Wednesday, November 25, 2009


My pal Russ, who is going through a pretty rough patch right now, still found time for this eloquent rumination on applied semiotics:

Just for fun
The DNC could use the RNC's ideological purity test in anti-GOP ads - just rephrased. Something along the lines of "What they say" versus "What they really mean" comes to mind:
1) We oppose economic relief for Main Street; we support huge bonuses for Wall Street;

2) We oppose Medicare and Medicaid; we support the profits of predatory health insurance companies;

3) We support global warming, the melting of the polar ice-caps, and the demise of the polar bear;

4) We oppose unionization and unions; we support big business's unfair labor practices;

5) We don't want any more Hispanics in our America;

6) We support never-ending, futile wars;

7) We support belligerence and saber-rattling; we disdain diplomacy;

8) We're anti-gay;

9) We're don't believe Supreme Court decisions are the law of the land; we support the health insurance industry's right to ration care;

10) We support unmitigated gang violence, the right of psychotics and felons to buy guns, and the drug cartels that have turned our inner cities into war zones.
You can probably paraphrase better than I. Try it. It's fun!

Will the DNC take advantage of this golden opportunity?
I'm not holding my breath!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Your "Liberal" Media In Action

Via John Cole/Balloon Juice, whose cryptic, concise intro suffices for all:
Oddly enough, they still find ways to surprise:
Apparently, Castellanos makes enough money doing media work for private health insurance companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that he’ll be unpaid for his work as the RNC’s senior communications adviser. And since Castellanos won’t literally be on the Republican National Committee’s payroll, CNN is entirely comfortable paying him to offer “political analysis” on the air.
And here I thought the ethical/professional lines had already been blurred too much. Now, CNN —you know, the network that has positioned itself as above the fray—will feature regular on-air commentary from the Republican National Committee’s new message/strategy guy.
Here is some of Castellano’s handiwork:

Cole continues:
I guess we can all figure out why the RNC needed to pick him up.

I wonder if Chuck Todd thinks I am being subjective when I say it was outrageous Castellano had a job at CNN in the first place, but now that he is officially working for the GOP, it is an appalling breach of ethics.

And if CNN won’t do anything about it, how about the liberals and Democrats who appear on CNN do something about it. Call him out every time you are on- make sure every chance you get you point out that CNN’s political commentator is an official GOP hack.
Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Move along...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Realtors Who Complain About Buyers' Ethics

You may know: So-called "business ethics" is the most monstrous, offensive, blinding oxymoron of all time. There simply are NO "ethics" in '[bidness]' which would be recognizable to anyone NOT already committed to the "process."

Which makes the following most amusing: Realtors™, apparently, are complaining about some buyers' willingness to simply walk away from mortgages the properties represented by which are "underwater." The are saying it is "unethical" to abandon a property and cease making contractual payments just because the nominal 'market value' of a piece of property is less than what is owed on the place, even though they COULD still afford to pay on the loan.

No. Really! It's a tactic called "strategic default," and the practice seems to be increasing, especially in those markets where property devaluations and failures have been epidemic. "People default because of the size of their negative equity, not just because they cannot afford to pay," according to authors quoted in the study in the LA Times reported today by Calculated Risk. The questions being raised are two-fold: ..."(J)ust how prevalent are these "strategic defaults"? And what are the social and moral ramifications of jumping ship?"

"Social and moral implications" of refusing to pay on extortionate mortgages? The implications of fucking the bankers who are fucking you? It is to laugh, nest paw? What of the social and moral implications of the rip-offs, distortions, and out-right lies told by banksters and mortgage brokers to put people into hugely over-priced, bubble-burdened properties to begin with? Ah-Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm? Here's CR's post on the matter:
More on Strategic Defaults
by CalculatedRisk on 11/21/2009 09:22:00 PM

From Lew Sichelman at the LA Times: Owners' willingness to 'strategically default' on loans depends largely on how far underwater they are (ht Ann)

Most of the LA Times article is based on the paper by Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales that I covered in June: Moral and Social Constraints to Strategic Default on Mortgages (pdf)

Sichelman adds some comments from real estate agents on the ethics of strategic defaults:
Nellie Arrington of Long & Foster Real Estate in Columbia, Md., says it is "morally wrong, legally wrong and just plain wrong" for an owner to walk away from a mortgage he can afford simply because the balance exceeds the value of the underlying property.

And on the other side:
Bob Hunt of Keller Williams O.C. Coastal Realty in San Clemente says the moral duty to protect your family outweighs the moral duty to repay the loan.

"Promise keeping is not the highest moral value," said Hunt, who before his real estate career taught ethics and logic at the University of Redlands. "If I promised to lend you my gun and you are now in a clearly dangerous psychotic stage, breaking my promise would be the right thing to do, not the wrong thing."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Teachers Who Go Into Administration

Stephen Krashen is one of the most astute observers and acute commentors on Federal 'education policy' around, especially since the recent passing of the memorable, and infamous Gerald Bracey. NCTE is the National Conference of the Teachers of English, and is the largest group in the field. The LEARN act is the Obama/Duncan proposed legislation that would perpetuate everything that was wrong with similar literacy initiatives in the previous regime, indeed the previous 40 years.

This arrived today from widely admired author/educator/firebrand Susan Ohanian, one of my go-to sources on matters of teaching and learning. She's the beans; you should visit and bookmark her sites if you have ANY interest--personal or professional--in humane, democratic, emancipatory teaching and learning.

I Do Not Support the LEARN Act

by Stephen Krashen
The NCTE is supporting the LEARN act and asks NCTE members to support it here.

I do not support the LEARN Act. As described in the Senate Bill, the LEARN Act is Reading First expanded to all levels. It is Reading First on steroids.

The methods required by LEARN are nearly identical to those promoted by NCLB and Reading First: ". . . systematic, and explicit instruction in phonological awareness, phonic decoding, vocabulary, reading fluency, and reading comprehension."

The Senate bill lists the same areas of instruction that were in the report of the National Reading Panel, which was heavily criticized by some of the most respected scholars in the field. These principles were used by Reading First, which failed every empirical test. LEARN assumes that direct instruction is the only way children become literate, that "The intellectual and linguistic skills necessary for writing and reading must be developed through explicit, intentional, and systematic language activities. . ." and assumes that there is no contrary view.

LEARN endorses excessive testing, requiring "diagnostic, formative and summative assessments "at all levels." This is an astonishing recommendation at a time when children are already overwhelmed with tests, when schools are being turned into test-prep academies, and when education is facing severe budget cuts. It also presumes that we do not trust our teachers to evaluate their students.

There is no mention of the most important factor in developing literacy: quality school and classroom libraries, and professional librarians in all schools. The Senate bill only mentions "making available and using diverse texts at the reading, development, and interest level of students" and mentions "library media specialists" only once.

I must ask if those at NCTE who endorse this proposal have actually read it.

— Stephen Krashen
NCTE ning
Susan adds her own remark:
I am opposed to the LEARN act for the same reason Stephen Krashen names. I'd like to know just who at NCTE does support this act--and voices this support on behalf of all of us members.

Go to the NCTE ning and voice your concerns. We must speak up NOW.

You can also send e-mails to NCTE officers:

President, Kylene Beers:
Past pres., Kathleen Yancey:
Pres.-elect., Carol Jago:
Vice-pres., Yvonne Siu-Runyan:
Incoming Vice-pres., Keith Gilyard: rkg3@PSU.EDU
They'll just LOVE to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"...(It) was hard to believe that I was in America.": Conditions Speak Louder Than Words

For those who do not yet believe that the clash over health care provision is major campaign in a full-fledged culture war, Susie Madrack's Suburban Guerilla caught this one:
Rich Stockwell, senior producer at MSNBC’s “Countdown”, writes about his experiences at the free clinic funded by viewer contributions:

New Orleans, La. — – It happened as I watched a 50-something woman walk out, after spending several hours being attended to by volunteer doctors. “She’s decided against treatment. A reasonable decision under the circumstances,” the doctor tells us as she heads for the next patient. The president of the board of the National Association of Free Health Clinics tells me why: “It’s stage four breast cancer, her body is filled with tumors.” I don’t know when that woman last saw a doctor. But I do know that if she had health insurance, the odds she would have seen a doctor long ago are much higher, and her chances for an earlier diagnosis and treatment would have been far greater.

After watching for hours as the patients moved through the clinic, it was hard to believe that I was in America.

Eighty-three percent of the patients they see are employed, they are not accepting other government help on a large scale, not “welfare queens” as some would like to have us believe. They are tax-paying, good, upstanding citizens who are trying to make it and give their kids a better life just like you and me.

Ninety percent of the patients who came through Saturday’s clinic had two or more diagnoses.

Eighty-two percent had a life-threatening condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or hypertension. They are victims of a system built with corporate profits at its center, which long ago forgot the moral imperative that should drive us to show compassion to our fellow men and women.

Health reform is not about Democrats or Republicans or who can score political points for the next election, it’s about people. It’s about fairness and justice in a system that knows none. I’d defy even the most hardened capitalist-loving-conservative to do what I did on Saturday and continue to pretend that the system in place right now is working. (It WOULD be nice to think so. And a pony!--W)

Countdown chose to highlight and raise money for the Association of Free Clinics because we knew the work they do is so vitally important and we wanted to show in real terms how great the need is. We invited several politicians to attend so they could see first hand how critical the situation is. All declined. Some explained that they talk with constituents all the time and know very well of the need for reform.

I have news for them, these people didn’t need to speak. Their actions spoke far louder than any words. Having to get a check up and diagnosis at a free clinic because they have no other option tells you all you need to know. There are no words that can accurately describe the quiet desperation on the faces of the patients. Every single one I spoke to, and every one I heard talking with doctors, expressed their gratitude for the event and wished that they were held more often.

Posted in The Best Healthcare in the World

Monday, November 16, 2009

Folks Who Say: "We Can Put A Man On The Moon. Why Can't We...?"

The Question:
"We, in civilized societies, are rich. Why then are the many poor? Why this painful drudgery for the masses? Why, even to the best paid workman, this uncertainty for the morrow, in the midst of all the wealth inherited from the past, and in spite of the powerful means of production, which could ensure comfort to all in return for a few hours of daily toil?

The (Well-Known, Oft-Repeated) Answer:
The Socialists have said it and repeated it unwearyingly. Daily they reiterate it, demonstrating it by arguments taken from all the sciences.

It is because all that is necessary for production -- the land, the mines, the highways, machinery, food, shelter, education, knowledge -- all have been seized by the few in the course of that long story of robbery, enforced migration or wars, of ignorance and oppression, which has been the life of the human race before it had learned to subdue the forces of Nature.

It is because, taking advantage of alleged rights acquired in the past, these few appropriate today two-thirds of the products of human labor, and then squander them in the most stupid and shameful way.

It is because, having reduced the masses to a point at which they have not the means of subsistence for a month, or even for a week in advance, the few only allow the many to work on condition of themselves receiving the lion's share.

It is because these few prevent the remainder of men from producing the things they need, and force them to produce, not the necessaries of life for all, but whatever offers the greatest profits to the monopolists. In this is the substance of all Socialism."
By "the substance of all Socialism," the author (it'll be in the test) means that the conditions he describes above are the stimulants that give rise to "socialist" sentiments and politics. I parsed the answering paragraph to highlight the elements the author (Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread) already by 1892, had discerned as the trajectory of predatory "capital" in an 'evolutionary' framework. He had been fascinated with Darwin AND Wallace and, contrary to the Hobbesian/Malthusian readings of those texts in Western Europe, he came to the conclusion that intra-specific was much less common than the models that prompted the emergence, for example, of Social Darwinism overlooked or ignored considerable evidence that cooperation--especially within species--was a normative feature. The Europeans, he wrote:
"...came to conceive of the animal world as a world of perpetual struggle among half-starved individuals, thirsting for one another’s blood. They made modern literature resound with the war cry of woe to the vanquished, as if it were the last word of modern biology. They raised the pitiless struggle for personal advantages to the height of a biological principle which man must submit to as well, under the menace of otherwise succumbing in a world based upon mutual extermination.”

In 1902, btw, he gathered these ideas together in Mutual Aid, a Factor in Evolution, a work that has mostly disappeared down the Anglo-American memory hole. Yet his ideas on the cooperative nature of life on Earth, though radical in his time, have received greater support over the past 30 years. Life, it turns out, may even be more cooperative than Kropotkin thought.

Nobody reads the "old guys" anymore. It's been 30 years since I read him, I think.

Friday, November 13, 2009

In Short: "Charitable" Organizations

Such as the Catholic Church, the hierarchies of which--along with any number of the members--are more worried and concerned about scriptural/textual/divine orthodoxy than about doing the charitable works for which they petitioned and now generally and ubiquitously receive otherwise entirely unwarranted and unmerited protections and exemptions from the body politic.

This includes, of course, but is not limited to, anything involvement in the provision of medical services by the Catholic Church, or any other "religious" organization, which claimed an exemption from its responsibilities for equality and fairness. This would have the advantage of withdrawing state support from outfits like the Boy Scouts, or any other organization of the public teat in any way that they are forbidden by law from disccriminating even against those who their cant and supersticion would demonize.

The particular case in point is the threat by Catholic Charities, (Inc.) or DC to withdraw itself from the provision of aid to its clients if proposed DC legislation forbids the CC to discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.

Americans United issued a press release on the matter:

D.C. Council Should Not Cave In To Catholic

Church’s Demands On Marriage Exemption

The religion exemption in a proposed same-sex marriage bill adequately protects religious freedom, and the District of Columbia Council should not give in to demands from the Catholic Archdiocese that it be broadened, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a Nov. 10 statement, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington threatened to drop contracts with the District government to provide social services, unless church programs are broadly exempted from civil rights provisions that will protect same-sex couples.

Catholic Charities DC, the social service arm of the archdiocese, received $16 million of its $23 million budget last year through governmental contracts.

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “The church’s demand is outrageous. If ‘faith-based’ charities cannot or will not obey civil rights laws, they ought not benefit from public funds.

“I am amazed that church officials would threaten to stop helping the disadvantaged because they are being asked to treat all citizens of the District fairly,” he continued. “They seem to have lost all perspective. How strong is their commitment to helping the poor if they’re willing to take this hardline stance?

“If Catholic Charities drops its participation in publicly funded social services,” Lynn concluded, “I am confident that other charities would be happy to pick up the slack.”

Lynn said Americans United attorneys have examined the religion exemption proposed in the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act” and found it to be a reasonable balance that protects the civil rights of all city residents as well as the independence of religious institutions.

Said Lynn, “We made several suggestions to the council in regard to the religion exemption, and most of our concerns have been met. The archdiocese’s demands are extreme, and council members should reject them.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Presidential "Discomfort"

Who didn't ALWAYS know that, desperate to show some big success in the first year, Obama would sign any piece of shit bill that could get enough support to get to his desk, even if it were only cosmetically helpful to the American people, and was always going to be an enormous financial windfall for the least deserving industries in the whole fucking world: for-profit medicine. Now the heralds are proclaiming an historical event, the equal of Civil Rights and Social Security, and it's all bullshit:
Status Quo

by digby

NY Times:
President Obama suggested Monday that he was not comfortable with abortion restrictions inserted into the House version of major health care legislation, and he prodded Congress to revise them.

The only thing he seemed uncomfortable with was the idea of the bill blowing up.

It's important to understand what "revision" at this point means. The status quo is no longer the compromise between those who believe that all women should have access to insurance coverage for abortion and those who believe that abortion should be illegal. That ship sailed many years ago with the egregious Hyde Amendment which denied coverage to the women who need it most --- poor women on Medicaid. For years pro-choice groups had agitated to repeal it, but took that completely off the table in this negotiation and agreed to codify it instead. That compromise already changed the status quo.

Now, the Stupak amendment goes even farther and says that any woman who is in the individual private insurance market will not be allowed to purchase a policy if they receive a subsidy. If the president will now take a "revision" of that, as now seems possible, we will see the "status quo" become something else again.

The status quo has already been dealt away.
This has been pretty obviously the track the whole process would take, pretty much from the beginning...

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Ft. Hood Affair: Collateral Damage On The Homefront

In a very visible, terrible, horrific--but nonetheless, not unpredictable--way the wars we wage return upon us. The events at Ft. Hood are just the latest, and largest, canckers to irrupt in this violent, depraved, indifferent wasteland of wrongful war and needless slaughter.

There are reports today that some of the dead and wounded may have been shot by people--presumably soldiers--shooting at the shooter. If true, that would certainly attack the credibility of folks who claim an armed society is a safe society.

Via AlterNet:

The Victims At Fort Hood Are Casualties of War: Why Won't the Government Count Them Among the Dead?

By Aaron Glantz, New America Media. Posted November 6, 2009.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of Thursday's shoot-out at Fort Hood is that none of the 12 (now 13--W) people who died in the melee will be counted as casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These soldiers – "brave Americans," President Obama called them – will join an unknown number of American soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines, who are not among the 5,267 the Defense Department counts as having died in our most recent wars, but who have perished nonetheless.

It will take days or weeks to learn what really happened at Fort Hood and why, but even at this early moment, we can make one statement for certain. The government's refusal to accurately count their sacrifice of these young men and women dishonors not only these soldiers' memories, but also obscures the public's understanding of the amount of sacrifice required to continue wars in two countries, simultaneously, overseas.

Go on the website,, which regularly publishes the names the Pentagon reports as having died in two wars, and a discerning eye will see a lot of other names are missing.

Missing are the names of service members, like Sgt. Gerald Cassidy, First Warrant Officer Judson E. Mount, or Spc. Franklin D. Barnett who died stateside after receiving substandard medical care for wounds sustained in the war zones. Cassidy sat dead in a chair for three days at Fort Knox before anyone noticed that he had passed away from complications related to a brain injury sustained in Iraq. Mount died in April 2009 at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center after taking shrapnel from a roadside bomb in November 2008. Barnett died in June 2009 from wounds he sustained in Afghanistan earlier in the year.

Missing, too, are the names of American soldiers and veterans who have killed themselves after serving a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, people like 19 year old Spc. John Fish of Paso Robles, California who told his superiors he was thinking of killing himself after his first deployment, but was ordered overseas a second time anyway. While he was training for that second deployment to Afghanistan, Fish walked out into the New Mexican desert after a training exercise for his second deployment and blew his brains out with a military issued machine gun. Or Sgt. Brian Jason Rand of North Carolina, who was found under the Cumberland River Center Pavilion near Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in February 2008 with a bullet through his skull and a shotgun by his side.

The Army reports 117 active duty Army soldiers killed themselves in 2007, the year Fish took his life. At the time, it was a 26-year high. But that record was quickly eclipsed by the 2008 Army figure of 128 suicides. In January 2009, more American soldiers committed suicide than died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, but none of these deaths are listed in the official casualty count.

Neither are the dozens of soldiers who have killed in altercations with law enforcement brought on by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder incurred during deployments overseas ...It's unknown how many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have died this way, but like the 12 soldiers gunned down at Fort Hood this week, their deaths would not have occurred if not for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Regardless of what you think of these wars, it's absolutely necessary that the American public be fully appraised of their cost. After all, how can we even begin to honor their memories, if we don’t even track their sacrifice. (Emphases supplied--W)

Perhaps needlessly, to reiterate:
...It's unknown how many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have died this way, but like the 12 soldiers gunned down at Fort Hood this week, their deaths would not have occurred if not for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a coda, it might be noted that Ft. Hood has/has the highest number of suicides of any other Army post. Makes ya wonder if being out there in the middle of one of the most god-benighted parts of Texas has anything to do with it.

Some might be tempted to accuse the author of attempting to make "political points" from the tragedy yesterday. That, of course, would distort the nature of the critique but, given the sources one would imagine making the complaints, that would be expected, too...

As a post-script, it should be noted that the death-toll of the VietNam invasion/occupation is possibly nearly twice what the official tally acknowldedges-- around 55 Thousand--for the same reasons enumerated in the piece above for the DoD's counting practices today.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Sister" Carrie Prejean/PerezHilton -- Dallas Penn

DOTOF™ to Ina on FB:

Just because they're short and pithy, here's another, on "Conversations about Race": Treat 'em like they took your wallet!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Drug Wars

I wonder why the Oligarchs and Owners seem to be willing to sacrifice Mexico's stature as a Nation to the futile task of closing down the use of (mainly) marijuana. Such is the official fervor to compel acquiescence from the stoner brigade--whose contributions to the cause, when straight CANNOT be the equal of their efforts stoned. What purpose can possibly served--in this land of pharmacological fantasy, amid a phantasmagoria of potency, there cannot be many 'real reasons' to the legalization of pot? Not reasons that would stand up to the scrutiny of the "interplanetary ethnographer." Acts by the State such as prohibition are efforts to flex the iron fist inside the velvet glove. The role of prohibition is always the exercise of state power over civil resistance, more than anything else.

Whatever that case, pobrecito Mexico's a mess and is falling further into chaos and catastrophe, as the peons and campesinos displaced by NAFTA, and unemployable in their numbers in Mexico's emergent--and already declining--industries, have been effectively driven into the para-military armies of the drug cartels battling for supremacy--if monopoly is impossible--in the market supplying narcotics (not a perjorative term, initially) and psychological analgesics to pacify America's terminally conflicted, too-well-armed, and potentially violently psychopathic population.

"It's A War!" declares the hook/headline of the Sunday LA Times. And the Times then delivers one of those pieces of journalism for which I, for one, am not certain the "new media" have the chops or resources to pursue. The Times is to be unstintingly applauded and commended for maintaining and adding to this valuable record of the times...

The link is to a page on which much relevant data is presented in very readable form, including a rolling counter that tolls the number of the dead in the increasingly intermural, normally fatal squabbles among the cartels, and in the cartels' efforts to intimidate the Mexican authorities. As of the posting of this message, the number was 9,303. There is also a very useful map of our southerly neighbor, which will be of inestimable use to readers and others whose interest in or knowledge of their national surroundings are circumscribed by the local tv newscast's weather map.

The most important part, of course, is the index of the stories the Times has filed on the story. There must be 100 or more, dating back to the first story, on June 3, 2008, datelined Nuevo Laredo, Tx., and headlined "Army's role in Mexico drug war seen as crucial yet risky," over the slug: "Observers fear the deployment will hurt democracy and civil institutions, but they see no alternative."

The whole index itself charts the decline into bloody anarchy along the border, but also in traditionally recalcitrant parts of the country where there is little to be fond of or grateful about what the central government represents. I didn't look for and in my swift perusal of the heds I did not see any indication that the "drug war" might ever have been thought to be possibly a node--a front, really--in a long-festering civil/class war that has been churning in Mexico since Napoleonic times, at least.

Maybe the failure of Mexico-qua-state on our southern border may turn out to be our own, local Iraq.

DOTOF™ to the "other" Woody, Alex, who put the link up on FB...