Saturday, May 29, 2004

Just came home from a night of yuppie self-indulgence to read this. "According to the federal government, veterans make up 9% of the U.S. population but 23% of the homeless population. Among homeless men, veterans make up 33%. . . According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the estimated number of homeless Vietnam veterans is more than twice the number of soldiers, 58,000, who died in battle during that war." Sometimes this country pisses me off so much it leaves me almost speechless.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Night of the Long Knives

Update: "The CIA has asked the FBI to investigate Mr Chalabi's contacts in the Pentagon to discover how the INC acquired sensitive information that ended up in Iranian hands. " . . . The CIA allegations bring to a head a dispute between the CIA and the Pentagon officials instrumental in promoting Mr Chalabi and his intelligence in the run-up to the war. By calling for an FBI counter-intelligence investigation, the CIA is, in effect, threatening to disgrace senior neo-conservatives in the Pentagon."

Looks like Tenet isn't going to take the fall for prewar intelligence after all.
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Sorry about the long silence. Back from Ohio, where I had no internet access to speak of. Will's wedding was unorthodox - Martha is militantly atheist and attends an organized Humanist group - which I jokingly call "athiest church." All the social benefits, none of that nasty burning afterlife. Anyway, they had a nice guy named Augie who did the ceremony, he's a "celebrant," like an anti-preacher I guess. Will married a woman, needless to say, but I wonder how the "defend the sanctity of marriage" crowd feels about all this. Aren't they undermining the "sanctity" of marriage just by having a civil wedding? Technically, no God means no sanctity, am I right? Again I'm puzzled by the argument. Why should a non-religious marriage be outlawed because the union in question is forbidden by the Bible. The funniest argument I've heard is that if we allow gay marriage, legal polygamy will follow. But polygamy is okay, according to the Bible! Abraham had more than one wife . . . I'm not even going to get into David's sex life on a family blog! For that matter, polygamy in Saudi Arabia hasn't led to gay marriage.

The New York Times apologizes for all that garbage about Iraq, bin Laden and WMD they printed after being spoon-fed lies by Iranian intelligence operative Ahmed Chalabi.

"senior intelligence officials stress the information Ahmad Chalibi is alleged to have passed on to Iran is of such a seriously sensitive nature, the result of full disclosure could be highly damaging to U.S. security. The information involves secrets that were held by only a handful of very senior U.S. officials, says Stahl." Gosh, who could that guy possibly know at the Pentagon?

Regarding DC and the burbs, a commuter tax worked for New York until Pataki repealed it. However, there is always a danger that raising taxes in a municipality will push businesses across the border. In the end, the solution has to be revenue sharing within an entire metropolitan region. But regional authorities, especially those whose authorities cross state lines, tend to be both undemocratic and ineffective. This more than any other issue is what makes me a crotchety old Paleo-Liberal. We already have an overarching authority, we call it the Federal Government. The best way to overcome the injustices, and almost as important, the inefficiencies caused by neo-segregationist sprawl is to push the funding and much of the regulatory power over infrastructure and land use up to the Federal level. Big steps could be taken if state constitutions were altered to deprive suburban governments of the power to use blatantly segregationist tools like minimum lot sizes and zoning against multi-family housing. Notice I am not calling for a ban on tasteless ugly big houses on outsize lawns, I am just saying that governments should not be willing to require them. I should be able to build an apartment building right next door to your mini-mansion, and you shouldn't be able to stop me. It's really the segregationist-suburbanite-sprawlers who are anti-market and pro-government intervention on these issues, not me. Why do they complain about Federal intervention in the economy but favor local government intervention?

You'll notice, as I did the other week-end, that Arlington does have apartments, condos, single family homes and businesses all right next to each other. As an older community, its "bones" were probably laid down before zoning was invented in the 1920s - Judging from what the new growth looks like, I'm guessing it still has minimal restrictions on land use. I'd love to hear about this, if anyone can tell me.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

In reference to Craig's last post, DC is trying, with little success, to impose a commuter tax. This would be a payroll tax for people who work in the District but live outside the city but use the roads, Metro, and other services and choose to sink their incomes into McMansions way the fuck out in Fairfax County or Loudon County.

This letter to the WaPo discusses some of it.

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Monday, May 17, 2004

A few words on Brown v. Board:

It's a sham. America's public schools are still separate, and still unequal. The most segregated population in the US today: white people, who run like hell from integration at the first opportunity. Even in the South, where people really tried to desegregate, integration turned out to be the brief period between the first black family moving in and the last white family moving out. This story from the Tribune is really frustrating - it's sort of a best case scenario, and it still stinks. The problem in Atlanta, and everywhere, is suburban sprawl. In this country, government services such as public education are pushed down to the local level. This makes it easy for people with resources to simply move out of a town and set up their own "community" right next door, with a new government, school district, tax code etc. Then, through minimum lot sizes, zoning against multi-family homes, and so on, communities can exclude anyone without money. They can't formally exclude by race, of course, but they can keep building new houses as unwanted neighbors move in.

Full disclosure: I live in Chicago, perhaps the most segregated city in America. They city is 31% white, but only 9% of public school students are "white" - and the states weird definitions count Indians and Pakistanis as "white." White families who can't afford to send their kids to private school mostly move to the suburbs when their children turn 5. The city has improved in many ways recently, but residentially, the African American community couldn't be kept more separate from the rest of the population if there were still Jim Crow laws. In a city that is 36% Black, 31% White, and 26% Latino (the rest are Asian, Arab, Native American etc) the majority of African Americans live in neighborhoods that are 97% Black. The boys here live in Arlington, the majority-white county which seceded from DC in the 1800s to rejoin Virginia. In Arlington, one can enjoy most of the benefits of the capital city without actually paying the taxes to support them (I wonder if the District benefits in any way from all the new development in Northern VA? I doubt it) So I'm not saying we are innocent in this, I'm just saying it sucks. You probably can't force people to live next to each other in a democracy. But we should be able to come up with a system where we all pay into the same pot for basic services, in which people can't avoid their responsibilities as citizens simply by moving to another "town" anyway. And who knows, without the tax benefits maybe people would stop building these horrible new mall-subdivision-mall exurbs. They certainly don't have anything else going for them. You've got to admit, pretty much every community that wasn't on the map in 1954 is a boring, lifeless hellscape . . .
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More on this later...
but I'm currently working on the details of a plan to call for a Consitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between "at least one man and/or at least one woman". It will be called The Defense of a Good Time Act. This is in response to conservative Christian concerns that same sex marriage will set the stage for a further distancing from the traditional defintion of marriage. My plan would affect that distancing.
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Sunday, May 16, 2004

India was founded on the notion that the Brits knew what was best for millions of souls in a foreign land. The future of the INC is clouded right now... I am not sure how it plays out... I do know this, I know many people close to Sonia Ghandi. I will go back there now. The Jantaa party was a joke. There was no future in it. The most appealing part of this political process is that our partner, Pakistan, does not have the same respect for the democratic process that they do. Bush is gone. That's all there is to it. . I refuse to associate myself with those who think and act otherwise.
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May 16, 2004 12:45 AM

It's official - the Zodiac Killers rock.
They don't update their website, though - they have a new album and a new guitarist. Still, they brought the house down at the Empty Bottle tonight. Punk rock the way God intended, as if that wasn't a contradiction in terms . . .
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Friday, May 14, 2004

The People Strike Back - Episode II

It's nice to have some good news to talk about! It isn't big news in the US for some reason, but the odious BJP has been voted out of power in India. This is being billed as a surprise upset, apparently nobody saw it coming. I mean, the pundits knew that 230 million registered voters were living on less than a dollar a day in spite of India's "miraculous economic growth." What they couldn't imagine was that poor farmers would actually throw out a government that used religious bigotry to manipulate the masses while screwing them over in favor of the wealthy minority. I hope working class Americans will be as smart. Indians might be a little more clearheaded, often living in villages with no electricity, so they have no TV disinformation to confuse them.

On a heavier note, I'm tired of hearing about how the torturers at Abu Ghraib "don't represent America." It's like people don't want to admit Americans are just like everybody else . . . Psychologist Philip Zimbargo did some disturbing experiments in the 1970s, randomly assigning volunteers to act as prison guards and prisoners in a two week role play study. Volunteers were screened to eliminate anyone with psychological problems, drug problems or a criminal history. These were normal, healthy, intelligent middle class men. Nevertheless, the experiment had to be stopped within a few days because "the guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress." Yes, the "prisoners" were stripped naked and abused, etc . . . this isn't exceptional, this is what human beings are like without training and supervision. Americans are no better than anyone else, we just have a better system. With the understanding that people can't be trusted with unlimited power over others, the Founders set up a system of checks and balances. When you have an adnimistration that claims it can detain people with not legal rights and no judicial oversight, based on no evidence, hold them outside the Geneva Conventions, and assign truck drivers to be prison guards - what do you expect will happen? I expect we will here that something similar has happened almost anywhere people are being detained without rights or legal oversight. You can't trust people with that kind of power. Some American conservatives like to believe that legal oversight isn't necessary if you have a culture that teaches moral values ad nauseum . . . but it doesn't work like that. Power corrupts - period.

The Toledo Blade did an extraordinary series last year on a string of US war crimes in Vietnam committed by an elite group known as Tiger Force. It's interesting as a comparison with today's top stories, and also because it substantially confirms John Kerry's statements about US war crimes to Congress in 1971. If you are one the people who believe he was eggagerating to make a political point, I dare you to read the Blade series.

Speaking of atrocities, I actually think some good may come of the horrific killing of Nick Berg by Abu Musab Zarqawi. Parts of the infamous video were shown on Arab sattelite TV, and it is viewed as so shocking that it is being widely condemned throughout the Muslim world, both by mainstream religious scholars and by radicals. Juan Cole reports that even Hezbollah has condemned "this horrible act which does an immense wrong to Islam and Muslims by a group which falsely pretends to follow the precepts of the religion of pardon and essential human values." Coming on the heels of Zarquawi's appeals for fighters to come to Iraq and battle "infidels and Shiites" after Sunni and Shiite insurgents began fighting side by side, it looks like Zarqawi's well on his way to marginalizing himself even among the Iraqi resistance. This is a good sign - if they hate us but hate al Queada too, we could always call it a draw and leave.
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Sunday, May 09, 2004

One of the many, many reasons Iraqis are so upset about the prisoner abuse situation is that they are more aware than we are of how many of the detainees are not actually involved in organized insurgency. Our troops know very little about Iraqi society, and oftent they detain people based on their neighbors' say so. I have read a couple accounts by soldiers saying that some tribes in the Sunni Triangle have long-running feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys - when Marines come around asking questions, locals finger people who are already their enemies, whether they are involved in the insurgency or not. Add to this our troops' tendency to detain anyone who is at the address they are given, regardless of what name they give, and you have the very real possibility that many detainees are innocent. Which is really disturbing, since some of these guys are not being detained, but just getting whacked. If you don't believe it, look up Patrice Lamumba sometime.

Which brings me to the home front, and once again to my homeboy Jose Padilla. Now I'm not a big fan of any of these West Side gangbangers and I'm more than happy to see him convicted and sentenced for anything, whether he's a terrorist or not. But under the constitution, the guy deserves a fair trial on concrete charges. If the government has nothing on him, they have to let him go. I'm not defending the bastard for a second, what I'm saying is, if the government can hold a citizen without evidence, without charges, then the government can hold you, too. And that, folks, is the end of our freedom. The other day I got a notice in the mail that I received a parking ticket on Apiril 20th in Peoria, Illinois on April 20th. The notice threatened to revoke my license if I don't pay up. Interesting, since I have never been to Peoria in my life. Since there is an accepted legal process associated with parking tickets, I called and found out the ticket was issued to some guy with a Ford. Since I don't drive a Ford, the issue will probably be sorted out. But if the Bush Administrations rules were in force, they would just take the money out of my bank account, seize my liscence, or both. The fact that it's a mistake would never come out, without due process.

Now some people would tell you that it's worth falsely imprisoning a few people for years to prevent another 9/11, but they are chickenshit morons. Look, 9/11 was terrible, but we are still here. We lost 3,000 people. Terrible, but we are not broken. We lost 400,000 people in WWII and are still standing. I'm not meaning to be callous, but I want to point out that Al Queada does not have the power to destroy our society, overthrow our democracy, or take our freedom. All they can do is kill people, and not enough people to bring the American experiment to an end. We have faced worse in the past; we have survived. But our own government, stripped of its checks and balances, can destroy our free society.

But not without a fight.
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Thursday, May 06, 2004

Enough hidding. Everyone and their mother asking for Rummy's head! Seems like W was plenty hot at him yesterday, yet he still wants him where he is and he appreciates him.... what? I am sorry. Please look at Tom Friedman's oped today... Here is my thing: we are in a war of ideas. I think that we are pretty close to beating them on the whole hypocracy of ideas thing, don't you think? Yeah, not all Americans are sadistic fucks who put prisoners on a leash, but then again not all arabs are suicidal killers seeking the blood of the infidel. Niether of these ideas were on the table, right? This was about democracy and freedom and liberation... tell it to the families of damn near 800 people here and thousands there. Firing Rumsfeld would be the very, very, very, very, least we could do in a show of "good will."
C, great to see you here the other week. And I will see you soon. I apologize for the rant on you running for office. That bourbon was far too good for me to keep my thoughts in check. Just wait until I introduce you to this stuff Bobby!!!

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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Sports, and not just Tony and Craig bitching about Cincy...

The Washington Post has a story today about the University of Maryland taking some proactive steps to improve fan behavior at sporting events, specifically basketball games. I'll let the article speak for itself, except to mention one point made by coworker Kevin. The article mentions that students and administrators are concerned with not infringing on student's First Amendments rights. But students and alumni who take pride in their University need to understand that until they learn to police their own free speech and after-game behavior, the press will continue to use their First Amendment rights to trash the reputation of the University. Speaking for myself, I hold the name of that univeristy as synonymous with classless, white-trash rednecks. As part of a very classy conference, UMd really stands out. Will top athletes want to play for a school whose games are regularly covered by ESPN but only when The Sports Reporters is doing another feature about fan behavior? Why would an out-of-state student want to be involved with a school with such a horrible reputation? The school is smart to get in front of this issue.
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Janeane Garofalo on The Daily Show last night: (something to the effect of) "At this point, a vote for Bush should be considered a character flaw..." She's dead on. I understand not liking Kerry, I understand wanting to vote for a Republican, but why this guy is their choice, I do not understand. Craig is exactly right that if McCain was our president now and had been for the past 4 years, the world would be a much saner place. He would probably have about a 95% approval rating and unprecedented authority from Congress. And he probably wouldn't abuse that power either.

And I'm finally starting to feel the blonde hair on her. She looks good.
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Monday, May 03, 2004

Some thoughts found at the bottom of a bottle of wine:

a) David Brock is a "progressive" now? What gives? Didn't trust him then, don't trust him now. . .

b) I hear 754 dead soldiers now. Close to 1,000 injured since April 1. Nearly 1400 dead Iraqis in April. Weaselwitz got these numbers wrong, by a lot, in Congress on Thursday. Did I mention these guys seem disconnected from reality?

c) I don't think they like us anymore. New poll also shows 57% of Iraqis surveyed want the US to leave now. This was not the case a year ago.

d) ''It's getting harder and harder to explain to the Marines: Why are we here?" said Peterson, 27. ''I'm very clear with them: We got an order from the president, and we do what the president says."

e) It was great to see you bastards last week. I couldn't help but notice that in newspaper coverage of the March for Women's Lives, the counterdemonstrators got equal time, even though we outnumbered them about 10,000 to 1. I'm just saying. Speaking of the march, second only to the Radical Cheerleaders were the people from Screw Abstinence. Why are they cool? Because Abstinence-only education doesn't work - for many reasons. And I'm not just talking about the fact that 80% of Americans do not wait until marriage to bump uglies, although that would be enough in a sane society. Locally we have an epidemic of good Catholic Latina girls who abstain until marriage and get STDs anyway. Why? Because their husbands lie and cheat. Here in the real world, "good" is just not as good as safe.

f) It's hard for me to think about other issues while people keep getting blown up. Real life seems like a dream compared to the reality of ongoing violent death. I think 9/11 required decisive action and a change in our defense posture. Unfortunately, we had such crappy leadership in this country, dedicated to cutting taxes, shrinking government, downsizing and privatizing the military . . . "government bad. Rich people good." So they didn't know what to do, but they were perceptive enough to know they had to do something. The tragedy of the 2000 election continues. Or, hell, why did the Republican primary voters choose Bush over McCain? Imagine John McCain as President, September 12, 2001. It's enough to make one weep. But these issues are all distractions. The real crisis facing the country is:

g) Jose Pedilla. "Enemy combatant?" They guy was picked up getting off a plane at O'Hare Airport. He has been detained for 2 years. He is not charged with a crime. The constitution clearly requires that the government get an arrest warrant, from a judge, based on evidence, and charged with a crime or released - I believe the word was "speedy." It doesn't matter if he is a terrorist. The issue is, if the government can lock him up without meeting some standard of proof before a judge, they can lock you up too, but just saying you are an "illegal combatant." With no legal recourse, they don't need any proof. If this stands up in court, democracy is dead and we should prepare to defend our homes and communities from our government. I had hoped for a 9-0 Supreme Court slam dunk. But it seems like Scalia will agree to anything his hunting buddies ask for. Why is that guy even a judge, let alone on the high court? Still, anything less than 8-1 would be troubling. If Bush actually wins the case, the Constitution ain't worth the paper it's written on.
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