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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Saturday, 31 July 2004

Topic: The Law

Alabama: Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere

Note this - the official Alabama motto -
"Audemus jura nostra defendere" has been translated as: "We Dare Maintain Our Rights" or "We Dare Defend Our Rights." This Latin phrase is on the state coat of arms completed in 1923.

According to a Birmingham News-Age Herald article by Marie Bankhead Owen (the director of the state Archives) dated April 23, 1939, she came upon the idea while searching for "a phrase that would interpret the spirit of our peoples in a terse and energetic sentence." A part of a poem entitled "What Constitutes a State?" by the 18th-century author Sir William Jones found in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations includes the stanza "Men who their duties know. But know their rights, and knowing, dare maintain." The motto was translated into Latin by Professor W. B. Saffold, of the University of Alabama.
And thereby hangs a tale...

CHAPTER ONE: The Manufacturer Cheers

Good Vibrations Celebrates Lift of Alabama Sex Toy Ban
Names Sex Toy "The Alabama Slammer"
San Francisco, CA -- October 3, 2002 -- An Alabama law banning the sale of sex toys was struck down this month by a federal judge as a violation of the right to privacy. "The fundamental right of privacy, long recognized by the Supreme Court as inherent among our constitutional protections, incorporates a right to sexual privacy," said U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith Jr.

To celebrate this triumphant occasion, legendary San Francisco-based sex toy store Good Vibrations has re-named a popular bright red personal massager "The Alabama Slammer." Sex toy-starved Alabama residents can reclaim their right to own vibrators, dildos and other adult products by purchasing the vibrant red Alabama Slammer -- or any other Good Vibrations merchandise -- at a 15% discount during the month of November.

For the last four years Good Vibrations has supported the American Civil Liberties Union case against the Alabama sex toy ban. The 1998 law -- part of a package of legislation strengthening the state's obscenity law -- banned the sale of devices designed for "the stimulation of human genital organs."

In 2000, as part of an effort to raise awareness around the Alabama legislation, Good Vibrations collected an emergency supply of sex toys and collected nearly $10,000 worth of product from generous vendors to distribute to the unfortunate, toy-less masses in Alabama.

Good Vibrations, the "clean well-lighted place to buy sex toys," supports every person's right to sexual pleasure. Throughout the ban Good Vibrations argued that sex toys are not obscene and sexual gratification is indeed a basic human right.

As Good Vibrations Sexologist and author Dr. Carol Queen says, "Alabama may have maintained that 'there is no fundamental right to purchase a product to use in pursuit of having an orgasm,' but we strongly disagree, and have for the last four years. What exactly do they think the constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness means?"
I'm not sure the Founding Fathers had these products in mind. But the idea is clear - the government has no business legislating here. This is all a personal matter.

The counterargument might be that the state has a compelling interest in banning certain activities, no matter how private, as such activities create a permissive and perverse mindset or attitude that can do real, substantial and irreparable harm to the general good. Proving that certain harm might be difficult. Asserting that harm is not difficult. I suspect the idea is that sexual activity that is not directed toward procreation is a real problem. It leads to the breakdown of the family - the basic social unit. And that hurts everyone. Thus we should stop such private activity.

CHAPTER TWO: The Legislature Acts and Refuses to Remove the Ban

Link Expired - April 29, 2003 - Associated Press
The Alabama House voted against a bill Tuesday that would have removed a ban on sexual devices, such as vibrators, from the state's obscenity law. ....

A federal district judge in Birmingham has twice ruled that the ban is unconstitutional. The first ruling was overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the second ruling has been appealed to the appeals court.

... The sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said because of the court ruling, the obscenity law is unenforceable as long as it contains the ban on sex toys....

With little serious discussion, the House voted 37-28 to leave the sex toys ban in state law, leaving Rogers standing at the microphone shaking his head. "What you just did is make our obscenity law illegal. You voted for obscenity,'' Rogers shouted at lawmakers.
Huh?

But I see what Rogers means. Leave this ban on these gizmos in the law and then the whole anti-obscenity law remains unconstitutional.

Well, they left the ban on these gizmos in the law - they thought it was important to the welfare of the state's citizens.

To hell with the courts!

CHAPTER THREE: The Stunning Reversal as a Federal Appeals Court Rules - The Constitution Does NOT Include a Right to Sexual Privacy

11th Circuit upholds Alabama sex toy ban
Jay Reeves - The Associated Press 7/28/2004, 5:22 p.m. CT
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a 1998 state law banning the sale of sex toys in Alabama, ruling the Constitution doesn't include a right to sexual privacy.

In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the state has a right to police the sale of devices including electronic vibrators and other products meant to stimulate the sex organs.

"If the people of Alabama in time decide that a prohibition on sex toys is misguided, or ineffective, or just plain silly, they can repeal the law and be finished with the matter," the court said. "On the other hand, if we today craft a new fundamental right by which to invalidate the law, we would be bound to give that right full force and effect in all future cases including, for example, those involving adult incest, prostitution, obscenity, and the like."

Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett disagreed, writing that the decision was based on the "erroneous foundation" that adults don't have a right to consensual sexual intimacy and that private acts can be made a crime in the name of promoting "public morality."

"This case is not, as the majority's demeaning and dismissive analysis suggests, about sex or about sexual devices. It is about the tradition of American citizens from the inception of our democracy to value the constitutionally protected right to be left alone in the privacy of their bedrooms and personal relationships," Barkett wrote in her dissent.
Yeah, but she's a woman and thus may own, or even use one of these gizmos.

Note the court is saying that asserting this hypothetical Constitutional right to sexual privacy - by ruling that there may be such a right - they would be opening the doors to all sorts of evils like incest, prostitution, and, who knows, possibly sex with box turtles. It's that slippery slope, or slippery gizmo in this case.

CHAPTER FOUR: TBD

Above the federal appeals courts sit the nine justices of the US Supreme Court. Will the ACLU and the Good Vibrations folks find a way to move this up to the ultimate panel?

Can you imagine the oral arguments? (Don't even THINK it!) What a hoot! Scalia and Clarence Thomas (oh my!) discussing the "The Alabama Slammer" while Sandra Day O'Conner rolls her eyes? Maybe Anita Hill could argue the case for the ACLU and the Good Vibrations Corporation.

This could be great fun.

The moral Christian right conservatives in Alabama would have then made things difficult for the ruling Republican leaders of our country. Their mantra is keep government out of our lives. But does that mean an adventurous woman, alone at home, cannot make use of "The Alabama Slammer" because the government says so? Which is it - less government intrusion, or government mandated private behavior? Make up your mind.

What a pickle!

I can't believe I said that.

Posted by Alan at 20:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Friday, 30 July 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

You won't see Dick, unless you say the magic words...

This is just too cool!

Say you find yourself in Albuquerque this weekend. Why you would be in New Mexico is not relevant. Just say you are.

Dick Cheney will be in town - giving a rousing speech in defense of the administration. And say, hypothetically, you want to see this guy who works for us all, at the right hand of our president. And yes, we all pay him to do that with our tax dollars.

Well, this gets a bit tricky. It seems you must sign a sort of loyalty other to get in the door - saying that you "endorse Bush for reelection" [sic] and, additionally, that you consent to have your named listed by the Bush-Cheney Reelection Committee as an "endorser of President Bush."

I'm not sure this applies to the press covering the event, but probably not.

Read all about it here:
Obtaining Cheney Rally Ticket Requires Signing Bush Endorsement
Jeff Jones, The Albuquerque Journal, Friday, July 30, 2004

The gist of it?
Some would-be spectators hoping to attend Vice President Dick Cheney's rally in Rio Rancho this weekend walked out of a Republican campaign office miffed and ticketless Thursday after getting this news:

Unless you sign an endorsement for President George W. Bush, you're not getting any passes.

The Albuquerque Bush-Cheney Victory office in charge of doling out the tickets to Saturday's event was requiring the endorsement forms from people it could not verify as supporters.

State Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell, speaking on behalf of the Republican Party, said Thursday that a "known Democrat operative group" was intending to try to crash Saturday's campaign rally at Rio Rancho Mid-High School. He added that some people were providing false names and addresses and added that tickets for the limited-seating event should go to loyal Bush backers.

However, some who left the office off Osuna NE without tickets on Thursday said they're not affiliated with an operative group and should have a right to see their vice president without pledging their allegiance to Bush.

"I'm outraged at this. I'm being closed off by my own government. It's crazy," said East Mountains resident Pamela Random, who added that she is an unaffiliated voter.

John Wade of Albuquerque said he initially signed the endorsement but was having second thoughts before he even left the office. Wade, a Democrat, said he returned his tickets and demanded to get his endorsement form back.

"It's not right for me to have to sign an endorsement to hear (Cheney) speak," Wade said. "I'm still pissed. This just ain't right."
Why not? It is a Republican Party event.

You may have a right to hear just what your elected officials say about what they're doing and why they're doing it - but this may not be, really, a public forum.

It seems one John Sanchez, who is chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election efforts in the area said he wasn't aware of the endorsement matter - and the item quotes him as saying he wouldn't be surprised if this was happening - but he said too that he works directly for the Bush-Cheney campaign and the rally is a Republican National Committee event.

Ah, two different organizations! John Sanchez isn't touching this one.

Of course the Kerry-Edwards folks issued a news release that asked, "Shouldn't all New Mexicans have the right to see their VP?" Yeah, but do they really want to see him?

And there's this -
Moses Mercado, head of the Kerry-Edwards campaign in New Mexico, was in Boston on Thursday for the Democratic National Convention. He challenged Republicans to open their event "to all New Mexicans."

"I love when they come to New Mexico, but I wish they'd talk to New Mexicans and let New Mexicans hear their plan," Mercado said. "Because I think they (New Mexicans) really are hungry. They want answers."

Foley countered that Republicans weren't invited to Kerry's nomination-acceptance speech Thursday evening at that convention. "This is a political event-- just like (Thursday night)," Foley said of Cheney's upcoming visit.

He said the Rio Rancho event is intended to "energize" Bush-Cheney supporters, and organizers don't want it disrupted. "We've received dozens and dozens of calls from Kerry-Edwards (supporters) who have used deceitful tactics to try and get in and disrupt this event," he said. "Our supporters have worked too hard to have an event like this get disrupted."

Security for Cheney's visit is exceptionally tight. There will be no parking at the school where he is to speak: rally participants will instead be shuttled to the event. Those without tickets, including protesters, are to be in a designated area across from the school.
So let's see here.... The big theme of the Democratic Convention this week was that we're all in this together, we're all Americans, so let all voices be heard (especially ours as you've been saying for almost three years now that those with questions and criticisms and suggestions are really on the side of the fanatical Islamic terrorists who want to kill everyone in the western world because they hate our freedoms.)

And this? A key policy-maker whose salary we all pay? We cannot hear what he has to say? We have to wait for a time when he chooses a neutral venue?

Most curious.

Add what you will here about Bush, Cheney, and yes Scalia, and a need for control and obedience - and a real loathing of any criticism from the little people who don't count. No need to belabor the point here. It's pretty obvious.

Okay? Got that out of your system?

And no, you didn't want to go to this rally, really. But New Mexico is really a pretty nice place and you could visit in happier and less contentious times - and really enjoy it.

Now is not the time. Be quiet. Say no sharp words. Go about your business.

Posted by Alan at 15:53 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: Political Theory

No one is neutral as you are with us or with the evil doers...

M?decins sans fronti?re ("Doctors Without Borders") became the first major aid agency to quit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. That was Wednesday of this week.

I came across this odd comment from Jeff Stivers in an MSNBC column -
For the inside scoop on why Medecins sans Frontiers (pardon my mangled French) left Afghanistan, go check out some French papers. Or something filed by AFP. The main reason they left was because U.S. troops were issuing leaflets saying medical help would be withheld unless people started turning in, or ratting out, those the U.S. considers terrorists. MSF thought that to be very dangerous to their personnel. To say nothing of offensive. And I think they are right on both counts.
What?

We take this you're with-us-or-against us stuff to the medical level? Cooperate or no medical treatment for you, you evil one? And you doctors? You cannot be neutral. You are with us or against us - so make your choice.

No, that couldn't be.

The Associated Press wire on this says this is, well, kind of so.

Doctors aid group leaves Afghanistan over security
Stephen Graham - Associated Press Writer - 07/29/04
KABUL, Afghanistan - Medecins Sans Frontieres became the first major aid agency to quit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, saying Wednesday that the government failed to act on evidence that local warlords were behind the murder of five of its staff.

The Nobel prize-winning medical relief group, also known as Doctors Without Borders, denounced the U.S. military's use of aid to persuade Afghans to snitch on insurgents, saying it risked turning all relief workers into targets. It was also dismayed that Taliban rebels tried to claim responsibility for the June 2 attack on its staff.

''We feel that the framework for independent humanitarian action in Afghanistan at present has simply evaporated,'' said Kenny Gluck, MSF's director of operations. There is a ''lack of respect for the safety of aid workers.''

The withdrawal of Medecins Sans Frontieres, which had 80 international volunteers and 1,400 Afghan staff in the country before the June attack, is the most dramatic example yet of how poor security more than two years after the fall of the Taliban is hampering the delivery of badly needed aid.

More than 30 aid workers have been killed here since March 2003, rendering much of the south and east off-limits.

... A purported Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, and accused the victims of working for American interests - a shock to MSF, which relies on neutrality to protect staff who venture into war zones.

... The aid group ... called on the U.S. military to halt its expanding use of humanitarian work to win over skeptical Afghans.

U.S. and NATO troops are running a string of so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams across the country, setting up clinics, digging wells and doing other work normally carried out by civilians.
The military apologized in May for distributing leaflets telling Afghans that they had to provide information on militants if they wanted assistance to continue.

Blurring the distinction ''puts all aid workers in danger,'' MSF secretary-general Marine Buissonniere said.

The U.S. military said the protests were misguided.

''We don't put anyone in danger,'' spokesman Maj. Jon Siepmann said. Many aid groups were working effectively alongside American troops, he said. Others ''need to direct their concern towards the Taliban, towards al-Qaida. We do nothing here but help.''
Summary? It got too dangerous. And one of the reasons it got too dangerous was that there was lots of talk floating around - from us - that all this aid and medical stuff was fine, but unless the locals got serious about giving up the evil ones among them, there was going to no more of it.

Medecins Sans Frontieres wanted to be neutral - and just provide medical services in one sorry part of the world. We maintain no one is neutral. So they left, before more of them died.

The AFP- the French press agency - late in the week had only a brief item on its English language service. And it contained this -
The United States said it "regretted" a decision by Medecins Sans Frontieres to pull out of Afghanistan for security reasons and asked the aid organization to reconsider the move.

At the same time, the State Department denied MSF charges that U.S.-led stabilization forces now in Afghanistan were using humanitarian aid to further political and military goals.

In announcing the move, MSF, known in English as Doctors without Borders, blamed the Afghan government for failing to protect aid workers and chase militants who killed five of its staff last month.

It also accused the U.S.-led forces of blurring the boundaries between aid workers and military personnel and "endangering the lives of humanitarian workers and jeopardizing aid to people in need."
Well, this all begs the question. Can medicine be neutral in a time of war, or ever, really? Isn't caring for the sick or injured or halt or lame or all the rest, really, a political act? What if the fellow you fix-up and make all better is someone who knows someone who is a bad guy? Have you, the doctor who treated him, not then become one of these terrorists yourself?

Interesting questions.

___

The French Press?

Afghanistan : M?decins sans fronti?res plie bagage
Le Figaro - 28 juil 2004
Cela faisait presque vingt-quatre ans que M?decins sans fronti?res (MSF) y ?tait implant?. Mais hier, l'organisation a annonc? ...

Les humanitaires en crise identitaire
Lib?ration - 28 juil 2004
Deux mois apr?s l'assassinat de cinq de ses collaborateurs en Afghanistan, M?decins sans fronti?res a annonc? hier le retrait de ses ?quipes du pays ?pour ...

M?decins sans fronti?res va quitter l'Afghanistan
Nouvel Observateur - 28 juil 2004
KABOUL (AP) -- M?decins sans fronti?res (MSF) a annonc? mercredi son d?part d'Afghanistan, apr?s le meurtre de cinq de ses employ?s d?but juin. ...

Afghanistan: MSF quitte le pays
France 2 - 28 juil 2004
MSF, suite ? l'assassinat d?but juin de cinq de ses employ?s dans le nord-ouest de l'Afghanistan, a annonc? mercredi sa d?cision de se retirer. ...

M?decins sans fronti?re se retire d'Afghanistan
L'Express - 27 juil 2004
KABOUL (AFP - 07:32) - L'organisation humanitaire M?decins sans fronti?re (MSF) va se retirer d'Afghanistan, suite ? l'assassinat d?but juin de cinq de ses ...

And so on...

Posted by Alan at 15:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Thursday, 29 July 2004

Topic: Photos

The End of July

From Hollywood looking at downtown Los Angeles, across a carpet of palm trees.


Posted by Alan at 21:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: Political Theory

Book Notes: Social Darwinism as seen from Pasadena

Previously in Cain's Question I briefly mentioned a conversation I had with a good friend of mine who is a conservative Republican. We had been talking about particular laws we have here in this country that are explicitly intended to make life more fair. And as I said, my conservative friend told me all these laws about fairness in hiring and education - all that civil right legislation that started with the 1964 Civil Right Act - were stupid. His contention was that good people with ambition will rise to the top anyway. They don't need such laws. And those who aren't good people, who are not "assuming personal responsibility for their own lives," then, because of such laws, end up feeling as if they ate entitled to stuff everyone else has to earn on his or her own. It's not fair. In addition, such laws just hobble business and schools that want to be, simply, what they want to be, no matter what "big government" thinks they should be or says how they the think these business and schools should act - such laws take away their rights, to hire or admit whomever they want. It's not fair.

This is, as I see it, pretty simple Social Darwinism. He says it's not - and says some laws are clearly necessary, but they have horrible secondary consequences by creating this giant pool of people who feel they are entitled to some sort of free ride and learn that there is no advantage in doing anything for themselves. Such laws help and hurt. They offer some relief to a few who actually need help, and at the same time create a general culture of wining professional victims who take advantage of those who labor honestly and succeed. He says this all started long before LBJ and the Civil Rights laws. He said to me FDR did immeasurable harm to this country with Social Security and the WPA and all the stuff he started during the Great Depression. Roosevelt was the man who really ruined America, and we're still trying to recover. I disagreed, and then we drank a lot more. We're still friends.

Well, unfortunately for my friend, this is the week for the return of Social Darwinism - as a topic for national discussion.

John Powers' new book, "Sore Winners (And the Rest of Us) in George Bush's America," is about to be published. (Doubleday - Hardcover - July 2004 - $24.95 - ISBN 0-385-51187-6)

Who is John Powers? He's deputy editor of LA Weekly. He writes a weekly media/culture column called "On." He is also critic-at-large for NPR's Fresh Air - and was interviewed on his new book there. That Terry Gross interview from July 28 is here. Powers has been the film critic for Vogue as well as an international correspondent for Gourmet. He lives out here in Pasadena - not far from my conservative friend in Eagle Rock.

The world of book promotion being what it is, and given his current job, well, Powers gets the cover of this week's LA Weekly. Local boy makes good.

The item is a long excerpt from the new book.

Sore Winners (and the Rest of Us) in George Bush's America
John Powers, LA Weekly, Issue of July 30 - August 5, 2004

The item gives a long history of Social Darwinism - with a discussion of key figures beyond Darwin himself, and is worth a read. On the other hand, I rather like the details of history - who wrote what and who said what, and who said things back to them. You may not.

Powers is, however, best when her talks about the here and now - and the emphases below are mine -
It's long been part of our national self-image that Americans are Good Winners. When Yankee soldiers triumphed over Burgoyne's army at the 1777 Battle of Saratoga, British prisoners were impressed by the victors' polite silence -- there was no gloating or jeering. When U.S. troops entered Germany after World War II, they didn't indulge in an orgy of rape as did the Soviets but helped rebuild the country, winning a caricatured reputation for being beaming men with chocolate bars. And when the U.S. Olympic hockey team won its famous "Do you believe in miracles?" victory over the Soviets in Lake Placid in 1980, the players exulted in their triumph without getting in the Russians' faces.

In truth, no country always behaves well in victory. Sometimes our Winners have been gentlemanly; at others, vulgar and ruthless. Just ask the foreign basketball players flattened by Charles Barkley at the Barcelona Olympics. During the heyday of Social Darwinism, capitalists worked people to death without the slightest qualm and made no apology for it -- try to form a union and goons would come after you with clubs. Meanwhile, the rich exulted in their wealth. The delightfully named Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish held a 1904 dinner party in honor of her dog, which turned up in a $15,000 diamond collar at a time when the average annual income was $380. Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller explained his fortune to a Sunday school class by declaring, "God gave me the money."

The Bush years may be the coarsest period in our nation's history since those days. To my amazement, I sometimes find myself nostalgic for the comparatively modest ill manners of the Reagan years, when the U.S. invaded countries like Grenada and "Junk Bond King" Michael Milken was on the prowl. Today's Winners don't simply win, they win badly: bragging, sneering, lording it over the Losers, and promoting themselves with a crassness that would leave Duddy Kravitz blushing. When Hurricane Isabel knocks out the power in much of Washington, D.C., the Redskins' billionaire owner doesn't just get a huge generator to restore his own electricity but turns on all his lights, so that his house glows like the Vegas strip while his annoyed neighbors sit in the dark.

Practicing the "look out for yourself" philosophy preached in his books, Bill O'Reilly gloats about how many copies he's sold, accuses critics of "envy," and uses his media platforms to pitch his books and "The Spin Stops Here" tchotchkes. Seventeen-year-old hoops phenom LeBron James drives to high school in his $50,000 Hummer, not even bothering to pretend that he's a regular student. And careerist wiseass Dennis Miller, who now embraces George W. Bush on CNBC, the better to kick the underdog, justifies a bellicose U.S. foreign policy by saying, "We are real good at what we do, and the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket. As that gap gets wider, they'll hate us more and more and more. We are simultaneously the most hated, feared, loved and admired nation on this planet. In short, we are Frank Sinatra, and you know something, the Chairman didn't get to be the Chairman lying down for punks outside the Fontainbleu."

On the worst day of his life, Ol' Blue Eyes, who grew up poor in Hoboken, was more idealistic about America than that.

Such Sore Winners aren't simply found in the media. Now you find such thuggishness everywhere.
This all strikes me as about right - but I may be just grumpy because I'm one of the losers. When the bottom of the Middle Class is marked by when you first earn over four hundred fifty thousand dollars a year, when Bush claims he's just a poor, hard-working stiff like the rest of us, while having a net worth of nineteen million, well, I guess I have my sour grapes. I'm outclassed. Big time, to use Dick Cheney's words.

But Powers says it's not Bush, really.
... Such vaulting brutishness can't be blamed on George W. Bush, but he's done nothing to humble the Winners. He couldn't be less like his hero, Teddy Roosevelt, no small egomaniac himself, who helped knock apart the Gilded Age because its ignobility gnawed at him: "Of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth." The Bush administration is a veritable hive of Sore Winners, whether it's the president scowling peevishly at questions that Reagan would have dispatched with a joke, the vice president sneering that energy conservation is no more than "personal virtue," or Rummy treating everyone from reporters to generals as if they were no brighter than whelks. Nothing betrays such arrogance more than Republican big shots' public boasts that the GOP is becoming the "natural" party of power -- a norte?o version of the PRI, the kleptocracy that ran Mexico for 71 years. They brag about placing Republicans in key lobbying slots of K Street, freezing out PACs that don't ante up, and using congressional redistricting to ensure that the GOP keeps winning more seats. Such political hardball is hardly unprecedented. Although less ruthlessly, the Democrats played many of the same tricks for years. What's new is how flagrantly Bush and his party flaunt tactics it was once thought politic to keep hidden. It's no longer enough just to do these things, one must make a public meal of it.
Well, it is all a bit in-your-face. But you need to know whether you are a winner, or a loser - and adopt the appropriate attitude. That would be on one case a Yale frat-boy smirk, and in the other case your head hung low in shame. As pope said - "Act well you part. Therein all honor lies."

But Powers points out that like my friend in Eagle Rock, no one is admitting to any social Darwinism here -
Thanks to the Christian right, none of our politicians dares mention Darwin, except to say he shouldn't be taught in schools. ("Religion has been around a lot longer than Darwin," our president has noted helpfully.) Beyond that, the Winners' agenda is now far harsher than it ever was under Nixon, whose social policies would strike today's Republicans as downright socialist. The Bush administration has given the rich hundreds of billions in tax "relief," while excluding millions of less favored Americans (including U.S. troops) from other forms of tax relief. Even as it gave $80,000 write-offs to businessmen who buy Humvees, it sought to change the Fair Labor Standards Act in a way that would cost countless hourly workers their overtime. Just redefine their work as administrative and the extra hours are free. Underlying such behavior is the president's embrace of a philosophy (or, more accurately, an outlook) I call Populist Social Darwinism. Bush boasts about returning power to ordinary people -- "We want to give you back your money" -- then pursues policies that produce a class of highly visible Winners while unraveling the social safety net. Anytime you so much as mention this, you're accused of waging class warfare.
Yep. It is a neat trick.

And as someone who used to teach at an exclusive private prep school in upstate New York, this cause my attention -
America is increasingly a country where Winners' kids attend private schools and the Losers' go to fading public ones, where Winners shop at specialty grocers and Losers buy their food at Wal-Mart, where Winners fly business or first class while Losers are stuck in economy sections and treated with flagrant, lunch-in-a-doggie-bag contempt, where Winners choose from a smorgasbord of jobs and Losers like Jessica Lynch enlist in the military because they couldn't get a job at Wal-Mart. The chances of upward mobility have shrunk vastly in the last 30 years; BusinessWeek says the odds have dropped by 60 percent. In that same period, the richest 1 percent of the population has doubled its holdings. It now possesses as much as the bottom 40 percent, and the richest 13,000 families own as much as the poorest 20 million households. As Al Franken vividly put it, this is like Bemidji, Minnesota, having more income than all the residents of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and Phoenix combined. While Bush didn't create this situation, his policies are making the divisions far more extreme. He's institutionalizing a New Gilded Age in which the state gives financial assistance to the very wealthy -- Bill Gates personally saved $82 million in the first year of the dividend tax cut -- while showing little concern for those who are not. What compassionate leader could preside over the loss of more than 2 million jobs -- many among the middle class, whose positions have permanently moved abroad -- and still be obsessed with cuts to the estate tax? In 2003, Bush racked up a $480 billion budget deficit while cutting programs like Head Start and AmeriCorps, the entire budget of which was only three times Gates' dividend tax cut. Convinced of the inherent goodness of the free market -- a religion he embraces more deeply than Christianity -- he evidently thinks it normal for Winners to take what they want. The Losers be damned.
As they should be? That is for the population to decide in the next election, or for the Supreme Court to decide if it comes down to that again, or for Diebold to decide.

I recommend the LA Weekly article. If you have a spare twenty-five dollars, you could buy the book. But that seems unlikely, unless you're winner, and then why would you buy such a book anyway?

___

Late week footnote on winners and losers -

In the ongoing economic recovery, over the last two years, corporate profits have risen somewhere between seventeen and twenty-two percent, depending on the source of the data. American businesses are finally doing well. Real wages for American workers have, on average, dropped a bit over three percent in the last two years, adjusted for inflation. So labor costs are way down - increasing profit margins. Productivity - the number of hours worked for unit of net profit earned - is higher and higher. We are more efficient. CEO compensation is at an all time high - nearing six hundred times that of the average worker in that particular CEO's organization. But that's only a few people. The number of Americans with no health insurance at all is now at forty-four million and rising rapidly - as, along with six to nine million unemployed, companies employing contract and temporary-to-hire workers with no benefits has allowed these businesses to prosper without the burden of such costs. We are learning from such places as Spain, where fully one third of their work force is now working on a temporary contract basis with no benefits and no guarantee of ongoing employment, making businesses there much more profitable - and more nimble as they can add and shed workers immediately based on market needs and, at the same time, avoid paying costly benefits. A golden age. New jobs actually are being created in America - not at a pace that keeps up with population growth, and, on average, paying about thirty percent less than the jobs that have been lost. But there are jobs. Of these new jobs a bit over twenty-eight percent of these jobs, by some accounts up to a third actually, are taken by non-citizens - janitorial and service levels jobs at minimum wage or less. But there are new jobs.

From the IRS -

Americans' incomes fell for two years
Report: IRS data shows first-ever consecutive-year drop; loss of jobs blamed.
July 29, 2004: 11:04 AM EDT
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Americans' overall income shrank for two consecutive years after stocks plunged in 2000, the first time that has effectively happened since the current tax system was put in place during World War II, according to a published report Thursday.

The New York Times, reporting data from the Internal Revenue Service, said gross income reported to the agency fell 5.1 percent to $6.0 trillion in 2002, the most recent year for which data is available, down from $6.35 trillion in 2000. Because of population growth, average income fell even more, by 5.7 percent, and adjusted for inflation the decline was 9.2 percent.

The paper said the decline was due to a combination of the big fall in the stock market and the loss of jobs and wages in well-paying industries as the recession started in 2001.

The paper said before the recent drop the last decline posted for even one year was 1953.

The drop in income has hit government tax collections -- the paper said individual income taxes declined 18.8 percent between 2000 and 2002. Part of that was due to tax cuts passed in 2001.

The report said the sharpest drops were in both the number and the earnings of people with the highest incomes. Those with incomes of $10 million or more saw average income fall 22 percent, while the number of returns reporting incomes at that level fell 53 percent during the two year period.

Meanwhile the average income of those filing returns with incomes between $25,000 and $500,000 saw the average income little changed, somewhere between a 0.1 percent decline and a 0.2 percent gain, depending upon the income category, the Times said.
Interesting.

The there is this -

Jobless claims inch higher
Initial claims for unemployment insurance rise by 4,000, topping estimates of 340,000.
July 29, 2004: 8:34 AM EDT
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment assistance inched up by 4,000, the government reported Thursday, coming in above economists' estimates.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to 345,000 in the week ended July 24, up from a upwardly revised 341,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported. Wall Street had expected 340,000 initial claims, according to Briefing.com.

The four-week moving average, which smoothes out weekly fluctuations in the number, came in at 336,250, down from a revised 337,250 the previous week.

Continued claims, or those people already receiving a week of assistance, rose to 2.96 million in the week ended July 17, the latest figures available, from a revised 2.79 million the previous week.
The recovery continues.

And this -

Unhappy Workers Should Take Prozac - Bush Campaigner
Thu Jul 29, 2004 01:50 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A campaign worker for President Bush said on Thursday American workers unhappy with low-quality jobs should find new ones -- or pop a Prozac to make themselves feel better.

"Why don't they get new jobs if they're unhappy -- or go on Prozac?" said Susan Sheybani, an assistant to Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt.

The comment was apparently directed to a colleague who was transferring a phone call from a reporter asking about job quality, and who overheard the remark.

When told the Prozac comment had been overheard, Sheybani said: "Oh, I was just kidding."

While recent employment growth has buoyed Bush's economic record, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has argued the new jobs are not as good as those lost due to outsourcing in recent years.

Nearly 1.1 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office in January 2001.
Winners don't have to take Prozac.

What is Prozac? Well, it's quite for if you have panic disorder.

See this from the National Institute of Mental Health. (Disclosure - my second father-in-law was head of the National Institute of Mental Health before he moved over to the Pentagon to work for Frank Carlucci as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs in the Reagan administration.)
Prozac (fluoxetine) is an antidepressant medication originally approved by the FDA in 1987 and currently available for the treatment of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bulimia nervosa. Prozac has also been used off-label (which means a use not reviewed by the FDA) to treat panic disorder. Under a different brand name (Sarafem), fluoxetine is also approved for the treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Prozac is believed to work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin, a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in the brain. It is a member of the serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) family, as are Zoloft (sertraline) and Paxil (paroxetine).
All of these - Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil - are quite useful in the current cultural and political climate.

And this -

Back to work for less
Survey: 57% who lost full-time jobs 2001-2003 and found full-time work again are earning less.
July 30, 2004: 12:28 PM EDT
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Judging from the latest government data, more than 50 percent of workers who lost or left full-time work between 2001 and 2003 and were lucky enough to have found another full-time job by this year were earning less than they used to.

From January 2001 through December 2003, 5.3 million long-tenured workers were displaced from full-time or part-time jobs they had held at least three years, according to a new report released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Displacement in this context is defined as a job that was lost or left because a plant or company closed or moved, there wasn't enough work to do or a position or shift was eliminated.

Among the long-tenured workers who were displaced, 65 percent had found either full-time or part-time work by January of this year, when the BLS survey was conducted. Another 20 percent were still unemployed and 15 percent were not in the labor force, meaning they said they had not looked for work in the four weeks prior to the survey.

But 57 percent of the group who had lost full-time jobs and found new full-time work reported that they were now earning less than what they earned in their old jobs. Indeed, about one-third of those with smaller paychecks were being paid at least 20 percent less.

...Among the long-tenured workers surveyed, 43 percent said plant or company closings or moves accounted for their displacement. Another 29 percent cited elimination of their position or shift. And 28 percent said there wasn't enough work to do.

Other highlights: Among industries, manufacturing accounted for 1.7 million long-tenured workers who were displaced -- or nearly a third of the total. Wholesale and retail trade accounted for 765,000 displaced workers, or 14 percent of all long-tenured displaced workers. Professional and business services accounted for 595,000 displaced workers, 11 percent of the group. The financial industry saw displacement of 355,000 long-term tenured workers, or nearly 7 percent of the group. Likewise education and health services, with a loss of 346,000 workers.
But profits are way up. This IS a recovery. You can't argue with that.



Posted by Alan at 18:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 July 2004 13:48 PDT home

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