The River

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Critical moment

As both the war with Iran rhetoric and the Rev. Wright smear campaign heat up, you have to wonder whether we have ourselves another "fall guy" Dem in the mold of John Kerry, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis.

He [Obama] could skewer Hillary the hawk with one well-placed arrow, aimed straight at her vulnerability on the Iran issue. With the first shots of a new war already fired, apparently, and rumors of an imminent American strike at Iran flying thick and fast, Obama could denounce her as a warmonger, a McCain in drag, whose short-term political opportunism is helping to embroil us in a quagmire far worse than the one in Iraq, where she played a similar role in 2003. Yet I hear nothing like this coming from Obama's camp. Maureen Dowd nails it, with her typically acerbic take:

"Despite all his incandescent gifts, Obama has missed several opportunities to smash the ball over the net and end the game. Again and again, he has seemed stuck at deuce. He complains about the politics of scoring points, but to win, you've got to score points."

The American people oppose war with Iran, perhaps more than they want out of Iraq: the economic consequences alone will infuriate them far more than any other foreign policy decision of this administration. What the War Party is hoping is that their fury will be directed overseas, at our alleged "enemies" in Tehran, and not at home, in the direction of Washington, where proper blame belongs.

Americans await the advent of a real leader, the sort who could and would focus that anger on the right target. Whether Obama has the gumption – and the strategic sense – to make this fight about policy, not personalities, race, and gender, remains to be seen. He's promised us a new politics, but that doesn't have to mean blandness and an inability to fight. It can and must mean sharp attacks on wrong ideas – and one looks in vain for an idea as wrongheaded as war with Iran.

-- Is War With Iran Imminent?, by Justin Raimondo


ABC News:
Gingrich described Wright as "hard-line anti-American," and said "if Rev. Wright continues to talk that the burden that Sen. Obama carries becomes bigger and bigger. "

Associated Press:
Democrat Barack Obama says he was outraged by the comments of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and saddened by the spectacle of his appearance on Monday.


Classic fall guy move -- imitate rightwingers in transparent bow to their agenda. Weak, fearful me-tooism. He was for Rev. Wright before he was against him.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bush’s 69% Job Disapproval Rating Highest in Gallup History

Truman had 67% in 1952

by Frank Newport

PRINCETON, NJ -- President George W. Bush's disapproval rating is at 69% -- which is not only the highest of the Bush administration, but the highest disapproval rating in Gallup Poll history.

President Bush's approval rating now is at 28%, which ties for the lowest of his administration, but is not the lowest in Gallup Poll history. Harry Truman reached a 23% approval rating in 1951 and in 1952, and Richard Nixon had two 24% job approval scores in 1974.

In other words, although Bush's disapproval rating is the highest in Gallup history, his approval rating is not the lowest. This seeming anomaly is mostly because of differences over the years in the percentage of respondents who say "don't know/no opinion" when asked to rate a president.

Harry Truman's two 23% approval ratings were accompanied by 61% and 67% disapproval ratings, leaving 16% and 10% of those interviewed who did not offer an opinion about his job performance. Richard Nixon's two 24% job approval ratings in 1974 were paired with 63% and 66% disapproval ratings, leaving 13% and 10% with no opinion.

In the most recent poll for Bush, his approval rating is 28% while his disapproval rating is 69%, leaving only 3.5% (rounded to 4%) who don't have an opinion.



That's the response of the president, vice president, congress, presidential candidates, and the media to public opinion.

Has the fact that Bush is among the most reviled officeholders in history -- or that the Iraq invasion and occupation is deeply unpopular -- changed anything in the respective performance of these institutions?

No. Nor should it according to the "Principles of the Imperial New World Order":

Underlying the consolidation of the principles of the Imperial New World Order is the global decline of substantive democracy, as the global political elites have been able to do what they want in service to their interests—the holy trinity of the neoliberal program, militarization, and power-projection—in the face of widespread opposition on the part of the underlying populations. This had a dramatic manifestation in a recent exchange between ABC - TV News correspondent Martha Raddatz and Vice President Dick Cheney. Asked what he thinks about the two-thirds of the American public that says the Iraq war is "not worth fighting," Cheney replied: "So?"[35] The contempt for what the public wants and the widely held belief among the politicians in charge about the public's irrelevance—except as workers, consumers, and as a field whose votes can be harvested once every election cycle—could hardly be more blatant.

-- Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, ZNet


Out of Control

or how to achieve 69% disapproval

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hacking for Hillary?

Tuesday's Election Will be 'Unrecountable, Unverifiable, and Unauditable'...

BY Brad Friedman

On Tuesday night, you will be told who the winner of the Pennsylvania Primary is. You will accept it. You will have no choice. No matter who the winner really is. Or isn't.

This Tuesday's crucial contest will be primarily run on 100% faith-based, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen or push-button) e-voting machines across the state. There will be no way to determine after the election whether the computers have accurately recorded, or not, the intent of those voters who voted on them. As summarizes the crucial contest, it "will be essentially unrecountable, unverifiable, and unauditable."

Most of the votes, more than 85%, will be cast on such DRE systems which do not provide so-called "Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails" (VVPATs), as their use has been found unconstitutional in the state, since its been determined, accurately, that ballot secrecy cannot be guaranteed when using such paper trail systems. Not that it matters.

With or without a so-called "paper trail" printer, all touch-screen/push-button/DRE voting machines are equally unverifiable and antithetical to American democracy. Period.

So, as with South Carolina's primary, so so long ago, and other states since, whatever the officials tell you at the end of the election is what you, and we, will have to accept. Whether votes are counted accurately is completely out of anyone's hands at this point.


via American Samizdat

Second verse, same as the first

Here it is again. Another story of corporate rule, profits over people, and shameless politicians.

Psst! George Bush has a secret

By Greg Palast

While you Democrats are pounding each other to a pulp in Pennsylvania, the President has snuck back down to New Orleans for a meeting of the NAFTA Three: the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of Mexico.

You’re not supposed to know that – for two reasons:

First, the summit planned for the N.O. two years back was meant to showcase the rebuilt Big Easy, a monument to can-do Bush-o-nomics. Well, it is a monument to Bush’s leadership: The city still looks like Dresden 1946, with over half the original residents living in toxic trailers or wandering lost and broke in America.
The second reason Bush has kept this major summit a virtual secret is its real agenda - and the real agenda-makers. The names and faces of the guys who called the meeting must remain as far out of camera range as possible: The North American Competitiveness Council.

Never heard of The Council? Well, maybe you’ve heard of the counsellors: the chief executives of Wal-Mart, Chevron Oil, Lockheed-Martin and 27 other multinational masters of the corporate universe.

And why did the landlords of our continent order our presidents to a three-nation pajama party? Their agenda is “harmonization.”

Harmonization has nothing to do with singing in fifths like Simon and Garfunkel.

Harmonization means making rules and regulations the same in all three countries. Or, more specifically, watering down rules – on health, safety, labor rights, oil drilling, polluting and so on - in other words, any regulations that get between The Council members and their profits.


Monday, April 21, 2008

A walk on the paranoid side in Amsterdam

The Netherlands, Part Six

By Mack White

The rain got heavier as I made my way north across the canals into the party district of Amsterdam. I took a break from the rain and stepped into a pub for a beer. In a little while, the rain let up, and I resumed my walk.

Tucked here and there among the restaurants and nightclubs were coffee shops. A friend had recommended two shops I should look for, and I had their addresses, but in the dark and confusion of the street it was awkward to consult the map. So I just walked around, hoping I would happen across one of them or, failing that, maybe find another one that looked right or had the right vibe.

I saw one that radiated bad vibes. Can't remember the name, but it was too big and crowded, too much flashing neon, loud music, large tv screens tuned to sports. No, I was looking for something something quieter, relaxing.

I found a few of these, but in each case grew indecisive before going inside. So I walking, kept looking. In a little while, I saw a closed sign on the door of a coffee shop. Uh-oh, I thought. I’m running out of time. I started back to one I had just seen, but now I couldn’t find it. Oh well, I thought, I'll just try the next one I see and hope for the best, if it's open.

The next one I saw was Stix, lit so dimly I wasn’t sure it was open. But when I tried the door it opened and I went inside. Very stark décor, black walls, and small, with only a few places to sit, one booth and some benches with ashtrays on tables. The booth was full (two couples talking American, something I hadn't heard in a while), but there was plenty of bench space.

A young man stood at the counter. I asked him what he recommended. "Do you want to get stoned or high?" he asked.


In that case, he recommended the Diesel. He opened a cigar box packed full of thick fuzzy aromatic buds and held it up to me for inspection. Without hesitation, I said I would take five grams, the legal limit. He tore off a big beautiful bud and dropped it into a small zip-loc bag. I paid my 50 Euros (ouch), then sat down on a bench, rolled a joint, and lit up.

Two or three hits into the joint I realized I had not only spent too much money, I had also bought a lot more grass than I could possibly use. This was about a month's worth of smoking for me. Unfortunately, I would only be in Amsterdam for 36 more hours, and no way was I going to try taking this home.

It was also so strong, I realized, that if I smoked the entire joint I might have a hard time getting back to my hotel. So I smoked half, then dropped it into the zip-loc bag with the bud and stepped outside.

Now, which way had I come from? I couldn’t remember. My sense of direction was gone. It seemed like I had approached the shop from the left. That would mean I should turn right to go back the way I had come. This I did. But after walking a couple of blocks, I began to think I had made the wrong decision. Or had I? I couldn’t be sure. I kept walking. No, I'm going the wrong direction, I decided. Nothing looked familiar. And yet, maybe it only seemed unfamiliar due to my high state. The Diesel was powerful stuff. Under its effect, my own hometown would seem unfamiliar.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Sad day on E-Street

Danny Federici, for 40 years the E Street Band's organist and keyboard player, died this afternoon, April 17, 2008 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City after a three year battle with melanoma.


My heartfelt condolences to the friends, family, and bandmates of Danny Federici, and to rock-n-roll fans everywhere. Danny's music stirred my adolescent soul and helped fuel some raucous celebrations of friendship. I often played air organ along with Danny, sometimes affectionately using a friend’s head as the keyboard. Music adds so much to our lives. Danny Federici made a wonderful contribution to mine. He will be missed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Ghost of Tom Joad

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Honda Center, Anaheim, CA, April 7, 2008, with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine

Paper thin

That describes the credibility of the New York Times. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) asked the paper why it had failed to cover the Winter Soldier event. Public editor Clark Hoyt's absurd response further damages the reputation of the supposed best newspaper in America.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for writing about the Winter Soldier event in Maryland last month and its lack of coverage by the Times.

My assistant checked with various editors at the Times to see if there was any discussion about covering the Winter Soldier meeting. The editor in the Washington bureau who oversees national security coverage said he had not been aware of the group or its meeting. The Times normally has three Pentagon reporters. The meeting fell within their area of coverage, and one of them probably would have been assigned had editors chosen to staff the event. But one is on book leave, one was traveling with the secretary of defense, and one was in Iraq covering the war. The Times also did not cover an announcement the following day by Vets for Freedom, a group supporting the war and claiming more than 13 times the membership of Iraq Veterans Against the War, the group which organized Winter Soldier.

One group was emphasizing what it charged were war crimes, war profiteering and war mismanagement. The other group was protesting what it charged was the failure of the media to report more fully on signs of progress in Iraq, such as rebuilt schools and infrastructure.

News organizations like the Times, with its own substantial investment in independent reporting from Iraq tend to prefer their own on-scene accounts of the war, rather than relying on charges and counter-charges at home by organizations with strongly held political viewpoints about the war.

Clark Hoyt

See FAIR's response to this insult here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Great post from Jonathan Schwarz:

What No One In America Knows

There's something missing from this recent AP story:

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened Tuesday to lift a seven-month freeze on his Mahdi Army militia if the Iraqi government does not halt attacks on his followers or set a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal.

What's almost unknown in America is that al-Sadr isn't just demanding US withdrawal at the point of a gun. The Iraqis who want us to leave—ie, the great majority—have been trying to make it happen with words and the law for some time. They've followed all the rules of democracy and "won," but...we're still there.


Obama at the Helm
By Peter Beinart
The Washington Post


The danger is that Obama will fall prey to the malady that ruined Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter: self-righteousness. Elections are winner-take-all, but governing isn't. Candidates can denounce Washington, but presidents have to live there. If the lesson Obama draws from his outsider campaign is that he and his supporters are children of light while those who oppose them are cynics, he'll find it hard to compromise. Successful presidents know how to make half a loaf look like a big win, and presidents with messiah complexes don't do that very well. But if Obama can come across as idealistic without being moralistic, if he can keep his supporters' spirits high and their expectations in check, if he can fuse exuberance and discipline, he might just run the government pretty well.

Here it is again, that reflexive media bias. I'll leave aside again the assumption that Obama represents the left, and take this at face value anyway because it illustrates the media's default position on the right. From that position, leftist must "compromise" or they will be branded self-righteous, unreasonably idealistic, even suffering from messiah complexes. Has any mainstream columnist voiced such concerns about the governing ability of a party currently pursuing a self-righteous, unreasonably idealistic, and messianic war in the Middle East? Of course not because that is the extremely successful M.O of the Bushists.

It's a one-way warning from a one-way, ideologically blinded media. Change is fine, change is acceptable. Change is what we have had for the last seven years. But don't even think about change in the other direction, because that won't be change, it will be failure.

Sicko outtake

A place that blows France right out of the water

Monday, April 07, 2008

Stroke of insight: Jill Bolte Taylor


I grew up to study the brain because I have a brother who has been diagnosed with a brain disorder, schizophrenia. And as a sister and as a scientist, I wanted to understand, why is it that I can take my dreams, I can connect them to my reality, and I can make my dreams come true -- what is it about my brother's brain and his schizophrenia that he cannot connect his dreams to a common, shared reality, so they instead become delusions?

So I dedicated my career to research into the severe mental illnesses. And I moved from my home state of Indiana to Boston where I was working in the lab of Dr. Francine Benes, in the Harvard Department of Psychiatry. And in the lab, we were asking the question, What are the biological differences between the brains of individuals who would be diagnosed as normal control, as compared to the brains of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective, or bipolar disorder?

So we were essentially mapping the microcircuitry of the brain, which cells are communicating with which cells, with which chemicals, and then with what quantities of those chemicals. So there was a lot of meaning in my life because I was performing this kind of research during the day. But then in the evenings and on the weekends I traveled as an advocate for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

But on the morning of December 10 1996 I woke up to discover that I had a brain disorder of my own. A blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain. And in the course of four hours I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information. On the morning of the hemorrhage I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life. I essentially became an infant in a woman's body.

If you've ever seen a human brain, it's obvious that the two hemispheres are completely separate from one another. And I have brought for you a real human brain. [Thanks.] So, this is a real human brain. This is the front of the brain, the back of the brain with a spinal cord hanging down, and this is how it would be positioned inside of my head. And when you look at the brain, it's obvious that the two cerebral cortices are completely separate from one another. For those of you who understand computers, our right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor. While our left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. The two hemispheres do communicate with one another through the corpus collosum, which is made up of some 300 million axonal fibers. But other than that, the two hemispheres are completely separate. Because they process information differently, each hemisphere thinks about different things, they care about different things, and dare I say, they have very different personalities. [Excuse me. Thank you. It's been a joy.]

Our right hemisphere is all about this present moment. It's all about right here right now. Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like. What this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.

My left hemisphere is a very different place. Our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. Our left hemisphere is all about the past, and it's all about the future. Our left hemisphere is designed to take that enormous collage of the present moment. And start picking details and more details and more details about those details. It then categorizes and organizes all that information. Associates it with everything in the past we've ever learned and projects into the future all of our possibilities. And our left hemisphere thinks in language. It's that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world. It's that little voice that says to me, "Hey, you gotta remember to pick up bananas on your way home, and eat 'em in the morning." It's that calculating intelligence that reminds me when I have to do my laundry. But perhaps most important, it's that little voice that says to me, "I am. I am." And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me "I am," I become separate. I become a single solid individual separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you.

And this was the portion of my brain that I lost on the morning of my stroke.

On the morning of the stroke, I woke up to a pounding pain behind my left eye. And it was the kind of pain, caustic pain, that you get when you bite into ice cream. And it just gripped me and then it released me. Then it just gripped me and then released me. And it was very unusual for me to experience any kind of pain, so I thought OK, I'll just start my normal routine. So I got up and I jumped onto my cardio glider, which is a full-body exercise machine. And I'm jamming away on this thing, and I'm realizing that my hands looked like primitive claws grasping onto the bar. I thought "that's very peculiar" and I looked down at my body and I thought, "whoa, I'm a weird-looking thing." And it was as though my consciousness had shifted away from my normal perception of reality, where I'm the person on the machine having the experience, to some esoteric space where I'm witnessing myself having this experience.

And it was all every peculiar and my headache was just getting worse, so I get off the machine, and I'm walking across my living room floor, and I realize that everything inside of my body has slowed way down. And every step is very rigid and very deliberate. There's no fluidity to my pace, and there's this constriction in my area of perceptions so I'm just focused on internal systems. And I'm standing in my bathroom getting ready to step into the shower and I could actually hear the dialog inside of my body. I heard a little voice saying, "OK, you muscles, you gotta contract, you muscles you relax."

And I lost my balance and I'm propped up against the wall. And I look down at my arm and I realize that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can't define where I begin and where I end. Because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall. And all I could detect was this energy. Energy. And I'm asking myself, "What is wrong with me, what is going on?" And in that moment, my brain chatter, my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button and -- total silence.

And at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

The World According to Monsanto

A documentary Americans won't ever see

On March 11 a new documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German cultural tv channel) by French journalist and filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin on how the gigantic biotech corporation Monsanto is threatening to destroy the agricultural biodiversity which has served mankind for thousands of years.

Find it here

Saving the American Left: The Case for a New Progressive Creed

by Bernard Chazelle


Marxism died for all the right reasons, but regrettably so did with it the only systematic attempt in the history of political philosophy to put the underdog at the heart of the reflection. Sensing a vulnerability, opponents pounced with glee and festooned any leftish idea with the blood and tears of every Gulag victim. Soon sedated by the illusory success and soothing materialism of the Clinton years, progressives lost the means and the will to fight back.

The Great Sellout came at a price: electoral disaster. Yet, while busy mastering the fine art of the concession speech, Democrats swatted away all attempts at rebuilding a movement. To this day, their triangulating appetite for compromise remains voracious and they rarely flinch from flinching. Unless, that is, the cause is sensible but symbolic, like protesting the display of the Ten Commandments in a court of justice. Progressives need not prioritize because their moral world is flat. Why obsess over war and poverty when, instead, you can ventilate about courthouse furniture? Their creed, such as it is, is a recitation of platitudes: feel-good drivel about vibrant communities, boundless opportunities, growing prosperity, and other such controversial matters. They engage in vigorous policy debates but none of them is germane to the creed—would you expect a discussion of the Clear Skies bill to be informed by a belief in breathing?

Just as science should be falsifiable, ideologies should be disbelievable. A creed that can be rejected only by the enemies of motherhood and apple pie is useless because it denies one the means to make tough choices. But can such a thing ever be useful, let alone necessary?

Yes and yes. A creed serves two functions: to feed the soul and to guide hard decisions. Neoliberalism takes care of the decisions and the little that's left is fast food for the soul. To see why, consider the Revolutionary motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” A good measure of a left-wing belief system is how tightly it keeps the three threads together. Take away the last one and your creed is soulless; remove the first two and it is toothless. Fraternity (for lack of a less sexist term) arbitrates between liberty and equality: it speaks to the why and the how; they speak to the what. Neoliberalism gutted the motto and left progressives with the monumental task of turning ethics into policy without the normative mediation of a conceptual framework.

True, as a drive for free markets, globalization, deregulation, privatization, elimination of economic distortions, deunionization, and market-driven policymaking, neoliberalism is no more a theory of social justice than greed is a theory of property rights. It did not supplant the progressive creed so much as let it shrivel into a mere quest for decency—a noble pursuit to be sure, but one that is doomed without a set of principles to guide it. It's not enough to have your heart in the right place: your brain, and especially your will, must be there, too.