Friday, October 19, 2007

Just another adjustment

-- by Dave

So now scientists are saying that forest fires are putting mercury into the air at an alarming rate:
In the past decade, scientists have become increasingly aware of a previously overlooked source of atmospheric mercury—fires. When fires sweep through forests or any other kind of vegetation, they release mercury that was taken out of the air by plants and deposited in leaf litter and soil. Now, a new study published in ES&T (DOI: 10.1021/es071289o)suggests that agricultural and forest fires together are responsible for nearly one-third of the atmospheric mercury in the U.S.

With average emissions of 44 metric tons (t) of mercury per year (yr), fires in the lower 48 states and Alaska contribute almost as much mercury to the air as coal-fired power plants, the study finds.

This must come as particularly good news to people in places like Oregon, where wildfires spewed more mercury into the air between 2002 and 2006 than any other state its size (it was outdone only by Alaska and California).

Or in Montana and Idaho, where much of the past summer was spent with an amber haze clouding the bright daylit Big Sky.

Of course, this isn't just an issue for people living in the West, in the vicinity of the fires. There's also a downwind effect:
In contrast, states in the Midwest and Great Lakes emitted comparatively little mercury from fires. However, they could potentially be affected by emissions from western wildfires.

... One of the next steps for the researchers will be to examine how much mercury from fires is deposited on nearby downwind areas, compared to how much travels around the hemisphere. Most of the mercury in fire emissions is in gaseous form, traveling thousands of miles before coming down in small amounts in rain or snow. But about 15 percent of the mercury is associated with airborne particles, such as soot, some of which may fall to Earth near the fire.

"We would like to determine the risk of mercury exposure for residents who live downwind of large-scale fires," Friedli says.

It's important to take note of the increasing scale of forest fires on our public lands as a reflection of global warming. As the ES&T report notes:
The results also indirectly emphasize the need to cut greenhouse gases and fight climate change, says Michigan State University's Merritt Turetsky. Increasing global temperatures, thawing permafrost, and drier conditions associated with climate change are changing fire regimes around the world. Burn area across Canada and Alaska has doubled over the last 50 years, and the southwestern U.S is also witnessing changes in fire regimes. Last year, Turetsky's group showed that these changes led to increased mercury emissions from forests and wetlands in Alaska and Canada. The Wiedinmyer and Friedli study also corroborates these findings for the blazing boreal forests in Alaska.

Global warming is depriving us of an important ecosystem service—"trapping and storing industrial mercury," says Turetsky. "We know that mercury can be very concentrated within soils," she says. The carbon-rich soils of the boreal forests, especially peat, have been accumulating mercury for thousands of years. "In the past, those ecosystems have been probably too wet to burn very often, but that's not the case anymore," she says.

Ah, but this is just one of those "adjustments" the White House says we have to make to deal with global warming, isn't it?

Recall that when the EPA first acknowledged the reality of global warming back in 2002, it nonetheless refused to recommend any action to change course:
But while the report says the United States will be substantially changed in the next few decades — "very likely" seeing the disruption of snow-fed water supplies, more stifling heat waves and the permanent disappearance of Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes, for example — it does not propose any major shift in the administration's policy on greenhouse gases.

It recommends adapting to inevitable changes. It does not recommend making rapid reductions in greenhouse gases to limit warming, the approach favored by many environmental groups and countries that have accepted the Kyoto Protocol, a climate treaty written in the Clinton administration that was rejected by Mr. Bush.

A few days after the report was issued, Bush dismissed it outright -- for even acknowledging the reality of the phenomenon. But White House policy afterward has been geared toward doing as little as possible to lower carbon emissions because, after all, we can just "adjust."

Now we're starting to see a little bit of the big price we'll be paying for those "adjustments."

But then, it's just the little people who will be paying, isn't it?

Songs of the humpback

-- by Dave

Humpback whales were hunted out of northern Vancouver Island's Johnstone Strait back in 1967, when whalers still plied those waters, and it's been years since they've been back in any numbers. I've been kayaking in the Strait three times and have heard that one or two might be about each time we've gone, but never saw one.

Apparently, they've become surprisingly common there this past year, according to Paul and Helena Spong at OrcaLab on Hanson Island.
After being totally eliminated from Northern Vancouver Island waters in 1967, humpback whales are gradually making a return. The Coal Harbour whaling station, on Vancouver Island’s northwest coast (near Port Hardy) was the last whaling station in North America. In 1967, faced with a shortage of whales in nearby Pacific waters, the whalers travelled around the top of Vancouver Island into Queen Charlotte Strait, Blackfish Sound and Knight Inlet. There, they found a tiny remnant population of 13 humpbacks. Every last one of them was killed - all the males, all the females, all the mums, all the kids, everyone.

A long period of silence followed. Then, on Easter Sunday in 1982, a lone humpback was spotted traveling east past Alert Bay towards Johnstone Strait. Possibly, this explorer brought news to other humpbacks, because in the years that followed, humpbacks gradually began to return to these waters. Their pace was slow at first, but by the turn of this new millennium, humpbacks had become a common enough sight that they formed a reliable part of the whale watching scene. Nowadays, whale watch operators who can’t show orcas to their passengers can almost count on humpbacks to fill in the gap.

Interestingly, the humpbacks who first arrived were never vocal, so far as we could tell from listening to our hydrophones. But over time, they began to make a few tentative sounds. Last year, on October 14th, we made a wonderful recording in which the A30s and a humpback were vocal at the same time in Robson Bight. We had no idea whether this was some kind of interspecies exchange, and it didn’t last long, but it did make us reflect on the comfortable presence the humpbacks have become in these waters. This year, we have become even more convinced that this is so, that the humpbacks are truly at home here once more. Not only are they here in greater numbers than ever, but they are becoming more vocal. This year, on September 11th, we recorded a 10 minute long vocal session from a humpback in Blackfish Sound, and on October 11th we recorded what sounded like a complex “song” that lasted a full half hour. Here it is: click for audio clip (150mb).

The link is a .WAV download that's fairly large, but quite safe; it contains about a half-hour of humpback whale songs (with an odd orca call thrown in here and there) that is remarkably clear and crisp. (I've downloaded it onto my desktop and have it playing now for ambient music.)

There's also a piece in the Times-Colonist detailing their return and Spong's audio recording:
The unique series of whale phrases and repetitions occurred in Blackfish Sound at the southern end of Queen Charlotte Strait. Its length and complexity signals that the humpbacks may finally be feeling at home in West Coast waters again. "It's a safe place for them to come -- it's also a place where they can find food."

Humpbacks feed on herring and pilchard, among other small fish.

Spong doesn't know how many humpbacks might be cruising B.C.'s coast, but notes that Port McNeill biologist Jackie Hildlreing has a catalogue of 77 humpbacks observed in West Coast waters. They're common enough to be seen as integral to the whale-watching business.

The repetitive phrases of humpback sound compare to verses in songs, explains Spong, a psychologist. Orca calls are commonly heard by OrcaLab but are not repetitive in the same way as the humpback song.

"In general, the songs are thought to have a role in mating," says Spong, perhaps as a form of male display to impress females.

Most of this big humpback song appears to be in the voice of one whale, almost certainly a male, although toward the end there's an indication another humpback may have joined in.

"It was just amazing," said Spong. "It was such a thrill for us to hear the sound."

I've written about Spong and his work previously. He's a remarkable person, and it shows up in the work he produces.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The demonic and the human

-- by Dave

It's really becoming impressive just how much the right, increasingly backed into its political corner, is lashing out by calling everyone in sight Nazis. Glenn Greenwald commented on this a couple of weeks ago, noting the rise in comparisons of liberals to various shades of fascist, from Bill O'Reilly to Mark Levin and Michelle Malkin.

It's all Newspeak, of course:
[T]he conservative charge that fascism was a leftist phenomenon is a rightist attempt at David Irvingesque historical revisionism. There is not a single serious historian of either fascism or World War II who does not consider it a right-wing phenomenon: its anti-liberalism and anti-socialism were its defining characteristics, regardless of the rhetoric adopted by early adherents and leaders.

The currency of the "liberal Nazis" meme has if anything picked up in recent weeks, ranging from the local radio talker who called Oprah Winfrey a Nazi to Michael Savage and Debbie Schlussel attacking George Soros and Media Matters as Nazis.

Schlussel's example is especially striking because of the nature of the projection she's making. The centerpiece is her post titled "Nice Try, Media Matters Nazis, But Ann Coulter is No Anti-Semite," wherein she writes:
Contrast that with the villain here: Media Matters. It's anti-American, anti-Israel, and funded by George Soros, a Jew who proudly worked for the Nazis rounding up Jews and sending them to their deaths. Hmmm . . . him versus Ann Coulter? That's an easy choice. I'd much rather go with the woman who looks like an Aryan but is a friend to the Jews and their allies than the billionaire atheist Jew who's lived his entire life like a Nazi.

So what's the truth about Soros? Well, as Media Matters explains:
To support her claim, Schlussel linked to an April 18 post in which she smeared Soros (a Hungarian-born Jew who survived the Holocaust) as "a fake Holocaust survivor, who -- instead of 'surviving' the Holocaust -- helped the Nazis perpetrate it." In the same post, Schlussel falsely claimed that Soros has funded Media Matters. In a May 1 blog post, she referred to Media Matters as "Nazi-funded," linking to the same April 18 post.

In her April 18 post, she cited David Horowitz and Richard Poe's book, The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party (Nelson Current, 2006) to claim that Soros is a "war criminal and proud Jewish Nazi." Like Horowitz and Poe, Schlussel pointed to Soros' experience as a 14-year-old boy in Nazi-controlled Hungary to suggest that he collaborated with the Nazis. In that post, she claimed that "Horowitz details how Soros bragged on CBS' '60 Minutes' of helping his adopted father round up Jews to send them to their deaths at the camps and confiscate their property." Taking the smear further, she claimed in her October 11 post that Soros personally "round[ed] up Jews and sen[t] them to their deaths." As Media Matters has noted, during the December 20, 1998, edition of 60 Minutes, interviewer Steve Kroft stated: "My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson." Kroft added, "Went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews." Soros responded, "Yes, that's right, yes." He did not "brag[] ... of helping his adopted father round up Jews to send them to their deaths."

Michael T. Kaufman wrote in a biography of Soros, Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire (Knopf, 2002), that Soros' father attempted to protect his family from Nazi persecution by paying an employee of Hungary's Ministry of Agriculture named Baumbach to take in Soros, "ostensibly as his godson." Soros accompanied his "godfather" as he went to oversee the confiscation of property from Hungarian Jews, as Media Matters has noted.

Of course, it's easy for someone in her comfy chair in suburban America in 2007 to second-guess the choices made in 1944 by a young Jewish man swept up in the horror of the ongoing Holocaust. But it's clear that people like Schlussel and Savage have never really understood the special evil the Nazis inflicted on their victims, both the dead and the survivors.

The evil genius of the Nazi regime lay in how it inflicted itself on the populace at large by creating a world of the most vicious Social Darwinism in action -- survival of the fittest, the "fittest" being the most cunning and ruthless and conscienceless. Anyone who failed or refused to play along with this vision of the world simply did not survive. And those who did often found afterward that they had sacrificed their humanity along the way.

There are a couple of fascinating portrayals of this dynamic in action available to anyone who wants to take the time. One -- Sophie's Choice, the central scene from which you can see above -- is a work of fiction, but probably based on real events. (Oral histories make clear that similar scenes of horror were common in these situations.)

One of my personal favorites is Art Spiegelman's Maus, which depicts in graphic form the tale of a Holocaust survivor and how he got there. Its hero, Vladek Spiegelman, and his wife Anja manage to survive in part through the hope they give each other. But it's also clear that an element of ruthless and hard-heartedness is involved:

At one point, one of the characters muses: "Yes. Life always takes the side of life, and somehow the victims are blamed. But it wasn't the BEST people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was RANDOM!"

Another superb work along these lines is Agnieszka Holland's remarkable Europa Europa, which depicts the true adventure of a young Jewish boy who survives the war by posing as an Aryan German, and eventually a Hitler Youth, going so far in his attempt to disguise himself as to sew up his foreskin. It's a prolonged meditation on the kinds of choices an evil like Nazism forced upon its victims, and the price it made them pay. When I heard George Soros' story, it made me think of Solly Perel.

The evil genius of the Nazi regime is that it created, and imposed on its world, a social regime in which the worst traits of humanity -- greed, selfishness, mendacity, betrayal, cowardice -- become the supreme social traits, not just in the camps (though there especially) but throughout Nazi society, because it was precisely those traits which insured one's survival.

Milton Mayer's remarkable book They Thought They Were Free, built around a series of interviews he conducted with "ordinary Germans" who lived through Nazi society, talked about the mechanism by which this happened:
"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want to "go out of your way to make trouble." Why not? - Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, "everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to you colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, "It's not so bad" or "You're seeing things" or "You're an alarmist."

"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

"But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to – to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked – if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in "43" had come immediately after the "German Firm" stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in "33". But of course this isn't the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D."

It is by small steps of incremental meanness and viciousness that we lose our humanity. The Nazis, in the end, embodied the ascension of utter demonic inhumanity, but they didn't get that way overnight. They got that way through, day after day, attacking and demonizing and urging the elimination of those they deemed their enemies.

They did this by not simply creating them as The Enemy, but by denying them their essential humanity, depicting them as worse than scum -- disease-laden, world-destroying vermin, in desperate need of elimination. But that kind of behavior, over the years, has hardly been relegated merely to the Nazis; indeed, it has a long history in America as well, and has been bubbling up on the right increasingly in recent years.

You can hear it in Debbie Schlussel's description of George Soros as a "Jewish Nazi" and someone who "round[ed] up Jews and sen[t] them to their deaths," denying the very human reality faced by a young Jewish boy in that milieu. You can hear it in Savage's ugly rant:
Hey George, let me tell you something, I don't have as much money as you. I have 50,000 times the influence that you do, you punk, lying, coward, Satanist, backstabbing freak. You're the people -- people like you give Jews a bad name, Soros. It's people like you who brought about the Holocaust, Soros. I stand by those words. I stand by those words. I would debate you tomorrow, Soros, on any platform, anywhere. I'll debate you anywhere. It's people like you who brought about the Holocaust, Soros. That's why I need you to shut your mouth and understand the damage you're doing to this world and to the Jewish people, George Soros.

The right's attempt to smear liberals isn't merely a Bizarro World inversion of reality. It's becoming, in content and nature, the very demonic thing it claims to fear.

[Hat tip to Hume's Ghost.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When government probes our loyalties

-- by Dave

I'm excited by the release of Eric Muller's new book, American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Loyalty in World War II, just released this week.

I've just received my copy and will be commenting on it later. Here's the blurb from Amazon:
When the U.S. government forced 70,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry into internment camps in 1942, it created administrative tribunals to pass judgment on who was loyal and who was disloyal. Muller relates the untold story of exactly how military and civilian bureaucrats judged these tens of thousands of American citizens during wartime. This is the only study of the Japanese American internment to examine the complex inner workings of the most draconian system of loyalty screening that the American government has ever deployed against its own citizens. At a time when our nation again finds itself beset by worries about an "enemy within" considered identifiable by race or religion, this volume offers crucial lessons from a recent and disastrous history.

You'll recall Eric Muller, of course, from our protracted battle with Michelle Malkin over her book defending the internment, and for his many fine years of blogging at Is That Legal?

He's already put up some early posts explaining what American Inquisition is all about, beginning here and here and here. I particularly was intrigued by the most recent, which describes the point system by which bureaucrats could assess the loyalties of the Japanese Americans whose possible prolonged imprisonment they were determining:
The first idea was a point system. Bureaucrats in the PMGO would go through individual files – especially the loyalty questionnaires that the internees had filled out – and assign positive and negative point values to the answers, producing a net loyalty score for each file.

So, for example, a Japanese American who was a Christian got a plus-2; a Japanese American who was a Buddhist got a minus-1. If he was "an instructor in Japanese hobbies or sports" such as judo, he got a minus-2; if he was "an instructor in [an] American sport or hobby," he got a plus-2. For each Japanese-American periodical he received, he got a minus-1. If he'd never traveled to Japan, he got a plus-1. One trip to Japan earned him a minus-1. Two trips to Japan got him a minus-3. More than three years in a Japanese-language after-school program in the United States got him a minus-3. And so on.

You get the idea.

For reasons that the archival record does not disclose, the JAJB ditched the point system after a while and shifted instead to a system that looked for particular patterns of factors and then broke the files into three large groups – a "white" group that merited an automatic stamp of loyalty, a "black" group that merited an automatic stamp of disloyalty, and a "brown" or "tan" group that required case-by-case scrutiny of files. (Yes, that's right: the color between "black" and "white" was not "gray" but "brown.")

Evidently, Joseph Heller wasn't writing fiction.

It's all very promising. Given the current state of our national discourse on the loyalty of suspected "enemies," it looks incredibly timely. More soon.

Jus' kiddin'

-- by Dave

Today George W. Bush joked thus:
From this morning's White House press conference:

Reporter: Mr. President, following up on Vladimir Putin for a moment, he said recently that next year, when he has to step down according to the constitution, as the president, he may become prime minister; in effect keeping power and dashing any hopes for a genuine democratic transition there ...

Bush: I've been planning that myself.

Oh heh indeedy. Bush is known for knee-slappers like this. F'r instance:
"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it, " [Bush] said.

So why is it that these jokes don't seem so funny?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No Insurance, No Sex. We Mean It.

-- by Sara

Just when you think that the swiftboating of Graeme Frost was as vicious and venal as the right wing could possibly get, Mark Hemingway over at the National Review Online surges ahead, pushing boldly onward toward an even lower all-time low. Here's his (very) conservatively compassionate take on two-year-old Bethany Wilkerson (above), the second SCHIP poster kid. Hold your nose -- this one's pungent:
While the debate around the Frost family at least initially centered around their relative wealth, the issue really at hand is one of bad behavior....Dara and Brian Wilkerson are real poster children — for irresponsible decisions.

On the conference call, Dara admitted to me that she and Brian had been talking about having children since before they were married. She further admitted that after they were married she voluntarily left a job at a country club that had good health insurance, because the situation was “unmanageable.” From there she took a job at a restaurant with no health insurance, and the couple went on to have a baby anyway, presuming that others would pay for it and certainly long before they knew their daughter would have a heart defect that probably cost the gross national product of Burkina Faso to fix. But not knowing about future health problems is the reason we have insurance in the first place.

Now, pause for a second. Are you reading this at your computer at work, in a job that you don’t particularly care for or even downright detest because you have a spouse and child that depend on you? You wouldn’t be the first or last person to make that choice.

For Dara and Brian Wilkerson, the fact that they don’t have health insurance is less about falling through the cracks than the decisions they’ve made. We know that Dara is at least capable of getting a job with insurance — so why does she not have one now? Even if it is difficult insure her child’s pre-existing condition, what about her and her husband’s health? Perhaps it’s rude to ask that question, but I think it’s rude to accept huge amounts of public assistance and then express gratitude by asking taxpayers to extend a Children’s health program to cover college-age kids who come from households making more than $80,000 a year.
So follow me here.

Dara Wilkerson left a job with insurance -- we're not clear about whether it was before or after she got pregnant -- because it was "unmanageable." Hemingway argues that this was basically candy-assed of her. It doesn't matter to him what the situation was -- but if she was already pregnant, it may very well matter to us. Because there are a lot of reasons that jobs end before pregnancies do. The need to get off your feet, or get extra rest. A doctor worried about pre-eclampsia, or premature labor. Bosses who won't cooperate with changing physical needs. There are a lot of ways a job at a country club could become genuinely "unmanageable," particularly in the back half of a pregnancy. And even if she wasn't pregnant, you can bet nobody leaves a job with decent insurance unless there's a damned good reason -- and most of the best reasons are not the kind of thing most of us would be willing to share with a nosy parker like Mark Hemingway.

(One wonders if Hemingway's ever been around any pregnant women -- or, for that matter, ever been uninsured. One guesses not: he seems to think getting a job with insurance - or getting insurance with a pre-existing condition -- is easy, too. Perhaps on his planet, it is. But on Planet America, I know self-employed families with six-figure incomes who can barely manage the premiums.)

And, having left that job, he's boggled that "the couple went on to have the baby anyway." Yo, Mark: Are you suggesting that Dara should have had (scream, gasp!) a dreaded "abortion of convenience," just because she lost her health insurance? Or that the decision to carry a fetus should be an economic decision, instead of the sacred and unstoppable Gift of God the anti-choice crowd has spent the last 35 years loudly insisting it is?

I hope you didn't have your heart set on a featured speaker slot at the next National Right-To-Life Committee gala. Because if you're saying what I think you're saying...well, it's just not gonna happen, 'K?

Also: Don't look now, but your side has made it virtually impossible to get an abortion in vast stretches of the country -- and is doing its level best to ensure that anything else that stops a sperm from meeting up with an egg is taken off the market, too.

So, assuming the pregnancy was already underway, it's not like putting a stop to the pregnancy was a real option, even if the Wilkersons had wanted to. (And if it wasn't underway, Mark, how do you stand on the government providing free birth control to people like the Wilkersons? I thought so.) Perhaps you should volunteer to "counsel" such misguided couples. Given your obvious insight and sensitivity regarding these matters, I'm sure we can trust you to stop short of coercion.

So, to recap, here's the moral lesson the conservatives want us to take away from the Wilkerson family's public shaming:
-- People without insurance should not have babies.

-- Pregnant people who lose their insurance should abort.

-- Abortion is evil, and should be abolished.

-- Birth control is a personal choice, and should not be publicly subsidized. Let your insurance cover it.

-- If you don't have access to insurance or birth control, don't have sex.
Are you with me so far? OK. Let's take this all the way home now.

Under this New Conservative Order being promoted by NRO and its esteemed colleagues on the right, our society should rightly leave it to employers to decide who gets health insurance. Which, per Hemingway, means that they also have final say over who gets Official Permission to have sex. If you're one of the 47 million people in America whose employers have chosen to withhold this benefit -- which means restricted access to medical birth control, and no coverage for any children that may result -- then the consequences are clear: you need to stop having sex.

Who can argue with this? If you're too stupid and degenerate to get a job with health insurance, you don't deserve to have sex anyway. After all, there's no guaranteed right to sex in the Constitution (and if there was, you can bet we'd be shredding that one, too). No, sex is a privilege that only belongs to those of us who can afford it -- and, ideally, who have submitted to the daily economic supervision of their God-ordained betters. If that's not you, then no fucking, no birth control, no health care, and (especially) no having babies. We mean it.

With wingers, it always comes back to controlling people's sexuality. Always.

Update: Our commenters note several other problems with Hemingway's argument:

Skullhunter points out that there's nothing like taking away people's health insurance to increase their fear quotient. Since fear the way conservatives govern, they've got no incentive to make sure people's kids are covered.

Mary Racine wonders why Hemingway's nosiness doesn't extend to the restaurant owner. Shouldn't we be wondering why he's not providing his workers with health insurance? "Let's look at the owner's house, let's count his cars and how expensive his wife's shoes and purses are..." If the uninsured can be subjected to this kind of scrutiny, then why aren't we doing the same to the people who left them uninsured in the first place?

She also notices some message creep: the mantra "Don't have a baby if you can't afford it" used to be intoned only in the faces of teenage mothers. Now, it's effectively being used to tell the working classes not to breed at all. Feral Liberal points out that Hemingway's modest proposal -- don't breed unless you can afford health insurance -- should logically be extended to people with only catastrophic insurance as well, since a kid with problems like Bethany's would throw many of them onto SCHIP, too. Adding in the underinsured would bring Hemingway's not-qualified-to-breed pool to about 75 million Americans. (Timekiller points out that this would include most of those 10-kid Quiverfull families, too.)

If, under the Hemingway rule, the working class is effectively enjoined from having kids, then we're going to be importing a whole lot more foreign workers in the years ahead to make up for the loss. Which, as Enlightened Layperson notes, would be a demographic disaster -- at least according to racist anti-immigration wackos like Mark Steyn, who thinks we're in some kind of arms race to outbreed the Muslims and the Mexicans. (Apparently, this vital objective in the War On Brown People is critical to our survival as a nation.) The Frosts did their duty by producing a blonde, blue-eyed white baby for the cause -- only to find that is one war function the government is not willing to overpay contractors for.

Though, as Vox Publius observes: Dick Cheney's heart problems are being covered by government insurance -- and nobody thinks this is a problem.

I think we've found our next SCHIP poster boy.

Fair game

-- by Dave

How did we know beforehand that Howard Kurtz would come trotting to the defense of the right-wing pundits plunging over that cliff in pursuit of the Frost family?

Gosh, I guess we're just psychic or something.

Kurtz, in an online discussion yesterday:
Austin, Texas: Howard, I'm not sure what I expected from your discussion yesterday on Reliable Sources in regard to the Graeme Frost debate, but I really left feeling you didn't do it much justice. "The consensus seems to be that the questions were fair, but certainly the tone can be mean-spirited in a lot of these controversies and it is really striking when a 12-year-old boy is involved."

Let's concede the questions were fair and the tone wrong -- but the whole point was that people ran with inaccurate answers to those questions. Kudos to you for half-mentioning it earlier in the segment, but it really seemed like the main point and you guys really didn't discuss it.

Howard Kurtz: But every guest was offered the opportunity to weigh in. Was it fair to question a family's qualifications for the S-CHIP insurance program after Democrats had made the 12-year-old boy a symbol by having him deliver its weekly radio address? My feeling is yes; you can't say one party can trot out such a symbol and no one can criticize. I also recited instances in which I felt the criticism was misleading: yes, the kid attends a private school, but on scholarship. Yes, the dad owns a home but bought it for $55,000 in a rundown neighborhood in 1990. In short, I tried to put the debate into perspective.

Um, Howard, dude: You still didn't answer the question -- namely, why were so many people willing to run false information about them? Try again.
Rockville Md.: I have a question that has been bugging me for some time and I hope you can address it. I have folloewd the recent stories about Graeme Frost, the child who gave the Deomocratic response about SCHIP, and what some commentators are calling the "Swift Boating" of Frost by right-wing groups. Realizing that the jury may still be out about Frost: It is one thing when politicians slam each other, but when someone goes after a private citizen, don't libel and slander laws ever come into play?

Howard Kurtz: Libel and slander laws only come into play when you say something that is both inaccurate and damaging about someone. Whether or not the Frost family should be considered too well-off to qualify for federal health benefits doesn't seem to fall in that category. When the parents agreed to make their son available to the Democratic Party as a spokesman for the program, surely they must have expected that their financial situation would become part of the debate. I am not, for the record, in favor of beating up on 12-year-old boys, but the family did willingly step into the political arena.

Because, you know, every citizen who takes a public political stand deserves to have his entire life audited.
Helena, Mont.: I think there is a difference between criticizing one party's symbol for an issue and the level of venom that was directed at the Frosts -- they were criticized for not going bankrupt in order to pay their medical bills, for pete's sake. Michelle Malkin published their address and telephone number on her blog so more people could harass them. At what point do you say to criticize and at what point do you make the point that someone has gone too far in their criticism?

Howard Kurtz: The Baltimore Sun also published a picture of the Maryland family's house and asked for their tax returns, which the Frosts declined to provide. Is that a mean-spirited attack or plain old reporting?

It's plain old reporting because its purpose was not intended to denigrate the Frosts, unlike Malkin's, which was indeed a mean-spirited attack.

I do wish Media Whores Online were still around to deal with cretins like Kurtz.

[Hat tip to John Cole.]

That flaming wreckage

-- by Dave

My most recent post at The Big Con, "Watching the Bus Plunge," is now up. It's about the massive wreckage wrought by the conservative movement's leading mavens in their pursuit of the Frost family. For openers:
A normal person couldn't be blamed for enjoying a certain grim satisfaction watching movement conservatives go careening over the cliff with their bizarre attempt to smear 12-year-old Graeme Frost. Sure, it's fun to watch Michelle Malkin's pants go down in flames. Who wouldn't enjoy that?

But it's worth remembering that the stakes here run deeper than simple takedowns. There are two serious issues at stake here: how we Americans see our relationship to the government, and how we handle our relationships with each other -- especially those we disagree with.

Go enjoy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

'No fault of his own'

-- by Dave

Writes Thomas Edsall:
Through no fault of his own, Rep. Ron Paul's anti-globalist, anti-government campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has become a magnet in neo-Nazi networks, pulling in activists and supporters from the fringe white nationalist community where anti-Semitism, anti-black and anti-immigrant views are commonplace.

Well, I guess it's not really his fault that Paul has spent the better part of the past two decades hanging out with the fringe "Patriot" right, and that his core positions emanate from a belief system -- revolving around abolishing the IRS and the United Nations and the Federal Reserve and public education and reinstituting the gold standard and thrumming up fears of an insidious "New World Order" takeover -- that is part and parcel of their worldview.

It's just who he is. But of course he attracts their support. He's long been a player on the netherworld between the extremist right and mainstream conservatism, acting as a "transmitter" of extremist beliefs who avoids racist and anti-Semitic talk and repackages for broader consumption their bizarre, conspiratorial worldview as ostensibly normative.

It's important to understand that the conspiracy theories to which Paul subscribes serve very specific purposes for the extremist right. For instance: They believe the IRS should be abolished because the 16th Amendment permitting federal income taxes, like all amendments after the Bill of Rights, was not legitimately passed; real "Patriots" believe only in the "organic" Constitution, after all, which allows them to ignore such annoyances as the 13th and 14th amendments or women's suffrage.

Or then there's the "New World Order," which for the racist and radical represents means the latest permutation in the classic Protocols of the Elders of Zion theory. Abolish the Federal Reserve? That's another blow against the "Jewish bankers" who secretly control America.

Paul himself doesn't necessarily believe these things -- but the theories themselves are so thoroughly rooted in racial and anti-Semitic animus, often playing the role of providing a thoughtful "academic" face to smooth-talking racists like David Duke, that it's hard not to hear Ron Paul holding forth on them now and understand perfectly well where those ideas are coming from, even if it's never acknowledged. Though having seen Paul work the militia circuit in the 1990s certainly gave me a good idea.

It's quite clear who these theories are speaking to, as well. It's odd that a normally sharp-eyed reporter like Edsall can't see that. Evidently, he's fallen for the "libertarian" cover schtick without looking further to see what that really entails.

It's "not Ron Paul's fault" he attracts extremists only if the positions he's staked out, and the beliefs he advocates, aren't his fault either.

A congregation of thugs

-- by Dave

This weekend's gathering of the Watchmen on the Wall in Lynnwood is proceeding apace, despite clear warnings to the civic authorities involved that this isn't a simple anti-gay organization: this is a group dedicated to eliminating homosexuals. By fair means or foul.

A Sunday piece by Jackson Holtz at the Everett Herald covered most of the bases pretty thoroughly:
The venue is owned by the Lynnwood Public Facilities District, a public taxing district that operates the convention center but is separate from the city.

"Our understanding is that they're law-abiding. They have a right of free speech just like any other group," said Mike Echelbarger, the board's chairman.

"If we were talking about the (Ku Klux Klan) we'd have a totally different take on it. Of course we wouldn't rent to the KKK," he said.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said the group's anti-gay message isn't welcome.

"It's not a message that will resonate with the citizens of Snohomish County," he said. "They're wasting their time being here, in my opinion."

The story also quoted the pastor of one of the local megachurches that's cosponsoring the event, disparaging the Southern Poverty Law Center's reportage on the Watchmen (whose Latvian leaders are aligned with genuinely violent elements in Europe and are clearly advocating similar action here):
The Watchmen group is composed of some of the state's 200,000 Russian speaking immigrants, said Pastor Joe Fuiten of Bothell's Cedar Park Church. He plans to be a featured speaker at the Lynnwood event.

Fuiten, known statewide for rallying the religious right on moral issues, bristled at the Southern Poverty Law Center's characterization of the Watchmen.

"That southern law group, they're a bunch of whackos," Fuiten said. "They're the hate group. That's a gay front, is what that is."

Potok said he's heard that kind of criticism before.

"That's what the Klan says about us, too," he said.

Fuiten said the Watchmen are "extraordinarily" religious and conservative.

Many members fled to the United States from former Soviet countries because they wanted religious freedoms, he said. They arrived here to find a secular culture moving away from religious life. Now, they are calling for a return to moral values, Fuiten said.

"Watchmen on the Walls is an extremist organization that makes the radical right look liberal," said Josh Friedes, advocacy director for Equal Rights Washington, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group. He's concerned about violence, and wonders "What will Lynnwood do to make sure that GLBT citizens are welcome in the town and to make sure to the rest of the state that this conference isn't a Lynnwood value?"

Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough didn't return calls Friday.

On Monday, David Schmader at Slog had the official statement from Mayor Gough, which strikes me as oddly obtuse:
“While we must also value and respect the constitutional rights of everyone to exercise their freedom of speech and freedom to peaceably assemble our city will not tolerate the actions of any person or group which violate the personal safety or constitutional rights of any other person or group,” said City of Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough.

Mayor Gough also stated, “The City of Lynnwood wishes to make it also perfectly clear that it does not reflect, nor endorse the views and opinions of those who use the convention center and who may seek to polarize citizens through their own exercise of free speech and right to assemble peacefully.”

As Schmader observes:
If there were any goal to this weekend’s Watchmen event—the repeal of gay-rights protections, the passage of an anti-gay ballot initiative—that would be one thing. Instead, the Watchmen seem to be all about stoking anti-gay hatred (see here for specifics) while offering their stoked masses no legal outlet for their fury, leaving them with what? Fists? Tire irons?

There's also a disquieting aspect to the mayor's statement. It appears to contain a warning to anyone protesting the event, which is reasonable enough, but it also seems that, if anything, the protesters appear to pose a clearer threat in these city officials' minds than the presence of an organizational meeting of a hate group with a violent agenda.

For more on that aspect of the Watchmen, check out Box Turtle Bulletin's reportage, as well as Pam Spaulding's always-superb work at Pandagon. seaQwa is keeping track of the meeting's developments too.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The stop-loss catch

-- by Dave

This week we got the heart-warming news that the Army expects to continue its stop-loss policy for the foreseeable future:
The Army will likely continue employing a controversial “stop-loss” policy intended to keep soldiers in war zones beyond their original commitments due to demands placed on the troops, according to Secretary of the Army Peter Geren.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a directive earlier this year to minimize and eventually eliminate the use of stop-loss. But the Army cannot easily predict when it can do away with the controversial practice, which is keeping 8,000 soldiers in the service beyond the end of their enlistment, according to Geren.

“With the demand on the force that we have today, we are unable to not use stop-loss, in order to make sure that we are able to deploy fully manned and trained and properly prepared brigades to the theater,” Geren said Monday during a press conference at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army. “With the increase in the length of deployments, it increases the number of soldiers on stop-loss.”

Geren stressed that the trend of employing stop loss has gone down over the last couple of years. The policy allows the Pentagon to keep soldiers on — even when their enlistment is due to expire — if it needs to maintain troop strength and unit integrity. The practice has garnered widespread congressional criticism and brought several lawsuits from members of the military.

The "stop-loss" policy, for those new to post-9/11 military realities, is the fine print that's in that contract you sign when you join up for duty in the armed forces these days. It's essentially a clause for indentured servitude -- one that lets the military keep you on board even after the service you thought you'd signed up for has expired.

There have been lawsuits attempting to halt the policy, but the Bush-friendly courts have found them perfectly legal.

What's especially appalling about the policy is the deceptiveness of it all. Patriotic citizens sign up for duty only to find that it means they're essentially signing away all their rights. Consider, for instance that the Department of Defense is claiming that they can keep their current troops under their control for the next 25 years, as some dismayed soldiers have discovered:
Making it all the stranger is that the Army presented him with a new contract that extended his service until 2031. Army spokesperson Hart says the date was arbitrary, meant to allow for "wiggle room." Says Santiago, looking at another 27 years in the Army over and above the eight he signed up for: "It's crazy."

A similar story in Rolling Stone explored this further:
David Qualls, who joined the Arkansas National Guard for a year, is one of 40,000 troops in Iraq who have been informed that their enlistment has been extended until December 24th, 2031. "I've served five months past my one-year obligation," says Qualls, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the military with breach of contract. "It's time to let me go back to my life. It's a question of fairness, and not only for myself. This is for the thousands of other people that are involuntarily extended in Iraq. Let us go home."

The Army insists that most "stop-lossed" soldiers will be held on the front lines for no longer than eighteen months. But Jules Lobel, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who is representing eight National Guardsmen in a lawsuit challenging the extensions, says the 2031 date is being used to strong-arm volunteers into re-enlisting. According to Lobel, the military is telling soldiers, "We're giving you a chance to voluntarily re-enlist -- and if you don't do it, we'll screw you. And the first way we'll screw you is to put you in until 2031."

The latest announcement at least acknowledges that the policy is unpopular, but no doubt they don't dare end it because they need the bodies. And the war is going so swimmingly, after all.