A Message To The Little People
Tom Ridge, Director of Homeland Security, resigned today. He has told friends that he now has two college-age kids and therefore needs to make more money. His salary at DHS was $175,000 per year.
What message does this send to the average US household which is trying to manage and send their kids to college on just $43,318?
Today is Buy Nothing Day!
Exotic Dancers R Us
I love being Canadian! I bet we are the only nation in the world where the Immigration Department has a
"stripper visa program that was introduced to rectify an ostensible shortage of exotic dancers."
Not only that, but more than 600 dancers came into Canada on the program last year alone! What a country!
Give 'Em Some Stick!
Having lost the trade war over Canadian softwood lumber imports in every trade forum from NAFTA and WTO, the US still cannot abide losing. Its illegal trade sanctions have already ripped the heart out of a number of BC communities. Now, news is that the US Congress is about to make matters a whole lot worse.
My own solution is quite simple: Let the US economy survive without Canadian lumber until they come to their senses.
As the Canadian government, I would simply agree to purchase all of the lumber produced for export in Canada. If I could sell some of it elsewhere (Japan, China?), I would. If not, I would simply store it. The cost over time will be less than the duties we are paying, the business we are losing, and the unemployment checks we have to cut.
Let's see what U.S. housing starts (and construction costs) look like after a year with only domestic lumber available.
Score Another One For George
George Bush and his minions call the invasion of Afghanistan a huge success. Charles Krauthammer's gloating pre-election article is typical of the genre:
"[Afghanistan] represents the single most astonishing geopolitical transformation of the past four years ... creating in less than three years a fledgling pro-American democracy in a land that had no history of democratic culture and was just emerging from 25 years of civil war."
Rush Limbaugh calls the Afghani adventure "a profound and robust success," while Ollie North claims that the "the Afghan people are rejoicing," and saying that Bush's "Afghan achievement is enormous." The State Department lauds what it calls "humanitarian success stories" and the White House itself is endlessly plugging this foreign policy "success".
Needless to say, many observers disagree with the Administration's rose-tinted view of the situation on the ground. And so does reality. Just this weekend, for example, in the Ukraine we had yet more proof that simply allowing people to vote solves nothing, and the recent elections in Kabul which were cause for such momentous joy in Washington have similar value to those in Kiev.
More importantly for the long term, perhaps, is yet more proof that Afghanistan under the puppet American regime has become a narco-republic on a grand scale. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that
"opium cultivation has spread to all of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces, making narcotics the main engine of economic growth and the strongest bond among previously quarrelsome peoples. Valued at US$2.8 billion, the opium economy is now equivalent to over 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s 2003 GDP ... [C]orruption in the public sector, the die-hard ambition of local warlords, and the complicity of local investors are becoming a factor in Afghan life.”
"Years of war and tyranny have eroded Afghanistan's economy and infrastructure, yet a revival is underway. Afghans are busy starting their own businesses. Some 15,000 licenses have already been issued for foreign businesses and investors to explore economic opportunities in Afghanistan."
If so, score one for George!
Brief Notices XV
Another selection of items I wish I had more time to dwell on.
To start, there is an excellent scholarly review by Denis Dutton of Joseph Carroll's "Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature." Carroll posits that "the narrative proclivities of human beings, far from being an incidental by-product of the evolved mind, are central to some of its most human functions." Fiction, he says "provides us templates for a normal emotional life." Fascinating stuff.
Talking of fiction, I remember as a young writer in the mid-1960s discovering Terry Southern through a collection called, I believe, "Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Stories." I devoured everything of his I could get my hands on. An article in the Washington Post reminds me that Southern's "The Magic Christian" features "Guy Grand, a billionaire who amuses himself by staging elaborate pranks that cause people to reveal how much they're willing to degrade themselves for money." Does that remind you of any TV shows you've seen recently?
And while you "enjoy" all those reality TV shows, perhaps you will also be "enjoying" a TV dinner, which celebrates its 50th birthday this year. A good little article in the Christian Science Monitor informs us that the TV dinner was created first to deal with an excess of poultry after the 1953 Thanksgiving season. The first TV dinner sold for 98 cents and "let customers feast on turkey with corn bread
stuffing, buttered peas, and sweet potatoes - right in front of their
Finally, and completely unconnected, I want to mention this wonderful site -- chordbook.com -- through which I am sure one could learn the fundamentals of guitar playing. It is incredibly enriching that people put this stuff out there for free.
Land of Bliss and Fairyland
As regular readers will know, I have a certain fascination with life in North Korea. After all, where else would you have celebrations to honour the 20th anniversary since leader Kim Jong Il's "famous" work "On Improving and Strengthening Land Administration" was made public. The DPRK News Agency assures me that, under the wise tutelage of this brilliant analysis,
"[m]ountains of the country have been covered with trees of good species through a mass tree-planting campaign. Such beauty spots as Mts. Chilbo, Kuwol and Jongbang have been equipped with better conditions necessary for recreation grounds and other scenic spots including Songam Cavern and Ulrim Waterfalls have been found and visited by a large number of people. Many towns and counties have been facelifted.""
North Korean Minister of Land and Environment Preservation Jang Il Son, citing the anniversary,
"called upon all the officials and working people to turn out in a gargantuan campaign to convert the country into a socialist land of bliss and fairyland in the Songun era under the great Songun leadership of the Party and translate Kim Jong Il's far-reaching plan into reality."
You can't make this stuff up, folks. But when the joking is over, the fact remains that 23 million people live under the hard heels of a brutal egomaniac and his all-powerful Army.
While it is clear that the North Korean regime has an extraordinary ability to restrict unwanted information getting to its own people, and that it spends inordinate sums on internal propaganda, a recent article in Der Speigel suggests that the people still fight back when pushed too far. In a new book about North Korea, Jasper Becker, a British author and journalist living in Beijing, writes that "factories, military units, and even entire towns revolted against the leadership in Pyongyang."
"Becker obtained details about the biggest labor demonstrations in North Korea's history, which took place in 1998 in the industrial city of Songrim. The protests began on a cold February morning after the public execution of eight men, all managers at the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Works. Their crime? In an effort to provide food for the workers and their families, they sold parts of the factory to Chinese businessmen. Even though many of Songrim's inhabitants were starving at the time, the attempt to circumvent the defunct public supply system to obtain food was considered sabotage and treason ... A few hours later ... the factory's employees stopped working. The peaceful protest was short-lived. The next morning, tanks broke through the factory gates and mowed down the demonstrators. According to eyewitness reports, hundreds lost their lives. Several days later, dozens of suspected agitators were shot, and countless so-called counter-revolutionaries and their families were taken away to labor camps."
Most observers agree that the economic and food situation in North Korea is better now than it was in the 1990s. However, CNN quotes one leading Korean scholar as saying that, even today "it's quite easy to spot North Koreans criticizing their regime and Kim Jong Il in public." The same observer, perhaps indulging in wishful fantasy, links this to reports that official portraits of the Leader have been removed from public spaces.
"So these recent incidents surrounding his title and portraits in the official buildings may be an indication that Kim Jong Il is aware of the criticism toward his regime and is lowering the level of personality cult around him in order to appease the public sentiment."
However, the DPRK News Agency has furiously denied that portraits have been removed, and diplomatic reports suggest that nothing unusual is afoot.
Kim Jong Il has confounded his critics many times before. He acts the buffoon -- in our eyes, at least -- but he has a native survival intelligence and an equally native brutality. It will take quite some upheaval to overthrow him.
No Need To Know
It is a truism of authoritarian regimes that the more information they collect on you, the less information they are willing to share about themselves. The Bush-Cheney regime gave early signals of its intentions when George Bush transferred his papers as Governor of Texas to his father's Presidential Library, thus "shielding his years as governor from the kind of scrutiny that might have revealed the extent of his dealings with scandal-ridden corporations such as Houston-based Enron, or with the oil-and-gas lobby now fueling much of the White House's energy policies."
The quote is from Pierre Tristram's excellent review of the Bush regime's "unprecedented, systematic assault on openness" through the first three years of the administration. He reminds us that in 2001, Bush signed an Executive Order allowing Presidential papers to be held closed beyond the 12 year limit mandated by the law. He reminds us of the 10-month fight by the GAO to obtain details of Cheney's Energy Task Force meetings; a fight that was lost when a Bush-appointed judge ruled for secrecy. He reminds us that A-G Ashcroft encouraged government departments to resist Freedom of Information requests. Tristram concluded that "secrecy has become a pathalogical impulse at every level of government."
Now, we see further evidence of their desire to restrict your knowledge. In what has been characterized as
"a momentous expansion of the apparatus of government secrecy, the Department of Homeland Security is requiring employees and others to sign legally binding non-disclosure agreements as a condition of access to certain categories of unclassified information Up to now, non-disclosure agreements have only been used ... to regulate access to classified information ... such classification-like controls have never before been systematically imposed on access to unclassified information."
That kind of general restriction is further strengthened with additional measures for specific information. For example, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:
"Tucked within the House's 497-page version of the "9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act" is a provision to repeal the requirement that senior-level officials report their personal financial assets valued at more than $2.5 million. It also would end the practice of disclosing the dates of stock transactions ... The new disclosure provision was included during the conference committee negotiations. "They're burying it in a large bill that is very controversial on other issues, so no one is going to pay any attention to this," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group."
And why is this so important at this time? Because "[i]n 2002, the Center for Public Integrity revealed that 22 of the top 100 Bush administration officials had "significant" holdings in companies that had lobbied their departments, agencies or offices. They don't want you to know stuff. I wonder why?
At the same time, the Department of Defense has taken steps to remove from public distribution geo-spatial images and navigational information that have been in the public domain until now. In fact, anything with even the most remote connection to "intelligence" is now more restricted than ever before -- even to those you might think are keeping watch. Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.), a member of the conference committee looking at reform of the US intelligence community, said the Senate's chief negotiators "had accepted a House demand stripping out all congressional oversight of the national intelligence director".
"Americans can now be obligated to comply with legally-binding regulations that are unknown to them, and that indeed they are forbidden to know."
That sounds like the beginning of a very bad end.
Hatred In The Bloodstream of the Bush Base
Kevin Sites is the reporter who filmed a US Marine murdering an unarmed injured Iraqi. He is now on the death list of Bush's base, the far right. There is a very troubling site called "Free Republic" where these wingnuts have free rein to vent their frustrations and their murder-inciting rhetoric.
In a discussion on that site, these are some of the things these sick folks say should happen to the reporter who, of course, did his job as he was supposed to:
"... the Marines [should] dish out the justice [to the reporter]."
"Turn Sites over to the terrorist.."
"No need for anything overt. Unfortunate things happen in combat zones, and if the
reporter fails to hear someone yell "Sniper!!", well, c'est la guerre."
" This is one scumbag "reporter".
"Someone should've deserted him right before sunset in Fallujah, or some such
"This guy Sites shouldn't walk away from this unscathed. Red America wants
"I say take him out in the middle of fallujie in the middle of the night and drop him
"He should be tried and killed."
Bush's base sure don't like seeing the truth on TV, do they?