October 3, 2007

Elite Colleges and Affirmative Action

Posted in Higher Education, Politics at 4:55 pm by ndsmith

Following up on some of my previous affirmative-action posts, I found this op-ed in the Boston Globe particularly interesting. The op-ed centers around some new research of the most highly selective Universities in the US. What they find is that roughly %15 of white students at these Universities fall below the institution’s minimum admissions standards. Contrary to the story propagated most recently by the Supreme Court, white students who fall below the minimum standards are twice as likely to be admitted to these Universities than their minority counterparts.

This evidence clearly discredits the myth of the over-qualified white student who is denied acceptance to the most selective Universities because of racial quotas. What it demonstrates is that the much older system of affirmative action, namely, the good ol’ boys network, is still the most powerful system of disenfranchisement at elite colleges.

Of course, this kind of empirically driven argument seems incapable of convincing staunch conservatives, who find Justice Robert’s pithy logic–“the best way to end discrimination based on race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”–more compelling.

June 1, 2007

Why Republicans should not go ga-ga over Fred Thompson

Posted in Politics at 5:01 am by ndsmith

I understand why many Republicans welcome the possible entry of Fred Thompson into the Republican primary race. But I think that this is backward looking rather than forward thinking.

Thompson represents a classical conservative platform in the person of a Washington outsider who could play the role of a believable, assertive and straight-talking statesman and who would undoubtedly surround himself with the elite conservative ideologues of the Republican party. Sound familiar? Yes, it is just this nostalgia for the glory days of Ronald Regan that convinced so many well-meaning people to continue to support George Bush long after it became evident that he was an ineffective leader caught in an ideological time-warp. Bush is the “outsider” who surrounded himself with the most inside of insiders and en masse they have blindly relentlessly pursued a misguided ideological agenda both at home and abroad.

David Brooks has recently made a strong case for why Republicans should get over their nostalgia for the era of Reagan. The logic is quite simple: the agenda of the day consists of immigration reform, global warming, social security and health care. Solutions to these problems are going to require some large-scale governmental measures and the old mantra of deregulation, lower taxes and smaller government is an insufficient answer. Furthermore, if Iraq has shown us anything it ought to have shown us that the cold-war rhetoric of good vs. evil and the free vs. those who hate freedom is shortsighted and dangerous. The war on terror, if there really is one (to borrow a phrase of Jacque Derrida’s), is not a war we can win militarily. The irony is that Bush may understand the need for a real change in Republican ideology domestically (remember “compassionate conservatism”), but he has become so clouded by the haze of 9/11 that he has lost all momentum in that direction.

May 10, 2007

“Support the ‘Oops!'”

Posted in Politics at 3:48 am by ndsmith

That line has nothing to do with this post. It’s a quote from Stephen Colbert.

Also: Jon Stewart’s recent interview with George Tenet is one of the best I have ever seen. Stewart gets Tenet to address the real issues involved in the publication of his new book, At the Center of the Storm. I haven’t read the book, but I heard Tenet with Jim Lehrer and he seemed evasive and I felt that he was hiding something. But Stewart manages to both convince me to see things from Tenet’s side and to probe into Tenet’s real beef with the administration.

May 2, 2007

Are the Current Approaches to Global Warming a case of ‘too little too late’?

Posted in Environment, Politics at 4:21 pm by ndsmith

George Monbiot’s recent editorial highlights an interesting and disturbing fact: in terms of the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we are already in danger of reaching global warming levels of 2 C or higher (these are widely agreed to be “dangerous” levels). He also points out that even the EU and Britain, who are most progressive in setting reduction targets in greenhouse gases, are trying to fudge the numbers rather than face up to the drastic measures that need to be taken (Monbiot suggests an 85% per capita reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for the UK over the next 25 yrs.).

link

April 26, 2007

Bill Moyers on the Drumbeat to War

Posted in Politics, recent history at 3:18 am by ndsmith

Bill Moyer’s journal provides a very good summary of the feedback loop between the administration and the media in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. Much of the information is already widely known, but this short program puts it all together, includes a good cast of key players in inside-the-beltway journalism who were involved in this reporting and introduces information that I was not previously aware of.

link

March 20, 2007

Haven’t you heard?

Posted in Politics at 12:33 am by ndsmith

In case you missed all the buzz around Seymour Hersh’s article that just broke in the New Yorker, I thought I would just pass along to you the fact that the United States government is funding al Qaeda in Lebanon. Say what?! Yup, that’s right, the US government is funding the very people who destroyed the World Trade Center. Listen, if this were coming from some quack job conspiracy theorist that would be one thing, but this is Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer prize winning journalist who was one of the first to break the Abu Graib prison scandal. And it’s not as if I am on the leading edge of this story; it was published in the March 5 issue of the New Yorker and Hersh appeared on Wolf Blitzer’s, The Situation Room (click here to see an excerpt) at the end of February.

This is the quagmire that is Iraq: We invaded a largely unhostile nation controlled by a secular Sunni Baathist dictator under the premise that he was funding and aiding the religious extremist Sunni terrorist group al Qaeda. In fact, these two Sunni sects were wildly at odds with one another; but when we invaded the country and disbanded or jailed all of the ruling Baathists, al Qaeda swarmed into Iraq to fill this power vacuum. Initially, the majority Shia population did not step into the fray, hoping that the United States military would control these fringe fighters. The Shiites made gains in the legitimate Iraqi government forming there, so they saw no need to engage militarily with al Qaeda, until the Sunni deliberately attacked a Shia mosk last summer and instigated a Shia rebellion. Now, Hersh is reporting, the US government sees Shia Islam (in the form of Moqtada al-Sadr, Hezbollah and Iran) as the greatest single threat to national security.

One vulnerable Sunni state that the current administration would like to see retain its power in the region is Lebanon. As a result of the recent Shiite uprising there, a movement that broke into violence with the unwarranted Israeli strikes on southern Lebanon last summer, the Lebanese government is funding al Qaeda jihadist groups as protection against Hezbollah. The administration is funding these groups indirectly through covert operations with the government of Lebanon. There are probably no direct cash flows, but there is an awareness in the Pentagon of these groups and the fact that they are receiving US money. Hersh compares it to Iran-Contra and his sources have informed him that it is at least one of the reasons for John Negroponte’s resignation from the CIA.

Sounds pretty interesting: wonder if it’ll catch on?

March 18, 2007

Oh my!!

Posted in Culture, Leisure, Life, Politics at 2:35 am by ndsmith

Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday was the last Ride the Fire Eagle Danger Day. And if you don’t know what that means, then you must find out… now… here (it’ll only take a few minutes). And in addition to knowledge filling you in on what’s new, you will see animations, power moves, bits of the ORG, an intro broadcast from Hawaii…. and Jack Black, reporting the weather… from inside. All I can say is it’s fluorescent…. or was that evanescent. 🙂 Aaahhh…. it just makes me feel good inside.

March 4, 2007

Jesus Camp-a review

Posted in Life, Movies, Politics at 1:35 am by ndsmith

Just watched the documentary Jesus Camp. Anyone who grew up with an evangelical Christian background–actually, anybody who cares about the social state of this country–will find this movie is disturbing. It is intensely personal, highly critical, at times touching and artistic. It is a caricature of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States and like all caricatures intensifies certain features of the movement at the expense of a realistic representation. Yet it is not for that reason false.

I used to go to a summer camp that was organized for the purpose of instilling, not to say indoctrinating, a fundamentalist Christian world-view. There is enough in the movie that I recognize as an accurate depiction of the disturbing impact of fundamentalist religious beliefs on children that I would not call this movie a fabrication. I know that people like Bill O’Reilly think that this movie–along with the recent Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi–are paradigmatic examples of a left-wing conspiracy to discredit and undermine well-meaning conservative Chrstians by highlighting the most extreme elements of the movement. But the fact that anything like the events portrayed in Jesus Camp actually happen (even if only in this unique situation) is disturbing in itself.

March 2, 2007

Democracy soiled again

Posted in Politics at 1:48 am by ndsmith

I am really tired of people trying to use the principle of Democracy in order to advance patently undemocratic agendas. Right now, Republicans are opposing and President Bush is promising to veto an amendment to the current S-4 bill that would make it easier for unions to organize in the workplace. Why? Because if union organizers use easily distributed membership cards then membership would not be determined through a “closed ballot” democratic procedure.

The problem is that the opposition to unions, which has been a long-standing principle of “free market” ideologues, is anti-democratic in principle. They say that this will hinder the capacity of a corporation to seek the common good through its ability to churn the economic energy of the country. But a corporation is simply a legal construct which is created for the purpose of allowing a group of people to act as an independent legal entity. If that meant that every member of the corporation were equally entitled to all of the benefits of the corporation, then there would be no problem. However, in practice, this is almost never the case, specifically because in the United States it is easy to find workers willing to fill wage earning jobs. Thus, in practice, the corporation is an independent entity that acts on behalf of a few people in the corporation, specifically, those who are not wage earners.

If we deny wage earners the capacity to negotiate their wages and benefits collectively, then we are implicitly granting one group of people rights that we are denying another. This is undemocratic; and a fortiori there is no reasonable grounds–on the principle of democracy–to oppose it.

February 17, 2007

A low blow

Posted in Politics at 4:14 pm by ndsmith

I just read in the Colorado Daily an inevitable but no less disturbing fact. Recently a (partisan?) entrepreneur lost his battle to trademark an unusual name that might be used for the sale of t-shirts and bumber stickers. The name: “Obama bin Laden.” That’s right. Swift Boaters know the power of association over dignity.

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