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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Artist Charged with Terrorism

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Olga Koumoundouros Monument to a Town Meeting, after Acconci

Does a work of art reinforce the power of the status quo, or does it act as an instrument of social change? That is the question posed by The Interventionists, an exhibit at MASSMoCA that features artists who seek to "place their work into the heart of the political situation itself." Works include mobile homeless shelters that are set outside the gallery for actual use. But artists are paying a price for stepping into the arena of political discourse, especially if they come down on the side of change -- and one of the artists from the Interventionist show is now being charged with terrorism under the Patriot Act.

Alarmingly, just days before their works were scheduled to appear in the MassMoCa show, the FBI seized everything from the Critical Art Ensemble, a group who conducts public performances in which members test common foods for genetically modified organisms. The wife of one of the group's founding members, Steven Kurtz (who is also an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Buffalo) died of natural causes in her sleep one night in May of last year, but police became suspicious of lab equipment and bacteria samples they found in Kurtz's house during the investigation. He is now being charged with bioterrorism under a clause of the USA Patriot Act which makes it unlawful to possess "any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system" except for "prophylactic, protective, bona fide research, or other peaceful purpose."

According to D.A. Henderson, Senior advisor for the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, nothing Kurtz had in his possession was the slightest bit dangerous:
I am absolutely astonished... based on what I have read and understand, Professor Kurtz has been working with totally innocuous organisms....I am dismayed by what appears to me to be yet one more instance in which knowledgeable persons in the field of bioterrorism are not being brought in and consulted to ascertain what might be real problems and what are purely spurious problems.
The deeper meaning of the government's actions is lost on no one. "As with the prosecution of some scientists in recent years, it seems that government lawyers are singling Kurtz out as a warning to the broader artistic community," says Nature magazine. Mary-Claire King, a University of Washington geneticist, further states that "Kurtz's materials are politically, not physically, dangerous."

Kurt's case has been postponed until March 2, at which time his defense team will have the opportunity to respond to the prosecution's case. There is a website set up that offers information on the case, and they are soliciting email letters of support. There is also an online petition you can sign.

Freedom is on the march, all right. And it's dragging its sorry ass outta here just as fast as it can.


Friday, January 28, 2005

Adventures in Punditry Part Deux

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Ann Coulter, appearing on Canadian TV, sets ignorant Canadian masses straight on the subject of Viet Nam and does Joe Scarborough one better:

Coulter: "Canada used to be one of our most loyal friends and vice-versa. I mean Canada sent troops to Vietnam - was Vietnam less containable and more of a threat than Saddam Hussein?"

McKeown interrupts: "Canada didn't send troops to Vietnam."

Coulter: "I don't think that's right."

McKeown: "Canada did not send troops to Vietnam."

Coulter (looking desperate): "Indochina?"

McKeown: "Uh no. Canada ...second World War of course. Korea. Yes. Vietnam No."

Coulter: "I think you're wrong."

McKeown: "No, took a pass on Vietnam."

Coulter: "I think you're wrong."

McKeown: "No, Australia was there, not Canada."

Coulter: "I think Canada sent troops."

McKeown: "No."

Coulter: "Well. I'll get back to you on that."

McKeown concludes:

"Coulter never got back to us -- but for the record, like Iraq, Canada sent no troops to Vietnam."

'Cos she had much more important things to do. Like scurry back to the greenroom for cigarettes and water to pen another chapter for her next book, tentatively entitled Facts/Schmacts and 15 Ways to Purge Falafel.


United Church of Christ welcomes SpongeBob

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Randy Varcho/UCC Photo

"Absolutely, the UCC extends an unequivocal welcome to SpongeBob," said Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

Thus ends SpongeBob's dark night of the soul after he was outed earlier this week by serial media clown James Dobson. Rumor has it SpongeBob had not come out to his family yet, and was subsequently denied participation in their celebration of Mawlid an-Nabi later this year.

(Thanks to Mike Lepo for the tip)


An Unembeded Reporter in Iraq

I was hanging out with my friend Peter today and talking about China's announcement this week that it has lost faith in the dollar, and what that could mean for the US economy. He wondered why this wasn't headline news on every network. I'll spare everyone the knee-jerk rant about how network news is nothing but a glorified White House press release and the inadequacy of TV "reporting" in general, and instead focus on alternatives that report on what's actually happening out there.

Dahr Jamail is an independent American journalist who went to Iraq and hoped to provide a counterpoint to the pro-Bush media bias that keeps stoking American support for a disastrous war. It's no surprise that his extremely well-written and well-researched articles do not reflect the glowing accounts of reporters who follow Pentagon talking points. They have been published in Scotland's Sunday Herald, The New Standard, Inter Press Service, and my alma mater The San Francisco Bay Guardian.

He collects all of his reports as well as some amazing photographs from Iraq (including the one above) on his blog which you can find here. I highly recommend checking it out, 'cos he's probably not going to show up any time soon on Fox and Friends.

(thanks to Plutonium Page on DKos)


Would you like falafel with that?

Many of the people who have been held at Guantanamo Bay are reporting that they have been "interrogated" by women posing as prostitutes. From TBogg:
Beginning in April 2003, “there hung a short skirt and thong underwear on the hook on the back of the door” of one interrogation team’s office, he writes. “Later I learned that this outfit was used for interrogations by one of the female civilian contractors ... on a team which conducted interrogations in the middle of the night on Saudi men who were refusing to talk...”

“His female interrogator decided that she needed to turn up the heat,” Saar writes, saying she repeatedly asked the detainee who had sent him to Arizona, telling him he could “cooperate” or “have no hope whatsoever of ever leaving this place or talking to a lawyer.”’

The man closed his eyes and began to pray, Saar writes.

The female interrogator wanted to “break him,” Saar adds, describing how she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the prisoner’s back and commenting on his apparent erection.

At which point, Bill O'Reilly burst into the room and confessed....


Music for a New Society

Pioneering Welsh iconoclast and Zen nomad John Cale has one of the most impressive curriculum vitae of 20th century avante garde music -- original member of the Velvet Underground, collaborator with John Cage, LaMonte Young and Terry Riley, producer of Nico, the Stooges and Patti Smith...the list goes on. You can read what he's been up to lately, as well as download tracks (surprisingly melodic) from his latest album HoboSapiens on his exceptionally beautiful website here.

"The only reason we wore sunglasses onstage was because we couldn't stand the sight of the audience." - John Cale


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Army Reserve is a "Broken Force" says Boss

Lt Gen James Helmly, chief of the US Army Reserve, is not a happy man.

First he told the Dallas Morning News that the draft might have to be reinstated to meet the demands placed on the Reserves. Now, in a internal memorandum, he describes:
...the Army Reserve's inability under current policies, procedures and practices ... to meet mission requirements associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The Army Reserve is additionally in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements and is rapidly degenerating into a broken force.
Pretty interesting article in the Guardian U.K. by former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal. Once again, you have to go outside the US to find media willing to honestly and critically talk about what's really going on in Iraq.

But hey, wasn't Laura's silvery-blue tulle inauguration frock lovely?


Barbara Boxer Thanks the Blogosphere

After sticking it to Condi Rice pretty good during her confirmation hearings, Barbara Boxer stopped by DailyKos to share her appreciation:
I can't thank all of you enough -- the Daily Kos community, and the blogosphere as a whole -- for all of your effective work during the recent debate over Condoleezza Rice's nomination. Your support and participation in this critical debate meant so much to me.

More than 94,000 Americans from across the country signed my petition and stood together to demand the truth from Condoleezza Rice. It was truly an overwhelming response -- much more than I could have anticipated. You helped to get our message out to millions of Americans -- I couldn't have done it without you.

And you made a difference. You gave me the voice I needed to ask the tough questions during Dr. Rice's confirmation hearings. And you gave the entire United States Senate the voice it needed to take its "advice and consent" responsibility seriously. In fact, Condoleezza Rice received 13 votes against her confirmation -- the most votes against any Secretary of State's nomination since 1825.

Two weeks ago, who would have thought that Condoleezza Rice's nomination would allow us to have a full debate about our policy in Iraq? Who would have thought that we'd have the chance to truly expose all of the misstatements and misjudgments that led us into that conflict and continue to plague this Administration to this very day?

The Republican Senate leadership intended to easily approve Dr. Rice's nomination in a routine voice vote last Thursday afternoon, after President Bush's Inauguration and before the Inaugural balls got into full swing.

But you didn't let them ram this nomination through the Senate. You forced the Republican leadership to give us the debate we wanted on the floor of the United States Senate, and you gave us the opportunity we desperately needed to hold Dr. Rice and the Bush Administration accountable for their failures in Iraq and in the war on terrorism.
Okay so Her Incompetence Dr. Rice still got confirmed. But it's a start. And I don't think anyone can look at the efforts of the lefty blogosphere and say we're not having an effect. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition,


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Copyright Rebellion Over Landmark MLK Documentary

Last week I wrote a post about how the landmark Martin Luther King documentary, Eyes on the Prize, cannot be shown legally any more due to the fact that the filmmakers no longer hold the licenses to much of the copyrighted material within the film. Lawrence Guyot, former leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, made the comment that "I would call upon everyone who has access to Eyes on the Prize to openly violate any and all laws regarding its showing."

Well it looks like someone has taken him up on his suggestion. Today I spoke with Downhill Battle, a non-profit organization that was started in 2003 to fight corporate domination of copyrighted material that keeps culture out of the hands of the public.  They have established a web site where the film can be downloaded with Blog Torrent or BitTorent, and they're calling for a day of public screenings on February 8, 2005.

David Moore of Downhill Battle says that their actions have the tacit support of the filmmakers, and that plans are afoot for a screening of the film on Feburary 8 on Capitol Hill.

The film is being offered in celebration of Black History Month. “Eyes on the Prize was the first introduction to the history of the Civil Rights Movement for millions of people,” says Nicholas Reville of Downhill Battle, “But our corporatized copyright system is keeping it locked away.”  

Expect Warner Brothers to shit sideways over this one, at least privately if not publicly. They own the copyright to Happy Birthday, which at one point during the film is sung to Martin Luther King. It puts them in the awkward position where pursuing their copyright means they'll be denying people the chance to see the documentary, an ugly public relations nightmare for anyone.

The ramifications could be far reaching. Cory Doctorow, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says, "This could be a seminal moment in technology liberty. It's a brilliant campaign on Downhill Battle's part. I hope you'll participate."


Yeah, meth is a pretty glamorous drug...

In response to Oregon's meth epidemic, Oregon Jail Deputy Bret King has started a collection of photos he calls "the faces of meth." "I've made it my business to go through the mug shot system every day," says King, comparing before and after photos of inmates and chronicling their physical changes that occur as a result of the drug.

If death doesn't scare 'em, maybe vanity will.


Wooohooo! My letter gets published in the WaPo!

Okay, it's not big news. But it's big for me. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on how the GOP is raising $100 million to promote Social Security piratization, and in it I made mention of the Washington Post's presumption that "the only point [Republicans and Democrats] agree on is that Social Security faces a long-term financial problem because the U.S. population is growing older, living longer and, sometime next decade, will be taking more out of the system in benefits than it is paying in taxes that fund it."

I urged everyone to write the WaPo and protest this assumption, and so as not to look like a complete hypocrite, I wrote a letter of my own. They printed it on Monday:
Crunching Numbers, and Motives, on Social Security

Tuesday, January 25, 2005; Page A14

In his Jan. 1 front-page article, "A Big Push on Social Security," Jim VandeHei said Democrats and Republicans agree that "sometime next decade," the aging population will be "taking more out of the system in benefits than it is paying in taxes that fund it."

This statement is misleading. Nothing is wrong with Social Security; according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the system will be able to pay full benefits until 2052. The only thing "wrong" is that Congress keeps raiding the piggy bank to pay for other programs.


Granted, it's a bit of minutiae patrol. But I sincerely think that BushCo.'s plan to loot Social Security is going tits up, and I'm happy as hell to pay a teeny part in it.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Bloggers Unite Against Gonzales

In an unusual and somewhat inspired move, the folks at DailyKos are generating a petition amongst lefty bloggers to oppose the nomination of Alberto "the Electrode" Gonzales. I think the encouragement Barbara Boxer got from the blogosphere when she supported the Congressional Black Caucus's protest of the Ohio vote has emboldened all Democrats as I sit here watching most of them oppose the nomination of George Bush's wife #2, Condi Rice, on C-SPAN, so it just might have a profound effect. Who knows. So if you have a blog and want to support the cause, you can read the petition and add your name here. I added mine. 'Cos I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you're an American these human rights abuses are being done in YOUR name, and if you're not acting to stop it, you're complicit with it.


Dobson, Falwell Threaten BushCo. Over Social Security

A coalition of Christian leaders, including Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, have sent a private letter to Karl Rove threatening to pull their support from Social Security Piratization if the Administration doesn't make good on their promise for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

They're a bit flummoxed over the lack of enthusiasm GWB is now showing over the marriage amendment, and question his pre-election sincerity after the recent shoulder shrug he gave in the Wapo when he said that "nothing will happen" because of lack of support in Congress:
When the administration adopts a defeatist attitude on an issue that is at the top of our agenda, it becomes impossible for us to unite our movement on an issue such as Social Security privatization where there are already deep misgivings."
Translation: We bought you. We paid for you. Now put out, whore.

From the NYT:
We couldn't help but notice the contrast between how the president is approaching the difficult issue of Social Security privatization where the public is deeply divided and the marriage issue where public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side," the letter said. "Is he prepared to spend significant political capital on privatization but reluctant to devote the same energy to preserving traditional marriage? If so it would create outrage with countless voters who stood with him just a few weeks ago, including an unprecedented number of African-Americans, Latinos and Catholics who broke with tradition and supported the president solely because of this issue."

It's a classic conflict between the so-called "values" crowd and their elected leadership who apparently have no values at all, save increasing their own power base and facilitating the looting of the Treasury by Wall Street, Halliburton and others.

Maybe they are beginning to take notice of the fact that the only thing Rupert Murdoch really cares about is electing officials who will let him own more television stations, and he probably has no real social agenda at all beyond what's good for Rupert Murdoch. Maybe they are awakening to the fact that he is willing to fill his broadcast pipeline with any hate-baiting gibberish that will let him fulfill his ultimate loyalty to himself, and that after the election is over the fundie crowd are likely to hear precious little about the "values" agenda that whipped them all into a GOP-hugging frenzy in the first place.

Maybe they are recollecting that before George Herbert Walker Bush had to switch his position to hitch his wagon to the Reagan team, he was actually moderately pro-choice. That Barbara Bush is, in all likelihood, pro-choice. That GWB was raised with a set of "values" that are conveniently flexible so as to get himself elected by any means, and when it comes to the spending of "political capital," he has better people to pay off than a bunch of toothless, cousin-humping wingnuts who were too dumb to figure out he never really gave a happy hootie about them in the first place.

Then again, maybe the true fascist nature of Christian fundamentalism is just rearing its ugly horned head, resorting to extortion and blackmail that are the inherent trump cards of its social ideology.

Whatever the reason -- grab the popcorn, 'cos it sure is fun to watch.


Quote of the Day

"If sex and creativity are often seen by dictators as subversive activities, it's because they lead to the knowledge that you own your own body (and with it your own voice), and that's the most revolutionary insight of all." - Erica Jong


Lenny Comes Alive

My friend Kenny always keeps a copy of Lenny Bruce's autobiography by his bed because it cheers him up, no matter what. But there's nothing quite like hearing Lenny pound the English language into submission live, and this site has audio clips from Lenny's live performances, including Religions, Inc., The Pope, Sex is Dirty, Psychopathia Sexualis, and Ku Klux Klan.

Doncha just love the internet?


Monday, January 24, 2005

Dollar feels the pinch

From today's London Financial Times:
Central banks are shifting reserves away from the US and towards the eurozone in a move that looks set to deepen the Bush administration's difficulties in financing its ballooning current account deficit.
And so it begins.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, 65 central banks that control 45 per cent of global official reserves said in a nutshell that they are deeply disturbed about the spiraling US deficit figures. Having been precipitated by expensive dalliances in warmongering, it’s money that doesn't go toward building anything useful and lasting that can lead to greater national productivity, but is destined to explode in the night and lay waste to everything it touches like a giant fireworks display celebrating the glory and debauchery of twenty-first century imperialism.

The result of so much profligate spending is that the dollar has dropped like a hot sack of French fries against the Euro, and the banks that have been financing our deficit are afraid of getting caught holding the bag as the currency continues to devalue. BushCo. has said that they’re not too concerned about the plummeting dollar, because it will make American goods more attractive to foreign markets, but that hasn’t happened – the current trade deficit is running around 6% of the US economy.

Alan Greenspan warned in November that foreign banks would not be endlessly willing to finance the US deficit. The worry is that when foreign investors decide to unload their investments in US stocks and bonds, it will send their prices plunging and interest rates will soar, puncturing the real estate bubble and putting the kibosh on consumer spending.

Ironic, really, when you look back on Osama bin Laden’s pre-election speech, to see that he and George Bush seem to be working toward the same end:
So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah.

That being said, those who say that al-Qaida has won against the administration in the White House or that the administration has lost in this war have not been precise, because when one scrutinizes the results, one cannot say that al-Qaida is the sole factor in achieving those spectacular gains.

Rather, the policy of the White House that demands the opening of war fronts to keep busy their various corporations - whether they be working in the field of arms or oil or reconstruction - has helped al-Qaida to achieve these enormous results.
I must say I don’t like this turn of events. I make my living in a business that thrives off of exporting culture, and as the US abdicates its position of both political and now economic leadership, it definitely makes my prospects look a bit dicey. But as a nation we have abused the tremendous power that rests in our hands, attempting to assert our dominance by beating the rest of the world into mute submission for corporate fun and profit, and perhaps it is only right that this power be reigned in by forces of our own creation.


Oregon Poodle Blogging

Greetings from Otter Rock once again. My sojourn in Oklahoma is at an end. Alas, Boo Boo and Kobe are having a moment; I don't know what happened while I was away but some seizmic shift in pack dynamics has left Kobe and Boo Boo in a giant poodle Clash of the Titans. Boo Boo got the best of Kobe today, so I spent the afternoon at the vet's getting Kobe's paw patched up, hence the light posting. Two hundred and thirty dollars later they are both hopped up on Paxil and goofballs while Momma is sober. How times change. Anyway the above photo was taken by my sister Pam of my brother-in-law Loren and the dogs on the beach while I was gone. It is incomperably beautiful here, even amidst the canine testosterone festival.

Thanks to Marian, Peggy & Peter who pinch hit for me with the dogs when I was gone.


Why women live longer than men

(Thanks to Sharon Maribona)


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Germans comment on US politics

Germany is on the hunt for pranksters who have been planting 2,000 - 3,000 flags with photos of GWB in piles of dog poop over the past few months.

"We have sent out extra patrols to try to catch whoever is doing this in the act," said police spokesman Reiner Kuechler. "But frankly, we don't know what we would do if we caught them red handed," referring to the fact that there is no known law in Germany against fecal political commentary.

I smell a movement.

(via BoingBoing)


Department of Justice Strikes Again

Maher Arar is a Canadian software engineer who was detained by US officials in 2002 for alleged ties to Al Quaeda while at JFK Airport in transit from an overseas vacation. Twelve days later, he was chained and shackled and flown to Syria (a country known for human rights abuse) where he was beaten, tortured and forced to make false confessions.

Now he is seeking his release, and the US government is claiming that his suit should be dismissed because it would "jeopardize national security," invoking the rarely used "state secrets privilege." Last summer, the Supreme Court said that people such as Mr. Arar do have civil rights, and the Administration has repeatedly ignored that ruling and others as it continues to run roughshod over the Bill of Rights.

This issue is a huge matter to our Canadian neighbors, and Time Magazine Canada named Mr. Arad "newsmaker of the year," claiming that Arar is not a terrorist but an ordinary citizen, and praising him as a vocal proponent of human rights.

You can read more from catnip's excellent diary on DailyKos. I urge everyone to email their Senator and protest this, 'cos if you're an American this stuff is being done with YOUR tax dollars and in YOUR name, and if you're not taking action against it you are complicit in it, IMHO. And while you're writing your letter, throw in a good swift kick against the Gonzales nomination, okay?


Welcome to Scarborough Country

After telling Pat Buchanan he sounds like "Susan Sontag" when he asserts that Osama bin Laden attacked the US because of its unwanted presence in the Middle East and not because of its love of freedom, Joe Scarborough finishes him off with rapier wit and a brutal command of ineluctable logic:

BUCHANAN: You know, look, when the Japanese, if they attacked Pearl Harbor and someone got up and said we were attacked because we were free and good and we got a Bill of Rights, he would be laughed out of court, Joe. Those people are over here. They hate us.

SCARBOROUGH: Germany didn't attack us.

BUCHANAN: Of course they didn't -- Germany did not attack.

SCARBOROUGH: We declared war on Germany.

BUCHANAN: They [Germany] declared war on us first, on December 11 [1941], Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: Listen, do not tie me down with facts and dates, Pat Buchanan.

Ah, that sublime dialectical haven, Republican logic. Pretty much guarantees your freedom to gas on endlessly without knowing much of anything at all.