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Archive for October 2003

More On The Frame

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For Political Junkies II

Jeanne at Body and Soul has weighed in on Digby’s discussion of how the Dems should frame themselves and their goals for 2004 and has some insights to add. Here’s a taste:

Republicans and Democrats see the world in very different ways. Republicans want to be cavemen: Every man goes out into the world with his club and his spear, ready to take on the wooly mammoths. Every woman needs to find a guy with a big spear to take care of her.The problem with that view is that it never worked, even in the days of of the cavemen. It takes a lot of spears to kill a wooly mammoth. One guy with one spear is a wooly mammoth snack. If we hadn’t learned to work together, the wooly mammoths would be using computers, and we’d be extinct.

Today we’ve got problems that are a lot more complicated than knocking off mammoths, and we don’t need leaders who run out pretending to be brave, waving their wobbly little spears, and yelling, “Bring on the mammoths.” People like that can get us all killed.

Go read the whole thing.

I’m working on my response, but time is at a premium so it’s going to take awhile. Don’t give up.

Written by Mick

October 30, 2003 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Politics

Sold, America

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It seems to be official: The US govt was sold to private interests who are now lining up to take their turn at the spoils. From today’s NYT:

It has been promoted as a bill to create jobs, to enhance American competitiveness and to level the playing field for companies overseas.But as House lawmakers pushed ahead this week with the biggest overhaul of corporate taxes in two decades, they found themselves briefly fixated on bows and arrows.

“U.S. manufacturers of bows and arrows are fleeing in droves for Korea and China,” said Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin. The problem, he told members of the House Ways and Means Committee, is that American arrows are hit with a 12.4 percent excise tax, but imported arrows are not.

So it was that members of the tax-writing committee agreed to drop the excise tax on arrows, along with excise taxes for fishing tackle boxes and fish-finding devices that use sonar. Liquor and wine distributors were given a four-year tax break worth $234 million and movie studios received a break on foreign royalties worth $600 million over 10 years.

These and other special-interest nuggets were little more than pocket change in a bill that would offer corporations $128 billion in new tax relief over the next decade.

As if the massive corporate tax breaks that created the biggest deficit in US history weren’t enough, corporations are lining up at the trough for more. It’s instructive, I think, that rather than change the rules to have the excise tax apply to foreign arrows as well as domestic ones, the HW&M Committee chose to drop the tax altogether. It’s also instructive that they used this excuse to give away a great deal more to their corporate owners…um, “sponsors”:

[T]hey are indicative of the trade-offs that have been necessary to win support for what began as a fairly modest goal last year: to repeal a long-standing tax subsidy for exporters, worth about $55 billion, which has been declared illegal under international law, and replace it with new tax breaks of comparable value.

Only they aren’t of “comparable value”; they’re worth a great deal more than $55M.

The bill that passed the House tax-writing committee would fulfill that goal, to the satisfaction of manufacturing companies, oil and gas refineries, farmers, movie studios and engineering conglomerates like the Bechtel Corporation and Halliburton.Scores of competing business groups have been pushing for their own piece of the pie, and the conflicts among them became so intense that it looked for months as though lawmakers would never be able to reach agreement.

But now they seem to be getting closer, and they are doing it in the most politically popular way, by giving something to almost everybody.

Except the ordinary taxpayer, of course. Once again, we–and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren–are the ones who will make up the shortfall.

You’d think at some point the corporations would be satisfied. I mean, they own the present govt lock, stock, and barrel, they get everything they want just by whining a little, and the members of the Republican Congress are competing with each other to see who can lick their boots the fastest and make them the shiniest. But they’re not satisfied. They’re already looking for new worlds to rape…er, “privatize”. Like water.

Jim Butler, a lawyer who’s on Georgia’s Board of Natural Resources, reports in the AJC that there’s at least one group aiming at just that:

There’s an old joke out West: “Water doesn’t flow downhill. It flows uphill, to money.” But water isn’t the only thing that flows to big money; so does the loyalty of some state employees. Water marketeers — those who would privatize Georgia’s most precious public resource — have used tax money to commandeer the loyalties of state employees scattered throughout state government and the University System.Under water marketing, water would no longer belong to all the people and be regulated by state government for their benefit. Instead, it would belong to whomever already had permits or got them in the future. Permits would be sold and water piped from poorer parts of the state to the booming Atlanta market.

So get over the idea that they will ever be satisfied, friends. Every victory just convinces them they can get MORE MORE MORE. As Michael Parenti once said, there is only one thing the ruling corporate interests want, and that is EVERYTHING.

If you doubt it, look to Georgia.

Written by Mick

October 30, 2003 at 4:16 pm

Iraq Pullout Coming Up?

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A couple of quick blog-related points:

1) An article in The Hill about neocon fears that Bush might pull out of Iraq seems to have goosed a couple of the blogoisie, including Josh Marshall, into wondering if there could be anything to it. As Kevin Drum points out, though, there’s been zero sign of any such thought:

I haven’t seen any evidence either in the form of statements or leaks from administration officials or leaks of secret plans for an early withdrawal.

However, he adds that it’s not inconceivable:

Just to make my thoughts crystal clear: it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bushies declared victory and started pulling out early next year. Unlike Bush’s admirers, I view him as a strongly poll-driven man who undertakes only policies that he thinks are widely popular and risk free. If public support for Iraq goes in the tank, I think he’s the kind of person who would indeed cut and run.But that’s just psychoanalysis. I don’t have any evidence that they’re really thinking along these lines.

FWIW, I am not (in case you were wondering) a Bush supporter, and I understand why Kevin would see him that way, but there’s an element to Bush that, it seems to me, over-rides Rove’s poll-obsession: he has consistently, all his life, refused to admit he made a mistake about anything. Kevin and Josh both suggest that he might use the Kissenger Formula (“Declare victory and get out.”) but I doubt that even a Denial Monkey like Junior could see a withdrawl as anything other than a retreat–Viet Nam sits too heavy on his soul as it does on the souls of all neocons. That strategy might be OK for a Democratic war (Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay all advocated it for Kosovo), but no right-wing Republican could see it as anything but an acknowledgement of failure–a failure of will, of which there is no sin so frighteningly awful. Not to mention an electoral blowback which would be more destructive to Pubs than Dems–the Pubs would lose their right-wing engine, which would be (to say the least) profoundly disappointed.

What’s interesting here is that Bush’s Brain (Rove, of course) is totally unconcerned with either policy or political philosophy. His only concern is winning. If he sees the polls continue to drop as the war ramps up (and he probably will), his end-plan to save Junior’s re-election might very well be Kissenger’s dictum; after all, with some smart sales you could hold on to the right–where are they going to go if Lieberman or Clark isn’t the nominee? Dean? Kerry? I don’t bloody think so.

So what could be shaping up is a major disagreement between Bush and his own Brain. To assume, as Marshall and Drum both seem to do, that the Brain would win automatically is to underestimate Junior’s emotional investment in being right and overestimate Karl’s ability to sell the “Victory” meme to a simple-minded President fully indoctrinated into neocon thinking. Even George is going to see through that one.

2) For Political Junkies: Digby at Hullabaloo has an interesting post up about how the Democrats should be more active in framing the election more positively. Scroll down to October 28–“Frame Up”–and read. It’s worth the time.

I have some thoughts on this subject, but I’ll get to them later.

Written by Mick

October 29, 2003 at 6:13 pm

Every Child (And School) Left Behind

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The No Child Left Behind law isn’t just an unfunded mandate, it’s a stalking-horse for the school voucher program. The ratings system is designed not to encourage schools to improve but to function as motivation for parents to opt out of the public school system altogether. John Young, opinion page editor for the Waco Tribune-Herald, calls it “…the ultimate consumerist approach, [which] requires that we have ‘failed’ schools, if only a few to get the ball rolling” in an op-ed printed in the AJC, and he’s right. The “reforms” are a trick intended to get parents thinking like consumers; if they’re aren’t happy with some service, they can shop around for something better.

As I pointed out in “The Mythology of Corporate Government (II)”, corporate managers are trained to see everything a govt does as just another market-driven. consumer-oriented product: the Treasury Dept is no different than McDonald’s, the Labor Dept is an extension of the corporate division where lawyers break strikes, and HEW are the consultants a corporation hires to promote “efficiency” by cutting costs. They don’t recognize any other goals or mandates, and the NCLB rules are designed using “objective” measurements that owe more to the ease of measuring than any concept of education as we’d understand the term.

And that’s beginning to be noticed by the very people who sold this travesty to us. Young points out that:

To have the Houston Independent School District rated “unacceptable” is like finding out that Mother Teresa was queen of the craps table.The district has been the graven image of school reform under President Bush with Houston ISD’s former superintendent Rod Paige elevated to patron saint or secretary of education, whichever is closer to heaven.

Now low, low drop-out rates under Paige have proved bogus. HISD is facing six months probation from the Texas Education Agency while its procedures are reviewed.

Oops.

And golly, Mr Paige–the architect of Bush’s NCLB, Texas-version–doesn’t think that’s fair.

The irony now is that Paige’s school district is on notice as a loser, though he pleads that the “unacceptable” rating is a false generalization about a district that does good work. Excellent point, Mr. Paige.

Talk about chickens coming home to roost.

But as good as this editorial is in nailing the problems and repercussions of a totally flawed approach and accurately pinpointing the ultimate aim (pushing vouchers), Mr Young misses the reason that this radical right-wing Admin is pushing voucher programs in the first place.

It isn’t because they work, because they don’t. Practically every place they’ve been tried, vouchers have turned out to be a disaster, not a panacea. Schools aren’t Wal-Marts or GEs and if you attempt to judge them by the same criteria you’re missing the point (which is a little like throwing a basketball at the broad side of a barn door from 4 feet away–and missing it). Vouchers don’t promote better schools, they promote “teaching to the test” and fudging on the numbers, as Mr Young makes clear:

Because those test scores are seen as the end-all by tunnel-visioned policy makers, the demonstrable tendency in Texas has been for teachers to teach the test or for principals to fluff up the numbers by exempting students, just as the Houston ISD fluffed up its drop-out numbers.

So why does the Bush Admin want to promote the use of vouchers in the first place? Mr Young doesn’t say, but I will. Vouchers have only 2 functions as far as conservatives are concerned:

1) They provide a way to skew the system so that public schools will be left with only the poorest students in the poorest districts, everyone else having moved into private schools. Why do they want to encourage such a sea-change? So they will have an excuse to cut funding for those schools and eventually eliminate govt funding for education altogether. The ultraconservatives who control the Bush Admin (including Junior himself) want to do no less than get govt out of the education business, an item that has been high on the far-right wish-list for decades. Vouchers give them the mechanism to do it.

2) But underneath the far-right economic objective is a far-right religious objective: studies show that a lot of the parents who move their kids out of the public schools use the vouchers to place them in religious schools. Quite simply, vouchers are a way of sneaking govt support of religion (almost always the fundamentalist Christian religion) in under the radar and thereby avoiding (they think) the silly restrictions mandated by that obstructionist document the rest of call the “Constitution”. Such a bother. It seems to get in the way every single time they want to do something theocratic, so why not just go around it?

So I guess you could call vouchers a two-fer: with one stroke, you get to dismantle the federal education budget and slip theocracy in the governmental back door. Precedents are important in law: do it once successfully and that improves dramatically your chances for doing it again in other areas. It’s what the Brits call “the thin end of the wedge”: you use it to crack a locked door wide open one small, unnoticeable shove at a time.

Will parents wake up to what’s being done to the Constitution in their names? And if they do, will they be in time to stop it?

I don’t know. What do you think?

Written by Mick

October 29, 2003 at 3:15 pm

Electronic Voting Machines: Unverifiable

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Perhaps stung by The Guardian report on the many troubling aspects of electronic voting, from lack of security to the possibility that elections have already been stolen, Newsweek has entered the fray, becoming the first mainstream US publication I know of to take this on. And about time, too. The piece is written by Technology Correspondent Steven Levy, and to his credit, he gets right to the meat:

The machines have “a fatal disadvantage,” says Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, who’s sponsoring legislation on the issue. “They’re unverifiable.”

Yup, that would be a “disadvantage”, alright, especially as the Diebold CEO has opined that he and his company are “committed to helping” George Bush get re-elected. Makes you wonder what “helping” might include.

As discussed here last week, Diebold’s program is about as secure as a papier-mache fort, and Levy backs this up:

It gets scarier. The best minds in the computer-security world contend that the voting terminals can’t be trusted. Listen, for example, to Avi Rubin, a computer-security expert and professor at Johns Hopkins University who was slipped a copy of Diebold’s source code earlier this year. After he and his students examined it, he concluded that the protections against fraud and tampering were strictly amateur hour. “Anyone in my basic security classes would have done better,” he says. The cryptography was weak and poorly implemented, and the smart-card system that supposedly increased security actually created new vulnerabilities. Rubin’s paper concluded that the Diebold system was “far below even the most minimal security standards.”

Lots of bad news here, but a little good news as well:

After Rubin’s paper appeared, Maryland officials—who were about to drop $57 million on Diebold devices—commissioned an outside firm to look at the problem. The resulting report confirmed many of Rubin’s findings and found that the machines did not meet the state’s security standards.

So they canceled the contract, right? Well, not exactly:

However, the study also said that in practice some problems were mitigated, and others could be fixed, an attitude Rubin considers overly optimistic. “You’d have to start with a fresh design to make the devices secure,” he says.

Maryland appears to be leaning toward the “It’s Not As Bad As It Looks” school, so the contract is intact–for now (Maryland’s Republican Governor favors it). But Diebold is on the offensive just the same–not correcting its shabby code, no no no. In the true BushCo’s-America SOP, they’re fighting the perception of shabbiness. Once again, from Mark Crispin Miller, who’s been following this:

[B]oth [Black Box Voting] sites have had a string of takedowns for reasons ranging from Diebold cease and desist orders to hacking to bogus spam complaints.

And Diebold’s counter-attack, it seems, may include some govt collusion. Miller quotes an email from a software engineer who criticized Diebold:

[T]wo FBI agents came by my house last week asking for names of radicals and organizations. My email is being monitored. Anyone on this board should assume the same.

Apparently Mr. O’Dell meant what he said.

But back to the good news:

To remedy the problem, technologists and allies are rallying around a scheme called verifiable voting. This supplements electronic voting systems with a print-out that affirms the voter’s choices. The printout goes immediately into a secure lockbox. If there’s a need for a recount, the paper ballots are tallied. It’s not a perfect system, but it could keep the machines honest.

A major consideration in the event of another close election. Let’s hope the states who are moving toward electronic voting machines are listening–and that not too many of them are part of the conspiracy.

UPDATE: Chris Nelson says that GQ also has an article on this in their newest issue (pg 256). It’s a landslide, folks, and the dam is cracking.

Written by Mick

October 28, 2003 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Voting

Why Isn’t Lauri Fitz-Pegado In Jail?

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This is not a rhetorical question.

Lauri Fitz-Pegado was the PR rep at Hill & Knowlton who orchestrated a massive fraud on behalf of her clients, the Kuwaiti govt, in an attempt–ultimately successful–to convince the people of the US to back the First Gulf War. Using real Congressmen friendly to Bush I’s agenda, she rigged a phony “Congressional investigation” of atrocities in Iraq and coached a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family in giving phony “testimony” in which she claimed, among other things, to have seen Iraqi soldiers ripping premature infants from their incubators and impaling them on their bayonets.

Her “dramatization” was a key element in pushing the US into supporting Poppy’s war, but the incidents “Nayirah” testified to never happened and the Congressional Committee which Fitz-Pegado presented as “real” in fact was anything but. It was not discovered until after the war was over that the whole thing had been staged by Hill & Knowlton, an advertising agency. The incident inspired the film, Wag the Dog, and became infamous as the most elaborate–and expensive–political dirty trick on record.

I assumed she’d gone to jail behind that stunt since she’d broken a number of the laws around fraud and misrepresentation. But now I read (via Mark Crispin Miller) that she is still working, this time for The Livingston Group (a Washington lobbying firm with a lot of powerful connections), and that she will be promoting a book by the doctor who helped Jessica Lynch when she was injured.

Considering that she perpetrated a gigantic fraud that started a war, why is this woman not in jail?

Written by Mick

October 28, 2003 at 2:30 am

Live Free Or Die in Libertarian NH

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Well, this is a new one on me. I live a bit more than half-an-hour from Keene, and I hadn’t even heard a rumble of this before I saw the article in today’s NYT:

[T]he Free State Project, aims to make all of New Hampshire a laboratory for libertarian politics by recruiting libertarian-leaning people from across the country to move to New Hampshire and throw their collective weight around. Leaders of the project figure 20,000 people would do the trick, and so far 4,960 have pledged to make the move.The idea is to concentrate enough fellow travelers in a single state to jump-start political change. Members, most of whom have met only over the Internet, chose New Hampshire over nine other states in a heated contest that lasted months.

“Heated” is right; a main sticking point seems to have been climate:

(The other contenders were Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. One frequently asked question on the project’s Web site was “Can’t you make a warmer state an option?”)

Personally, I’m all in favor of this. I think it’s about time the Libs learned what actually happens when their Ivory-Tower theories, radio-talk-show sloganeering, and simple-minded, so-called “common sense” solutions run smack dab up against real problems in the real world. To my mind, Libs don’t seem to have thought very hard or very deeply about any of the stuff they propose. Like Ross Perot, they’re under some serious illusions that if you just “lift up the hood and look”, you’ll be able to fix what’s “wrong”.

But as Michael Feldman once said in response to Perot, “Have you ever looked under the hood of a modern car, friends? There’s a city under there.” There’s a simple reason why simple-minded, 2-syllable solutions don’t work: This ain’t a simple country no more, if it ever was. The only way you can simplify the burgeoning chaos that is modern life is to ignore, negate, or deny everything that makes it complex, from race relations to science to competing rights to globalization to you-name-it. None of it is simple, and the Libs have been skating by, pretending that it is, for a lot of uncontested years now. Seems like maybe the time has come for a Major Reality Check.

The main fantasy behind Libertarian hatred of govt has always been right under the surface, and 33-year-old Jackie Casey, who just moved to Merrimack, NH from Portland, OR, has the nerve, god bless her, to put it on the table:

“I want to be a billionaire in my lifetime,” she added, “and I don’t want to live among people who think that’s bad.”

And there you have it: Libs hate Govt because they’re just positive that it’s govt interference that’s keeping them from being rich. Not exactly as noble a goal as the Libs try to portray it, is it? News Flash for Libs: Government is supposed to tone down greed when it hurts other people. You got a problem with that? You think your desire to be rich trumps fairness, equity, and the right to be protected from shoddy or toxic products? You do, don’t you? Well–and this is simple enough that even Libs should be able to understand it–You’re wrong. It don’t.

And btw Jackie, a word of warning: I grew up in NH, and they ain’t either as conservative or as fond of wanna-be billionaires as you seem to think, especially in the southern tier where you are (Merrimack is near Nashua, which is 45-mins or less from Boston). They tend to have some idea that being overly rich is, well, kind of ostentatious, if you know what I mean, and a little silly. Make your goal too obvious and you might well find yourself being quietly snubbed as a “crackpot”–which in NH is a term applied to anybody who gets in a little too far over their head. They’ll wait to see if you actually make it, and if you do, they’ll let you buy them. Cheap. But they won’t respect you, and they won’t think such over-arching greed is a good thing.

See, they’ve had experience with people like you before (Massachusetts is next door, remember), and they’re perfectly aware that anybody who’s serious about getting really rich will eventually reach a point–usually sooner rather than later–when the only way they can reach that goal is to royally screw somebody who trusted them. So they’re wary of people who want too much, and not terribly helpful. You won’t be a persona-non-grata, but you won’t exactly be grata, either. The only people who will welcome you are the politicians. They know they have nothing to worry about from you, not at a mere 20,000 of you state-wide they don’t.

Take my advice, all of you–and I mean this sincerely: Go to some town meetings and listen (yeah, they still have them there). Give yourself a chance to see how this governing business actually works and what you’re up against. And then join a committee or two and learn what needs to happen in order to accomplish something–how many other people’s opinions have to be taken into account no matter how bad you think they are, how many competing interests have to be reconciled no matter how simple you try to keep it. There’s a reality here that needs to be acknowledged: you could be wrong. Somebody else could be right. Some of this you don’t find out about until you’re actually in control, but you’ll be able to see the outlines. Talk to Jesse Ventura about why he didn’t run again.

And then go home and leave NH alone. They’ve got enough problems, and your approach will only make them worse.

Written by Mick

October 27, 2003 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Culture

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