bush should they gain control of the House or Senate in the November elections.

It's about time someone took action of some kind, don't you think?

Even just Congress's constitutionally mandated oversight and checks-and-balances sort of action would be okay with most of us.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)
Corruption and Democracy

I haven't been blogging this story, so I can't provide you with a linear narrative, but I'm assume y'all have been reading it on your own.

Disgraced defense contractor planned to promote democracy in Iran

In a new example of disgraced defense contractor Mitchell Wade's attempts to exert influence in Washington and beyond, Wade and two business partners formed a nonprofit group in 2004 to promote democracy in Iran, according to documents and interviews.

Wade and the two partners, who have been large contributors to Republican political campaigns, formed the Iranian Democratization Foundation in April 2004, according to incorporation papers filed in Washington.

You remember Wade, right?

Wade, who headed contractor MZM Inc., pleaded guilty last month to bribery-related charges and making illegal campaign contributions. His chief congressional patron, former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, pleaded guilty in November to taking bribes.

Wade's dealings, which include contracts MZM received from Pentagon intelligence agencies, are under investigation.

The Cunningham connection had consequences.

Much is still unclear about the Iranian Democratization Foundation, including whether it ever took in money or carried out any activities. It was dissolved in November 2004 and apparently never filed federal disclosure forms required of nonprofits with more than $25,000 in income.

Most interesting paragraph?

"We wanted to bring freedom to the people of Iran, freedom from the mullahs," [Sonny] Lee said in a brief telephone interview. The project was stopped "after the government told us they would take care of that themselves," he said. He didn't elaborate.

I'll bet he didn't.

Available contracting records show MZM got one contract for Iraq reconstruction, a $5 million award in March 2003 to provide linguists and interpreters for the Pentagon.

Would those be the linguists and interpreters they need so desperately because the DADT order let them kick out available interpreters who happened to be homosexual?

Why, yes, I believe they would.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:29 AM | Comments (0)
Indonesia

March 19
Indonesia's Newmont Nusa Tenggara exploration camp burned

Newmont Nusa Tenggara said a group of people have burned down the company's exploration camp near the Batu Hijau copper and gold mine on Sumbawa island in the province of West Nusa Tenggara.

March 23
Newmont deferring Indonesia gold mine production

Gold and copper producer Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Thursday that technical problems at one of its mines in Indonesia have forced it to revise its operating plan for the project.

As a result of "geotechnical instability" at the east pit wall of its Batu Hijau operation, the company will defer approximately 45 million equity pounds of copper and 60,000 equity ounces of gold production into subsequent years, the Denver-based mining company said.

It gave no further details.

March 24
US-run mine warned by Indonesia

Indonesia has warned of legal action against a huge US-owned mine in Papua province, unless it does more to protect the environment.

The Grasberg gold and copper mine has been the focus of protests by locals, who say it causes ecological damage but has little economic benefit for them.

Four policemen and a soldier were killed in riots at the mine last week.

The report came hours after a landslide at the mine killed three people. Mining can potentially trigger land slips.

Several other people were injured in the accident, in which tonnes of mud crashed through a cafeteria in the mine complex. All the victims were Indonesians, a mine spokesman said.

Sometimes if you just keep reading the stories, they speak for themselves.

Posted by AnneZook at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)
Get Ready

Get ready for more lies about Iraq war, by Andrew Greeley

It's easy to be against the war when it is clear that the United States is finally in Big Muddy and when you ignored all the warnings that the President and his secretary of defense were leading us into the Big Muddy. If the war were unwinnable from day one, it was an unjust war and hence immoral.

Yet the warnings were clear. The Powell doctrine called for massive numbers of troops to maintain order after the Iraqi government was destroyed. The history of Iraq promised religious conflict and eventual civil war if the United States did not have the forces there to suppress such conflict. Anyone who knew anything about Iraq would have predicted the Big Muddy.

Many of those of us who knew almost nothing about Iraq still knew that this war was going to be a disaster.

And also that it was unjust and immoral. Do I have to repeat it all again? You cannot expect success when you unilaterally invade a nonaggressive country under false pretenses.

Yes, Saddam Hussein's regime was brutal and repressive. Welcome to the world, boys. The planet is covered with hotspots where brutal and repressive regimes are in power. Like Hussein, we helped to put a number of them in power and we have and will support them as long as it suits our economic purposes.

Our invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. The neocons always intended to invade (.pdf) them. "Fighting terrorism" was just a pretext.

It's not about a simple-minded division between Good and Evil. (Are we three?)

Wrong war. Wrong way. Wrong time.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:58 AM | Comments (0)
Side Note

I just wanted to mention that when I first heard the story about the activists that had been hostages in Iraq for months? It was all about "Christian activists."

I've noticed how quickly these became "peace activists" and now "peace workers" and have been wondering about the reasons behind the abrupt and universal change.

Yeah, the articles mention the whole "Christian" thing but they could hardly avoid it. None of the headlines have, though. Not since the first ten minutes or so that that story broke.

And while I'm snarking?

British officials said the rescue operation came after weeks of planning, but a US military spokesman, Major-General Rick Lynch, said the information that allowed the assault to go ahead came from a man detained by American forces late last night.

Someone here didn't get the official talking points memo. I wonder which side it was?

And what's behind that whole "empty house" thing, anyhow? Sounds to me like they were essentially handed over by people who didn't want them any more or something.

Reading further, it looks like this is probably the case.

It is believed that the location where the three men were held in west Baghdad was traced after information was supplied by Iraqi go-betweens who had established contact with the kidnappers.

Which means it was the result of long work and not, as the USofA said, information received from a "detainee."

(Also? What's with the snippy attitude over a forgotten thank-you note?)

Posted by AnneZook at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)
Here we go again

U.S. indicts 50 Colombians it calls 'narcoterrorists'

Fifty leaders of the Colombian rebel group FARC, described as "narcoterrorists" by U.S. authorities, have been indicted in Washington for allegedly exporting more than $25 billion worth of cocaine to the U.S. and other countries, Justice Department officials announced Wednesday.

Yes, big kudos for the huge bust.

But.

Narcoterrorists? That's as stupid as 'ecoterrorist'.

Do we have to rename every class of criminal as some kind of terrorist? Is the Federal government that desperate for a 'win' in its "War On Terror" that it has to reclassify every crime as "terrorism" in order to boost its numbers?

Well, yeah. They are that desperate. I guess they don't really care that they're diluting their brand name as long as they can pretend they're making some kind of progress in their stupid war.

________________________________

Random Digression

War On Terror...War on Islamic Extremism...The Long War...Whatever The Hell It Is This Week.

I'm just saying. I've done a fair bit of writing in my life and one thing I know is that when I don't have a title for a story, it's because I'm not clear in my mind what the narrative actually is.

When I know what I'm doing and where I'm going, the right title is there. Those stories where I keep changing the title are invariably confused messes that wind up in the trash.

Also? Spending my time fiddling with titles instead of fixing the problems with the story? Never works.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)
Grand Junction

It's a small town, but the only one of any size in Colorado's large, Western Slope area.

Terrorism has arrived at their doors although the description makes it sound like the work of disgruntled amateurs.

At least three crude bombs exploded and two others were disarmed Friday at the homes of people who work for a federal aviation contractor in Grand Junction, Colorado, prompting evacuation of the air traffic control tower at the city airport, officials said.

No one was injured, which is good and nothing seems to have happened directly at the airport.

I fully expect to hear that it was the work of a disgruntled ex-employee or something.

But that's not why wer're here. Here's the interesting sentence:

Serco, a British company, operates 54 air traffic control towers for the FAA, according to its Web site.

I was no more aware of foreign operation of our airports than I was of foreign operation of our ports.

I'm just saying. Is there anything in the USofA that's actually run by us?

Posted by AnneZook at 08:16 AM | Comments (0)
Well?

Where are we?

This year, economic growth is expected to remain strong.

Yet, beyond the conspicuous displays of prosperity it is also becoming clear that the benefits are not shared by all.

[...]'s economic growth has forged a wider gap between the rich and the poor, and in so doing the otherwise welcome prosperity has had the peculiar effect of undermining some of the values that used to unite the country's people.

The government's own figures reveal that one in three children in [...] live in poverty, an indication that values such as social justice and solidarity are being eroded.

Economic "prosperity" is more than just numbers. We need a better measure.

"The rich are getting richer" is becoming a tired refrain and the yardsticks used to measure "prosperity" of this type are faulty. Life is not an economic game where 80% of the players have to lose.

And the situation is getting worse.

The overall proportion of poor people in [...] has risen from 15% during the 1990s to 20% now, according to figures from [...]'s National Insurance Institute.

[...] now ranks second after the United States in the table of inequality in developed countries, and there has been a parallel fall in solidarity among workers in the country.

We're a trendsetter in so many ways, aren't we?

Israel hitched their star to ours a long time ago (with good reason) and now they're reaping some of the dubious benefits of following our economic model. (Let's hope they don't find themselves following us too far down this path.

"In the past, about 80% of Israel's labour force belonged to trade unions, but this ratio has shrunk to about 30%," observes the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Coincidence? I think not.

"To be poor among the poor is not so bad. Being poor in such a consumer-oriented culture as there is now creates a lot of problems," says Tel Aviv University lecturer Yosi Katan.

That's something to think about. If "poor" is the measure of your ability to consume conspicuously and not a measure of your ability to feed and clothe yourself and your family and keep a roof over your head, then we definitely need some changes.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:06 AM | Comments (0)
March 24, 2006
The Media

Robert Parry: Iraq - U.S. News Media's Waterloo

Over the past three years, as the Bush administration has unveiled the United States as an imperial power that plays by its own rules, it has dawned on more and more Americans that the old institutions – the Congress, the courts and the press – that were supposed to protect the Republic had long since crumbled into decay.

Yet, because of the lingering Watergate myth, many Americans were most shocked to find that the scrappy, idealistic Washington press corps had evolved into a careerist, courtier news media. Even well-informed Americans were perplexed over how the press had become almost the opposite of its press clippings.

The aura of Watergate is barely discernable these days. (I don't know about you, but the MSM's belated realization not only that they were taken for a ride but that a lot of us know it and Are. Not. Amused. Fails to impress me.)

But the bottom line for high-paid Washington journalists is that pandering to Bush still makes great career sense.

Not only is it easier to take the propaganda handouts from the Bush administration – than to go digging out stories that rely on some terrified whistleblowers – but there is almost no downside to the propaganda stories even when they turn out to be wrong. You can just say you were writing the same thing everyone else was.

If that's what passes for journalism these days, let's all send Al Gore a thank-you for helping invent the internet. So we don't have to rely on Them.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:39 PM | Comments (0)
Secrets

Secrets of Baghdad airport

The more revelations there are of detainee abuse by U.S. troops, the more evident it is that the guards who mistreated prisoners at Abu Ghraib were not just a few bad apples, as the Bush administration has described them. A New York Times report Sunday focused on a detention center at Baghdad airport where FBI, CIA and civilian Department of Defense officials complained to their superiors about the harsh tactics, including beatings, used by military interrogators.

The only "bad apples" in this basket are the at the top.

Posted by AnneZook at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)
I Expected This

Bush Shuns Patriot Act Requirement

In addendum to law, he says oversight rules are not binding

When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.
The bill contained several oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers. The provisions require Justice Department officials to keep closer track of how often the FBI uses the new powers and in what type of situations. Under the law, the administration would have to provide the information to Congress by certain dates.

Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it ''a piece of legislation that's vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people." But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a ''signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ''impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."

Bush wrote: ''The executive branch shall construe the provisions . . . that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch . . . in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information . . . "

The statement represented the latest in a string of high-profile instances in which Bush has cited his constitutional authority to bypass a law.

I can't help it...my brain just keeps flashing on the outrage and screaming we'd have heard if Clinton had repeatedly resorted to "signing statements" announcing that he was above the law and entitled to tell Congress just as much as he thought was good for them and no more.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:28 PM | Comments (0)
Okay

Bush Blasts Democrats on Economic Issues

Speaking at a fundraiser for GOP Rep. Mike Sodrel in what may be one of the closest races in the country, Bush attempted to draw a sharp contrast between the two parties' economic policies.

"We've got a record to stand on," Bush said.

To quote an old BritCom, I'm glad I don't have his nerve in my tooth.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)
March 23, 2006
Security on the cheap

Bringing back the bad old days of pre-Sept. 11 airport security

Even though in-line baggage-screening systems reduce the number of screeners needed to scan baggage, are capable of recouping their initial investment in as little as a year and can provide significant savings to the government in the years following installation, the administration’s proposed 2007 budget provides no money for installation of new in-line explosives-detection systems.

Similarly, the Bush administration has failed to provide adequate funding to improve significantly the detection of plastic explosives hidden on passengers or in their carry-on luggage.

Despite half-hearted efforts by the Bush administration to secure aviation, Congress made the right choice when it took airport security out of the hands of private companies that were more concerned with turning a profit than the security of the American people. However, the Republican leadership of the Homeland Security Committee wants to bring us back to the pre-Sept. 11 days and has introduced the TSA Reorganization Act of 2005 (H.R. 4439), which would provide incentives to airports to leave the federal system and turn security back over to private companies.

So, yeah, we're all getting safer and safer and safer, aren't we? Especially since airports are will be incented to save as much money as possible on security because they get to "share the savings."

Posted by AnneZook at 08:04 PM | Comments (0)
March 21, 2006
Oil!

Just in case you were thinking I'd forgotten, that oil spill in the Arctic?

Exploration Alaska, the BP subsidiary that operates the pipeline from which more than 910,000 litres of oil has leaked, has recently been fined more than $1.2m (£635,000) for its poor environmental safety record.

Still going strong.

Employees claim that they repeatedly warned that money-saving cutbacks in routine maintenance and inspection had dramatically increased the chances of accidents or spills.

It always amazes me how you hire people and you pay them to know and do things, but then you don't listen to them.

Posted by AnneZook at 06:58 PM | Comments (0)
The wrong Democracy

That's what Washington is always telling us they have in Venezuela. Chavez has been a reliable and constant whipping boy for DC for quite some time now.

Beyond the fact that he's not a fan of ours and he's prone to anti-USofA rhetoric (usually with good cause), I've never really understood this.

From a Latin American point of view, Venezuelans should have the right to choose their own president — even one who sometimes insults the American president — without interference from the United States.

Makes sense to me.

First, Venezuela is a democracy — despite the best efforts of the Bush team to use President Hugo Chavez's close relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro as evidence to the contrary. Its elections are transparent and have been certified by observers from the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and the European Union. Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of association prevail, at least as compared with the rest of the hemisphere.

Okay, so it's a decent, even a superior government, compared to those in that part of the world, and we're still bitter and disgruntled? Those are some high standards we're setting.

Like all of Latin America, Venezuela has governance problems: a weak state, limited rule of law, corruption and incompetent government.

That's okay. there's a lot of that going around.

But no reputable human rights organization has alleged that Venezuela under Chavez has deteriorated with regard to civil liberties, human rights or democracy, as compared with prior governments.

Not so much of that going around.

Okay. Maybe it's that it's the wrong kind of democracy because we didn't install it and we don't control it?

So, why aren't we installing our own democracy? That's what we do now, right?

And Chavez's anger at Washington, from Latin Americans' point of view, appears justified. U.S. government documents released under our Freedom of Information Act indicate that Washington not only supported but was involved in the military coup that temporarily overthrew Venezuela's elected government in April 2002. Here in Washington, there is a "Monty Python" attitude toward the coup: "Let's not argue about who killed who." But in Latin America, a military coup against a democratically elected government is still considered a serious crime. To top it off, Washington continued to finance efforts to recall Chavez and, having failed miserably, still regularly presents him as a threat to democracy in the region.

I see.

It's an interesting article.

Posted by AnneZook at 06:41 PM | Comments (0)
Let Me Explain

What this means, in case you can't interpret.

President Bush made it clear Tuesday that there will be American troops in Iraq when he leaves office and it will be his successor's job to bring them home.

Does the non-history buff have any idea who got us into Vietnam?

No, what we most remember is the President tasked with getting us out of the quagmire.

Also? As long as we're still there, fighting, and listening to the White House make grandiose speeches about how well it's all going, we haven't technically lost the war. Looks to me like they're leaving it for someone else to lose.

(Which also suggests they're pretty sure the next White House occupant will come from the Democratic Party?)

Posted by AnneZook at 06:17 PM | Comments (2)
March 20, 2006
Don't Be Mean

The article is right. Surveying 100 kids in Berkeley, even for 20 years, isn't enough to really draw a correlation between being whiny and insecure and growing up Conservative. Even if a 7% correlation is "pretty stronng" for a social science.

On the other hand, mapping childhood personality trends is a really interesting topic, don't you think?

And, back before "conservative" was a dirty word that meant pre-emptive warmongering, we might have been able to have a rational discussion about insecurity and the desire for a stable and unchanging environment.

Because, if you choose words other than "whiny" and "insecure" to describe these characteristics (if you used "critical" and "hesitant" for instance), they don't sound quite as...well, childish. And repulsive.

Of course, I'm not one of the researchers.

Posted by AnneZook at 05:57 PM | Comments (2)
Mayan Underworld

I found this fascinating.

TULUM, Mexico, March 20 (Reuters) - The ancient Maya once believed that Mexico's jungle sinkholes containing crystalline waters were the gateway to the underworld and the lair of a surly rain god who had to be appeased with human sacrifices.

Now, the "cenotes", deep sinkholes in limestone that have pools at the bottom, are yielding scientific discoveries including possible life-saving cancer treatments.

Divers are dipping into the cenotes, which stud the Yucatan peninsula, to explore a vast underground river system.

Hefting air tanks, guidelines and waterproof lamps, they have so far mapped 405 miles (650 km) of channels that form part of a huge subterranean river delta flowing into the Caribbean sea, and they are only just starting.

Fascinating story. Sadly, local pollution and the intrusion of "sport" divers have already endangered this ecosystem.

Posted by AnneZook at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)
Visual Aid

Check this out.

When you load the page, it will load to show coalition military and "estimated" civilian deaths in Iraq for the time period from 3/19 - 8/31/03. Click the timelines below to watch the totals change.

Go ahead. Click. And watch the bar illustrating civilian deaths climb...and climb...and climb.

None of the numbers even remotely approach the 100,000 guesstimated about 18 months ago (and I haven't seen anyone able or willing to make a guess since then) but it's still an appalling total.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:12 AM | Comments (4)
March 19, 2006
Quibbling

Once again posting here to avoid spamming someone else's comments.

I've written a lot lately on the Great Education Myth - the concept that wafts out of elite Washington circles that says all we have to do is educate people and their economic problems will be over. Beyond the fact that this is just an insulting line of reasoning (aka. people are stupid, that's why they are poor) is the fact that its not backed up by any data.

The argument isn't that people are "stupid" it's that they're uneducated and thus not qualified for many of the better-paying jobs. Those are completely different things.

If Sirota's Great Myth relies upon the "stupid" argument, then it's a different argument than everyone else is making.

Also? I'm unimpressed by any data that draws only from the Bush Administration's years. It's too short of a time frame to be a sensible comparison unless you're comparing, for instance, the economy during Clinton's fourth year with the economy during Bush's fourth year, which they weren't.

(And? 2004 as "a year of strong economic growth, low unemployment, and rising productivity"? Was anyone here living in that 2004? Because I sure don't remember that. And since when do sensible economists base long-terms analysis on a single year's data? That's not how I understood the system to work.)

Also? I don't see any discussion of whether or not high-school graduate wages rose because of individual states forcing through mininum wage increases. (Although to be fair I can't remember what year that started happening.)

Nor do I see any discussion of the impact of unregistered (or "illegal") workers on the lowest-income producing jobs. Does it appear there's a rise because so many of those jobs are now done by undocumented workers and thus not included in the data?

Or, did the high-school graduate wage average rise because so many of the lower-income jobs were eliminated by cost-cutting corporations, creating a wholly misleading "rise" in the remaining average?

I just don't believe the story as told. I don't distrust Sirota or Fortune Magazine, but I do distrust data coming out of the Bush Adminnistration, especially data that covers only the years since they took power.

Posted by AnneZook at 04:21 PM | Comments (0)
Buying Votes

This is low. This is low even for Bush-era tactics, and that's saying something.

The Feds will budget $10 million more in '07 to rebuild parts of the Gulf Coast only if they can finance the project from Arctic Wildlife Preserve drilling.

Under the Senate plan, the funds from oil leases could be used for coastal restoration projects in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that have long been sought by environmentalists.

(Via Prometheus 6, emphasis mine)

Let's pretend we don't see that "supplemental funding" bill with $72 billion for killing people in Iraq that's passing Congress now. After all, that's not money we could have used to rebuild our country without destroying one of the world's greatest wildlife preserves.

Posted by AnneZook at 03:40 PM | Comments (0)
Memeing

I don't often meme, but this one intrigued me. (Via.)

Instead of inputting countries I've visited, I input countries that visited me (or at least my blog).

Interesting?

worldmap.gif

I see one giant continent where I'm largely ignored.

Oh, well.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)
We're (pre-) heating up?

Rather than spamming Ahistoricality's comments with a rambling, incoherent rant, I'm putting my thoughts here. (If you read the links there, you don't need to read them here. I'm referring to all the same entries and articles.) (It's long. ISorry. t's not really a review of a book review, although it starts off that way.)

I'd very much like to believe that these symptoms of "declining empire" aren't bad enough to really signal that the USofA is about to enter some kind of Dark Age. Update: I see there's another review of the same book, this one by Brinkley. I suppose, just to be fair, I should go read this second one.

Being only the most casual student of far too many eras of history to "know" any one of them, I've been working on the assumption that what we're facing is more of a series of cautionary signs than real 'impending doom' signals. And I think Kevin Phillips' book is another cautionary sign rather than a proof that we've crossed that Rubicon.

For instance, I've been thinking of the 'wave' of religious hysteria as something being artificially inflated by the media; thinking that these are isolated instances of reactionary idiocy that the MSM is pouncing on (like the "missing white girl" stories) just to make headlines.

After all, we do all cover it when the religious wingnut population goes off the rails, right? So the MSM isn't wrong. We read those stories, so they cover them.

But then.... There's the whole thing where I didn't know the anti-choice groups were getting money from the government when anti-choice license plate are sold.

This may seem to some of you like a minor item to fixate on, but I think it's important. This is a marker of how insidiously the militant minority anti-choice has been working to infiltrate and influence mainstream society. It's a big, red flare, but it's not the end of the road.

What we need to recognize is that while we've been rolling our eyes and pretending the mess on the carpet wasn't really there, it's been seeping into the fabric. Now we're going to have to work twice as hard to eradicate it.

The "widespread concern" over our social decay has been the drumbeat of the conservative wingnut arm of our society since before I was born. From women working outside the home to teenagers having sex, there have been at least five "signals" you could point to at any time in the last century to prove that we were sinking into a swamp of moral decay and the conservative wingnuts have been shouting about these things for decades.

They shout about every change in society. That reactionary streak is what makes them conservative wingnuts, okay? They existed back in the times of the Roman Empire and they'll always be with us.

Shouting that X is a sign that we're all sinking into a new Dark Age doesn't make it true.

What worries me is that they can make it true...by making people believe it's true.

That's Marketing 101. If you repeat something often enough, people start to believe it. Politicians (and religious leaders) have been using the tactic for centuries.

If this group can force 'Christians' into making a choice between their faith and abortion, for instance.... This is what they want to do. It's not a religious question but they want to make it one. **

And that's less because most of them care about abortion, per se but because it's an emotional, ideological hot-button they can push with voters. They can't explain Abu Ghraib, so they scream about the evils of abortion. They can't justify tortured prisoners, so they shout about how homosexuals are destroying the fabric of society. They can't disappear mounting body counts, so they demonize illegal immigrants. (It's the shell game and five thousand years after the darned thing was invented, a lot of you are still standing there, mesmerized by the sleight of hand.)

Do you remember the suggestions, when we invaded Iraq, that we were starting a new wave of religious crusades? My memory is notoriously poor, but I can't believe how many people have forgotten Bush's religious rhetoric of that time.

(Nor can I believe how many people are now ignoring, or have just accepted, what that says to us about this Administration's belief systems, but that's a different rant and I'm determined to stay on topic. For once. Sort of.)

And, for the record, the fact that the Administration quickly backed off from that rhetoric is a sign of how poorly it went down. So, you know, more proof that the religious wingnuts don't yet own the country.

We invaded Iraq for the oil. We almost always go to war for corporate or economic interests and anyone paying attention (and not delusional) knows it. Chris Bray is quite right about that.

Most wars in history have been fought for economic interests, right back to those Crusades that the Bush Administration alluded to. Scratch almost any war in history and you'll find looting and pillaging opportunities at the back of it.

So, George Bush's born-again delusions aside, this government isn't that different than any other we've had. They differ primarily in the nakedness of their greed. With the aid of the MSM (knowingly or not), they installed an incompetent and unsuccessful neophyte in the White House, and started running amok.

The nakedness of their greed would be less-worrying if we weren't living in an era of untraceable electronic surveillance and nuclear bombs.

"They" are the neocons, a specific subgroup of the Rightwingnuts. Disillusioned by years of working in government and the failure of their goals and policies, they reacted, not by becoming more rational and more able/willing to make compromises, but by retreating into a fantasy world where the application of enough power and enough force was all that was required to create the reality they wanted. (Although, as far as that goes, I think William Marina does a better job of slotting our current situation into a roadmap for the fall of empire than Phillips did.)

I'm somewhat hampered in my thoughts for this rant. I started blogging (four years ago!) with a life-long indifference to organized religion, punctuated at times with a fascination with the mythological underpinnings. The Bush Administration's corrupt use of Christian theology to suit their own purposes has fueled a latent disgust I didn't know I had. I knew that I found religious believers a little pathetic (grow up already) but I also believed that we all have our crutches (I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, after all) and if the structure of religion was a crutch that helped people, well, okay. Excepting the lunatic fringe, it seemed harmless enough.

In the last few years, I've realized the dog might bite. I'm alarmed and offended. We gave it a nice home and left it free to amuse itself and this is how it rewards us?

For instance, I meant to address all five of Phillips' markers in this post but I wound up ranting only about religion, which was the feature of only three of his five (or, six) symptoms. His #5 is certainly the one that worries me most on behalf of the entire world. When the Roman Empire fell into hubris, they didn't have smart bombs or pocket nukes.

I got all distracted by the superstition thing. (Clinging to those outmoded belief systems instead of formulating a new and more rational basis for morality seems to be to be a sign of how fear-driven individual human beings actually are. But. That's not today's rant topic, is it? Staying on topic is hard.)

The question of religion aside, I look at the voting population and see reason for both concern and reassurance. In a country where you have approximately 1/3 each of the population as "committed" Democrat, Republican, and Independent, there's plenty of room for hope.

Especially since the "wings" of the Republican Party aren't all Neocon-driven and the sane portions of the Party are expressing increasing alarm at where they're being led.

Back to my most recent and persistent hobby-horse, I also persist in believing that if we can lance the fear of the Democratic "leadership" and move them to act like the representatives of the liberal, democratic, freedom-loving portion of the population, we can start getting back on track. ***

That this will mean replacing 75% of the current "leadership" is something I accept and even welcome. It's time and past time. Their paralysis in the face of the mounting evidence of the Bush Administration's incompetence and venality is proof enough that it's time for us to show them the exit.

Also? As long as I'm ranting? Electoral reform. When fund-raising and the next re-election campaign become the primary focus of our elected representatives, the system is broken. If you spend every day begging to keep your job next year, you don't have any time to do the work that's in front of you today.

I've read all the links and I think there's proof that some of us are measuring out the ingredients for this particular cake, but we're not actually baking yet. Say, "pre-heating the oven." We're not committed. We may be reaching a tipping point, but we haven't passed it yet.

It's not the time to panic. It's never the time to panic.

It's time to act.

___________________

* Also, I'm unpersuaded by Kevin Phillips' characterization of "the 30 to 40 percent of the electorate caught up in Scripture" as quoted by Kakutani. The use of the phrase "caught up" evokes that whole mythological "rapture" program and I think it's a false way of characterizing most of the 'Christian' population of this country. While it may be true that 30-40% of the population calls itself "Christian" or whatever measure was used by Phillips, it's entirely untrue that these are all wingnuts and that their beliefs are driving the Bush Administration.

National polls and surveys indicate that the vast majority of the population is much more tolerant, liberal, and open-minded than Phillips' sweeping generalization indicates. As with many things that humans believe or care about, much depends on how you ask the question.

It's also inaccurate to sweep today's Southern states into a homogenized lump and I really do wish politicians and analysts would stop doing it. The southern part of the USofA is not composed primarily of rabble-rousing, rebel-lovin', red-necked religious reactionaries.

Culture, like many other things, is what we tell people it is. As long as we keep telling some of our states that they're A, B, or C, there will be those who grab onto those identities and glorify them. When we start measuring the population with something other than a post-Civil War yardstick, we might start seeing different results. ("What gets measured, gets done." People measure what they care about. It's a mystery to me what what we care about in 2006 is how "the South" is reacting to still being part of the USofA now that that war is over.)

It seems to me (I'm going to have to buy the book, aren't I?) that Phillips is taking the worst-case scenario and presenting it as inevitable.

I think the key 'graphs are the last two in the article. Phillips fails to make his case because he fails to carry his primary arguments through to the logical (if he's correct) conclusion. He fails to offer the "proof" that his own previous experience in party politics suggests he should have.

Bottom line? No one knows what's going to happen to the Republican Party after this. Their 'leadership' seems to be about to fall off the right-hand side of reality. It could be, I certainly hope that what's going to happen is a faster, firmer correction of course than the Left was able to make. (But then...the Democratic leadership wasn't moving us toward WWIII. They were just drifting aimlessly for the most part. Less-dangerous and so provoking a less-immediate response.)

___________________

** For those of you already brainwashed, repeat it three times every morning. You'll feel the false belief fading after time. This is not a religious issue and we really have to stop letting the wingnuts cherry-pick their Bible for political ammunition.

Well "we" don't, but those of you who are religious really should. Me, whenever someone tries to use my beliefs (democracy, civil rights, etc.) for evil, I start screaming.

Feel free to open your mouths at any moment.

___________________

*** Today's topic was going to be government, its role in today's society, the size and cost of our Federal government, and what's good and bad.

This is a topic I'm even less qualified to discuss than the topics I normally tackle, so it would have been interesting for me (if not for you, the reader).

Ahistoricality's posts have a way of side-tracking my brain.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:13 PM | Comments (2)