Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Bush/NSA spying + Dean against Gays (Again) + France's Universities Dying?

NSA database program revealed
A while ago, Bernie linked to a site that detailed the partial list of cthe rimes, disasters, scandals, and crises that have occurred under George W. Bush, who, as the self-described "the decider," appears to have decided to outdo even the worst of his predecessors (Warren Harding, Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, James Polk, his father) in his quest for the title of "Worst US President Ever." Today, we learned he's been working overtime on this effort: Leslie Cauley of USA Today reported that under Bush, the National Security Agency has been secretly culling the phone records of tens of millions of ordinary Americans without judicial warrant, but with the cooperation of telcom companies AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. Denver-based Qwest, however, refused to participate. According to Cauley,

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made - across town or across the country - to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.

Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy questioned whether millions of ordinary Americans were supposed to be members of Al Qaeda, and continued to inquire about the program's legality on tonight's New Hour with Jim Lehrer, while leading GOPers in the Senate and House had mixed responses, some defending Bush on the meretricious grounds of the nebulous "war on terror," while others expressed concern about yet another possibly illegal and un-Constitutional administration program. 72 members of the House (71 Democrats and 1 independent) so far have filed papers towards a bill to end the database program

Obviously worried about the political fallout of having yet another domestic spying program revealed, Bush tossed out his usual buzzwords ("September 11" etc.) at a noon press conference, assuring listeners that the program was legal and necessary. One immediately casualty may be his designated new CIA chief, General Michael Hayden, who is allegedly an architect of this program. But we are surely only getting an infinitesimal sliver of the truth, and I have to wonder at this point how Bush could possibly believe--if he does--that he has any credibility left except among the diehard and dwindling few that still applaud his tenure. Meanwhile, with prior administrations and local governnments having already paved the way for the increasing incorporation of a surveillance society and the negation of the 4th Amendment's protections, and under the guise of the limitless and extratemporal "war on terror," we are confronted with another example of the administration's assault on the US's Constitutional system, on the government's separation of powers, and on our civil liberties, among other things. Like the manufacturing of the war in Iraq; the Guantánamo detentions; the secret and not-so-secret torture programs; the global renditions and ghost prisons in Europe; the 750 signing statements disregarding Congressional prerogatives or laws; and the previously disclosed domestic warantless wiretapping program, Bush and his administration have shown that they will pursue and arrogate to themselves as much power as they can, secretly or openly, with de facto tyranny being the result. If they have bankrupted the Treasury and left the nation's laws, military and infrastructure in a shambles in the process, so much the better. As it stands, they know and fear no limits.

Dean slags off on gay people again
Dizzy DeanAs Bush and the Republicans keep digging an abyss for themselves and the country, some members of the Democratic Party unfortunately do their best to compound the effort, align themselves with bad Republican positions and drive away longstanding and potential supporters. Howard Dean (at right, photo from Southern Voice), the excitable chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, had already created a stir last year by eliminating the gay outreach desk and then again just weeks ago by firing Paul Hitchcock, the DNC's gay outreach adviser. Wednesday night, on the unstable Pat Robertson's far right-wing 700 Club, he misstated the Democratic Party's 2004 electoral platform, erroneously claiming that the party espoused the belief that marriage was solely "between a man and a woman." The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force not only criticized Dean's remarks in the strongest terms, but also returned a DNC donation.

Given that the dizzy doc is the putative head of the party, there simply is no excuse for his mistake. Dean has been courting Southerners and conservative Democrats since he won the chairpersonship, but the 21st century Democratic Party simply is not--never--going to appeal to the far loony wing of Christianists even come Armageddon (they'll be swept up, they believe, in the "rapture"), and there are numerous dire issues Americans are demanding that politicians address, yet with this unnecessary and idiotic stunt, he's shown that once again, he's already bought into a bad and virulent Republican meme. Perhaps if Democrats spoke and acted with conviction, rather than pandering and falling over themselves to kiss the ass of nutcases, as Dean has done, they might draw even more voters to the polls on their behalf, whether they agreed with gay marriage or not. As things stand, Dean has given some gay voters a reason at the least to assume that the two parties, despite their obviously differing approaches to LGBT issues, are actually not so far apart.

France's university system is kaput
A few years ago, an older friend of mine lived for a short period in France with her husband, a computer scientist, when he taught for a semester at the University of Grenoble. (I believe it was Grenoble and not Nantes.) She told me that she enjoyed the experience tremendously, as did her husband, whose innovative genius, track record of entrepreneurship and long corporate experience all led to the CS department there to invite him as a visitor. At most American research universities and even many public and private colleges, this sort of invitation wouldn't be uncommon, but it was, if I recall correctly, a big deal in France. In today's New York Times, there's an article on the problems with France's university system, which is completely state-controlled, underfunded and badly structured in a two-tier system that ill serves the vast majority of its students, who attend free of charge or for very little, and makes many American public universities and colleges, which also face funding crises, look as flush as Harvard or Princeton. The article specifically examines the dilapidated campus of the University of Paris-Nanterre (where Michel Foucault was appointed to the chair in philosophy in 1967, just before he assumed a similar post at the experimental university at Vincennes). These days, according to the Times, Nanterre is a physical and administrative mess; a crowded commuter school that's falling apart, it offers degrees that are basically worthless. Most of the state's educational budget goes to a handful of elite schools, or grande écoles, like the l'École Normale Supérieure (ENS) or l'Institut des études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), while the rest of the system is starved. This scenario is worse, from what I can tell, than two of France's wealthiest and large neighbors, the UK and Germany. In Britain, a funding crisis spurred increased fundraising and private investment in the public system, while the bottleneck in intellectual opportunities led to the construction of a host of newer universities and programs over the last 30 years. In Germany, the state universities have also been in malaise, but for the most part, I think, the Germany system is not subject to the funding or institutional hierarchy that exists in France. I have often criticized the American higher education system, which over the last three decades has increasingly unaffordable for many Americans as tuition and fees have outpaced inflation and incomes, even at public institutions, but France's system, if it is at all akin to what the Times lays out, seems like a pretty awful alternative.

Courtyard at College de FranceOn the other hand, there is the small and extraordinary Collège de France, where Foucault (and other exalted intellectual figures, including Pierre Bourdieu, Yves Bonnefoy, Fernand Braudel, Georges Dumézil, Pierre Boulez, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Jean-Pierre Vernant) also taught (unsurprisingly, almost no women or people of color have ever been appointed to a chair there). I've always thought that an institution of this (though without the misogyny, racism and ethnocentrism), that drew some of the top scholars in the US and world to a central, fully funded center that was, unlike the august, intellectually immured Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, fully open to the public, would be a great addition in the US system. But public funding for it is unforeseeable even in the distant future.

Random photo

A Hudson Street flower vendor, on a late night in April


  1. I've bought flowers there! I had no idea of the situation with the French university system. Well I did know about the misogyny, racism, and ethnocentrism--hmm again how is it that Foucault and Bourdieu are so helpful to engage when analyzing the power dynamics of those same isms? Anyway, thank you for detailing their troubles, I agree an institute such as you've described would be a great place, but yeah, it's a big dream in this funding environment.

  2. Audiologo, you have? I used to pass this place all the time but I don't think I've ever bought flowers there! It is ironic about Foucault, Bourdieu, and I'd add Althusser to some extent, which would make it utterly ironic, given his violence against his wife....