Tag Archives: politics

Magnanimity

BalanceI try hard in my class to keep my political and religious opinions hidden. When students asked me, “Who’d you vote for,” I simply replied, “That’s not a topic I feel is appropriate for the classroom.” Some students asked why; most seemed satisfied.

In today’s political climate, though, I’m not so much worried about students determining my political beliefs as much as I am concerned at the prospect of them thinking they have sorted out my political views — and then discussing that with their parents

We were working on Greek and Latin roots and affixes today in class, and we came to the word “magnanimous.” We went over the meaning, and as an example of magnanimity, the name “Obama” floated into the room.

To say I equivocated (another of today’s vocab words) would be an understatement. I was, for at least three to four seconds, speechless. Running through my head were concerns with how to avoid even an appearance of bias and a bit of paranoia about what might happen if I couldn’t succeed in the attempt.

“Sure,” I said haltingly. “Especially when he speaks. Most presidents seem magnanimous when they’re addressing large groups.”

Why couldn’t it have simply been “Sure?” Even if there weren’t all the political frothing at the mouth about Obama’s recent address to students, I would have been uncomfortable leaving it politically unbalanced. But I wouldn’t have briefly panicked about it.

Later in the day, in going over a new selection, we were discussing when it was morally permissible to defy a law, and the general conclusion hovered around the idea of unjust laws. We made a list of people in history and literature who’d done this: Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Thoreau. Someone mentioned Robin Hood, and I replied, “True — robbing the rich to give to the poor.”

From the back row comes a distinct, unsolicited comment: “Just like Obama.”

I let it slide, chosing not even to acknowledge it, which I think was the right decision. Still, that panic returned. “If I let it stand, will I look like I agree and that my class has a political bias? If I mention it’s inappropriateness, even if I say that the real problem was not the content but the method of delivery, will I look like an Obama defender?”

And then I thought, “I’m worried about appearing to defend the President of the United States?”

It’s not that I’m concerned about some McCarthy-ian consequences. I couldn’t lose my job about something so trivial. But in this time of heightened sensitivity toward anything connected to Obama, particularly here in South Carolina, where many folks view Representative Wilson as a hero, I find myself thinking, “You can never be too careful.”

Constantly thinking about the political implications of student and teacher remarks makes for particularly effect pedagogy.

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Intellectual Walls

Mis (Teddy Bear)

Mis (Teddy Bear)

Many people were concerned about Obama’s speech, and some conservatives were voicing fears that Obama would try to indoctrinate the youth. Concerned conservative groups urged parents to keep their children at home, to shield them from the insidious message of socialism. “Parents have a right to decide what their children hear!” they protested, “And we’re only trying to protect our children.”

The irony is, in trying to shield their children from a perceived socialist threat, they were engaging in behavior that historically has been most commonly exhibited by — surprise! — socialist regimes.

One of the most frightening features of the Soviet Union and its satellite states was the complete control they had over information. Orwell’s 1984 had the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, which altered historical documents to create the appearance of Big Brother’s omniscience. The Soviet Union, in many ways, did the same thing.

More importantly, though, anything and everything from the corrupt West was censored. The capitalist message was so insidious that it might indoctrinate the happy citizens of the Soviet Union and lead to the downfall of the the most perfect civilization on Earth. Capitalism was bad, so bad that even to think about it was deadly.

The Polish cult classic Mis (“Teddy Bear”) has a scene dramatizing what surely happened each and every time a sports team from a communist country traveled West for a competition. The director of the sports club gives the standard speech before getting on the bus:

You’re going to a capitalist country, which might have it’s own, well, advantages. Take care that those advantages don’t overshadow the disadvantages.

The advantages could be so seductive that they could cast their spell even in the midst of post-war destruction: Stalin imprisoned many of the Soviet soldiers who’d been on the far Western front. They’d seen too much; they’d been contaminated. Indoctrinated.

The Soviets didn’t want informed citizens who could weigh the advantages and disadvantages of socialism and capitalism and choose wisely. Big Brother knew very well how seductive the dark side could be, and he took great pains to shield his younger siblings’ eyes and plug their ears.

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Start the Presses!

How to keep dollars local in a global community? It’s not quite isolationism, but it’s a legitimate concern in these Made-in-China times. During the debate — such as there was — about Bush’s first stimulus plan, many joked that we were borrowing money from China to buy Chinese products. Now consumers are more interested in keeping the resources local, and communities are helping out:

A small but growing number of cash-strapped communities are printing their own money.

Borrowing from a Depression-era idea, they are aiming to help consumers make ends meet and support struggling local businesses. […]

About a dozen communities have local currencies, says Susan Witt, founder of BerkShares in the Berkshires region of western Massachusetts. She expects more to do it.

Under the BerkShares system, a buyer goes to one of 12 banks and pays $95 for $100 worth of BerkShares, which can be spent in 370 local businesses. Since its start in 2006, the system, the largest of its kind in the country, has circulated $2.3 million worth of BerkShares. In Detroit, three business owners are printing $4,500 worth of Detroit Cheers, which they are handing out to customers to spend in one of 12 shops.
(USATODAY.com)

A few thoughts — mostly questions — about this:

First, this shows how utterly arbitrary cash is. BerkShares or Cheers have value because people agree that they do. Dollars, Yen, and Euros, theoretically, work the same way; more people simply agree that they have value. They were willing to agree because currencies represented something tangible: gold, silver, or whatever. Of course the value of gold only arose — in pre-scientific communities — because people agreed it’s valuable.

This leads to the second question: what backs this money? Indeed, we could ask the same of most world currencies, especially the dollar. Does anything, or is it just a dollar surrogate? Is it just pegged to the dollar? If so, that leads to the final thought.

Third, why do they need to do this? Just to keep the cash in the community? Couldn’t they keep the dollars in the community as well — a well-orchestrated campaign to “Keep the Dollars Here” or some such? Would this be happening if the dollar were actually worth something?

Lastly, what of that 5%? Who covers it? Why are banks willing to sell $100 of BerkShares or Cheers or gls-dollars for $95? (This seems to be hinting at what actually backs these currencies.) Is this debt? Do they get something in return from the business that agree to use these local currencies?

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Opposing Views

Here’s a comment I posted at aid-gaza.net:

Comment from aid-gaza.net

Comment from aid-gaza.net

(Click on the image for a larger, more legible view.)

The comment, though, didn’t receive the blogger’s stamp of approval, as you can see if you click on through.

It’s hard to take someone seriously who is censors opposing viewpoints after inviting comment. I left another comment, saying just that.

Second comment from aid-gaza.net

Second comment from aid-gaza.net

Wonder if that will make it through?

Update

It did. Spam filtering problems. I suggest Spam Karma.

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The Children

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic writes, addressing Israeli soldiers,

[W]hen you operate, operate with the children in mind. It’s a burden Hamas has placed on you — it’s no joy to fight an enemy who hides behind his children. But that’s what you’re facing. (Source)

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Religious License

Here in South Carolina, the Department of Transportation began issuing religious-themed license plates. They have stained glass, a cross, and the words “I believe.”

scibelieveplate

One guess as to what happened:

A federal judge says South Carolina must stop marketing and making license plates that feature the image of a cross and the words “I Believe.”

A federal judge issued a temporary injunction during a court hearing Thursday after opponents said the plates violate the separation of church and state.

U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie said the case needs to be heard in court. In the meantime, the judge said the Department of Motor Vehicles cannot take any more orders for the plates.

Department spokeswoman Beth Parks said the agency stopped taking orders more than a month ago, after it collected the 400 needed to cover the cost of making the plates. She said they are in production, and none has shipped. (AP)

I’m sure there are many in the state who are appalled by this. Just another example of those damn goddless bastards trying to destroy religion in America. That’s what the Andre Bauer, the Lt. Governor, says:

For those who say this violates the Constitution by giving preference to Christianity, I think this lawsuit clearly discriminates against persons of faith,” Bauer said in a statement. “I expect the state attorney general to vigorously defend this, and it is time that people stand up for their beliefs. Enough is enough.” (Harold Online, cached at Google)

plate2Yet how could anyone argue that it doesn’t give preference Christianity? There are no other freaking choices! I’d have gone for a FSM plate myself, but I don’t think my wife would have appreciated it.

Nate, at Shots from the Battery, really hits on the important issue, though:

I really wish we could sue the fundegelical state lawmakers who are forcing us taxpayers to bear the burden of the litigation they knew they were inviting. It’s a waste of $$ that the state taxpayers cannot afford. (SFTB)

Every morning going to work, it seems like I hear about the state making more and more budget cuts because of the falling tax revenue. South Carolina is predicted to have a stunning 14% unemployment rate by the spring, and these nitwits are out trying to make a mindless religious point.

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Calling All Pakistanis – NYT

On Feb. 6, 2006, three Pakistanis died in Peshawar and Lahore during violent street protests against Danish cartoons that had satirized the Prophet Muhammad. More such mass protests followed weeks later. When Pakistanis and other Muslims are willing to take to the streets, even suffer death, to protest an insulting cartoon published in Denmark, is it fair to ask: Who in the Muslim world, who in Pakistan, is ready to take to the streets to protest the mass murders of real people, not cartoon characters, right next door in Mumbai?

NYT

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Sincerely, Mr. Waxman

A letter, dated October 28:

Dear Mr. Blankfein[, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Goldman Sachs]:

Earlier this month, the Treasury Department announced plans to invest $125 billion of taxpayer funds in nine major banks, including yours, as an emergency measure to rebuild depleted capital. According to recent public filings, these nine banks have spent or reserved $108 billion for employee compensation and bonuses in the first nine months of 2008, nearly the same amount as last year.

Some experts have suggested that a significant percentage of this compensation could come in year-end bonuses and that the size of the bonuses will be significantly enhanced as a result of the infusion of taxpayer funds. According to one analyst, “Had it not been for the government’s help in refinancing their debt they may not have had the cash to pay bonuses.”

Press accounts report that the size of the bonuses could exceed $6 billion at some firms receiving federal assistance.

While I understand the need to pay the salaries of employees, I question the appropriateness of depleting the capital that taxpayers just injected into the banks through the payment of billions of dollars in bonuses, especially after one of the financial industry’s worst years on record. As one newspaper recently reported, “critics of investment banks have questioned why firms continue to siphon off billions of dollars of bank earnings into bonus pools rather than using the funds to shore up the capital position of the crisis-stricken institutions.”

To assist the Committee’s investigation into this issue, I request that you provide the following information and documents for your company as well as any affiliates or subsidiaries:

  1. For each year from 2006 to 2008, the total compensation and average compensation per employee, paid or projected to be paid to all personnel, broken down by salaries, bonuses (cash and equity), and benefits; and a description of the reasons for the year-to-year changes in these amounts.
  2. For each year from 2006 to 2008, the number of employees who were paid, or are projected to be paid, more than $500,000 in total compensation; the total compensation paid or projected to be paid to these employees, broken down by salaries, bonuses (cash and equity), and benefits; and a description of the reasons for the year-to-year changes in these amounts.
  3. For each year from 2006 to 2008, the total compensation paid or projected to be paid to the ten highest paid employees, broken down by salaries, bonuses (cash and equity), and benefits; and a description of the reasons for the year-to-year changes in these amounts.
  4. Documents sufficient to show all policies governing the granting of the bonuses to the groups of employees referenced in items (l) to (3).

Please produce the requested information to the Committee no later than November 10, 2008. To the extent that 2008 year-end bonuses have not been finalized by that time, you should notify the Committee as soon as those bonuses are determined and supplement your response with updated information and responsive documents.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee in the House of Representatives and has broad oversight jurisdiction as set forth in House Rule X. An attachment to this letter provides additional information about how to respond to the Committee’s request.

If you have any questions about this request, please ask your representatives to contact Theodore Chuang or Alison Cassady of the Committee staff at (202) 225-5420. Thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,
Henry A. Waxman
Chairman

I’m not sure which is more disturbing: the fact that the letter has to be written to begin with, or the fact that Time and Bloomberg scooped Congress. Shouldn’t the banks’ books have been open from the beginning of the bailout, so that Congress doesn’t find out from Time magazine that these banks are robbing taxpayers?

Oh, right — that would be real oversight. How foolish of me.

(Source: House Oversight Committee Web Site)

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They’ve Lost It

If they ever had it. Common sense, that is. Republicans see “politically motivated attempts to damage the [Republican party]” everywhere. Even when it’s a Republican-selected prosecutor:

After his investigation, Steven Branchflower, a former prosecutor hired by a Republican-controlled legislative committee, concluded that Monegan’s rebuff of the entreaties played a role in his firing but was not the only reason.

Palin’s supporters argued that the report, released less than four weeks from Election Day, was a politically motivated attempt to damage the Republican presidential ticket. The report initially had been due at the end of the month, but the Democrat managing the investigation said its release was moved to Oct. 10 so it would not come on the eve of the election. (washingtonpost.com).

Shades of Kathleen Parker.

I’m so freaking sick of that — anything critical of the Republicans is just “politically motivated.” Yet this kind of crap is fine:

With Mr Obama leading in the polls and only 24 days to go before the US presidential election, the series of outbursts have sparked the interest of the Secret Service, which guards the candidates and other dignitaries.

They launched a brief investigation after a man was heard – but not recorded – by several journalists shouting “kill him”, when Mrs Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, was speaking of Mr Obama’s links to Bill Ayers, a former domestic terrorist who is now a professor in Chicago. The two men sat together on educational committees but have rarely been in contact for six years.

Before a rally in Pennsylvania this week, local Republican leader Bill Platt warmed up the crowd by several times referring to “Barack Hussein Obama,” focusing on the Illinois senator’s middle name, trying to highlight his differences with other Americans.

When John McCain asked “Who is the real Barack Obama?”, a supporter shouted back: “He is a bomb.”

Chants of “Nobama, Nobama” mingled with cries of “terrorist,” as one banner in the crowd declared: “Go ahead, let the dogs out.” (telegraph.co.uk)

Astounding: was it a political rally or a potential lynch mob?

They might as well have said, “Turn the dogs loose on that darky socialist pink commie bastard, boys!”

A comment on the Post piece pretty much sums up how I feel about McCain now: “Well that’s the end of her political career. Now McSame has no where to go. Just think this was a man I use [sic] to respect. Now with all of his hate motivated rallies leaves him with shame. HOW SAD.”

And just below it:

Remember to Win Back America:

Last census
Whites=80.2% of population
Blacks=12.8% of population

Proof positive that this is bringing out the worst honesty in people. And here are two videos to prove it:

The McCain-Palin Mob in Strongsville, Ohio, Part I

The McCain-Palin Mob in Strongsville, Ohio, Part II

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It…

That’s what the rest of the world is saying, anyway. The Spiegel staff writers, and hence a certain segment of Germany, certainly thinks that America’s world dominance has come to an end:

[Bush] talked [at the UN] about terrorism and terrorist regimes, and about governments that allegedly support terror. He failed to notice that the delegates sitting in front of and below him were shaking their heads, smiling and whispering, or if he did notice, he was no longer capable of reacting. […]

“Absurd, absurd, absurd,” said one German diplomat. A French woman called him “yesterday’s man” over coffee on the East River. There is another way to put it, too: Bush was a laughing stock in the gray corridors of the UN.

The American president has always had enemies in these hallways and offices at the UN building on First Avenue in Manhattan. The Iranians and Syrians despise the eternal American-Israeli coalition, while many others are tired of Bush’s Americans telling the world about the blessings of deregulated markets and establishing rules “that only apply to others,” says the diplomat from Berlin.

But the ridicule was a new thing. It marked the end of respect.

The article continues,

Is it only President George W. Bush, the lame duck president, whom the rest of the world is no longer taking seriously, or are the remaining 191 UN member states already setting their sights on the United States, the giant brought to its knees? UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon referred to a “new reality” and “new centers of power and leadership in Asia, Latin America and across the newly developed world.” Are they surprised, in these new centers, at the fall of America, of the system of the Western-style market economy?

The fall of America? We were always taught, as citizens of any great empire in history, that our global empire would last forever. The American middle class rules the world, right? Not anymore — the middle class is disappearing, and the UN Secretary General is already talking about “new centers of power.”

I don’t know if any news agencies are reporting about this kind of pessimism in Europe. Obama, though, at least recognizies America’s fall from grace. Does he see how bad it really is?

The banking crisis in the United States has shaken many things in recent days, not just the chancellor’s affection for America and the respect the rest of the world once had for the US as an economic and political superpower. Since the US investment bank Lehman Brothers plummeted into bankruptcy two weeks ago, the financial crisis has developed a destructive force of almost unimaginable strength. The proud US investment banks with globally recognized names like Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs have all gone bankrupt, been bought up or restructured. The American real estate market has essentially been nationalized. And the country’s biggest savings and loan, Washington Mutual, has failed and been sold at a loss.

In light of the almost daily reports of losses in the financial sector, it seemed almost secondary to note that the disaster had also turned into one of the biggest criminal investigations in American history. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is already investigating 26 large financial corporations as well as 1,400 smaller companies and private citizens for possible fraud.

Economists now characterize what began two years ago with falling prices in the American real estate market as the biggest economic disaster since the world economic crisis of the 1930s. No one knows whether and how the meltdown of global financial markets, which would have grave consequences for the world economy, can still be prevented.

And now, of all times, the world is faced with a preeminent power that no longer seems capable of leading and a US president who is not even able to unite his divided country in an hour of need.

For weeks, Bush ignored the crisis, insisting on the strength of the market and telling Americans: “Everything will be fine.”

Indeed — we might finally be reaching the point at which Americans are no longer pacified by such platitudes. We are in a new America.

This is no longer the muscular and arrogant United States the world knows, the superpower that sets the rules for everyone else and that considers its way of thinking and doing business to be the only road to success.

A new America is on display, a country that no longer trusts its old values and its elites even less: the politicians, who failed to see the problems on the horizon, and the economic leaders, who tried to sell a fictitious world of prosperity to Americans.

It’s a very long series of articles, but take the time to read it: The End of Arrogance.

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Hagee and the Messiah

This race has been odd for the religious right. First, there was the issue of whether or not to support a Mormon — a non-Christian in the eyes of many Evangelicals. Now comes the troubling Hagee endorsement of McCain.

Yet it’s not only those on the left side of the spectrum that are troubled by this — or at least, it shouldn’t be. Those same Evangelical Christians who hesitated to support McCain should also be leery of Hagee and his less-than-orthodox theology, as seen below:

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Sadly, No! Malkin vs. Malkin

Thud linked to a post at “Sadly, No!” that shows the dilemma of Michelle Malkin’s style of “tough” conservatism. Malkin vs. Malkin

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Medicaid Cuts

From the Sacramento Bee

The Bush administration plans to stop reimbursing states for school-based Medicaid activities, including transporting disabled students, a move that would cost California schools more than $100 million a year.

Read the rest of the story.

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State Sentence

We’ve all seen the picture of the hooded executioners putting the noose around Saddam’s neck. The International Herald Tribune and the New York Times ran it on their main pages, as did al Jazeera‘s English website. The Washington Post didn’t.

What struck me about the photo was the lack of officialness about everything.

  • The executioners are wearing street clothes.
  • The room looks relatively small, and suspiciously like a randomly chosen room in a building’s basement.
  • The executioners are wearing tattered ski masks.
  • Not only are the executioners not wearing uniforms; not a single uniform is visible anywhere.

Of course, it’s difficult to tell much of anything about the room itself with such a closely cropped photo.

Still, what immediately came to mind when I first saw this was the obvious similarity to all the beheading videos released from Iraq. It hardly looks like an official state action.

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