Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Incompetence Watch

The Bush Administration continues to demonstrate the type of leadership and foresight that has become its hallmark. This lovely piece explores the mystery of who stole, er, what happened to all that money we sent to Iraq:

Only $13.7 billion of the $58 billion pledged and allocated worldwide to rebuild Iraq has been spent, with $10 billion more about to be spent. The biggest chunk of that money has been used to run Iraq's ministry operations. . . One of the biggest problems, Singer said, is that, while money has been pledged and allocated, not much has been spent. The GAO report shows that very little of the promised international funds — most of which are in loans — has been spent or can be tracked. The CPA's inspector general found the same thing. . . Both the GAO report and the CPA report said the CPA was seriously understaffed for the gargantuan task of rebuilding Iraq. The GAO report suggested the agency needed three times more employees than it had. The CPA report said the agency believed it had 1,196 employees, when it was authorized to have 2,117. But the inspector general said CPA's records were so disorganized that it couldn't verify its actual number of employees.


This is also cause for bellicose national rejoicing:

"They really didn't have a specific plan for what to do, case by case, if we lost," a senior Defence Department official was quoted as saying in the report. "The Justice Department didn't have a plan. State didn't have a plan.

"It's astounding to me that these cases have been pending for so long and nobody came up with a contingency plan."

Keep on rockin', Bush Boys!
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Friday, June 25, 2004

From KOS: Conservative groups are working hard to get Ralph on the ballot. Hey, "Progressives," Stop Drinking Nader's Kool-Aid!
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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Zoned Out

Once again I feel compelled to rant about the issue that least interests all of my friends: the evils of zoning. Zoning actually determines what kind of built environment we live, work, play, and shop in, but most people are unaware of the impact it has on their lives.

They have unveiled the new zoning code here in Chicago, and I think it has gone overboard. In an effort to prevent the continued bulldozing of charming old houses to make way for giant condo buildings, they have outlawed "battleships," new buildings that eliminate the backyard in favor of larger units. They decided that this was unfair to neighbors who used to be able to look up and down the rows of postage stamp back yards and spy on their neighbors. They are also downzoning lots of places, limiting the number of units allowed on a lot.

I have been hoping for some kind of historical preservation, but I have a couple of problems with this. One, the historic facade is the valuable part to me, not the backyard. People today are used to more space and bigger houses. Not allowing them to expand the house to cover the whole house makes the city much less attractive for many people, especially families with children. Two, not allowing the construction of three-flats limits population and will decrease the availability of affordable housing, again especially for families. Supporters of the zoning changes hope that they will slow rising property values and keep taxes down, I think they are mistaken. Combined with changes that may allow first-floor residences on formerly "commercial" streets like 43rd, and you see two things: continued population loss and creeping suburbanization.

The paper today reported that the census bureau estimates Chicago has been losing population since the 2000 census, and is less 2700 people. Many mayors have complained about the way these things are estimated, and they were certainly wrong about this in the 1990s. However, there are some reasons to believe this estimation might be accurate. Whenever a poor family of four moves out of an address and are replaced by DINKs (Double Income No Kids), the population of that address has fallen by 50%. I believe Chicago has been losing children because its schools continue to suck and many of its streets continue to be rather unsafe. But the zoning changes will add to this problem by preventing larger homes or multiple homes to be built on standard lots. As a result, modern midwesterners accustomed to larger houses will feel like they are forced to leave the city in order to find comfortable housing. The city has missed an opportunity to spur the construction of middle class housing while preserving existing cottages and bungalows for working class families. In addition, by limiting multiple family buildings, they force density down - a family of four cannot be replaced by two units of DINKs for example. Lower density means less demand for local businesses. Allowing too much housing construction on commercial streets will result in neighborhoods that are housing housing housing, with everyone driving a couple miles to a big box store to do their shopping. The zoning code was being rewritten for the first time since 1957 to stop sprawlification, mallification and decline - the old code was seen as detrimental to the vitality of the city. But the new code, by overreacting to overdevelopment, may actually accellerate the decline of the city and turn a vital living city into a horrifying bland hell.

Whew. You may return to your regularly scheduled international crisis.
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Friday, June 18, 2004

From the Post:
link here

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- An al Qaeda group said Friday it killed American hostage Paul M. Johnson Jr., posting an Internet message that showed three photographs of a severed head that appeared to be his.

The message, in the name of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, appeared as a 72-hour deadline set by the group ended.

"In answer to what we promised ... to kill the hostage Paul Marshall (Johnson) after the period is over ... the infidel got his fair treatment," the statement said.

"Let him taste something of what Muslims have long tasted from Apache helicopter fire and missiles," the statement said.

Jen and I are sickened right now and our thoughts are with his family.

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Thursday, June 17, 2004


I don't know, Bob. I suppose it's infantile, doesn't focus on the issues, and doesn't reflect the way a liberal democracy should be run. Yet I found the "kick out Bush" game oddly satisfying . . .

From Salon:

In violation of international law, Donald Rumsfeld ordered military officials to hold a man suspected of being a senior Iraqi terrorist at a high-level detention center but not list him on the prison's rolls to hide him from the Red Cross, New York Times reports.

"Pentagon and intelligence officials said the decision to hold the detainee without registering him -- at least initially -- was in keeping with the administration's legal opinion about the status of those viewed as an active threat in wartime. Seven months later, however, the detainee -- a reputed senior officer of Ansar al-Islam, a group the United States has linked to Al Qaeda and blames for some attacks in Iraq -- is still languishing at the prison but has only been questioned once while in detention, in what government officials acknowledged was an extraordinary lapse."

"'Once he was placed in military custody, people lost track of him,' a senior intelligence official conceded Wednesday night. 'The normal review processes that would keep track of him didn't.'"

Which is more appalling, Bushco's despicable policies or their shocking incompetence?

We Report, You Decide.

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"On a typical evening, one can see U.S. soldiers smoking from 4-foot-tall hookahs and security contractors guffawing over beer, their machine guns by their sides."

from salon.com

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I got an e-mail from the DNC this morning advertising something on their website called "Kick Bush Back to Crawford!" It is this ridiculously lame Flash "game" that has nothing to do with issues and isn't funny, doesn't serve any purpose and I'm sure will get used by Republicans as an example of divisiveness.

Frankly, it is embarrassing and I would have hoped that the DNC would be classier and more sophisticated than this.
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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Forced Out

On top of everything else going on in our lives, we will be moving August 1-5 or so . . . Carlos is selling the house because his taxes are too high. Our new home will be right accross the street from the old one. . we will have the first floor and basement of the house accross the street, which also belongs to Carlos and Marta - they lived there when they first got married. He has just finished rehabbing it, it has a new kitchen, dishwasher, washer/dryer, back porch, back yard, deck on top of the garage, for $300 more a month. It will be a little tight moneywise, but it is about twice the square footage of this apartment - it's a one bedroom (twice as large as the bedroom now) with a walk-in closet and a storage room . . . two bathrooms . . . we will sign a longer-term lease for at least 2 years, so we will be locking in a really good deal. I couldn't be more excited.

Carlos getting forced out is part of the rapid "gentrification" or whatever of the neighborhood. The real culprit is property taxes, which, for the millionth time, are socially destructive, regressive, and just a lousy way to fund government services. Your taxes should go up when your income goes up, not because the house you've owned for 15 years is suddenly worth more because crime has gone down and you have richer neighbors. People like Carlos have worked to make this neighborhood better, he is a landlord providing decent, affordable apartments to working people like us, and government policy is screwing him over for the crime of not converting his real estate into high-end condos for dotcom ditzes and boomer empty-nesters. Carlos is an airline pilot and Marta has a professional job - how rich do you have to be to survive in Chicago now? Clearly no one will be able to offer decent affordable housing in the city unless tax laws are changed. People complain about personal income taxes but concerning the alternatives (property taxes, sales taxes, Norquistian anarchy) they are the least bad alternative.

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Because I am a subscriber to salon.com, I was offered a free subscription to a periodical called Granta, "The Magazine Of New Writing" I just got my first issue. The theme of the issue is "Over There" and the first section is subtitled "How America Sees The World". Anyway, there is also a photo essay called "The Home Front" and includes pictures, among others, of an anti-war rally in Chicago, troops (the 101st Airborne) boarding a plane bound for Kuwait, old people sitting in a diner in Elizabeth City, NC watching TV about the bombing of Baghdad, and the funeral of a Marine in LaHarpe, Illinois. My favorite picture is of a family from Richmond, VA (makin' us proud!) at a pro-war rally. Goddammit, there must be 700 pounds between the mom and the dad and they've got their fat asses parked in beach chairs that I say a little prayer for everytime I look at the picture because those things have got to be close to breaking. I mean, the tensile strength of cheap aluminum can't be that high! Anyway, the kicker is that two of them are holding signs that say, "Support Our Troops".

I'm sorry, isn't that an anti-war sign?

No one sets fires or commits crimes because they love firemen and cops so much! No one gets sick so that doctors can keep making the mortgage payment on their vacation homes. Ideally, firemen would sit in the firehouse, eating chili and playing penny-ante poker with naked lady playing cards. Ideally, cops would stake out the donut shop and nowhere else. Ideally, the troops would be at home with their families.
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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Friday night I saw Robert Jr. Lockwood play a set of Robert Johnson tunes at the Chicago Blues Festival. Lockwood, in his mid to late 90's, was Johnson's only student back in the 1930's. Over the past seven decades, Lockwood has played as much jazz as blues and established a much more flowery and elaborate playing style, so when I saw him play last year, it was interesting, but not what I was looking for. This was different. Dressed in a suit on a very hot day, he sat on a stool, looking like the famous old portrait of Johnson with his guitar. It was old school and real, chilling in its satanic majesty and unflinching violence. Strange that with Ray Charles dead, Kurt Cobain dead, Joey Ramone dead, Jimi Hendrix dead, Elvis Presley dead, Hank Williams dead . . . such an old voice lives on. Like a gnarled old tree in a full cemetary. Like an 1840s farmhouse mouldering, forgotten, on a neighborhood street. Like the ruins of Canterbury cathedral, left to crumble next to its shiny modern replacement as a warning. All my love's in vain, it says.
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Freedom Now

Looks like I've started a little movement here. Check out the pictures over at the Tally Ho. Next up: Duke Ellington on the one!

Meanwhile - I hear a lot that a big problem the Democratic Party faces at the polls is that nobody knows what it stands for anymore. Largely this is a problem of communication, rather than purpose. The mainstream press has decided that the public is more interested in hearing about scandals and horse races than about principles. Whether because they are good at marketing or just plain simple-minded, the right has been able to package it's ideas in simple terms that can penetrate the din (Government Bad! War Good!). But on the assumption there most people out there are able to rise above the "Fire Bad, Tree Pretty" level of political discourse, here's something more substantial:

“In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

“The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

“The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

“The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.”
- FDR, January 1941

To that I would add the freedom of full participation in society for women and all minorities, racial, sexual, or otherwise. And, of course, freedom from undue government intervention in one's private life, from having the government inspect what books you check out from the library, from being detained without trial, charge, or legal representation as an "enemy combatant" in your own country, etc.

Freedom. Liberty or Death. The Rule of Law, Not of Men. Is that clear enough or dowe have to paint a pretty picture? For now I guess we're stuck with "Jobs Good. Ashcroft Bad."
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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Brother Ray

Haven't posted recently because I don't have a thing to say about Ronald Reagan. It's not that I'm a hater - he was a better president than Bush, Bush, or Nixon, which puts him in the top half over the last 40 years. Reykjavik good, Armageddon bad. Whatever. But it feels like he's been dead for a long, long time now - Alzheimer's is one of the few horrors that actually does seem worse than death - deprived of memory and personality, are you even you in any sense that matters? I find myself feeling relief on behalf of Nancy Reagan, that next week she will have her life back. I hear she may use it campaigning for stem cell research.

But now I'm afraid his post-timely passing will overshadow the truly heartbreaking loss of another great American. To my great sorrow, I learned a few minutes ago that the great, great Ray Charles died this afternoon. Ray embodied the American Dream and subverted it - going from blind orphan to cultural icon by putting lyrics of sexual longing to gospel music. He appealed to nation divided by race, region and politics by telling us that the thing we have in common is pain, longing, loneliness (and lust, and the love of a good party).

Tony and I were lucky enough to catch Brother Ray at Chicago's House of Blues a couple years back. He looked kind of frail, but his voice was smooth as silk - it wasn't a rehash of the hits for the fogies, except for "Georgia" he played songs I'd never heard, and he really knocked the shit out of them. Ray's loss is a great loss for all of us because every day he lived meant more great music.

In the place of dead politicians, many countries have put great poets and artists on their money. The saddest thing about the Euro is the loss of the James Joyce ten pound note in Ireland, I weep for it still . . . All this talk about putting Reagan on the money is preposterous, especially since he would have hated the idea. Instead, let's honor great Americans instead of politician - at least a third of the population hates even the most popular politican, anyway. So my proposal is this - the new 20's are an ugly failure, lets drop Andy altogether and put Ray Charles on the $20 bill.
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Thursday, June 03, 2004

This post on TPM actually makes me want to read this book too. I say "actually" because I usually prefer fiction, so this is pretty huge.

I was making my way down a dark country road this evening, trying to find a market and hoping I'd be able to find my way back, when I heard Donna Brazile on the radio talking about her new book, Cooking with Grease.

It was great stuff and made me want to go out and buy it.

The best part was her description of sitting in on Al Gore's testy non-concession phone call with then-Governor Bush on election night 2000. When Gore tells Bush that things are too close in Florida, that there's going to be a recount, Bush comes back with something like "But my brother says ..."

(Doesn't this jerk know our family owns that state? Where's Karl?)

Even in the interview you could feel her pride and fight swell up as she recounted how Gore got his back up in the face of Bush's swagger and entitlement. In any case, the rough outlines of the story have been told before. But so much about these two men is contained that one interaction. I'm eager to read what else Brazile has to say about that, the rest of the recount drama, and her recollections of other defining political moments.

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Republican subtraction
I haven't posted in a while and since I found this Salon.com article and interview so fascinating, I thought I would post about it.

Whenever I think of Republicans, I think of Bush, Limbaugh, O'Lielly, etc. I have an "asshole" association. When I am forced to think about conservatives, though, I usually think about economics. I force myself to understand that there are people who are hateful and then there are people who just have a different perspective on what economic and social programs will make this country better. It is the story about when Tony went on a blind date with a coworker of mine and she said, "Oh, you are a democrat? I'm a big fan of the President." Tony and I agreed that we wouldn't immediately judge anyone for simply being a conservative or a registered Republican, but "I'm a big fan of the President"? Are you kidding me with that?

I think that, and this isn't my original thought, at this point, being a fan of the President should be considered a character flaw. If you don't support tax and spend economics or feel that social programs like welfare and medicaid are crippling and perpetuate poverty, that's fine and make your case to you representatives. But to let these things influence who would be your representative to the world? And to support a person or a group that would minimize you and legislate your inferiority?

So I have never understood black Republicans and I have never understood the Log Cabin Republicans. The guy interviewed in the Salon article gives me hope that some of these people may be coming around. This part in particular: "In 2000 George Bush won 25 percent of the gay vote. You see the parallels? [to the 1960 election where Nixon won 26% of the black vote] The president decided to trot out a constitutional amendment to remind us, even though we are already reminded daily, that we are second-class citizens. In case we harbored any illusions that we were equal, he wants to write this into the Constitution. He'll be lucky if he gets 12 [the percentage of the black vote that Goldwater, who didn't support the Civil Rights Act, won in 1964] percent [of the gay vote] in this election."
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