It’s no news that the U.S. has been falling behind many other countries in terms of academic performance. What was interesting about this article in the New York Times however was the brief, and not very fleshed out, assertion that it’s not entirely because of the school system, but our culture in general.

From the NYT:

The blame for America’s sagging academic achievement does not lie solely with public schools, Mr. Butt said, but also with dysfunctional families and a culture that undervalues education. “Schools are inheriting an overentertained, distracted student,” he said.

Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who leads the Senate Committee, picked up on that comment. “Overentertained and distracted — that’s right,” Mr. Harkin said. “The problem lies with many kids before they get to school, and if we don’t crack that nut, we’re going to continue to patch and fill.”

Hmmm, really, the U.S. doesn’t value education? I couldn’t have figured that one out when we twice elected a President who people “wanted to have a beer with” but who could barely put together a grammatically correct sentence on his own. And Sarah Palin is ripe to take his place as friendly idiot in chief.

This also reminds me of a recent book by Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason, examining the anti-intellectualism, and anti-intelligent streak in American culture.

Here is the interview she did with Bill Moyers.

She makes a lot of interesting points and I particularly like how she places part of the blame at the feet of the media for their false treatment of different arguments as equally valid, when sometimes they are not:

And I think– if I may inveigh against myself, ourselves, I think the American media in particular has a lot to do with it. Because one of the things that really has gotten dumber about our culture the media constantly talks about truth as if it– if it were always equidistant from two points. In other words, sometimes the truth is one-sided.

I mentioned this in THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks there was a huge cover story in TIME Magazine in 2002 about the rapture and end of the world scenarios. There wasn’t a singular secular person quoted in it. They discussed the rapture scenario from the book of Revelation as though it was a perfectly reasonable thing for people to believe. On the one hand, these people don’t believe it. On the other it’s exactly like saying– you know, “Two plus– two plus two, so-and-so says, ‘two plus two equals five.’ But, of course, mathematicians say that it really equals four.” The mathematicians are right. The people who say that two plus two equals five are wrong. The media blurs that constantly.

BILL MOYERS: You call that a kind of dumb objectivity.

SUSAN JACOBY: Yes. Dumb objectivity. Exactly.

We have to start raising the bar.


On Saturday, I had already been in D.C. 2 days, and seriously needed to get out and find a little rabble to rouse with.

And Kaiser pissed me off when I called them about transferring my coverage from Northern California (“we don’t do that”).

I thought a health care reform organization could use my anger energy. I went online and looked up health care advocay groups and found that there was going to be a rally right over at Dupont Circle on Tuesday. Yay!

So yesterday (finally over my nasty cold) I hopped on the metro and went to go yell with people, and present a citizens arrest for the health insurance industry execs that were meeting at the Ritz Carleton.

It started at 10:30, when various groups congregated at Dupont Circle – labor groups, Moveon.org, the satirical Billionaires for Wealthcare, and others. I got me a little sign, and proclaimed my self “another citizen for the public option”, but after seeing others’ signs, I really wish I had written something more edgy.

Below are photos of the rally, and some of my favourite /the  more interesting signs.

Howard Dean addressing the crowd before before the march begins

My favourite sign all day!


I thoroughly enjoyed the lambasting of Liz Cheney for her preposterous ad, implying that justice department employees (she calls them the Al-Qaeda 7) who defended terrorism detainees might somehow legitimately be suspected to sharing their political views, and should therefore be put under suspicion.

Rachel Maddow’s segment here.

Countdown’s segment here.

Silly silly Liz Cheney. She thought she could pick on lawyers just for doing their job? As a friend of mine put it, there are too many lawyers in this country to be able to get away with that.

I also like the zinging tidbit of historical perspective brought up on countdown, pointing out that the lawyer who represented the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre was none other than future president John Adams, who considered it an important act of service to his nation.

It’s nice to see the fear-mongerers go juuuuuust too far and cross the line, and get dropped by even their supposed ideological brethren for being too crazy to excuse.

This reminded me of instances I have read about from the McCarthy era, and coincidentally I came across one today in an article, by Alexander Zaitchik in Salon about one of Glenn Beck’s ideological heroes – a super duper anti-communist called W. Cleon Skousen. This one was a nut, and he was on the government radar for disseminating rabble rousing literature. This is the part I like though:

When Skousen aligned himself with Robert Welch’s charge that Dwight Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” the last of Skousen’s dwindling corporate clients dumped him.

It comforts me somewhat, this thought that these paranoids are so so very paranoid, that eventually they won’t be able to help themselves and they’ll just go too far, all on their own. They’ll hang themselves.

Will Glenn Beck himself, the king of right wing fear-mingering do this? Unfortunately, probably not. Because he’s not sincere enough. He’s far too much of a businessman. Another article in Alternet by Zaitchik demonstrates thats “Beck’s self-image as an entertainer is rivaled only by his self-image as a businessman.” See? Neither of his first two most important roles is actually political, ethical, social crusader. His political stunts are a means to a financial end. He probably won’t let himself get that carried away. Too bad.

But at least I can enjoy watching Liz Cheney get thrown under the bus 🙂

…the governator, Arnold Swarzenegger has brain-farted out the idea of outsourcing our inmates to cheaper, Mexican, prisons.

But do Mexicans think Arnie is "Numero Uno"? Lo dudo.

From SFGate, via Foreign Policy’s Passport blog:

“We pay them to build the prisons down in Mexico and then we have those undocumented immigrants be down there in a prison. … And all this, it would be half the cost to build the prisons and half the cost to run the prisons,” Schwarzenegger said, predicting it would save the state $1 billion that could be spent on higher education.

About 19,000 of the state’s 171,000 prisoners are illegal immigrants, according to the most recent statistics available online. The state spends more than $8 billion a year on the prison system.

Aaron McLear, spokesman for the governor, said later that Schwarzenegger’s comments did not represent a concrete proposal, but “a concept somebody mentioned to him” and he could not say where the governor came up with the $1 billion figure.

Who let him go off script?! Silly handlers, I bet their kickin’ themselves over this.

This is quite relevant to the thoughts I’ve been mulling over recently about globalization, particularly while I was reading Zygmunt Bauman’s Wasted Lives (finished now, btw, and it was awesome).

The reason people get upset about globalization, is cuz only the crappy stuff gets globalized (i.e. exported from rich countries to poor countries): slave wage level jobs, low labor standards, pollution, garbage, corruption, and, now, if the governator has his way, prison populations.

Why don’t we just go ahead and ship all our difficult things to Mexico?  Let’s ship our elderly, and mentally disabled to Mexico too, I’m sure there they could be cared for for cheaper. (They could certainly get their meds for cheaper).

Just as its crappy to send our garbage to China or Bangladesh (which we do a lot of), or to burden other countries with the pressure to produce all our goods on the cheap (quashing labor rights if need be), or to force other nations to open their economies to imports so we can thrive (oh, just read the Shock Doctrine), it’s immoral to outsource any other problem that is produced within our society.

And no, I don’t care if he’s talking about outsourcing “illegal” immigrant offenders. The criminal trials took place here, and we are responsible for them.

(And btw, the sfgate journo mentions that 19,000 of the 171,000 prisoners are illegal immigrants, but it would be helpful to know how many are Mexican illegal immigrants, unless the Schwarz is planning on shipping Guatemalans, Vietnamese, Russians, and whoever else to Mexico too.)

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, both the U.S. and France have announced that they will stop deportations of Haitians that are residing illegally in their countries.

Well, it’s the least they could do, I guess. Some people, though, are pushing (and have been for years) to give Haitians “Temporary Protected Status” which is granted to “certain immigrants in the United States who cannot safely return to their countries because of armed conflicts, natural disasters or other emergencies.” (via the Village Voice) TPS would give recipients a visa to work for 18 months and is often renewable.  People have been pushing for this for years, because the country has  been in such a state for so long that everyday life there counts as pretty much disastrous, and it would be cruel to send anyone back who managed to make it out.

From Newsweek:

In Miami today, a variety of groups, including South Florida’s congressional delegation, immigrant advocacy organizations, and the Catholic Church, held press conferences calling on the administration to act. “If they don’t grant TPS in this situation, they have effectively repealed TPS,” says Randy McGrorty of Catholic Charities Legal Services. “This is exactly what TPS was designed for.”

You can go here to send your elected representatives a letter urging them to grant TPS to all Haitians residing in the US.


[Meant to post this a few days ago, then it got lost in the drafts pile 🙂 ]

Ah yes, right on time, the anti-immigrant hysteria is flaring up after the underpants bomber incident.

Congressman J. Gresham Barret, from South Carolina’s 3rd District, has decided to reintroduce legislation that deport, and bar entry of, all nationals from countries marked “State Sponsors of Terror”. Oh, but of course, he’s going to throw in Yemen too, because, this poorly crafted legislation doesn’t include Yemen, but in light of recent events, we’ve got to get all those new Yemeni-haters on board too.

The inclusion of Yemen is quite telling, actually,  because it’s a blatant admission that terrorists can come from places that aren’t “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” which is just one tiny reason why the idea of this law is stooooooopid to begin with.


Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab - Christmas Day Bomber

Let’s get down to it –  this whole underpants bomber uproar. I have been so annoyed with the renewed fear mongering. My facebook status currently reads:

“Karina Stenquist wonders – if terrorism is meant to terrorize, and we’re now all too scared to fly, & the government’s scaring us into giving up more rights, & accepting more useless flight regulations, if we’re scared enough to suggest “pre-emptive action” in Yemen (Leiberman!), & scared enough to send more people to die to “protect our homeland” from incompetent amateurs with smoking undies, who is really ahead in this “war”?”

Osama Bin Laden must chuckle one of those evil  “everything is going exaaaactly to plan” laughs everytime Pat Buchanan finds a new reason to deny people their rights.

And though pigs appear not to be flying yet, I have found that the most reasonable thing anyone has said on this so far has come from “Gasp!” David Brooks. On PBS’s Newshour he says pretty much what has been screaming through my head the last week or so. No system is perfect. Ever. Get over it. Look at the big picture.

The crux of it:

The reaction, the proper reaction, should, seem to me, to be, listen, we get most of what gets through. There are always going to be things that get through. We have successfully degraded the amount even somebody who gets through can do, because they have to resort to this very inefficient means of trying to blow up an airplane.

But, folks, this is going to happen. And let’s keep our head about this and let’s not get — go crazy over this. So, I thought the Obama administration has gone from one extreme to the other, without finding any balance in between.

Let it be known, I can get over personal dislikes, and ideological differences to recognize a well put argument.

In other fear mongering – a good piece I came across on crooksandliars.com – a piece by Lex at Scholars & Rogues entitled “A Nation of 5 Year Olds

What i don’t understand is the idea that Americans are entitled to perfect security. Here we are (and for the record, all the troops stationed everywhere in the world are you and i) crashing around the globe and blowing shit up, yet those of us in God’s country should face no threat. And for the most part, we don’t face any threat. Nobody’s bombed any of the weddings i’ve been to over the last few years. I’ve never thought, “I don’t think i should go downtown, because somebody might suicide bomb where i shop.” I’m convinced that the Canadians will launch their plan for world domination any day, by invading the social and evolutionary cul-de-sac of America where i live. But as of yet i have not had to contend with RCAF close air support in the neighborhood. [emphasis mine]

Thank you sir! What are the real threats to our lives? Overeating? The health insurance industry? But of course solving those problems would cost big business money, while hyping smoking-undie dudes creates big business for the fear industry (security, the war industry, Glen Beck, etc..)

And how insulting must it be to the people who do live in those conditions – whose weddings do get bombed, who are justifiably afraid of suicide bombers, who do have to watch another country’s military in their streets, and over their skies –  to hear us whine about insecurity?

It reminds me of when, shortly after the Virginia Tech shootings, Jon Stewart had some middle east expert (couldn’t find the episode) on his program, who encouraged people to think about the fact that something similar or worse happens pretty much every day in Iraq. Seriously! We’re fiiiiine folks.

From Scholars & Rogues, Lex goes on to say:

I’m not being glib nor am i underplaying all those “very real dangers” that we face in the post-9/11 world. I’m saying that if we don’t want to live with the dangers then we might want to stop provoking them. I’m saying that there is no such thing as perfect safety and security; you are going to die someday and you probably won’t go to heaven. And i’m saying that our government consistently overplays any actual threats (and their probability) in order to control us through fear.

Which brings me to my last link in the rant of the day: On Larry King, Ron Paul (also someone I wouldn’t normally be super quick to agree with on many things) asked the question nobody was asking – “why?” Why do these bombers exist? Which could then lead daring thinkers to ask how can we prevent, rather than just react?

One thing that is missing here is never asking the question what is the motive? He said why he was — he did it. He said it was because we bombed Yemen two weeks ago. That was his motive. Osama bin Laden said that he has a plan for America. First, he wants to bog us down in the Middle East in a no-win war. He wants to bankrupt this country, demoralize us, as well as have us do things that motivate people to join his radical movement.

It seems like we’ve fallen into his trap. Why is it off base? Today, when the gentleman indicated that he did it because of the bombing, you know what the administration said? They dismissed it. It can’t possibly be so. If you dismiss motivations for why they hate us, we can never resolve this. There’s hate on both sides. You have to ask the question, why do they hate? And they usually come up with a reason. And we’re foolish not to take that into consideration.

And of Course Ben Stein responds that, “They’re terrorists and murders because they are psychos.” Yeah, that makes nice reasonable sense. They appeared out of some psycho black hole that has no connection to the world geopolitical situation. Sigh.

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