Monday, April 21, 2008


China has begun a program of "patriotic re-education" of Tibetans, where the benefits of Chinese rule are stressed, and the Dalai Lama is reviled. Thank goodness we don't resort to such obvious propaganda tactics here.

No siree ... nothing like that here. Nope. Instead, we engage in sophisticated data manipulation to stampede the country into an unnecessary and unjustified conflict. Should some few prove resistant to such tactics, we simply shout them down as "unpatriotic" or "anti-American".

When three, four, five years later those dissenters turn out to have have been correct in nearly every particular, and the shouters equally wrong, anyone who has the temerity to point out such matters is "unpatriotic", or "anti-American". Besides, to leave with the job undone, even though a job which should never have been started in the first place, would "dishonor" those who died in the cause.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice taunted Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, for residing safely in Iran while directing Mahdi Army forces to fight against US and Iraqi army forces. From his front-line command post in the White House, President Bush had no comment.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Blind Pig Finds an Acorn

Not even President Bush, no matter how desperately he strives, can manage to be wrong all the time ... and he made the right decision this week when he quickly responded to an emergency call from the World Bank for $500 million more in food aid by pledging $200 million more from the U.S.

There has been a fair bit of discussion recently about the rising cost of food here at home, but matters are far worse elsewhere, and there have been outbreaks of food riots in Egypt and Mozambique. As the cost of fuel helps drive prices higher, things will only degenerate.

The most important part of the President's statement, however, wasn't the pledge of more money, but rather the push to loosen current U.S. law, which requires all food purchased for aid purposes to be bought here and shipped to its foreign destination.

That requirement limits the effectiveness of the aid in a multitude of ways. Not only does the greater shipping distance mean less money spend on actual food (particularly given the increased cost of shipping is a major cause of the current crises) and more time for food to arrive where it is needed, but it also prevents the ancillary benefits which might come from providing some monetary influx to farmers in African nations, for the companies there which would handle the shipping, etc.

It all makes sense ... unless you are, say, a member of the US shipping industry, in which case the suffering of people of a different nationality means little compared to the extra money in your wallet ... as group representative Gloria Tosi told the NY Times last fall, expecting shippers to give up some of their little pot of gold, even if it might save some hundreds or thousands of lives, is "politically naive".

She's right of course ... but it's also the right thing to do. Let's hope this is an issue the President and Congress can manage to find some actual bi-partisan agreement on.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

VP of Torture

It came out this past week Vice President Vader was ultimately responsible for signing off on and even "micromanaging" the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" against suspected terrorist agents during a series of meetings in 2002 and 2003 which included, among others, such noted figures as Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and then CIA Director George Tenet.

What's remarkable is the sheer lack of newsworthiness about the revelation. It's been something everyone has "known" for years, it's just a question of the details being confirmed.

The torture inflicted involved more than dressing Condi up in kinky latex and whips, and even more than tying the terrorists to chairs, propping their eyes open with toothpicks and forcing them to watch around-the-clock reality television (which would either have forced confessions, true or not, or reduced the participant to the blithering state many of our fellow citizens sadly reside in). No, we're talking about all forms of physical abuse, up to and including sleep deprivation and water boarding.

For those who brush off the effects of water-boarding, or like to hide it behind euphemisms such as "enhanced interrogation techniques" or "simulated drowning", I encourage you to read this thread, written by someone who decided to find out for himself what the process was like last December. It's worth noting that, prior to conducting the experiment, the author favored the use of the technique. His thoughts after the experiment I leave for you to discover.

Don't just read the initial post ... there are a number of interesting questions and responses by the author throughout.

As has been noted, here and elsewhere, many, many times, these are techniques applied to individuals who have been found guilty of absolutely nothing. They have not been tried. They have not had a chance to confront their accusers in an open court. Many of them have been arrested under rather flimsy circumstances. A number which have been found to be innocent have been released.

This week a number of protests were organized around the world to highlight China's human rights' abuses, timed to coincide with the running of the Olympic torch prior to the Beijing Olympics this summer. Some of those protests were planned for San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge ... something I am sure the Chinese government found quite hypocritical. Why should they be asked to adhere to standards we clearly refuse to hold ourselves to?

Eight years ago we were a beacon for the world, not perfect, but at least striving to be better, and encouraging other nations to join us in that search. Today, we are a bully who threatens and bullies smaller nations and takes away their lunch money if they don't mold their foreign policy to fit our self-interest.

I am not a pacifist ... there are just wars, and our presence in Afghanistan is, in my mind, fully justified. The leaders of that nation knowingly provided safe haven to a coterie of people who viciously attacked and killed our citizens. By doing so, it provided a legitimate cassus belli.

However, there are unjust wars as well, and Iraq unquestionably falls in that category (as will our future war with Iran, should McCain win election this fall ... but that's another issue). Our presence there, our continuing unjust occupation, and our continuing violation of basic privacy and civil liberties, both abroad and at home, have destroyed our nation's credibility for a generation, at least ... if we can ever regain it at all.

When trust is violated, it's rare to ever get it all back, no matter how contrite and sincere the subsequent remorse ... and this administration hasn't just violated trust, it's thrown it on the ground, ground it's heels on it, spat and shat upon it ...

Ultimately, it's not just the prisoners of Guantanamo, or those individuals who have suffered rendition, who have been wrongfully abused by this administration, it's all of us, the nation in it's entirety. When this leadership team came into the White House there was a great deal of talk and blather about the new "CEO" administration. I wish they had stuck with that ... at least then they might have limited their torture to our economy.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Uneducated effects

X4mr had a post a week ago about the increasing degree of anti-intellectualism in this country, one of the indicators of which is the high school drop-out rate, which is around 25% nation-wide, but up to 50% in the worst urban areas.

So what happens to those drop-outs?

Not surprisingly, a disproportionate number of them are poor, minority and male. In 2001, only 50% of black males, 51% of American Indians and 53% of Latinos graduated within four years. Those numbers do rise as a few more trickle through the system in more than four years.

It becomes a vicious cycle, though. The poor drop out, and the drop outs remain stuck in poverty. Fifty, even 30 years ago it was possible, even without a high-school diploma, to find a job on a factory line somewhere which paid well. A lot has happened since then, however, and many of those jobs have vanished, either to technology, or outsourcing. Today, those jobs don't exist, or if they do they are being held onto with a death grip by the current job occupant, who is desperately hoping the job won't go away as so many others have before he (or she) retires.

Those who do find jobs are generally in the most tenuous of positions. Their jobs are likely to be among the least necessary, and thus first cut, when economic trends angle down rather than up. Just this week it was reported our economic recession saw 80,000 jobs lost in March, and nearly 250,000 since the turn of the year. Those axes, so far, have fallen almost entirely on the uneducated - while the unemployment rate for those with a Bachelor's degree or higher remained flat at about 2.1%, for those without a high school diploma it's reached 8.2%, up from 7.3% in February.

Our military has a target of 90% of first-time enlistees having a high-school diploma. In 2007, for the third straight year, the percentage of recruits who had graduated with a regular high-school diploma declined. Hey, the one's who graduate, at least, aren't stupid - they know there's a war on. Military enlistment figures again failed to meet their goals in terms of raw numbers, which is likely to mean lower standards for recruitment, and maybe the only place where job opportunities for high-school dropouts are rising. Why not send them over to Iraq? It doesn't take a diploma to eat a bullet (or a mortar round, grenade fragment, IED) for the cause.

Without much in the way of job prospects, other means must be found ... 59% of federal inmates and a stunning 75% of state inmates are high school dropouts. I know it's often said half-jokingly, but there is an element of truth - at least in prison they know where their next meal is coming from, they have clothes to wear, shelter. Of course, there are some drawbacks to this as well, such as curfew, lack of freedom, a few other things ...

It would be nice if there were, say, some opportunity available for customized job training to help these individuals learn skills their employers need. For those with a lot of time to read a fascinating account of how this pans out in Tucson, at least, I point you to Something Else.