Belaboring the Obvious

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meanwhile, in that parallel universe called Texas...

... the Great Texas School Book Wingnut Shoot-Out and Barbecue continues:

After board members settled the Christmas controversy, the focus shifted to which historical figures and contemporary leaders to include.

More than 50 people mentioned in current textbooks are not included in the proposed standards, including Carl Sagan, Colin Powell, Nathan Hale, Neil Armstrong, Eugene Debs, John Steinbeck and Mother Teresa.

[Heads up from the All Spin Zone]

Every time anyone posts anything disparaging of Texas, there are the inevitable people who pop up and say something akin to, "hey, it's getting better here," or, "don't be so hard on us--there are a lot of good people in Texas."

No doubt of that, but, face it, citizens of Texas, you're badly outnumbered by some of the most wigged-out, fundamentalist, batshit-insane, shithouse-rat-crazy critters walking on two legs and dragging ten knuckles.

And, now that the Texas Taliban have invaded your school board, you're going to make it much more difficult for the rest of us to actually, y'know, educate children. Given the huge amounts of money that public school textbooks generate for publishers, and given that all of them now are public companies with Wall Street breathing down their necks for ever greater profits, and because Texas is a huge market for textbooks, they will be sorely tempted to simply print for everyone what Texas wants, no matter how bugfuck-nuts the textbook committee of the Texas School Board becomes (and, guaranteed, the bugfuck-nuts members of that committee know that--they've got a reactionary conservative gospel to spread).

So, what's next, textbook committee members?

Kennedy never won the Presidency, and was never assassinated in Dallas?

Lyndon Johnson mentioned only as a race traitor?

The U.N. does too have black helicopters?

Jesus rode an allosaurus into Jerusalem in the world history texts?

Nicaraguan tanks did appear on the Texas border in 1979, but Ronald Reagan and the Texas National Guard repelled them with x-ray lasers?

In biology texts, if a sperm even winks at a human egg, the result is a zygote, and the zygote is automatically entitled to rights not afforded to actual human beings, until it is actually born. At that time, a careful assessment is made of its Republicanism, its Christianism, its batshit-insaneness and its willingness to believe anything it's told by a Texas preacher or politician, and if it meets minimum Texas standards for gullibility, stubbornness and Caucasian entitlement, it is declared human. If it does not, it and its parents are banished to the wilderness (California)?

The geography texts begin with, "The earth is flat. That's why maps are flat. Globes are part of a Communist conspiracy."?

The civics texts (optional in all Texas public schools) define democracy as "bad, because it came from the Greeks, who were a bunch of homos; therefore, democracy is part of the homosexual agenda?"

Joe McCarthy was a misunderstood patriot, not a crass, alcoholic, slandering opportunist, and his henchman, Roy Cohn was not a homo--he just liked fucking other men once in a while?

The Constitution really says Jesus specifically wanted the United States to be a Christian country?

Ted Haggard is a great American heterosexual?

R. J. Rushdoony was a famous Constitutional scholar?

Mexican wetbacks invented AIDS?

God's a Republican and an usher in John Hagee's church?

Texas, not cleanliness, is next to Godliness?

George W. Bush invented the telephone, the television, the internal combustion engine, the atomic bomb and Cheetos, won the Vietnam war single-handedly, and is a philosopher and orator known and loved around the world?

Hitler was actually a liberal Democrat?

Eisenhower was a Communist spy?

Molly Ivins was an illiterate itinerant?

Lone Star Beer was the best beer in the world?

Lead and complex chlorinated benzene-ring organic compounds are actually good for you?

T. Boone Pickens is a selfless philanthropist?

When you decide you've got to fix history, there's no end to the work to be done, is there, Texas?

I think we have some very sore losers...

... wandering around, who are delighting in picking at scabs.

But, as I've suggested elsewhere, if The Man Called Petraeus turns out to be the James Mattoon Scott of our time, I have no doubt whatsoever that Glenn Beck will happily play a bad sushi version of Harold McPherson in the drama....

Monday, September 28, 2009

The "much-acclaimed" (by himself)...

... Richard Cohen, writing in The Washington Post, in an obligatory slap-down of Roman Polanski, sez: "Polanski is a great film director -- although the much-acclaimed 'Chinatown' has a muddled script...."

Via Tbogg.

Ah, well, when your gold standard is "The Green Berets," you're going to be kinda picky.... :)

Still, it would be fun to see Cohen explain the bruises after Robert Towne whacked him a few times with his "Chinatown" Oscar... and his BAFTA Film Award, and his Golden Globe... and his WGA award....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This morning's NPR story on education funding...

... makes much of a $400 million teacher incentive program begun by the Bush administration, but, the reporters simply don't run out the numbers. There are about 3.7 million public school teachers today, and that $400 million translates to, at best, $110 per teacher per year, not subtracting any money for administration of the program at the federal, state and local levels.

Even if that money were devoted to rewarding the top 20% of teachers for what they do right already, it would only be about $500 per teacher, without subtracting administrative costs.

Something's seriously wrong with this approach, just as Boy Bush's NCLB was a horror, even before it was underfunded, and before we found out that his first Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, had fudged the numbers in his own school district to promote a pig in a poke.

Teachers won't admit it, most of the time, but, in the grades most closely tracked by the NCLB testing regime, they teach to the test, which is a kind way of saying that they're making our future citizens stupider by the minute.

If Mr. Obama wants to improve education in this country, radically and quickly, then he should, forthwith, pitch out his current Secretary of Education, his Chicago buddy, Arne Duncan, who never met a military guy he didn't want to run a public school, and then beg Jonathan Kozol to replace Duncan, and promise Kozol, scout's honor, that he'll convince Congress to quadruple the Dept. of Education's budget (even if it means defunding the Villagers' favorite wars) and give Kozol the authority to put that money where it's most needed.

NCLB's a massive cock-up, and a failure.

Want great teachers? Make corporations pay their fair share of local, state and federal taxes so that school systems can attract and keep great teachers (corporations damned well ought to be paying their share and more for public education, because, by god, they need well-educated people to keep them afloat--one CEO does not a corporation make). Put federal money into programs that don't micromanage testing, but, rather, provide incentives for teaching, not administration, or testing services. Put the emphasis on critical thinking, not mindless testing that reinforces class distinctions.

Good education requires good teachers, paid well, good infrastructure and up-t0-the-minute equipment (and that doesn't mean just a few snazzy-looking computers in each classroom). Want to teach science? You need science labs. Want to teach plumbing? (Hey , we still need plumbers, not Sammy Joe the plumber's apprentice, who doesn't know one end of the wrench from the other, and didn't learn a thing in school about, fr'instance, democracy.) You need plumber's equipment, and some people who know how to teach water works theory, and a few other good teachers on the side to teach those plumbers about being good citizens.

It ain't rocket surgery. Other countries do reasonably well at education, and don't have the hissy fits we have to put up with when some religious right-wing pouch of horse piss in Texas decides that their school books aren't religious enough, or conservative enough.

Want well-educated kids?

Try not fucking around with teachers, for a start, and second, start funding education like you want well-educated kids who can think for themselves, instead of Jesus-humping automatons.

A word to the wise in Iran....

Guys, there are people in this country and Europe that would very happily use antagonistic words alone to excuse massive attacks on Iran, the moment that Iran tries to assert its independence.

Some of that is due, of course, to the fact that Iran has oil and gas that the West wants, but, as much or more than that, those forces in the West want to capture yet another big market--they want to make money off the 80 million or so people in Iran.

Keep on pretending you're the equal of the U.S., and you're going to have your collective head handed to you. You spent nine years fighting a third-rate country like Iraq, which the U.S. captured and occupied in three weeks (although, yes, the insurgency has gone on for six years, afterwards).

Ahmedinejad is probably your principal problem--he's just spewing shit toward the West that will only piss off the West. He thinks that's smart. All he will accomplish is getting many innocents in Iran killed.

When it comes to this sort of schoolyard bullshit, the best thing is to say nothing, except to be truthful and open and honest to the IAEA. Yeah, I know, you want to have your own fuel stream to reactors. Once you commit to nuclear power for electricity, you're stuck. If the rest of the world somehow manages to create terms which can interrupt your refueling cycle to those reactors, you're fucked.

So, Iran, why the fuck are you fooling around with nuclear reactors? Russia convince you it's a great thing to do? It would cost you less to invest in alternative and renewable energy for the same or greater benefit, and you'd avoid the hassle.

Iran, your freedom is intimately associated with going green. Cheaper, easier, and free from the inevitable threats from the West when nuclear matters are in question.

If energy independence is the ultimate goal, just do it. Do it in a way that no one in the rest of the world can reasonably say is a threat to them.

Save your people from the craziness of the right wing in the West. Go green.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Just Trust Us"

These days, that phrase is evocative of such cultural mainstays as "the check is in the mail" and "I promise I won't come in your mouth."

When it comes to how the national security state relates to the citizens that are nominally, Constitutionally, presumptively the ultimate arbiters of what government is and does, there's not much to trust. The latest example is the Obama administration's supposed redefinition of the procedural guidelines for invocation of the state secrets privilege.

As Nick Baumann suggests, the changes are cosmetic, rather than structural, and are only intended to bamboozle the media Villagers, who will describe these changes as substantial, when, in fact, they're just the thinnest layer of sugary icing on a cake of horseshit.

The state secrets privilege was borne of the national security state's deceptions to the country's highest court, but, that was not the origin of the problem. Congress gave up substantial power when it afforded the Executive the sole rights to determine what should be classified, who shall have the power to classify and to determine who should have the necessary clearances to view classified information (which included the members of Congress and the courts).

While those rights were transferred to the Executive in an age when the powers that be thought they could seal away the secrets to the atomic bomb forever (even when knowledgeable physicists knew this was impossible), the state secrets privilege has remained in effect, as a sort of time bomb waiting to be deployed by administrations whenever necessary to prevent disclosure of bad behavior. When the Bush administration embarked on a series of illegal actions, it made liberal use of the privilege, bringing the privilege to public notice again after decades of only occasional invocation.

The fundamental problem with the privilege, as any honest Constitutional scholar will attest, is that it vests an absolute power in one branch of government, the Executive, even though history and experience have shown that such absolute powers are inevitably abused, regardless of motivation. The continued and pervasive efforts of the Bush administration to evade having its arbitrary decisions challenged in the courts is just one more example of the determination of the Executive Branch (under any administration) to retain this unequal power.

Obama promised that his administration would be transparent, and yet, that was just more empty campaign rhetoric, it seems. The DoJ determination recently announced doesn't get to the root of the problem, and doesn't afford the courts any more leeway in adjudicating cases involving national security. Instead, it restricts all determinations of applicability of privilege to the DoJ, which--as recent history has demonstrated more than adequately--is not immune to political influence, nor are the remedies it proposes adequate, since it presumes to refer all cases of wrongdoing to the particular agency's Inspector General, whose office has no authority to prosecute. That makes the Attorney General's guidelines virtually meaningless.

The Constitution was meant to be a set of organizing principles for self-governance, a way for the state to serve its people. Equally, the Bill of Rights was intended to be an inviolate set of rules to afford the individual protection from the overwhelming power of the state. The 7th Amendment preserves the right of the individual to sue "... where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved...," and that amendment offers no qualifications nor limitations; and yet, the conservative representatives of the state have repeatedly tried to limit the individual's right to suit, through tort reform legislation, through the assertion of corporate rights to personhood, and by the assertion of conservative Courts, the Legislature and the Executive that individuals have no standing to sue when the defendant is the government in time of war or when state secrets privilege is invoked, even if the actions of the Executive were both illegal and prima facie violations of due process and existing national and international law.

As so many right-wingers happy to parrot the views of corporations do not understand, the Bill of Rights does not guarantee them the right to poison their neighbors' water or air or food, does not give them the right to threaten or intimidate their neighbors with guns, does not afford them the right to profit illegally from the misery of others, does not give them the right to become vigilantes at will. It gives them basic rights when confronted by the power of the state, and they seem happy to trade those basic rights in exchange for political power, in the mistaken belief that the power of the state will only be applied to their political opponents or those they find inferior to themselves.

Obama is badly mistaken when he endorses fundamental and extra-legal exceptions to the Bill of Rights. A Constitutional lawyer should know better.

If there's one recent incident which delineates the exceptions to the Bill of Rights that the government has expected the citizenry to swallow whole, it's Al Franken's reading of the Fourth Amendment to a representative of the national security state during a recent hearing. Franken's wrong on any number of things, but, he's not wrong on this matter. The Constitution is explicit on the subject of warrants, and the legislation which the Executive Branch forced through Congress (the "Patriot Act") in a time of chaos and calamity and legislative fecklessness, was a gross violation of the Bill of Rights which no court has adequately challenged, in part or in whole.

The United States is not the model of democracy that it bills itself to its citizens and to the rest of the world. It's now mostly a crummy set of insiders looking to use the law for political advantage or monetary gain, and the populace knows it. What else explains the huge number of disaffected citizens who won't vote and refuse to engage in the affairs of the nation?

Obama probably won't attract those already disaffected voters to his reelection, no matter what he does, but, he's guaranteed to lose the idealistic voters (particularly the young) who endorsed him in 2008 if he continues to defend the rights of a corrupted state over those of its ordinary citizens, whether the issue is health care, war, national security, taxes or the time of day.

The Bush administration was the worst example of l'etat, c'est moi that we've ever seen in this country. To continue any Bush policy is dangerous to democracy, and perseverance in the state secrets privilege as used by the Bushies is a prime example of the sort of Executive exceptionalism that has virtually destroyed the Republic and replaced it with a militaristic, corporate national security establishment which will do anything--and I mean anything--to prevent the public from divining its true actions and intentions. Obama promised transparency, and, instead, we get a big spray of bullshit on the lens of the public eye.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Y'know, I'll just bet that...

... Chris Wallace could figure out why Obama isn't giving any exclusive interviews to Fox News, provided he was given a jug of martinis and a couple of days without any distractions....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reminder to Obama...

... that if he signs a bad bill, one that no one likes, for who knows how many different reasons, it's still a bad bill... and he still owns it, lock, stock and barrel.

So, the common sense approach to health care "reform" should be to sign a bill of which the majority approves. Period.

Anyone telling Obama that he's going to lose campaign money if he doesn't bow and scrape before the powers that be are doing him a disservice. Here's the bottom line: signing a bill that the for-profit health care industry loves means signing a bill that the majority will hate, with a passion. That loses votes. No amount of campaign advertising dollars can make up for lost votes, once those votes are lost because of what one did, rather than what one said.

Doing the right thing gains votes. Doing the wrong thing loses votes, no matter how much money the pricks give you.

And, the last time I checked, votes win elections, not money, opinions of the DLCers to the contrary....

Sunday, September 06, 2009

One of these elections coming soon...

... the Democrats will discover the results of enforcing party discipline for all the wrong reasons and toward all the wrong ends....

Van Jones gets the boot because he called Republicans "assholes?" C'mon. Most sane people know that the average Republican today would fuck a woodpile if he thought there was snake in it.

Van Jones gets tossed because he's one of a third of Democrats who believed that the Bushies sat on their thumbs and intentionally let 9/11 happen? Well, after a thoroughly compromised 9/11 investigation run by Kindasleezza Rice's BFF, Philip Zelikow, and eight years' worth of the sort of horrors we saw from Bush and Cheney, who wouldn't think they were capable of such a thing, or, at the very least, that a non-political, impartial new investigation is warranted?

Or, was it that Van Jones was a founding member of Color of Change, which initiated an advertiser boycott of Glenn Beck's program on Fox News after Beck charged Obama with being a racist? (It's an extremely effective boycott, by the way, which, to date, has caused the flight of fifty-seven advertisers from his little shit-flinging fest.)

This is an administration that's done everything in its power to kick progressives to the curb in favor of a neoliberal program designed to maintain the status quo, rather than initiate the changes that will get the country off to a better start in what promises to be a very tumultuous century. A significant part of that better start is to recognize and undo the damage caused by the Bush administration, rather than compound it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Village Speaks...

... and, via its official spokesperson, it says:

Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?

You can bet your scrawny little ass, Mr. Broder, that we do, indeed.

This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Okay, it's not a nice thing to bring up...

... but, when the hell has the United States ever had the slightest success at nation-building in the midst of wartime?

The correct answer?

Never. Ever.

So, why does our mainstream media keep harping on the details of that task while we're still fighting wars?

We're actually propping up two puppet governments in two different regions and pretending that we're bringing democracy to the great unwashed mass of brown people.

So, when have we successfully created an independent democracy in the midst of a war where one did not exist before? When? I can't think of a single instance. So, maybe, this nation-building talk is just bullshit and a diversion for why we're actually in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan....