Wednesday, September 28, 2005


...instead of champagne and cavier.

I'm now a doctor of philosophy. The successful and enlightening oral defense of thesis was quickly followed by a rapid descent into the bedlam of gastro-intestinal infection, be it virule of parasitic.

In other words, I got stressed out. Spoke with committee members about necessary revisions. Passed. Came home. And fell ill to some germ making the usual rounds.

Funny thing about this germ. The absolute need to vomit is followed by...not vomiting. Thus, one's stomach remains for, say, all day and night twisted up in the gut.

Torture, from the Latin Torquere, to twist.

I'm now on day five of this trial by intestinal fire, toasting Schwepp's in small sips. And I've spoken with friends and family who have also experienced this unique variation on the usual gut wrenchers of a bug, stomach flu, food poisoning, falling in love, pregnancy, and waking up to a mortgage, mounting debt, and no paycheck. No, this new twist, so to speak, on intestinal malaise (the source of all social prejudice, Nietzsche said), is far more cunning and wicked.

The pain at first seems endless. Then a gradual relaxing of the stomach muscles. And then...a rapid contracting and cramping of the stomach. Still, you are unable to vomit. Back and forth you go. No relief. I imagine this is how a Raid-ed tree roach feels as its gritty six legs wind down and his overturn body ceases to squirm on the kitchen floor.

Monday, September 19, 2005


The belief that in the United States we enjoy "freedom of the press" is so pervasive, that few of us are willing to question the specifics of that belief. As it turns out, this so-called 'freedom' is more myth than reality.

Hunter over at Daily Kos has an informative post about this enormous problem. The conflicts of interest between news media conglomerates and parent companies securing high-dollar construction contracts is so blatant it amounts to a sort of corporate "Piss off!" aimed squarely at the citizenry.

One example: Cable news outlet MSNBC was one of the more enthusiastic cheerleaders for bloodshed in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. MSNBC is owned by General Electric. G.E. secured billions of dollars worth of reconstruction contracts for the power grid in Iraq before the war. In other words, MSNBC did not function as a new media outlet questioning government motives and questioning the party line; rather MSNBC was little more than a glitzy PR firm doing advance work for G.E. in its bid to set up shop in the Middle East.

One could conceivably argue that there might ultimately be some poetic justice to MSNBC's sycophantic role in the quest for blood and money. The situation in Iraq is increasingly dire, something news watchers may be unaware of given the round-the-clock coverage of Katrina and its aftermath. In fact, while the camera lens has been redirected to the Gulf Coast, the death toll in Iraq has reached staggering levels--over a thousand deaths attributed to 'insurgent attacks' in the last month alone. So, one might conclude, when all is said and done the corporate 'investment' in Iraq may prove a bust, as it looks increasingly likely the U.S. will have to withdraw and leave the Iraqis to rape, maim and murder each other in the civil war that is perfectly inevitable.

However, the unprincipled profiteers who sit at the helm of G.E., Halliburton, Brown & Root, Fluor, Bechtel, et al, have already amassed billions from Uncle Sam, padding their Swiss bank accounts and furnishing their island getaways. Those who will lose are the workers hired for these war-zone boondoggles: those who haven't been kidnapped or killed will just be out of a job.
Some in the blogosphere seem to think that the news media coverage of Katrina's aftermath represents a return to good, old fashioned hard-nosed journalism. CNNs Anderson Cooper and NBCs Brian Williams have ripped into the Bush Administration again and again in front of the camera. And Bush's approval rating has plummeted. But while the news media has been rightly criticizing Bush and his political cronies over the mishandling of the hurricane rescue and relief operations, no mention has been made of the countless reconstruction contracts secured by the Friends of Cheney for rebuilding the Gulf Coast infrastructure. In fact, Halliburton lobbyist Joe Allbaugh was on the ground in the disaster zone on Wednesday, August 31, securing contracts before FEMA even knew about the deplorable conditions in the Super Dome and Convention Center.

The priorities of the Bush Administration are sorely lacking in ethical clarity and principle. This unsettling fact, however, throws the spotlight off the equally unpricipled and morally evil motives of our civil engineering construction industry. Build bigger roads; lobby to kill mass transit projects. Drill for more oil; lobby to kill environmental causes. Build more levees; lobby to kill wetlands protection. Hire illegal foreign workers; damn the American working class.

It's a sad state of affairs that, dare I say it, only a full-scale revolution in the streets could change.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Or should I say, "Just Desserts", suggesting the barren wasteland of the American political landscape?

"People get the government they deserve." This oft-quoted bit of cynical wisdom could be attributed to one of the American founding fathers, or even an ancient Chinese philosopher. I don't know what the origin is. But it does seem a fitting epitaph to the United States as it stumbles into social and political decline, burden by unprecedented levels of government corruption and cronyism, bankrupting our finances as well as our national intellectual curiosity.

The relationship between the current White House Administration and corporate construction firms is obvious, insidious, and yet largely unexamined in the national news media. One has to ask: Just what is it about this relationship that newsroom editors and producers refuse to uncover for the American people to see? Surely there is no shortage of intrepid reporters eager to expose Halliburton as the corrupt, unpatriotic company that it is. Money before country every time.

To the people who voted for George W. Bush, it's not enough to ask them, as Michael Moore has, if they feel better now that thousands of troops in Iraq or hurrican victims along the Gulf Coast have died because of poor planning, federal incompetence, and inadequate support. Most of the Bush-supporters I know would angrily tell you Bush is their man no matter how abysmal certain situations are. They simply can't accept the fact that he has anything to do with failure. He's tough, conservative, Christian, and he's not a Clinton.

The mention of Clinton--always inevitable when debating the failures of Republicans--raises an interesting issue. When Clinton was president, everything that went wrong was his fault, despite the fact the Republicans held a majority in the Senate, derailed government, and themselves voted the infamous tax hike.

But when Bush is the leader, nothing is his fault. Not the soaring budget deficit. Not the increasingly disastrous war in Iraq. Not the escalating setbacks in Afghanistan. Not the freedom of Osama bin Laden. Nothing. He can do no wrong. All problems are the result of other, extenuating circumstances. A truly impressive instance of compartmentalization.

Now we read that the same construction companies with contracts in Iraq have secured no-bid contracts to rebuild the infrastructure along the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. Bush's unprincipled political strategist Karl Rove has been appointed to oversee the reconstruction. What could be a more obvious example of corrupt cronyism than this? And yet, the Bush-supporters defiantly exclaim, "So what!" Or "Who cares?"

Saddest of all are the parents who have lost children to the war in Iraq, convinced that their loss must serve some higher purpose. That Bush would not deceive the nation--not like Clinton. That the U.S. is better off for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. That talk of corrupt no-bid reconstruction contracts are just the Bush-haters making noise. That it's better to fight the terrorists on their turf rather than here on American soil.

One can't argue with the logic behind this viewpoint. It's immutable and not open to any change of course. Some people call this attitude steadfast resolve and strength of character. Actually, it's more akin to stubborn ignorance tempered with cynicism. Even when confronted with the facts of failure and misguided decision-making, they are unable to change course. They are so proud of their single-minded clarity, their perceived courage, their resolve. History, they say, proves again and again that persistence pays off.

Persistence does pay off. But only when guided by reason, facts, and imagination. Bush is not persistent. He's just repetitious. And therefore stupid.

Friday, September 16, 2005


So, what's cookin' on the ol' Rove Stove these days? Bush announced last night in New Orleans that his top political strategist Karl Rove will head up the reconstruction of Jazz City and the Gulf Coast. Josh Marshall has an excellent post about this high-level graft.

The brazen, in-your-face cronyism of the reconstruction is truly astounding. Having made billions in Iraq (but with no success in actually restoring order to the country), the Bush-Cheney machine which includes Halliburton, Bechtel, and Kellogg Brown & Root, have been granted no-bid contracts to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Why is the news media not harping on this?

In addition, Bush suspended the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act guaranteeing fair pay for workers who labor in the reconstruction projects. That means that the poor who had no means to evacuate Katrina will be paid substandard salaries, apparently so the overclass Republicans can ensure that the workers remain poor. This is called compassionate conservatism.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


A quick thinking Reuters photographer snapped this little gem at the recent UN conference in which Emperor George explained to the world the vital necessity of combatting terrorism. While it's true there is considerable hypocrisy at the UN regarding human rights and terrorism, with countries like Syria chairing human rights commisions, the idea of Emperor George II lecturing the world about the need to combat terrorism is another instance of the pot calling the kettle black.

Dear George: Know anything about U.S.-sponsored terrorism in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile, Cambodia, Indonesia...?

The note was penciled for Secretary of State Condi Rice. It reads: "I think I may need a bathroom break."

Evidently, George is suffering from some cogntive dissonance regarding bodily functions: He thinks he may need a bathroom break.

Till now, I thought the various tasks of the Secretary of State were limited to matters of national interest in the international sphere and shopping for expensive shoes while the poor in New Orleans drown. Now we know: She's George's nanny.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


One of my favorite themes in Plato's philosophy is Socrates' distinction between myth and reality. Of course, Plato didn't mean by this distinction that myth is 'what you think' while reality is 'what you see', the intellect versus the senses. Quite the contrary. Plato favored the world of thinking, wisdom, and memory over the deceptive world of the senses. The intellect was literally 'in-formed' by the unchanging, absolute truth residing somewhere 'out there' in the heavenly cosmos. The perfect triangle, for example, does not and could never exist in the material world, no matter how accurate your protractor and straight edge; it can exist only in its transcendent Form.

Myth presented something of a problem for Plato. Here were stories of ancient Greece handed down orally and eventually recorded with the burgeoning technology known as writing. They weren't factual accounts, so they didn't really fall within the fallible realm of the material-sense world. And yet, they clearly weren't rational stories revealing an abiding logic or intelligent design, so to speak. But these stories were very effective with the masses.

In fact, Plato realizes that in drawing a blueprint for the ideal city-state in the Republic, myths would serve an invaluable purpose keeping the masses in line, what Socrates calls the iron and bronze class of farmers, artisans, and other producers and practitioners, who he considers incapable of comprehending the more complicated logic of philosophy.

It's no accident that Leo Strauss, who many believe to be the intellectual father of neoconservatism, was an avid admirer of Plato, and in particular his class-based design of the perfect republic. Strauss in fact draws a direct line from Plato to Machiavelli to himself as vanguards of the best form of realpolitik.

As much as I dislike Strauss and his neoconservative progeny who now dictate policy in Washington, it should now be obvious that he was on to a universal truth about the masses. That truth, which both Plato and Machiavelli knew so well, is that the people, a nation's masses, prefer myth over reality. That is, they will always choose the comfort and assurance of a myth rather than a complicated, gritty truth.

1) Most Americans prefer the myth that we live in a democracy; rather than the complicated, gritty truth that we live in a constitutional republic with the levers of power controled by big corporate interests.

2) Most Americans prefer the myth that going to war will unite the nation, vanquish our enemies and eliminate the 'evil doers'; rather than the complicated, gritty truth that going to war will cost thousands of lives, cost billions of dollars, traumatize an entire generation of soldiers' families, create more enemies abroad, divide the nation, and invite more terrorism.

3) Most Americans prefer the myth that they are middle class; rather than the complicated, gritty truth that they are working class, and that no matter how shiny the new kitchen, no matter how fancy the car, no matter how stylish the dress, no matter how articulate when speaking and writing, no matter how high the college education, they will forever remain working class.

4) Most Americans pefer the myth that the United States represents freedom and human rights to the rest of the world and that our government would never do anything morally wrong or evil or irreligious in the world; rather than the complicated, gritty truth that the U.S. government is an agressive, greedy imperial power that cares very little about human rights in the many regions it has invaded to protect coporate interests or shore up political image; places like Nicaragua, El Salvador, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Haiti, Angola, Guatemala, and Liberia, just to name a few.

There are many others; too many to recount here. The point is, from a political and sociological viewpoint, Plato was right: the masses do prefer myth over reality. It looks, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels so much better. And why should anyone want to not believe in these myths, dismantle them and confront the complicated, gritty truths of the human condition and respond to the call of conscience to make the world a better place?

"Would you hand me the remote. I want to see what's on TV."

Thursday, September 08, 2005


  • Halliburton reconstruction contracts along the Gulf Coast brokered before the search and rescue was complete.
  • FEMA funding to a predominantly Republican Florida county far south of hurricane destruction.
  • Staged presidential photo-ops with firefighters which halt rescue operations.
  • A press corp with little integrity not agressive enough in challenging White House comments.
  • Classism and racism among adminstration officials and conservative commentators so blatant one wonders just what it would take to rouse popular conscience.
Until now I've held out for positive political change in the United States, hoping that the Democrats would miraculously show some backbone and challenge the enormously corrupt Republicans as well as the pernicious ties between corporate influence and government. Today we learn that Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) chaired Michael Brown's confirmation hearing. Nice goin', Joe.

I had hoped for the mainstream news media (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS) to report the facts and and stop accepting verbatim adminstration talking points and counter-factuals, that, for example, Governor Blanco didn't call out the National Guard in time. She issued a state of emergency and alerted the Guard on Friday before the Hurricane hit.

I had hoped that working people who voted for Bush would finally snap out of the trance induced by conservative dogma and Rovian propaganda and see the truth of this adminstration's corruption, graft, greed, political cronyism, and all around inhumanity.

My hope for positive political change however is melting away. I'm beginning to think that the only path toward real change, absent greedy and inhumane corporate influence, absent phoney patriotism and outright lies from the White House, absent a party-line news media, with real men and women of integrity and moral conscience sitting in Congress and a President who isn't bone-deep stupid and led by the nose, necessitates something close to the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France.

I suspect, however, that if a revolution were to come, afterwards we would find that a Halliburton subsidiary constructed the guillotines, and is over-billing the new government.


What do you do when you're the nation's leader but it's obvious to most everyone you failed miserably at leading in a time of crisis? Well, you can flee the country and seek asylum on some far away island. Or you can tap Karl Rove and create an image counter to your obvious failure; you produce propaganda that, dare I say it, Joseph Goebbels would be proud of.

In the photo above, members of the New York Fire Department were ordered to appear next to the President in a contrived photo-op manufactured by the White House, obviously seeking to conjure up memories of Bush's (phoney and contrived) heroism in the wake of 9/11--a recreation of the famed 'bullhorn moment'. In fact, rescue operations had to cease during Bush's little stroll through the debris. Helicopter rescues especially were put on hold, as the airspace was cleared for the super-duper important guy.

Hey, what's more important? Saving lives or making the Emperor look good?

I've long been intrigued and bothered by the popular preference for myth over reality: the myth of popular democracy when what we really have is a constitutional republic guided by corporate interests; the myth of equal justice for all when what we have is a judicial system guided by racism, cronyism, and careerism; the myth of a government morally superior to the rest of the world when it invades foreign lands to protect or further corporate interest, slaughtering countless civilians (Iraqis, Vietnamese, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, Afghanis, etc).

So you thought in the wake of Katrina the dogged persistence and heroism of a few journalists signaled the end of the constant media parroting of White House lies, that we were bearing witness to a much needed and overdue sea change in reporting about American politics and the thoroughly unprofessional repetition of Rovian propaganda without responsible, journalistic fact-checking.

You'd be wrong. Myth over reality. Sadly, it seems to be the most popular course for this or any society. Reality, after all, is so gritty, complicated, unpromising, unpredictable, and uncompromising.

Update: it's worth noting that the U.S. government has barred journalists from accompanying search and rescue operations in New Orleans, or from photographing any of the retrieved corpses. Let's see how long it takes for journalists to dutifully oblige, tuck their tails, and say, "OK, Uncle Sam. You're the boss." After all, such journalism would be dirty, complicated and unpatriotic.

Double Not-So-Secret Update: Josh Marshall writes that CNN has filed a lawsuit against government agencies barring press coverage of victim retrieval.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


"Think Progress" has posted an excellent timeline of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans, beginning Friday, August 26, the day Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency. Evidently, Bush returned to Ranch Crawford on Tuesday evening, August 30. Secretary of State Condi Rice took in the U.S. Open and shopped for shoes in New York on Thursday, September 1. By Friday, Karl Rove's 'blame everyone else' strategy went into operation. In the meantime, hundreds if not thousands were stilled trapped without food, water, vital medicines, and safe refuge. Curiously, as Josh Marshall informs us at Talking Points Memo, Halliburton lobbyist Joe Allbaugh was already on the ground in Louisiana by September 1, coordinating private-sector reconstruction contracts.

Republican Priorities: First-Profit...Last-Human Life.


Chris Floyd over at Empire Burlesque has an excellent post which--if this were a sane, rational world--would put to rest once and for all the Bush team's spin and dodge of responsiblity regarding Katrina disaster response and relief efforts.

Snippet: "On Saturday, August 27, 2005--two days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall--President George W. Bush assumed responsibility for the coordination of 'all disaster relief efforts' in the State of Louisiana. This is the specific, undisputed language of Bush's declaration of a State of Emergency, issued that day by the White House, and still available for viewing on the White House website. The responsibility for coordinating all disaster relief efforts in New Orleans clearly rested with the White House."

Now what we need--again, if this were a sane, rational world--is one of the White House press corp to muster all of his or her intestinal fortitude, stand, and ask Scott McClelland why after the President's announcement he failed to show real leadership, rally the various aid organizations and the National Guard, and lead the emergency response and relief effort in New Orleans. It would, of course, be something of a rhetorical question because those of us who are in fact reality based know the answer: George W. Bush cannot lead. He is mentally, emotionally, and intellectually incapable of leading. He is, however, very good at mismanagement, lack of foresight, irresponsibility, myopic 'staying the course', and generalized failure.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Ever the spectacle, the U.S.'s Queen Mum, Barbara Bush, toured the Astrodome yesterday amid the sea of Katrina disaster victims. In an interview on APM's "Marketplace", she described the situation as " kind of scary" that "they all want to stay in Texas." Indeed, from the vantage point of American aristocracy, thousands of poor, displaced, homeless people who are very pissed off at the dubious 'Crown Prince' make a frightening constituency.

Do you hear that George II? Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because the rabble are not please. Not please at all.

The hurricane victims, who she described as "underprivileged anyway," have traded up from the squalid living conditions in New Orleans to cots and crowds in a sports arena, "so this is working very well for them."

Perhaps we could invite them all down to Galveston this December for the annual Dickens on the Strand. What with all the horse-drawn buggies, top hats, and velvet apparel, we simply don't have enough poor folk to really set the mood.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Just ask the Aardvark. He knows everything.
(About 26% of the time.)


Given the horror literally bubbling up in New Orleans, I was bracing for the inevitable fundamentalist Christian response that Mardi Gras headquarters is the new Sodom, a city of sin so despicable that God had brought his wrath down upon the evil-doers.

On cue, as noted by Max Blumental over at the Huffington Post, Rick Scarborough of Vision America and the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration has declared--evidently with divine insight--that the catastrophe is the result of homosexuality, bestiality, and the withdrawal of Israelis from Gaza.

See how cleverly these evils dovetail. This step from conjuries (a grouping of unrelated phenomena) to correlation and conceptual theme is, of course, a hallmark of the biblical text itself, but the myopia of right-wing "Christians" has perfected it to chilling inelegance. The contrast to a Joel Olsteen who speaks only of optimism, hopefulness, and respect for one's fellow man is remarkable and significant.


With Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett feeding the NY Times the usual spin and outright falsehoods (for example: Governor Blanco didn't declare a state-of-emergency to allow federal assistance sooner--false), we can see that all the fine talk among conservatives about personal accountability and responsibility are...well, just fine talk. Shrub the Puppet obviously has no moral compass: his staff directs him to do this and say that about Iraq and New Orleans, scores of people die, and yet he never once has owned up to his own or his administration's responsibility in making costly mistakes.

I wonder if there might be a tipping point in popular opinion about Bush. His supporters seem incapable of recognizing his mistakes, his inability to resolve crises (energy in California, war in Iraq, flooding in New Orleans), or his astonishing lack of real leadership. Poll numbers seem to be approaching some sort of watershed, but the spin machine has been pretty successful to date in reversing any defeating tides.

A note to conservatives: The Bush administration has not declared homosexuality illegal. It has not caught Osama bin Laden. It has not succeeded in dismantling Social Security. It has not addressed the problems of a failing nation-wide power grid. It has not secured the border with Mexico. And it has little control over the escalating cost of gasoline. What do you see in this guy? Are you really seduced by that phoney country lawyer routine?

Bush and his buddies have, however, run the national deficit up to its highest level ever. They've gotten the U.S embroiled in a very dire, entractable conflict in the Middle East. They've stood by while both North Korea and Iran develop nuclear capabilities. And they've done nothing to slow the one-way trade deficit with China. And yet, no one in this administration is capability--dare I say man enough--to admit to mistakes, and take responsibility for failures. A sign of cowardice and lack of character.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


I've spoken with a lot of people who keep asking the same question: "Why didn't the people of New Orleans just leave before the hurricane hit?" Everyone asking this question is either a solid member of the overclass, or one of those deluded proles who really and truly believes he or she is part of the A-crowd, even though they work 24/7 with only 1 week of vacation per year, have no country-club memberships, have neither academic of vocational tenure, and earn well-below $100,000 annually. This inquisitive crowd has no idea whatsoever about the realities, the day-to-day brutalities and even trauma, of the working poor in this country.

Yes, believe it or not, poor folk can't simply load up the SUV with a pullman filled with clean clothes and fine toiletries, and head out for an extended weekend at the Holiday Inn or Aunt Sally's ranch house in the country. In a phrase: they simply don't have the money or the resources.

Wake up! people. And smell the flood water.


Two major stories now dominate the news media: the wrath of Huricane Katrina and the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The two vying for air time exemplify perfectly the conflict of underclass versus overclass in America. There can be little doubt that the incompetence of government officials in responding to the catastrophe was nourished by an overclass contempt for the poor and destitute. And one wonders to what extent a huricane surivor stretched out on a cot in the Astrodome can impact the shape of the balance of the Supreme Court.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


The ailing Supreme Courst Chief Justic William Rehnquist has died. He was surely the most conservative member of the court.

Update: Bush is 'amending' his selection of John Roberts from Associate Justice (to replace Sandra Day O'Connor) to Chief Justice (to replace Rehnquist). The confirmation hearings have been postponed until after WR's funeral. This change of course alters the landscape of nomination, confimation and selection enormously. With Roberts being tapped to replace Rehnquist, Democrats could conceivably argue that the selection to replace O'Connor be far more moderate, and a woman. Blatantly obvious is that the aristocrats in the White House are making up their strategy as they go along. Let's remember that Roberts was considered to be on an ideological par with O'Connor, but now he's said to be right to fill Rehnquist's shoes. Ad hoc Supreme Court justice--just like the 2000 election.


It truly is astounding, the political merry-go-round blame game spinning at the speed of sound following the recent visit by one Katrina, possibly the worst huricane catastrophe to ever strike the United States.

There appear to be two dominant views of the human catastrophe in New Orleans: the personal and the bureaucratic. The victims and those who empathize with them are expressing a collective outrage at the powers-that-be for the appallingly belated response to the many-sided crisis. The Bush cronies at the helms of FEMA and Homeland Security, rather predictably, are unable to accept responsibility for their complete lack of leadership; they talk about the weather.

What will be the long-term effects of this disaster on American politics? It might seem that ineptitude among Republican leaders at the federal level might lead to Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008. Or possibly that the mistakes of Democratic leaders might lead to Republican victories.

The problem, as I see it, is one of class and race, underclass and overclass, and not left and right. Thus, what will be debated will be irreconcilable views of left and right, instead of the injustice and trauma of overclass indifference to the plight of the expanding underclass.

The Republicans have not succeeded so far in dismantling all of the New Deal, but they are at the helm and steering us into the flood waters of late nineteenth-century oligarchy. The catastrophe in New Orleans is analogous to a garment factory fire, with doors locked and windows barred.