pithecanthropus

I am writing from Dallas, Texas with the intent to shake things up. This blog will be political and I am a liberal, left, labor Democrat. Male, born the first year of World War II in the middle of America I am sick at heart about the state of my country and need to rant. Join in.

Name:
Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

For the longest time I was a carpenter, then a fisherman, then an engineer. I read a lot. I was married for 28 years, until death did us part. My son sustains me, and, at an age that makes it a silly thing to say, I have a girl friend.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

So, its November, the 11th month of the 5th year of the Bush tragedy/farce. The theme for the last several weeks has been incompetence and depravity. Mr. Brown of FEMA neglected the gulf coast because he had reservations at a very snooty Washington eatery and emailed his secretary to stall the hurricane. Not quite 'let them eat cake' but disturbingly close. For the whole of the year, and for quite a while before that, we were having a discussion about torture that was, I thought, multifaceted. Al Gozales though the idea of torture's illegality was "quaint" and advised W that it would be perfectly all right as long as the torturers did not cause "organ failure". Bush as General Dreedle "What do you mean I can't have them shot?" Gonzales "I'm sorry sir did I say 'can't'? Silly me."

Lindsey Graham is afraid that the victims of illegal detention and, according to rumor, torture in Guantanimo, will clog the courts with their silly determination to be treated like human beings. Obviously we can't have that so LG is proposing, and getting passed, an ammendment suspending Habeas Corpus. Despite the fact that Article I Section 9 paragraph 2 of the Constitution cleary says "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it. Why, dear reader, did you ever expect these people to honor the constitution? They consider it a suicide pact.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

I believe

Since the election Democrats have been agonizing over "values", taken usually to mean charismatic, protestant religion. Over the last several weeks this trend has escalated from the divine to the ridiculous. Terry Schiavo became a controversial figure whose life was to be defended at all costs although all diagnostic tests indicated that her brain was not functioning at all. Seven ultra conservative judges were presented to the public as differing from the judicial norm only on the basis of their religious fervor. And the stealth school board of the state of Kansas has begun hearings on teaching christian origin myths as science. Enough.

Democrats,like everyone else, already have values they are just, for the last several election cycles, terrified that someone is going to find out what they are. In the Schiavo case, the family had a dispute over who was to make the, awful, decision about life and death. They took it to court, as families often do, and the courts decided that her husband, who knew her best, could decide, he did, and the Christ nuts popped out of the wood work to "save" her. People who have had to make this decision, or who have been close to people who did, understand the turmoil on both sides of the question. The Republican majority, of course, did not. The Democratic principle here is simple: butt the hell out, this is a private affair. The courts checked to see if anything hinky was going on and said it wasn't so back away and let these people cry.

Ronald Reagan began the process of packing the Federal courts with young conservatives who would have lifetime tenure and would stand in the way of any attempt at progress. Fair enough. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton appointed judges they thought would aid the liberal project and even got some confirmed in times of Republican Senates. Reagan went up against a Democrat Majority and lost Bork but won a couple and Bush I got Clarence Thomas. Its the way our system works. The Executive and the House of Representatives have a bias toward action, they exist to get things done and they represent the majority. The Senate and the courts are impediments to action who exist for the purpose of deliberation and, at their best, represent the minorities who would otherwise be ridden over. The power of the courts is lifetime tenure and of the Senate, unlimited debate. All Presidents and all Congresses are frustrated by these two institutions from time to time. Comes the new conservative movement with total sway over the executive and legislative branches to discover that, even conservative judges when contemplating the separation of powers, will not allow them absolute control. The name they use for judges who have actually read, and have some opinion about, the constitution is "activist" judges. The most conservative appeals court in the land told them to back off the Schiavo case so they take the case to the "people of god".

Seven out of ten of the judges Bush has failed to get confirmed in his first term were renominated immediately upon his reelection. I don't think there is any precedent for that but, even if there is, its enormously arrogant. But that's really not the question. The seven are particularly disgusting in legal terms. If you have questions about who they are and what they believe, and you should, please visit the People for the American Way site.

http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=14172

The campaign in the press now is about the precedent of the filibuster. For weeks I have watched our hapless press corps report this fight without once remarking on the facts concerning the most obvious part of this conflict. Has anybody stopped to ask how over 60 of Bill Clinton's nominees were blocked without using a filibuster? Actually, they haven't. Here's how. Most were blocked by "blue slip holds". For many years the Senate Judiciary committee, as a courtesy, has notified the two home state Senators of a judicial nominee by sending a "blue slip" to their office. Until both are returned, initialed, no hearing is scheduled. In addition, any individual Senator could initiate an anonymous "hold", subject to a committee vote, on any nominee. John Ashcroft held one of Clinton's nominees for two years by this technique and then led a floor fight against him. As soon as there was a Republican President ad Senate majority, Orrin Hatch cancelled these two rules, rendering the democrats unable to block a nominee in committee. The filibuster is all that's left them and the Republicans are insisting, consequently, that it must be overturned. The conservative principle at play is "We win no matter how". The democratic "value" is, play fair.

Several years ago the ultra religious right won a majority on the Kansas school board and decreed the end of teaching evolution in the classroom. The good people of Kansas, conservative as they are, were so embarrassed they turned them out in the next election. The wing nuts, undeterred, have crept back into office and intend to do it again. One wonders why. Obviously, if they want their own children to be ignorant, they should be able to pull that off with sufficient brutality in the home. What is their compulsion to see the rest of the children wallow in ignorance? I suspect it is their terror at the prospect of an educated electorate. The question here is relatively easy, what is and is not science?

Science is an analytical discipline that has an innate prejudice for simplicity and a bias toward skepticism. Throughout scientific thought there is one overarching principle, falsifiability. If I cannot Disprove a thing, it is not a science kind of a thing. Scientists insist on hanging it all out. Come on, show me how I'm wrong, is the universal scientific challenge. So, if the intelligent design people will suggest to me how I might disprove their odd little hypothesis, I'll allow it in science class. Until then, its religion.

Which brings me back to the subject of the left and "values". I believe in privacy. The government has no place in my bedroom, or yours, and no reason to stick its nose into decisions we need to make on our own. All of us have a right to come and go as we please without let or hindrance from the forces of the state. I believe that the checks and balances in our constitutional system are there to protect me in times like these and to protect the loonies when common sense again prevails. And I believe that religion is a private affair. You may believe what you wish but you may not ask me what I believe. Our common governance is based on the enlightened consent of the governed, not on anyone's theology.

Finally, since I am incapable of writing one of these rants without mentioning the early history of the Republic, let me offer a retort to the wingnuts who insist that we are a "Christian Nation". Counting from 1792 we had 50 years of presidents, none of whom could be reasonable considered a Christian. Of the men present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, fewer than half were professing Christians. The writer of the Constitution and the primary author of the bill of rights (Madison and Jefferson) were neither christians. The majority of our chief executives from Washington to Lincoln neither attended church nor publicly called upon religion. The current move toward theocracy is unamerican and silly. In my humble opinion, values are formed by rational thought and god is an imaginary friend for grown ups. Bless you all.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Hello Again

Unbelievably, I have recently discovered that somebody(s) occasionally reads this thing. I found a link to it at Mondo Boulder (to which I will link as soon as I learn how) and at Jim Moore's entirely existential site (ditto).

About Ward Churchill and Larry Summers. In both instances my first instinct, as a knee jerk liberal, was to defend to the death their right to say it. On second reading, I would like to defend, in both cases, what they actually said. I want to do this because both of them turned over a rock that needs to be turned over and both have taken a lot of heat for saying things that, however unpleasant, have some truth to them. Hang in there with me for a minute.

What did Churchill actually say, stripped of his offensive "Eichman" riff. I think what he was going for was this. The terrorists of September 11 did not attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon randomly. It was their second attempt at the trade center, after all, so it must have meant something other than being tall. Its also obvious that Al Qaeda is not a group of dunces banging there luddite heads against modern culture. In other words, it was not because "they hate our freedoms". The attack was well planned and well executed. So why those two targets? Churchill says because they wanted to make the point that the international financial organizations housed in that building were responsible for the suffering of their people and that those organizations were aided and abetted by the occupants of the other. That makes more sense to me than the alternative explanations for the target choice that I have heard so far. That he managed to word it so poorly that it sounded like a condemnation of the individual employees of Cantor Fitzgerald has confused the issue.

Ahh, Larry. Economics really is the dismal science and Summers is among the most dismal of its practitioners. Still and all, what he was doing at that conference really was economics, just the way its supposed to be done. I was in a long argument, quoting the first ammendment and the, previously alluded to "defend to..." rave, when I finally went to the trouble of actually reading his remarks. They're available on the web (link inadequacy again). I have, I must say, read clearer technical manuals written by non english speaking geeks. But what he actually said about the under representation of women in science at elite universities was that it was a problem and that the reasons for it needed to be clearly understood in order to do something positive about it. He then went on to hypothesize, as in hypothetical, what things ought to be looked at to gain that understanding. Two of his proposed reasons were non controversial. He stated pretty clearly that prejudice, both in selection and throughout life, were real reasons for the lack of women in the more technical departments of MIT and Harvard. He also said that one reasonable hypothesis, as in field of study, should be to find out if there really was an inherant deficiency in talent in women. Now, before taking gun to head, let me say I don't think there is and I don't think Dr. Summers does either. But I know a lot of people, men and women, who do and I have not found a lot of research that repudiates that view. There probably is some but its hard enough to find that, in several days of debate, no one was able to point me to it. Until that research is done, Larry and I think, the discrimination in both education and selection, will continue. If no one does the research because the subject is taboo, then we will lose a lot of potentially brilliant scientists and it will be, not only due to prejudice, but because we cannot tell that third grade teacher, in no uncertain terms, that the girls really can do that stuff.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Good bye and thanks for all the fish

Well OK, I'm going to post a last thing and then I'm going to go find an easier way to do this. Two weeks ago I composed about 1,500 words on Thomas Jefferson's conception of "monopoly" and how it referred to the modern corporation and why the corporation is, specifically, an anti democratic mechanism. It was really a beautiful essay and I was very proud of it. I got another cup of coffee and started to paste in the Jefferson quotes and the first paste erased every word and a full day's work could not reclaim or repeat them, so I have stayed away for a month. This is a mug's game but it is something I want to do. My friend Jim Moore has given me some technical advice which I think I'll take and try to come back in some more practical venue. See ya.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Alone At Last

The fundamental principle of stage magic is to distract the audience's attention with a little move, some snappy patter or a foxy assistant while the magician plays with the hat and the rabbit. That's what's happening with the new Republican concept of "The Ownership Society". The words say "we're all going to get rich" or at least get well, but the tune is still "give me the money". The second term of George W. Bush has a theme and they are running at it full tilt, but its not anything new, and its not anything you're going to like.

As long ago as Richard Nixon, Republican's broke with the majority view of fairness in economic life. When Nixon took office the US economy was starting to hurt from all the borrowing LBJ had done to keep escalating Viet Nam and save his "Great Society" programs. Nixon's response was twofold, spread over a number of years. First, to freeze wages and second, to cut the dollar loose thereby destroying the Bretton Woods agreement and abandoning the developing world to the tender mercies of corporate America. At the time a lot of people complained about both of those on grounds of fiscal stupidity and rank unfairness but everybody missed an underlying philosophical message.

By the mid '70s, when Jimmy Carter took office, the economy was in pretty poor shape. To try to bring inflation under control, Carter accepted a recessionary fiscal and monetary policy, banking on Americans understanding the long term positive effects of his energy and foreign policies. We didn't. Reagan came to office on a triumphant drumroll from the right wing think tanks and began the work of disassembling the American consensus. He announced to the business community that the government would no longer protect worker's rights. He announced to the world that America would do what America would do, get used to it. And he announced to us that we were the happy, lucky ones and we could have our money back. I recall wondering when mine was going to come.

The Clinton years featured a Republican Congress for 6 of the 8 and a number of "reforms" continued to be imposed on the body politic. The most visible was the expulsion of everybody who could not justify themselves from any share of the public purse. They called it "welfare reform". But others happened tat were probably more important and more damaging. While Al Gore labored to "reinvent" government, Newt Gingrich dealt with "privatizing" services. From mail handling to benefits processing, the law began to insist that government at all levels make an effort to turn its functions over to the tender mercies of corporate America, suffering from the end of the cold war. The compromise allowed was that individual contracts were to be let for competitive bidding and the government office in question was allowed to bid. That process came to a particularly ripe head about a year ago over a janitorial contract at Walter Reade Army Hospital.

The Army had discovered that hiring retarded citizens for the dirty work in the basement was cost effective. The retarded people were dedicated employees, on time and eager to work and capable of the tasks before them. Modest wages allowed them some dignity and independence. The problem, of course, was that they were union employees and hungry people could be found who would work cheaper. Not, however, enough cheaper to allow for a decent profit. Bill Frist carried the bill demanding that government offices bidding on work arbitrarily add a percentage of fictional overhead so that private contractors could win the bids and Carl Levin of Michigan rebelled and demanded debate on the floor of the Senate. What, after all, could be said to justify taking away the jobs of people who had few other options in the interest of adding to the bottom line of a Virginia Business consortium? Frist caved. The question is, will he do it again?

The next debate is over Social Security, the one after that over making the inheritance tax cut permanent. Its the same deal. The goal is to separate the citizenry from their government. To pretend that, just like Newt and Frist, you have the money, the acumen and the connections to select a path to wealth with a small percentage of your income on a regular withdrawal. Or, would you prefer to throw your lot in with the rest of your fellow citizens, relying on the government to deliver a modest but regular return in the system that has worked flawlessly for 70 years? The Republican bet is that phrases like "The Ownership Society" will make you believe that you're better off on your own. That you,like them, are so well born and lucky that you can stand alone. Personally, I like some people around.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Torturous Logic

This week has several sort of weird streams in the news. This year, as opposed to 2000, one Democratic Senator grew a pair, and it was Barbara Boxer. If I still lived in California, I would send her a contribution for standing up with John Conyers, who always stands up, and saying what needed to be said, i e that today's Republican Party will do anything to win and that politics cannot be allowed to be like that in a democratic republic. So thank you BB (and could you take some time to tell me what the deal was when no Senator would sign the congressional Black Caucus's protest in 2000,when it might have made a difference.)

Al Gonzales no longer approves of torture. No, really! He told Patrick Leahy, yesterday at the hearing, that torture was "unacceptable" because the President had said so, quite clearly, only two and a half years after the memo. (On the thursday before both New years Eve and Al's confirmation hearing for Attorney General of the United States of America, moving several democrats to use the word "coincidently" more than once each) You remember the memo? The high points would be a giggle if they did not repudiate at least 100 years of American philosophy. AG designate A. G. writes that: 1. It's not really torture if (a long list of excusable cruelty inserted) and 2. The Geneva Convention only applies to people we say it applies to and 3. If the president says we're at war then he can do anything he wants no matter what the law says and he can tell anybody else to do it too and it won't really be illegal because he said it wasn't (sort of a legal 'King's X' like in hide and seek). and 4. there are people and places that are outside the law and 5. that the international treaties going back to the Peace of Westphalia have been rendered "quaint" by the election of his holiness George W. Bush. (I wanted to spit)

For the younger among us, let me explain why I get so emotional about this. At the battle of Trenton, New Jersey George Washington established an American tradition by allowing the Hessian Mercenaries he had just defeated to lay down their arms and receive humane treatment from their captors. It was unprecedented for mercenary troops and they spread the word through all of Europe. Since then, whatever else was going on, American soldiers, while having a reputation throughout the world for being fierce combatants and serving more than one government that could be oppressive, were always the "good guys". Now, that's not strictly true, we've done some real whoppers like the Phillipines in the early 1900's and some of the things we did in Viet Nam, but we've always been moved by the argument that our guys were the ones who handed out chewing gum and traveled with Civil Affairs battalions to rebuild your city and, most especially, held to the Geneva convention as if it were the word of god! We have been, in short, idealists.

I learned a soldier's duties under Geneva at Ft. Sam Houston, TX in 1960 from a SGT who had been a POW in Korea. He had been tortured, (in that war it was called 'brain washed') and the only relief he got was regular visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross with clean blankets, medical care, and letters from home. See, the North Koreans, who thought Geneva silly, understood that the whole world knew that American soldiers held to Geneva, no matter what, and to refuse the Red Cross its prerogatives under the treaty would lead to international condemnation to the point that not even the Soviet Union or China could afford to supply them. What he said, and I believed, was that, when you are captured, your only defense is that reputation. That because American's are known around the world for our slavish devotion to the humane treatment of those captured on the field of battle, your captor, however evil, might pause, might not strike you down. Its a thin defense, but its worked before. Sadly, because of the moral cowardice of George W. Bush and his legal lackey, Alberto Gonzales, it never will again. They have condemned generations of American soldiers to death and torture for no good reason and now the son of a bitch wants to be the Attorney General of the United States of America. I could just, as I said before, spit.

On a lighter note, the Social Security Dog and Pony Show opened Monday in Wash. DC and its a zinger. I was thinking (hoping actually) that not even the Republican Majority would have the gall to continue to claim that the system was "in crisis". I mean the Social Security Trustees, who really ought to know, report that everything is going just the way it was planned. And, if that's not enough, the Congressional Budget Office, who works for them, reported that, if anything, its better than the Trustees think. But noooo, they won't back off, not even a little, its a CRISIS and that's that! Now, I'm not going to dignify this with the statistics, you can go to the New York Times and read Paul Krugman for that. I just wanted to point out a little logical inconsistancy in the whole thing and we can keep it between the two of us because it requires holding two concepts in our heads at the same time, so the conservatives won't be able to decipher it.

Here we go. The system is in crisis because, in only a few years, the Baby Boom generation will begin to retire. When that happens, the story goes, it will rapidly become the case that there will only be two workers for every retiree. How do we know that? By doing some simple demographic calculations, easy really. First you take all the stuff you know for sure then you assume some stuff you're pretty sure about and then you plug those things into your equation and, voila, population statistics for the future. Now here comes the second thought. When we're not thinking about this crisis, we're paying attention to another, real important, crisis. Poor people from Central and South America and, especially, Mexico are streaming across our southern border in alarming droves. They are, Lou Dobbs assures us, taking GOOD AMERICAN JOBS, as bus boys and gardeners and cement finishers and the like and they may have TERRORISTS among them. (although I'm pretty sure that none of the 9/11 highjackers were Mexicans) So, I went and looked up how many of these immigrants, legal and illegal, the demographers were assuming for the Social Security calculation and, guess what, its none. That's right, the assumed net in migration for the next 75 years, for purposes of Social Security is Zero (0).

Now lets go over these two complex thoughts for a minute. 1. Social Security is in crisis because of a shortage of workers in a few years. 2. the country is in crisis because unwanted workers are invading from the south. Does anybody see a way out of this? How about this; we let them come in, we demand that employers treat them like real American workers with living wages and withholoding taxes and overtime pay and the whole Megilla and we incorporate them into the Social Security system. See, that way we don't have such a shortage of workers. What's wrong with that? Well, the big thing wrong is, that would require our government actually trying to protect American workers and our jobs and that would, in turn, require that we turn these ignorant SOB's out of office. But that's another subject.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy? New Year

In not too many days George W. Bush will be sworn in as the President of the United States of America, elected by a majority of the people who went to the polls. It is difficult for me to type those words for two reasons. First, I believe that he is the worst President in the history of our country and I thought that would have been obvious to most observers and second, because the fact that it was not, has shaken my faith in the people.

"I believe in the Constitution with my whole heart" Barbara Jordan said at the judiciary committee meeting considering the impeachment of Richard Nixon. That's one of those statements that stay with you through the years, that make up the fragment file defining the emotional and intellectual underpinnings of patriotism. I'm wondering, now, what those fragments are for people who could believe that W. was fit to occupy the office held by Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, F.D.R., Truman, and the others, some of whom I would have campaigned against but all, I believe, lovers of their country. I cannot believe that about this man.

What could have been in the minds of my fellow citizens? Were they unaware of the torture memos or are they unaware of the 8th amendment? Do they approve of transferring enormous percentages of our wealth to a privileged few or were they tricked, somehow, into believing that wasn't happening? Where did they learn to yearn for a "strong leader"? What are the "moral values" that apparently motivated 20% of the electorate to vote for this man whose moral fiber has been tested over and over and always found wanting? I'm going to spend some time trying to figure it out because, unless we can get some better ideas bouncing around in some heads out there, we're going to lose the United States of America to a conspiracy of wealthy fascists who have managed to seduce 51% of the people.

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