Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Schools, school reform

I've been away from this blog. All none of you readers may have noticed that. I'm not going to bother giving excuses or making pithy comments about it here; just wanted to note this interesting link/conversation:

A *MUST* listen-to
for people concerned with education, schools, school reform. Discussion of the movie Waiting for Superman, Harlem Childrens' Zone, Promise Schools, and charter schools and more. (Apparently only 1 in 5 charter schools "succeed", and programs like the Harlem Childrens' Zone have endowments greater some colleges...) This convo starts around 9:20.

One excerpt: "If you look at the top ten countries in math, science and reading scores, all of them have teaching forces that are unionized. If unions are the problem, these all should be dropping down..."

J-Friend ASP points out "And some or our worst performing US states are the least unionized..."

J-Friend AL amplifies: "I read a great Diane Ravitch critique of the film recently, too. Ah, here it is:"

She also "Really want to read the Paul Tough book about the HCZ - I like his writing on education a lot."

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Clinton Apologizes For Helping Crush Haitian Farmers

I can hardly believe it, but is reporting the former President Clinton has apologized for his role in bringing (so-called) free trade to Haiti, helping lead to a situation of exacerbating poverty, where "six pounds of imported rice now costs at least a dollar less than a similar quantity of locally-grown rice. So how can a Haitian farmer compete? The past 15 years have shown they simply can't."

Ruth Messinger points out in the piece that
Prior to the era of so-called "free trade," Haiti could feed itself, importing only 19% of its food and actually exporting rice. Today, Haiti imports more than half of its food, including 80% of the rice eaten in the country. The result is that Haitians are particularly vulnerable to price spikes arising from global weather, political instability, rising fuel costs and natural disasters, such as earthquakes that register 7.0 on the Richter scale. In fact, since the January earthquake, imported rice prices are up 25%.
As was pointed out in a previous J-post on Haiti by J-friend K. McAfee
Like other networks and op ed pundits, CNN reporters refer to Haiti's extreme material poverty despite, they say, a history of US efforts to "help". None have any sense of whom was actually helped by the 1915-35 US occupation (US & French banks, agribusiness, and the small Haitian elite), US support of Duvalier and other dictators (same beneficiaries, plus sweat-shop owners), the US aid & trade policies that undermined staple food production and created dependence on US rice exports, or US-backed neoliberal "adjustment" loan conditions and deliberate, ongoing undermining of the imperfect but legitimate Aristide and Preval governments by the US government and the Clinton Foundation.
It's nice to see someone in our government admit to any of this, even if it's after they're out of office. Better than never after all! -- or -- the interesting example where Colin Powell expressed "regret"* at the US role in the Chilean coup of September 11, 1973 that the US most certainly helped instigate (with former SecState Henry Kissinger playing a key role in that particular 9/11 disaster that set a dictatorship into motion that would, among other things, claim over 3,000 lives, among his other adorable war-criminalistic-sheningans that have led him to having to consult a team of lawyers to figure out where he can travel that he may not be extradited to Chile!), but (as can be seen in the same article above) this was followed by the Administration coming out and "clarifying" Powell's regret, so as to give no hint of an admission of guilt, to re-obscure the open secret of our actions in Chile and elsewhere.

If you've read the J/Anekantavada before, you know this isn't the first time I've looked askance at US actions, to say the least. To see us looking back on any of our "mistakes" (which I put in scare quotes because they were often the intentional action of our leaders) and, if this is true about Clinton, apologizing, well... I can't say it gives me hope, or quite makes me particularly proud to be an American, or makes up for the then and continuing actions of American Empire, but... gosh darn it, admitting when we Fucked Someone Else for fun and profit is a step, and a rarely taken one, much less apologizing for it. So, 1.5 cheers I suppose.

*An excerpt of Powell's 2003 comments can be found here. The money shot, in reference to a question of how the US could be the "moral superior" looking to bring democracy to Iraq, after our actions against democracy and human rights with respect to supporting the Chilean dicatorship:
So it is the will of the international community that Iraq disarm, and not just the moral superior position, as you describe it, of the United States. We have no desire to impose upon the Iraqi people a leadership that is to our choosing, but to give them an opportunity to choose their own leadership.

With respect to your earlier comment about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we're proud of. We now have a more accountable way of handling such matters and we have worked with Chile to help it put in place a responsible democracy.

One of the proudest moments of my life was going to Chile in the late '80s and speaking to all of the military officers in the Chilean armed forces, all the senior officers, and talking to them about democracy and elected representative government and how generals such as them and me -- I was a general at the time -- are accountable to civilian authority so that incidents of that kind or situations of that kind no longer arose.

There's quite an interesting implicit admission of wrong-doing here, considering the emphasis he puts on how things "of that kind" can't happen again, despite, of course, the fact that they happened
many times before and many times since...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A somewhat uninformed screed that didn't fit in Slate's comment box

I skimmed this piece by Ron Rosenbaum on Slate about a book on the persecution, and insufficient condemnation of said persecution, of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a prominent critic of Islam who has been under death threats for years because of it. I've seen Hirsi Ali; I don't like Hirsi Ali, I disagree with Hirsi Ali, although as I point out below, I certainly believe she shouldn't be threatened and should be protected from the threats on her life. From my reading of her, her strident critiques of Islam are of a piece of Hitchens' and other "New Atheists'" critiques on religion more generally. That is, absolutist critiques that, in their condemnation of persecution, intolerance, and irrationality, veer into irrational essentialism in characterizing religion (Islam or otherwise).

What follows is not an entirely coherent rant, from skimming a piece I found tiresome and somewhat coherent, even if I agreed with the underlying point. I really should address my direct criticisms of Ali at some point, but for the time being, here's my somewhat befuddled, procrastinatory words on Rosenbaum's piece:

Wow... I consider myself an intellectual, but obviously not nearly enough--I haven't heard of most of these people (excepting Hirsi Ali). So I can't comment on, what is to me, the inside baseball here. All mainstream intellectual commentators I know of have condemned violence against dissidents generally and against Hirsi Ali specifically, should the subject arise. And the probability I'm going to read Berman's book is near zero. But from Rosenbaum's piece, it seems like if you strip the sarcasm from his caricatured hypothetical reaction to Rushdie's persecution ("Sure, I'm for his not having his life threatened and all, but I'm tired of all this magic realism stuff, and he seemed arrogant when I saw him interviewed on TV. Maybe he was too contemptuous of the culture of the people who want to murder him"), the main thing wrong with it is the obvious indifference to the threat. But once you mount a vociferous defense of their rights to be free from persecution -- along with whatever material support one might muster as a public intellectual -- isn't taking a critical look at the actual work, attitude, motivations of the persecuted a perfectly valid pursuit? That is, do the "tired of magical realism" and "arrogance" critiques really belong with the lukewarm defense of Rushdie or Hirsi Ali's rights? And should it be verboten to think that, perhaps someone *is* too critical of the culture of the people who want to murder you? After all, if it's *not* possible to be *too critical* of such a culture, then the civilians who have died or been persecuted by US actions, say, under imperialism, foreign adventurism, Iran-Contra, etc. etc. are absolutely justified to have any level of anti-Americanism. (And mayhaps they are.) Or, does persecution only count when it is intellectual, and not when it is, say, blatant disregard for your right to and quality of life? If it's not possible to be "too critical", then both the most extreme Palestinians and the Israelis are right in their abhorrence of the other (if not right in violent actions against one another).

While violence against someone for their ideas -- or nationality, or siting above a resource you covet, or strategic importance of their country -- are all reprehensible and should be opposed in the strongest terms, I don't see why that would exempt the persecuted from criticism. Shouldn't it be possible to abhor the threats against someone, but disagree with them in whole or in part? I agree that the criticisms listed here against Hirsi Ali by intellectuals I've never heard of sound petty and insubstantial, but in my own reading and listening to Hirsi Ali, I find much to substantively disagree with her on, regardless of the righteousness of her freedom to express it and the clarity of *parts of* her critiques.

Since I don't know these intellectuals that are being chided, perhaps they deserve it -- from their quotes here, they do. But the conflation of their pettiness with larger issues of tolerating intolerance and the Enlightenment enterprise itself is, to me, somewhat unconvincing as it's all placed within the rarefied air of commentators I've never heard of. *I* think Hirsi Ali is arrogant, too sweeping, and in a way, racist in her anti-racism, so to speak. I'm no public intellectual, but for me there is no conflict -- I disagree with her on many points, but she should certainly not be threatened. That seems to be a mainstream consensus -- how much does it matter that the Intellectuals' Intellectual are insufficiently down with it? I read two hours of news a day, have a PhD, and feel totally outside of this. I suppose since it's the circles Hirsi Ali, Berman, Rosenbaum and Hitchens move in, it makes sense to be upset at their anti-racism-racist apostasy--for them. But attaching it to a larger critique of Enlightenment and modern liberalism requires more practical connections to the rest of us than this rarefied screed seems to take into account. Otherwise, the implication seems to be simply that one can't criticize the unjustly persecuted--or that one must be very careful to balance enough defense with your criticism, another form of relativism. It's clear that we must defend the persecuted--but what this piece doesn't seem to deal with is how to distinguish the defense of people we disagree with from the obligation of an intellectual to voice disagreement; implying that such disagreement equates to being objectively pro-persecution is an insufficiently rigorous proposition.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Continuing the conversation

Cross-posted in the comments at DconstructingD; responds to D's comment on this post of mine:
Hmm. We seem to be partly talking past each other. The idea that kids are more civic-minded -- or "a generation of polite, smart, civic-minded Kevin Arnolds", is completely besides the point of my argument. The main problem I have is with people justifying their complaints with "it wasn't like this when I was younger" or some such. Your preferences as a consumer, citizen, etc. are perfectly reasonable and I have no particular issue with the things you named. They may not be my preferences in all cases, or my concerns, but I have zero issue with you having them in itself -- it's the idea that in a past age things were simpler or better or more civil that I take issue with. And not even the simple idea that they may have been -- but rather that arguments that things were better are near-uniformly backed up with, not evidence, but anecdotes, assertions and personal memories. I also find the idea that family life was "simpler" rather than full of different problems to be uncompelling; there are a number of added complexities in today's life, but every generation pretty much has faced more complexity than the previous in certain terms; I don't think we can assert a secular progression in the complexity of family life without defining a lot a lot of terms. The proliferation of information and media don't mean life or relationships were less complicated--for example, there are assuredly certain things in life made more simple by not, for example, owning indentured servants or worrying about slave revolts or attacks by the indigenous peoples. We have a complex war on terror, but don't see armies advancing throughout Europe; we have nuclear proliferation, but the risk of nuclear annhilation seems to have decreased from Cold War brinkmanship. We have venereal diseases, but AIDS is no longer a death sentence.

As far as the civic-mindedness of kids these days, I'm not arguing just from personal experience. There actually are several articles (popular and, I think, scholarly, though I don't feel like searching) that have made this argument; indeed, they made it before I believed it. I was equally skeptical. But my students today are quite different than my students 7 years ago, and much much different than my fellow students when I was in school. I vividly remember in the 90s how completely uncool it was to care about anything. This was clearly different than how the 60s and 70s were portrayed, and certainly, the amount of overt political activity on U of M at least decreased dramatically from the 60s to the 90s. I would argue the 90s were more apathetic than usual; some, and FAR from just me (other faculty, as well as several journalists) have argued the pendulum is swinging the other way. As far as I see it, the jury's out, but this isn't my assertion only, it's a number of people's. And it's certainly plausible -- I think the most likely mechanism is that only a minority of people (or kids) are usually politically active at any juncture in history; in the 60s this minority may have swelled to be more significant; during the 90s I would near guarantee that it decreased; there are signs, far from concrete, that it's back on the rise.

It seems like you and I have been talking past each other in our discussions for months now, I don't know why -- your focus wasn't so much on "kids these days" and insofar as it was it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek; my focus wasn't on how kids were objectively better, and I *certainly* never claimed they were uniformly a group of nice Kevin Arnolds (and I firmly remember Dennis the Menace in several incarnations, thank you! :) My larger point is that if one wants to complain about an issue at hand, that's fine and even often laudable/important/necessary; but the assertion that things were better before is both unnecessary and, I think, largely a product of age and not fact. If one wishes to seriously assert that things are qualitatively or quantitatively different, it should require evidence.

My point was that Language Log and other posts have shown that these concerns are perennial, and as they point out in the comments, if it were indeed true that each generation was losing something over the previous generation, then since the complaints heard of insufficient reading and respect to elders in Sumeria, Rome, and Egypt means that, even at some small objective decline of, say, 5% or less per generation, we would now be at approximately 0.01% of the civility or what have you of Rome. The details of whether or not kids or people are more or less civil would require lengthy debate, but I certainly wouldn't argue it's because they're inherently more beneficient--your point that less-racist kids would be a product of their parents' upbringing is, to my mind, clearly a big part of the truth. But the source doesn't affect the existence (or non-existence) of this quality. Kids have mocked each other with racial, sexual, etc. slurs for time immemorial. I don't know that they do it more or less, though perhaps more openly.

Anyway. I don't know why this is the second or third or fourth time we've had a version of a debate where we seem to not be getting each other's points, but I rather enjoyed it more when we were amplifying each other's ideas rather than deconstructing them. It's important to do both, to be sure, but I still prefer the former :) I don't disagree with a number of the things you find bothersome or disturbing, I do on others. As far as this generation, I'm not the first to have thought things are changing among them, nor the only one, and I think the data would back up a change in attitudes, though perhaps not action. I can't make a strong case of this, but as it's based on more than just my own experience, it takes a faint stab at what I'm asking for. I would say that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I need more evidence--just like if I wanted to seriously argue that they are worse. After all, things *do* change, I just think it occasionally behooves us to define what we think is changing and back it up.

Occasionally, but not always, and especially not if the point we're (or you're) making is really something else :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

More evidence for a pet theory of "Kids Today"

Language Log has a nice bit on the "kids today"/"decline of civilization" trope that consistently gets my goat. (Similar J posts can be found here and, less directly parallel, here.

J-fave & friend D has been on this trope recently, to my mild peevitude.

I'm not sure why this trope annoys me so much, other than perhaps because it seems like a so relativism-laden "my perspective is the objectively correct one" type of attitude. While it can be a source of commiseration, it's also sometimes sallied forth like a prophetic warning. And it is not, of course, that things can't get worse or perhaps haven't gotten worse, but I think it's intellectually incomplete to simply say "Things/Kids/Civilization Is Going To Hell"; Jon Stewart said one of the wisest things I've heard in popular discourse years ago, pointing out to (either Bernard Goldberg or Rick Santorum) that for all the "negative" directions in culture -- violence on TV, swearing, etc. etc. -- it is simply *not OK* to be a racist. You cannot be openly, blatantly racist and a major mainstream public figure--there are certain things that are not OK to say, that were 20, 40, 60 years ago (to say nothing of the sainted times of our blessed and perfect in every way Mary Poppins-like Founding Fathers); there is no de jure, legal segregation, Jim Crow, while still with us in legacy, is not with us in poll taxes or the nearly 5,000 lynchings and racially-motivated murders between 1865 and 1965. As I said on D's page,
"The fact that they used *different* words to curse at people 100 years ago doesn't mean they were more *polite* words. And certainly no one has been caned on the floor of the Senate in a while. Nor has their been a fucking duel between congressmen. Nor are racial epithets, many of which used to be fine in every day speech, acceptable any longer, a huge step FORWARD in my mind. We are, if anything, more civil -- no one has called me "boy" because I was black in my life. I'd say that's plus 1,000,000 points; I'll deduct 100 for inappropriate [placement of the word] "shit" [in an ad that D saw].

The theory I posed years ago, and feel like is increasingly vindicated, is that when people complain of the conditions of youth, civilization, etc. today, they aren't comparing civilization today vs. civilization before, they're comparing their adult perception of civilization vs. their childhood perception of civilization. Of COURSE things were simpler when you were a kid -- to you! Because -- YOU. WERE. A. KID. Don't confuse this with the world actually being materially simpler or different. For example, I believe (though am not going to look for the stats to show) that the "Roaring 20s" had the highest murder rate in US history; there has certainly always been sex out of wedlock, VDs, war, incivility, swearing, porn, violence, etc. This is not to say the rates of all these things have been constant--they clearly haven't--but nor have they been linearly increasing. Some things, like swearing, one has to look at the language used and what was considered indecent when, but you can see people being chided for salty language in Shakespeare's plays and no doubt before that; we didn't invent naughty words nor their overuse, just because *different* words are naughty now. Kids have always, always been seen as not respectful enough to their parents it seems, so to establish this as a fact and not a cranky complaint takes far more effort than any person who's ever said "Kids these days" in my earshot. And like I mentioned, open racism has simply become verboten--surely a nearly unalloyed improvement, if one that is vastly insufficient compared to actually coming to an end of racism (especially its institutional manifestation). Long story short, some things may be worse, others better, but 99.9999 times out of 100, I'll bet you it's because the world SEEMED simpler when you were a kid because you were a freaking kid; you hadn't been exposed to (if you were lucky) the worst that humankind can muster, or the full wages of every day disdain, incivility, and a lack of an regular, caring space (i.e. parents/family). Whether you were poor and lived simply or had a life of quiet elegance in Greenwich, you hadn't seen very much of the world, had you? So let's be careful about comparing how the world seemed to you then and how it seems now; making any grand pronouncements thereof in reality should be a grand research undertaking (UNLESS, you just want to be cranky -- which is completely fine, I like to be sometimes myself, but don't confuse it with having an accurate bead on the world).

Anyway, the Language Log entry as well as the customarily excellent LL comment area is well worth reading on the topic of Kids Today.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

J Signs on to Captain Plaid's Manifesto

J-fave Captain Plaid has briefly returned from his hiatus to lay out why he is (and what is) a "propservralist".

I pretty much sign on to his points without comment; I'm sure I could find things to disagree with, with world enough and time, but his points, on the whole, I find near divine. So why bother? I spend enough of my time disagreeing with things as it is.

He's threatened to take it down, so barring a cease and desist from the ornery Scot himself, here is the pertinent post:

So here’s my first post in what seems like forever. I'd like to think I can do decent work as evidenced by other posts but this one is long, scattered about, likely full of spelling and grammar errors, hardly clear, etc. Still, for the time being, it will have to suffice. I might remove, or even amend, so grab it if you want to keep it and of course please do feel free to offer comments here or via facebook/johngunn or twitter/juntogunto or email at or …

I've used "propservralist" at times to describe how I’m politically geared. Although it is a work on progress, which should be very much refined, I offer the following as a stream of consciousness summary:

I'm proudly PRogressive and find the idea of taking on problems via legislation and regulation a most rational response.

o I like the idea of letting technocrats and experts nail down ideas yet for the average voter this policy wonk gearing isn't very attractive. Frankly, the US has a very anti-intellectual tradition and some have learned to use this to their advantage. Public policy, the common good, planning, regulation … has been demonized all too much in this last four or so decades. I believe information must be made available to the populace and yet also can accept that “leaders” may at times be required to make decisions the masses may resent.

o I favor a Progressive tax system where taxes are minimal on the least among us and shift gradually upward so that percentage paid increases on the margins above a certain level. I don’t want to go back to 90% marginal rates yet I don’t see that much difference between say 33% to upwards of 40 or even 50%. If you don’t understand what “marginal” means in the above please do a little digging or ask someone to explain.

o I also don’t see why we should allow many multi-nationals and the most affluent to often avoid taxes via offshoring, accounting gimmicks, and the like. I highly recommend David Cay Johnston’s “Free Lunch” and “Perfectly Legal” to see how some game our systems. We can use tax policy to accomplish goals, reward, incentivize … but let’s demand accountability for results and use a “claw back” if and when goals aren’t met.

o Sunshine, open meetings, transparency … are must haves. I can distrust big gov’t as much as Big Biz. The worst of any arrangement is Crony Capitalism.

o I want whistleblowers protected and even rewarded.

o I believe information must be made available to the populace and yet also can see when the grownups must make the decisions for the masses.

o I expect some apathy comes from inadequate education, perceived powerlessness, unsatisfactory alternatives to getting involved, insufficient information, the costs of gaining more knowledge (I’m a big fan of Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy” ideas), and simply an unjust status quo.

o I’m very much in favor of government subsidies to be provided to journalists doing public service, fourth-estate, type work. Without a well-informed citizenry that a vigorous press provides democracy won’t work. The current model is folding and the consequences can’t be denied. Watchdogs must be fed. In fact, the care and feeding of young folks and even the more seasoned doing work that can’t be measured by the bottom line of business is something we could do a much better job at as a society.

o Government exists to provide individuals and their families and communities with a chance to live their own lives in dignity. It can also allow them to form relationships with others free from the hand of powerful public and private forces.

I am pOPulist in that I can't help but think bottom up.

o I believe the common man must always confront the powerful interests which often do in fact hold him down.

o You don’t ask for power but rather you take it.

o I worry that the “tea party” types are stealing our mojo here. Some groups tap into fear and frustration easily but the Left left that approach decades ago. The Conservatives (“Cons” hereafter) have learned to reach our lizard brains where the ancient limbic parts respond to threats, emotions, etc. all too well.

o The recent months have seen a revival of “producerism” that worries me however. While some poor are sorry and hardly do their part, I’d argue most do. Working with the poor can be incredibly frustrating yet we’ve hardly invested enough in social work and related fields since the so called “War on Poverty” back during the 60s. We couldn’t have “guns and butter” LBJ. I’ve read persuasive pieces that it was a false war and a drop in the bucket to transform generational poverty.

o I am convinced being a scrapper is necessary in politics, perhaps especially in the South. I like the label “economic elite” as frankly many have obtained the point where they can buy media, PR, marketing, and the like.

o "Fascism, nativism, anti-intellectualism, persecution of unpopular minorities, exaltation of the mediocre and romantic exaggeration of the wisdom and virtue of the masses" are all possible outcomes of populism. Suspicion of elites has a long history here.

o The idea of broader economic growth doesn’t I’d argue make me a Communist.

o A focus on individual civil liberties, private property, popular sovereignty and democratic republican government is what nearly every populism effort has been built off of.

o Labor can work with biz. Free enterprise on steroids, namely neo-liberalism, however is often just a race to the bottom.

o Today's laissez faire is not as Adam Smith envisioned. I’ve been reading some Smith lately and he’d howl at how many of his ideas have been bastardized.

o Popular culture and popular will have a role to play in this process, but only after sufficient education and only after their more passionate elements have been diverted and diffused. Popular anger and uneducated public sentiments are more likely to lead to hasty and irrational judgments. The conflict of elitism in Progressivism and the popular will in Populism is certain.

o I believe it’s generally a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. The way the modern Cons have privatized pretty much everything, the opportunity to profit from making war is hardly just for those selling weaponry. When Eisenhower left office, he warned us of a Military-Industrial Complex but many don’t know an earlier draft also had Intelligence as part of the mix.

I am conSERVative in the sense that I tend to be cautious and greatly respect traditions. Please note some of the following is placed here simply because many of the Cons have managed to make people think these are “Conservative” ideas.

o I can be a bit of an Agrarian at times. Jeffersonian ideas remain rather attractive to me and simplicity from being near the land is likely how I’d like to wind up my days. Hope springs eternal at least.

o I personally find caring for our environment very much a conservative trait.

o Many of the Conservatives I knew long ago wouldn’t recognize today's movement conservatism types. Many of them were more Libertarian geared and I just don’t think they’d fall for the likes of those occupying positions of power in today’s GOP. Then again, the powers that be in the Democratic Party would be run out of town on a rail by many silenced or ignored hippies like yours truly.

o And while I am attracted to Libertarianism personally, I don’t think it will work that well for such an interdependent world. If you want to go Galt, truly it’s possible. Go right ahead. I bet most would make it less than a year in the Gulch. Just don’t take the balance of the world with you involuntarily as you go off into Randian fantasy land please.

o Neighbors, small businesses, local focus and control, …, if they are Conservative valued ideas, which I’m not certain they are, are certainly fine by me.

o As late as the Nixon administration, the provision of public goods by government was considered perfectly compatible with a market economy. Since then, free-market fundamentalists have largely changed and mastered the debate.

I am libeRAL as I believe humanity can advance.

o Our civil liberties must be protected. No exceptions!

o I believe in the power of law. She’s not perfect and I’ve seen injustices, often related to power and poverty frankly. I’m very concerned with the burrowed in Federalist Society sorts on benches across this land. Our Alabama Supreme Court is largely bought and paid for by the Business Council of Alabama and other Big Mules like Alfa. The Court of Criminal Appeals used to be rather hostile to defense lawyers and I know for a fact they dodged a serious question I once raised in a brief.

o Lockean libertarians who recognize the need for social insurance and regulation were once celebrated yet are now having rocks thrown at them.

o I favor same-sex marriages or at least civil unions. Discrimination can hardly be tolerated as to a person’s sexual orientation.

o I had a person once tell me liberals believe people are inherently good. I'm not sure I buy that yet I do think many are. On some of the laggards, ignorant, … I occasionally think of how I used to work with critters by making it easy for them to do the right thing. Policies to prod, channel, and the like are OK for me but then again just help and a hug work on the face to face work I try to do. I know for a fact I helped some kids I taught or have known and likely could have done more if carrying a fair work load and able to really teach and represent.

o Education is an investment. We ought to be proud to spend money for our future generations.

o Clinton’s welfare “reform” sounded perhaps good on paper and was a winner politically yet only a booming economy avoided a train wreck. The costs of having those babies being taken from their mothers so she could do some type of “make work” is hard to measure but I bet there were and are costs.

I'm a pragmatIST in just getting stuff done.

o I can accept the projection of military power can be persuasive and useful in many, many areas yet hardly think we need the footprint we currently have. We can’t afford it. It’s not our job alone. Finally, our national interests do not justify invading or even threatening a sovereign country absent some rather certain and serious threats. Hegemony sends the wrong signals to many in the world.

o Weapons manufacturers and profiteers love war so we’ve a duty to be cautious with our treasure but certainly blood.

o I certainly think alliances, cooperation, treaties, diplomacy, intelligence, etc. aren’t incompatible with national security.

o The religious right annoys the hell out of me. Their abstinence only sex education” is just one disaster. Kids can have their parents opt them out but let’s let the average kid hear the whole story please.

o For someone to impose their morality into another’s personal life is just wrong.

o I have a healthy skepticism of government and authority.

o I worry about climate change and think the science sound. Even if not, what do “we” really have to lose to shift away from a carbon based economy sooner rather than later?

o I think reflexively anti-government libertarianism yield a lack of investment in badly-needed public capital (schools, infrastructure, etc.) and vulnerable to Big Biz. We can’t run a country, state, city “on the cheap” but can certainly demand smart spending with limited waste.

I also like stirring stuff up, bitching, confronting conventional wisdom, challenging authority, reading, studying, pondering, etc. I am perfectly prepared to change my mind. I hope I am not an ideologue. My ideal politicians are those like Russ Feingold and Chuck Hagel. I like Anthony Weiner, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, etc. I do not support term limits. More to follow but I’m done for now. Except for this quote:

“When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.” - Abraham Kuyper

Peace, John

I found a "copy and paste" portion that I can't track down now. I blended some old stuff and apparently let something slip by. I'll tweak as I have time.

--Captain Plaid: Progressivism meets an Ornery Scot

Sunday, January 17, 2010

CNN's shameful, ahistorical condescension on Haiti: A colleague retorts

J-Friend Kathy McAfee wrote the following, trying to put the problems in government, organization and institutions in Haiti in context, contra mainstream bashing of Haiti and, tangentially, the UN. (The post she was specifically responding to is reprinted as well, after her piece.)

(It is worth noting that Haiti, the poorest country in our hemisphere, is one of the two prime examples of what might be called "The Monroe Doctrine Inverse Relationship Between US Intervention and Country Welfare", as Haiti is one of the places the US has had the most direct intervention. Another country with a long history of US intervention, Nicaragua, is the second poorest country in the hemisphere. While some treat this as an example of the determination of poor people to resist reform or the hopelessness of any aid model, I think it's rather damning evidence of the true wages and intentions of US intervention--both Nicaragua and Haiti have had democratically elected leaders effectively vetoed by the US; see my earlier posts that dealt with similar topics.)

"Friends: An incensed listserve comment quoted CNN's knee-jerk bashing of the UN via the conjectures of network action-figure prototype Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

>>Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Earthquake victims, writhing in pain and grasping at life, watched doctors and nurses walk away from a field hospital Friday night after United Nations officials ordered a medical team to evacuate the area out of security concerns, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta reported.... :<<
This is my response, trying to widen the perspective. Probably somebody with more recent and intimate knowledge of Haitian politics could write (and has done) something better. If you've written or seen something good, please forward.

Kathy McAfee

Although Gupta admitted he wasn't sure why, by whom, or to where the medical staff were being relocated, it's possible that he was right in this case. But let's not take CNN coverage at face value.

Like most US media competing for ratings from this catastrophe, albeit with sympathy for the victims, CNN's version of reality is unencumbered by any knowledge of present or past Haitian reality. Intentionally or not, Cooper's portrayal of Gupta as US lone hero, his interview with US general Honoré, and the inference of his constant question, "Why are our (US-military) efforts to get aid where it's needed still blocked?" adds to the UN-bashing and US adulation that is standard CNN fare.

In contrast to other Roland Hedleys, Cooper takes a stab at context. For instance, his explanation of the landslide linked to deforestation cites tree-cutting for charcoal, which does occur, but his subtext is that Haitians at least partially brought their troubles upon themselves. There's no mention of two centuries' shipping of tropical hardwoods to Europe or of Haiti's huge post-colonial payments to compensate France for loss of slave plantations, or the long international embargo of the country as punishment for the first successful back independence struggle.

Like other networks and op ed pundits, CNN reporters refer to Haiti's extreme material poverty despite, they say, a history of US efforts to "help". None have any sense of whom was actually helped by the 1915-35 US occupation (US & French banks, agribusiness, and the small Haitian elite), US support of Duvalier and other dictators (same beneficiaries, plus sweat-shop owners), the US aid & trade policies that undermined staple food production and created dependence on US rice exports, or US-backed neoliberal "adjustment" loan conditions and deliberate, ongoing undermining of the imperfect but legitimate Aristide and Preval governments by the US government and the Clinton Foundation.

US media now depict Haiti as a non-society with a non-government. Cooper keeps glancing over his shoulder in fear of the mass panic he says he expects, Other networks have gone out of their way to find evidence or report rumors of "looting", fighting over supplies, price gouging, and violence, occasionally punctuated by tales of "miracle" rescues, usually involving somebody from the US. Bill O'Reilly, having described Haitian society as "lawless" and entirely "run by gangs", was frustrated when Fox's on-the ground reporters refused to follow his script, pointing instead to food being distributed by Haitians, their impressive efforts to dig people from the rubble, and the amazing dignity and calm the wounded, thirsty, and distraught masses filling the street and parks.

Pat Robertson's claim that Haitian's are being punished for the "deal with Satan" that enabled them to overthrow their French masters doesn't deserve comment. But even Fox couldn't outdo David Brooks, conservative "dean of DC columnists", who reminded NY Times readers that poverty such as Haiti's cannot be cured and is no way caused, lessened, or worsened by any US or other policies. Brooks wrote, citing Samuel Huntington, that the real problem is Haitians themselves: Haiti's "progress-resistant" culture, with its "voodoo religion", "social mistrust", failure to internalize responsibility, and neglectful "child-rearing practices, is the underlying cause of Haiti's tragedy.

Meanwhile, thousands of brave and generous Haitian and internationalists are doing what needs to be done, and we can help. For now, Partners in Health/ Zanmi Lasante, largely Haitian-run, seems to be one of the best-positioned, experienced, and trustworthy sources of emergency aid, so that's where my too-small donation has gone. Later, we can return to solidarity support for the indigenous Haitian organizations that have determinedly been building social strength from below and fighting the legacy of isolation and exploitation from abroad.

To: Retort
Via: BT


Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Earthquake victims, writhing in pain and grasping at life, watched doctors and nurses walk away from a field hospital Friday night after United Nations officials ordered a medical team to evacuate the area out of security concerns, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta reported....

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Saturday that the world body's mission in Haiti did not order any medical team to leave the Port-au-Prince field hospital. If the team left, it was at the request of their own organizations, he told CNN.

Gupta assessed the needs of the 25 patients, but there was little he could do without supplies. And more people, some in critical condition, were trickling in. Gupta monitored patients' vital signs, administered painkillers and continued intravenous drips. He stabilized three new patients in critical condition.

"I've never been in a situation like this. This is quite ridiculous," Gupta said.

He reported that the doctors and nurses began returning Saturday morning.

Search and rescue must trump security. ...They need to man up and get back in there.

With a dearth of medical facilities in Haiti's capital, ambulances had no where else to take patients, some who had suffered severe trauma -- amputations and head injuries -- under the rubble. Others had suffered a great deal of blood loss, but there were no blood supplies left at the clinic.

Gupta feared that some would not survive the night.

He and his television crew stayed with the injured all night, long after the medical team had left, long after the generators gave out and the tents turned pitch black.

At 3:45 a.m., he posted a message on Twitter: "pulling all nighter at haiti field hosp. lots of work, but all patients stable. turned my crew into a crack med team tonight."

There have been scattered reports of violence throughout the capital. Gupta said the Belgian doctors did not want to leave their patients behind but were ordered out by the United Nations, which sent buses to transport them.

"There is concern about riots not far from here -- and this is part of the problem," Gupta said.

"What is striking to me as a physician is that patients who just had surgery, patients who are critically ill are essentially being left here, nobody to care for them," Gupta said.

Sandra Pierre, a Haitian who has been helping at the makeshift hospital, said the medical staff took most of the supplies with them.

"All the doctors, all the nurses are gone," she said. "They are expected to be back tomorrow. They had no plan on leaving tonight. It was an order that came suddenly."

She told Gupta, "It's just you."

Gupta sent out another tweet before dawn:
"5a update. we lost all generator power. sun will come up in about 30 minutes. now confident we will get all these patients through the night"

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, lacked adequate medical resources even before the disaster and has been struggling this week to tend to huge numbers of injured. The U.N. clinic, set up under several tents, was a godsend to the few who were lucky to have been brought there.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said the evacuation of the clinic's medical staff was unforgivable.

"We can't be leaning so much toward security that we allow people to die," he said Saturday.

"Search and rescue must trump security," Honoré said Friday night. "I've never seen anything like this before in my life. They need to man up and get back in there."

Honoré drew parallels between the tragedy in New Orleans and in Port-au-Prince. But even in the chaos of Katrina, he said, he had never seen medical staff walk away.

"I find this astonishing these doctors left," he said. "People are scared of the poor."

Kathleen McAfee
International Relations
San Francisco State University

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bill Maher (6/19/09): "We have a Center-Right Party and a Crazy Party... Democrats are the new Republicans"

One of my favorite rants from Maher since "Bush should just carry around an actual straw man with him to argue with. 'I believe in doing whatever it takes to keep America safe -- Straw Man here, nothing!'" (On the same show, Gloria Steinem I believe made the pithy comment "There are two kinds of people in the world: those that divide people into two groups, and those that don't.")

Anyway: Maher rants about the need for a "first party" and critiques Democrats and the lack of coverage of liberals/progressives in the MSM. And when he says "These aren't radical ideas. A majority of Americans are either already for them, or would be if they were properly argued and defended," it's not a liberal fantasy. See for example, part of my discussion with J-fave Becky here and the linked report I discuss in it on actual American public priorities here. (See also this post.)

Last week in this space, I criticized President Obama for not fighting corporate influence enough, and it made some Liberals very angry. My phone rang off the hook.
As far as you folks on the Right that think that we're somehow in league --- we're not in league! I was criticizing Obama for not being hard enough on the corporate douche bags you live to defend. I don't wanna be on your team. Pick another kid.

So I stand by my words. But there is another side to the story. And that is, that every time Obama tries to take on a Progressive cause, there's a major political party standing in his way --- the Democrats.
We don't need a third party, we need a first party. You go to the polls and your choices are the guy who voted for the first Wall Street bailout, or the guy who voted for the next ten.

We don't have a Left and a Right party in this country anymore. We have a center-Right party and a crazy party. And over the last thirty-odd years, Democrats have moved to the Right, and the Right has moved into a mental hospital.

So what we have is one perfectly good party for hedge fund managers, credit card companies, banks, defense contractors, big agriculture and the pharmaceutical lobby --- that's the Democrats.

And they sit across the aisle from a small group of religious lunatics, flat-earthers, and Civil War re-enacters...who mostly communicate by AM radio and call themselves the Republicans. And who actually worry that Obama is a Socialist. Socialist? He's not even a Liberal. I know he's not, because he's on TV. And while I see Democrats on television, I don't see actual Liberals. And if occassionally you do get to hear Ralph Nader or Noam Chomsky or Dennis Kucinich, they're treated like buffoons.

Shouldn't there be one party that unambiguously supports cutting the military party? A party that is straight up in favor of gun control, gay marriage, higher taxes on the right, universal healthcare, legalizing pot and steep direct taxing of polluters?

These aren't radical ideas. A majority of Americans are either already for them, or would be if they were properly argued and defended. And what we need is an actual Progressive party to represent the millions of Americans who aren't being served by the Democrats. Because, bottom line, Democrats are the new Republicans.

h/t to BradBlog.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

"Three Approved GMO's Linked to Organ Damage" -- the Serálini group returns

Repost from
Three Approved GMO's Linked to Organ Damage

by: Rady Ananda, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

(Photo: InertiaCreeps; Edited: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t)

In what is being described as the first ever and most comprehensive study of the effects of genetically modified foods on mammalian health, researchers have linked organ damage with consumption of Monsanto's GM maize.

All three varieties of GM corn - Mon 810, Mon 863 and NK 603 - were approved for consumption by US, European and several other national food safety authorities. Made public by European authorities in 2005, Monsanto's confidential raw data of its 2002 feeding trials on rats that these researchers analyzed is the same data, ironically, that was used to approve them in different parts of the world.

The Committee of Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) and Universities of Caen and Rouen studied Monsanto's 90-day feeding trials data of insecticide-producing Mon 810, Mon 863 and Roundup® herbicide absorbing NK 603 varieties of GM maize.

The data "clearly underlines adverse impacts on kidneys and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, as well as different levels of damages to heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system," reported Gilles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen.

Although different levels of adverse impact on vital organs were noticed between the three GMO's, the 2009 research shows specific effects associated with consumption of each GMO, differentiated by sex and dose.

Their December 2009 study appears in the International Journal of Biological Sciences (IJBS). This latest study conforms with a 2007 analysis by CRIIGEN on Mon 863, published in Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, using the same data.

Monsanto rejected the 2007 conclusions, stating:

"The analyses conducted by these authors are not consistent with what has been traditionally accepted for use by regulatory toxicologists for analysis of rat toxicology data."

[Also see Doull J, Gaylor D, Greim HA, et al. "Report of an expert panel on the reanalysis by Séralini et al. (2007) of a 90-day study conducted by Monsanto in support of the safety of a genetically modified corn variety (MON 863)." Food Chem Toxicol. 2007; 45:2073-2085.]

In an email to me, Séralini explained that their study goes beyond Monsanto's analysis by exploring the sex-differentiated health effects on mammals, which Doull, et al, ignored:

"Our study contradicts Monsanto conclusions because Monsanto systematically neglects significant health effects in mammals that are different in males and females eating GMO's, or not proportional to the dose. This is a very serious mistake, dramatic for public health. This is the major conclusion revealed by our work, the only careful reanalysis of Monsanto crude statistical data."

Other Problems With Monsanto's Conclusions

When testing for drug or pesticide safety, the standard protocol is to use three mammalian species. The subject studies only used rats, yet won GMO approval in more than a dozen nations.

Chronic problems are rarely discovered in 90 days; most often such tests run for up to two years. Tests "lasting longer than three months give more chances to reveal metabolic, nervous, immune, hormonal or cancer diseases," wrote Seralini, et al, in their Doull rebuttal. [See "How Subchronic and Chronic Health Effects Can Be Neglected for GMO's, Pesticides or Chemicals." IJBS; 2009; 5(5):438-443.]

Further, Monsanto's analysis compared unrelated feeding groups, muddying the results. The June 2009 rebuttal explains, "In order to isolate the effect of the GM transformation process from other variables, it is only valid to compare the GMO … with its isogenic non-GM equivalent."

The researchers conclude that the raw data from all three GMO studies reveal novel pesticide residues will be present in food and feed and may pose grave health risks to those consuming them.

They have called for "an immediate ban on the import and cultivation of these GMO's and strongly recommend additional long-term (up to two years) and multi-generational animal feeding studies on at least three species to provide true scientifically valid data on the acute and chronic toxic effects of GM crops, feed and foods."

Human health, of course, is of primary import to us, but ecological effects are also in play. Ninety-nine percent of GMO crops either tolerate or produce insecticide. This may be the reason we see bee colony collapse disorder and massive butterfly deaths. If GMO's are wiping out Earth's pollinators, they are far more disastrous than the threat they pose to humans and other mammals.

Further Reading:

Health Risks of GM Foods, Jeffrey M. Smith.

Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops, Union of Concerned Scientists.

Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years, The Organic Center.