Monthly Archives: February 2008

“Family Values” My Ass!

I always ask myself why conservatives have enough supporters to get elected.  Those who benefit from having a conservative Republican in power are really an elite few — but the way they gain a large number of their supporters is via their platform for “family values.” Their call for family values is but a mask that they use so they can not only win the support of the wealthy and those in power, but also those who hold in high esteem a conservative moral standard. After some minor digging, anyone can see that their policies are not aimed towards helping our families or instilling a moral fiber into our nation, but achieving their own agendas to line their own pockets.  

~Abstinence-Only Education

Although Bush spent $10 million on abstinence-only education in Texas, the data proves that spending more doesn’t necessarily mean getting more. 

“During President Bush’s tenure as governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000, with abstinence-only programs in place, the state ranked last in the nation in the decline of teen birth rates among 15-17 year-old females,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Among this statement are findings from a congressional staff analysis concluding these federally-funded programs are presenting “false, misleading, or distorted information,” such as:

– “HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread as via sweat and tears.”

– “Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.”

– “Touching a person’s genitals can result in pregnancy.” 

Denying our future generations the scientific truth should be a crime, and feeding them distorted “information” is not installing family values, but hurting our families in the long run.

~Drilling for oil in Alaska

It sounds quite impressive when someone states “If we start drilling in Alaska, we can potentially produce 1 million barrels of oil a day.”  It’s also easy to exaggerate with numbers. One million sure seems like a substantial amount of oil—but not compared to the 20 million the United States consumes each day.  Potentially destroying pristine wildlife areas will not reduce reliance on imported oil as this foolish venture will only  produce 5 percent of our “needs.” 

As for gas prices, this is not enough to make a dent-and also keep in mind that the rising prices in California, for example, were due to corporate markups and profiteering.

~”Clear Skies”

Just as we’ve seen how easy it is to toy with numbers, it’s just as easy to have a pleasing nomenclature.  Clear Skies sounds like a step towards a cleaner environment, but according to the Sierra Club, this act weakens many parts of the Clean Air act put in place by the Clinton Administration.  With Clear Skies, there is a loophole that exempts power plants from being required to install clean-up technology to reduce air pollution. 

p1010063.jpg

[Photo by Diego Cupolo]

If this doesn’t sound a bit backwards, take a look at the increase in toxins that are allowed to be released.  For example, we can expect a 68% increase in NOx (Nitrogen Oxide) –a major contributor to smog that is linked to asthma and lung disease.  Along with NOx, we can expect an increase in Sulphur Dioxide and Mercury—and to top it all of, Clear Skies “delays the enforcement of public health standards for smog and soot until the end of 2015.”  Boy that sure sounds like an administration that cares about the well being of families.

~War in Iraq

The United States has already spent half a trillion dollars in Iraq.  What does that mean for the typical family since the start of the war? $16,000 dollars per family since the war began—and that’s not counting the 700,000 Iraqi civilians killed, 4,000 US soldiers dead and 60,000 US soldiers wounded. 

I have to ask, where is all this money going to?  Of course, I’m expecting technologically advanced weaponry and transportation whether air or land to rack up the cost, but there are a few prominent places where our tax money is going and that’s into the pockets of the Bush administration’s friends. 

So how does one make money off of war?  Baghdad Burning author “Riverbend,” (who remains anonymous for her own safety) listed in her accounts the frustrating reconstruction process.  Once a building or bridge is destroyed, it must be rebuilt.  But instead of contracting Iraqi engineers (and Baghdad is very well known for its engineering schools) or employing Iraqi workers, the bid goes out to Bush and Cheney’s old time cronies, for example, KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton.  What does this mean? Instead of the job getting completed for half a million dollars, the job is contracted for hundreds of millions dollars. This not only fills the pockets of war profiteers, but it also leaves many intelligent and able-bodied Iraqi citizens without jobs and, therefore, without money to feed their families, which then in turn makes that large sum of money offered by insurgents ever so tantalizing.

If our government really cared about family values, they would send our mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, husbands and wives back to their families where they belong — and not overseas risking their lives for others’ profit.  If our government really cared about family values, it would realize that women who have walked the streets of Baghdad in jeans and a t-shirt and who have enjoyed full employment before this war now feel pressured to hide behind a veil and stay at home — for there is so much turmoil and despair in the streets that their safety is now at risk. 

~Abortion

One of the more touchy subjects that divide the population is the stance on abortion.  For anyone who has seen the tragic pictures of the aborted fetuses, this isn’t an issue of money or pollution but a human life.  Yet the subject isn’t so black and white when it comes to the issues that surround it.  One must always look at its history and the role that socio-economic status plays in order to make a sound judgment. 

Abortion was always available to women through predominantly discreet ways.  Women whose families had the monetary backing, would readily reply to sly advertisements for top health services listed in the local paper.  Less affluent women were forced to more extreme and dangerous methods in order to achieve the same results.  If you didn’t have $1,000 cash one hundred years ago, you were on your own to find the means—and risked greater injury and death.


[ An 1845 ad for “French Periodical Pills” warns against use by women who might be “en ciente” (French for pregnant)]

If abortion is once again outlawed, the definite crack running between the haves and the have nots will split further. Those women who have the means will still have the opportunity to receive a higher standard of services whether right here in the states or through services abroad.  Those without the monetary backing can only look forward to a higher possibility of damaged reproductive organs and a higher death rate.

Abortion always existed, and believe it or not, abortion will always exist, whether legal or illegal.  (By the way, keep in mind that there will ultimately be a social upheaval IF abortion is ever outlawed.) When it is legalized, it can be regulated to uphold a certain level of quality standards; if it is not, than it is the poor that are ultimately punished.

If you are against abortion—then great—don’t have one.  If one really wishes to make an impact on the number of abortions performed, then I highly suggest supporting social programs that help these mothers with both financial support and a federal-based program for free child care.  (It would also help if this society changed the way it views single mothers.)  Ironically, it just so happens that most conservatives are also against the same social welfare programs that help support these struggling mothers.

~”No child left behind”

Now this is completely backwards—it calls for giving money to schools that are performing well while withholding money from schools that are performing poorly.  How does this make sense?  Shouldn’t the struggling school receive more funds so that it could get back on its feet? 

In working for an adolescent literacy program, I’ve gotten to know the frustration teachers, principals and most importantly children experience over standardized testing that will determine whether or not their school will have a chance.  To add a second kick to the face, Bush’s latest proposal calls for a budget cut—approximately $300 million dollars—from after school funds and a drastic restructure of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs that would convert it to an unstable voucher program.  After school programs work—they keep kids safe, incite them to learn all while assisting working families.  I suppose our children’s education and their future in tomorrow’s workforce means nothing compared to the need for an unnecessary war.

So, remind me again how the conservatives are promoting “family values”?

– written by Elena Gaudino

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Zeitgeist: Tactical Myths That Control the World

A compilation of the most prominent myths that have misled our culture for centuries. An in-depth look at the world, exposing the abuse of power from the time of the Egyptians to the war in Iraq.

For more information visit www.zeitgeistmovie.com

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Pacific “Garbage Island” Stretches from Hawaii to Japan

A “plastic soup” of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.

The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world’s largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting “soup” stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.

Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “trash vortex”, believes that about 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region. Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which Mr Moore founded, said yesterday: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.”

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer and leading authority on flotsam, has tracked the build-up of plastics in the seas for more than 15 years and compares the trash vortex to a living entity: “It moves around like a big animal without a leash.” When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. “The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic,” he added.

The “soup” is actually two linked areas, either side of the islands of Hawaii, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches. About one-fifth of the junk – which includes everything from footballs and kayaks to Lego blocks and carrier bags – is thrown off ships or oil platforms. The rest comes from land.

Mr Moore, a former sailor, came across the sea of waste by chance in 1997, while taking a short cut home from a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race. He had steered his craft into the “North Pacific gyre” – a vortex where the ocean circulates slowly because of little wind and extreme high pressure systems. Usually sailors avoid it.

He was astonished to find himself surrounded by rubbish, day after day, thousands of miles from land. “Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by,” he said in an interview. “How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?”

Mr Moore, the heir to a family fortune from the oil industry, subsequently sold his business interests and became an environmental activist. He warned yesterday that unless consumers cut back on their use of disposable plastics, the plastic stew would double in size over the next decade.

Professor David Karl, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii, said more research was needed to establish the size and nature of the plastic soup but that there was “no reason to doubt” Algalita’s findings.

“After all, the plastic trash is going somewhere and it is about time we get a full accounting of the distribution of plastic in the marine ecosystem and especially its fate and impact on marine ecosystems.”

Professor Karl is co-ordinating an expedition with Algalita in search of the garbage patch later this year and believes the expanse of junk actually represents a new habitat. Historically, rubbish that ends up in oceanic gyres has biodegraded. But modern plastics are so durable that objects half-a-century old have been found in the north Pacific dump. “Every little piece of plastic manufactured in the past 50 years that made it into the ocean is still out there somewhere,” said Tony Andrady, a chemist with the US-based Research Triangle Institute.

Mr Moore said that because the sea of rubbish is translucent and lies just below the water’s surface, it is not detectable in satellite photographs. “You only see it from the bows of ships,” he said.

According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food.

Plastic is believed to constitute 90 per cent of all rubbish floating in the oceans. The UN Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic,

Dr Eriksen said the slowly rotating mass of rubbish-laden water poses a risk to human health, too. Hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets, or nurdles – the raw materials for the plastic industry – are lost or spilled every year, working their way into the sea. These pollutants act as chemical sponges attracting man-made chemicals such as hydrocarbons and the pesticide DDT. They then enter the food chain. “What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It’s that simple,” said Dr Eriksen.

– This aritcle originally appeared in The Independent and was written by Kathy Marks, Asia-Pacific Correspondent, and Daniel Howden

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This is what democracy looks like

It’s hard to keep faith in representative democracy after days like today.

This afternoon, the United States Senate voted to preserve retroactive legal immunity for telecom companies who cooperated with intelligence agencies in the wake of September 11, 2001.

What’s more, the Senate also permitted the government to conduct wiretaps without a warrant by reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act without any additional protection for the privacy of Americans.

Here’s Senator Russ Feingold setting forth the implications of this bill in layman’s terms.

You can prove the United States conducts torture, but you still can’t hold anyone accountable. The same goes for tearing asunder U.S. domestic laws regarding privacy and protections against self-incrimination. The same goes for the 24/7 surveillance society that has sprung up over the past seven years.

There was a lot of empty talk about “change” during the ’06 elections. In the ’08 Presidential campaign, that catchphrase has been substituted for genuine discussion of the disaster that is the Global War on Terror, record inequality, the creeping re-segregation (class or racial, take your pick) of American society, and the decrepitude of a bicameral political system beholden to banking and military-industrial institutions that have driven the United States into needless wars and a looming economic catastrophe.

To quote a certain Washington native, “regime change starts at home.”

written by Ali Winston

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Criminal neglect

Lost amidst the tumult of primary fever was the ninth anniversary on Monday of Amadou Diallo’s infamous shooting by the NYPD’s street crime unit.

On the morning of Feb. 4, 1999, the Guinean immigrant was cut down by a hail of 41 bullets in the doorway of his Bronx home. Was he carrying a Glock? A Desert Eagle? A live grenade?

Diallo was holding his wallet in his hands. The officers had mistaken him for a serial rapist and panicked when Diallo reached inside his jacket to produce identification. All four cops were acquitted in a jury trial that had been moved Upstate because Bronx residents, in the eyes of the court, were biased against the NYPD.

 Although the incident caused nation-wide outrage and touched off days of heated protest in front of One Police Plaza, not one New York or national news outlet opted to cover the anniversary. For many New Yorkers, particularly black and Latino residents, the Diallo case is a shining example of NYPD over-policing in minority neighborhoods.

Moreover, Diallo’s death is frequently invoked in the discussion of another high-profile NYPD shooting of a 23-year-old black man, that of Sean Bell in November 2006. Bell’s trial is set to begin later this month, and although the trial will remain in queens, the three detectives accused of his murder will be tried by a judge instead of a jury.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

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The New New York and Postmodernism

This is the way Postmodernism arrived. Not with a bang but a whimper. I stepped into a taxi several months ago, my first cab ride after moving back to New York City following a five-year absence. I was shocked to discover that many taxis had installed monitors in the back-seat partition during the interim. This particular one offered me a news report from one of the local network affiliates.

The top story? A pending taxi strike, of course, spurred by conflicts between cabbies and City Hall over the installation of screens in the cars. I didn’t dare ask the driver for his opinion on the matter. My mind couldn’t take so many levels of meaning, irony and coincidence at the same time.

Postmodernism, that nebulous intellectual burden of all scholars, is nothing new. Indeed, it’s grown so old that one wonders why it hasn’t died a quiet, dignified death yet. But getting smacked by it in the back seat of a New York cab was just too much.

 The Hearst Tower in Manhattan

This wasn’t the first time Postmodernism intersected with something so intrinsically New York. For architectural examples, take a walk by Norman Foster’s new Hearst Tower for a view of a skyscraper rigorously deformed from the all-too-common rigid lines and boxy contours of blah modernism. And then there is Philip Johnson’s Sony Building (nee AT&T Building), that snarky, self-referential strike at the glass box by one of its greatest formulators and practitioners. Architectural tempers have rarely been so inflamed as they were by the ridiculously superfluous pediment Johnson plopped atop his design. Even Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, all rotund and curvilinear, is an obvious marker of a new style.

Literary New York, meanwhile, was almost perfectly depicted in the works of Brooklyn native Paul Auster. Beginning with “The New York Trilogy” and continuing through many of his subsequent novels, the city became a playground for intertextuality, for finding the hidden underneath the ordinary surface of life and for extended wanderings through shifting ideas of identity and mystery.

But Postmodernism appeared in my life long before Auster, Johnson or that absurd taxicab experience. It showed up rather randomly at the beginning of sophomore year at the elitist New York private school I attended.

“And once we get through all that, we’ll even talk a little about Postmodernism,” my teacher intoned after describing the course of study for her yearlong history class.

A sharp taskmaster with a passion for discussing the French Revolution and a talent for inspiring dread in slackers, she had listed off a catalogue of subjects from the Enlightenment to the Marshall Plan, generating little but ennui from the student body. But when Postmodernism was announced, it drew forth oohs and aahs from the assembled pupils.

Postmodernism (and it seems so momentous and ostentatious a word that it requires constant capitalization if not perhaps the insertion of some foreign diacritical marks for added prestige) was one of those nebulous terms of the intelligentsia that us academic neophytes had heard but never truly understood. It somehow seemed too advanced for high school students – like Ulysses or the French New Wave – something that our parents would tell us not to pursue until our intellects had caught up with our curiosity in a few years. So Postmodernism’s inclusion in the syllabus gave us all a sense of maturity, far more than the average 15-year-old kid probably had.

Postmodernism seemed an appropriate conclusion for our two-year whirlwind tour through the history of the world (or rather, the history of Western civilization, though no one would admit it). The year before, I had a gangly, effete teacher with a mid-Atlantic accent a bit more American than Cary Grant’s. His constant, needling question, also spoken with the gravest of tones: “At what price modernity?” I never truly uncovered the answer.

Ultimately, we didn’t get as far as Postmodernism during sophomore year. Hampered by length discussions of modern art and “The Communist Manifesto,” our class was stuck on the Cold War when it wrapped up in June. But when I graduated from college six years later, I had as firm a grip as anybody on what Postmodernism meant – namely, everything.

I was delivered harsh doses of Postmodernism in college. The subject hardly seemed to matter; history, political science, art history, English, film – all ceaselessly elicited the P-word, most often from professors but increasingly from students as well.

The only class I am sure did not include Postmodernism was inferential calculus. Differential calculus, on the other hand, was taught by a chain-smoking native of Tblisi prone to exclaiming in a thick Georgian accent, “Now look at this super-duper equation.” It was almost a constant exercise in meta-mathematics.

Meta, of course, became the preferred prefix in those days, and its attachment before many words seemed to stir furrowed brows and more abstract discussion than anything else. And why not? Survey courses in history, which became my major, were invariably dragged down by the details. Discussing the study of history rather than history itself was far more intellectually rewarding, so I have no complaints about my education. The only enduring disappointment was never coming across the term meta-Postmodernism in any text. But there it still time.

There was much to enjoy about Postmodernism But to the poorly informed and the pseudo-intellectuals, Postmodernism became an academic crutch. It could explain anything if used vaguely enough, as was often the case. And when people employed the word, they were most often simply describing literary or artistic references as crass as the ones that begin and end this article.

The final word (and perhaps the most intelligent one) on Postmodernism belonged, of course, to “The Simpsons,” that singularly thorough satirical chronicler or American life.

The plot of “Homer the Moe,” an episode in the 13th season of the TV series, depicted Moe Szyslak’s attempts to refurbish his eponymous tavern into a swanky nightclub. The perpetually perspiring schlub soon reopens his bar as “m” and quickly attracts a clientele consisting of the hipster elite. When Homer Simpson and the rest of the gang from the old Moe’s Tavern arrive, they are disappointed to find the television broadcasting a large image of a blinking eye. The décor, a regular explains, is Postmodern, or just Po-mo for short. When Homer tries to turn the TV to a football game, he is greeted with widespread hostility, though one clubgoer says watching football is OK if it’s done with irony.

Well, Po-mo did to Postmodernism what D-Wade, J-Kidd and K-Mart did to basketball nicknames. The Poetry-in-Motion folks probably weren’t too happy, but the hyphenated conflation of Postmodernism rendered it a merely overused byword for the world’s youth and pop culture consumers.

No endless college classroom discussions on the methods of history could outdo this. And so, for several years, I thought that Homer Simpson, large blinking eyes and the worst fictional bar in the world had taught me all I needed to know about Po-mo. And then I stepped into the back of a cab on the Upper West Side.

Ah, Postmodernism! Ah, humanity!

written by Adam Bloch

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