2.25.2005

Senior slimefest: "[W]elcome, seniors, to the world of Republican slime throwing," says an editorial in today's Star Tribune, introducing the already much-blogged story of the Swift Boat-style smear campaign orchestrated against the AARP. But the piece adds new facts:
Get this: When Jarvis was asked to explain the ad, he said that AARP hasn't taken a position supporting benefits for the military while USA Next has. So AARP hates the military? As for gay marriage, an AARP affiliate in Ohio did oppose a ballot measure banning gay marriage, but only because it also prohibited any recognition of any relationship that in some way mimics marriage, including those of unmarried heterosexuals who live together.

The military/gay marriage ad generated a considerable amount of attention, which was its purpose. In one interview, Jarvis said the ad was a "test" to see if liberals (in this context anyone who opposes President Bush's plan to dissolve Social Security) would go ballistic over it. When they did, he said, it just showed that they wouldn't focus on the real issue: Social Security.
Full story here.
Me-First Media: More on Sinclair Broadcast: Some developments to my recent Alternet article on the Sinclair Broadcast Group. The article lead off with a story about how the company's flagship Baltimore affiliate pulled out the stops in 2001 to report on river pollution in western Maryland--way out of the station's "designated market area" and in a region where its signal reportedly can't reach. One reason why they'd send the company helicopter and a news crew to report a distant story: company VP Duncan Smith owns property in the area. Smith allegedly told reporter Craig Demchak, "Craig, we need this story, it's affecting my property. We've got to slam these people... This is destroying my property, we've got to stop it."

Demchak denied that Smith said any such thing, just as he denied knowledge that Smith had property in the area and knowledge of any link between Sinclair and Safe Waterways in Maryland, a group whose director he interviewed for the broadcast. A Sinclair contact I just spoke with says Demchak--a "usually ethical guy"--is lying. He discussed the story with this source on several occasions, admitting such knowledge. But beyond he-said, she-said, a more curious fact is that SWIM--a group founded by Duncan Smith that counts a handful of other Smiths as its trustees--is housed in Sinclair's Cockeysville, Maryland offices.

Whistleblowers? Any current or former Sinclair employees who wish to tip Sinclair Action off on abuses within the company, contact SinclairTips@gmail.com or email me directly. Confidentiality assured.

2.24.2005

Duping America: ThinkProgress ponders a 160-page playbook written by conservative strategist Frank Luntz on how GOPers should talk about the economy. Appalling, but not surprising:
In his memo on how to manipulate American perception on the economy, right-wing spinmeister Frank Luntz advises conservatives to “resist the temptation’ to use facts and figures about the economy. (You know, all those pesky statistics about lower wages, unemployment, skyrocketing deficits, etc.) Instead, he advises, you can’t go wrong if you continuosly remind people about the terrorist attacks of 9/11. “This is the context that explains and justifies why we have $500 billion deficits, why the stock market tanked, why unemployment climbed to 6%.”

---snip---

Finally, Luntz advises, 9/11 is the perfect way to dodge responsibility for sinking the country in red ink. In a section headed “Without the context of 9-11, you will be blamed for the deficit,” he points out “supporters are inherently turned off to the idea of fiscal irresponsibility.” The best way to counter that fact? “The trick then is to contextualize the deficit inside of 9/11.”
More here.
Kiss my Ashcroft! According to the Washington Post, a certain rump-related swear word has been replaced with the name of our attorney general in in-flight screenings of the film Sideways. Is Ashcroft, perchance, getting Santorum'd?

2.23.2005

Bits and pieces...

Why they fought: Update 02.24: The Strib more or less confirms Indymedia's reporting. Thanks to the local chapter of the American Legion, a Bloomington, Minnesota, high school has banned peace activists from setting up counter-recruitment tables, while military recruiters get unfettered access to the school's students, according to TC Indymedia. The activists had planned their tabling for weeks, going through official channels, but superintendent Gary Prest allegedly changed his mind when Legion representatives threatened to stop donations if the school allowed such a brash display of free speech.

AARP on USA Next: After looking into USA Next--that's United Seniors Association, a group led by neo-con direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie --the AARP blog offers a reasonable response to that group's attacks: "judge critically the motivations behind statements made against AARP."

Civility, due North: Newswired runs the full text of Canadian prime minister Paul Martin's support for the Civil Marriage Act. His sensible thinking debunks the main arguments used in this country to decry same-sex union. "The Charter was enshrined to ensure that the rights of minorities are not subjected, are never subjected, to the will of the majority. The rights of Canadians who belong to a minority group must always be protected by virtue of their status as citizens, regardless of their numbers. These rights must never be left vulnerable to the impulses of the majority," he said. "We embrace freedom and equality in theory, Mr. Speaker. We must also embrace them in fact."

eBooks on iPods: Engadget reports that a New York state library is offering iPod Shuffles pre-loaded with audio books. It's almost as good as free--which is what it'll cost you to download Kembrew McLeod's new book (if you agree to the terms of a Creative Commons license, that is), a new look at intellectual property by the University of Iowa professor who trademarked the term "freedom of expression." (Don't miss Kembrew's "pranks" page.)
Rummyvision: Arianna Huffington suggests programs for the Pentagon Channel--"Real World: Fallujah," "Pimp My Humvee"--while making a serious point: if the White House is behind GannonGuckertgate, pro-Bush VNRs, pay-per-view reporting by Armstrong Williams and his ilk, and the constructed news of Pvt. Jessica Lynch--can we trust them to run a TV channel?
DoD television execs (there's a new phrase) say Pentagon Channel viewers can expect programming that is "a mix between CNN and C-SPAN"--combining military news and lifestyle shows with live coverage of military briefings, speeches by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Congressional appearances by The Man himself, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld.

So fire up those TiVos, disinformation fans; Rummy TV is coming soon to a flat screen near you. "If you hate the truth, you'll love DoD TV!"

We're number ____! Michael Ventura, running the numbers of the U S of A, writes, "We're an 'empire,' ain't we? Sure we are. An empire without a manufacturing base. An empire that must borrow $2 billion a day from its competitors in order to function." So just how number-one are we?
The United States is 49th in the world in literacy (the New York Times, Dec. 12, 2004).

The United States ranked 28th out of 40 countries in mathematical literacy (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

Twenty percent of Americans think the sun orbits the earth. Seventeen percent believe the earth revolves around the sun once a day (The Week, Jan. 7, 2005).

"The U.S. and South Africa are the only two developed countries in the world that do not provide health care for all their citizens" (The European Dream, p.80). Excuse me, but since when is South Africa a "developed" country? Anyway, that's the company we're keeping.

Lack of health insurance coverage causes 18,000 unnecessary American deaths a year. (That's six times the number of people killed on 9/11.) (NYT, Jan. 12, 2005.)

The United States is 41st in the world in infant mortality. Cuba scores higher (NYT, Jan. 12, 2005).

Women are 70 percent more likely to die in childbirth in America than in Europe (NYT, Jan. 12, 2005).

The leading cause of death of pregnant women in this country is murder (CNN, Dec. 14, 2004).

As of last June, the U.S. imported more food than it exported (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

Bush: 62,027,582 votes. Kerry: 59,026,003 votes. Number of eligible voters who didn't show up: 79,279,000 (NYT, Dec. 26, 2004). That's more than a third. Way more. If more than a third of Iraqis don't show for their election, no country in the world will think that election legitimate.

One-third of all U.S. children are born out of wedlock. One-half of all U.S. children will live in a one-parent house (CNN, Dec. 10, 2004).

"Americans are now spending more money on gambling than on movies, videos, DVDs, music, and books combined" (The European Dream, p.28).

"Nearly one out of four Americans [believe] that using violence to get what they want is acceptable" (The European Dream, p.32).

Forty-three percent of Americans think torture is sometimes justified, according to a PEW Poll (Associated Press, Aug. 19, 2004).

"Nearly 900,000 children were abused or neglected in 2002, the last year for which such data are available" (USA Today, Dec. 21, 2004).
With such resources here, seems like we could be doing better, eh?

How wide is America? Exactly 3,304 photos wide, according to Matt Frondorf, who took one shot for every mile driven, from the Statue of Liberty to the Golden Gate Bridge. (Via Digg.)

2.22.2005

More war? Scott Ritter, ex-Marine turned UNSCOM weapons inspector, said Friday that George W. Bush has "signed off" on plans to bomb Iran in June 2005, and claimed the U.S. manipulated the results of the recent Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. Full story here. (Via Sivacracy.) Plus: Cursor searches Ritter's track record. And: Is the Pentagon also cooking the death toll in Iraq?
RIP HST: Hunter S. Thompson street-art obituary, via The Wooster Collective (via reBlog).
GOP's anti-gay agenda: According to DailyKos, the smear has begun: this animated gif appeared on the website of the conservative American Spectator yesterday (although I don't see it today). With the headline "the REAL AARP agenda," the animation shows a red X that appears over a US serviceman, then a green-is-for-go checkmark is slapped over the smooching gay men. What does the AARP have to do with gay marriage or not supporting troops? I dunno, because if you click on the ad, it takes you to the general site for the GOP-funded USA Next, mentioned in this post as the engine behind the utterly discredited Swift Boat Vets anti-Kerry campaign. A pathetic (and unsupported) ad hominem attack. Remember, this ad is part of the Republicans' plan to remove the AARP as a roadblock to the prez's Social Security privatization plan.

2.21.2005

Rethinking the "good book" in Nigeria: Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Purple Hibiscus, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes on why nobody reads in her native Nigeria--or, rather, why no one reads fiction:
In all the bookshops I have visited, the shelves are overwhelmingly stocked with Christian and business self-help books, God's Plan for You, The Richest Man in Babylon. This suggests, then, that our economy has not prevented us from reading; it has only prevented us from reading literature. The real reason for this may not be the economy itself, however, but what we have turned to in response to the economy: a scarcity-driven brand of religion where pastors in sleek churches assure you that God wants you to have that new Mercedes-Benz.

Islam, a stronger force in Nigeria than Christianity, has had its own scarcity-driven mutations, but Christian religiosity exploded in the early 1990s, when Nigeria was passed from one dictator to the other, amid the trauma of an annulled democratic election. Things had never been so bad and, in the face of a brutal government and an effete civil society, Nigerians turned to a new brand of Christianity. It was vibrant; it was intensely focused on material progress, with pastors quoting scripture that portrayed wealth as a spiritual virtue; and it was loud. People were required to talk up God all the time. Government officials were required to be publicly holy, as if this would assuage their corruption. So my former state governor, who did not pay teachers' salaries, held public prayer meetings every week. Fraudsters gave interviews where they attributed their wealth to God. Our remarkably unpopular president said he was chosen by God. Religion has become our answer to a failed economy; "My God is a rich God" and "Only God can save Nigeria" are popular expressions.

Christian and business self-help books sell, then, because they sustain the status quo: the former affirm that God wants you to make money while the latter teach you how to go about it. They are disquieting in their obviousness and seem informed by a rudimentary utilitarianism: what practical and immediate benefit will I get from this book? Even the fiction and poetry used as textbooks are approached in the same way: students read them alongside pamphlets such as Sample Questions and Answers and they are only a means of making up the required subjects for O-levels. There is no room for real literature and perhaps this is why there seems to be no room for subtlety in Nigerian public life. Because we are not literary, we are too literal. Because our religiosity is individualistic, we have neglected social consciousness.

Kunstler's prophecy: James Howard Kunstler, the author of The Geography of Nowhere, updates his occasional blog, "Clusterfuck Nation," with a howling screed against environment- trashing, Second Coming-prophesying, Almighty Dollar- worshipping evangelicals. Unlike many of us, he's hopeful about a coming backlash:
Soon, the problems this nation faces will be so obvious and grave that George W. Bush and the Republicans and the WalMartians, and all the moneygrubbing TV preachers, and the people who can't imagine an hour of leisure without engines ringing in their ears, and the offspring of all the bug-eyed lynch-mob cretins of yore will stand naked in discredit. The rest of the nation, the non-stupid, non-selfish, non-childish, non-believers in the idea that it is possible to get something for nothing will take a stand. It won't be the end of the world, but it will be a political convulsion against a background of fire, proving that the future belongs to those who believe in the future.
[Image by Seattle photographer Chris Jordan; Kunstler link via Project for Public Spaces.]
Anatomy of a free-speech backlash: How did it come to pass that a little-read 2001 essay by Ward Churchill simmered undetected for years until his opinion that the victims of the 9/11 attacks were complicit "little Eichmanns" ended his teaching career at UC-Boulder last month? The Chronicle of Higher Education untangles a series of events that begins with a 1981 armored car robbery and picks up steam with conservative blogs, Bill O'Reilly, and thousands of angry rightwingers. And here's the essay at the heart of it all, Churchill's "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens." The title invokes Malcolm X--killed 40 years ago today-- who said the assassination of JFK was merely "chickens coming home to roost." (Via Arts & Letters Daily.)

Also: Speaking on Democracy Now!, Churchill explains his "little Eichmanns" comment:
Well it goes to Hannah Arendt's notion of Eichmann, the thesis that he embodied the banality of evil. That she had gone to the Eichmann trial to confront the epitome of evil in her mind and expected to encounter something monstrous, and what she encountered instead was this nondescript little man, a bureaucrat, a technocrat, a guy who arranged train schedules, who, as it turned out, ultimately didn't even agree with the policy that he was implementing, but performed the technical functions that made the holocaust possible, at least in the efficient manner that it occurred, in a totally amoral and soulless way, purely on the basis of excelling at the function and getting ahead within the system that he found himself. He was a good family man, in his way. He was loved by his children, participated in civic activities, was in essence the good German. And she [Arendt] said, therein lies the evil. It wasn't that Eichmann was a Nazi or a high official within Nazidom, although he was in fact a Nazi and a relatively highly placed official, but it was exactly the reverse: that given his actual nomenclature, the actuality of Eichmann was that anyone in this sort of mindless, faceless, bureaucratic capacity could be the Nazi.
On Bullshit: Princeton's Harry Frankfurt offers a timely reflection on the nature of BS, which he defines as a "lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit." So begins his essay:
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, we have no theory. I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis...
Full essay here. (Via Cursor.)
Swift Boat Veterans for (your Republican cause here): Look for more Swift Boat-style mudslinging orchestrated by the Republicans and aimed at... the AARP? Republican lobbying group USA Next will be purchasing upwards of $10 million in TV commercials assailing the AARP, the largest group opposing Bush's efforts to privatize--er, create private investment accounts--Social Security. As the New York Times reports, USA Next is hiring the brains behind the recently disbanded anti-Kerry Swift Boat vets group to be the "dynamite to remove" the AARP from obstructing Bush's plans to rework the federal retirement insurance program:
The group has hired Chris LaCivita, an enthusiastic former marine who advised Swift Vets and P.O.W.'s for Truth, formerly known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, on its media campaign and helped write its potent commercials. He earned more than $30,000 for his work, campaign finance filings show.

Officials said the group is also seeking to hire Rick Reed, a partner at Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, a firm that was hired by Swift Vets and was paid more than $276,000 to do media production, records show.

For public relations, USA Next has turned to Creative Response Concepts, a Virginia firm that represented both Swift Vets - the company was paid more than $165,000 - and Regnery Publishing, the publisher of "Unfit for Command," a book about Senator John Kerry's military service whose co-author was John E. O'Neill, one of the primary leaders of Swift Vets.
More at Talking Points Memo.

"Poor people stuff": Last week's quote-of-the-week form Sojourners:
"From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants. It never really wanted the 'poor people stuff.'"

--David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
Targeting Chavez? Condi calls this democratically elected Latin American leader a "negative force" in the region. CIA chief Porter Goss says his country, one of the world's leading oil exporters, is a possible source of "instability." And Fidel Castro--no stranger to US murder attempts--tells him to look out for American killers. So is Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on America's hit list?

Rocket-fuel cocktail: With the rocket-fuel derivative perchlorate showing up in the majority of America's milk and lettuce supplies, the EPA has finally set standards for how much of the stuff can be in our drinking water--and it's 25 times higher than what they thought we could tolerate. Not very reassuring...

2.20.2005

Father of "gonzo journalism" dead: New Journalism pioneer Hunter S. Thompson, 67-year old author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and others, was found dead tonight of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Aspen, Colorado home. Read more at Gonzo.org.

2.18.2005

"Lost dollar bill. If found please return to..." Earl Vickers has, apparently for years, been doing rubber-stamp conceptual art projects with US currency. This one asks people to return a lost bill with a given serial number; some people have actually done it, looking to get a reward. Also: Among the other oddities on Vickers site is "Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age." By my age, "Matthias Jakob Schleiden, a German botanist, formulated the cell theory of physiology."

2.17.2005

Up is Down: Another Unlikey Promotion:

Update 02.23: As FAIR issues a comprehensive rundown of mainstream media's omissions on Negroponte's record, "Dr. Fallon" writes in to correct my typo below: it's JOHN Negroponte, not Nicholas, Wired columnist, author, and director of MIT's excellent Media Lab. Deepest apologies.

Bush again dazzles with this morning's nomination of Nicholas Negroponte as director of national intelligence. Dazzle in a bad way. As Andres Conteris of Nonviolence International said when Negroponte was up for the UN ambassadorship in Iraq in 2004, a "man who we considered to be a state terrorist is about to be confirmed to the largest diplomatic post in U.S. history." Harsh words, yes, but fitting Negroponte's track record. A key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, he was credited with "carrying out the covert strategy of the Reagan administration to crush the Sandinista government in Nicaragua," according to the New York Times--that is, his hands were likely as dirty as Oliver North's and Elliot Abrams'. As US ambassador to Honduras in the early '80s, Negroponte was nicknamed "the ostrich ambassador" for either willfully or through ignorance remaining blind to killings being done under his nose by the CIA-trained Battalion 316 death squad lead by Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martines. Of course, this is all history you'd never know if you tuned into Fox News' coverage of the nomination. As Media Matters reports, this exchange took place 45 minutes after Bush's announcement today:

BRIGITTE QUINN (FOX News Live anchor): I really haven't heard anything negative about John Negroponte for the hour that I've been sitting here.

MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN (editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report): Well, I doubt if you will ...
Meanwhile, Negroponte's sordid past got sucked down the memory hold by other rightwing pundits. Rush says, " He's a good guy, he's been in government service for 40 years." Rev. Moon's Washington Times in 2004 only hinted at Negroponte's dark side by calling him, A man with renowned taste and rumored connections with key CIA operatives. " In its brief post, rightwing blog Power Line only says that Negroponte "seems like a good choice." If anyone finds a rightwing voice that's critical of Negroponte, please let me know.
The Puppetmasters:
My new AlterNet story on the Sinclair Broadcast Group digs into allegations that personal interests of Sinclair execs --not public service--guide the company's news gathering.
On the surface, nothing in the April 17, 2001 evening news broadcast on Baltimore’s WBFF-TV was atypical. A reporter from the Fox affiliate covered efforts by environmental groups to clean up the North Branch of the Potomac River in western Maryland. It featured visuals of factory crud in the river, interviews with canoeing enthusiasts, and a shot of the Westvaco Paper Mill, the apparent cause of the river's contamination.

But there was one oddity: The station devoted its resources--use of the corporate helicopter, a news crew and valuable air time--to a story 160 miles from its headquarters. So far away, in fact, that locals can't even tune into the broadcast. So far away that there's another major national market, Washington DC, in between.

So why did this particular station reach beyond its service area to report on an apparent act of philanthropy? Because this Fox affiliate is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., where such efforts are green-lighted when the station's corporate owners are personally, financially, or politically affected by the news, according to current and former staffers who spoke to AlterNet only on condition of anonymity.

One such staffer says that Sinclair Vice President J. Duncan Smith asked Craig Demchak to take on the story. "Duncan comes in and says: 'Craig, we need this story, it's affecting my property. We've got to slam these people,’" recalls that person. "He was told 'This is destroying my property, we've got to stop it.' If it had been anybody else's property, would they be sending the helicopter there to see it? No way in hell."

In its story on the Westvaco pollution, the Baltimore Sun describes Smith as a "landowner on the Potomac," and the Allegany County clerk's office shows at least one Smith property in the area--a 3.65-acre parcel near Rawlings-- owned by Smith's mother. The newscast didn't disclose Smith's alleged connection to the story, nor did it refrain from interviewing a representative of Safe Waterways in Maryland (SWIM), an advocacy group founded by Smith.

"We did the story because it was a worthwhile story," says Demchak, denying knowledge of Smith's property and Sinclair's relationship to SWIM, a surprising oversight given that the organization counts six Smiths among its 11 trustees--including Sinclair CEO David, vice presidents Frederick and J. Duncan, and mother Carolyn. Repeated calls to Smith's office and WBFF's news director were not returned, but Demchak insists that the personal interests of the Smith family had nothing to do with the story. A newsroom staffer disagrees: "They don't care about news. They care about moving their agenda, whether it's clearing up their property in Western Maryland or moving their political candidates to the forefront."
Read the full story

2.16.2005

Back In Black, Bold, Semibold, Roman, and Light: Metafilter posts a link to a glorious website befitting an 8th-grade, mullet-wearing Circus magazine subscriber. Download a variety of fonts used by bands from the Beatles and AC/DC to the Doors, Iron Maiden, and Metallica. Conspicuously absent: the Docken typeface.

2.15.2005

Kentucky Fried Cruelty: If KFC did to cats and dogs what it does to chickens, it'd face felony animal-cruelty charges, says KentuckyFriedCruelty.com, yet the chain refuses to change its ways. Now hip-hop impressario Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records, along with the Beastie Boys and rap pioneer Paul McCartney are threatening a boycott campaign if KFC doesn't improve what Simmons calls "grossly inhumane" slaughter practices. How KFC chickens meet their demise is gorier than 50-Cent lyrics: "Chickens have their sensitive beaks seared off with hot blades and are crammed into tiny cages with the decomposing remains of other birds. Hundreds of thousands are left to starve to death, and huge numbers die as a result of long journeys in extreme weather conditions.” (Such a boycott should target all brands owned by KFC's parent company, Yum--Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver's, A&W. In a USAToday interview Yum Brands' CEO discusses KFC's plans for China and beyond.)

McJustice: The longest court battle in British history, dubbed McLibel, just ended in a blow to the world's biggest fast-food chain. Begun in 1994, the suit centers on activists who were sued for libel for distributing pamphlets outlining the health effects of McDonald's food back in 1986. Rather than shut up, the pair fought McDonald's for years, shedding unflattering light on McD's products and practices. They lost, eventually having to pay out 40,000 pounds. But in yesterday's McLibel Two finding, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the activists didn't have a fair trial the first time around, a huge victory. The Independent writes, "The determination of two activists has shaken a multinational, stirred a debate about food and health and prompted a review of British libel law. Because of the 'McLibel Two', the rich and powerful may no longer be able to go to court safe in the knowledge that everything is stacked in their favour." Full story here.
Head rubber: As Jeff Wells' tireless research shows, the prez seems to have a weird compulsion: rubbing bald men's heads. With the JimJeff GuckertGannon controversy, y'think there's a connection? (Via Sivacracy, this guy's blog.)
Support our troops? Hey truck-decal patriots, if Bush is so supportive of our troops, how come he's suing Gulf War I vets to prevent them from collecting $1 billion in court-ordered reparations due them from the Iraqi government? An excerpt from this truly perverse story:
The rationale: Today's Iraqis are good guys, and they need the money.

The case abounds with ironies. It pits the U.S. government squarely against its own war heroes and the Geneva Convention.

Many of the pilots were tortured in the same Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib, where American soldiers abused Iraqis 15 months ago. Those Iraqi victims, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said, deserve compensation from the United States.

But the American victims of Iraqi torturers are not entitled to similar payments from Iraq, the U.S. government says.

---snip---

"No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of this very brutal regime and at the hands of Saddam Hussein," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters when asked about the case in November 2003.

Government lawyers have insisted, literally, on "no amount of money" going to the Gulf War POWs. "These resources are required for the urgent national security needs of rebuilding Iraq," McClellan said.

The case also tests a key provision of the Geneva Convention, the international law that governs the treatment of prisoners of war. The United States and other signers pledged never to "absolve" a state of "any liability" for the torture of POWs.

"Our government is on the wrong side of this issue," said Jeffrey F. Addicott, a former Army lawyer and director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. "A lot of Americans would scratch their heads and ask why is our government taking the side of Iraq against our POWs."
The farce goes on... Leave it to the Bush administration. The logic that rewarded the torture-memo guy with a promotion (Gonzalez, Attorney General) and the overseer of America's worst intelligence failure with the highest civilian recognition (Tenet, Medal of Freedom) is now in play in judicial appointments:
"I've a constitutional responsibility to nominate well-qualified men and women for the federal courts; I have done so." - President Bush, 2/14/05

"Nominations Sent to the Senate: Thomas B. Griffith, of Utah, to be United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit." - White House Press Release, 2/14/05

"Thomas B. Griffith, President Bush's nominee for the federal appeals court in Washington, has been practicing law in Utah without a state law license for the past four years, according to Utah state officials." - Washington Post, 6/21/04
(Via DailyKos.)

2.14.2005

Patriotize yer pickup: iwordgood.com points out this site filled with hilariously patriotic decals for your vehicle. Don't miss "Eagle Carrying Flag" [featuring what must be a tiny, birthday-cake-sized flag in its beak], "War Paint Eagle," and "Never Forget Attack Eagle."

2.13.2005

Artists and saints: Here's a great quote from the excellent catalogue Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art that seems to apply to the previous two posts, as well as to my Adbusters essay on art and spirituality. It's by Cuban-born Trappist monk-turned-artist Ernesto Pujol:
Spirituality lies outside of capitalism; there is no such thing as spiritual achievement. But spirituality and art are our highest human expressions. They bear the potential for connecting us with equally sensitive minds elsewhere, and even awakening a few sleepers. The best of art and spirituality can both improve and transcend this moment. Thus, for me, art is the enlightened, formal, cultural expression of an evolved mind that is fully awake, capturing and embodying the full awareness of a moment, while at the same time transcending it. Ideally, the right practice of art should produce as many saints as the practice of spirituality.
End Times: Behold, the end is near. At least that's what the Rapture Index suggests. Factoring 45 categories--from liberalism to apostasy to "Beast Government"--the index hits the level dubbed "Fasten your seatbelts" when it surpasses 145 points. Now it's at 153. But as the site explains, the index "is by no means meant to predict the rapture, however, the index is designed to measure the type of activity that could act as a precursor to the rapture." Jon Carroll of The San Francisco Chronicle writes that "The Rapture is a good thing, and therefore floods, famine, drought and all that are also good things because they portend the coming of end times. Even liberalism is a good thing, because there need to be a lot of Christ-deniers for the end times to come..."

Think it's funny? Don't. It's fairly mainstream ideology among Bush backers, as evidenced by frequent contributions to Bush Country and The Conservative Voice and the popularity of Tim LaHaye's million-selling Left Behind books (Volume I, "A Novel of the Earth's Last Days," is Amazon's 1,329th best seller) . Theologian Tom Harpur writes in the Toronto Star of a conference he attended in Destin, Florida, called "Left Behind: A Conference on Biblical Prophecy about End Times" and featuring LaHaye:
To sum up the essence of the three speaker's messages all that long Saturday, I have never heard so much venom and dangerous ignorance spouted before an utterly unquestioning, otherwise normal-looking crowd in my life. For the $25 fee, the 800 devotees certainly got a plateful.

There were stunning statements about humans having been only 6,000 years on Earth and other denials of contemporary geology and biology. And we learned that the Rapture, which could happen any second now, but certainly within the next 40 years, will instantly sweep all the "saved" Americans (perhaps one-half the population) to heaven, leaving the United States as "a Third World country" with the European Union becoming the revived Roman Empire.

But these fantasies were harmless compared with the hatred against Islam that followed. Here are some direct quotes: "Islam is an intolerant religion — and it's clear whose side we should be on in the Middle East." Applause greeted these words: "Allah and Jehovah are not the same God ... Islam is a Satanic religion ...We will never be able to understand their (Muslim) mentality ... They're going to attack Israel for certain. ..."
Earlier: From 2001, Left Behind, The Movie!
On The Gates: "A work of pure joy, a vast populist spectacle of good will and simple eloquence, the first great public art event of the 21st century." That's how Times art critic Michael Kimmelman described New York's largest public art project ever, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates. Made up of 7,500 gates hung with flowing saffron fabric, the work turns 23 miles of Central Park pathways into a meditative, colorful passageway. It reminds me of the robes of Thai Buddhist monks, the prayer flags that wave in the breezes of Ladakh or Tibet; while the artists eschew any such interpretation, it seems a work of healing for a city that's experienced such deep wounds.

The project is only up for two weeks more, then it comes down for good, a fact--along with a $20 million pricetag (paid for out of the artist's pockets)--that makes many question it's practicality. But a New York fourth-grader summed it up well: it doesn't have to be practical; it's art. "It's a waste of money, but it's fabulous. It brings happiness when you look at it." It's a touching statement to me, because art seems increasingly anomalous to contemporary culture: it stands alone as something that doesn't exist to serve the economy or perform a measurable task. And that's art's value. As Wendell Berry once wrote, "So, friends, every day do something that won't compute." Aesthetic opinions of The Gates aside, I think we could stand to learn its lesson. Berry's poem captures something true about the lyric absurdity and epic beauty of the project. The poem concludes:
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

2.11.2005

Moonie Marian: The Southern Poverty Law Center profiles another partisan journalist, a writer for white supremacist publications and a frequent contributor to Rev. Moon's hard-right Washington Times:
Marian Kester Coombs is a woman who believes America has become a "den of iniquity" thanks to "its efforts to accommodate minorities."

White men should "run, not walk" to wed "racially conscious" white women and avoid being out-bred by non-whites. Latinos are "rising to take this country away from those who made it," the "Euroamericans." Muslims are "human hyenas" who "smell blood" and are "closing in" on their "weakened prey," meaning "the white race." Blacks, Coombs sneers, are "saintly victims who can do no wrong." Black solidarity and non-white immigration are imposing "racial revolution and decomposition" in America.

Coombs describes herself as just "a freelance writer in Crofton, Maryland." But this is one writer who's a bit more well-positioned than she lets on.

Marian Kester Coombs is married to Francis Booth Coombs, managing editor of the hard-right newspaper The Washington Times. Fran Coombs has published at least 35 of his wife's news and opinion pieces for his paper, although his relationship to her is not acknowledged in her Times bylines...
Full story here.
Condi Lied. Bush Knew. A newly declassified document delivered by Richard Clark to the White House just days after Bush took office in 2001 catches Condi in an apparent lie. The memo urgently called for meetings to assess the al-Qaeda threat, and such a meeting was only called almost eight months later--one week before the 9/11 attacks. Condi, in a Washington Post commentary in March 2004, wrote, falslely, "No al-Qaeda threat was turned over to the new administration." Read Condi's Credibility Gap.

2.10.2005

Partisan Press: How is it that a blatantly partisan reporter with little or no journalistic experience working for a "fake" news organization that's a front for the group GOPUSA who lobs GOP-friendly whiffleball questions and is lying about his name can get press credentials to attend White House press briefings? Further, why is it that Bush's press secretary knows he's lying and doesn't seem to care? Behold, the rise and (hopefully) fall of Talon News' "Jeff Gannon." And: While Gannon's enterepeneurial web ventures as a gay-porn impressario (he's registered the URLs Hotmilitarystud.com, Militaryescorts.com, and Militaryescortsm4m.com) call into question whether he's "fair and balanced," DailyKos bloggers may be getting him and Talon News into even hotter water: in a bit of investigation unseen in most major news organizations, they're working to unearth connections between Gannon and the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Beyond "Fair and Balanced": Eric Klinenberg's new Rolling Stone expose on the bluntly right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group features rare interviews with Sinclair insiders, including CEO David Smith, corporate VP Mark Hyman, and various newsroom staffers. Glimpses into Smith's distorted worldview:
"Fox proved one thing: People like controversy," Smith says. "I'd do one of those Stolen Honor specials every month if we could. The lesson was very straightforward: That we can do this kind of content, pre-empt the networks and make more money."
----
We're in the center," Smith insists, sitting in his fifth-floor executive suite. "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the media is left of center. Paula Zahn or Peter Jennings or anybody who is attempting to pass himself off as reporting news -- they're not telling the whole story. Dan Rather wants you to believe that Saddam Hussein is a nice guy! There are two companies doing truly balanced news today: Sinclair and Fox."

2.09.2005

Gentle reader: Is a photo of a colon any way to greet my readers? Sorry about that: I'm on a deadline and haven't had time to update the site. Look for my new piece on Alternet on Monday...

2.07.2005

Advertise where the sun don't shine: Ads are everywhere: toilet stalls, t-shirts, blimps, the Super Bowl halftime show, some yokel's forehead. Now Carrie McLaren of Stay Free! is stepping into the fray, offering advertising space on her colon. (Current bid is $22.50.) She writes: " Though invisible to the average eye, my colon will be viewed by an affluent audience of medical professionals. Overpriced pharmaceuticals, diuretics, and Frito-Lay products are a natural fit, but keep in mind that doctors enjoy a wide array of luxury products, too." Talk about niche advertising...

Divinity for the Reality-Based Community

Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
—2 Corinthians 4:18

It's not what you see that is art, art is the gap.
—Marcel Duchamp

In born-again America's renewed culture wars, it's a fair guess that contemporary art and mainstream religion won't end up on the same side. Consider the teams. There are the defenders of Christian values whose perceptions of cutting-edge art are clouded by memories of Andre Serrano's pee-dunked crucifix, Robert Gober's Madonna with a culvert through her chest, and the dung-gobbed Blessed Virgin by Chris Ofili that sent Rudy Giuliani through the roof. Then there are artists, people whose values of diversity and constant questioning make them unlikely bedfellows with evangelical Christians. But, just as the myth of red states and blue obscured a reality that's more purplish in hue, perhaps there's a place — somewhere between George W. and Gilbert & George — where spiritual seekers and artists can find common ground.

It's not such a longshot. Artists and spiritual searchers have long grappled with the same existential issues and shared the same wonder of the sublime. English art critic Clive Bell linked aesthetic and religious rapture in 1914 when he wrote of "two roads by which men escape from circumstance to ecstasy," and Jean Cocteau once described de Chirico as "a painter of secular mystery." That mystery is evident in both how we discuss art and how we experience it. We refer to an artist's inspiration (literally, bringing in spirit), an object's animation (the imbuing with animus), or the "leap of faith" prompted by an empty canvas. Duchamp's "gap" recognizes that art is the realm of transubstantiation — a mere object is transformed into a conveyor of profound meaning simply by being encountered by a viewer.

The paths of art and spirituality intersect at many points: artists marvel at the miracle of creation (Andy Goldsworthy's ephemeral interventions in nature); artists suggest the kind of mindfulness Buddhist's seek (by focusing on soup cans, Andy Warhol suggests a reconsideration of the mundane); artists openly explore taboo subjects that religions have long ago rendered verdict on (Marlene Dumas' sexually explicit portraits). But it's the social aspects of art that have such potential for bringing people together: art can illuminate our interconnectedness.

In explaining why he writes, Kurt Vonnegut could be speaking on behalf of many artists: "Many people need desperately to hear this message, 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don't care about them. You are not alone.'"

Witnessing is another social role of art that resonates with religious tradition. "Art is prophetic," says artist and former Trappist monk Ernesto Pujol in the book Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art. Artists can bear witness to injustice, delivering "messages the powerful may not care to hear." In the age of Jessica Lynch and Fox News, the world needs alternative reporting by the likes of Alfredo Jaar, whose famous photo series compared sky-high gold prices with the low wages and harsh conditions endured by Brazilian miners, or Picasso, whose Guernica recorded the horrific saturation bombing of an ancient Basque city. As the old Catholic hymn goes, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me"; on this count, artists are among those keeping score.

Art, it seems, allows us to ponder the sacred in non-dogmatic terms — i.e. divinity for the reality-based community. Of course now is not the heyday for that bunch. But perhaps there's hope in what theologian Finley Eversole called a "spiritual underground." For him the term referred to a complex notion that artists who confront the emptiness of a godless world — writing in 1963, he was thinking of Rothko, Pollock, and de Kooning — connect us to the holy by presenting its inverse: "If our artists have been incapable of religious faith, they have at least shown us that modern man is incapable of unfaith."

But I suggest that artists make up a spiritual underground in a different sense. While many mainstream religions are being hijacked by rigid fundamentalists, contemporary artists make up a loose-knit band of the covertly spiritual. If artists of the "secular mystery" can create work that resists co-optation by religious and political ideologues, perhaps we can call on them in more enlightened times to reacquaint us with the joys of asking questions we don't yet have the answers for.

My latest from the new issue of Adbusters.

2.04.2005

Military Minds: You've got to question the judgment of some of our military leaders. Like Lt. Gen. James Mattis who recently admitted, "Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot... It's fun to shoot some people." And Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who famously said that radical Muslims hate the US "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and roots are Judeo-Christian and the enemy is a guy named Satan." And where's the good sense in this recruiting image for the army? Where I come from, "fill your boots" means "involuntarily evacuate your bowels due to sheer fright," so it seems like an odd way to lure in young would-be soldiers. But, even weirder is that other context. By cropping the person almost entirely out of the photo, it's strikingly reminiscent of empty combat boots and the impromptu memorials marines create to grieve the fallen.
Parse the prez: An interesting way to figure out the main themes of the State of the Union is through this online parsing tool. See how many times terror appeared in the 2005 speech (24 ), then compare it to past years--or other words: love (1), peace (12), justice (3), civil liberties (0), honesty (1). Great fun.
Asbestos suits: Frivolous? Among Bush's many plans listed in the State of the Union address is one that stands out: tort reform. "Justice is distorted, and our economy is held back by irresponsible class-actions and frivolous asbestos claims," said the prez. What seems like an odd inclusion makes more sense when you consider that Halliburton and WR Grace face huge asbestos liabilities. In a Democracy Now interview with Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, co-host Juan Gonzalez asks, "I have to wonder what a former shipyard worker or former miner... who is maybe suffering from asbestosis or mesothelioma, and is listening to the President say that these are frivolous asbestos suits in terms of the suffering they have been going through?"

Read the transcript here. More on Halliburton, Grace, and the Bush administration's "Legal Protection for Asbestos Profiteers.
Bush's blacklist: Is George Bush the president of every American, or just those who voted for him? The question seemed to be answered by yesterday's Bush visit to Fargo, a stump speech for Social Security privatization. Forty-two people were blacklisted from attending the public appearance, including activists involved with Howard Dean's presidential campaign, a liberal radio show producer, a college professor, the deputy campaign manager of a 2004 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and others. Both White House representatives and local GOP officials use the same language--"overzealous volunteer"--to place the blame. If it's just an overly eager Bushie from North Dakota, just a one-time fluke, why does this kind of thing keep happening?

2.03.2005

Trademarking Jesus: Is Jesus trademarkable? How about the phrase "Jesus is (fill in the blank)"? Carrie at Stay Free! points out an interesting tradmark dispute between the maker of "Jesus is my homeboy" t-shirts and a parody of it--"Jesus is a kike."--by Daniel Sieradski, creator of Orthodox Anarchist ("the adventures of an american jewish radical in israel") and Jewschool.com. The homeboy camp accuses the, um, other camp of trademark infringement in a letter from its laywer. A sample of his interesting exchange with "homeboy" lawyer Joseph Sofio:
The shirt was conceived shortly after the release of The Passion Of The Christ and is offered as social commentary on the nature of antisemitism and the irony inherent within the historical persecution of Jewish people on the part of Christian people who obviously have lost sight of the fact that Jesus himself was a Jewish person. Ie., a Christian person who might refer to a Jewish person as a "kike" is oblivious to the fact that Jesus himself was also a "kike." I do not see how making this point harms the reputation of Teenage Millionaire and it is doubtful that a court will either.

---snip---

I'd also like to add that I find the concept of trademarking and copyrighting a religious icon to be incredibly distasteful and, frankly, unethical. If Jesus had an estate to represent his interests, your client would likely have never been able to copyright or trademark his likeness to begin with...

---snip---

...the t-shirts are manufactured by a print-on-demand service and therefore there is a) no inventory, b) I earn roughly $3 per shirt (whereas Cafepress takes the vast majority of earnings for their part in manufacturing and distribution), and c) I haven't sold more than a dozen of them. If you're really intent on taking me to court for $36, be my guest. It's probable that you will lose the case, but if by some miracle of God you don't, you ain't gonna get nothin' outta me anyway except to further impoverish the impoverished which, I must say, would be an incredibly un-Christian action on your client's part.

In such a scenario I can only wonder really, what would Jesus do?

I think he'd let it go.
Gattaca redux: Jim sends along this interesting story:
A company in Michigan is giving its employees an ultimatum: quit smoking or lose your job. Citing increased health care costs, the company claims employees who smoke are a financial risk. While Weyco is generously offering to help employees pay for a variety of quit-smoking techniques, the decision is a chilling precedent for those who depend on work-based health plans and might have lifestyles which are considered "at risk." Do you drink? You are more likely to develop liver disease. Are you African American? Based on the numbers, you are more likely to have hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. Are you gay? What about AIDS? And aren't women more likely to have children than men? And isn't that an often costly medical procedure? What if you like to eat meat? Stay up late? Have any habits or lifestyle that might contribute to illness, however obliquely? We are dangerously close to a dystopian world represented by the movie Gattaca, where genetically perfected individuals are welcomed into the system and naturals, with all of their messy health problems, are on the outside, reduced to mopping floors and preparing food. I guess we had all better eat our brussel sprouts, put down the smokes and the booze, and get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Not that having health insurance necessarily is any help. Over half of all bankrupcy cases in the U.S. in 2001 were related to health care costs. And 70% of those individuals were insured. This was glibbly reported on NPR's marketplace prior to the happy sounds of "We're in the money," following a positive day on wall street.

2.01.2005

Escape velocity: Eyebeam's reBlog links to a truly enthralling photo site, Escape Route. It plots a travel path across the globe and features thousands of photos from each stop. Its web-based navigational construct is indescribably cool, and it has the game-like quality of Flickr (click on images to find or add captions, browse thumbnails along a timeline-like scroll, etc.). This shot is a restaurant storefront in Ayutthaya, Thailand.
Look out an artist's window: From Quito to Tokyo, artists all around the world are offering a rare glimpse into--or out of--their lives. The project, l'appareil, combines a photographic image out a window (in this case, Rui Gato's in Torres Vedras, Portugal) combined with an audio file of ambient sounds recorded at the same moment. Also involved is UK-based sound and visual artist Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner, who sent the link.
High schoolers and free speech: According to the AP, high school students are utterly clueless about the First Amendment: "[W]hen told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes 'too far' in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories." The survey also found that 17% of students (compared to 1% of principals and 3% of teachers) believe those with unpopular views should not be allowed to express them, around half of students said the government should restrict internet content, and 75% of students said they believe flag burning to be illegal (it's not). Boingboing, however, offers a tiny glimmer of hope from an 11th-grade reader.

Speaking of clueless: In what Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) of the Black Congressional Caucus called a "mind-boggling moment," George W. Bush admitted that he wasn't aware of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and therefore couldn't respond to a question about its possible renewal in 2007. As columnist Clarence Page implies, perhaps Bush should focus as much attention on voting rights at home as he does in Iraq. (Via Raw Story.)

And, in other constitutional news: A US District Court judge ruled yesterday that Bush violated the Constitution by setting up military tribunals at Guantanamo for suspected terrorists.