Thursday, September 29, 2005

Christmas comes early this year

Tommy boy, I've been waiting for this day for a long, long time. From the Austin American-Statesman:
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay temporarily resigned his leadership post Wednesday and demanded a quick trial on charges that he conspired to violate election laws barring the use of corporate money in Texas campaigns.

The moves came in response to a Travis County grand jury indicting DeLay and reindicting two associates, John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of Washington, on state felony charges of criminal conspiracy. Wednesday's indictment said the three agreed to violate state law in 2002 by giving $190,000 of corporate donations to the Republican National Committee, which, in turn, donated the same amount in noncorporate money to seven Texas candidates.

If convicted, DeLay could get two years in jail.

The political fallout from this indictment alone has been huge already. Though the power struggle in Congress between David Dreier, Chair of the House Rules Committee, and Roy Blunt, Majority Whip, appears to have hit a bizarre stalemate (they're going to be, ahem, sharing Delay's job), even Republican pundits are admitting that Delay's woes stand a good chance of wreaking havoc on the Republicans in the approaching midterms (especially considering the fact that a great many congressional repubs are financially linked to the very PACs to which Delay's indictment is linked).

By the way, a diarist on Kos argues that the Hammer is already at work on a plea bargain. Check this out (Nota bene: I can't vouch for the expertise of this guy, or the info he provides without citations, so take this as you will).

Then, on top of this, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is being investigated by the SEC for insider trading. From Bloomberg:
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist faces a near-term ordeal unwelcome to anyone, particularly an ambitious politician: an official probe into his personal financial dealings by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC authorized a formal order of investigation of Frist's sale in June of HCA Inc. shares, people with direct knowledge of the inquiry said yesterday.

And for the hat trick, there are rumors of a Karl Rove indictment in October relating to his exposure of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Wait, we're not done yet... and for the Texas Hat Trick (yes, that really is a technical hockey term), Jack Abramoff, who boasts close political ties to Delay and Rove, is connected to a Sopranos-style murder in Florida in 2001. Josh Marshall is working vigorously on this one, and has come up with some telling information on the Delay-Abramoff-Rove web.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

football... yawn

Well, it was a ...boring... football weekend. We got to watch Tech (19) kick the crap out of another high school caliber team, ND (16) beat down an ailing Washington, and Texas didn't play. In fact, there wasn't a single watchable game in the Big 12 this weekend. Really the only interesting thing about the whole damn weekend (outside of baseball) was watching Michigan and Oklahoma fall out of the rankings (and I think the Sooners might have actually taken the tumble last week). Haven't seen either of them so low in years. (What do you call a bunch of millionaires watching the Rose Bowl? The Oklahoma Sooners)

Tech's schedule is looking worse and worse, too. As of this week's rankings, Tech plays exactly 1 ranked team. And it's not for another month. And it's a guaranteed loss (sorry guys, but Tech beating the 'Horns? Ain't gonna happen.). At least next week they're finally playing a bonafide Big 12 team (Kansas), though the Jayhawks aren't exactly the conference's finest. In fact, the next 3 weeks are against teams from the Big 12 North, which is in the crapper right now. Oh well: they'll do, for now.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

God's Politics

Over the summer I read a book by Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners (see link on the right) called God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it. It's a good book about how religion is treated by the different political sides, and as you can tell from the title, about how neither side gives religion a fair shake. I wanna talk about this book in some detail, so I'll be doing several posts on it. I'm gonna start today with the introduction and basic premise.

True and honest faith challenges both the left and right at various points to become better than they are. Thus, both sides react to it differently: one twists it, the other ignores it.

The right has hijacked Christianity by constricting the dialogue to a handful of "hot button" issues, particularly abortion and gay marriage, thus narrowing and distorting the biblical agenda. It makes Christians, who should be concerned about a tremendous number of political issues, into single-issue voters. Furthermore, it infuses religion with a kind of hyper-nationalism, claiming that "God is on our side." This is bad religion and dangerous theology. It leads to militarism and a theology of finger-pointing. Right wing Christianity is about judging others for doing things that conservatives typically don't do (or so they convince themselves), which is divisive and prideful (cf. Matt. 6:33, Proverbs 8:12-13).

The left, on the other hand, buries their head in the sand when it comes to religion. They don't talk about it, instead preferring to try to keep religion out of politics, as if that option were a) possible and b) preferable, considering the progressive nature of biblical values. Particularly, Wallis lambasts secular fundamentalists, who, like religious fundamentalists, want to restrict conversation and inhibit other viewpoints. The desire to banish religion from political debate leads to a weak spirituality of ad hoc wish fulfillment and little self-help techniques to make us feel better about our materialistic, self-centered lives. What the left fails to understand most is that, in matters of policy, an honest conversation about religion behooves them even more than the right.

The answer, says Wallis, is not to create a Christian Left. The whole problem with the Christian Right is the manipulation of religion by politics; to do the same on the Left leaves us in no better condition. Rather, we need a "third way," to appropriate Buddhist terminology: a political stance informed and shaped by prophetic religion. We need to let the Bible hit us head-on with an introspective faith that calls us to be critical of ourselves and truly compassionate toward others, especially "the least among us." The quest for social justice is an act of worship.

Peeling the Onion

I've talked about this before I think, and I don't think it's a particularly profound thought, but the Republican party, like the Democratic one, is not some monolithic movement, but rather a multifaceted, layered institution, sorta like an onion. Although it appears to be one seamless whole on the outside, an onion is actually a series of layers. And, well, it stinks. And peeling it apart makes some people cry (ha, sorry had to throw the last 2 in).

It looks like Bush's layers are peeling, "big time," as Cheney would say.

The fiscal hawks are abandoning ship in droves. Take this article from the Prudent Bear, a website of market analysts (and one that, if you read the rhetoric, is at least center-right, "not a bunch of lefties," as C&L puts it), titled "Neither Compassionate nor Conservative." Their point: the Bush Administration has overseen the greatest increase in domestic spending in recent memory, and their response to the hurricane showed that it places PR over protecting the country's citizens. Thus the title. It also blasts the prez for rampant cronyism and lack of adherence to any real political philosophy, but what makes the article particularly distressing for the president's cause is that it echoes what more leftist viewpoints have been arguing for some time, to the chagrin and disgust of the right: the uncanny similarities between the Bush Administration and fascist states.

And then there's Rick Santorum. Santorum is the 3rd most powerful figure in the Senate, and arguably the face of congress' Christian conservatives (particularly those of the wacko variety). Today, he took a couple of potshots at W over his handling of Social Security privatization (courtesy TPMcafe). Now, it's not all that weird for Santorum to be calling W to task; after all, they've disagreed before, and Santorum is quickly running out of time to extricate himself from the anvil that is W's freefalling poll numbers (Santorum's up for re-election next year, and is trailing Democrat Bob Casey by 12 points). As Mark Schmitt notes, though, what is most telling is where the press release originated:
"The story was e-mailed out widely to reporters at 9:08 this morning by the Senate Republican Conference itself." Schmitt continues:

This might be the official declaration of the end, not just of Social Security privatization, but of deference to Bush. And members of Congress, especially those like Santorum who are worried about reelection, have so many years of docility to make up for that if they really want to separate themselves from a highly unpopular president, they will have to make a very fast, very decisive break.

And, of course, there are other Republicans on Capitol Hill, too. The Washington Post reports on congressional Republicans repudiating W's "throw a wad of money at it" approach to handling Gulf Coast recovery.
Congressional Republicans from across the ideological spectrum yesterday rejected the White House's open-wallet approach to rebuilding the Gulf Coast, a sign that the lockstep GOP discipline that George W. Bush has enjoyed for most of his presidency is eroding on Capitol Hill.

Trying to allay mounting concerns, White House budget director Joshua B. Bolten met with Republican senators for an hour after their regular Tuesday lunch. Senators emerged to say they were annoyed by the lack of concrete ideas for paying the Hurricane Katrina bill.

Very entertaining," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said sarcastically as he left the session. "I haven't heard any specifics from the administration."

"At least give us some idea" of how to cover the cost, said Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who is facing reelection in 2006. "We owe that to the American taxpayer."

The pushback on Katrina aid, which the White House is also confronting among House Republicans, represents the loudest and most widespread dissent Bush has faced from his own party since it took full control of Congress in 2002. As polls show the president's approval numbers falling, there is growing concern among lawmakers that GOP margins in Congress could shrink next year, and even rank-and-file Republicans are complaining that Bush is shirking the difficult budget decisions that must accompany the rebuilding bonanza.

W is now facing a new, and very real, problem: for the first time in his political career, he's losing his base, and not just 1 or 2 layers of it. Considering the fact that he's screwed pretty much all of them at various points, it will be interesting to see which ones stick it out, and which ones bail.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

An FBI porn unit?

From the Washington Post:
The FBI is joining the Bush administration's War on Porn. And it's looking for a few good agents.
The new squad will divert eight agents, a supervisor and assorted support staff to gather evidence against "manufacturers and purveyors" of pornography -- not the kind exploiting children, but the kind that depicts, and is marketed to, consenting adults.

"I guess this means we've won the war on terror," said one exasperated FBI agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity because poking fun at headquarters is not regarded as career-enhancing. "We must not need any more resources for espionage."

Among friends and trusted colleagues, an experienced national security analyst said, "it's a running joke for us."

This new move on the part of the FBI, as many can guess, is highly problematic. Most significant, perhaps, are the obvious clashes with the First Amendment. Furthermore, many of those who profit the most from the burgeoning porn industry are counted among the Republican party's greatest contributors, like Rupert Murdoch's News Corps (remember, that's the parent company of Fox News). Other corporate giants like General Motors and Time Warner are also mentioned, along with a number of hotel chains (whose biggest clients for in-room smut, I understand, are businessmen on business trips). Those of more libertarian bents also find this development highly disappointing, no doubt. And on top of all this, there's the tremendous problem of enforceability. Does the FBI really think it can eradicate sexual deviance in internet porn, let alone obliterate porn entirely?

However, I'm gonna take this a little more seriously than most of the people I've seen talking about this. On the flip side of this issue, this move falls in line with other recent moves that both Democrats and Republicans have backed-- things like tightened seatbelt laws and smoking bans. This is an issue that, like those others, can be considered a matter of public health, as well as a crime deterrent. Let me explain.

I consulted the textbook Psychology, by David G. Myers (Holland, MI: Worth, 2001), where I remembered there being a section on sex and violence in the media. The section begins by noting that sexual violence is generally higher today than it was 50 years ago (Koss and Others, 1994), and that coinciding with that rise has been "the rise of the home video business, giving easier access to R-rated "slasher films" and X-rated films. Content analyses reveal that most X-rated films depict quick, casual sex between strangers, but that scenes of rape and sexual exploitation of women by men are also common (Cowan & others, 1988; NCTV, 1987; Yang and Linz, 1990)."

It continues:
Do images of sexual exploitation influence sexual aggression? When interviewed, Candian and U.S. sex offenders... do report a greater-than-usual appetite for sexually explicit and sexually violent materials-- materials typically labelled as "pornography" (Marshall, 1989; Ressler & others, 1988).

Now, it should be mentioned that a correlative relationship does not imply a causative relationship. That I grant. The article, however, continues (emphasis mine):
Laboratory experiments reveal that repeatedly watching X-rated films (even if nonviolent) makes one's own partner seem less attractive, makes a woman's friendliness sem more sexual, and makes sexual aggression seem less serious (Harris, 1994).

Myers notes in one study, college students forced to watch porn six times a week for six weeks advocated half as much prison time for a man convicted of raping a hitchhiker than the control group. In another, a group of students at the University of Manitoba, after consistently watching movies of men sexually overpowering women, said they would be more willing than the control group to commit rape if they knew they could get away with it (interestingly, this correlation also registered with students exposed to slasher movies). After this point, Myers backpeddles a little, qualifying that studies show mainly that it's the sexual violence in porn, not the eroticism per se, that increases men's acceptance of violence against women. That, however, does not discount the above quote.

The reason for this effect of porn on men lies in the social script it confirms. According to this script, women are sometimes apprehensive about sex with a stranger, and may even fight against it, but once they're taken they find they actually wanted it and enjoy it immensely. Think Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Rapists tend to accept this "rape myth," and these studies show that the more one is exposed to it, the more one buys into it.

So, then, there is some causative relationship between porn and sexual aggression, and that's something that, in my opinion, shouldn't be downplayed in this debate. Such a relationship makes obscenity laws (in some form, anyway) a legitimate crime-deterrent matter, as well as an issue of public psychological health. The problem is, does that give the government leeway to legislate and/or enforce obscenity laws on adult consentual porn? Also, how far can you take this? Slasher films generated many of the same responses as porn; should they be put on the chopping block as well?

Street Prophets

Ok, so PastorDan (of Kos fame) has set up a brand spankin' new blog specifically centered around the intersection of faith and politics called Street Prophets. It's from a fairly liberal perspective (though when you're talking religion, the line separating liberal and conservative blurs somewhat), but there are contributors of various theological/denominational backgrounds. PastorDan is UCC, and I've already noticed a Jew and an Orthodox posting as well. Check it out; it may turn out to be an innovative blog taking on subjects that others don't wanna touch.

Monday, September 19, 2005

One o' those days...

Arrrrgh, the pirate ship Jolly W be takin' a rough beating today; after the buffetting it took in the winds o' Katrina, the speech he made to the nation only caused more water to flood its hull: Gallup shows Bush's approval ratin's fell 6% to 40%. 'Tis be what's happenin' when ye do somethin' that angers the only sailors that have yet to abandon ship on ye: spend $200 billion o' yer treasure without any plan to cut costs and while cuttin' yer taxes at the same time. Democrats and Independents have already fled the Administration en masse, and this be incensin' everyone in the Republican party from their seedier contingents of selfish "Why should MY money be used for them?!" types and freelance racists, to the saner fiscal hawks and small government advocates (the survey even shows that the captain's greatest losses occurred among Republicans). Also, only a quarter o' those polled think the captain can handle the reconstruction o' the Gulf Coast.

It be gettin' worse fer Captain W in other parts o' the poll as well. Support fer his raidin' o' Iraq fell to... get this... 32%! Only 39% be thinkin' the raid was the right thing to do, and 63% be sayin' they want to start pullin' the sailors out.

On the same day as the poll, one o' the captain's chief scallywags, David Hossein Safavian, Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, was indicted on 3 counts o' pirating (lyin' and obstructin' a federal investigation). 'Tis be particularly troubling fer the Captain, as Safavian's previous sailin' was done under the arch-pirate Jack Abramoff aboard the Preston Gates, and the indictment involves a certain August 2002 golf trip to Scotland that he was sent on by the lobbyist with whom he had dirty dealin's. Who else was on a golf trip to Scotland in August 2002, ye might be wonderin'? Why, first mate Tom Delay o' course, sent there by Mr. Abramoff himself!

Corruption within the captain's quarters with the same scallywags as Delay. 'Tis be awful news for an Administration already sufferin' from public distrust.

All this combines to put more water in the hull than Captain W can hope to toss out. From the HMS American Spectator (c/o DailyKos):

But at this stage of the game, barring some imaginative political moves that bear some resemblance to the Bush Administration circa 2002, Republicans on Capitol Hill and even some longtime Bush team members in various Cabinet level departments say this Administration is done for.

"You run down the list of things we thought we could accomplish and you have to wonder what we thought we were thinking," says a Bush Administration member who joined on in 2001. "You get the impression that we're more than listless. We're sunk."

Too pessimistic? Maybe not. Rumors are flying through various departments of longtime senior Bush loyalists looking to jump, but with few opportunities in the private sector to make the jump look like anything more than desperation [...]

Congressional committee sources on both sides of Capitol Hill predict tough slogging on anything of policy consequence. "Social Security is dead as far as my chairman is concerned. So are the tax cuts," says a Ways and Means staffer of Chairman Bill Thomas.

The American Spectator, just so ya be knowin', 'tis be a right-leanin' publication.

International Talk like a Pirate Day

Arrrrrgh, mateys, jist so ye be knowin', today be International Talk like a Pirate Day. I hope ye be enjoyin' it at yer various places o' work. And remember, if ye're needin' inspiration fer yer piraty voice, ye can always be thinkin' o' the most notorious pirate in the country:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

a bittersweet football day

Despite working in Toledo, I was able to catch some football (and a bunch of highlights) on Saturday, and my day went almost unblemished. Almost.
The Irish (#10) went down in overtime to the Spartans of Michigan State, 44-41. For what it's worth, Michigan State has the best team they've had in years (watch out, Wolverines!) and the Irish went down fighting, posting a 21-point comeback in the 4th quarter to take it into overtime (and by the way, Spartans, planting your flag in the middle of our field? Really, have some class.).

On a brighter note, Texas crushed Rice and Tech absolutely flattened Sam Houston State 80-21. The one black mark on the Tech game, though, is those 21 points SHS posted on the Red Raider defense. I seriously hope that the Tech's D just didn't bother to bring their A-game, because Tech has proven over the last 2 seasons that even the best offense in the NCAA can't deliver a great season if the D isn't there to back them up. If Tech allowed 21 points from them, how many will they allow against the good teams?

But, of course, the brightest spot of Saturday came in sunny California, where the Sooners answered all our questions about whether or not their opening loss to TCU was just a fluke. They got horse-whipped by an unranked UCLA 41-24. So much for 3 championship bowl games in a row. I can't wait for the Red River shootout this year!

Friday, September 16, 2005

PR people in specialist positions

Wow, I gotta hand it to W, he sure does look out for his own. The NY Times says that Karl Rove is in charge of the reconstruction effort in New Orleans. Karl "screw the CIA" Rove. Nope, no way, no cronyism will be happening here!

What a joke.

This comes right on the heels of a Republican poo-pooing of efforts to set up a bipartisan, 9/11 style investigation and revelations that one of W's first moves in the reconstruction was to cut the pay of the reconstruction workers (thanx for the last one, Neil). What the hell does it take to get the Bushites to stop this business-as-usual crap?

To cap the thread, this from Brian Williams:
I am duty-bound to report the talk of the New Orleans warehouse district last night: there was rejoicing (well, there would have been without the curfew, but the few people I saw on the streets were excited) when the power came back on for blocks on end. Kevin Tibbles was positively jubilant on the live update edition of Nightly News that we fed to the West Coast. The mini-mart, long ago cleaned out by looters, was nonetheless bathed in light, including the empty, roped-off gas pumps. The motorcade route through the district was partially lit no more than 30 minutes before POTUS drove through. And yet last night, no more than an hour after the President departed, the lights went out. The entire area was plunged into total darkness again, to audible groans. It's enough to make some of the folks here who witnessed it... jump to certain conclusions.

The prosecution rests.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

weekend blogging (or the lack thereof)

For the next 2 weekends (those of 9/17 and 9/25) I will be in Toledo teaching weekend seminars on speed reading and comprehension, so the chances of me adding posts is gonna be pretty slim. I'll be back Sunday night in both cases, though, so I may add stuff then, and of course I'll be wasting lots of time on the Ranch during the week, as always.

BTW- For those of you who might be interested, the Institute of Reading Development offers courses all over the country (including Texas) teaching people how to improve their reading speed (we're talking doubling it or better) and increase comprehension, as well as teaching note-taking skills and active reading strategies for attacking textbooks and stuff. Any of you who are in college, or planning to go, may want to try it out. The cost is significant (about $300), but if you have to reread material several times or still hear a voice in your head narrating as you read, it might be a good idea.

Wal-Mart: sinner or saint?

Sam Walton's empire has been in the news lately and frequently for various and paradoxical reasons. They've been on the ropes for probably several years now over the treatment of their employees (which spawned their massive PR campaign-- notice what all of their commercials are talking about?). Allegations of low compensation and an "iron fist" approach to those suspected of unionizing has dogged Wal-Mart and Sam's Club's reputations in the market for some time. For those of you who are interested, WalMart Watch and American Rights at Work has the details on Wal-Mart's seedy underbelly. This, for instance, from the latter: "When Wal-Mart employees attempt to stand up for themselves and try to form a union, they face threats, propaganda, discrimination, intimidation, and even firings."

Yet, at the same time, we have this from the Washington Post:
Over the next few days, Wal-Mart's response to Katrina -- an unrivaled $20 million in cash donations, 1,500 truckloads of free merchandise, food for 100,000 meals and the promise of a job for every one of its displaced workers -- has turned the chain into an unexpected lifeline for much of the Southeast and earned it near-universal praise at a time when the company is struggling to burnish its image.

While state and federal officials have come under harsh criticism for their handling of the storm's aftermath, Wal-Mart is being held up as a model for logistical efficiency and nimble disaster planning, which have allowed it to quickly deliver staples such as water, fuel and toilet paper to thousands of evacuees.

So the question: is Wal-Mart good or bad? Angel or demon? Jedi Master or Sith Lord?

Here's my take: This may sound cynical at first (and maybe it is), but Wal-Mart is a corporation, like any other. A private enterprise. And private companies have one goal, and only one: to make a profit. Thus, when companies do evil, like denying their workers fair pay or rights, it's not because their evil, but rather because it inhibits their ability to achieve the highest possible profit margin. Similarly with good acts: a company like Wal-Mart doesn't spend millions on philanthropy out of the goodness of its heart. It does so to enhance its reputation so more people will go and spend money in its stores. This is not to say that CEOs and boardroom execs are somehow disingenuous in their philanthropic enterprises; I'm sure that H. Lee Scott sincerely enjoys the opportunity to mobilize his company's resources for the public good. But at the end of the day, he wouldn't do it if it didn't provide fiscal advantages (as the cases of his company's "sins" illustrate). After all, one could say the same thing about individuals: there are exceedingly few, if any, acts that are truly altruistic.

I think this carries an important lesson both for those who consider "big whathaveyou" to be intrinsically evil, and those who believe that "the free market" is intrinsically good. Private enterprises are capable of both tremendous good and unspeakable evil, just like human beings. There is nothing "anti-capitalistic" or "anti-business" about using your power as a consumer and citizen to make them stop doing evil, and encouraging them when they do good. At the same time, to be "anti-big business" to the point of wishing their demise is similarly simplistic.

There is also a lesson here for the government. Surely the federal government has vastly more resources than Wal-Mart, right? Then why was Wal-Mart's performance so much better?

Easy: patronage. The government (especially the administration), as we all know, put the wrong people in charge of FEMA for the purposes of political patronage. Thus, the government has people with backgrounds in PR, for instance, in positions that should be filled by specialists in emergency services. Wal-Mart does not do this; it has specialists filling positions requiring specialists, and PR people filling positions requiring PR people. That's how you run an effective organization.

Miss Condi! Miss Condi!

TioChuy points out this pic circulating around the blogosphere right now. It's Bush writing to Secretary Rice during the UN summit:

The Bush admirers on this blog will point out that this is probably normal protocol for officials sitting in these meetings: maybe ya can't just go when you want, you have to schedule breaks. And they're probably right. But that doesn't make this less funny.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

So much for U.N. reform. Thanks a lot, Ambassador Bolton. Really. Jerk-off.

Huh, go figure. From The Guardian on the U.N. summit tomorrow:

Diplomats at the United Nations finally reached agreement last night on a watered-down document to reform the organisation and tackle poverty just hours before leaders arrived for the start of a world summit.

This final draft, to be presented to the leaders for publication on Friday, fell far short of ambitious proposals for an overhaul of the UN which was set out earlier this year by Kofi Annan, the secretary general.
Campaigners and diplomats who favoured a bold approach put much of the blame for the failure on John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, who introduced hundreds of late changes to the original document.
Oxfam described the development section of the final draft as a "recycling of old pledges". Save the Children said the chance of a historic breakthrough on poverty "had all but slipped through the fingers of world leaders".

In case you haven't been keeping up, John Bolton is the new temporary ambassador to the U.N., appointed in a recess appointment by President W because the Senate Republicans couldn't stop a Democratic filibuster on his nomination.

The "watered-down document" mentioned in the Guardian article is a pretty comprehensive draft of U.N. goals in the 21st century. It talks about things like poverty, nuclear proliferation, pollution, and AIDS. Bolton, who's been on the job for a couple of months now, has been working hard to declaw it for some time. In August, he wrote a lengthy list of revisions he wanted:

"In short, the [list] does the following:

~ knocks out entirely the Millennium Development Goals

~ continues to undermine collective efforts against climate change

~ knocks out targets and timetables for all goals and objectives

~ guts any efforts toward further disarmament objectives and focuses exclusively on non-proliferation, while both had always been important objectives in the past

~ strikes the section that states that countries will use force only as last resort

~ and oddly, strikes out the need to establish a legal definition of terrorism, which the Bush administration has previously stated is a requirement before proceeding towards a U.N. Convention on Terorrism." (from TPM)

Now, it should be obvious enough that Bolton introduced such a lengthy collection of revisions for one purpose, and one purpose only: to neuter the reform process by bogging down the assembly in negotiations that can't possibly be resolved on time, thus forcing the chairman to throw out all the contentious issues (which, coincidentally, are pretty much all the issues actual substantive goals).

Similarly, I don't think I need to say much more regarding whether hamstringing an attempt by the world community to set substantive goals toward the ending of things like hunger and AIDS and nuclear proliferation is a good idea or not. Or maybe I'm just a hopeless idealist.

Yet another opportunity for W to "take responsibility."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The President admits "responsibility"

As I'm sure you've all heard by now, W has officially taken "responsibility" for the debacle in the Gulf Coast:

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

There are several issues worth noting here, however.

One has to do with what you may be wondering yourselves: why it is that I put the word responsibility in quotation marks. The reason I did that is because of a question Josh Marshall posits: what does he mean by the word "responsibility?" Does he mean that he takes responsibility in the general sense that every leader is ultimately responsible in some way for bungles that occur during their tenure as leader? Or, on the other hand, is he admitting that he's actually personally responsible for this mess, because of, for instance, his choice of filling FEMA positions based on patronage instead of qualifications, or sending some 35% of the Gulf Coasts' National Guardspeople to Iraq, or draining the coffers of the Federal Treasury, thereby undermining the government's ability to maintain and raise the levees on Lake Pontchartrain, or simply not taking the time beforehand to understand the magnitude of this disaster before it was too late, as Brian Williams reported tonight on NBC News? Which one is it?

The second problem relates to a boneheadedly obvious ramification of his admittance of responsibility: it is now more than ever an extremely unwise decision for congress to settle with an investigation headed by one of the guilty parties. You don't allow indicted cops to head the investigation into their own crimes, so why on earth would you allow someone responsible for a disaster to head the subsequent investigation?

The third issue relates to a bizarre argument W proferred in the speech. This was a paragraph or two after the above quote:
"One thing for certain; having been down there three times and have seen how hard people are working, I'm not going to defend the process going in, but I am going to defend the people who are on the front line of saving lives. Those Coast Guard kids pulling people out of the -- out of the floods are -- did heroic work. The first responders on the ground, whether they be state folks or local folks, did everything they could. There's a lot of people that are -- have done a lot of hard work to save lives."

I've been keeping a pretty careful watch on the hurricane aftermath, and have read many of the President's most vehement opponents (by the way, for those of you who are interested, John Kerry offerred this zinger: "The President has done the obvious, only after it was clear he couldn’t get away with the inexcusable." Ooooh snap!), and I've never heard anyone even begin to hint at laying any blame with the first responders out there navigating the toxic pools of New Orleans. Who in their right mind would cast any stones their way? Is this Rove's next PR move, insinuating that those who attack the administration are attacking the first responders?

Monday, September 12, 2005

American Rights at Work

By the way, I want to point you to the links over the right side of the screen there. One of them, American Rights at Work, is an advocacy group that Amber's sister Beth works for. They have some interesting facts and things to say about the state of workers' rights in America. Have a look at their website: it's eye-opening, for sure.

Speaking of, Molly Ivins (possibly my favorite voice in Texas news) wrote a great article about this very subject. Says Molly Ivins of our current situation:

For starters, we have a growing economic underclass. In 2004, 37 million Americans -- 12.7 percent of us -- lived in poverty, the fourth year in a row the numbers increased. Between one-fourth and one-fifth of American children are being raised in poverty.

Next up, more Americans lack health insurance -- 45.8 million. That's the fourth straight year that figure has gone up, too. Six million more people lacked health insurance in 2004 than in 2000. The proportion of Americans with employer-sponsored coverage keeps shrinking, and public insurance programs cannot make up the difference.

Meantime, the median income failed to increase for the fifth straight year, the first time that's happened since the feds started keeping records in 1967. Since the economy is "in recovery," where's all the money going?

Corporate CEOs moved up again, now making 431 times as much as the average worker. Our friends at the Center for American Progress calculate that if the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay had remained the same as it was in 1990, 301-to-one, the lowest-paid workers in the United States would be making $23.03 an hour.

I'm a teency bit skeptical about the $23.03 figure, but the pay raise would certainly be significant, anyway. She also makes sure to mention several of the grossest instances of congress shilling out for their corporate contributors: the federal energy bill, the bankruptcy bill, and CAFTA. God help you if you find yourself in financial straits, need to heat your home, or are exploited by your boss-- because the U.S. sure won't.

Reality TV

Thank God. I hope this means they're on their way out. From AP:
"Four out of five Americans say they think too many reality shows are on
the air, according to an AP-TV Guide poll. Only 4 percent of respondents said
there were not enough.
Few people believe there's much reality in reality TV:
a total of 82 percent said the shows are either "totally made up" or "mostly

I know, I know, we've all got our RTV poisons. I myself was once caught up in "The Biggest Loser" and "The Apprentice." I would gladly sacrifice them, however, to see RTV gone away with the dodo. With very few exceptions, this type of TV is like the gladiatorial games of the television industry. It capitalizes on our irrational desire to see people get hurt, and to see people screwing, backstabbing, or otherwise hurting other people. It's like our penchant for gossip or rubbernecking at car wrecks. Reality TV capitalizes on the basest parts of our nature, and if the notion that "you are what you read/watch/listen to" is true, it makes us worse people. I'm sorry if I've offended all those people who get their kicks watching swimsuit models throw up as they try to scarf down dog rectums, but I'm just not sure that reality TV is the kind of thing we should be offering up on primetime.

I, for one, will be wearing a bright red suit at its funeral.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

How to make Tech a respectable football team

Ok, I'm going to toss out an idea on a subject about which I don't know much, so bear with me and correct me where I'm wrong. Yet I feel that my experience here at ND has lent me some perspective on the lack of respect towards TTU in the AP/USA/BCS (mmmmm, alphabet soup).

Riddle me this: 2004- ND has a lukewarm season, finishing just at .500, and losing the Tidy Bowl handily to the Oregon State who-gives-a-craps. This year they beat an overrated and unexceptional Pitt (23), and land at #20 in the AP. Texas Tech went 7-4, went on to trounce #4 California 45-31, and enters the '05 season at... #21? What gives?

It's all about perception: if I've got this right, then 2 of the 3 major ranking systems (AP and USA/ESPN coaches) are tabulated using human votes. So they're at least influenced by the perception of those teams' skill as well as the actual hard numbers of wins/losses and points and whatnot. That perception is something that is built over time, so Notre Dame or Miami or Michigan does not have to work as hard for a good ranking as Tech does, because people expect Notre Dame and Miami and Michigan to be good teams.

So how, then, do the Red Raiders go about acquiring this sort of reputation, other than just the patently obvious "win more games?" I have several ideas.

1. Play harder teams. Look at Tech's schedule, for Pete's sake. Florida International? Indiana State? I live in Indiana, and I've never heard of Indiana State! Just playing those teams makes Tech look like a lame ball club, and winning against them does nothing to improve their reputation. You can beat the Des Moines State Knuckledraggers 80-3 and you still won't even make the Saturday evening sports highlights. But you beat the LSU tigers by 1...
The problem with this idea is that any given team can't just schedule a game against whomever they want; the other team has to go for it, too. And most good teams right now won't give Tech the time of day. So how do they fix this, you may ask? Well, on to #2!

2. Become a real rival to good teams. There are some good teams who do play Tech every year, like OU, Texas, and A&M. And we Red Raiders consider them (esp. the last 2) our "rivals." But, (and any of you 'Horns and Aggies correct me if I'm wrong) they don't really feel the same way. For them, Tech is that annoying little team that gets the best of them if they screw it up. There's a big difference here: for Tech, it's a good season if we beat A&M. For A&M, it's not a good season if they win necessarily, but it's a bad one if they don't. They don't feel like Tech has a better team if Tech wins; they just feel like they played sub-par.

That's not a rivalry.

To fix this, to make Tech a rival, Tech needs to create the perception that A&M, or Texas, or whoever, has to play well to beat them, not just play normally. That means Tech needs to beat those teams consistently when they're having off years. Take last year, for instance: A&M didn't have a great year, certainly not like their glory days, but still beat Tech 32-25. Texas and OU or A&M will often go for several years at a time consistently beating the other, depending on who's hot (the Longhorns, for instance, haven't beaten the Sooners in 5 years). My dad told me once that he had already been a rabid Longhorns for years the first time he saw them fall to the Aggies. I had been watching college football for years the first time I saw the Longhorns beat the Aggies. Tech needs to start playing this way: when a team goes through dry spells, Tech should beat them consistently. Aggies will look at TTU in a whole different light after losing to them for 5 straight years.

I think these 2 points go hand in hand, supporting each other. As Tech becomes more consistent, building rivalries and getting associated with the good Big 12 teams, better non-conference will be willing to play them. As they stop wasting their time with lame teams, they'll get more used to playing good ones, and people will get used to seeing them playing good ones. And better teams will be willing to play them, etc. This improves their reputation and makes them look like a better team, so that the rankings folks will start to expect them to be good, and will tend to give them higher rankings.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

W on vacation

From Neil in Dallas: mmmmm fishy!


I bet you Austinites are pretty excited about the big game today. Heck, I'm not even that big of a UT fan and I can't wait! This is great particularly for me as an Notre Dame fan, because the Longhorns have started playing the best midwestern teams (some of whom they've never before encountered) so it's a bit surreal to see the 'Horns up here. Here they are meeting the Buckeyes today, and I'm still reeling from that great Rose Bowl last season where they squeaked by the Michigan Wolverines. This is gonna be great!

Speaking of Wolverines... final score today: No. 3 Michigan 10, No. 20 Notre Dame 17.
Oooooooooh snap! Looks to me that the BCS seriously overrated the Wolves' offensive capabilities post-Braylon Edwards.

And of course, Tech's first game of the season against some no-name. Don't screw this up, guys. What's the story on Tech's team, by the way? Who's the QB now? Is he any good?

Friday, September 09, 2005

What would you tell your children about the South?

""Now I want you to tell me one thing more. Why do you hate the South?"
"I don't hate it," Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; "I dont hate it," he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark. I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!" --William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom (302-03)

Growing up in Lubbock, Texas, with Southern parents, I always loved being Southern. I remember watching The Dukes of Hazzard and taking some measure of pride in the Stars and Bars painted on the roof of an old muscle car called "the General Lee." It was with even more pride that I used to talk about how I'm distantly related to that Virginian general.

Yet, beginning with my introduction to William Faulkner in high school, and continuing through my education, I have questioned that pride. I find myself now in Quentin Compson's place, in the midst of a painful tug-of-war between wanting to take pride in the place I call "home," and feeling a profound... well, disgust... for what it stood for up until those dark days in the year of Our Lord 1861-5, and in truth, for long after as well. On top of that, in the last year or so, I've come to the startling and somewhat painful realization also that the Southern rebellion and war against their own country was an act of treason. That may seem obvious in itself, but I'd never been pushed to attach the corresponding noun to it. A person or party that commits treason is a traitor. "The War of Northern Aggression" looks a little different when you think about it in that light.

And I suspect many of you Southerners have had these feelings as well. I think both of these pulls --pride and revulsion-- are undeniable. There are exceedingly few Southerners I've met who don't feel some sense of pride in saying they're "Suthun." And I'm sure we've all bounced around the idea that maybe the Civil War wasn't really about slavery, but rather about states' rights, or economics, or differences of lifestyle, or whatever. The problem is that those arguments don't hold water; as one friend of mine astutely noted, they all eventually lead back to slavery. Or you could argue that maybe the South would've eventually developed equal rights on its own. Yet, that thesis is thoroughly discounted with 2 simple words: Jim Crow.

Thus, the question: what do you tell people about the South? What would you tell your children about the South?

Thursday, September 08, 2005


(c/o jaywillie from DailyKos)
Ok, I think it would silly of me to start a discussion forum and not touch on the main topic of discussion: Hurricane Katrina. I've had a number of discussions about it over the last week, including one where we spent some time discussing who was most at fault for the remarkable screw-up of the relief effort. Here's my take: the ultimate fault for this has to lie with the federal government, particularly the Bush administration.

This comes as no surprise to most of you who know my opinions of Dear Leader. But clearly, clearly, damage control and disaster relief of an event of this scale is the federal government's responsibility, especially considering the Dept. of Homeland Security's own mission statement (look under strategic goals-protection) which claims responsibility.

FEMA is one of the agencies in the Dept. of Homeland Security. Both answer directly to the President.

It was this agency that W gutted, firing all the qualified heads, and replaced with unqualified cronies for whom he wanted to acquire government pensions. This from Josh Marshall.

Not only that, but the New Orleans Times-Picayune has reported time and again about the malfunding of the levees for the last 5 years due to the War on Terror and the Bush tax cuts.

This is, of course, not to say that the local and state authorities aren't in any way at fault. I imagine we're gonna find that there's plenty of blame to go around. But as of yet, I haven't really heard anyone, government official or otherwise, make a compelling case indicting the state/local governments for much of anything, whereas it seems that, at every turn, where there's a major screwup, W's written all over it. And wasn't this kinda thing supposed to be Bush's forte? I mean, isn't he president now mainly because he was the guy who was supposedly better suited to keep us safe? What the hell has he (and for that matter, the Dept. of Homeland Security) been doing over these 4 years since 9/11? Is that ridiculous color-coded terror alert all he's done?

and so it begins...

So this is my blog. For those of you who are new to this stuff, a weblog (blog, for short) is a site where you can post messages, and then others can read and reply to them with their own posts. It's an online discussion forum, of sorts. Here we can have conversations involving a little more substance than the average garden-variety email really allows, and can involve more people (and less money) than a phone call. Or just a place for you to bask in my infinite wisdom. Or something.

So what kind of "conversations" will we be having, you may be asking? Well, to honest, I'm not really sure. I have some guesses, though: I imagine we'll be talking a bit about politics, religion, and the Great Pumpkin:
People may also wanna talk about books, games, local affairs, gossip, or whathaveyou. And of course, I'll be posting links to funny/weird/ridiculous stuff I find on "the internets." Have a look around, drop me a line, and let me know what ya think.