Thursday, March 30, 2006

 

New location!

4&20 blackbirds has now moved to new site! It's hosted by WordPress and is still pretty raw, but I thought the formatting problems I'm having on the current site was a good kick in the pants. Keep your eyes peeled for format and content changes! Hope to see you over there!
 

Links...

Abramoff sentenced: five years, ten months. Anybody want to start the over/under on Burns? From the archives: The Stranger claims that liberalism should be an urban movement. How do you explain Montana’s shift to the Democrats? I’m with John Cole on immigration: seems like amnesty is the obvious, practical solution. Red State’s “Crank” reminds us that one Democrat (versus zero Republicans) has been convicted of illegally wiretapping a political opponent. Two observations. (1) The key word is “convicted.” (2) Notice no Democrat is blathering on about how the Congressman should be above the law. Bush blames Saddam Hussein for sectarian violence in Iraq. Uh, Mr. President? We captured Saddam a while back... New Iraq war documentary premiering at the Tribeca Film festival. What’s cool, is that it was shot by the troops themselves. Follow the links for clips. Good stuff. Sirota thinks the free trade pushed on other countries by the WTO actually makes some countries poorer. Ankle-Biting Pundits heard a rumor that Card resigned to work on Masssachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Krauthammer replies to neo-con defector, Fuyukama. Matt Singer and Jon Tester get a little love over at the Daily Kos. The Daily Kos also thinks Lamont is for real, not just a byproduct of the blogosphere. Jane at Firedoglake weighs in on the “monument to pro-life”: “who thought a statue of some erstwhile Hooters hostess lying spread-eagle on a bearskin rug with a kid’s head popping out of her cooter was a tribute to anything but velvet Elvis high camp?”
 

Technical difficulties...

Looks like my formatting got...er...removed from my posts last night, which may be related to a redesign of the blog over on a new Word Press hosted site. Bear with me as I try to fix some of the posts....

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

 

Why does Conrad Burns hate Native Americans?

Okay, we all know about how Conrad Burns pandered to a Michigan Chippewa tribe and Abramoff client, getting them a $3-million federal grant in exchange for $75,000 in campaign contributions. Old news. But what newspapers and politicians haven’t challenged is Burns’ statement that he has been a long supporter of Native American tribes. As usual with the Senator, nothing could be further from the truth. What’s his record with Native American issues? I’m so glad you asked:
• In 1998, Burns drafted legislation that would exempt all non-Indian land on Montana reservations from tribal jurisdiction. That’s like saying all non-federal or state land shouldn’t be under jurisdiction of state or federal authority. • In 2003, Burns raised a procedural point that killed $2.9 billion for tribal programs. • In 2005, Burns led opposition to a bill that would have provided $1 billion for tribal health services. • Last week, Burns voted against an amendment proposed by North Dakota’s Sen. Byron Dorgan that would have given $220 million towards tribal education.
Burns' record on voting for appropriations for Native Americans is so poor, it makes the grant for the Michigan tribe doubly suspicious. The more I learn about the junior Senator, the more he reminds me of one of those street performers that moves only when you throw coins in his can...
 

The Slog: Montana created Kyle Huff

I admit it: my Montana blood boiled a little when I read Eli Sanders’ post on Slog about the recent shooting in Seattle. In the post, Sanders tells of his contacts with Whitefish police about an incident involving shooter Kyle Huff six years ago in which Huff shot a fiberglass moose with a shotgun. The basic gist is this: the Whitefish police let Huff off the hook, enabling him to six years later to go on a murderous rampage in Seattle. This is, of course, completely useless speculation. Even if Huff had been convicted of a felony in the moose-shooting incident and, therefore, had two guns used in the Seattle shooting taken from him, it’s probable he would have gotten more guns. It’s also silly speculation: shooting a roadside plastic moose is hardly worthy of a felony conviction. Sure it was stupid – but it’s hardly worth anybody’s while to stuff jails with teenagers for crimes like vandalism. But if the post weren’t bad enough, delve into the comments. There you will see the Huff shooting depicted as a clash of cultures, between “red” and “blue” Americans. Commenter “Daved”:
Gun nuts: We that live in the city are not attacking your piece of crap farm. You that lived in rural America are attacking our cities. You attack it with your dumb[*]ss redneck psychos like Kyle Huff, you attack it by voting for dumb f[*]cks like George Bush, you attack it by leeching tax money for projects only a handful of people need. Meanwhile cities generate the economic might of this country, and the thanks we get is you sending dumb f[*]cks like Kyle Huff into our communities downtown with his intolerant redneck "gotta blow sh[*]t up cause thats all I know how to do" shit. Then you defend this culture like its some high achievement, bubbas and beer and pickups and football. Did it ever occur that the reason we live in cities is we wanted to get the f[*]ck away from this stuff? Tell you what, when armed gangs of ravers and gays and metrosexuals drives out to BFE and starts shooting at god fearing law abiding redneck losers, whose only crime was voting for George Bush, then you can have reason to gripe or feel like you're being persecuted. Right now, you stupid f[*]cks, its you that are attacking us, you made America dumber, more likely to invade other countries, and more likely to be able to go off for no reason like Kyle Fat Country F[*]ck Huff went off. I don't own a gun. If I lived on a farm, I'd own rifles for hunting and THATS IT. There was no legitimate need for the guns Kyle Huff was allowed in this society to own. Stop defending the system when the system you support was, just like your president, a miserable failure.
Admittedly, this is the most extreme post of them all. Most of the accusation against Montana in this incident has been subtle. Sanders’ post, for example, implies that Montana has lax policies towards guns and encourages gun behavior and, therefore, homicides. But basically the gist is the same: Montana created Kyle Huff. This is, of course ridiculous. Montana is just like any other place on the planet: its citizens are human. Some of its citizens are mentally ill, a few might be even be capable of mass murder, like Kyle Huff. But the same is true of any place, any where. The real problem is the attitude expressed, not only in Daved’s comment and by other city residents, but by Montanans here in Montana, too. How often do you hear – or say – that Montana’s problems are the result of Californians moving to the state? How much of right-wing hyperbole blames the effete qualities of blue-state big-city dwellers for our country’s problems? Newsflash: as someone who’s lived in rural and big-city communities (yes, I lived in Seattle and San Francisco) Americans across the country are more similar than different. Yes, big-city folks are more tolerant of racial, ethnic, and sexual-preference differences; yes, small-town folks form closer communities. But in the end, virtually no one wants violence or mayhem in their or anybody else’s communities. The people that do are sick, like Kyle Huff. Period. Ultimately, we can place blame for how this perception of "cultural warfare" got started. Blame domestic religious fundamentalists and their GOP supporters. Daved's rhetoric is ultimately radical conservative logic that claims that any conflicting ideology (i.e., liberalism) is "infecting" our culture and must be eliminated. This is the language that was introduced into the mainstream at George W Bush's inauguration in January of 2001. Daved's response is obviously an outbreak of frustration at being the recipient of such language for the last six years. That, or he's a total *sshole. Or both.
 

Links...

Okay, this is yesterday’s news, but another British memo reinforces the fact that the Bush administration had planned to go to war all along. Recovering liberal: “There is no room in America for Hate.” 4&20 blackbirds: “Not familiar with U.S. history, eh?” Budge found an interesting article criticizing the Bush administration’s attempts at sweeping societal change, which, according to Budge is very un-conservative-like. Guess he hasn’t been paying attention to the fundamentalist Christian movement. And I’d argue that the left I know isn’t interested in massive societal change, but is interested in protecting individual liberty, maintaining Constitutional law, and checking the power of the alliance of corporate and government power. Homeland security protects the country, er pharmaceutical companies...by stopping the flow of prescription drugs into the US from Canada. Alec Baldwin disses Sean Hannity, on air! Crooks and Liars has the feed for you. MadTV has been doing some awesome political satire. Dump SNL! If you don’t believe me, check out “Bush Slump.” Tom Delay whines about how Christians don’t get enough respect. Give me a break. I’m with John: “after dominating all three branches of government and encompassing 80% of the population,” what more is there to do for Christians? BoingBoing reports that Iran is censoring blogs with US filtering software. So capitalism leads to freedom? Um...when?
 

Pete Geddes conversation: globalization

Here' the first part of the conversation with Bozeman free-market environmentalist, Pete Geddes. Check out the intro if you haven't yet. In your literature at the website of your organization, Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment, you write that globalization actually helps eradicate poverty and promotes environmentalism. Can you explain how that is? First let’s define our terms. Here’s what I mean when I describe the process called globalization: It’s the international movement of human and financial capital. The process of globalization is not new. Indeed the dispersal from a few centers, of culture, language, political ideas, and material goods is an ancient phenomenon. What’s new is that our modern technologies (e.g., telecommunications and the Internet) combined with steep declines in transportation costs, allow individual entrepreneurs and businesses real-time access to global markets. This makes one’s physical location ever more irrelevant. Hence, industries once sheltered from competition by geographic isolation are no longer. Montana agriculture is an excellent example While consumers reap the benefits, our dynamic, open, globalized economy creates opportunity for some and hardship for others. So a key question is how can societies cope with the rapid technological and social change that a globalized economy creates? Second. We have decades of empirical measures of both human well being and environmental progress. Both strongly suggest that on balance, peoples lives and environmental quality are improving. The only tragic exception seem to be in the countries of Sub-Saharaian Africa. Speaking at the 2000 World Economic Forum, President Bill Clinton said, “We have to reaffirm unambiguously that open markets are the best engine we know of to lift living standards and build shared prosperity.” This is especially true in countries that have embraced entry into the global marketplace. A technologically robust, market-based economy raises living standards ever higher, faster, and more inclusively than any other system. Developing countries make as much progress in thirty years as industrialized nations did in a century. And here’s a key point: Economic progress is a prerequisite for improving environmental quality. The real enemy of the environment is poverty, not affluence. • The World Bank notes that globalization is responsible for a “spectacular” decline in poverty in East and South Asia. In 1990, there were roughly 472 million people in the East Asia and Pacific region living on less than $1 a day. By 2001, the number living in such extreme poverty had dropped by half. At current projections, by 2015, there will be only 19 million Asians living under those conditions. In one generation Asians will witness a 95 percent reduction in extreme poverty. • Over the past 20 years, 200 million people have left absolute poverty -- defined as living on the equivalent of less than $1 a day. • Advances in medicine, improved public health policies, and greater food supplies have lowered infant mortality and lengthened life expectancy. In developing countries in the 1950s, 178 children per every 1000 live births died before reaching their first birthday. By the late 1990s, the infant mortality rate in these countries had declined to 64 per 1000. Life expectancy increased from 44 years in 1960 to 59 years in 1999. • Child labor declines as a country’s income increases. As trade promotes economic growth, globalization results in less child labor over time. In 1960, children made up 32 percent of the labor force in low-income countries. Forty years later, following the massive expansion in international trade, child labor in the same countries had declined to 19 percent. • Though inequality remained more or less constant, or possibly increased, during the 1970s, it declined substantially in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, the shape of the income distribution curve has changed, from a bimodal distribution with a peak of poor people and a peak of rich in 1970, to a smoother distribution in 1998, suggesting the emergence of a “world middle class.” • Increased wealth is, of course, a key predictor of environmental quality. The environmental sustainability index (ESI), produced by Columbia and Yale Universities, allows cross-national comparisons of rates of nonrenewable resource use and other environmental policies in countries worldwide. The index scores range from 0 to 100, with 100 being optimal sustainability. • Countries such as Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland, with high ESI scores (73.9, 72.6, and 66.5, respectively), also rank among the countries with the highest annual per-capita income ($25,130, $27,140, and $38,140). The U.S. has an ESI of 53.2. (Our low score is due to the index’s heavy weighting of greenhouse gas emissions.) • Countries ranking in the middle range of ESI scores (around 50), such as Algeria, Russia, and Egypt, are poorer (per-capita incomes of $1,580, $1,690, and $1,490, respectively). • At the lower end of the scale are impoverished countries such as Haiti, Ukraine, and Turkmenistan (per capita incomes of $510, $690, and $750, respectively). Driven by the rapid democratization of information, technology, and finance, globalization is turning out to be a remarkably progressive, liberating force. Globalization helps break the regressive taboos responsible for discriminating against people on the basis of gender, race, or religious beliefs. It is an antidote to the intolerant fundamentalism that oppresses millions of the world’s poorest. When these people see how their counterparts in the West are treated, they see a better future and begin to demand it. Globalization offers hope for the world’s poorest, hope that one day they may enjoy the fruits of the West’s liberal traditions. Globalization helps break the regressive taboos responsible for discriminating against people on the basis of gender, race, or religious beliefs. It is an antidote to the intolerant fundamentalism that oppresses millions of the world’s poorest. When these people see how their counterparts in the West are treated, they see a better future and begin to demand it. Globalization offers hope for the world’s poorest, hope that one day they may enjoy the fruits of the West’s liberal traditions. In your articles, you've criticized the left for opposition to globalization. While I can't speak for everyone, I admit I have concerns with organizations like the WTO that operate without transparency, aren't democratic, and can compel member countries to overturn democratically based legislation. I think the IMF and the WTO have at times acted in counterproductive ways. For more on this I suggest these books by William Easterly: (1) The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics and (2) The White Man's Burden : Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. The WTO seems ready to compel the European Union to accept genetically-engineered food despite local laws and regulations banning such products. To me, it seems like US and Canadian agricultural corporations are using the WTO to lower local environmental and health standards in democratic communities. How does the WTO fit into your vision of globalization? What do you think of the GE crops dispute? And I'd love to hear musings on the clash of democracy and free markets... (1) Do you believe the science behind climate change is compelling and “settled?” If so, you can’t be opposed to GE crops on any scientific grounds. The scientific consensus regarding the safety to human health and the environment benefits of GE crops is overwhelming. There is much more agreement on this issue than on climate change. (2) Opposition to GE crops from some EU member states is based partly on cultural grounds (i.e., food is very important to the French) but mostly it’s used as a trade barrier to protect EU farmers from global competition. (3) Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman wrote, “Fundamentally, there are only two ways of coordinating the economic activities of millions. One is central direction ... [with] coercion -- the technique of the army and of the modern totalitarian state. The other is voluntary cooperation of individuals -- the technique of the marketplace.” Ironically, Friedman is denounced for lecturing in Pinochet’s Chile. But his advice was to institute market reforms, which ultimately helped undermine Pinochet’s regime. Why? Because inevitably free markets destroy centralized control. Any society with even a modicum of political freedom uses the market process to organize its economic activity. Putting aside the safety of GE foods -- which could easily consume its own interview -- your statements linking free markets to politically free societies seems to be contradicted by the imposition of WTO control over the issue of GE foods. The WTO is an organization of centralized control exerting its authority over democratic communities in the name of free markets, regardless of how unreasonable or unscientific the legislation is. This might be a good time to bring up China. The Chinese government has reliquinshed much control over its markets, but its authority has increased since the 1980s. Also American companies like Yahoo have shown that they would gladly assist a centralized government in subjegating its people if it shows a profit. And to use my own source, Mussolini said that fascism should be called "corporatism," because fascism was a blend of state and corporate power. So I reject the notion that free markets naturally lead to political freedom. Or am I misunderstanding what a "free market" is? Rebuttal? I wrote “Any society with even a modicum of political freedom uses the market process to organize its economic activity.” Can you think of a counter example? Why is this the case? (1) free markets require secure, defined, and transferable property rights. This is the fundamental bulk work protecting the weak from the strong and citizens from the power of the state. Don’t confuse the WTO as an advocate for free markets. They are much more likely to be responsive to corporate concerns rather than any free market ideal. Remember, free market capitalism is a radical, not an conservation notion. That why many business lobby to insulate themselves from the free market (and why we get so little corporate support!). Here’s a piece to consider: MLK, the Marketplace, and a Legacy of Freedom By Dwight R. Lee 01/19/2004 While commemorating the contributions of Martin Luther King, we shouldn't overlook the connection between freedom and the economic progress possible only in a market economy. The expansion in freedom brought about by the civil rights movement under King's inspiring leadership receives far too little credit for improving the prospects and prosperity of all Americans. And our free-market economy receives far too little credit for helping move us toward King's dream of freedom for all our citizens. The more freedom people have, the better markets work. Market prices convey information on what people most desire as consumers and how they can best serve others as producers. This market communication is distorted when some are denied opportunities to shop where they choose, get the education they need, and take jobs for which they are qualified. Markets depend on freedom. Freedom also depends on markets. We can tolerate the freedom of others when market prices are informing and motivating them to pursue their own interests in ways that promote the general interest. No one argues that this "invisible hand" of the market works perfectly, or that it eliminates restrictions on freedom motivated by senseless prejudice. If it did, we would not have needed the civil rights movement, and few people would have heard of Martin Luther King. But neither can sensible people deny that freedom is best served in economies that rely on markets. Does any one really believe it is accidental that the freedoms we take for granted in market economies are routinely suppressed, often brutally, in economies relying on state ownership and socialist planning? Not just minorities are denied basic freedoms under socialistic regimes. Except for the politically privileged few, freedoms to travel, get the type of education one chooses, pick one's occupation, shop where one wants, express political opinions, read what one wants, and worship as one chooses don't exist. Market economies disperse authority, making it less likely that, as happens under socialism, power will become concentrated in the hands of a few who use it to suppress freedom and perpetuate their control. Markets also make it easy to extend and protect freedom by making it a force for general economic prosperity. This explains why Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement enriched America economically as well as morally. The civil rights movement expanded freedom for African Americans who had long been denied opportunities taken for granted by most of us, opportunities to pursue their goals and dreams by making the fullest use of their talents and energies. This expansion of freedom deserves national recognition because it benefits us all far more than most of us realize. We all recognize the value of having more opportunity for ourselves. What is often ignored is that in a market economy it is not just our freedom that enriches us, but the freedom of others as well. In fact, most benefits we receive from expanding freedoms are not from those we take advantage of ourselves, but from those taken advantage of by others. When African Americans -- or anyone else -- take advantage of freedom to get the education, work in the jobs, and start the businesses that do the most to improve their own lives, they are also improving the lives of the rest of us. It's not just additional wealth that we realize from expanding opportunities for minorities, although more wealth is always welcome. But more important, the opportunities we each have to realize our full potential as human beings increase in market economies as the same opportunities are increased for others. We are all diminished, economically as well as morally, when some are denied those opportunities. We may disagree on some of the legislative and policy details that have evolved from the civil rights movement, but we should all agree that King's legacy both enhances and is enhanced by the tremendous benefits we all realize from freedom and markets. Dwight R. Lee is Ramsey Professor of Free Enterprise, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia. Interesting stuff. I guess, then, I'm confused by exactly what you advocate. What exactly is a "free market"? What company or industry do you see as working closest to your ideals? I certainly understand the benefits of free markets -- in some cases. In others, like in the case of WalMart, I see a giant conglomeration creating a monopoly to reduce competition, set prices, and pay low wages. Or like Microsoft, which uses its size and power to create a monopoly apparently used to protect its inferior product. In some cases, the free market seems to create more bureaucracy and ineffeciency than a centralized industry, like with health-care insurance. Many of the countries you identify as having the highest ESI and per-capita income also have socialized medicine... And then there's China... Maybe this clarification about free markets and etcetera should have started the interview, which I guess will now have to be called a "conversation"! Briefly: (1) China is terrified of free markets (2) Very few situation of monopoly exist-you most likely to find them as a result of government protection, e.g., the USPS. Microsoft and Wal-Mart are in the two most competitive market around. They simply can’t “reduce competition, set prices, and pay low wages.” (3) The free market is a process, not a thing. Rather its the result of million of individuals expressing these desires and produces scrambling madly to meet these demands.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

 

American atrocities in Iraq?

Yesterday, Time Magazine published a chilling story about an alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians in Haditha by US forces in November of 2005. According to Time:
...the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children.
After Time handed over its report to military officials, the military re-investigated the incident.
According to military officials, the inquiry acknowledged that, contrary to the military's initial report, the 15 civilians killed on Nov. 19 died at the hands of the Marines, not the insurgents. The military announced last week that the matter has been handed over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which will conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether the troops broke the laws of war by deliberately targeting civilians.
Still, the administration and the military are still stonewalling:
Lieut. Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing, spokeswoman for the Multi-National Force--Iraq, told TIME the involvement of the NCIS does not mean that a crime occurred. And she says the fault for the civilian deaths lies squarely with the insurgents, who "placed noncombatants in the line of fire as the Marines responded to defend themselves."
I’ll leave you to judge whether shooting unarmed civilians – including women and children – is justified under these conditions. But I say – resoundingly – no. I will say this: even if officials discover the shooting was not justified, they will never admit wrong-doing. Not under this administration. This administration does not admit to mistakes. This administration will not acknowledge that extending the tours of troops, that putting under-trained and –armored personnel in the field, that failing to define a war objective puts troops in a severely compromising position: they must battle fatigue and despair in a war with mysterious causes and no discernable end. And you can bet that Democrats don’t want this massacre to turn out negatively, either. They’re already under the impression that any objection to the war and to the military’s methods is analogous to weakness. They’re terrified of appearing to be “against” our troops. I say military discipline and behavior is an institutional trait. It comes down from the top. And remember, this is the same administration that approved of and encouraged the torture of Iraqi detainees. Do I think the administration and top military officials are encouraging US troops to kill civilians? No. But it should be painfully obvious to anyone by this point is that the Bush administration is interested in only the ideological theory of war in Iraq. I suspect that the administration and Pentagon officials are unconcerned by the day-to-day execution of military operations and by the mundane details associated with morale. I suspect that the command is chaotic, and that the discipline and morale of troops varies by location. Accusations of another massacre over the weekend of Iraqis by US troops have surfaced, this time of worshippers in a mosque. US officials blandly state that the evidence supporting the massacre was faked, but the allegations are causing a rift between the Iraqi and US governments. That the administration is treating the alleged massacre so cavalierly, likely playing to domestic politics, is endangering the “mission” – whatever that happens to be – in Iraq.
 

Creep: Joel Olinghouse

Ugh. I don't know why ignorant rants like Hamilton's Olinghouse's bother me. The letter he wrote to the Missoulian is obvious tripe on every level:
"Liberals see the glass half empty "At one time I thought liberals heard with the same kinds of ears that I have and saw with the same kinds of eyes I have. I no longer believe this to be true. "When liberals see George Bush, they see a man with an arrogant swagger. I see a man who walks like one who is focused and has kept his word, a man who is not swayed by polls."
Hm. So unresponsiveness is now a virtue? In other news, black is white. I don't see an "arrogant swagger" when I see Bush. I see an easy stiffness that hints at true uncertainy at his core. It takes courage to 'fess up to mistakes. It takes strong self-reliance to change course. Refusal to admit to wrongdoing or an inability to be influenced by others is a sure sign of uncertainty.
"When liberals see and hear only what the liberal press wants them to, they see an Afghanistan and Iraq mired in a hopelessness brought on by the Bush administration. I see 50 million liberated to freely work and worship as they like. I see thousands of schools and hospitals open for business. I see about a million immunized children."
Where's this liberal press? I want in on it! Um...I guess Olinghouse missed the news bit that a man is going to be put to death in Afghanistan for converting to Christiantity, or that Iraq's government is likely to be dominated by Islamic fundamentalists. Of course, reading all the pesky news articles about Afghanistan or Iraq might actually affect his worldview, and we can't have that. Certainly that's why George Bush doesn't bother following the news, tho' it might have come in handy during Hurricane Katrina.
"Liberals who said that Bush did not 'connect the dots' prior to 9/11, now see a chance to attempt to impeach him for trying to connect the dots through surveillance of suspected enemies."
Um...the problem isn't that he wasn't getting enough info -- the administration had plenty of information available prior to 9/11 to at least go on heightened alert. They just didn't have the manpower or interest to actually parse the information. And why not get warrants? It's not like they're difficult to acquire...unless the NSA is doing something it shouldn't, like data mining. Which would be bad. Very bad.
"When liberals see a mentally or physically challenged child they see someone who should have been aborted. I still am able to see God's handiwork in this child, a child who while still in his mother's womb cried out, 'Take my hand, not my life!'"
I must have missed the liberal newsletter that week when we were instructed to abort handicapped children. Moron.
"This is just too good! As I was trying to figure out how to finish this off, I read Pat Williams' March 21 Missoulian diatribe. Dripping with left-wing elitism, he blamed everyone else for the failure of liberal talk shows. He sees the fact that Rush Limbaugh dropped out of school as a blight. I see a man who worked hard to succeed. Thanks, Williams, you are a gift that just keeps on giving!"
I agree with Williams: Limbaugh's every "rhetorical" flourish cries out for education. But then reason is not what Limbaugh is after. Olinghouse is a complete and utter dud. His letter was an attack, not a discussion. And it's funny how character traits like "honesty," "integrity," "open-mindedness," and "competency" in his world have become the property of "left-wing elites." Hey, I agree!
 

A conversation with Pete Geddes

Over the past few days, I've begun an interview with local free-market environmentalist, Pete Geddes. I've read some of his material and was fascinated by his unique take on a lot of issues, like the environment, oil, and market forces. Unfortunately the "interview" morphed into a "conversation," as I butted in with my opinion, challenged some of his statements and made a general ass out of myself. In short, it's a big mess. Well, never one to shirk publishing messes here on "4&20 blackbirds," I thought I'd go ahead and put down our conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'll publish parts of the conversation over the next few days. I have no idea how many posts it will consume, so heads up! Today, I'll just post the introduction to the man. But before we begin, I want to thank Pete for his patience. He's been a gracious and willing participant despite my inane blathering. Anyhoo... Pete Geddes Pete Geddes is the executive vice president of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE). He is responsible for developing new programs, planning and supporting FREE’s fundraising efforts, and representing FREE at special events, professional conferences, and through opinion editorials. Prior to joining FREE in 1996, Pete spent five years teaching middle school science and was a member of the senior faculty at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Pete received his bachelor of science from St. Lawrence University and his master of science from the University of Montana School of Forestry where he was awarded a Gloria Barton–Wilderness Society Scholarship. He is co-editor with John Baden of “Saving a Place: Endangered Species in the 21st Century” published by Ashgate Press. He writes regular opinion editorials for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. His writings have also appeared in the Journal of Forestry, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, The Wall Street Journal, the Seattle Times, and on the Internet at the National Center for Policy Analysis’ Policy Digest, Tech Central Station, the Commons, and A Better World. Pete is a member of the Ecological Society of America and was a member of the executive committee of the Forest Stewardship Council’s Northern Rockies regional working group. He and his wife Julie live in Bozeman, Montana, with their three boys. You can find some of Pete’s papers at FREE’s website.
 

Links...

The Brittney sculpture/monument to “pro-life” was so popular with 4&20 readers yesterday, I’m posting it again! In fact, the link got me some new visitors, like the person searching Google for “nude teen.” Ed Kemmick’s hilarious take on President Bush’s “aw shucks” act yesterday when talking to Montana voters. The commenters over in Seattle’s The Stranger blog are debating whether all Montanans are naturally violent, or just the one guy who shot a bunch of people at a Capitol Hill party. White House shakeup about six years too late. Andrew Card resigns. This a cool story about mobilizing for a mass rally: Spanish-language DJs helped get 500,000 L.A. protesters to march against recent House immigration legislature. College student spends 41 hours in a WalMart as an expirament. Of what? (Hat tip to Blogenlust.) Plastic on Club Libby Lu, which hosts parties for little girls, treating them like pop divas, including “slutty catwalk modeling.” The timeline of everything...that happened in movies. Um...these people need to find something better to do with their time.
 

Baseball! AL predictions...

Part Two! Yesterday I pleased a couple of baseball supporters, but heard nothing -- NOTHING -- from the teams I 'dissed, like the Braves. Oh, wait! That's because the Braves don't have any fans. Anyhoo...on with the predictions: AL West: The winner: The Oakland A's have got arms, arms, arms. Rich Harden, Danny Haren, and Joe Blanton all did well enough last year, but expect better. Harden is healthy, and Haren and Blanton will have an additional year's experience. Huson Street is a lights-out closer, and Barry Zito and Esteban Loaiza aren't too shabby either. Oh, and the offense is good enough. Barely. Runners-up, but ugly doing it: The LA/Anaheim/California (circle one) Angels have always relied on their bats. The bats are now dry outside of Vladimir Guerrero. Darrin Erstad and Garret Anderson were never that good anyway, and now they're a year older. Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman and the other young players just don't get it done. And adding Edgardo Alfonzo isn't much help. The pitching will again rely on the bullpen, and don't expect heavyweight Bartolo Colon to repeat last year's success. The Texas Rangers will mash the ball, but their pitching will, as always, dry up and wither come July. Kevin Millwood was a nice addition, but won't come anywhere near his numbers last year in the Rangers' launching pad of a ballpark and in the heat. Think 4.85 ERA. Pickups Adam Eaton and Vicente Padilla couldn't get it done in the pitcher-friendly NL and spacious home parks, so they won't get it done in Texas, either. Ugh: The Seattle Mariners will lose 85 games this year -- at least -- and everybody will be happy about it. Other than Felix Hernandez, Richie Sexon, and Ichiro, nobody's fun to watch on this team. AL Central: Winner: Duh. The Chicago White Sox. How could you not pick them? They won the whole last year then got better in the offseason by dumping Aaron Rowand on the Phils for Jim Thome, and they nabbed Javier Vazquez, who's got nasty stuff -- nasty, nasty stuff -- for the fifth spot in the rotation. Sure the bullpen is iffy, with headcase Bobby Jenks, but this is a strong, solid confident team. Also-rans: The Minnesota Twins will edge out everybody's darlings, the Cleveland Indians. Here's why: Johann Santana and Francisco Liriano. They've also got a great bullpen, and Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Bartlett can't do any worse than last year. Their only direction is up. The Indians on the other hand, will falter. Other than Pronk, the vaunted hitters tend to swing and miss a lot. And Grady Sizemore is too good lookin'. The starters don't impress me -- is CC Sabathia finally ready to step up? (God, I hope so, because he's on my fantasy team.) The bullpen is decent, but lacks a good closer. Too many holes. And how often have we seen a team finish strong the year before, get picked the next preseason as the Second Coming, then fall flat on their faces? Meet your 2006 Cleveland Indians. U-G-L-Y: The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals. In Detroit, the Jeremey Bonderman/Nate Robertson rebuilding period is officially a dud. Pudge Rodriguez is done, Maglio Ordonez will never be the same. The only consolation Tigers' fans have is the Royals, who were happy to sign Reggie Sanders and Mark Grudzielanek, and if you're happy signing Sanders and Grudzielanek, you can forget getting a lengthy blurb in my predictions post. AL East: As I mentioned yesterday, I'm a fourth-generation Red Sox fan, so I know waaaaaaay too much about the teams in this division. Prepare to be shocked!!! Winners: The Yankees. This is it. It's over after 2006. Enjoy it Yankee fans. The Bombers will win fewer than 95 games and will again be the most annoying team in baseball. Johnny Damon adds to an already potent offense, but the pitching is in tatters. Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina look old. Carl Pavano and Jared Wright look hurt. If Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi have quit the juice, expect some offensive falloff. If not...a little controversey this year in NYC? But the bottom line is that Boss Steinbrenner won't be around much longer. There's rumors of poor health. The Yankees will soon be up for sale: expect the chants of "year two-thousand" to continue for some time... The muddled middle: The Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles will slug it out for second place. But each of these teams could win it all. If the Sox' Becket, Schilling, and Keith Foulke pitch at their best, the Sox will cruise. If Toronto's AJ Burnett wins twenty -- watch out! If Leo Mazzone harnasses the talent of Daniel Cabrera and Eric Bedard, they could win the AL East. None of these things will happen, of course. The Red Sox will slug, Beckett will get blisters, and one of Foulke's two gimpy knees will fold like an accordian before the Fourth of July. The Blue Jay's will hit around .280, but with no walks or power, Burnett will win 8, Halliday will return to the DL. The Orioles Cabrera and Bedard will show flashes of brilliance, but the surly infighting and general indifference on this team will sabotage the season. The Devil Rays: The Devil Rays will, as always, finish last.

Monday, March 27, 2006

 

Baseball! NL predictions...

It’s almost time for baseball season! I admit, baseball is my favorite sport to follow, mainly because I like napping with a game on the radio. I’m a fourth-generation Red Sox fan, so I’m half-crazy, too. Here are my predictions: NL West The winner: The San Diego Padres will take the division. Mike Cameron makes the difference. In spacious PetCo, he makes Peavy even better. Piazza was a nice acquisition; he’s an improvement over whoever he replaces, either at the plate or at first, now that Klesko looks dinged up. The also-rans: The Dodgers just don’t have the pitching, although Furcal was a nice pickup at short. Garciaparra will get 200 ABs, if he’s lucky. With an excellent farm team, they’re a couple years away. The Giants could win this division if Barry plays 120 games. He won’t. The doping scandal will catch up to him before the year’s out. Otherwise the team is too old and fragile to expect much without Barry. The never rans: Neither the Diamondbacks nor the Rockies are even worth writing about. I will pay little or no attention to these teams. NL East: The winner: Everybody’s picking the Braves because they’ve been burnt by prematurely predicting their end. This year is different. The jig is up. The difference? Leo Mazzone is in Baltimore. That’s why I think the New York Mets will take the division this year. Carlos Beltran is due, David Wright will mash the ball, Carlos Delgado will be...well...Carlos Delgado. After Pedro the rotation is mediocre but will be propped up by a very good bullpen. The bridesmaids: Finally the Braves will collapse and we’ll discover how important Mazzone is to the organization. (Hint: fantasy players should invest in Eric Bedard and Daniel Cabrera.) Plus they’ve got no bullpen, Tim Hudson looks like he’s ready for a major breakdown and after Andru Jones, there’s not much to talk about in the lineup. The never-weres: The Phillies and Nationals will continue their string of mediocrity. The Phils can’t throw the pill, and the Nats don’t have the bats. Put ‘em together, and they might contend. Bringing up the rear: Actually the Marlins might be the most entertaining 110-loss team in the history of baseball. Watch Wunderkinder Miguel Cabrera, Jeremy Hermida, and Dontre Willis electrify fans throughout the summer. NL Central: The winner: Last time I checked, the St. Louis Cardinals still have Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Jason Marquis, and Jeff Suppan rounding out a solid rotation which will allow Pujols, Rolen, and the rest of the gang to slug their way to another 100-win season. Runners-ups: Houston and Milwaukee display why this will be the toughest division in all of baseball. Houston will edge the Brewers unless Ben Sheets is healthy all year, which is why I’m picking the ‘Stros. Looks good on paper, but paper can’t pitch: The Cubs will continue their steady decline thanks to the tender shoulder ligaments of Mssrs. Wood and Prior, although Carlos Zambrano has the stuff to win the Cy Young. The ‘pen sucks and Greg Maddux is older than dirt. Outside of Derrick Lee and Aramis Ramirez, these guys don’t hit enough to carry a one-armed rotation. Looks terrible on paper, but watch out: The Pirates might just be the feel-good story of the league. They’ve got some good, live arms – Zack Duke, Oliver Perez, and Mike Gonzalez – and maybe the best all-around player – Jason Bay – in the game. With Sean Casey and Jeromy Burnitz added to a team that was already scrappy, these guys might surprise the league and win the affection of fans who like guys with dirt on their uniforms. Or they could stink. The little red caboose: Despite good hitting, the Reds pitching is abysmal. That Boston’s Bronson Arroyo was considered a good pickup is a sign of the state of the rotation. (And Arroyo is throwing like a guy with arm problems.)
 

GOP extremists acting up

So now there’s a fight within Republican party brewing, and it looks ugly. The latest incarnation is over immigration. In LA, there’s been a surprisingly high turnout of protestors angry over the recently-passed House bill criminalizing illegal immigration. Other protests have dotted the nation. Currently the Senate is considering the legislation. Bush and some moderates are lining up in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Rep. Tom Tancredo and a bunch of other...well...loonies...are on the other. But this fight represents a larger clash between the radical edges of the Republican party and its “moderate” counterpart, over social and fiscal issues. Despite the administration’s wandering into radical foreign policy territory, despite its slashing of federal government and tax-cutting sprees, despite the ur-conservative appointments to SCOTUS, extremists don’t think the mainstream of its party is going far enough. There’s the radical fiscal conservatives attacking the administration Republicans known for profligate spending. In Nevada, for example, Bob Beers is campaigning for governor on the back of his “Tax and Spending Control (TASC)” initiative – Nevada’s version of the infamous Montana “SOS” initiative – against Rep. Jim Gibbons, whose supported Bush on nearly every request for appropriations. Similar battles are shaping up in Colorado, Maine, Montana, and Oklahoma. There’s the extremist “values” camp plowing on with its utopian fundamentalist social policies despite nervous hurrumphing from mainstream conservatives with a disdain for social engineering. South Dakota’s state representative, Bill Napoli, was not only a part of his state’s recent ban of abortion, but he wants to ban birth control, too. The Missouri state legislature passed a series of bills designed to bring back “Christian values” to the state, including a bill to help ease the transition of women back into the home. Apparently these steps aren’t enough for social conservatives, who think the GOP doesn’t go far enough to promote a Christian agenda. Then there’s immigration, which pits Bush, McCain and Ted Kennedy against Tom Tancredo, who believes that immigrants pollute our essential American-ness. Tancredo, an opponent of multi-culturalism, was quoted (no link available) by the “New Republic” as saying:
America is wrestling with an identity crisis. Part of it is a result of what I call the 'cult of multiculturalism.' The idea that there is nothing—nothing—of value in Western civilization, that we have nothing to offer the world, that we have nothing to offer as a viable society, that everything we have is bad and ugly.... If we are truly in a clash of civilizations... which I happen to believe, then it is important for us to understand who we are. What does it mean to be part of Western civilization? Are there inherent values that are worth anyone's allegiance?
If I am to maintain a semblance of good rhetorical skills, I should explain what’s wrong with this quote instead of just letting it speak for itself. But...do I need to? This guy is a nutcase! And that, in a nutshell (heh heh), is the essential clash within the Republican party. Those GOPers in power – the “mainstream” politicians – are feeling some pressure from the extreme wings of the party to get on with a fundamentalist social agenda and fiscal policy that few reasonable Americans agree with. That’s the thing: if you drive to the dance in the girl’s car, she’s going to expect to take you home before the night’s through.
 

Ballot initiative 152 is anti-democratic

Ballot 152 is a proposed initiative that would change the rules of eminent domain so that a property owner could receive compensation if the value of the property diminishes because of a government regulation. Does this argument sound familiar? It should! It's the same argument Canyon Resources Corp. used to say it deserved compensation for its property after the ban on cyanide "heap-leach" gold mining was enacted in Montana. So...after the citizens of Montana got together and decided -- in two separate elections -- that heap-leach mining should not be performed inside state borders, the mining company wanted its money for the loss of value on its property. Luckily the SCOTUS thought this a foolish argument and refused to hear Canyon Resources' plea. In effect, if the mining corporation did get its money, it would overturn the ban. The state can't afford to recompensate all businesses for income lost because of regulation. If 152 passes, that would mean an end to state regulations. That means that our representatives and our ballot initiatives would no longer have the power to decide the operational standards for business in our state. Update: It looks like Budge is unequivocably in favor of 152, which doesn't surprise me. Seems like those that favor "free markets" also feel disdain for the electorate. That is, business is a better and truer vehicle for free societies than democracy. I can't help but feel that these neo-libertarians that decry government and big corporations in the same breath take their position largely because it's against everything those on the left and right believe in. In other words, it helps them feel right or honest in a world where all the other positions have been compromised at one time or another. But let's face it. This free-market ideology is about as realistic towards the marketplace as neoconservatism is towards foreign policy. Left unfettered, business prefers to conglomerate and build monopolies that eliminate competetion, so that their profits are predictable and safe even if their products are inferior. In other words, the free market is self-defeating. Government works when used as a check to the power of large corporations. Remember: our forty-hour week and two-weeks vacation (not to mention child-labor laws) were not enacted as a result of market forces, but rather by workers' groups allied with political parties to enact legislation. Maybe I just don't understand what a "free market" is. In any case, initiative 152 would remove one of the few tools Montana's citizens have to decide for themselves how their communities should look and act.
 

Links...

You see what I mean about anti-abortionists? Here’s a “Monument to Pro-Life” on display in Brooklyn, New York. It’s a sculpture of a nude Britney Spears giving birth. Attention, women readers: this is how anti-abortionists want you. Does anyone still doubt that Republicans are the party of money? While Bush’s approval rating is in the 30s and Cheney’s in the teens, they still manage to raise millions in funds. I guess somebody likes the job they’re doing. Pogie’s first (and last, we hope) annual “GOP Mouthpiece” contest. Do you have what it takes to ride point for Conrad Burns? Forty-nine percent of New Yorkers believe “some of our leaders knew in advance attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and consciously failed to act.” Forty-nine percent! You think Bush has credibility problems in New York? And why do people have a problem with the Bush administration? Maybe it’s because they value profit over security. No, I’m not rehashing the port-Dubai deal. I’m talking security at chemical plants. Speedkill on Montana’s Constitutional Party. What is it with radical conservatives? Why do they always give their organizations and legislation names opposite than what it actually means? A better name for these people would be “Citizens for American Theocracy.” Or “Wingnuts for War.” Or... NPR is muscling in on Conrad Burns. See its full-length feature on our dipstick Senator and his dirty business. Will the fun never end? Stanislaw Lem died. He’s most well known in this country for having written “Solaris,” the novel that was turned into a mediocre movie. But like many other Soviet-era science fiction writers, his work was actually subversive in a culture where the only fiction that could criticize was heavily cloaked in allegory. Check out his short stories... Flathead man kills six at a Seattle house party. I know this is something the local television news would lead with, but...why? Why did this guy to Seattle with a truckload of guns and ammunition?

Friday, March 24, 2006

 

Talking point: Bringin' home the pork

I’ve been thinking a little bit lately about some of the talking points being bandied about in Montana’s Senate race, the hottest race in the state and possibly the nation this year. So now and then I’ll examine what’s being said under a 4&20 microscope... All observations are free; you may steal any ideas found here for the good of Western Civilization. The rhetoric: Conrad Burns has brought $2 billion in federal funds to Montana. With seats on powerful committees that influence where federal funds go, he’s provided for Montana. Our state is among the leaders in return for our tax dollar: we receive far more funds from the federal government than we contribute. Without Conrad Burns, that will change, and Montana will suffer for it. The message: Sure he’s a crook, but he’s only snacking off the crumbs that dropped of Montana’s banquet table, which he provided. The reality: Much of what Burns includes in his amount he claims he brought to Montana is actually money the state’s other and more senior Senator accounted for. Included in Burns’ $2 billion figure is transportation funds -- which Baucus won for the state. Also what Burns doesn’t talk about is the money he’s diverted away from Montana and towards well-paying lobbyists’ clients, like the Michigan Chippewa tribe and Abramoff client for whom Burns won a $3-million grant over needier Montana tribes. Still the reality is that, as a three-term Senator in the party of power and someone who’s known to change his vote for money, he has and will doubt continue to provide pork for the state. However, if a Democrat wrests the seat away from Burns and, in doing so, helps win a majority in the Senate for the Democrats, you can bet your sweet *ss that Montana is going to benefit. As a swing state, as a state providing a blueprint on how to win moderate to moderate-conservative Western voters, a state with a charismatic and exceptionally popular Democratic governor in conservative geography, you can be sure that the Democratic party will put the new junior Senator on some very important committees and continue to provide for the state’s voters. If a Democrat is elected to Senate from Montana, the party will give us a big, fat thank-you kiss. In 1992, Arkansas became the center of political speculation as it provided for the emergence of a new kind of Democrat after the Reagan years. In 2006 and beyond, Montana might very well be the next small state to land on the big stage.
 

McDonald quits over failed promise; party not likely to accept his resignation

Chairman of the Montana Democratic Party, Dennis McDonald, announced his resignation Thursday. Why? Because he left four seats unfilled in the upcoming state legislation slate for the 2006 race. He had promised to fill them all.
"When you say you are going to do something, you get it done. I committed myself to filling them all. I didn't quite make it," McDonald said. "I am sorry for Montana families, farmers and ranchers," he said, "but when you commit to roping a calf by two legs, you got to do it."
Of course what McDonald doesn't mention is that getting 96 state House candidates and 25 state Senate candidates was a record for Montana Democrats. Our Montana right-wing bloggers were thrown for a loop, and saw internal conflict and conspiracy at work:
BigSky thinks he quit because the Montana Democrats are out of touch with Montana families, farmers and ranchers and the party has brought in so many folks from back east (mudslingers, hired guns) that Mr. McDonald no longer can stomach it.
I can understand why. That's the way their candidates operate. Republican operatives don't understand that an honest man might offer to take responsibility for his actions and quit over a failed promise. They have been jaded by their own candidates' corruption. They have watched their party flog the state and federal governments for personal gain for so long that they forget what civic duty actually entails. The gossip in Democratic circles is that McDonald quit precisely for the reasons he stated. They also say that Schweitzer and Baucus will insist he stay on the job.
 

The Missoula Starbucks

It's rare these days when I agree with a Missoulian editorial -- seems like they're letting their high school intern pen them lately -- but I, er...that is...I...how do I say this? Agree? With the editorial on Starbucks?
It's an encouraging reflection of how well things are going in Missoula these days that little else is causing as much teeth-gnashing among the local intelligentsia than the impending opening of a downtown Starbucks coffee shop. Oh, the horror!
The Missoulian is...er...right. Starbucks started as a little independent coffee shop and is responsible for introducing the country to good coffee. It's big because it's good. It's not barging into the market of cafes, it invented the market. Sure, it's been taken over by a greedy corporate mindset and has spread its tentacles across the nation. But I remember the world before Starbucks, and it wasn't pretty. Watery truckstop coffee. Instant coffee. Lipton Tea, for God's sake! And to be fair to Starbucks, they do respond to criticism. In response to a drive to get the company to sell fair trade coffee, they now offer such coffee at many of their stores. I can't help but, er, agree with this last point, too:
Now a confession: Some of us haven't darkened a Starbucks' door for years. There's no shortage of good coffee to be had in these parts, and most of it is a good deal more conveniently obtained than by traveling to the nearest Starbucks. The opening of its downtown shop won't change that by much. We don't much fear for the survival of our favorite coffee vendors - they're not about to roll over and play dead. They'll compete, some of them fiercely, and most of them will find a way to succeed.
Break Espresso is probably the cafe most threatened by the new Starbucks. But it's just bought the adjacent space and knocked down the seperating wall to make a very kick-*ss cafe, twice as large as before, now with lots of light and tables. And Break patrons are loyal. At least my wife is loyal. I guess my only regret about the new Starbucks is that Missoula doesn't have many chain outlets on the main drag. There's a "Jamba Juice." And the Bon Marche. Or Macy's, whatever it's called nowadays. But that's it. Hopefully the new Starbucks doesn't represent a trend.
 

Creep: Ethel Fay Jordan

I seem to reseverve my "creep" awards to Montana homophobes...why is that? Why can't I just let them walk away? Why is the issue obviously so important to me? It's not like I'm affected in any way by discrimination against gays: I'm a middle-aged straight white guy, I'm sitting on top of the power pyramid. What do I care? It just irks me when people go out of their way to put others down, not for what they do or say (like Republicans or letter-writing homophobes), but for who they are. And it double-irks me when they use Christianity -- a religion that, in theory, is all about forgiveness and love, fer chrissake! -- as the basis for discrimination. Enter Billings Gazette writer Ethel Fay Jordan:
Condemning sin according to Bible I read with interest a spine-chilling article in the Saturday, March 11, Gazette, written by the Rev. Erik Thorson, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Billings, in which he attempted to redefine and modernize the entire subject of homosexuality. The Christian Bible definitely teaches that we should love the sinner but hate his sin. However, my interpretation of Thorson's manuscript is that according to him, we now in this day should also love the sin -- well if not love and embrace it deeply, then to condone and accept it as an A-OK alternative lifestyle at any rate. But sin is sin -- no matter how you slice it. But the Bible also states that in the last days, "Good shall be termed evil, and evil good," and this situation is Exhibit A of this particular prophecy. I also need to know why there are the six verses in the Bible which Thorson referred to that explicitly condemn same-sexual activity, if indeed homosexuality is not a sin and a problem? In that case, just why are these six verses contained in the Bible in the first place? Meanwhile, may God forgive us again, and also in the meantime, I shall attempt to redeem the time by speaking out and taking a stand against such evils as homosexuality with whatever time, strength and will I may have remaining.
I admit Ethel's letter lacks the usual vitriol found in your standard anti-gay outcry. I picture some old nanny in a rocking chair shaking her cane at the people walking by her front porch. So maybe she's not a "creep," per se. Maybe "misguided." Or "delusional." Here's the thing: maybe the Bible contains six versions railing against hot man-on-man action. I don't know 'em off hand. But it seems that these six verses get a disproportionate amount of attention over the, oh, dozens...hundreds?...of passages on charity, class injustice, the redistribution of wealth, etc. Take Nehemiah's passionate outburst against landlords, the system of credit, and usury (Nehemiah 5:3-13):
For there were those who said, "We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live." There were others who said, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine." Also there were those who said, "We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. "Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others." Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words. I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, "You are exacting usury, each from his brother!" Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. I said to them, "We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?" Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. Again I said, "The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? "And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. "Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them." Then they said, "We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say " So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. I also shook out the front of my garment and said, "Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied " And all the assembly said, "Amen!" And they praised the LORD. Then the people did according to this promise.
So...where's the outcry about landlords, credit, and usury from contemporary Christians? How many are storming MasterCard/Visa's offices and tearing down their walls? Heck, how many Christians have credit cards? To me, the Bible is a radical book because it establishes the value of a human above anything -- money, possessions, and property, especially. That modern Christians chase around gays, evolution, and abortion, which have little or no presence in scripture, seems like maybe someone's trying to distract the faithful from what the Bible really says.
 

Links...

Coach K will eat your child. Are all the Bush brothers a pack of corrupt incompetents? (Be sure to check out the video of Pierce Bush, the president’s nephew, who manages to make his uncle look like a genius.) South Park kills off “Chef.” Take that, Scientology! It’s official: airport security sucks. So why do we have to knuckle under an arbitrary, time-consuming process while the president gets to break whatever inconvenient law he sees? New York state Attorney General candidate, Sean Maloney, is campaigning on a platform to challenge Dinky’s warrantless wiretapping of New York citizens. Online RPG, “Roma Victor,” crucifies players who exhibit bad game behavior. Weird. Yet compelling... IMAX censors the word “evolution” from its movies. In a recent poll, Americans are shown to prefer Muslims to atheists. South Dakotans: take back your uterus! Even Krauthammer thinks it’s a civil war in Iraq.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

 

Thoughts on "Burns Burden"

The Missoula Independent is featuring its cover story on the Burns-Abramoff scandal. There's little new in the article, but it's a nice summary of the maze of allegations and in-state hubbub generated by Conrad's close association with "Casino" Jack. If you feel like re-immersing yourself in the dreck that is Conrad Burns, check it out. Here are some gems:
Last spring, when stories about Burns’ Abramoff connections began gaining traction, state Republican Party Executive Director Chuck Denowh predicted, “this whole thing is going to roll over relatively quickly.” “It’s a pretty short-lived story,” Denowh said then. Since then, Burns’ Abramoff dealings have been continually and widely reported in the national and state media, and according to Roll Call, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating his involvement with Abramoff.
Heh heh. Nice call, Denowh! That's one interesting thing about the Abramoff affair: the GOP spin has been relentless...and completely ineffective. In fact, the rhetoric from Burns mouthpiece, Jason Klindt, has been so grotesque and divorced from reality, it might actually classify as comedy. Blog-pal David Sirota gets in a good theory for the story (and a pic!) that might explain why Republican messages falter:
“The most dangerous scandals are the ones that confirm the suspicions the public already had,” says Helena author David Sirota...“People already suspected that Conrad Burns is a little bit of a shady character…now what we’re seeing is a full-blown scandal that simply confirms those suspicions.”
An interesting point the story makes is that the reason Democrats can be so aggressive in attacking Burns and keeping the story focused on Abramoff, and were able to start doing so nearly 14 months before the election, is that Montana, as a small state, is inexpensive for TV ads. And Montana's size allows almost everybody who participates in the election this year to have a substantial role, whether they blog, do grassroots work for a candidate, or contribute financially to a race. And, of course, this is an important race, not just for Montana, but for the United State, democracy, war, and peace:
“The stakes are high for Montana and for the country in this U.S. Senate race,” says the Dems’ [Jim] Farrell. “There are many scenarios this year under which the outcome of the race in Montana will determine [which party] controls the U.S. Senate next year. That’s big stuff for the country and certainly for Montana.”
There's already a lot of national attention on the Montana race, and as the summer winds down, the scrutiny will intensify. Wheee!
 

Um, Mr. Governor?

I do think Schweizter's success here in Montana can be used as a blueprint for winning back the Rocky Mountain states to the Democrats, but I'm not crazy about the governor's recent comments about how to do that:
"In fifth grade, we didn't choose the smartest kid or the most handsome kid. We chose the most likeable. The Republicans have figured that out. We need good ideas and present them in a way that people will believe. We haven't done that."
Um, Mr. Governor? Look what that thinking got us...
 

Links...

Scientists’ test results finally likely to get old white male politicians interested in global warming. Gerik found a cool color-coded map representing Bush’s approval rating over the last year. Watch the country go from pink (favorable rating) to blue (unfavorable rating)! Warning: gazing at the map may be addictive. Runner-up “hero”: the Billings Gazette for speaking out against the war. But then I realized it’s kind of pathetic to reward somebody for realizing now what was obvious 3 years ago. Another runner-up “hero”: South Dakota tribal leader, Cecilia Fire Thunder, vows to open an abortion clinic on tribal lands. She’s runner-up mainly because I already posted today’s Hero. Joe Lieberman is cracking up! BTW, he blames bloggers. Yay, us! News of the weird: an American set off two bombs in Bolivia. You think I was harsh on Bush? Check this out: “A vicious, core-less, rudderless dry-drunk who simply cannot function in power without acres of cotton-batting yes-men and reality-dampers to giving him a nice, fat, soft cushion against The Real.” Russ Feingold rocks the house on The Daily Show. Digby, as always, nails it. Feingold’s censure movement was a good thing to do. Democrats need to be agressive.
 

Hero: The Rev. Tim Meyer

Today’s hero is a Billings minister who speaks out against Christian prejudice.
No need to be bigoted against gay Christians In response to the Rev. Johnson's Sunday letter, all Holy Scripture is an inspired sound (Genesis 1:3). But when it comes to Biblical interpretation, few if any this side of eternity hear with perfect pitch. While both Hebrew and Christian canons have similarities, their tone and emphases are strikingly and wonderfully different. Johnson seems to believe that the Hebrew writings exist to harmonize with his own tonal preferences. That alone is a sizable error, requiring serious reconsideration. When love of one's neighbor is of equal importance to love of one's God, there is no quarter for the kinds of bigotry being expressed against our faithful gay sisters and brothers. The ones I know are deeply committed individuals who, by personal observation, serve their communities with passion and their God devoutly. Let those who have perfect Biblical pitch be the first to condemn them.
Tolerance stems from empathy, not sympathy. The difference between those words is clearer in German. In German, “empathy” is Mitgefuehl, or “feeling with” someone. “Sympathy” is Verstaendnis, or “understanding.” Empathy, then, is the ability to live in someone’s skin, to experience harmony in feeling and spirit with another. Sympathy is intellectual. You understand someone’s position, but from the outside. Tolerating gays means feeling compassion for their humanity. It means realizing that they’re people, like you and me. It means recognizing the personal harm done by the institutionalized hatred set against them. To be intolerant of outsiders seems to be the antithesis of the spirit of Christ. To me, empathy is Christ’s essential core, it’s what makes him unique in the Bible. His empathy for the outcast, for the outsider is what sets him apart. He challenges institutions that create the insider/outsider dichotomy and urges empathy for the downtrodden. That the Reverend Meyer used hearing as an allegory for tolerance and empathy seems extraordinarily appropriate. Empathy arises out of awareness. You have to see, you have to listen, you have to feel your surroundings in order to experience empathy. But there’s a limitation on awareness. No mortal has “perfect pitch,” as the reverend says. And that’s where it gets tricky. We’ve got to remain flexible of mind and change our views when we realize we’re wrong. Or something. Anyways, kudos to Reverend Meyer for his courageous acceptance of gays in the face of conservative Christian outcry. It tells me that the reverend's heart is open and loving and not filled with hate and fear.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

 

On alcoholism, privilege, and George W Bush

Today Dave Budge called me out for referring to Bush as a "drunk" in my post deliberating on his position in history:
But I have a question for Touchstone - do you have any f[*]cking clue what it’s like for an alcoholic to stop drinking? I do. If there is anything I give George Bush credit for is the fact that he did stop and judgmental schmucks that haven’t done it have no goddamn currency in the discussion. I’ll also note a couple of other points of fact: A) there is no proof that Bush was ever an alcoholic but that we know he quit drinking and B) if he was an alcoholic he’s still an alcoholic but in recovery. So until I hear “My name is Touchstone and Im an alcoholic” I’m going to call you “The Judgmental Touchstone.” Like I said, I’ve got no issues with people saying that they are dissatisfied on whatever level with George Bush. But I think this pathology where anything that might be OK for someone else is a negative only for Bush is rank hypocrisy.
Er...Budge is right – in his last remark. (H*ll, do you think I’d agree I was completely wrong? This is a blog!) I admit that I (a) used Bush’s alcoholism and probable addiction to drugs as a means to slur his character, and (b) failed to show how his alcoholism contributes to his competency – or lack thereof – in his current job. I hereby apologize to all recovering alcoholics out there reading this blog. As someone who isn’t alcoholic (albeit with plenty of alcoholic history in the family) I realize I can’t speak as an alcoholic, I don’t know what it’s like to be an alcoholic, and I’m probably not very sympathetic to alcoholics in general. (See the note about alcoholics in the family.) That said, I imagine alcoholism manifests itself differently in different people. Some of the recovering have no problem with living their daily lives, others do. Some react to stress positively, others may not. Still, I can’t imagine that an addiction to a drug like alcohol leaves the addicted unaltered in some fundamental way. How does this relate to Bush? Enter the theory of the “dry drunk.”
Dry drunk is a slang term used by members and supporters of Alcoholics Anonymous and substance abuse counselors to describe the recovering alcoholic who is no longer drinking, one who is dry, but whose thinking is clouded. Such an individual is said to be dry but not truly sober. Such an individual tends to go to extremes.
This is old hat, maybe even a stretch, but it is definitely true that the current president suffers from rigidity of mind, overblown self-importance, impatience, childish behavior, etc & co – the traits of a dry drunk. Is it right to condemn Bush for being a recovering alcoholic? No. Is it right to condemn Bush for having the mindset of a particular alcoholic? Certainly it’s fair to criticize a politician’s personality, especially if it interferes with his job and our safety, and probably fair to note that this personality is related to his history with alcohol and drugs. To answer Budge’s rhetorical question about Ted Kennedy...I’m not sure if I would want him in the White House, either. And, yes, I suspect his drinking and other “proclivities” would interfere with his duties as president. And then there’s the privilege thing. Budge:
Who else came from privilege? Let’s name some: Kennedy, FDR, Washington, Jefferson and Wilson to name a few. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Touchstone voted for the privileged John Kerry. So I wonder what his penchant is for bringing this up.
Again, I used this to slander to Bush’s character without making any further comments. Of course not all politicians born to privilege (most of them, now) are necessarily incompetent or unsympathetic. However, I would argue that inherited privilege does confer challenges to its recipients. For example, how can the nation’s leader understand the worries and needs of the majority of his constituents if he’s never worried about his mortgage payments, never lived from month-to-month, never struggled to make a living? In my post I assumed my audience was familiar with the negative qualities associated with Bush that are directly related to his privileged background. I assumed my readers knew that Bush never earned with merit his schooling, his money, his jobs, and his career, and that he failed at every level of his life. Yet he shows no empathy or humility in his person or policies. He seems to have no emotional connection to the people outside his economic class, which manifests itself in his disinterest in low-income university students, pensioners, the Katrina victims, Iraqi war casualties, etc and co. So while not all alcoholics and inheritors of privilege are incompetent, alcoholism and privilege can contribute to the unfitness of a person in power. Update: Wulfgar! addresses the privilege issue in Budge's comments much better than I ever could:
I’ve little to say about the dry-drunk part, except that niether care that Bush drank, nor that he currently doesn’t. The drugs, on the other hand, and the way that his past with them and alcohol has been covered up, shunted to the side by angry cries of “character assasination”, and Bush’s own dismissal of his past as a strength speak clearly to his mindset as a “child of privilege”. Rose Kennedy was a hard old bat, but she taught her boys well, that with privilage comes service and responsibility. Kerry proved his worth in Vietnam. Lie all they want, the swift-boaters can’t argue that Kerry used privilege to keep himself out of harms way. Using the phrase “child of privilege” as an insult may cut too broad a swath for your tastes, but it is open to value judgements, when the privilege is used in innapropriate ways. Your examples, Dave, have used privilege in public service. Since his boyhood, GW has used privelege to cover his own ass from one phenominal failure to the next. It’s a consistent pattern with his life, one that shocks me blind that so few people were willing to acknowledge the fact, and they foisted him to a position of power he didn’t deserve … because he was a child of privilege. I don’t think touchstone was out of line with that wisecrack at all.

 

Montana Republicans like bullies

Friday, Montana’s Board of Education decided to require anti-bullying policies in all of the state’s school districts. As the Missoulian notes, the policy is needed largely as protection from liability if a student is injured or inflicts injuries as a result of bullying. Make a state policy to forbid bullying a no-brainer, right? Who would oppose such a thing? For starters, the state’s Republican legislators. Why? Because there’s some mighty disagreeable language in the policy, that’s why!
One of those features says the policy should “acknowledge that victims of (bullying) are often targeted because their perceived vulnerabilities,” which can include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”...
According to the Billings-Gazette, conservatives dislike the language because they’re afraid it will promote gay rights.
The issue of sexual orientation has been a hot-button element of the school bullying debate, as opponents argued that a bullying policy could be used to advance homosexual rights and causes. Harris Himes, pastor at the Big Sky Christian Center in Hamilton, predicted Friday that the policies would "give fodder to the American Civil Liberties Union" or others to "promote gay causes."
So...what does this say to Montana’s gay teens? It sure looks like Republicans are advocating bullying gays, doesn’t it? When I was a kid, using homophobic slurs against the weak or different was a valued weapon in the arsenal of a bully. That there were no openly gay students in my high school was no surprise: the threat of violence always lurked behind the insults. But that was the 1980s. Shouldn’t we be beyond that? Shouldn’t gay students have the right to go to school without fear of being beaten? If the morality police of the state have their way, Montana bullies could still be used to enforce conservative social standards. But then, bullying has always been an important tactic of the GOP.
 

Links...

Tired of hearing only South Park’s view of the Scientologists’ universe? Check out the “Children’s Scientology Pagaent.” Intelligent Discontent is keeping up with the Senate race so I don’t have to: (1) Burns goon, Jason Klindt’s reaction to Bob Keenan filing for Burns’ seat. (2) Wingnuts against Burns. (3) And the latest gossip about Burns and the possibility of him dropping out... Meanwhile there’s a House race on and Wulfgar! really likes the Democratic candidate, Monica Lindeen. Blogenlust notes the new trend of newspapers hiring inexperienced right-wing bloggers to balance “liberal” views. Apparently facts are now “liberal.” Like the fact that things in Iraq are actually worse than they appear. Which didn’t stop Bush from lying about the reason he invaded Iraq or whipping his straw men. More on the WaPo’s new wingnut blogger: Digby notes his daddy works for the White House. The Daily Kos has a stunning indictment of the wingnut and a link where you can register your disgust. The IRS considers a regulation to allow accountants and other tax-return workers to sell your tax returns to “marketers and data brokers.” Just when you thought the GOP couldn’t get any worse... I hate to appear to be a left-wing elitist snob, but ugh! Look at the crap “Duke” Cunningham bought with his bribe money! BoingBoing reports on a law regarding obscenity and the Internet: “Online sexual materials is obscene if any community in US objects.” This law could probably affect more than porn: think information about contraceptives or STDs, not to mention art and literature. Last, but not least, the video “Apocalypse Pooh.”

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