Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Please excuse the slight delay.

Please excuse the slight delay in posting to this blog. The Left Hand will soon be moving to its own domain, where it will become even more fantastically interesting and will pique your interest in ways that your interest has only ever dreamed of being piqued. Believe me, piquing will happen.

Until then, there will be a slight delay.

Thank you.

End transmission.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Abu Ghraib General Lambastes Bush Administration

When Karpinski inquired, "What's this about photographs?" the sergeant replied, "Ma'am, we've heard something about photographs, but I have no idea. Nobody has any details, and Ma'am, if anybody knows, nobody is talking." When Karpinski asked to see the log books, the sergeant told her that the Criminal Investigation Division had taken everything except for something on a pole outside the little office they were using.

"It was a memorandum signed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, authorizing a short list, maybe 6 or 8 techniques: use of dogs; stress positions; loud music; deprivation of food; keeping the lights on, those kinds of things," Karpinski said. "And then a handwritten message over to the side that appeared to be the same handwriting as the signature, and that signature was Secretary Rumsfeld's. And it said, 'Make sure this happens' with two exclamation points. And that was the only thing they had. Everything else had been confiscated."

Karpinski tried to get information, but "nobody knew anything, nobody - at least, that's what they were claiming. The Company Commander, Captain Reese, was tearful in my office and repeatedly told me he knew nothing about it, knew nothing about it," Karpinski said. But in a later plea bargain he entered into after the Taguba Report came out, "Captain Reese said that not only did he know about it, but he was told not to report it to his chain of command, and he was told that by Colonel Pappas. And he claimed that he saw General Sanchez out there on several occasions witnessing the torture of some of the security detainees."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

And now from the "should be in a rubber room" department

Pat Robertson wants to assassinate Hugo Chavez.

Why does this maniac have a television show? Why do people continue to listen to him even as his lunatic ravings become ever more incoherent and psychotic?

Hugo Chavez is many things, but he's not a dictator. But that's not even the point. For someone as publicly visible as Pat Robertson to call for the assassination of a world leader is not only lunacy, it's criminal, and he should be prosecuted for it.

Here's the quote (from CNN):

"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Robertson told viewers on his "The 700 Club" show Monday. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Israel has no more settlements in Gaza


It's done. Israel has left the Gaza Strip, and with its departure, the Palestinians are one step closer to having their own state. This departure is absolutely monumental. Its effect on the political dynamics of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is, at this point, unknowable, but will surely be profound.

Perhaps with this departure, those who sympathize with the more militant sectors of the Palestinians will start to see Israel as less of an enemy. Unfortunately, it's much more likely that Hamas and Islamic Jihad will use the withdrawal as a vindication of their attacks and continue their call for the destruction of Israel itself.

I just hope that the international community sees through their hateful rhetoric to the truth--that the vast majority of both Israelis and Palestinians really do seek peaceful coexistence: one Jewish state living peacefully next to one Palestinian state.

Next up: the dismantling of four settlements in the West Bank.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Merck Fined $253 Million in Vioxx lawsuit

Big news. Drug maker Merck has been found liable for the death of Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old marathon runner who died of a heart attack after taking Vioxx for his arthritis. The drug company has been assessed a fine of $253 million.

Here's my take on the whole situation. Drug companies are motivated primarily by the quest for greater profits, and this leads to a reduced emphasis on safety and quality of products, as illustrated previously in the Fen-Phen debacle, and now again with Vioxx, and in several other cases. If we were to nationalize these pharmaceutical companies, we might be able to enforce stricter standards of research and quality control, and we would certainly end the drug companies' unjust price inflation. True, nationalization is an extreme option, and there is probably a better solution somewhere in the middle. But something needs to be done, and fast, before more people die because a drug company was more concerned about making a buck than curing disease.

I have a serious ethical and moral problem with the concept of for-profit health care, and this case serves as yet another example of why I feel justified in this position. I do not believe that it is ethically justifiable to make a profit off of another person's illness or injury, and I certainly don't believe that these drug companies have a right to charge exorbitant prices for drugs that haven't even been tested properly in the first place. This country needs a fundamental change in the way it does health care. We need to start thinking of health care as a right, rather than a privilege or a "product" that can be marketed. We need to start thinking of people who need health care as citizens, not consumers. If we can do that, then we'll be on track to joining the rest of the industrialized world and creating a good national health care system that covers everyone equally and comprehensively.

And then maybe we can start focusing on curing cancer and AIDS rather than baldness and erectile dysfunction.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

BBC News on the vigils for Cindy Sheehan

"Around 1,600 vigils had been planned by liberal advocacy groups MoveOn.org Political Action, TrueMajority and Democracy for America.

In Crawford, several hundred people lit candles and gathered around a wooden flag-draped coffin at the camp, situated about a mile from Mr Bush's ranch, to remember the dead.

"Each one was a valuable human life," Ms Sheehan said, quoted by Reuters news agency. "Each one was an indispensable member of his or her family."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New "Intelligent Falling" Theory

The Onion, America's Finest Newspaper, weighs in on the science versus theology debate with its own particular brand of merciless biting satire. I love it.

Tulsa Transit

I take back everything bad I ever said about Tulsa Transit.

Well, almost.

I finally broke down and took the bus to work this morning, after looking at the website and determining which bus to take and when. I walked a little bit less than a mile east to catch a southbound bus, not realizing that there was also an eastbound bus that could have gotten me to the stop more quickly. I passed one of the stops for the eastbound bus and called the Tulsa Transit, but they said that the next bus wouldn't arrive until well after I was to be at work. Despite this claim, the eastbound bus passed me as I trudged through the broken sidewalks and mud of this not-pedestrian-friendly city, leaving me wondering where the communication breakdown had been between me and the customer service agent who told me that the eastbound bus wouldn't come in time. By that time I was already very close to my southbound bus stop, so it didn't matter much.

I arrived at the southbound bus stop and waited. The bus arrived on schedule, picked me up, and whisked me away. I had bought a bus pass at QuikTrip, whose magnetic stripe entitled me to ten rides for a mere $10.00 (a savings of 50 cents per ride). It took me a minute to figure out how to swipe the card, but I managed it and sat down. Looking around, I noticed that most of the folks on the bus were working class or poor. I was the only one on the bus in "business casual" clothing, leading me to believe that I might be among the first white collar workers in Tulsa to succumb to high gas prices and experiment with taking the bus.

Let me stop here. I feel like the previous paragraph sounded arrogant and elitist, and that was certainly not my intent. In fact, quite the opposite. I have nothing but respect for hardworking folks who take the bus every day to work, and I recognize that while I may choose to take the bus from time to time, many people do not have that choice--they rely on public transportation all of the time. These folks are one big reason why every city needs a good public transportation system.

In Tulsa, at least, a big hurdle that proponents of public transportation have is the stigma attached to the Tulsa bus system. A lot of the people with cars in this city (who have probably never even taken a bus) think of Tulsa Transit as the domain of the homeless and the desperately poor, and that no "successful" middle class person would stoop to taking the bus. I used to be one of these people. Unfortunately, by refusing to take the bus, the middle class have created a self-fulfilling prophecy--the bus has become the domain of the working class and poor, and that is probably one major reason why we don't spend more money on it.

The southbound bus took me to work quickly and efficiently, though I made the additional mistake of requesting a stop a little too early, forcing me to walk a little bit farther to get to my office. I didn't realize that the bus driver would stop anywhere one requests a stop; I thought he would only stop at designated bus stops.

Today was a trial run. I can't start taking the bus regularly because I will still need to be home at lunch to walk my dog. (My partner is home today, so he will be able to take care of the dog.) Once the weather cools off, I'll start putting the dog outside while I'm at work, and then I'll be able to take the bus a few times a week, saving gas money, helping the environment and keeping miles off of my car. It's a good thing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Israeli opinions on the pullout

Quotes and pictures from the BBC of the widely varying opinions Israelis have about the Gaza pullout.

Animal Farm is 60 years old

NPR reported that today marks the 60th birthday of a seminal work of political satire, George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Animal Farm is one of those classics of literature that should be on everyone's reading list. Through its broadly drawn caricatures of Soviet revolutionary leaders, Animal Farm demonstrated not only the danger of blind adherence to an ideal and how that ideal can be twisted to serve nefarious purposes, it also highlighted the reasons why desperate people turn to revolution as a last ditch effort to improve their situation. The enemy in Animal Farm is not only the Stalinist pigs, but also the Capitalist humans against whom the animals rebel in the first place, and whose brutal reign the pigs finally learn to imitate. The moral of the story is not "Capitalism good, Communism bad," it is simply "don't blind yourself to an ideal so much that you lose sight of reality."

I think that's a lesson that resonates today as much as or even more so than it did in Orwell's time.

More about gas prices

NPR just reported that gas prices jumped 18 cents over the past week, the biggest one-week jump since the government started keeping records.

Rep. Sullivan responds to my letter about Abu Ghraib

Here is an e-mail I just got from my illustrious Republican Representative in Congress, John Sullivan, responding to a letter I sent him regarding prisoner abuse. I just love how he spouts the Administration line that the abuse was limited to "a few soldiers," thus freeing anyone high up from any responsibility whatsoever--despite evidence that people, perhaps as high up as Rumsfeld himself, knew about or even ordered the abuse to occur. It's just such a transparent lie that it's sickening.

Dear Ethan,

Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts regarding prisoner abuse at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other prison centers. It is good to hear from you and I welcome the opportunity to respond on this important issue.

The recent examples of prisoner abuse are shocking and do not represent the values of our military or those of our Nation. The Department of Defense is taking allegations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib very seriously and is continuing to investigate the possible abuses. In addition, the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for intelligence has initiated an investigation into all intelligence practices in Iraq.

As you know, the vast majority of U.S. service members conduct themselves in strict accordance with their training, and represent themselves, the United States and the Coalition honorably. The military is a values-based organization committed to the respect of the international laws of armed conflict. It is important to remember only a few soldiers performed these acts. The crimes of a few soldiers should not take away from the sacrifices of over 300,000 members of the Armed Forces who have served, or who are currently serving, in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As your Representative, please know I will continue to monitor this issue until all of the facts are known and the investigation is justly concluded.

Again, thank you for contacting me. It is an honor to serve you in Washington. If you would like more information on issues, or would like to share your thoughts with me via e-mail, you may visit my website at http://sullivan.house.gov. Please do not hesitate to contact me again should you have further concerns on federal legislation or programs.

Another record at the gas pump

Here in Oklahoma, gas has just hit $2.49 a gallon for regular. It has jumped 50 cents in just the past few weeks. That kind of a change can really make a huge difference in someone's disposable income. For instance, my Mazda will now no doubt require more than $30 to fill up. My mother's Toyota Camry took over $30 when it was on a quarter of a tank.

It wouldn't be so bad if we had decent public transportation in this city. I would simply stop driving and take the bus to work. I may end up doing that anyway, but it will mean at least doubling my commute time.

This article is careful to point out that we are not at an all-time record for gas prices if you include inflation in the calculation--that happened during the Iranian revolution in the early '80s, when gas rose to the equivalent today of $3.00 per gallon.

Monday, August 15, 2005

There is a problem in America...and the solution....is more cowbell!

And now something from the "huh?" department at "Whaaaa? News," it's Christopher Walken for President in 2008.

This story was apparently first cracked by the nuts at WorldNetDaily, so its authenticity is suspect at best. Still, it's an amusing diversion. Hell, I'd vote for him.

Abbas welcomes pullout, eyes East Jerusalem and West Bank

"'The withdrawal of the enemy from part of our occupied territories is a big defeat to the Zionist enemy that is withdrawing under the strikes of Palestinian militant groups,' said Islamic Jihad commander Abu Mohamed.

He said that his fighters 'would never drop their arms unless the occupation ends in all the occupied Palestinian territories.'

'We will continue armed resistance until the liberation of all the occupied territories,' he said."


We all know that these murderers won't be happy until all of Israel is destroyed. That's what they relaly mean by "occupied territories." They mean Israel itself. The key right now is not to give in to these kinds of arguments--it wasn't the bloody suicide bombers who precipitated this withdrawal, and the withdrawal is not a sign that the extremists' bloody reign of terror was "successful." It's simply a recognition of certain political realities--that 8,000 extremist settlers cannot survive in a ghetto surrounded by millions of hostile Palestinians, and that to achieve peace, Israel must be willing to make certain leaps of faith.

Editorial by David Grossman in Haaretz

"We should all take a deep breath right now and remind ourselves that, in the final analysis, the days to come are days of mourning for all Israelis. Mourning for the personal and ideological pain of the settlers whose dreams have been shattered; mourning for the fact that Israel was drawn into such a dangerous and unrealistic adventure like the creation of Gush Katif; mourning for the fact that the state brought itself to the place where it was forced to do such a violent, warlike and brutal thing to thousands of its citizens; mourning for the abyss that is being created inside our home, and for the disaster that could befall us very soon; mourning for the situation in which we are trapped, Jew against Jew with a foreign, naked hostility that stands in complete, existential contradiction to our own interests."

Interesting perspective, for sure...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Israel begins pullout from Gaza

"There is no sense whatsoever to remain here," he added. "The settlers do not have a future in the Gaza Strip, because they cannot live as an isolated group of people 8,000-strong among a million-and-a-half Palestinians who live in poverty and protest and unemployment." Shimon Peres, discussing the pullout.

I think most Progressive Zionists are in a "wait-and-see" mode about this pullout. It's a necessary move, and it's a positive move, but there are forces at the fringes who want to see the whole thing unravel.

I think it's safe to seek spiritual guidance on this one, folks. If you feel so moved, please say a prayer in the language of your faith that this withdrawal leads us closer to peace. I know I will.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Gas Prices Skyrocket


I was driving to work today and I noticed that gas prices had skyrocketed to $2.39 per gallon. I know that's not that high relative to the price in other parts of the nation, but still, for Oklahoma, "oil capital of the world," it's a ton.

I'm of two minds on this subject. On the one hand, high gas prices are good in that hopefully people will be prodded into buying hybrids or other fuel-efficient cars rather than SUVs. I have a little tiny Mazda sedan and it costs me $30 to fill up my tank--I can't imagine what it must cost someone with a Hummer. Meanwhile everyone who owns a Prius right now is thanking their lucky stars and laughing at all of us pouring our hard-earned money into our gas tanks.

On the other hand, high gas prices hurt working class people more than anyone else, especially working class people here in Oklahoma, where public transportation options are limited at best. If you can't afford to buy gas for your car, and you can't afford to buy a hybrid, and you can't take the bus to work, what are you supposed to do? Walk?

The truth of the matter is that we're running out of dead dinosaurs, and nothing we can do, not drilling in ANWR, not invading every oil-producing country in the Middle East, not cracking open our own reserves, is going to change that. We're going to have to change how we do things in a major way soon, and it's going to hurt. High gas prices are just the beginning.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The follies of Christian "science"

I read this story on Alternet.org, admittedly not an unbiased site, but I am convinced that the article has a lot of validity. It explores various "scientific" theories put forth by the Evangelical movement and then explains why they're all wrong. Included in this group: the idea that condoms are full of holes big enough to admit HIV and sperm, that abortions cause breast cancer, that "remote prayer" can heal people, and, of course, not so intelligent design.

Read it and weep. Then pray for the souls of these lost creatures who refuse to accept the truth of science and are therefore damned to stupidity for the rest of eternity.

Dennis Kucinich speaks about trade

"I have traveled across America. And I have seen the effects of agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA: padlocked gates of abandoned factories, grass growing in parking lots of places where workers used to make steel, used to make washing machines, used to make textiles, used to make machine parts.

"Free trade has meant freedom for the American worker to stand in the unemployment line while their jobs were traded away. So-called free trade has brought broken dreams, broken homes, broken hearts to the American manufacturing worker. Trade without equity is tyranny. Trade without economic justice is theft. Trade without integrity, without workers' rights, without human rights, without environmental principles is not worthy of a free people."

--Kucinich in the final House CAFTA debate, July 27, 2005

Siberia's Rapid Thaw Causes Alarm

A huge portion of Siberia is thawing for the first time since its formation 11,000 years ago. This thawing is largely being caused by global warming, something called "arctic oscillation," and "feedbacks caused by melting ice." The whole area of Western Siberia has warmed much more rapidly than anywhere else on Earth in the last three or four years. Scientists warn that the situation could be irreversible and cause a rapid acceleration in climate change, because the melting ice could release huge amounts of trapped methane into the atmosphere.

Which once again proves that global climate change is a myth dreamed up by liberal scientists, just like evolution, right Mr. Bush?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Kansas Moves to De-Emphasize the Teaching of Facts


The Kansas Board of Education has voted to de-emphasize evolution as a central part of the school curriculum, preferring to have teachers discuss various theories about the origin of life with their students.

True, Kansas hasn't said "you can't teach Evolution" or "you must teach creationism" or even "you should teach intelligent design," but this is just one more step in a gradual nationwide, hell, a global erosion of trust in science and a kind of "renaissance" of theistic literalism. If trends continue, I can foresee a day when we have another Scopes trial--but this time, the trial will ban the teaching of evolution in favor of teaching some version of the Biblical account of creation.

Look, if evolution, a theory that has been demonstrably proven time and again by scientists, is suddenly suspect, then what scientific theory can stand up to the same kind of scrutiny? For example, let's stop teaching the theory of relativity AND quantum mechanics, because they don't "match up" and therefore they're both suspect.

Next let's start questioning whether the Earth is round and revolves around the Sun. Let's demonize Galileo and Copernicus and insist on teaching Ptolemy's geocentric model of the Universe. I mean heck, if nothing scientific can stand up to the scrutiny that biblical literalists demand, then we might as well throw out all of chemistry, biology and physics.

I'm just glad that these Biblical literalists are so willing to let their theories be tested with the same rigor that scientific theories like evolution are tested. I mean, if they didn't allow intelligent design, or whatever concocted cock-up of an excuse for creationism they're promoting, to be subjected to scientific testing, well, they'd just be hypocrites, wouldn't they? They would essentially be demanding that science be rejected if it is not absolutely provable, but religious dogma can get away with huge logical flaws and a major lack of evidence and still be credible.

Drought declared in Oklahoma

The period of March-May of this year has been the driest since 1921. We here in Northeastern Oklahoma are more than 7 inches below normal rainfall for the year. Therefore, all but two counties in the state have been declared "Agricultural Disaster Areas."

I'll add this to the tally of unusual or record-breaking weather events that have happened over the past few years that certainly can't be the result of global warming.

Bill O'Reilly would execute everyone at Gitmo

Video of Bill O'Reilly giving us another gem of wisdom from the total idiot department at Faux News.

Jeb Bush thinks banning racist team names is "ridiculous"

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, that paragon of virtue and righteousness, said that it is "ridiculous" for the NCAA to ban the team name and mascot of Florida State University, "home of the Seminoles." He bases this assertion on the fact that the "costuming and rigging" of the mascot, Chief Osceola, and his horse, were designed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The trouble is that many other Native American tribes, including other Seminole tribes, find the name and the mascot offensive and degrading.

I for one applaud the NCAA for their bold decision to ban racist team names from postseason tournament play, and I hope it leads to teams changing their names. Jeb Bush's position shows just how out of touch he is with the majority of people who realize that it's just as offensive to call a team the Redskins as it would be to call a team the Niggers or the Kikes.

Here's another great quote from Governor Bush:

"How politically correct can we get?" Bush asked. "The folks that make these decisions need to get out more often."

No, Mr. Bush, I think you need to get out more often. Just because you have one Native American tribe on your side doesn't give you or Florida State University the right to insult all Native Americans.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 60 years later

With the dawn of the nuclear age, humanity for the first time had perfected the means by which it could achieve its own destruction. The mushroom clouds over Japan signaled the birth of a new era of almost constant terror of complete annihilation and ushered in a new Cold War in which each side threatened the other with oblivion. There are some who would argue that the "mutually assured destruction" provided by the nuclear deterrent made the very use of nuclear weapons impossible.

Whether or not that is true is moot. What we must face now is the reality that a lot of the weapons previously in the hands of the Soviet government have literally been lost by the inept and sometimes corrupt governments that arose in the wake of the Soviet Union's fall. We now face the very real threat of a mad terrorist like Osama Bin Laden with his finger on the trigger of a nuclear device.

If we truly are the world's last and greatest superpower, then we absolutely must focus all of our energy on ridding the world of real weapons of mass destruction, and stop chasing the hallucinations of weapons that our thirst for oil tricked us into seeing in Iraq. Just one nuclear detonation in a small town in America would make 9/11 look like the accidental toppling of a child's building blocks and throw the entire world into chaos.

Why then does Bush insist on pouring billions of dollars and gallons of American and Iraqi blood onto the Iraqi desert floor, when our real enemies were never there?

You threatening my masculinity? Fine! Watch me buy this SUV, hate gay people and support the war!

A Cornell study has shown that men overcompensate when their "masculinity is threatened" and become more likely to buy a big burly SUV, support the war in Iraq and express homophobic feelings.

"In a separate study, [researcher Rob Willer] verified that support for the Iraq War, homophobia and interest in purchasing an SUV were all considered masculine by study participants."

Space Shuttle Discovery lands safely

Breaking news: the Space Shuttle Discovery has landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Weekend Roundup

President Bush is about to sign an energy bill that he says will help end our dependence on foreign oil even though the bill does nothing of the sort. Meanwhile, his poll numbers are way down and the mother of a dead Iraq soldier is protesting outside of his ranch.

The landing of Discovery has been delayed until tomorrow morning due to bad weather. Justice Stevens has spoken out against the death penalty. The Democrats and Republicans are arguing over beer money.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Peter Jennings dies

I guess I missed this one...I never heard that Peter Jennings had lung cancer. Well, here's to the memory of a great news personality.

Friday, August 5, 2005

The myth of "mainstream values"

Here's a theory I'm working on. Keep in mind, I haven't fleshed it out very well, but this is the gist of it.

Perhaps the problem that Progressives have in getting heard as loudly as the right-wingers boils down to a usurpation of the phrase "mainstream values" by the far right.

Take Fox News. It's clearly a far right network, yet it calls itself "fair and balanced." True, this laughable misnomer has been discredited a multiplicity of times by those of us who see through the absolute lie of it. The fact remains, however, that the network has managed to capture a sizeable audience from the center and the center-right and quietly push them farther to the right by calling its brand of radical conservative propaganda "mainstream."

Fox News is only one example of this phenomenon. I started to think about this theory after looking at a right-wing blog written by someone who had commented on my Intelligent Design post. He posted his own statement on Intelligent Design on his blog in response to mine. In his blog, he described me as a "self-avowed leftist." While his blog does have links to the New York Conservative Party, among other right-wing links, nowhere on it, that I could tell, does he describe himself as a right-winger or a conservative. Admittedly, I haven't read every word on his blog, so I can't say that definitively, but that description of me as a "self-avowed leftist" got me thinking about the myth of "mainstream values."

Here's the theory in brief.

The radical conservative movement in this country, and by that I mean the Administration, their buddies at Fox News, the right wing talk show hosts, the right wing websites like WorldNetDaily, and the Christian fundamentalist hate groups like Focus on the Family ("the KKK for the modern suburbanite"), have become successful because instead of proclaiming their political orientation on the right, they either proclaim themselves "mainstream," "balanced" or simply don't mention their political orientation at all. These groups have just brazenly ignored the fact that the majority of Americans don't really share most of their values, and have planted their right-wing flag onto the phrase "mainstream values." By doing so, these groups have managed to convince a lot of folks in the "mushy middle" that indeed, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and WorldNetDaily do represent the mainstream, and have thereby pushed a lot of the center over to the far right.

The left, on the other hand, hasn't done that. We have stubbornly insisted on calling ourselves "progressive" and have thereby cemented ourselves on the left side of the political spectrum. Thus, we do not capture the "mushy middle," because they identify us with political positions with which they do not agree.

Added to this is the fact that these right-wing news organizations and groups demonize anyone who doesn't agree with them as being "self-avowed leftists," a sinister term evoking the spectre of Soviet Russia, which further discredits us in the minds of centrists and sends them running straight into the arms of these right-wingers.

With the added influence of radical right wing churches and the fact that the right wing media is so much bigger than the left wing media, it certainly looks like we've got a significant handicap that's going to take some work to overcome if we're ever going to have hope of getting the word "mainstream" back on our side.

So what is the solution? Should Progressives abandon the word Progressive and proclaim ourselves "mainstream," pulling up the flag of Fox News that has been planted on that word and supplanting it with the flag of reason, democratic values and equal rights?

For years, I've argued that Progressives should be proud to be Progressives, but perhaps by doing so we're automatically limiting our audience and thereby limiting how far our message gets out and how much good we can accomplish for our side. I'm not yet prepared to abandon that position because I still think it's both ethically and ideologically the correct position to take. But perhaps we need to take a page out of the right-wing playbook, and start calling our values mainstream values -- because really, the values of social justice, equal rights, peace, diversity and community spirit are mainstream values. It's the values of bigotry, theocratic absolutism, extreme corporatism and warmongering, the values propagated by Fox News and WorldNetDaily, by the Project for a New American Century and Focus on the Family, that are far outside of the mainstream. And we need to help people to realize that, one way or another.

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Why Ariel Sharon is Israel's Best Hope for Peace


I never thought I'd see that headline either, let alone write it.

Hear me out.

Ariel Sharon is at least partially responsible for starting this current wave of violence and hostility. His visit to the Dome of the Rock certainly helped stir the pot, and I think it was designed to do just that, and sweep him into office in a wave of fear about Palestinian attacks. That strategy worked, and Sharon was elected.

At first, he was a typical right-wing hawk, brutalizing the Palestinians with rocket attacks and home demolitions and refusing to do anything serious about the peace process. The cycle of violence escalated and there seemed no way out. Most progressive Zionists, myself included, thought Sharon was worse than Netanyahu, and we were very angry and depressed about the state of things in Israel.

The Road Map seemed like a token gesture not actually intended to work. Neither side made much progress, and truce talks with the extremists failed time and again to achieve lasting peace. The Geneva document drafted as an alternative seemed like a ray of hope, but it sank to the bottom of the well of public discourse and hasn't been heard from since.

At some point, however, Sharon seemed to realize, maybe because of increasing global pressure on him to stop the home demolitions, rocket attacks and unilateral security fence building, that he needed to change tactics. He started to talk to the Palestinians seriously about restarting the peace process, infuriating the Netanyahu hawks in his own party and causing great consternation among the progressive Zionist community about what he was up to.

The real coup was Arafat's death. When Arafat was alive, he was in complete control of the Palestinian political, security and public relations machine. With his death and the ascension of Mahmoud Abbas as his replacement, suddenly things became possible that had previously been impossible. Sharon had an opportunity to seize, and he did so.

The Gaza disengagement plan started out as a shrewd, unilateral political maneuver on Sharon's part. He was saying to the Palestinians, "look, we can't take this anymore. We're out. You're on your own." The Palestinians were delighted, the settlers were infuriated, and the Likud party was divided and tumultuous.

But here's why it will work. Sharon is in the perfect political position to pull this off. He's the hero of the right-wing hawks, but he's convinced many of these hawks that it is in their enlightened self-interest for the Palestinians to have their own state separate from Israel. This political position frees him from a lot of pressure on the right, and it gives him new credibility on the left. Moreover, with a moderate like Abbas in control of the PLO, Sharon has had a real partner on the other side to haggle with, one who has shown a distinct ability to influence the extremists away from attacks against Israeli civilians. And since Sharon has shown that he won't hesitate to take violent, decisive action against Palestinian extremists who attack Israelis, he has both a really tasty carrot and a really sharp stick that will help him get the best deal possible for Israel.

Clearly, there are radicals on both sides who won't be satisfied with any kind of solution. The settlers want all of Israel for Israelis, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad want to throw the Jews into the sea. Nobody can negotiate with these factions. But despite the massive press that these groups get, they are only a small part of the overall political picture. Most Israelis want peaceful coexistence with Palestinians, and most Palestinians want an end to the violence and their own state, and they're willing to work with Israel to acheive those goals.

The Gaza disengagement plan, while it started out as a unilateral move, has necessitated the aid and cooperation of the Palestinians, both in reining in the extremist Palestinian factions before and during the pullout, and in ensuring that once the Israelis leave, the Gaza Strip will not become a hotbed of extremist recruiting and an entry point for suicide bombers into Israel. Abbas has shown a great willingness and ability to do what is needed to ensure that the pullout is as painless as possible for both sides.

In addition, once Israel leaves, both sides will need to work together to build a self-sufficient Palestinian economy in the Gaza Strip. Doing so will require Israel to rethink and possibly dismantle the security fence and promote trade ties between the two sides, which will both help the Palestinians build their economy and help ease the enmity and mutual distrust that each side feels for one another.

In short, Ariel Sharon is in the best possible position to make this happen, because he has managed, through shrewd political manipulation, to drag much of the hawkish right over to the side of peaceful coexistence, and in doing so has gained the trust of many in the center and even some on the left of Israeli politics. With that much Israeli support backing him, he has a lot of credibility in talking to the Palestinians. And with a real Palestinian partner for peace like Abbas, he can back up his credibility with concrete results.

Here's hoping it works.

24 Dead Soldiers This Week...And Counting



24 dead American soldiers this week. How many does that make? And what exactly have we accomplished with this war? Have we found any weapons of mass destruction? No. Have we brought democracy and stability to Iraq? No. Have we destroyed the terrorists' ability to attack us? No. Have we eliminated the terrorists' ability to recruit suicide bombers, discredited their ideology so that nobody wants to join them, liberated anyone from anything? No.

I have two analogies that I like to use when talking about the Iraq war.

1) The way we're fighting terrorists in Iraq reminds me of that game at the fair where those gophers pop up out of the hole and you whack them with a mallet. What happens next? Another gopher pops up and you whack it, and then another, and then another. It never ends. You can't possibly whack all of the gophers.

2) We have a fire ant hill in our backyard. We decided that the best way to get rid of it would be to blow it up with dynamite, scattering angry fire ants all over the backyard and only killing a few of them. So we now have a backyard full of fire ants.

Unfortunately, neither of these analogies is truly adequate. Both assume a constant number of terrorists, when our actions are clearly increasing the recruiting ability of the terrorist organizers. So really, it's like with every gopher we hit, two gophers come up in its place. And after we blew up the ant hill, new queens were created that took some of the ants with them and created new ant hills in the backyard.

We're not doing any good in Iraq, folks. I don't care how well crafted the "constitution" is that is supposed to be drafted soon. The insurgents aren't going to have any part of it. And if we can't beat them, and it looks like we can't, then we might as well pull out now.

And by the way, how's Mr. Karzai doing in Afghanistan? How much power does his "democratic government" have outside of Kabul? I would venture a guess that the warlords who control most of Afghanistan don't pay Mr. Karzai much of a thought these days...

Bring our troops home, Mr. Bush. Bring them home now, before we waste more lives in this bungled adventure.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Democratic Party Hires Organizers in Oklahoma

It's all part of the "50 State Strategy" created by my good man Chairman Dean. The Democrats have hired three organizers to help energize the party faithful here. It's a good and hopeful sign that perhaps this old donkey is tired of being kicked around the red states and is ready to start doing some kicking of its own.

I seriously hope that this 50 State Strategy works, and that, even if we don't turn Oklahoma blue in 2006, we at least force the Republican Party to spend more time and money fighting for a victory, instead of just simply being handed one. After all, this state does have more registered Democrats than Republicans--it's just that many of the registered Democrats either 1) don't vote, or 2) are closet Republicans that vote Republican in every election.

My real hope is that the Democrats come up with a charismatic candidate for Congressional District 1 in 2006. We need to get John Sullivan out of office, and fast. If the Democratic Party nationally is seriously committed to this 50 state strategy, then that's where they should focus the majority of their energy.

Islamic Jihad to Suspend Rocket Attacks

Extremist group Islamic Jihad has said that it will suspend its rocket attacks against Israelis during the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

I will comment on this more completely later, but for now, let me say this. Mahmoud Abbas has been able to accomplish more since Yasser Arafat's death than Yasser Arafat was ever able to accomplish in reining in Palestinian extremist elements, and I applaud him for that. Of course, this is mostly because Arafat died, but still, it's good.

I'm anxious that the Israeli pullout should go as smoothly and peacefully as possible. It's going to be a huge step towards building a two-state solution and ending decades of mutual hatred and bloodshed. I applaud both sides for their willingness to work together on this important step.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Air France Jet Bursts Into Flames After Skidding Off Runway

Breaking news! An Air France jet has skidded off of a runway at Toronto's airport and burst into flames. A news conference is set for 5:00pm EDT.

Bush Backs "Intelligent Design"

Bush has said that he wants Intelligent Design, a thinly veiled attempt to promote creationist theory, taught in public schools alongside evolution.

Didn't we go through this years ago? The Christian Conservatives, normally quite happy to censor speech when it's "indecent" or "offensive," cry foul when sensible rationalists try to deny them the right to use taxpayer dollars to promote a particular religious message. It's not about freedom of speech. Nobody is saying to these Christians "hey, you can't teach your kid about creationism in your own home."

America is about freedom of religion--the freedom to believe what you want and discuss it freely. But it is also about freedom from religion--the freedom not to spend your tax dollars to promote someone else's religious agenda, the freedom not to have your kids subjected officially to someone else's religious agenda in a public school.

Science isn't religion. Evolution isn't religion, isn't a "belief" and isn't a "theory" that is on par with Creationism. Evolution is a scientific theory, one that has been subjected to analytical scrutiny and the scientific method, and one which is pretty close to the truth of how life develops on this planet. Therefore, it should be taught as fact in public schools.

Intelligent design is a "theory" in that someone said "hey, I think the world is this way, and that's my theory" and then was done with it. It hasn't been subject to the same kind of analytical scrutiny as evolution--because it can't be. It's not a theory that can be tested because it relies entirely on supposition and conjecture. Therefore, it has no place in the public schools.

I really wish we had paid attention to the Enlightenment a little bit more -- maybe we'd have learned something about the importance of reason and logic in interpreting science and the nature of existence. Maybe we wouldn't be slipping back into a Dark Ages of superstition and theocratic idiocy.

It looked funny and sounded funny...


And now in "News that makes you wonder about some people..."

Police in Australia investigate a report of an unattended package making a strange noise on a bus.

Turns out it was a Whoopee cushion.

Monday, August 1, 2005

Why the AFL-CIO split is good for labor

I've been a labor activist for several years and I've become pretty cynical about the leadership of the AFL-CIO, specifically whether John Sweeney is ever really going to be able to stop the massive decline in membership that the labor movement has been suffering for so many years. At the rate it's going, there won't be an AFL-CIO to speak of in a few decades, and the anti-labor forces will really be able to go after all of the job protections that hard working union activists have won through decades of struggle.

That is, unless the individual unions of the AFL-CIO take matters into their own hands. Which is exactly what the Teamsters, SEIU and UFCW, following the lead of the Carpenters' Union several years ago, have done.

By splitting from the AFL-CIO, these unions have shown that they mean business. They've shown that they're not going to sit back and let the bureaucrats at the top of the labor food chain take their dues and sit on them.

This split is good for labor. By leaving the AFL-CIO, these unions have a chance to form a lean, mean, stripped-down organizing machine that can not only attract new workers but can serve to pressure the AFL-CIO into action. If it does not respond, the AFL-CIO risks becoming irrelevant, replaced by this new, militant, grassroots labor movement. If it does respond, then the AFL-CIO and this new organization will become competing federations of unions, both vying to organize more workers and, through that competition, becoming more active, visible and effective than either side could be on its own.

Therefore, I say bravo and fight on to the members of the SEIU, UFCW and the Teamsters, and to all the other unions who are involved in the breakaway coalition. By forcing the AFL-CIO to take a hard look at itself, this coalition will surely re-energize the labor movement and, in the long run, make it stronger.

No Need to Click Here - I'm just claiming my feed at Feedster feedster:02a0ff2285b6e2a1ede08ca661b60cfd

The Vicar of Dibley and the One Campaign

Last night, PBS ran an episode of the Vicar of Dibley, a wonderful British sitcom about a female vicar and the eccentric inhabitants of the tiny village she serves, in which the One Campaign was featured.

For background, the One Campaign is the campaign to fight AIDS and poverty that has been promoted most heavily by celebrities like Brad Pitt and Bono. It seeks to increase U.S. donations to "Official Development Assistance" by 1% of our national budget. Click the title of this post to go to the One Campaign website.

Towards the end of the episode, the Vicar is trying to get people to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Live Aid by wearing the white One Campaign wristbands and writing letters to Tony Blair. The villagers, gathered in the Vicar's house, are hesitant and wonder what could be accomplished by wearing the wristbands.

The Vicar suggests looking at the One Campaign website, where she finds a video link titled "hesitant about wearing the wristbands?" She clicks on the link, and the camera zooms in on the vicar's laptop playing a video of two African children crying about their mother who had died of AIDS and their father who is dying of AIDS. They live in misery and have no way of taking care of themselves. The video ends with the subtitle that their father died shortly after it was filmed.

The camera zooms back out to show everyone, even the stodgy conservative government representative, wearing white armbands and wristbands. It is a very touching scene.

But it doesn't quite answer the question, does it? Who am I helping by wearing a white rubber wristband? If enough people wear wristbands, are the G8 leaders suddenly going to wake up and do something real about African poverty and the AIDS pandemic? How many rock concerts need to be held for that magic moment to be reached when George Bush finally grows a conscience?

I hate to be cynical about this whole thing, but I'm just really not that inspired by Brad Pitt wearing a designer camouflage shirt at Live 8 telling me about poverty in Africa. If he wanted to do something about it, he could donate all of the proceeds from his next film to the project, or to Medicins Sans Frontiers, or Oxfam, or Amnesty International. That would impress me. But standing on a stage with a bunch of rich rock stars telling people to go care about poverty? I'm sorry, but I just don't buy it.

The singular problem of poverty in Africa is that it is a political and an economic problem, and the two are interrelated. We can throw money at Africa and feel good about ourselves, but if that money is intercepted by corrupt governments, then it's not going to help anyone. That was the problem with Live Aid. We can give people breaks on the cost of drugs to fight AIDS, but if those people have no money at all, then we won't help them by cutting the price.

I don't know what the solution is to the African poverty crisis and the AIDS pandemic. But it seems to me that making a whole lot of wristbands and commercials with celebrities in them isn't going to do the trick. It seems to me like a more fundamental change is needed, one that recognizes that the health of the world should not be in the hands of for-profit pharmaceutical companies, that transforming corrupt governments requires internal change that cannot be forced from the outside, and that the hyper-rich celebrities who crow about poverty need to start digging into their own wallets a little bit deeper before they ask the working and middle classes to open up our wallets.

Bush Circumvents Senate, Appoints Bolton

It's sad when the President of the United States, whose party controls both houses of Congress as well as the White House, and who is about to seize control of the Supreme Court, cannot even get his nominee for UN Ambassador voted on by the Senate and has to go through sneaky back doors to get him appointed.

It's yet another example of the "mandate" that George Bush doesn't have.