Saturday, February 25, 2006

Bush Bites Beleaguered Butt

... His own.

One of the more irreverent web columns that I know of is Bryan Lambert's "You Are Dumb", which skewers 'most everybody, but really enjoys poking holes into the right wing, and the right-wing-wannabees* (probably because there are so many more than the lefties, and they are just so good at being .... strange ... and attracting press coverage).

Lambert's recent column on the proposed sale of the British firm that currently operates port facilities for 6, count 'em, six, uhh, 21, count 'em, 21! U.S. cities to a state-owned company in the UAE reflects both on the "dumbness" that many in the current administration seem to want to foster and the supreme irony that such conditioning to a simple, un-nuanced appreciation of issues may be to have the public react to the White House over this deal as the Congress and the GOP reacted to the Harriet Miers nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

From "You Buy Dubai Do:"
Memo to George W. Bush: PEOPLE ARE DUMB.

And for five years, this has worked to your advantage, dumbass. You've thrown around absolutes and generalities like they were nickels at a whorehouse. You've appealed to the basest, most xenophobic, least rational parts of the American mob mentality as you clawed your way to more and more power.

So pardon me while I revel in it finally biting you on the ass.

This is, of course, about the Great Port Controversy. This is also, of course, an entire column written almost entirely to justify the title, but that's not important right now. What's important is that right now, George W. Bush desperately needs the American public to calm down, think things through, and understand the nuances of a complicated situation involving national security and brown people.
But people don't think about it. So there's no point in making them try in the Dubai Ports case. Just let them get worked up into a racist lather, and see if they actually listen now when another story comes out about a big business with a friend in the Administration (Treasury Secretary John Snow, in this case), bypassing the various regulatory steps and oversight in a sweetheart deal that nets them a big wad of cash.

They've never listened before, but if they're mad enough at the thought of "ay-rabs" controlling our borders, maybe some shit will stick. Dubya spent five years creating the precise brand of mob mentality that's turning on him now, and the proper political strategy is to sit back and make sure there are ample supplies of pitchforks and torches handy.

It takes a village, after all.

Lambert is right on the money here.

For years the GOP spinmeisters have been conditioning the public to not really think things through, so it makes perfect sense for the GOP to get away with calling members of Congress who don't kowtow to the Accepted Gospel As Revealed by /K/a/r/l/ R/o/v/e/ George Bush "unpatriotic." Including ones who lost limbs in the service of our country.

And it makes perfect sense for the GOP to imply that, if you have doubts about what the Prez is doing, to keep them to yourself, because you "better watch what you say," with the implied threat of "we know where you live."

And it makes perfect sense for the administration to have its head lawyer, the Attorney General of the United States, actually try to claim that, if the media doesn't remind them, the various terrorists organizations throughout the world will "forget" that the U.S. intelligence agencies will be trying to intercept their communications.

The kind of hand-waving that says "don't just ignore the man behind the curtain, ignore that the man behind the curtain, the curtain, and the machinery being operated, exists at all."

This is the kind of single-level analysis that the GOP has been fostering.

And now it has, as Lambert noted, come back to bite 'em. In the ass.

Because the administration has been fostering the "ohh, we're under constant attack by the evil terrorists in the middle-east, and since the terrorists are there in all the nations in the middle-east (except Israel, of course [and maybe Our Friends The Saudis]) anybody who comes from there must be Working With The Terrorists" paradigm, now that Dubai Ports World is in the picture, the collective White House rear ends are sitting right next to the mastiff's teeth. And it smells like lunch.

As I said in an earlier article, the paramount objection I have is that *any* non-US company is operating the ports, and that includes those companies owned by the Brits and the Chinese. Yes, the company owners will not be responsible for security by themselves, that has been, and will be, the ultimate responsibility of U.S. government agencies. But to admit that means that you have to admit that you have to look at more than the surface, and we can't have that, can we?

And it is certainly *not* helping that the feeding frenzy (to mix a few more metaphors) is being heightened by revelations that not only has GW claimed that *he* had no idea about the deal (but, even though he didn't know about it, he was in support of it all the time), neither did the Cabinet heads of Treasury, DOD nor Homeland Security, none of who will admit that they were aware of the parties involved in the sale. (Just who *is* minding the store over there?)

If a novelist attempted to use these scenarios the manuscript would be thrown back over the transom of any publishing house it was submitted to.

For a look at someone who really *has* been looking further than the skin of the onion, read "Ports Redux" from the Boorman TRibune.

I wonder if I can get part of the torch & pitchfork franchise?

* A column of his that was an absolute scream was about somebody who, because Ben Cohen, one of the founders of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, was on a tour promoting a "President Bush has been lying out his ass" display (with the "PantsOnFire-Mobile"** ), that this somebody, who owned a store that *sold* the B&J brand, Would Show Them.

Ignoring the fact that the founder in question no longer owned nor ran the brand, He Would Show Them.

By *burning* his stock of B&J ice cream.

Remember, this store owner had already paid for the stock.

He already had it in his store, waiting to be sold to customers, presumably at a profit.

And he was Going To Show Them by *burning* ice cream.

Burning *ice cream.* Read "Custard's Last Stand" to see the heights of rapture that Lambert can achieve.

** In a "Do you think anyone will notice?" moment, Talon News (the erstwhile agency that "employed" Crack Journalist Jeff Gannon), took the text of the AP story referenced above, and put it out, pretty much verbatim, under their own byline -- see "Ice Cream Co-Founder Travels Country With Image of Bush With Pants on Fire", where their "reporter" finally, in the penultimate paragraph, gives a nod to the actual source by saying "Cohen said to the AP."

Looks certain that Gannon wasn't the only wanker at Talon.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I don't care that it's the UAE...

... That bought the U.K. company that bought the United States company that swallowed the fly.

What *I* care about is that *any* non-U.S. company is/was in charge of the operations at these U.S. ports.

One of the issues that has been raised again and again, and consistently disregarded by this administration, is import security at the nation's shipping facilities, especially the facilities handing ocean-borne cargo.

There has apparently been no attempt to do any systematic analysis of the port facilities operations, strengths and vunerabilities, or else the fact that a UK company was running the bulk of operations at 6 ports of entry would not have been such a surprise to so many in the Congress or the Executive branch. It doesn't matter that Great Britain is currently a "friend and ally," a non-US company should not be in charge of those operations.

It also raises more questions of the competency and due diligence that this administration seems to lack, in that the U.S. Congress found out about the sale of the company from media reports, instead of from the cabinet departments involved.

Indeed, both the veracity and the competence of the White House is called into question, where the President is now claiming that he had no idea of the resulting ownership until after it was announced -- competency because it's *his* cabinet appointees who should have told the President and passed the knowledge of what was sure to be a hot potato (especially given the hysteria that this administration has been fostering in regards to *anything* to do with the Middle East vis-a-vis "national security," and veracity because it strikes many as absurd and extremely unlikely that those same cabinet appointees did *not* inform their boss about what was about to happen.

Stupid or lying. Take your pick.

Can I Save This Wall ...

...From having a hole put through it in frustration?

In an online forum I sometimes peruse someone who characterized themselves as a “moderate Republican” asked some other members of the forum why, when asked to “debate” issues ranging from the instability in Iraq to the delay before Cheney himself talked to police about the hunting accident when he shot a fellow hunter, the replies from those further to the orthodox Right range from “Clinton did it first!” and “Ted Kennedy did it first!”

My personal supposition is that those Orthodox Right True Believers are "doing it" because to actually face what is going on would be to have to admit that their defend-to-the-death pseudo-conservatives are being shown, day by day to be:
- misusing the public trust on a scale not seen since Teapot Dome,
- prosecuting a "war on terror" that seems to have the same legitimacy as the War With Oceania,
- prosecuting another war that is being mismanaged as badly as the Viet Nam war was, and is having a worse effect on the nation’s perception of our officer corps and the world’s perception of the nation as a whole
- scheming to put bills through the U.S. Congress to hide and nullify what looks like enormous fraud and outright theft from the Indian Lands Trust Funds
- channeling billions of dollars being to the "Department of Defense" while essential services to the nation’s poor and needy are being savagely cut,
- defending tax cuts to the nation’s wealthiest citizens and corporations while inflation has forced more and more of the middle-class into being hit with the AMT
- forcing citizens who profess one faith to *directly* support, with their tax dollars, another faith's efforts as those dollars are being channeled directly to “faith-based initiatives” to perform activities that, when they are performed in the publicly-funded arena, should be performed without sectarian bias or trappings, activities ranging from drug rehab to running prisons,
- An executive branch that has *publicly* admitted and endorsed the use of torture as “needed.”
- An executive branch that has *publicly* admitted that they are breaking the law of the nation because they find it inconvenient to bother to abide by the law and even seek a retroactive court order from a court that has been shown to be extraordinarily compliant with the requests of both GOP and Democrat administrations for decades
- a member of the executive branch that feels himself so above the rule of law that he used an instrumentality of the United Stated government, the Secret Service, to block access to the scene of a potential crime involving a shooting,
- a leader of the GOP in the Senate has been shown to lie to the public about his access to, and control over, “investments” that are directly affected by legislation he has voted on, and is under investigation by the SEC,
- a leader of the GOP in the House of Representatives has been shown to have improperly used an instrumentality of the U.S. federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, to prosecute political ambitions in the state of Texas and is also under indictment for what is, in essence, money laundering
- a President who, when faced with the responsibility of appointing individuals to posts of responsibility over the public welfare, seemingly forgoes questions of ability and competence and instead makes loyalty to party and to his person the paramount concerns
- an administration that condones, and rewards, the direct destruction of the domestic economies by moving jobs overseas, and leaving enormous numbers of U.S. citizens unemployed
- an administration that condones, and rewards, the indirect destruction of domestic workforces by allowing for the importation of foreign workers that, supposedly, are to supplement the domestic workforce, and turn a blind eye when the visa workers are used, instead, to displace domestic workers.

Amazing as it is, the list above is not at all exhaustive, even if the implications of what is going on is exausting to contemplate.

Yes, some of the same abuses occurred during Democratic administrations, but at least the “lefties” were willing to admit that such things were happening and try to work towards changing the conditions, and not to be so fearful that the leaders of the philosophy they follow may have feet of clay.

But by heaven, if I hear “Clinton did it!” one more time I swear I’ll put my forehead through this wall.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Carnival of the Liberals # 6 is up

The 6th edition of "Carnival of The Liberals" is up at Slant Truth

The 7th edition will be hosted at Throw Away Your TV. Submission deadline is 2/27/06, with a publication date of 03/01/06. Links to the submission form (sounds kinky) and guidelines are at Tay.TV

Monday, February 13, 2006

Was He Snark Hunting?

Of late I've been trying to put appropriate images with some of my articles here in The Boston Progressive, if I can.

The weekend news brought us reports of Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shooting a companion while quail hunting.

The only visual I could think of that would do justice would be from Mel Brook's "History of The World - Part I." The scene where the French monarch is declaring "I *love* the people!" while p/e/a/s/a/n/t/ skeet-shooting. However, since I don't have that clip (and couldn't pay the licensing fee anyway) you will have to be satisfied by knowing what scene I mean.

Luck was with all involved, as the "victim" was reported to be doing fine after being "peppered" with the shot pellets.

Some bloggers and other commentators are saying this will have bad repercussions on Cheney's influence inside the beltway. I really don't see it -- after a bit the jokes will die down and the silly season will go away. But you have to admit that the opportunities for snarkiness are sooooo ripe.

It's not like he makes it a habit, as a certain other VP did when beaning people on the links while golfing.

While we are on the subject of former Vice Presidents, though, I didn't even know that Dan was in season.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Did I Fall Down The Rabbit Hole or Walk Through The Mirror?

I think I’ve gotten some bad mushrooms or an out-of-sorts pill from the Airplane pharmacy. How else to explain these items?

The unemployment statistics are looking rosier than before, because people who have given up on job searches, or whose unemployment benefits have been exhausted, are no longer counted among the unemployed. The unemployment rate is calculated based on active unemployment claims, not a census of the population actually out of work.


In Gitmo, the Department of Defense is saying that the number of prisoners who are refusing food has dropped from a high of 84 in December of 2005 to a low of 4 as of February 9, 2006. However, according to a New York Times story, (“Tough U.S. Steps in Hunger Strike at Camp in Cuba”) the reason the count has dropped is because the prisoners on the hunger strike have been subjected to measures such as strapped into “restraint chairs” and being force-fed, or
“other measures used to dissuade the hunger strikers included placing them in uncomfortably cold air-conditioned isolation cells, depriving them of "comfort items" like blankets and books and sometimes using riot-control soldiers to compel the prisoners to sit still while long plastic tubes were threaded down their nasal passages and into their stomachs.”
On a blog related note, during a press event about the NSA wiretapping controversy Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill) took a question from blogger Paul Mirengoff of Powerline. Durbin listened to the “ehh, Ummms, wells” from Mirengoff (you know, all those habits that the discourse and public speaking instructors try to drill out of would-be speakers and reporters), recognized a GOP talking point and called it exactly like it was, and was as responsive as deserved to a Paul Gannon-wannabe. (You can see the actual video snippet at Crooks and Liars).

To me it looked like Sen. Durbin had told Mirengoff to, effectively, go home and study up on how the big boys play. Yet Instapundit seems to think that Mirengoff was effective and cogent, because they were “you know, questions,” and that repeating talking points was apparently to be considered “very challenging questions.” Of course, PowerLine seems to think that Mirengoff is the second coming of journalism in the “New Media.” (See “Durbin Encounters the New Media” and When Bologna met Grinder”)

Thanks to Suburban Guerrilla for the pointer to the unemployment notice from Marketwatch and to Body & Soul for the pointer to the NYT story about Gitmo’s new buffet dining plan.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

I Wish This Was A Hoax

According to published reports ( VA Nurse Investigated for "Sedition" For Criticizing Bush; N.M. Sen. Wants Probe into VA 'Sedition' Investigation of Nurse; ACLU Wants Apology to VA Employee Investigated on 'Sedition'; Big Brother Is Watching ) a clinical nurse specialist employed for 15 years by the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico has been accused by her superiors, in writing, of suspicion of "sedition."

Because she wrote a letter to a small "alternative press" weekly paper, the Albuquerque Weekly Alibi, saying that, in light of the federal response to the disasters following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush was doing a terrible job and he should be thrown out of office. You can see the full text of her letter below.

It was published in the Sept 15, 2005 edition of the Alibi. From the Alibi's story:
Although Berg has chosen not to comment at this time, Bach and Kronen say that a few days after the letter was published, VA Information Security employees seized Berg's computer at the local VA hospital where she works. At the time, she was told this action occurred because of suspicions that she'd composed the letter to the Alibi on government time, on government premises, using government equipment.

According to [George] Bach and [Larry] Kronen [representing Berg on behalf of the N.M. ACLU], on Sept. 19, 2005, Berg's American Federation of Government Employees Union representative, Thomas Driber, informed Berg that her letter to the Alibi had been sent through "VA channels" to the FBI in Washington, D.C.

The attorneys say this information was confirmed by one of the union's Washington lawyers during a conference call between Driber, Berg and the union lawyer. (Multiple phone messages left at Driber's office by the Alibi were not answered.)

As if that weren't creepy enough, the attorneys say Berg made further inquiries and eventually received a response from the VA's Chief of Human Resources, Mel R. Hooker, who, in a memorandum dated Nov. 9, 2005, allegedly admitted that the VA had no evidence the letter was written on Berg's office computer. Despite this, Hooker claimed the investigation was justified because the "Agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act which potentially represents sedition."
Sedition, according to the Concise Law Dictionary, is "the federal crime of advocacy of insurrection against the government or support for an enemy of the nation during time of war, by speeches, publications and organization. Sedition usually involves actually conspiring to disrupt the legal operation of the government and is beyond expression of an opinion or protesting government policy.” From the text of the Berg's letter, it would certainly not appear to meet either the requirements of advocating insurrection or "supporting an enemy" during a time of war -- unless I've missed something, rhetoric about "the war on terror" on the government’s part doesn't meet the requirements of a formal declaration of war by the U.S. Congress.

Notice that it took 2 months for the VA administration to acknowledge that they had no evidence that Berg had used her VA office computer to compose or send the letter, even though her computer was returned the very next day. When you review the letter it is transparent that she neither claims nor implies, that, in writing the letter, she is either speaking on behalf of or acting as an agent of the VA in this matter, but is writing as a private citizen. Her mentioning her position as a VA nurse is simply to lend weight to her contention that PTSD will be a factor in recovery of the survivors in years to come.

Hooker has since denied that the FBI was initially contacted by anyone at the VA and now apparently has no idea how the FBI were contacted. When the staff at the Alibi attempted to contact Hooker for clarification they were referred to the VA’s Public Affairs office, where Sonja Brown replied, via e-mail:
"While VA does not prohibit employees from exercising their freedom of speech, we do ask that such activity occurs outside government premises and not during their official tour of duty. When we have reason to believe that this policy is not being adhered to, we have the obligation to review an individual's computer activity."
When the Alibi tried to get Brown to clarify either why there was reason to believe that Berg had used VA time or equipment to compose and send the letter, or why it would be seen as “sedition” she was unresponsive to their requests.

The ACLU is asking that the VA apologize, at least, for the accusations and treatment, and is also seeking copies of all materials that the VA has pertaining to this matter.

On February 7, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson for a thorough inquiry of his agency's investigation into whether or not Laura Berg had committed “sedition,” saying he was concerned about the agency’s decision to open the investigation at all.

Sen. Bingaman was quoted in an AP story run in the Albuquerque Journal:
Merely opposing government policies and expressing a desire to change course "does not provide reason to believe that a person is involved in illegal subversive activity,'' he said.

Bingaman said such investigations raise "a very real possibility of chilling legitimate political speech.''

"In a democracy, expressing disagreement with the government's actions does not amount to sedition or insurrection,'' he wrote. "It is, and must remain, protected speech. Although it may be permissible to implement restrictions regarding a government employee's political activities during work hours or on government premises, such employees do not surrender their right to freedom of speech when they enlist in government service.''

Bingaman said he wants the matter investigated so VA officials will have guidance about handling similar situations in the future.
To the VA’s credit, Berg has not lost her job. But you can be sure that the memorandum about the suspicion of “sedition” will stay in her permanent record at the VA, and that allegation will be seen, and considered whenever she gets a new boss at the VA or if she were to apply for any other job in the federal government.

Nobody would question the VA’s concern about if the letter were written on her employer’s time or equipment, that is a concern that is, if not commonplace, at least well-known in today’s workplace. The imperative questions now, however, are why the “investigation” took such a draconian turn at the start and why did this implication of “sedition” occur?

Recently we have seen allegations of someone getting into trouble with the federal government because of requesting a copy of Mao's "little red book," which has proven to be a hoax, and accusations that the U.S. armed forces are covering up conditions that are endangering our women soldiers, which may be suspect because of an "agenda" on he part of the officer reporting it, but no so for Laura Berg's woes. I'd really like to classify this one as one of the hoaxes but I don't think I can. Pity, that.

Thanks to Night Bird’s Fountain where I first saw this story.


Text of Laura Berg's letter:
Wake Up, Get Real

Dear Alibi,

I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government. The Katrina tragedy in the U.S. shows that the emperor has no clothes! Bush and his team partied and delayed while millions of people were displaced, hundreds of thousands were abandoned to a living hell. Thousands more died of drowning, dehydration, hunger and exposure; most bodies remain unburied and rotting in attics and floodwater. Is this America the beautiful?

The risk of hurricane disaster was clearly predicted, yet funds for repair work for the Gulf States barrier islands and levee system were unconscionably diverted to the Iraq War. Money and manpower and ethics have been diverted to fight a war based on absolute lies! As a VA nurse working with returning OIF vets, I know the public has no sense of the additional devastating human and financial costs of post-traumatic stress disorder; now we will have hundreds of thousands of our civilian citizens with PTSD as well as far too many young soldiers, maimed physically or psychologically—or both—spreading their pain, anger and isolation through family and communities for generations. And most of this natural disaster and war tragedy has been preventable ... how very, very sad!

In the meantime, our war-fueled federal deficit mushrooms—and whither this debt now, as we care for the displaced and destroyed?

Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown and Rice should be tried for criminal negligence. This country needs to get out of Iraq now and return to our original vision and priorities of caring for land and people and resources rather than killing for oil. Katrina itself was the size of New Mexico. Denials of global warming are ludicrous and patently irrational at this point. We can anticipate more wild, destructive weather to occur as a response stress of the planet. We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit. Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times.

Laura Berg

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Mockingbird Returns

Last week over on One Good Thing, Flea published an essay that recalls both the fictional Atticus Finch, from the 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird, and a real-life "man in grey" with the courage to run a gauntlet of religious and racial bigots to bring his child into an integrated school in New Orleans.

The man in grey was not the father of any black children, but of a white student, and the gauntlet of ignorance reserved special hate and bile for him, as this white man, a Christian minister, was betraying the members of that shameful gauntlet.  They could understand blacks trying to rise above their proper station.  But to have a white man, a minister of their own professed faith, willingly put his own child into that school, with the black child, was a betrayal that could not be allowed to pass unvoiced.

We recently lost a beacon in the area of civil rights, Coretta Scott King, and that, combined with Flea's post, reminded me of the past of my own natal city.  And reminded me as well that discrimination and segregation are still alive and well, but the driving impetus now is economic, rather than ethnic or racial.  Sadly the result is often the same as what was seen 42 years ago.

I'm from Boston, sometimes called the "Athens of the New World" for its diversity and access to institutions of higher learning, and well known as "a city of neighborhoods," where common racial, ethnic, religious, economic and national backgrounds work to sustain that diversity, but also supports a balkanization of those populations and their interests, where different groups tend to their own geography, and little drift between areas, resulting in a geographical stability that bred insularity in one of the cities that was seen externally as one of the most cosmopolitan and "European" in the United States.

During the mid 1970s, when the rest of the country was celebrating events leading up to the nation’s bicentennial, Boston was rocked by massive unrest that forever changed the perception of what kind of a city it was, both to the “outside world” and to its own citizens.  

This unrest was caused by a court-ordered scheme to desegregate the city’s public schools.  The effort resulted in violence against targets that would have been unthinkable in the past, and resulted in a final change in the makeup of the city as a whole, and a diminishment, both in perception and in fact, of the city.

Much of the resistance to the forced desegregation plan was just that – it was forced, not of a voluntary choice, and the citizens felt they had no choice.

After the first few years of forced busing, the tensions dropped off, but at the same time the racial makeup of the city as a whole changed, with more white families leaving, and the tax base of the city was further eroded by deterioration of the housing stock, especially in areas with a high percentage of absentee landlords.  When court-ordered busing was first implemented, the city’s public schools reflected an enrollment that was approximately 50% white.  By the late 1990s the percentage of Caucasian students in Boston’s public schools had dropped to less than 10%.

And the quality of public education accessible to the minority students in Boston, the original impetus for the landmark lawsuit that started forced desegregation in the city, has lagged far behind advances made in other cities in the Commonwealth, even in cities that are neither suburban nor affluent.

The change in the school system demographics resulted from "white flight" of relatively more affulent families to the suburbs, increases in the number of small private schools in predominently white areas and increases in enrollments into the neighborhood schools run by religious orders. Some of the flight from the school system was the result of racism, but more was the result of fear.

A fear that was fostered by the media reporting of crime and violence that spent more attention on what happened in the black community of the city than on what happened in the rest of the city. Part of that coverage was dictated by the fact that poverty breeds crime, and those in the black community tended, when they got a "leg up" financially, to themselves move to communities where they could own their own homes for their families to grow in, which meant that one of the moderating factors against crime, opportunity and visibility of success, left with those families. The underlying causes of poverty, and of crime, are complex and don't make ratings -- reports covering robberies and drug deals gone awry do. And that was the reportage that informed those who saw forced busing as a real danger to their children. And busing, 'though slow in coming, was implimented over a short period of time, without allowing those white families to see, and meet, the families on the other side of the city's divide. And no opportunity to see that those "others" had the same hopes, and fears, for their own children.

Would a more gradual approach to desegregation been more appropriate, or would it simply have perpetuated the problems, while substituting a sham of “separate but equal” schools?  We will never know.

What we do know is that voluntary and community-directed efforts at school desegregation have been successful in other cities.  But we still do not know if a city the size of Boston would have been able to overcome the institutional and cultural inertia that caused the misperceptions and hostility in the early years of the effort.

And should we view this grand, and ultimately failed, experiment on a wider scale – will the externally-imposed changes that are being implemented in Afghanistan and Iraq fare any better, over a population that has less in common with those doing the imposition than Boston’s neighborhoods had with the federal judge who imposed his will on the city’s schools?

(For a fuller treatmentof this issue, see the accompanying article Under the Fold)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Cartoons

I've been watching the drama, and in some cases, the horror, surrounding the publication of the representations of the Prophet Muhammad.

Originally requested by the newspaper because of a complaint by a children's book author that no illustrator was willing to work other than anonymously to provide art for a book about the Prophet, out of fear of reaction for daring to create a representation of Muhammad.

Some commentators have claimed that the threats against journalists, newspaper editors and bloggers, and the burning of a national embassy, show the true nature of Islam.

What it really shows is that there are people everywhere who will take any excuse to further their own agendas. Some use political philosophy, some religion, and all too often the strategy is violence. Not that that philosophy or religion is violent, but that there are individuals in positions of power who will choose that tactic to further their aims, and will use the philosophy or religion as a cloak.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Is "Zero Tolerence" Going Too Far?

There have been some widely publicized cases where "threats" against President G.W. Bush have investigated by the Secret Service and been found wanting of any actual credible intent or ability to harm.We now have another (see Threats by a boy, 13, start a probe), where a Rhode Island seventh-grade, middle-school student, assigned to write an essay describing a "perfect day," turned in one where he described that he wanted to hurt President Bush and kill celebrity Oprah Winfrey.
"The boy, school officials said, had written an assigned class essay saying that his idea of a perfect day was to hurt President Bush, kill the popular talk show host, and harm executives of Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart. He did not threaten teachers or students"
  • - After turning in the essay, his teacher alerted school administrators,

  • - School administrators alerted local police

  • - Local police alerted the Secret Service

  • - The Secret Service sent two agents to question the boy and school personnel
It doesn’t appear that the Secret Service will treat it as a credible threat.

The local police think it was a stupid essay, but apparently not a credible threat.

It looks like the school administrators have been caught in the trap of the “zero tolerance” panic.

Zero tolerance for weapons or drugs means a 3rd-grader making a “gun” out of two sticks makes headlines and if a mother sends her child to school with an OTC cold remedy she’s in trouble with the school board.  Zero tolerance for “insecure items” and weapons on aircraft resulted in confiscation of nail clippers and expressed breast milk to be treated as a potential poison.

In this case, it’s zero tolerance for “threats.”  In the post-Columbine era, any kind of “threatening speech,” itself very broadly defined, is treated as if the student had just walked into the school gym with an Uzi and a hand grenade.

Yes, events such as what has happened at Columbine High School, and other venues across the country, has shown that the programs in place to warn of immediate violence and prevent the intense bullying and purposeful degradation by students against other students that may predispose  into that violence were inadequate, or just outright absent, or the degradation was ignored as “kid stuff” and allowed to continue.

But the resulting atmosphere was one where anything that didn’t fit the “normal” profile had to be treated as an immediate and credible “threat” against life and property,. no matter how incredible the scenario really would be.

On a wider perspectiver, the treating of a speculative essay as a manifesto brings to the fore very real questions about what is, and is not, protected speech.  Is anytime that someone writes that the President should be taken out behind the woodshed and “given a hiding” going to be subject to scrutiny by the federal government?  How far do we lower the bar?  How about if someone writes that G.W. Bush should be tried for war crimes?  Or that a sitting Supreme Court Justice should either die outright or be poisoned?

We have already seen that a political cartoonist can be investigated if they draw a cartoon that reprises the RVN intelligence officer execution of a VC suspect, but with the president in one of the roles, and an art exhibit where a faux postage stamp with G.W.’s visage being threatened were both investigated as “possible threats,” when they were actually political speech, and from both ends of the political spectrum.

Whatever happened to individual analysis and the flexibility, and common sense in reaction?
In the case of the 13-year old, wouldn’t the more sensible path be that the essay should have been discussed with the student first, to help the student clarify for himself if the scenario was really what would make a “perfect day,” or if there would be anything that the student might actually *do* to effect the described situation, or if it was purely wishful thinking?

Instead, what could have been an avenue for discussion and self-discovery turned into interviews with the police and Secret Service, and a potential further chilling of the right of free speech.  

I understand with my whole heart that school boards and parents do not wish any repeats of the violence that has happened at some of our schools, but policies that allow for no flexibility or rational choices don’t seem to be what is called for.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Cindy Sheehan Wasn't The Only One "Asked To Leave" at the SOTUA-- Updated

(scroll to bottom for update)

By now everybody should have heard about Cindy Sheehan being forcibly removed from the visitor's gallery before the State Of The Union Address, for an alleged "demonstration." (she was wearing a t-shirt with the message "2,245 Dead. How Many More?")

What hasn't gotten *quite* as much press (but it's growing) is the fact that the wife of a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives was also ejected (or "left voluntarily" according to Capitol Hill Police) for ""protesting." Also because she was wearing a t-shirt. What did *her* shirt say? "Support the Troops Defending Our Freedom."

Beverly Young, wife of Rep. Charles W. Young (R - Fl) was also "asked to leave" the gallery by Capitol Hill Police Tuesday night.

According to published reports, Young, who was seated in the front row of the gallery, and about 6 seats away from First Lady Laura Bush,
“… was approached by someone who told her she needed to leave, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

After reluctantly agreeing, she said, she argued with several officers in an outside hallway."They said I was protesting," she said in a telephone interview with the newspaper Tuesday.

"I said, 'Read my shirt, it is not a protest.' They said, 'We consider that a protest.' I said, 'Then you are an idiot.'"
A spokeswoman for the Capital Police claim that Mrs. Young was not “ejected,” but that she “did leave on her own.”

Rep. Young, who is elected from Florida’s 10th Congressional District, did not hear about the ejection until after President Bush’s speech. and he was not happy.
"I just called for the chief of police and asked him to get his little tail over here," Young said. "This is not acceptable."
According to other published reports,
“ on Wednesday, he [Rep. Young] held up his wife's shirt on the House floor and denounced her treatment.

"She has a real passion for our troops, and she shows it in many, many ways," Young said.

"And most members in this House know that. But because she had on a shirt that someone didn't like, that said 'Support Our Troops,' she was kicked out of this gallery while the president was speaking and encouraging Americans to support our troops. Shame. Shame."

Young and his wife are known as passionate supporters of U.S. service members. He has spoken in the past about their many visits to military hospitals during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their efforts to ensure the needs of the wounded and their families are met.
When I first heard about Sheehan’s arrest, I was expecting to hear that she had unfurled a banner or some such, not that she was just sitting and being quiet.

Then when I read about the Congressman’s wife’s “incident” with Capital police, I was awestruck.

The President of the United States, the Commander In Chief of the sole remaining “superpower” on the planet, is so insecure about what people may see in juxtaposition with his image, or is so fearful of what he may see himself, that he needs to turn every space where he is into areas where no contrary view may be expressed.

As Congressman Young said in the well of the House floor, “Shame, Shame.”
UPDATE: on Wednesday, the AP is reporting that Capital police have admitted that the ejection of both women, and the arrest of Cindy Sheehan was improper.
“The officers made a good faith, but mistaken effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol,” Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said in a statement late Wednesday.
For his part, Bill Young said he was not necessarily satisfied.

“My wife was humiliated,” he told reporters. He suggested that “sensitivity training” may be in order for Capitol Police.