Monday, February 28, 2005

Torture & Wal-Mart

Mikaela says:
Just when I thought I would have a light day (yes, an analysis of the social justice of the Oscars is light fare for M-Pyre!!), the New York Times had a banner day for editorials. Dammit, man!

First up, Bob Herbert wrote a scathing indictment of Bush's hypocrisy in touring Europe to lecture them about freedom and democracy while we're still shipping suspected terrorists back to countries that we know will accept them with open arms -- brutal, torture-loving, armed open arms. Very well-written with plenty to think about.

Second, and a subject closer to M-Pyre's planning little hearts, Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary, castigates us as consumers for allowing Wal-Mart to undermine workers and communities by shopping for the lowest prices. His impetus for the piece (illuminatingly titled "Don't Blame Wal-Mart") comes from New York City's recent rejection of a downtown Wal-Mart, to be the first worm in the Big Apple. While I agree with his main point that consumers do have power to vote with their wallets for fair employment and business practices, he seems to forget that there is another option to asking consumers to bear the cost of fair wages and health care: take it out of corporate profits and salaries at the top. I'm not advocating socialism here, people, I'm saying -- why squeeze the middle and lower classes who can barely afford to SHOP at Wal-Mart when 6 people at the top rank among the RICHEST PEOPLE IN THE WOLRD? Come on, they can afford to pay for worker health care and STILL be the richest people in the world. As consumers, we can choose to buy local and support unions in order to pressure corporations to "do the right thing," but wouldn't legislation help a bit? This is still government of the people for the people, right?

Oscar Thoughts

Mikaela says:
So Kudos to the Academy for being brave enough to have Chris Rock host this year's Award Show. I thought his commentary on how "white" the movies that make the Academy nomination really are was prescient and brave -- and important to point out. He interviewed people at California's Magic Johnson (I think) theatres -- mostly black people -- who had never seen any of the movies up for awards. Their favorite movies were blockbuster action flicks and black comedy pieces that Rock pointed out were all named for locations and not real movie titles at all.

That being said, after his opening monologue, Chris Rock was sidelined -- literally and figuratively. He didn't say another interesting thing all night, except for a brief verbal scuffle with Sean Penn, who stood up for Jude Law, whose omnipresence in movies lately Rock humorously maligned.

The Academy's herculean effort to broaden its inclusion to Black America was painfully evident as the camera's desperately panned the audience and zoomed in on each and every black face when Chris Rock told a "black joke" to see how they liked it and to cue the home audience in on how to take the humor.

To be fair, the Academy wasn't just trying for black/white diversity. Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek got to present several awards -- together as a stunning and well-endowed Hispanic set. And the Academy nominated and awarded its first foreign-language song as Best Original Song from the Motorcycle Diaries.

I applaud the effort toward inclusion, but it was so self-conscious that I found it incredibly uncomfortable. My feeling is that the effort must be made, and the discomfort must be trudged through until it stops feeling like an effort. After all, the acting talent seems to know no color lines, even if quality leading parts for people of color are still few and far between. Jamie Foxx won a well-deserved best actor for Ray, and Morgan Freeman won his first (!?!) Oscar for his supporting role in Million Dollar Baby. The all-white cast of Aviator did not manage to pull off a Best Picture sweep.

The last frontier that seemed painfully obvious to me last night was the technical aspects of movie making. Editing, sound, special effects, etc. lined up the nominees on stage and almost to a MAN, they were white and male. How often do women direct movies these days? How often do women who do direct movies get nominated for Best Director? Sophia Coppola was the last I remember, and even her considerable achievement for Lost in Translation, her first ever film, was downplayed with sour-grape whisperings of nepotism.

So, mixed reviews on social justice at the Oscars.

As for political commentary...there was none. Sean Combs made a vague reference to all the bad things going on in the world, and Chris Rock alluded to how on earth Bush got re-elected when Farenheit 911 showed just how bad a job he's done as President. He quickly (and without pretense of transition) went on to say how everyone there supports are troops and salutes the job they're doing and left it at that.

The whole ceremony can be summed up this way: it ended fifteen minutes early.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Here's to W

Maggie says:
Words of wisdom from our commander in chief:

"The United States and the U.S. stand together in support of the Iraqi people and the new Iraqi government, which will soon come into action."—Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 22, 2005

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What FDA approves let no man take...

Ahhhh, government oversight. Isn't it nice to know that with full knowledge of public harm and ample evidence of responsibility for 50,000 (that's right -- THOUSAND) deaths, the federal agency tasked with protecting our health used a democratic process to keep you in harms' way?

(Meanwhile we can't get studies funded for natural and homeopathic substances because drug companies can't patent vitamins and minerals, so the FDA won't vet the efficacy of things like VITAMIN C, GARLIC, or BLUEBERRIES, which have been found in studies done by forward-looking countries like China, to have significant benefits with no side effects in all kinds of wide-ranging health conditions.)

The system's working, alright, and we all know who it's working for. (It ain't you.)

This from Democracy Now:

FDA Oks Sale Of Vioxx Despite Dangers
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has voted to allow doctors to keep prescribing the popular painkillers Vioxx, Celebrex and Bextra even though the panel overwhelmingly agreed that the drugs significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular problems in patients. The panel proposed that the drugs be sold with an FDA "black box" warning. Vioxx is now expected to return to the market even though nearly half the FDA panel voted against it being sold. Its manufacturer Merck voluntarily withdrew the painkiller drug in the fall. The FDA panel decided whether a drug should be allowed to be sold on a straight majority vote. The vote for Vioxx was 17 to 15. For Bextra, 17 panelists vote for the drug and 13 voted to ban it. The panel nearly unanimously recommended Celebrex remaining available. Last year FDA whistleblower Dr. David Graham publicly estimated that 139,000 Americans who took Vioxx suffered serious side effects. Of these users he estimated that the drug killed between 26,000 and 55,000 people. Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen said the FDA's decision "defies common sense." Public Citizen has warned that if Merck starts selling Vioxx again that the watchdog group would immediately petition the government to have it taken off the market.

So much for being a world leader... At least we're finally honest about being nothing but world spoilers... If only it were still true that to the victors go the spoils. Now everyone shares in the spoilage. Posted by Hello

From Tom Toles of the Washington Post. Posted by Hello

Monday, February 21, 2005

Argue like a conservative

Maggie says:
I can't resist posting more This Modern World - it's so good! I'm off to Taos and Durango to relax and build momentum. Hopefully general life inspiration (and maybe some blogging inspiration, too) will strike. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Making big boxes pay (literally) for their low-paid workers

Maggie says:
Looks like Montana is joining California in the ranks of states doing innovative policy work in response to big boxes and the public costs associated with them.

Next week, Montana legislators will debate a bill that targets retailers earning at least $20 million in sales who pay their workers very low wages. If the bill passes, these retailers would be responsible for paying the welfare costs that the state spends to meet the gap between their measly paychecks and a living wage.

"When you don't pay workers, they get public assistance," says State Sen. Ken Toole from Helena. "Guess who pays for that?"

He's exacty right. But not surprisingly, big boxes in Montana are freaking out. The special tax levy would apply to stores with part-time employees making up at least a quarter of the workforce and whose full-time workers earn less than $22,000 a year.

Wal-Mart spokesman Nate Hurst says that "It's not the government's job to pick winners or losers in a competitive marketplace."

But what he doesn't get - and never will in order to live with himself - is that in a system where profits are made on the inability of workers to pay their rent or their children's medical bills, his company's contributions to a system where there are "losers in a competitive marketplace" is perpetuating a heartbreaking way of life that no one deserves. Paying people little to nothing for what they do, denying them benefits that no one should be without, and firing them if they begin organizing for better conditions is not worth the 50 cents consumers might save by buying socks there.

So thank you, Sen. Ken Toole of Montana. But for real change to happen, we need to see not only innovative actions from state and local governments (which are crucial, don't get me wrong). We also need to see a massive shift in consumer choices that starts with consumer education and ends with consumers shopping with their conscience.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Justice is so sweet

Maggie says:
Daughter of conservative Republican calls herself 'liberal queer'

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (AP) -- The daughter of conservative Republican Alan Keyes referred to herself Monday as a "liberal queer" and urged support for gay and lesbian young people who have been deserted by their families.

Maya Marcel-Keyes, 19, addressed a rally sponsored by the gay-rights group Equality Maryland, saying she was motivated to speak out because of her rocky relationship with her parents and the recent death of a friend who had fallen ill after being thrown out of the house by his family.

Marcel-Keyes told several hundred supporters that her sexuality had created a rift in her relationship with her parents.

"Things just came to a head. Liberal queer plus conservative Republican just doesn't mesh well," she said. "That was making my life a little bit turbulent."

Later, Marcel-Keyes told CNN her parents "were not too pleased" when they learned she was a lesbian, but she said she loves them "very much, and they love me. They can't support my activities."

Her father, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois last year, created a stir in August when he said during an interview that homosexuality was "selfish hedonism" and that Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter was a sinner.

In a statement issued Monday night, Keyes said: "My daughter is an adult, and she is responsible for her own actions. What she chooses to do has nothing to do with my work or political activities."

Marcel-Keyes said she received an outpouring of support when disclosing her sexual orientation, but her friend did not.

"Like me, he grew up queer in a conservative household," she said. But where she got hundreds of e-mails, offers of a place to stay and a college scholarship, "he'd been out there two years and had gotten nothing."

"And the worst part is, he isn't the only one," Marcel-Keyes said.

The Onion weighs in on the media controversy of journalists prostituting themselves for propaganda... Posted by Hello

Monday, February 14, 2005

Jose Canseco's tell-all

Maggie says:
What's the most surprising - that Jose Canseco of all people just wrote a bestseller, or that he's sounding really credible as he names players on steroids?

Hard to put my finger on a single reason, but I believe him. I mean, what does he have to lose? And while he stands to make a lot of money from this book, the fact that he actually believes steroids aren't that bad - and therefore those who take them shouldn't be punished - makes me think he has no reason to lie.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out as spring training begins. Imagine if a book by the biggest meathead to ever play professional sports was what inspired the league to finally crack down on steroids for real, and not just for press releases?

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Heartbreaking 'Hotel Rwanda' haunts us with guilt

Maggie says:
Last night I finally got around to seeing 'Hotel Rwanda' and this next afternoon, can't seem to get it out of my head. Too often I tend to not exactly avoid - but not exactly rush into, either - movies that I know up front are going to be tough to watch and process. This was one of them, but I'm really glad I went. And you should, too.

As an overly-political high school newspaper reporter, I once wrote a column imploring students studying the Holocaust not to say that the world would never let genocide happen again. My point was that we were letting it happen, that it was happening at that moment in Rwanda, but no one was paying attention or worse, didn't care. (This morning I dug through boxes of old stuff looking for that column. I wanted to read what my naive seventeen-year-old self had to say about a place I couldn't imagine and events beyond my comprehension. But it's gone forever, I guess.)

What's most powerful about "Hotel Rwanda" is the gap between how the Rwandan people expected the world to come to their rescue and how little we cared about their plight at all. The most powerful line in the movie comes not from a Rwandan (Don Cheadle is fantastic, by the way) but from an American photographer played by Joaquin Phoenix who, when being evacuated with the rest of the white tourists/aidworkers/newspeople, won't let a Rwandan hotel employee hold an umbrella over his head on the way to the bus that will take him to safety. "Don't do that," he says, pushing the man away. "I feel so fucking ashamed."

Without question, this is a movie that should shame us. We deserve to be shamed. Every day, we ignore at our convenience global tragedies an ocean away and neighborhood tragedies just down the street. The weight of events that should crush us with their heaviness and our own sense of responsibility is too easy to shrug off. And then there's the guilt factor. Sometimes it seems incomprehensible to enjoy simple routines like a good cup of coffee with breakfast when there is literally madness going on everywhere around us that no one is doing anything about. And I note the irony that choosing to see "Hotel Rwanda" over something else isn't exactly a moral victory - it is, after all, only a movie. Ten years after the world stood by and did nothing for Rwanda, guilt-ridden progressives are seeing the cinematic portrayal of this genocide and thinking how terrible, how appropriate that they saw "Hotel Rwanda" instead of "Hitch." And that's pretty sad, too.

I suppose this is where progressives in America are today. We call ourselves aware but really, we don't know anything. We call ourselves activists but it's hard to look at what we actually do versus all that we don't. And in America, we have everything within our reach but can barely see outside the bias of our own privilege.

As a friend suggested recently - "maybe ignorance really is bliss." When I'm depressed about everything that's terrible, I picture those who really don't care about events outside of their small world. The smug expressions carried around by way too many Americans usually infuriate me, but think about it: their internal dialogue must be so much simpler and happier than ours. Through their blindness to everything but themselves, they don't even realize what there is to be upset about.

Since I'm reminiscing, here's a link courtesy of my brilliantly smart and funny old friend Saleem: check out The Ten Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2004 for more guilt-ridden progressive internal conflict.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Canadian Wal-Mart employees, unite!

Maggie says:
The latest Wal-Mart development should surprise no one involved in the constant battle against the mega-chain. Wal-Mart executives just announced they will shut down a store in Quebec, Canada. The problem with this particular store? Slow sales, too many boycotts, not enough local workers to exploit? Nope. The Quebec Wal-Mart had a store full of exploited workers already. The problem was that those pesky Canadian laborers decided they’d had enough – six months ago, they became North America’s first unionized Wal-Mart.

There’s reams of evidence as to Wal-Mart’s despicable record with labor. Most of us (or at least, M3 and probably most m-pyre visitors) could recite these in our sleep. But while Wal-Mart succeeded in shutting down the Quebec store, they may not be so successful in the future. One other Canadian Wal-Mart has union certification, and at least two other Canadian Wal-Marts have submitted proposals for union certification under Canada’s labor laws. Wal-Mart executives have already said that they do not plan on closing down the remaining unionized store, continuing the test case for organized labor within the labor movement’s most-hated chain of stores.

Those of us rooting for this store may be disappointed – the newly unionized employees have a tough road ahead. They follow this experience: In 2000, a Jacksonville, TX store was the closest organized labor came to beating Wal-Mart. Eleven meatpackers voted to be represented by the UFCW (the same union representing the Canadian cases here). Wal-Mart’s response shows the lengths they’ll go to win at any cost. In opposition to their eleven unionized meatcutters at a single store in Texas, Wal-Mart decided to completely eliminate the job of meatcutters throughout their 5,170 worldwide stores, laying off thousands of deli workers. Their legacy lives on: today, fresh deli meat can’t be found in any Wal-Mart store. They'd rather sell only pre-packaged meat than offer decent pay and benefits to the men and women who could slice it fresh.

Good luck, Canada. Your workers will need it.

PS: Take a close look at our Raging Grannies. They’re protesting Wal-Mart, too!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

You get what you pay for (and vote for, unfortunately)

Mikaela says:
It's what I've been saying all along! I guess it's clear this is my new pet theme, but I think it's of deadly importance to stay focused and diligent about the strategic perspective of each and every policy that issues forth from our White-hope House.

Most of the articles I've seen on Bush's budget have been sure to include how social programs will be decimated, and most quote the fact that one of every three proposed cuts deal with education. Fewer mention the disproportionate effect on lower-income and inner-city minority communities -- the strategic intiative Bush is calling with Orwellian lack of irony "Strengthening America's Communities Initiative." This might be true if it in fact dealt referred to the effects of this budget on corporate communities. But of course, it doesn't.

Instead, it lays out in cold, deadly detail the elimination of Community Block Grants, which have played such a key part in turning around many slip-sliding communities and empowered them to imagine and resurrect a vision of healthy, vital neighborhoods.

As if that's not enough to pull the rug out from struggling inner-city and low-income communities, he's cutting the Perkins loan program, too, which specifically targets aid to smart, motivated low-income and minority students to help them get the college education even Bush admits they need to enter the wealthy, robust corporate welfare community.

How does this tie into the hoopla about privatizing social security?

Paul Krugman nails it in his column today(link and full text below) :
The attempt to "jab a spear" through Social Security complements the strategy of "starve the beast," long advocated by right-wing intellectuals: cut taxes, then use the resulting deficits as an excuse for cuts in social spending. The spearing doesn't seem to be going too well at the moment, but the starving was on full display in the budget released yesterday.

And why? You know that's what he's after because you put your money where your values are, right? So where are his values? What's he after?

I won't go so far as to say Bush is an out-and-out racist (not that I rule that out), but I will say he and his right-wing idealogue buddies are out-and-should-be-more-outted classists. They're economic Calvanists. Those who make it are fated to make it (and what more evidence do you need of their status than the fact that they've made it??), and those who don't ... well ... aren't. (Just look at where they live!)

This may explain why corporate welfare fits in with his agenda, while universal health-care is anathema. Give money to those who deserve it -- the chosen. Don't waste the taxpayer's money on just anyone. If Bush believes that those with money and power are really morally and in all other ways superior, then it makes sense not to fund education and health-care. Let those chosen born among the rabble claw their own, individual way out of the mire. That will prove their worth to those above. Everyone else, well, go to church. Why else funnel all social welfare through "faith-based" initiatives? Bush is trying to make sure money only goes to those trying to better themselves spiritually. That way, no aid goes to those who don't deserve it. See? It's all so ... calculated.

People voted for Bush because of his moral values, right? Is it really within the moral values of this country that those without access to the system -- no matter how hard they work at multiple jobs -- should remain locked in destitute and crumbling neighborhoods without access to health care or education? Is it a shared value that their children should suffer the fate of their parents because they were born in the wrong place to the wrong families? Since when is Wall Street the heroic savior, bringing prosperity to all who believe?

I know Americans aren't much on history, but let's all try to remember that the social welfare safety net that's universally vilified these days was a result of a (cyclical?) failure in the capitalist system. It was a stock market crash, for god's sake. Now, the answer to everything is to transfer money from the government to that same stock market? That strikes me as not just an oversight but insane.

But you don't have to take my (shrill, panicked!) word for it. The following is a great (and, I think, dead-on) strategic analysis of Bush's latest budget and social security proposals from the New York Times' Paul Krugman.

Spearing the Beast
February 8, 2005
President Bush isn't trying to reform Social Security. He isn't even trying to "partially privatize" it. His plan is, in essence, to dismantle the program, replacing it with a system that may be social but doesn't provide security. And the goal, as with his tax cuts, is to undermine the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt.

Why do I say that the Bush plan would dismantle Social Security? Because for Americans who entered the work force after the plan went into effect and who chose to open private accounts, guaranteed benefits - income you receive after retirement even if everything else goes wrong - would be nearly eliminated.

Here's how it would work. First, workers with private accounts would be subject to a "clawback": in effect, they would have to mortgage their future benefits in order to put money into their accounts.

Second, since private accounts would do nothing to improve Social Security's finances - something the administration has finally admitted - there would be large benefit cuts in addition to the clawback.

Jason Furman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the guaranteed benefits left to an average worker born in 1990, after the clawback and the additional cuts, would be only 8 percent of that worker's prior earnings, compared with 35 percent today. This means that under Mr. Bush's plan, workers with private accounts that fared poorly would find themselves destitute.

Why expose workers to that much risk? Ideology. "Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state," declares Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute. "If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state."

By the welfare state, Mr. Moore means Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - social insurance programs whose purpose, above all, is to protect Americans against the extreme economic insecurity that prevailed before the New Deal. The hard right has never forgiven F.D.R. (and later L.B.J.) for his efforts to reduce that insecurity, and now that the right is running Washington, it's trying to turn the clock back to 1932.

Medicaid is also in the cross hairs. And if Mr. Bush can take down Social Security, Medicare will be next.

The attempt to "jab a spear" through Social Security complements the strategy of "starve the beast," long advocated by right-wing intellectuals: cut taxes, then use the resulting deficits as an excuse for cuts in social spending. The spearing doesn't seem to be going too well at the moment, but the starving was on full display in the budget released yesterday.

To put that budget into perspective, let's look at the causes of the federal budget deficit. In spite of the expense of the Iraq war, federal spending as a share of G.D.P. isn't high by historical standards - in fact, it's slightly below its average over the past 20 years. But federal revenue as a share of G.D.P. has plunged to levels not seen since the 1950's.

Almost all of this plunge came from a sharp decline in receipts from the personal income tax and the corporate profits tax. These are the taxes that fall primarily on people with high incomes - and in 2003 and 2004, their combined take as a share of G.D.P. was at its lowest level since 1942. On the other hand, the payroll tax, which is the main federal tax paid by middle-class and working-class Americans, remains at near-record levels.

You might think, given these facts, that a plan to reduce the deficit would include major efforts to increase revenue, starting with a rollback of recent huge tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, the budget contains new upper-income tax breaks.

Any deficit reduction will come from spending cuts. Many of those cuts won't make it through Congress, but Mr. Bush may well succeed in imposing cuts in child care assistance and food stamps for low-income workers. He may also succeed in severely squeezing Medicaid - the only one of the three great social insurance programs specifically intended for the poor and near-poor, and therefore the most politically vulnerable.

All of this explains why it's foolish to imagine some sort of widely acceptable compromise with Mr. Bush about Social Security. Moderates and liberals want to preserve the America F.D.R. built. Mr. Bush and the ideological movement he leads, although they may use F.D.R.'s image in ads, want to destroy it.

Happy Birthday, Nancy Drew

Maggie says:
Check out this great Salon tribute to mystery-solving heroine Nancy Drew, who turns 75 this month. I grew up obsessed with the old yellow hardcover Nancy Drew mysteries – and today every one is safely boxed away in the attic for any future Adams girls (thanks Mom!).

Nancy was the best role model any young girl could have had – she was smart, brave, level-headed, and a great friend to Bess and George, her female sidekicks. Her boyfriend Ned Nickerson figured less prominently in the original novels – he’d show up for dances but would end up getting kidnapped by the villain and need to be saved by his girlfriend, really featuring Nancy as the first feminist icon for young girls. Nancy and Ned had the perfect relationship – he was there and she enjoyed his company, but he wasn’t at all her top priority, she was her own self. And her friend Bess made a striking contrast, too – Bess was the pretty blonde one who was shy and boy-crazy, but ended up in trouble because she trusted the wrong person or had a broken heel and was caught by the bad guy. Nancy was the thinking girl’s heroine – I guess that’s why she was mine.

The new Nancy Drews are updated for modern readers: they’re written in the first-person and make her less perfect and more human – she has doubts and an interior dialogue now that shows her weaknesses. The publishers believe today’s girl readers would be put off by such a model of perfection, they’d be intimidated by her strength and force of will. Growing up on the old Nancy Drew, though, I saw her as what girls could grow up to be – anything and everything we wanted to.

So happy birthday, Nancy Drew. May you inspire as many girls of today and tomorrow as you did yesterday. This girl reader says thanks.

Covering up the cover-ups

Mikaela says:
An article in the Washington Post today lays out a cover-up by a Montana asbestos mining company of the deadly effect of asbestos on its employees and town residents. The company that bought out the company that perpetrated the cover-up is now being taken to court -- by federal prosecutors with the help of the EPA.

What is not mentioned in the article is that this story represents the exact kind of environmental justice that Bush & Co. want to deny the American people under the guise of "tort reform" and efforts to outlaw class-action suits. The truth of the matter is that without government assistance, the residents of this town would have to simply die in agony unaided by health assistance from the very company that caused it. How can Bush still claim to want accountability? Does he even know what that word means? Maybe someone should mention it's not just an accounting term and that its meaning goes beyond spreadsheets and bottom lines.

Md. Firm Accused Of Asbestos Coverup
Contamination Scars Montana Town
By Carrie Johnson and Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 8, 2005; Page A01

Federal prosecutors yesterday charged W.R. Grace & Co. with exposing mine workers and residents in a small mountain community in Montana to deadly asbestos and covering up the danger.

The Columbia-based chemical manufacturer stands accused of breaking environmental laws and obstructing justice by misleading government officials probing the widespread contamination. The company allegedly buried a paper trail dating back to 1976 that traced how asbestos dust from its mine had permeated the lungs of workers, their family members and even residents who jogged on the high school running track in Libby, Mont.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Bush as God's right-hand avenger

Mikaela says:

How does a movie about good & evil, figuring an androgynous archeangel Gabriel, turn into a contemporary political commentary on Bush's righteousness as justification of all policy? Here's Tilda Swenson's take from today's interview in the New York Times (heavily abridged by yours truly) about her role in the upcoming Constantine with Keanu Reeves:

Gabriel becomes insane because he starts to think that if you wrap yourself in God's clothes you can do anything you want, and it ain't true. There is something insane about a lack of doubt. Doubt, to me anyway, is what makes you human, and without doubt even the righteous lose their grip not only on reality but also on their humanity. ...

[T]he attitude of righteousness is a reason for pretty much anything now. What's shocking is how easily that's peddled today. ... Gabriel's rationale is essentially, "My job is to get as many souls as possible to heaven, and I have noticed that you are at your most spiritually open when the place is in flames, so I'm going to torch the joint."

There is all sorts of religious extremism all over the place, but the reason for this partly has to do with the fascist attitudes and language of absolutism coming from Washington. It's challenging for people outside of America that Bush was re-elected. It means we're all going to have to work a lot harder to understand what so many more Americans than we thought really want. It's an identity shift in our minds about America and maybe for many Americans as well.

We're not only preaching to the converted, but we also want to speak to those people who think they know what righteousness is.

Have we underestimated evangelicals?

Maggie says:
The connection between evangelical beliefs and corresponding right-wing policy is pretty concrete. So is the notion that since evangelicals believe the end of the world is eminent, they don't feel environmmental regulations are necessary, since those could only prolong the end of the world. But a closer look at the environmental beliefs of envangelicals adds more dimension - and a possible rethinking - to what we thought we knew.

From the Center for American Progress: "Times have changed since James G. Watt, the conservative interior secretary under President Reagan, argued that the imminent return of Jesus made environmentalism unnecessary. 'God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back,' Watt told Congress in 1981. These days, the Washington Post reports, evidence in polling and in public statements of church leaders shows that a 'growing number of evangelicals view stewardship of the environment as a responsibility mandated by God in the Bible.' Though evangelicals sometimes rely on different terms – 'creation care' instead of 'environmentalism' – and emphasize particular environmental ills – for example, the health effects of mercury pollution on developing fetuses – the basic progressive principles are the same. 'The environment is a values issue,' says the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals, whose members will meet in March to develop a position on global warming."

The Greening of Evangelicals (login required) is the original article spotlighting this shift. It draws from the "Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility" adopted in October, which states that "We affirm that God-given dominion is a sacred responsibility to steward the earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part. Because clean air, pure water, and adequate resources are crucial to public health and civic order, government has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation." This sounds pretty basic to us, but considering the end-of-the-world faction of their group, it's actually pretty revolutionary.

So we all know that evangelicals are pretty solidly Republican. And so far, there's not much to suggest that their newfound concern for the environment would sway their vote to the other side. But according to the Post, major environmental groups are studying "how to talk to evangelicals" to convince them to vote with their (slightly) green hearts. Given that there's a HUGE divide between hemp-wearing earth-lovers and cardigan-wearing church-lovers, could the gap be bridged? Are we seeing a new movement of environmentalism (or as the evangelicals prefer to call it - conservationism) being born?

And so Bush's onslaught continues...

Mikaela says:

Bush's agenda for slashing social programs and diverting funds to his military arsonal and legions of mercenary soldiers will be codified in his federal budget, which he's sending to Congress today. What Bush puts asunder, let no man restore.

The following from Democracy Now details his proposed cuts and re-allocations :

Bush Submits $2.5 Trillion Budget to Congress
President Bush is expected to send a $2.5 trillion budget to Congress later today. Bush is seeking a $19 billion increase in defense spending while proposing cutbacks in a wide range of domestic programs. Faced with a record deficit, Bush is calling for the elimination of some 150 governmental programs. One out of every three of the targeted programs concerns education. Public housing residents, Medicaid recipients and farmers will all suffer from cutbacks. In addition Bush is proposing to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by $450 million; to cut $100 million from a Bureau of Indian Affairs program that helps build schools and to cut $200 million for home-heating aid for the poor. Meanwhile Bush is calling for the Pentagon's budget to increase by nearly 5 percent to $419 billion. However that total does not include the cost of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Out of touch and not listening anyway

Maggie says:
From today's Washington Post, covering a Bush event in Nebraska meant to sell his Social Security plan:

"In Omaha on Friday, a divorced single mother named Mary Mornin tells the president, 'I have one child, Robbie, who is mentally challenged, and I have two daughters.'

'Fantastic,' the president exclaims, and he tells her she has 'the hardest job in America, being a single mom.'

Later, the 57-year old Mornin tells Bush that she works three jobs, which the president deems 'uniquely American' and 'fantastic.' He asks her if she gets any sleep."

Friday, February 04, 2005

John Edwards moves on

Maggie says:
News from my homefront: John Edwards will head the new Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill. Fittingly, this new job will allow him to further his populist "Two Americas" message that points out how Americans have become victims of their own government's flawed trade and tax policies.

Coincidentally, David Sirota has a piece out today that examines how John Edwards' views on trade set him apart from the Democratic pack when looking ahead to 2008. "Trade and economic inequality can be major issues if a high-profile politician is willing to persist and make them major issues," writes Sirota. "This is where Edwards' opportunity lies. Though he gave up his Senate platform, he has an economic one. And as long he has that important stage all to himself, there will be an audience outside the beltway eager to listen."

Looks like Edwards has found his stage.

Listen up, Connecticut

Maggie says:
I’ve been ranting about Lieberman for a week now, but it just keeps getting worse. Let’s count down his latest offenses:
1. Not only voting to confirm Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State…
2. … but pleading with Democrats to do the same, lecturing that Rice “will serve in the national interest.”
3. Hugging Bush after the State of the Union
4. Letting Bush kiss him after their hug (If you haven't seen the footage yet, no, I'm not making this up.)
5. Voting to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, one of only six Democrats to do so, and…
6. …delivering yet another rousing speech against his party’s values while doing it, calling prison treatment at Guantanamo “progressive” and “remarkably just.”

I’m not sure what happened to Lieberman. He’s never been progressive - always moderate at best - but I think that FCC nonsense a year ago provoked the zealot in him. Since then, he’s been taking pains to promote himself as the Dems’ conservative voice of wisdom. Certainly the primary forced him to set himself apart - his stump speeches about "radical Democrats" losing touch with Middle America were as backward as they were boring.

Whatever the reason, this is unacceptable. Even more mind-boggling is that we’re talking about a senator from Connecticut here – not exactly Republican territory, so I'm confident that the good residents of that state can elect someone to better serve the Democratic party. So listen up, Constitution State: find yourself a real progressive to kick Lieberman’s ass in the primary. There’s no reason we have to put up with this kind of voting record – and worse, the moral lectures that come with it – from one of our own. Strike three happened a long time ago.

Our ever-expanding blog list

Maggie says:
We did a little updating to our links section recently. Notice that we've separated basic links (news and organizational sites, etc.) from blogs. M3 Blogs are growing all the time - we keep discovering new favorites. So check back to see what's new and what we're currently reading.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Confirming American dissent

Maggie says:
Consider the recent confirmations of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Obviously, they're terrible candidates bent on further destroying U.S. credibility in the world and wreaking havoc on civil liberties at home. It is beyond me why any self-respecting Democrat would vote yes on their confirmations. So what if the majority would give them the vote, anyway? Isn't it worth anything to stand up for your beliefs and record your dissent?

So while I have nothing good to say about the Dems who confirmed these individuals (and am flat-out bewildered by Joe Biden, who railed against Rice during the hearings and then voted for her anyway...), here's some heartening news, however small and footnote-ish it is:

Condoleeza Rice was confirmed with an 85-13 vote, marking her as the Secretary of State with the most No votes in our country's history. Alberto Gonzales has the same distinction: his confirmation vote of 60-36 makes him the least-confirmed Attorney General ever. He broke John Ashcroft's record to do it.

What should we do in Iraq?

At breakfast this morning, M3 were talking about an internal debate that progressives have about what the best course of action is for the U.S. in Iraq. We have plenty of criticisms and denouncements for the Bushites but what do we think should be done now, since we're there? Rather than answer this question, we thought we would pose the question and perhaps some of you would give us your opinion, along with your rationale. We've posed a few options here, but there may be others.

Possible options:

1. Continue on the current course of occupation and control.

2. Withdraw completely and let the Iraqi people decide their own fate. Be done with it.

3. Withdraw and channel all of our resources through the United Nations, letting the international community as a whole take control of how to aid Iraq.

Need Religion? Try Burning Bush's Ficus of Faith.

Mikaela says:

My nomination for quote of the day comes from a New York Times editorial by Maureen Dowd about the recent evolution revolution toward creationism:

"So much for the Tree of Knowledge. Mr. Bush gives us the Ficus of Faith."

P.S. I just received my order from CafePress for a new tote bag with a picture of Bush and Cheney behind bars, with the quote, "I have a dream..." above. You, too, can own this icon of dissent. Just visit I can't wait to go shopping at Wild Oats!!! My little liberal heart bleed-ith over!

Local Politics

Mikaela says:

M-pyre was recently asked why we don't cover local politics. Here are my initial thoughts about why this tends to be the case:

1. We think big here at M-pyre, and national politics are big gorilla issues that scream out for comment because they will affect so many of us on profound levels.

2. We like good journalism, and we seek it out. This tends to mean we're getting our news from national newspapers and websites. Local news is hard to get! Local tv news is not an option; newspapers are ... so twentieth century. Alibi and Crosswinds are ... of limited use. I know much more about what's happening in Congress than the City Council. Anyone out there ready to take on progressive reporting for ABQ?

3. Local politics are more fine-grained and therefore harder to 1) understand and 2) attack in a blog-rant. It takes more time and attention to know where you stand on local issues, or where anyone stands on local issues, for that matter, than it does to read that Democratic senator so and so did such and such, which stimulates an immediate visceral reaction.

But I'm just a local ABQ girl. What do I know?