Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Populist Outrage Comix

The One Minute Egg(head)

The Irascible ProfessorSM

"In the future, everyone will be smart for one minute. "

- Carolyn Foster Segal -

by Carolyn Foster Segal.

It sounds like a joke: a community college is offering what it calls "micro-lectures," whose lengths run from one to three minutes (presumably the extended three-minute lectures are for subjects like Calculus IV).  In fact, at one time it was a joke -- as in Father Guido Sarducci's "The Five-Minute University."  But this is no laughing matter.  There's no time for laughter, or much of anything else.  We've got some serious business to take care of here -- and quickly.

The front page of a recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education featured an article by David Shieh with the title "These Lectures Are Gone in 60 Seconds: Minute-long talks find success at a community college" (March 6. 2009).  The college leading the (concise) clarion call here is San Juan College, in Farmington, New Mexico, where last fall's first venture in micro-lectures, in an online degree program in occupational safety, was so successful that the school is now "expanding  [micro-lectures] to subjects like reading, tribal government, and veterinary studies."


This exciting new pedagogical development should be a relief to everyone and has arrived just in time, for it's the perfect answer to current economic concerns.  Instead of cutting course offerings, we can save our classes by simply cutting 95% of the course content.  Students, who have long complained about tedious class sessions and the price (and contents) of textbooks, will now be able to complete a traditional four-year program in just one semester.  Administrators will be delighted to find that enrollments will "quickly balloon."  In its second semester, enrollment in that program on occupational safety "grew to 449."  (What is the maximum capacity for a program on "occupational safety" in cyberspace?)  Nor should faculty members despair -- they should have no difficulty in creating and executing hundreds of these new online lectures.  The article reassures readers that "course development is relatively quick" as indeed it must be, since the new verbiage-free micro-lectures should take about as much time to design and/or deliver as it takes to compose a quick e-mail message.  Course content should be slightly less heavier, in other words, than the home page of About.com.

Good business to invest in

The crooks won't cry when newspapers die

Only the local paper performs the critical function of holding accountable the mayor, the governor, the local magnates and potentates, for how they spend your money, run your institutions, validate or violate your trust. If newspapers go, no other entity will have the wherewithal to do that.

On the day the last newspaper is published, I expect no sympathy card from Kwame Kilpatrick. Were it not for a newspaper — The Detroit Free Press — his use of public funds to cover up his affair with one of his aides would be unrevealed and he might still be mayor of Detroit.

Nor will I expect flowers from Larry Craig. Were it not for a newspaper — The Idaho Statesman — we would not know of his propensity for taking a "wide stance" in airport men's rooms and he might still be serving in the U.S. Senate.

And I doubt there will be a toast of commiseration from Reynaldo Diaz and Oscar Rivero. Were it not for a newspaper — The Miami Herald — they would still be living large on money scammed from an agency that builds housing for the poor.

In short, the day the last newspaper is published — a day that seems to be rushing at us like a brick wall in an old Warner Bros. cartoon — I will not be surprised if the nation's various crooks, crumbs and corrupters fail to shed a tear.

But the unkindest cut of all, the "Et tu, Brute?" dagger in the back, is the fact that, according to a new survey from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, most other Americans won't, either. Pew found 63 percent of respondents saying that if their local paper went down, they would miss it very little or not at all.

It is the insult that compounds the injury, by which I mean the growing sense that we are working on the last major story of our lives and it is an obituary. Ours.


Healthcare Foxes are Building the Taxpayer Funded Hen House

by Donna Smith

If we want to know who is truly at the helm of our national healthcare reform effort, all we need to do is keep watching who is asked to provide official testimony and guidance to Congress and who is left out completely. Those decisions are made at the highest levels in our government and the choices are purposeful and meant to elicit just the information that will bolster a predetermined outcome.

Last week I wrote about Karen Ignagni, CEO of America's Health insurance Plans (the industry trade group known as AHIP) who was called on and recognized by President Barack Obama during his White House Summit on Healthcare Reform in late February and who was also the only "stakeholder" seated in the front of the room later for a briefing by the staff of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (the committee chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy). Clearly, Ignagni has been afforded a sort of access and status in this debate and in the reform effort that many others have not.

The fox isn't just in the hen house. The fox is building it.

I've got to hand it to Congress right now. Most members of Congress are making sure they remember "on which side of the toast you find the butter" in terms of making the for-profit health insurance industry comfortable in their deeply entrenched roles not only in our broken healthcare system but also in the deep-pocket funding of many Congressional campaigns. The insurance industry's influence is purchased with millions and millions in campaign contributions and with the preventable deaths of tens of thousands of American citizens every year. That is fact.

So why does it even warrant mention that the hearing this week to discuss health insurance reform has a witness list populated with industry-friendly voices, including Ignagni? I write this because it is so deeply dishonest and offensive to me that we are told we have an allegedly open and inclusive process to explore what's best for the nation's healthcare reform while the drafting and crafting thunders forward with very closed very elitist and very non-human rights oriented effort.

If healthcare is a basic human right, we must start from that truth and work forward in how to provide that basic human right to every person in this nation. Period. That is not Karen Ignagni's view. It is not her job. Her job - and she does it well - is to advocate for and protect her industry.


It's illegal to feed homeless, man arrested

Iraq's most ancient sect in need of protection to escape extinction

By Kareem Zair
One of Iraq's most ancient sects is on its way to become extinct after nearly 2,000 years of existence.
The Mandeans, the worlds only surviving representatives of Gnosticism, have been living in southern Iraq since the 1st century A.D. But their existence is under serious threat.
Prior to the U.S. invasion, more than 30,000 lived in Iraq, mainly along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries.
"We fear for our lives particularly following several fatwas in which we are denied the status of the People of the Book," said Sheikh Sattar al-Hilou, the Mandeans chief in Iraq.
The term 'the People of the Book refers to non-Muslims who have been accorded special protection under Islamic Jurisprudence. The Koran calls them Ahl al-Kitab, a term, which besides Christians and Jews has historically covered the Mandeans.
Religious militias are using these fatwas, or religious decrees, against the Mandeans to force them to enter Islam, Hilou said.
He said he was not aware of anyone of his people converting to Islam despite threats of death.
"As a result more than 22,000 of my community have fled the country," he added.
He warned the Mandeans would cease to exist as the countrys most ancient sect if the government fails to protect them.
The Mandeans are called in Iraq Subbas and for centuries they have been Iraqs best goldsmiths and canoe makers.
They are strongly pacifist and are not known to have ever resorted to violence.

The Pope and AIDS: can he just stick to what he knows?

Pope Benedict XVI, right, seen, with Cameroon's President Paul Biya, during a meeting at the Unity Presidential Palace in Yaounde, Cameroon, Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Pope Benedict XVI set down strategy for his church in Africa on Wednesday, telling Cameroon's bishops to protect the traditional values of the African family and to spare the poor from the impact of globalization. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

by Aimee Kligman

While I understand that the Pope is a revered figure in the Christian world, there ought to be limitations to the subjects he touches. I equate his eminence to the Queen of England, a monarch, and for the most part, irrelevant. To be fair, I'll also cite the example of Rabbi Ovadia and members of the Shas Party of Israel, who think that homosexuals are evil and need reform. How about foreign policy and  Dick Cheney?

When it comes to questions and matters of sex, drugs and diseases which arise as a result of both, separation of church and state is paramount. Thus, when the Pontiff declares that condoms will worsen the AIDS situation in Africa, it is tantamount to saying let's not vaccinate our children against polio. It is that disconnect between reality and the rigors of the Church that question its authority. It is also testament to the fact that the Church has not recognized the deadly cocktail of imposed celibacy and child molestation.

Even former President George Bush whose periphery of knowledge is rather narrow, understood the devastating effects of AIDS and the ravages it was causing in Africa. He deserves credit for his US$15 billion initiative (Pepfar) that changed the face of healthcare in Africa, and was hailed as nothing short of revolutionary. Now, make no mistake, Mr. Bush was indeed an extremely religious individual who believed he was ordained by God to serve as president. But, by the same token, he understood that AIDS was not subject to a miracles program.


The real threat

Victory in the War on Hummus

Israel bows to U.S. pressure, lifts food restrictions on Gaza

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told the United States and the European Union that Israel will lift restrictions on food items, such as pasta and cheese, entering Hamas-ruled Gaza, diplomats said on Monday.

The government of U.S. President Barack Obama had protested at these and other seemingly random Israeli restrictions, which held up deliveries of certain types of noodles, fruit jams and other foodstuffs to 1.5 million Palestinians in the enclave.

In one case, Israel blocked for weeks a World Food Programme shipment of chickpeas, used to make the Palestinian food staple hummus, according to the UN agency.

Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Olmert's office informed Washington and Brussels that all types of food would be allowed into the Gaza Strip.

"The policy of the government is clear. All food is humanitarian and all humanitarian supplies can go through, as is our policy. We have made sure that that is clear," a senior Israeli official said. "We want the process to be streamlined."

But Western diplomats remained cautious, saying it was unclear whether instructions from the outgoing prime minister would be followed by Israeli military officials who run border
crossings with the Gaza Strip.

Diplomats said it was also unclear whether restrictions on deliveries of other harmless items, such as toilet paper, soap and toothpaste, would also be lifted.

Am Not Jewish, but

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Rupert Murdoch Over the years, some of my wildest critics seem to have assumed I am Jewish. At the same time, some of my closest friends wish I were.

So let me set the record straight: I live in New York. I have a wife who craves Chinese food. And people I trust tell me I practically invented the word "chutzpah."

Ladies and gentleman, I am humbled by the honor you have given me - because this award speaks more to your good work than it does to mine.

The American Jewish Committee started in response to the persecution of Jews in czarist Russia. And your response took a very American form: an organization that would speak up for those who could not speak for themselves.

In the century since your founding, the American Jewish Committee has become one of the world's most influential organizations. Yet though your concerns begin with the safety and welfare of Jews, these concerns are anything but parochial. The reason for this is clear: You know that the best guarantee of the security of Jews anywhere is the freedom of people everywhere.

Your good work has helped bring real and lasting changes to our world. Unfortunately, while some threats have been defeated, new ones have taken their place. And these new threats remind us the AJC's work is more vital than ever.

In Europe, men and woman who bear the tattoos of concentration camps today look out on a continent where Jewish lives and Jewish property are under attack - and public debate is poisoned by an anti-Semitism we thought had been dispatched to history's dustbin.

In Iran, we see a regime that backs Hizbullah and Hamas now on course to acquire a nuclear weapon.

In India, we see Islamic terrorists single out the Mumbai Jewish Center in a well-planned and well-coordinated attack that looks like it could be a test run for similar attacks in similar cities around the world.

MOST FUNDAMENTALLY, we see a growing assault on both the legitimacy and security of the State of Israel.

This assault comes from people who make clear they have no intention of ever living side-by-side in peace with a Jewish state - no matter how many concessions Israel might make. The reason for this is also clear: These are men who cannot abide the idea of freedom, tolerance and democracy. They hate Israel for the same reasons they hate us.

As I speak, the flashpoint is Gaza. For months now, Hamas has been raining down rockets on Israeli civilians. Like all terrorist attacks, the aim is to spread fear within free societies, and to paralyze its leaders. This Israel cannot afford. I do not need to tell anyone in this room that no sovereign nation can sit by while its civilian population is attacked.

Hamas knows this better than we do. And Hamas understands something else as well: In the 21st century, when democratic states respond to terrorist attacks, they face two terrible handicaps.

THE FIRST HANDICAP is military. It's true that Israel's conventional superiority means it could flatten Gaza if it wanted. But the Israel Defense Forces - unlike Hamas - are accountable to a democratically chosen government.

No matter which party is in the majority, every Israeli government knows it will be held accountable by its people and by the world for the lives that are lost because of its decisions. That's true for lives of innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire. And it's also true for the Israeli soldiers who may lose their lives defending their people.

In this kind of war, Hamas does not need to defeat Israel militarily to win a big victory. In fact, Hamas knows that in some ways, dead Palestinians serve its purposes even better than dead Israelis.

In the West we look at this and say, "It makes no sense." But it does make sense.

If you are committed to Israel's destruction, and if you believe that dead Palestinians help you score a propaganda victory, you do things like launch rockets from a Palestinian schoolyard. This ensures that when the Israelis do respond, it will likely lead to the death of an innocent Palestinian - no matter how many precautions Israeli soldiers take.

Hamas gets away with this, moreover, because it does not rule Gaza by the consent of those it claims to represent. It rules by fear and intimidation. It is accountable to no one but itself.

This is the chilling logic of Gaza. And it helps explain why even a strong military power like Israel can find itself at a disadvantage on the ground.

THE SECOND HANDICAP for Israel is the global media war. For Hamas, the images of Palestinian suffering - of people losing their homes, of parents mourning their dead children, of tanks rolling through the streets - create sympathy for its cause.

In a battle marked by street to street fighting, the death of innocents is all but inevitable. That is also true of Gaza. And these deaths have led some to call for Israel to be charged with war crimes by an international tribunal.

But I am curious: Why do we never hear calls for Hamas leaders to be charged with war crimes?

Eight years of research

Wash. Times forwarded false GOP suggestion that Bush administration played no role in AIG bonus controversy

Summary: A Washington Times article reported GOP criticism of Democrats over the AIG bonus issue and quoted a Republican strategist asserting: "This is not something [Democrats] can point to George Bush. ... They own the issue of giving bonuses to the AIG executives." But the article did not note that $53 million in AIG bonuses that the article mentioned were reportedly paid out under the Bush administration, or that a Bush-appointed special inspector general for TARP has stated that the Bush Treasury Department knew about the AIG bonus contracts and did not insist on their abrogation as a condition of AIG's receiving bailout money.

In a March 23 article about the GOP's strategy to use "furor" over AIG bonuses to boost its congressional election chances in 2010, The Washington Times' Sean Lengell reported that "the Connecticut attorney general said AIG papers showed that the company paid out $218 million in bonuses -- $53 million more than had been disclosed previously." Lengell went on to report that "[t]he blame, Republicans say, rests squarely with the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in Congress for including a provision in the $787 billion economic-stimulus package last month that allowed AIG executives to receive their bonus checks" and quoted Republican strategist Dave Winston asserting of Democrats: "This is their action. This is not something they can point to George Bush. ... They own the issue of giving bonuses to the AIG executives." At no point did Lengell note that the $53 million in bonuses to AIG that the article mentioned were reportedly paid out in December under the Bush administration, or that Neil Barofsky, a Bush-appointed special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), stated in March 19 congressional testimony that the Bush administration Treasury Department knew about the AIG bonus contracts and did not insist on their abrogation as a condition of AIG's receiving bailout money.

According to a Media Matters for America search*, the Times has yet to report Barofsky's statement that the issue of whether to disallow AIG executive bonuses was specifically considered by the Bush Treasury Department, which ultimately gave $40 billion to AIG pursuant to a November 2008 stock purchase agreement without requiring that AIG withhold those bonuses as a condition of receiving the federal aid. Many other media outlets have also ignored Barofsky's testimony.



"I was shocked to learn how big his bonus was." --President Barack Obama

by R J Shulman

Taking a cue from the recent tax imposed by Congress on AIG executive bonuses, the New York Yankees are asking Washington to impose a 90 percent tax on the bonus the Yankees paid its star third baseman, Alex Rodriguez. "It's not fair to America's pastime to reward such a large bonus when his numbers just haven't come up to expectations," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, an early supporter of the A-Rod tax, told Congress that "it must come to the aid of the New York Yankees because they are too big to fail."

"I was shocked to learn how big his bonus was," said President Barack Obama," especially when there are so many deserving underpaid minor leaguers."

"All this talk about A-Rod's bonus is just a distraction from the real issue," said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. "AIG has just spent $1.1 billion of their bailout money to have the Yankees' new ballpark called AIG Stadium."

The Alex Rodriguez bonus tax will be debated by the Senate on Monday and is expected to pass despite the growing opposition by crowds gathering in Washington waving signs that read, "Yankees Go Home."


AIG's new name