Friday, December 31, 2004

U.S. Bests Canada in Tsunami Aid

The U.S. has finally donated more aid to the tsunami relief fund than hulking Canada. No, seriously.

Of course, the SCLM is doing its best to try and convince us that the initial tsunami aid offer was $35 million, not the $15 million that it actually was (or $4 million, if you believe the San Francisco Chronicle). But who you gonna believe - me, or your lyin' eyes?

This ABC News article doesn't mention the $15 million pledge, but remains factually true, proving that you don't need to explicitly lie to deceive:

The United States had pledged $35 million

Was there actually a pledge of $15 million, or did I just dream it up? Well, Reuters (UK) thinks the initial offer was $15 million.

The United States initially had committed $15 million, then raised its contribution to $35 million after U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland criticized rich nations such as the United States as "stingy" for cutting back on general aid funding even as the world economy was growing.

So does the San Francisco Chronicle.

White House officials bristled at the criticism, saying the initial commitment of aid -- $15 million on Monday, increasing to $35 million Wednesday -- was only a start toward what would be a multiyear, multibillion-dollar international relief and recovery effort.

Shoot, even...ABC News thinks so.

"I think politically they've done poorly," said Derek Mitchell, an expert in Asian affairs at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mitchell said the administration initially announced a contribution of just $15 million and said officials did not do enough to make clear that much more likely would be coming to help meet needs expected to reach into the billions.

(Wait. Didn't ABC News just imply that the initial offer was $15 million? Yes. I'm confused.)

I think politically they've done poorly," said Derek Mitchell, an expert in Asian affairs at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mitchell said the administration initially announced a contribution of just $15 million and said officials did not do enough to make clear that much more likely would be coming to help meet needs expected to reach into the billions.

David Shuster over at MSNBC implies that $35 million was the initial offer:

I appreciate that the 35 million our government is sending to Southeast Asia is just the beginning. And I'm confident the public and private contributions from the U.S. over the next few months will end up being a hundred times that.

But, the initial American government response to this disaster feels awfully empty.

This San Francisco Chronicle article gets it wrong - lies - whatever you want to call it (wait - didn't they just tell us it was $15 million? yes. don't ask me - I just work here):

The pledge of $350 million is a tenfold increase in the initial $35 million U.S. assistance package that critics called miserly considering America's vast wealth.

CNN implies that $35 million was the initial amount. Reuters (huh?? didn't they just...yes.) misleads us, as well. As does the Washington Post.

So, many papers are telling us many different things. Is there a pattern? Well, Reuters, ABC News, and the San Francisco Chronicle all told us it was initially $15 million. Then, after the White House told them to rewrite history, they followed their marching orders and started misleading their readers to believe the initial offer was $35 million - not $15 million. That's the pattern. When the White House speaks - the SCLM listens. Talk about your revisionist history.

Don't think this is an isolated incident. This stuff happens with *your* press ALL THE TIME. Think about the Administration changing their stated reasons for invading Iraq. That's one of the best cases I can think of, but the list is long. Trust me.

One interesting factoid I found while Googling some articles was this. Canada's initial donation amount was $4 million. Then they jumped up to $40 million, which outdid America's $35 million. Profoundly embarrassed by the world, including Canada, France, Britain, and Sweden - all of whom had pledged more than the U.S. at the point of our new $35 million pledge, the Bush Administration finally upped our pledge to $350 million.

The San Francisco Chronicle's $4 million initial offer claim is probably credible - because Reuters says the same thing, but there were no press conferences and Powell's getting up on stage acting all generous and all the other self-congratulatory stuff that came with this rich white (and not-so-black) guys vacuuming $15 million taxpayer dollars out of our pockets.

The United States expects to initially pledge $4 million in aid for victims of the devastating tsunami in Asia and has already released $100,000 to each of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, an official said on Monday.

Why the big deal about what the initial amount was? Well, the UN guy who called 'the West' a bunch of cheapos was reacting to the U.S.'s initial pledge of $15 million. Let me say that again. Well, you get the point. If the initial pledge had been $35 million, then this UN might not have come out and blasted everyone for being a bunch of tightwads. His criticism is what got the world condemning the U.S. - and finally got Bush to give us some ching. So, the UN guy's criticism ended up costing U.S. taxpayers, and it ended up costing another blow to America's once-vaunted reputation, and it costs Bush some political capital here at home and abroad, but it probably will save thens of thousands of livesin southeast Asia.

International aid for disasters? Of course. But international 'development aid' and 'foreign investments' and 'democracy operations' and other assorted grab-bags of U.S. international treachery? Fuck no.


UPDATE: I should clarify my position on foreign 'aid' - both of the type that actually does aid, as well as the stuff that terrorizes. It is, or should not be, the responsibility of my government to donate my money to foreign countries. However, in keeping with longstanding policy, I would argue that a good use of our money in this case, both morally and practically (world opinion/defense/etc.), would be for our government to donate relief aid to the tsunami victims. However, I would strongly support a gradual pullback of state (government) support for giving my money away - allowing private U.S.-based institutions the time necessary to build infrastructure to handle these aid efforts - via private citizen donations - in the future.

And, once again, it looks as though only the U.S. public will think they are world-beaters in the generosity department. The fact that tiny Australia (and Germany) has surpassed us in donations will be lost in the shuffle of Bush's massively magnanimous $10,000 donation. Gotta love the U.S. prop...I mean, media.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Mid-Atlantic Laptop Battle

This looks pretty cool. Feb 12, 2005. At DC-9. seems to be the place to go for info on the movement. They define the laptop battle as:


>The laptop battle is a competitive event for laptop musicians to match their skills against one another. Battles are chosen randomly and conducted in 3 minute rounds. A panel of judges decides which contestant advances to the next round, single elimination style.

> It's a fusion of sound design, composition and stage performance, and a chance for laptop musicians to prove their skills in battle and develop techniques and strategies.

Might just have to go check that mess out. I've been to at least one bar where the bartender will run his own personal collection of laptop music - pumped out through the bar's speaker system. This laptop battle thing seems like the next logical step.

Let's get it on!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

This is War

I'm often dumbfounded by folks who are pro-war. That is, pro any war. It seems very obvious to me that they've bought into the myth.

I would consider going to war in order to stop genocides and the like, but it would be a tough moral decision. Is it my right to sacrifice U.S. soldiers' lives for the greater good of the Sudanese people, for instance? No. But is it right to stand by and watch as hundreds of thousands of people are raped and murdered? No.

How would I deal with the situation in Sudan, for instance - yet another genocide occurring on America's watch, while the American people and the American government pretend to care about such things? I would intensely pressure the world to collectively threaten the leaders of the Sudanese government. I would send an unambiguous message to those leaders that they will be held to account for their crimes, that the world is watching, and that the U.S. would take the lead in bringing justice to those leaders, by any means necessary. We will work tirelessly, around the clock, to bring them to justice, and we will not stop - ever, until they are brought to justice. We have the resources and the determination. Trust us, I'd say, we will bring you to justice.

My guess is that those leaders would stop raping and killing immediately. If they did not stop, which is probably not even realistic considering America's potential moral and fighting power under valid, courageous leadership, I would move immediately to get the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for the leadership of Sudan. Once issued, I would demand the leadership turn themselves in. If they did not turn themselves in I would, only then, consider using airstrikes, or other military/para-military forces to arrest and/or kill those leaders responsible for the crimes. That is legitimacy - that is the correct way to enforce humanity - should we decide to do such a thing.

But the point of this post is that war is not pretty, as U.S. television depicts it. It is sadistic and brutal, and the decision to enter into war should not be taken lightly - as so many Americans seem to have done with this Iraq War. My diatribe, most-often internalized when I read yet another brutal war story, goes something like this:

War is not just killing. That's the easy part. War is rape, murder, brutality, torture, inhumanity, severe mental anguish, families being torn apart. It's the most morally disgusting thing that the human race could ever aspire to.

War is not just killing. Killing is easy. It's clean. You fire a couple of bullets and it's over. But that's only one tiny part of the story. The other part of the story is what happens if the gunshot victim doesn't die right away. What if he suffers intensely, for days, before he expires? Is that human? Is that fair? What if he's a 19-year old private from Kansas - a low-level grunt in an old, white guy's war? Does that teenager deserve to suffer intensely for days on end because his country sent him to war?

And what happens to the soldier who did the killing when he steps out of the war zone and realizes he's taken a human life? He, too, will suffer intense pain - this time, though, it's emotional. He'll most likely suffer from PTSD - for months or years, get denied care by his government - the U.S. government. He might lose his wife and kids. He might lose his mind. He might kill his wife and kids. He might kill himself.

And what happens when some place has no security force? What happens to the women of the town? They're raped. Brutally. Especially young girls. Especially women and girls whose male family members have been killed and therefore are unable to defend the women of their family. The women may be enslaved - sex slaves - for a small group or an entire battallion of soldiers. The women may be killed for failing to submit to their new duty. And what happens if the war eventually ends and the women are allowed to go free? Where will they go? What will they do? What culture would have a Muslim woman whose been raped hundreds or thousands of times, who may or may not have children by one or more of the hundreds of men she's been forced to have sex with?

And what of the children in a war? Do you think they'll somehow just magically be taken care of in the mêlée? How many will be left to fend for themselves? How many will beg for food? How many will be homeless? How many will just be shot to be gotten rid of? How many will be raped? How many will be forced into slave labor - possibly sexual slave labor - both boys and girls?

And how many people will starve to death? How many people will be terrorized in the lawlessness that is a part of a war zone, whether or not you see it on American television, whether or not it's glorious, whether or not you choose to believe it's patriotic to believe that 'messy things' happen during war?

That is war. Rape, murder, mayhem, inhumanity. The anti-God. Everything that is corrupt and despicable and horrific. If you vote for war on patriotic grounds, as was the Iraq War, you are a moral coward - at least - possibly a moral criminal. War is not clean killing and body counts - that's just the part they talk about. The ugly part of war is out there, and it's more true and more horrific and more pervasive than you could ever imagine - you just have to open your eyes to it.

That is what I think of when I read a story like this. I contemplate the naiveté and cowardice of those who promote war on patriotic or nationalistic or idiotic or inhuman grounds. A story like this works to break the stranglehold 'the myth' has on those moral cowards who are enamored of war:

Williams was stationed with a team on a rooftop nearby, overlooking the same road. Both heard the combat radio crackle with a report that a dump truck was depositing bombs along the road. When a dump truck appeared, the order came to fire on it.

After a withering barrage, a man emerged from the truck and ran toward the Americans. Some soldiers on the rooftop testified that he appeared to be waving something white. Someone shouted for the man to stop and he obeyed.

"He was trying to inform us that we were shooting a truck full of children," said Pfc. Gary Romriell. "He was unarmed. I didn't take him as hostile."

Moments later, the rooftop took gunfire from the opposite direction. Another squad member testified that the color of the tracer rounds indicated the shooting may have been coming from other U.S. troops. Williams ordered his team to resume firing on the truck.

"What should we do with this guy?" Spec. Tulafono Young testified that he asked Williams, referring to the man standing in the street.

"Light him up," Williams replied, according to Young and others. That order led to one of the three murder charges Williams faces.

"Mister, no more, no more," implored another passenger of the truck who was unscathed.

"My gut instinct was . . . the wrong vehicle got shot," Horne, who described having a sinking feeling as he approached the truck, said during un-sworn testimony to a sentencing panel.

He saw "a bunch" of Iraqis on the ground, two of whom were dead. He pulled one young survivor from the burning truck, then reached into the flames toward a teenager still breathing despite wounds so horrible his insides spilled out as Horne turned him over, he said. The Los Angeles Times identified him as Hassan, 16.

"There was nothing I could do for him," Horne said.

Minutes later, as fellow soldiers tended to less seriously wounded civilians, Staff Sgt. Cardenas Alban of Carson, Calif., shot Hassan, according to testimony. Horne acknowledged he fired a moment later. The boy's rattled breathing stopped. Alban is awaiting a hearing on a murder charge. Horne, whom an Army investigator praised as candid and forthcoming, was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday.

Of course, the victims here are many. My diatribe didn't mention that young soldiers go to jail, have felony convictions slapped against them, and are dishonorably discharged from the military when the military actually decides to prosecute a few lackeys to keep the heat off the higher-ups, like Rumsfeld.

The innocent kid who was killed? Yeah - his guts really did fall out of his body when he was rolled-over. Ever seen someone's guts fall out? Yeah, me neither, but I've seen some pictures, and it ain't pretty. I imagine seeing something like that would haunt one for the rest of one's life. But that's just me.

My diatribe didn't mention spilled guts and criminal convictions, but it's all a part of war, and it's what you vote for when you vote for war. And I didn't mention those soldiers who have a 'crisis of conscience' and actually report war crimes their fellow troops have committed. They are bound by duty and law to report, yet they are bound by a sense of loyalty to remain silent. Should they finally come forward and report, which they should, they may be threatened or even killed - even after they've come back stateside. Some of this happened in this story - but it happens, more often than you ever thought possible.

Dollars, Sense and Social Security

I wrote to one of two profs who penned an article on Social Security privatization for an LA Times op-ed. I skimmed it and the final sentence sounded a little bizarre - so re-read it, then again, then the whole article one more time, and eventually I decided that the authors were probably being dishonest - as most Republicans are. Professor Mitchell is supposed to be a democrat, but so is Joementum:

I didn't accuse anyone, but I did ask for an explanation:

Professor Mitchell,

Your article in the LA Times ends with this:

To get the ball rolling, we should start by recognizing the costs of doing nothing and the consequences of inaction.

The wording is confusing - possibly misleading. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it would seem that the 'costs of doing nothing' are, in fact, nothing. Right? Or wrong?

If these costs are not nothing, what might they be? And, are these costs different from the 'consequences of inaction'? This final statement certainly makes it seem as if these 'costs' and 'consequences' are different sets of entities.

It seems the sentence might have been more clearly stated, if I correctly understand the intent of the writers, as:

To get the ball rolling, we should start by recognizing the costs of doing nothing and the consequences of [doing nothing].

This new, less-confusing sentence could be said more concisely as:

To get the ball rolling, we should start by recognizing the costs and consequences of doing nothing.

Or even moreso as:

To get the ball rolling, we should start by recognizing the costs of doing nothing.

Or even:

To get the ball rolling, we should start by recognizing the consequences of doing nothing.

I'm just really confused. With the statement as currently worded, it seems as if you take the view that 'costs' and 'consequences' are only applicable to the option which chooses to not endure the immediate costs of privatizing social security - which would be absurd on its face - but further, it would be contradicted by the preceding line in your article:

Americans need a clear understanding of the situation and the costs and benefits of reform.

This line accurately points out that there are no free lunches - but only one of the options - that of 'doing nothing' - the same as that of 'inaction' - is painted as being costly or as having consequences.

I can only think of three possible reasons for this last sentence's structure:
1) Printing/editing/authoring mistake/oversight;
2) I need to brush up on my reading comprehension skills;
3) or You/co-author deliberately used this rhetorical twist to make a case for privatizing.

I was unable to locate an email address for your co-author.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Book reading: What's the matter with Kansas?

Politics & Prose advertised the event like this:

Monday, December 6, 7 p.m.
Thomas Frank
What's the Matter With Kansas? (How Conservatives Won the Heart of America)
(Holt, $24)
Why do the people of Kansas, who openly embraced abolition, populism, and socialism, now vote conservative? "Even as Republican economic policy laid waste to the city's industries, unions, and neighborhoods, the townsfolk responded by lashing out on cultural issues..." Frank blames many factors, including Democratic fundraising objectives that target affluent professionals.

Several hundred people all packed in the bookstore - standing room only. Lots of Dems wanted to know how the heck they lost the last election. Frank was very entertaining.

And the usually-liberal and talkative question-makers in the crowd were, as per usual, outrageously self-absorbed in their diatribes-posing-as-questions to Frank. Un-fucking-believable, these people.

This event was supposed to have been filmed by CSPAN, but I didn't find a link for it on the CSPAN site. I did, however, find this CSPAN link to Frank's appearance on Washington Journal.