Saturday, June 23, 2007

Book TV, again

It's time for the second installment of C-Span 2 Saturday Nights. Tonight John Perkins gave a talk about his new book "The Secret History of the American Empire". Some of you may remember Perkins from his first book, "Confessions of an Economic Hitman", where he discusses his career convincing foreign governments to comply with the interests of the US, as represented by the World Bank and the IMF. This book goes into a little more depth about the machinations of the US corporate interests, using economic coercion to create an empire rather than overt military might.

First the corporations identify a country with interests worth exploiting. Then the World Bank issues a huge loan to the country for the purpose of development. Except that money never gets to the country, but is diverted to the engineering firms and contractors that build up the infrastructure, and to the few rich government and corporate officials in the country who actually benefit from the "development" projects by colluding with the foreigners against their own people's interests. Eventually, an economic hit man like himself would walk into the government offices in this country and demand cheap resources or a vote in the UN or troops in Iraq since they will never be able to meet the terms of the loan.

If that fails to ensure compliance, the jackals will move in to remove/assassinate that leader, installing one more favorable to the US. He said that because of his own personal failings as an economic hit man, the actual hit men moved against the leaders of Panama and Ecuador and killed them. If the jackals fail to implement US policy in that country, then the military stands ready to bring force to bear.

This supports previous accounts of similar tactics used by bankers and lawyers to coerce foreign governments in developing countries, and correlates nicely with theories of economic imperialism advanced elsewhere.

In the second book, he focused much more on how to change this economic system into something more equitable to the whole world. He dealt with four fundamental questions that we need to ask to determine if we can bring change to a system. First, is there a problem worth trying to change, and what does the change need to be? Second, are we willing to take the risks necessary to implement the change? Third, is there reasonable hope of success in trying to make these changes? Fourth, what can we as individuals hope to do to implement the new system?

Perkins gives a very inspirational speech about change, but one that I feel is somewhat too optimistic. He apparently still has great faith in the ability of humans to get off their lazy stupid asses to help people, even if it won't directly help them immediately. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that Americans seem largely to have lost any capacity for empathy. There are notable examples of compassionate people, of course, but they are the exception. Hell hath no fury like an American separated from reality TV.

But he does try to approach the issue in two ways. He uses the moral argument that, since we as individual citizens have rights and subsequent responsibilities as Americans and as humans, then corporations should be held to the same standard. They have been given rights as corporate persons, but without any of the requisite responsibility incumbent on any effective member of a society. By holding corporations to a new standard of business practice, we can impose on them a new policy, not one of maximizing profit to the shareholders, but one of maximizing benefit to the community. We can convince them to do this, the argument goes, because they already want to go down the responsible path, they just don't know how.

The other approach he takes in convincing people to work for this new version of corporate society is by noting the very real threat posed to the future of humans by the utter failure of the US model of government and economy. He says the US model has already failed, not might fail, or will fail soon, but has already failed, both in fulfilling its purpose and in providing an example to others. If we cannot change our consumption habits, we cannot export our model of society to other nations like China and India. I have seen estimates that, if the current level of US consumption were applied globally, the planet could sustain something on the order of 2 billion people. China has 3-4 times our population and is only now approaching our level of pollution. If consumption trends do not abate soon, the environmental and social order we exist in now will be threatened and ultimately collapse. We have to change because there is no other choice.

I prefer the first argument because it approaches the issue from a social justice perspective that acknowledges the fundamental humanity of everyone, and reminds us that we cannot hope for a better world for our children without rightfully hoping for the same better world for all children. We have the capacity to change the world into a more peaceful place with less poverty and destruction, so we have a moral imperative to do so. I think the second argument will be more effective generally because large groups of people respond better to being made afraid of something, more so if the threat is existential rather than peripheral, if the threat is something that will happen to everyone rather than something that might happen to someone else.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

On Bravery and Scoundrels

Charleston, SC has had a busy news week. Fred has an article about the 9 firefighters that lost their lives in a factory fire yesterday. This is a horrible tragedy that may have been prevented. According to the New York Times, "a bill that would have required older buildings to install sprinkler systems failed in the Legislature two years ago." Unfortunately, building regulations are not on the top of the list of things to get done in a state that in the past year has seen even its AAA credit rating drop. That's when I ironically ran across another story out of Charleston, one that has definitely been overshadowed by the tragic loss of life on the same day.

Indictment Accuses South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel Of Distributing Cocaine, Starting In 2005

(AP) "South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, a former real estate developer who became a rising political star after his election last year, was indicted Tuesday on federal cocaine charges.

The millionaire is accused of buying less than 500 grams of the drug to share with other people in late 2005, U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd said. Ravenel, 44, is charged with distribution of cocaine, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison."
Ravenel, a republican who is "also the state chairman for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign", was just recently elected in November replacing Democrat Grady Patterson. According to the article, "State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart said his agents were aware of the allegations before Ravenel was elected in November, but they didn't have enough information to pursue criminal charges."

How many other Americans have needlessly died while our elected officials were snorting coke up their noses?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Must Read

The General’s Report
How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties.

by Seymour M. Hersh

“They always shoot the messenger,” Taguba told me. “To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal—that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracized for doing what I was asked to do.”

Taguba went on, “There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff”—the explicit images—“was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The President had to be aware of this.” He said that Rumsfeld, his senior aides, and the high-ranking generals and admirals who stood with him as he misrepresented what he knew about Abu Ghraib had failed the nation.

“From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tonight on C-SPAN 2

We were channel surfing tonight when we came across Michael Isikoff interviewing Ted Gup about his new book "Nation Of Secrets: The Threat To Democracy And The American Way Of Life". It was a very educational look at the culture of secrecy that has become so pervasive, not just in government faux national security issues, but in so many aspects of our lives, from federal civil suits to journalism to medical care. He argues that, while there is a legitimate need for national security secrets, the culture of government has been polluted with superfluous classification in an attempt to merely prevent embarrassment or avoid accountability. Also, the problem has been exacerbated by society's acceptance of this secrecy, which raises the issue to one that, he feels, threatens the very fabric of democracy. For if we become complacent, and complicit, in this pervasive attitude of government that they don't need to tell us what they are doing or why they are doing it, then the citizenry's ability to make responsible decisions about our country's future becomes impaired. And he talks about a few juicy formerly classified things that make it that much more interesting a show.

It will be replaying Sunday night at 6 and 9 PM on C-SPAN 2. Get your thinking hats on

Friday, June 15, 2007

Garden Pictures

Main Vegetable Garden

It's kinda small, but for my first garden, it will do. The garden has four tomato plants: Sweet 100, Red Beefsteak, Mr. Stripey, and a Roma. In the back towards the middle are two bell pepper plants, a purple one and a red one. In front are my three yellow crookneck squash plants. Behind them are a row of carrots and a row of red onions. And finally, in the back right corner is my cucumber plant on the trellis.

Okra Garden

My okra are still young. I started them from seed late (May). These are a red heirloom variety from Alabama.

I also have a container garden on my front porch and an herb garden in a flower bed in the front yard. I have a few pictures of the container garden and more pictures of the main vegetable garden here:

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I hope to have pictures of my garden up soon.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Random thoughts

Remember when...

-The Iraq war was illegal?
-Torture was illegal and taboo?
-Illegal wiretapping was an impeachable offense?
-International law meant something?
-Secret renditions for the sake of torture would have been appalling?
-The Iraq war was wrong because we are killing innocent people based on lies fed to us by our own government and not because it was "handled badly"?
-The Geneva Conventions were not "quaint and outdated"?
-Habeas Corpus applied to everyone?

Probably not. It seems that most people have forgotten. Of course, this is why it is so hard for me to even muster the energy to write this blog anymore. I find it impossible to write within the strict rhetorical framework that most people have surrendered to. I still remember all of the above. How anyone can make an opinion on anything in the political world outside the context of the above items is hard for me to understand. (Hence why I have been so disillusioned since the dems took over. They seem to be fine forgetting most, if not all, of the things that led to them being elected)

Oh, just for fun, I will throw in a cartoon:
Ethanol Magic?

Weather and other things

First off, it's hot. Really hot.

I am really tired of the heat and the drought. I just want rain, lots of rain. I was so happy when the last tropical storm came through (what was left of it).

Let me explain how I got to the point of hoping that a tropical storm would come. It all started about mid May when forest fires in southern Georgia and northern Florida were all over the news. Plans to visit my family required that I drive through Georgia, so that had me a little worried. Thankfully, the drive went fine. It was when I was in Alabama that things began to get weird.

I was in Alabama on my anniversary (six years!). That morning I awoke to thick smoke in the air. It wasn't like a cloud of smoke, but more like a blanket. It turned out that winds were bringing massive amounts of smoke from Georgia into Alabama. I told my husband that at least our sixth anniversary will always be remembered. For the next several days the same thing happened, it would be very smoky in the morning and slowly clear up as the day went on. It was not good on the lungs.

Back to present. So far there has been one good rain storm here and that was the result of the last tropical storm, Barry. It is hard to explain how one feels after weeks on end of no rain. I am hoping it will all turn around and the drought will end. Every day here the weather station calls for the chance of afternoon showers and everyday...nothing. Yesterday we had six drops of rain. I was so happy when the sky turned gray, they winds picked up, thunder was heard in the distance. I was sure that a big storm was brewing. Unfortunately, it was a lot of drama with little to show for it. I heard six distinct drops of rain hit the overhang over my back patio and it ended.

So, yes, I want rain. Any way I can get it. However, I don't think the heat and the drought are going to be the end of this summer of crazy weather. If the really early start to hurricane season is any indication of what's to come, I may be in for an eventful summer.