The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Saturday, December 30, 2006

The revolution will not be publicized

It would be nice to end the year on a positive note, given the results of the last election. But as I've pointed out on several occasions, even the overwhelming will of the American people could only deliver an "electoral wave" that meant little will change in Washington. Heaven help us all. As Paul Krugman explains, the American right was given carte blanche to run the nation for most of the last twenty years, and they've almost destroyed it.

Unable to make good on its promises, the G.O.P., like other failed revolutionary movements, tried to maintain its grip by exploiting its position of power. Friends were rewarded with patronage: Jack Abramoff began building his web of corruption almost as soon as Republicans took control. Adversaries were harassed with smear campaigns and witch hunts: Congress spent six years ... investigating a failed land deal, and Bill Clinton was impeached over a consensual affair.

But it wasn’t enough. Without 9/11, the Republican revolution would probably have petered out quietly... Instead, the atrocity created ... four extra years gained by drowning out unfavorable news with terror alerts, starting a gratuitous war, and accusing Democrats of being weak on national security.

Yet the Bush administration failed to convert this electoral success into progress on a right-wing domestic agenda. The collapse of the push to privatize Social Security recapitulated the failure of the Republican revolution as a whole. Once the administration was forced to get specific about the details, it became obvious that private accounts couldn’t produce something for nothing, and the public’s support vanished.

In the end, Republicans didn’t shrink the government. But they did degrade it.

Is that the end for the radical right? Probably not. ... Many of the ideas that failed in the Bush years had previously failed in the Reagan years. So there’s no reason to assume they’re gone for good.

Indeed, it appears that loss of power and the ensuing lack of accountability is liberating right-wingers to lie yet again: since last month’s election, I’ve noticed a number of Social Security privatizers propounding the same free-lunch falsehoods that the Bush administration had to abandon in the face of demands that it present an actual plan.

Gag order

The New York Times decided to run an op-ed as edited by our government. Yes, it's for real, and TPM has more of the story. And it is happening here.

But Tehran was profoundly disappointed with the United States response. After the 9/11 attacks, xxx xxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xx set the stage for a November 2001 meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and the foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s six neighbors and Russia. xxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx Iran went along, working with the United States to eliminate the Taliban and establish a post-Taliban political order in Afghanistan.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Spreading Christmas cheer... or at least the munchies.

I didn't see much coverage of this story in the US media, but you won't be surprised to learn that it got plenty of attention overseas. Like in, say, China for example.

Weeding through the value of the nation's cash crops, a study released today states that marijuana is the U.S.'s most valuable crop and promotes the drug's legalization and taxation. (. . .)

Contrasting government figures for traditional crops — like corn and wheat — against the study's projections for marijuana production, the report cites marijuana as the top cash crop in 12 states and among the top three cash crops in 30.

The study estimates that marijuana production, at a value of $35.8 billion, exceeds the combined value of corn ($23.3 billion) and wheat ($7.5 billion).

Keep in mind that the study was conducted by advocates of legalization. But it's still a funny story to keep in your Bush Years Scrapbook.

And on that note, I'm signing off for a long-awaited and much-anticipated vacation. Stay tuned, and Merry Christmas... if that's OK.

UPDATE: How did I miss this item? The creator of painfully unfunny comic strip/Fox News adjunct 'Mallard Fillmore' was arrested for drunk driving. The Onion takes a few potshots.

The War on Christmas: Imaginary, yet profitable.

There don't seem to have been as many stories this year about the many unspecified ways in which unspecified people are trying to outlaw Christmas in America. Or something like that. But that doesn't mean the right-wing pundit class isn't still at it. In fact, it's turning into something of a cottage industry.

The Mississippi-based American Family Association says it has sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers bearing the slogan "Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying."

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group that boasts a network of some 900 lawyers standing ready to "defend Christmas," says it has moved about 20,000 "Christmas packs." The packs, available for a suggested $29 donation, include a three-page legal memo and two lapel pins.

And Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm affiliated with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, says it has sold 12,500 legal memos on celebrating Christmas and 8,000 of its own buttons and bumper stickers. (. . .)

Basic math says the Liberty Counsel has pulled in an estimated $300,000+, the Alliance Defense Fund an estimated $500,000+, and the American Family Association an estimated $600,000+ from selling their "War on Christmas" wares.

Don't you just hate the crass commercialization of Christmas?

Welcome (Back) To The Jungle

It was just a couple of weeks ago that Paul Krugman wrote about the new inequity American workers face:

In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. (. . .)

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation, with 1.3 million employees. H. Lee Scott, its chairman, is paid almost $23 million -- more than five times Roche's inflation-adjusted salary. . . . On average, Wal-Mart's non-supervisory employees are paid $18,000 a year, far less than half what GM workers were paid thirty-five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And Wal-Mart is notorious both for how few of its workers receive health benefits and for the stinginess of those scarce benefits.

Today I ran across an article in The New Republic about another industry that's seen some changes at the expense of working Americans (link at top).

In the postwar years, the industry matured beyond the bloody, septic pit that Upton Sinclair once exposed in The Jungle. It became heavily unionized and began paying wages equivalent to $20 an hour today, accompanied by generous benefits. But, beginning in the late '60s, the companies, eager to escape unions, relocated from cities to the rural Midwest and Southwest. (. . .)

Workers now stood on slippery floors in dark, fetid buildings wielding knives and power tools with which they would slice steers or hogs as they swung past at high velocity. They were paid about half of what their unionized counterparts had earned.

Of course, that article isn't even about the growing gap between rich and poor. It's about the Bush administration inventing yet another bogeyman to appeal to angry, working-class white men while emptying their pockets.

This growing discontent [toward immigration] helps account for the events of the morning of December 12, when the White House launched another campaign of shock and awe. More than 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, clad in riot gear, swooped down on six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants. With the news cameras rolling, the agents carted away nearly 1,300 Latino immigrants whom they accused of "identity theft." The most telling crackdown came in Greeley, Colorado, where 261 workers were hauled away, but only ten were arrested for identity theft.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

See ya at the Little Big Horn

I was going to write a post about how strange it was that today's top story was about Bush's plan to increase the size of the military. If you're like me (and I know I am), the first thing that came to mind was the many stories about missed recruiting goals in the military. Then the many stories about our current military lacking equipment and vehicles. Then the cost of the war to date. It all begs two questions we've been asking ourselves for years: 1) why does the press treat this sort of thing like it's normal, and 2) is the president really that divorced from reality?

Fortunately, Sidney Blumenthal has written an article that does me one better. It even touches on one of my morbid fascinations with our worst president-- his nutty insistence on comparing himself to good presidents. Not to mention the whole pitiable 'obstinate equals virtuous' thing.

A week later, on Dec. 11, Bush met at the White House with Jack Keane, from the latest neocon Team B, and four other critics of the ISG. But even before, on Dec. 8, in a meeting with senators, he compared himself to an embattled Harry Truman, unpopular as he forged the early policies of the Cold War. When Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., offered that Truman had created the NATO alliance, worked through the U.N. and conducted diplomacy with enemies, and that Bush could follow his example by endorsing the recommendations of the ISG, Bush rejected Durbin's fine-tuning of the historical analogy and replied that he was "the commander in chief."

The opening section of the ISG report is a lengthy analysis of the dire situation in Iraq. But Bush has frantically brushed that analysis away just as he has rejected every objective assessment that had reached him before. He has assimilated no analysis whatsoever of what's gone wrong. (. . .)

Every day his defiance proves his superiority over lesser mortals. Even the Joint Chiefs have betrayed the martial virtues that he presumes to embody. He views those lacking his will with rising disdain. The more he stands up against those who tell him to change, the more virtuous he becomes. His ability to realize those qualities surpasses anyone else's and passes the character test.

A Match Made in Hell

A couple of years ago, The Onion ran a story about a meeting of committed libertarians. The tiny group, sitting in a cramped room, seemed divided between "legalize it" stoners and oily businessmen. That's what was so irritating about the 'liberaltarian' story that appeared in The New Republic recently. It generated a fair amount of buzz on the blogs, but I thought I'd skip it for its fatal flaw: arguing that "we need an alliance between liberals and libertarians-- and as liberals, here's a long list of things you can change to get us on board."

Jonathan Chait wrote a response pointing that out, in addition to a series of other serious flaws. I liked the piece not only for that, but because it serves the secondary purpose of addressing the 'liberals can't communicate their philosophy' issue. Besides, even if followers of "objectivism" did make up a significant voting bloc, it wouldn't mean they're any less goofy.

Lindsey's most interesting argument is that the greatest liberal triumphs of the postwar era have been libertarian ones. He maintains that desegregation and other progressive social movements have been enabled by economic liberalization. (The mechanization of housework has enabled feminism, for instance.) "[I]t has become increasingly clear that capitalism's relentless dynamism and wealth-creation--the institutional safeguarding of which lies at the heart of libertarian concerns--have been pushing U.S. society in a decidedly progressive direction," he writes. "Yet progressives remain stubbornly resistant to embracing capitalism, their great natural ally."

Here, though, Lindsey betrays his incomprehension of liberalism. Socialists disdain capitalism. Liberals don't. And, if you want proof that liberal policies are compatible with economic dynamism, consider Lindsey's own examples. The economic dynamism that he credits with producing postwar social progress occurred primarily under--guess what?--liberal-style big government.

Oh, and the author of the original piece wrote a web-only response. In case you feel the need.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Schadenfreude alert!

My health insurer has just notified me, in a brief form letter, that my monthly premiums are to rise from $472.33 to $857.00 on January 1st. That's an increase of 81 percent. ***E*I*G*H*T*Y*-*O*N*E* *P*E*R*C*E*N*T*** Can they do that? I called them. They sound pretty confident they can. Ye gods!

Od's bodkins! Isn't it great to see the cruel hands of reality fix themselves around the throat of a welfare queen like... John Derbyshire of the National Review?

Whose idea was this again?

Oh yeah, the neocons. Although it's no secret that BushCo defied the opinions of military brass when it came to invading Iraq, we're right on course for a rerun. Only this time, the American public is massively opposed to it as well.

The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate.

Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months is one of the central proposals on the table of the White House policy review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. The option is being discussed as an element in a range of bigger packages, the officials said.

But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House review is not public.

The chiefs have taken a firm stand, the sources say, because they believe the strategy review will be the most important decision on Iraq to be made since the March 2003 invasion.

And we finally know the answer-- no, they'll never learn.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Bush Library? Not in my backyard.

When word came out that Bush's presidential library was being planned, it was also part of the deal that something of a right-wing think tank was part of the deal. That seems to have some scholars at the school "considered the frontrunner among the three" candidates worried.

The blog of Paul Burka, the senior executive editor of the magazine Texas Monthly, includes excerpts of a letter written to SMU's president by faculty, administrators, and staff of the university's Perkins School of Theology, worrying about siting the library at the university. In it, they say they would:

...regret to see SMU enshrine attitudes and actions widely deemed as ethically egregious: degradation of habeas corpus, outright denial of global warming, flagrant disregard for international treaties, alienation of long-term U.S. allies, environmental predation, shameful disrespect for gay persons and their rights, a pre-emptive war based on false and misleading premises, and a host of other erosions of respect for the global human community and for this good Earth on which our flourishing depends.

In the most unironic twist to the story, part of the opposition to hosting the legacy of this notoriously secretive and ideologically driven administration lies in... well, you've probably already figured it out.

But [Associate Professor of Christian Education Susanne Johnson] said that the campus has been left 'uninformed and naive' about President Bush’s plans to create a policy center to promote his view of the world."

In case the front pages weren't scary enough...

Great, nine stories to scare the hell out of me-- just in time for Christmas! Try to focus on number seven, is I guess all I can say. The site Foreign Policy takes a look at ten stories that were off the radar this year, and it ain't pretty. Although I consider myself something of a news junkie (surprise!), I was familiar with just four of these stories. Six, if I'm very charitable about it.

10. High-security US "ePassports" hacked
9. The Killer Bird Flu Cure
8. Russia and OPEC Dump the Dollar
7. Women Make Progress in Education, Leadership
6. Iran and Israel Hold Secret Talks
5. US Reconstruction Money Funds the Taliban
4. Russia Makes Billions Selling Arms in Latin America
3. Bush Uses Katrina to Inch Toward Martial Law
2. China's Loansharking in Africa
1. BushCo gives nuclear technology to India-- they pass it to Iran

At least 2006 is almost over, and I can reset the Horror Index to zero in a couple of weeks.

The Right-- already planning the comeback.

The authors of this article also wrote the book Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy, and it sounds like it's probably well worth a read, although it didn't seem to make the splash some other books on the phenomenon have. Highly recommended.

Majority power also gives Democrats the capacity to ensure the accountability that was sorely lacking in recent years. High-minded commentators fret about a subpoena frenzy, but judicious use of congressional oversight and self-policing provides an unmatched opportunity for Democrats to correct past abuses while reminding voters of how, and for whom, the GOP majority used the tools of government authority. Here, too, Democratic control means that what was once carefully hidden can be exposed.

For a sense of how this might play out, look no further than Rick Santorum. In his voting record, Santorum was actually a run-of-the-mill GOP senator, only moderately to the right of his caucus' middle. His distinctiveness came from his willingness to run as who he was, rather than as a fake moderate. The result? Despite spending more than any senator not named Clinton, Santorum lost by a staggering 18 points. One has to go back 26 years to find a Senate incumbent thrown out by a similar margin.

It goes without saying that the Republican powers that be are very, very interested in keeping things the way they've been for the last six years-- reactionary ideologues in power, a media that portrays them as centrist, and a misinformed public. And this post from the Prospect strikes me as entirely too plausible (and is also highly recommended):

It goes a little something like this (hit it): Democrats take over Congress in 2007. Bush begins a troop increase, allegedly in the name of bringing the war to a desirable conclusion. It has all sorts of anticipated ill effects: increased deaths, increased chaos, mounting strain on the military. Bush demonstrates no willingness to back down. Increasingly, liberal anti-war legislators in safely blue precincts calculate that the only way they can stop the war is to stop funding it. When other Democrats in the House and the Senate start equivocating on a funding cut-off, liberal activists start recruiting primary challengers who endorse the plan. Bush comes out swinging: "If they really want to end the war," he says again and again, "they should show where they stand and vote against funding the war." Karl Rove's plan is a simple one: facing a rising popular tide against the war in general, he needs to force the opposition into an antiwar position that isn't popular in particular -- like cutting off funding while the troops are in the field.

Of special interest is a link within the post to another TNR article from October, which looks at the obsession righties have with Vietnam-- just as Bush and McCain (and Lieberman) get ready to go the Vietnam route with Iraq.

War on Terror progress report

As we all know, the GOP has been taking away civil liberties in order to more effectively prosecute the 'War on Terror.' Seems like a fair exchange, and I'm sure those expanded powers wouldn't be used irresponsibly. So let's check today's news and see how things are going...

Case Study 1: It pays to be a whistle-blower.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared. (. . .)

The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.

Oops! Ha ha! Well, mistakes can happen. At least we're good at keeping 'em on ice.

Case Study 2: If at first you don't succeed....

An American who served as Iraq's electricity minister before being jailed on corruption charges escaped today, a senior Western diplomat said. (. . .)

The deputy head of the commission, Faris Kareem, told The Associated Press that this was Mr. Alsammarae’s second escape. By Mr. Kareem’s account, a few days after his conviction, Mr. Alsammarae was stopped at the Baghdad airport, where he was attempting to leave the country with a Chinese passport.

Well, live and learn, I guess. And what are the odds that he'd escape a third time? Not very likely. And once you get to actual trial phase, it's smooth sailing. Right?

Case Study 3: I can never look at a rubber hose again.

Padilla's defense attorneys are asking the presiding judge to dismiss the case on the grounds of "outrageous government conduct." The abuse Padilla has endured while in custody, they contend, has so scarred him that he can no longer even discuss the case against him. They believe he has been rendered incompetent to stand trial.

The logic of the federal government's response to the defense motion was stunningly cold. The U.S. Attorney's office agrees that Padilla needs his competency evaluated. We didn't torture him, argue the representatives of the U.S. government, but if we did, and it made him crazy -- well, then, no claims he makes about said torture can be trusted. He is, after all, mentally incompetent.

But isn't just like a liberal to focus only on the bad news? I'm proud to announce the successful prosecution of a would-be mad bomber. And I don't mean those goofballs in Florida who were briefly-- but very loudly-- billed by right-wingers as criminal masterminds.

Now that I think about it, it's kind of strange that we haven't been hearing much about this counter-terrorism success story from the right-- wouldn't they really crave the publicity with the Taliban re-emerging in Afghanistan and Iraq a more deadly place than ever? I guess it depends on the terrorist...

Case Study 4: Oh, no! A success!

On Nov. 28 -- six days before the Times ran its photos of Padilla -- Demetrius "Van" Crocker was sentenced to 30 years in prison. David Kustoff, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, where Crocker was prosecuted, tells Salon that "It was one of the preeminent anti-terrorism cases of 2006 nationwide." Whether or not that is true, few outside of the greater Memphis metropolitan area have ever heard of Crocker. Only one reporter, John Branston of the weekly Memphis Flyer, even covered his entire trial. What is certain is that in every particular his case is a study in contrasts with the prosecution of Jose Padilla.

According to court documents, the investigation of Demetrius Crocker began in early 2004, around the time he told a man named Lynn Adams that Timothy McVeigh "[did] things right." Adams, who had met the Mississippi-born farmhand through a mutual acquaintance, began to hear from Crocker about his plans for mass murder. A resident of rural Carroll County, Tenn., an hour northeast of Memphis, Crocker told Adams he wanted to kill the black population of nearby Jackson, Tenn., with mustard gas and explode a bomb outside a courthouse. (. . .)

[Crocker] had made a version of Zyklon B, the gas used in the gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps, and he accurately described its manufacture. He had made nitroglycerin. He had the ingredients for a rudimentary bomb in his home, where he also kept several guns he told Burroughs he would use to kill any government agent sent to capture him. (. . .)

The U.S. Attorney's office repeatedly described Crocker as the McVeigh of West Tennessee. "He was Timothy McVeigh," said Kustoff after Crocker's conviction, "and every bit as scary." The jury deliberated just 45 minutes. On April 13, they found Crocker guilty of all five charges filed against him.

Terrorist? Check. Chemical weapons? Check. Islamofascist? Errrr, no. Right-wing white supremacist.

Five years, and still waiting for BushCo's "protection"

Physicist Robert Parks hasn't had much in the way of positive feedback when it comes to science and the Bush administration. But he tends to say it in a more straightforward manner than I usually do.

The response of the Bush Administration to 9/11 included Project BioShield at $5.6 billion. Nearly $1B went to VaxGen to produce 75 million doses of anthrax vaccine by 2006, even though VaxGen had just failed to produce an AIDS vaccine for which it got millions from NIH. VaxGen now says maybe 2009. On Monday, HHS decides whether to terminate VacGen or give them an infusion of cash. I would bet on the cash.

I guess the last five years of Republican fear-mongering have been more of a protection racket. "Keep us in office and let us spend whatever we want... 'cuz it'd sure be a shame if something happened to your family."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bush celebrates Democratic victory by promoting fiscal conservatism

Laugh or cry? The sheer cartoonishness of this administration still amazes me sometimes, although I'm not sure if it's because they actually come up with retarded stuff like this or because it still goes mostly unnoticed. The latest jawdropper has the president who's outspent every administration in the nation's history calling for a little fiscal discipline. An just as his party loses control of the purse strings-- what a coincidence!

"When you decide how to spend your paycheck, you have to set priorities and live within your means. Congress needs to do the same thing with the money you send to Washington," Bush said in the Saturday address to the nation.

"And one of the best ways we can impose more discipline on federal spending is by addressing the problem of earmarks," he said in the radio address.

Earmarks, the President explained, are spending provisions that are often slipped into bills at the last minute, so they never get debated or discussed.

"It is not surprising that this often leads to unnecessary federal spending -- such as a swimming pool or a teapot museum tucked into a big spending bill. Over the last decade, the Congressional research service reports that the number of earmarks have exploded, increasing from about 3,000 in 1996 to 13,000 in 2006," Bush said.

"I respect Congress' authority over the public purse, but the time has come to reform the earmark process and dramatically reduce their number. Reforming earmarks is the responsibility of both political parties," he said.

Friday, December 15, 2006

More from the WSJ/NBC poll

Those numbers on disapproval of Bush and the war aren't the only interesting numbers in the survey, as an astute blogger pointed out:

On energy, 80% favor forcing auto makers to build more fuel-efficient vehicles even if that raises prices; 59% back eliminating tax cuts for oil companies.

The public has far outpaced the majority of its politicians on the desire for fundamental change to our energy economy. It's an example of the electorate's propensity to move strikingly fast on an issue while Washington remains beholden to the language and special interests of yesterday.

That's the rub, and one reason I wasn't overjoyed with the election results. Senator Johnson's tragic health problems was a stark reminder of how tenuous the Democratic position is, and there's still all that corporate cash to go around.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

No, seriously-- we want the Democrats to take charge

Although that elusive new White House strategy on Iraq still dominates the blogs, the only piece of real news is that nothing's changed. The Iraq Study Group is-- a week after releasing their much-anticipated report-- totally irrelevant. The word is that Bush is ready to increase the number of American troops in Iraq by about 15%. The nation still hates the war, but John McCain and Joe Lieberman still love it. (An extremist viewpoint supported by two guys who campaign-- for the White House-- on centrism and common sense.)

Unfortunately, Bush only knows one trick-- selling stubbornness as leadership. And not even Republicans are buying anymore.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Americans have grown more pessimistic after the Iraq Study Group report that the situation there has become "dire." That contributed to Mr. Bush's lowest-ever approval rating in the Journal/NBC poll -- 34% -- and turned Americans toward his Democratic adversaries. By 59% to 21%, Americans say Congress rather than Mr. Bush should take the lead in setting policy for the nation. Nearly a year ago, when Republicans controlled Congress, Americans wanted Capitol Hill to take the lead, 49% to 25% over Mr. Bush. (. . .)

The results show "a presidency that's been whittled down to its ultimate core," adds Mr. Hart's Republican counterpart, Bill McInturff, as even three in 10 Republicans want Congress to lead on national policy. The telephone survey of 1,006 adults, conducted Dec. 8 to Dec. 11, carries a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Mr. Bush's lost standing has ramifications across the political landscape. Seven in 10 say they want the new Congress to pressure the White House to begin bringing troops home within six months.

Michael Crichton: Kindergarten baby who washes his face in gravy?

Since Think Progress' account of this affair has a bit more context, I'm linking to that instead of Michael Crowley's piece. But you really should read the original. It's pretty entertaining. Earlier this year, Crowley had a New Republic cover story taking a long look at Crichton's global warming denial-- which, remarkably, earned him an audience with G-Dub, who apparently wanted to get his science from the real heavy hitters.

In response to Crowley's article, Crichton did what any reasonable adult would do:

Crichton’s response was to smear Crowley in his latest novel, Next, by writing in a character named “Mick Crowley” who rapes a two-year-old boy.

Talk about a class act. As Crowley points out, Crichton has done this before. And it should serve as a lesson for all picked-on junior high kids-- those violent revenge fantasies could make you millions someday.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Failing upward: not just for the White House anymore

It's been a while since the "story" about Harry Reid's ethics problems broke, but it wasn't much of a story. The author, John Solomon, left out a few significant details that favored Reid, and it didn't amount to much anyway-- prime tickets to some boxing matches, which isn't exactly ninety large in the freezer. No rules were broken, there was no quid pro quo, and it didn't go beyond an unwise decision by Reid to enjoy a perk without carefully analyzing the implications first.

It's worked out pretty well for Solomon, too:

Yesterday, not long after The Washington Post announced that it had snagged the AP's John Solomon -- citing, among other things, his courageous exposure of Sen. Harry Reid's "ethical missteps," -- news came that the Senate ethics committee had cleared Reid for accepting free ringside seats from the Nevada Athletic Commission.

That ethics complaint, of course, had been spurred by one of Solomon's hit pieces on Reid, and the one, to our judgment, most riddled with inaccuracies and omissions that served to pump up Solomon's rather lame story.

Old Policy: More of the Same. New Policy: LOTS more of the same.

The White House's interminable insistence that Bush is "listening" on Iraq filled me with dread, and my guess was that we'd just see the same fakeout-- Bush follows nutty right-wing policy, Bush makes conciliatory speech about how seriously he takes criticism and how carefully he weighs every option, Bush keeps plowing ahead. But with Iraq it's more serious than something like the push to eliminate Social Security. That never had a prayer, but the war in Iraq is actually happening.

The bad news, I suspect, is that high-ups beyond the White House still share that strange conviction that if we'd just been "serious" about Vietnam (58,000 dead Americans is half-assing it, apparently), we would've experienced a glorious and overwhelming victory. And damn it if they aren't going to prove it by escalating the violence.

As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff will present their assessment and recommendations to Bush at the Pentagon today. Military officials, including some advising the chiefs, have argued that an intensified effort may be the only way to get the counterinsurgency strategy right and provide a chance for victory.

The approach overlaps somewhat a course promoted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). But the Pentagon proposals add several features, including the confrontation with Sadr, a possible renewed offensive in the Sunni stronghold of Al Anbar province, a large Iraqi jobs program and a proposal for a long-term increase in the size of the military.

Such an option would appear to satisfy Bush's demand for a strategy focused on victory rather than disengagement. It would disregard key recommendations and warnings of the Iraq Study Group, however, and provide little comfort for those fearful of a long, open-ended U.S. commitment in the country. Only 12% of Americans support a troop increase, whereas 52% prefer a fixed timetable for withdrawal, a Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg poll has found.

That's war for you-- the many march off to die for the few. It's just a shame that the United States doesn't have a better explanation than a president's vanity and decades-old animosity toward hippies.

Wishful Thinking

I've found myself linking to the New Republic much more frequently since the election, but they've been posting some pretty interesting stuff lately. This piece might not seem any different from most other examinations of the delusions of right-wing pundits, but I thought it was worth a look. This time, the figure under the microscope is Ben Stein, who is clearly a true believer-- but in what, exactly?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these two Steins sometimes conflict. He calls the disaster following Katrina "a dramatic lesson in the breathtaking callousness of government officials," only to write, not a year later, "I really hate the way conservatives trash bureaucrats." In one column he writes approvingly of the return, in Bush's tax cuts, of Keynesian economics, only to praise Milton Friedman later as "the greatest economist since Adam Smith." Now, it's hypothetically possible for someone to be fond of both Keynesianism and Friedman. But that someone is a rare bird. Especially when he turns around yet again and argues against corporate layoffs and wage cuts. "That's 'creative destruction,' and it's good for the economy, some of my fellow Republicans and admirers of the free market might say. But what about the rules of law and common decency?" The late Prof. Friedman would not have approved.

None of this makes sense at first glance. Read enough of Stein's columns, though, and a pattern appears. Like many self-hating conservatives these days, his politics revolves around a fantastical view of yesterday, when men worked hard, companies were honest, and politicians always told the truth--in short, the conservative Eden of the 1950s.

It reminds of what a certain author referred to as an "imagined community," and what historians like Eric Hobsbawm have spent a significant amount of time (in books like The Invention of Tradition) debunking. But it certainly gives some insight into why conservatism these days is so self-contradictory, ideological, and ultimately divorced from reality. Just something to think about.

Nostalgia is not a political platform. In a recent Times column, he responded to right-wing critics of his tax position, noting, "I thought that conservatives were supposed to like balanced budgets. I thought it was the conservative position to not leave heavy indebtedness to our grandchildren. I thought it was the conservative view that there should be some balance between income and outflow. When did this change?" The better question is: When was the last time that was true?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tuesday Unfunny

As the author of the original post says, I'm sorry to do this to you. But when the Mysterious Cipher passes me new material, I pass the savings on to you. Plus, it works pretty well with my post from yesterday about the general unfunniness of the right.

I remember what I think was Clinton's last press club video. Whereas Bush's great comedic moment involved jokes about missing WMDs (which wasn't funny to begin with, and even less so to the families of several thousand troops), I remember a throwaway gag with Clinton being ripped off by a White House vending machine. Funny on its own terms, but with that nice added note of a man about to go from world's most powerful to just a civilian (and still able to laugh at himself). Anyway, let's get back to the painful unfunniness and forced whimsy of the asswipes on Pennsylvania Avenue these days.

. . .George and Laura Bush have released their annual holiday video, "Barney's Holiday Extravaganza."

It has everything you could ever want, including peppy music, cute puppy-dog and kitty antics and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson making a cameo appearance in which he breaks it to Barney that the U.S. Treasury is out of money to fund the White House's annual production.

Must be that hilarious Iraq war thing that's caused us to be that broke. Get it?

We even get to see Karl Rove taking a gut-busting turn that shows him successfully getting a part in the dog's production over Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who was rejected.

Better or worse?

After Ted Haggard's past became national news, some were hopeful that it could move some evangelicals toward acceptance, or at least acknowledgment that being gay isn't just a decision you make one afternoon. More pessimistic observers argued that it would make anti-gay sentiment more virulent than ever.

So what happens now? Another evangelical pastor, also from Colorado, has resigned his post in the church after it was revealed that he, too, had had homosexual affairs.

On Sunday, Paul Barnes, founding pastor of the 2,100-member Grace Chapel in this Denver suburb, told his evangelical congregation in a videotaped message he had had sexual relations with other men and was stepping down.

Dave Palmer, associate pastor of Grace Chapel, told The Denver Post that Barnes confessed to him after the church received a call last week.

The church board of elders accepted Barnes' resignation on Thursday.

On the videotape, which The Post was allowed to view, Barnes told church members: "I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy. ... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."

Barnes, 54, led Grace Chapel for 28 years. He and his wife have two adult children.

Still the Boy King

It was probably too much to hope for that Bush, famed for making the one-track mind a synonym for virtue and leadership, would draw any lessons from the findings of the Iraq Study Group.

What surprises me a bit, however, is the fact that when someone finally decided the nation couldn't go on without breaking the bad news to Bush, famed for his loathing of bad news, they decided to be so spineless about it and act as though his policy actually represents one of several viable options.

Consider a story in the latest Time magazine, recounting the efforts--before the commission was approved by Congress--of three supporters to enlist Condoleezza Rice to win the administration's approval for the panel. Here is how Time reports it:

As the trio departed, a Rice aide asked one of her suitors not to inform anyone at the Pentagon that chairmen had been chosen and the study group was moving forward. If Rumsfeld was alerted to the study group's potential impact, the aide said, he would quickly tell Cheney, who could, with a few words, scuttle the whole thing. Rice got through to Bush the next day, arguing that the thing was going to happen anyway, so he might as well get on board. To his credit, the President agreed.

The article treats this exchange in a matter-of-fact way, but, what it suggests is completely horrifying. Rice apparently believed that Bush would simply follow the advice of whoever he spoke with. Therefore the one factor determining whether Bush would support the commission was whether Cheney or Rice managed to get to him first.

Horrfying is exactly the word, because what it really suggests is that six years into his presidency Bush is still an unknown quantity. Stupid? Capricious? Just plain nuts? I don't know, but he's certainly in charge. And that's damn scary when people are being blown to bits every day on his say-so.


I'm not a fan of the "culture of celebrity." I'm not interested in being famous, knowing about the personal lives of the famous, or any of that stuff. Most celebrities, it seems, are actually pretty disappointing people once you hear them talk. Not terribly bright, or terribly cool, or much of anything else. And in the case of a lot of entertainers, they aren't particularly good actors, singers, etc.

But for whatever reason, a couple of article have appeared this week lamenting the phenomenon of celebrity. Maybe that's a good sign coming from left-leaning sources-- at least it's a nice change from endless stories lamenting one-party rule in America. It's nice to do some hand-wringing over something less serious for a change.

First up, a very funny Salon article about the exceptionally icky Paris Hilton:

Frankly, the time could not be more ripe for a recognition of Hilton's "Bad Seed" villainy. Even before her tabloid molestation of Spears, eyes were beginning to spring wide with comprehension. Three weeks ago, former "Saturday Night Live" head writer Tina Fey told Howard Stern about her antipathy for Hilton, calling the heiress a selfish, untalented, brainless "piece of shit" "SNL" guest host who is "unbelievably dumb and so proud of how dumb she is," and left "nasty wads of Barbie hair" on the floor of the studio. Meanwhile, conservative Manhattan Institute writer Kay S. Hymowitz wrote a piece in City Journal about the pervasive loathing of Hilton, summing up quite neatly Hilton's role as a "synonym for American materialism, bad manners, greed ... parochialism, arrogance, promiscuity, antifeminism, exposed roots and navels, entitlement, cell-phone addiction, anorexia and bulimia, predilection for gas-guzzling private transportation, pornified womanhood, exhibitionism, [and] narcissism." Hymowitz argued that while she "may be a composite of contemporary American sins," the act of hating Hilton is "a sign of lingering cultural sanity."

Then there was this view of celebrity from the daughter of Ann Landers:

There is no disputing that the public has always been awestruck by the famous. The problem at hand, however, is that the standards for fame have gone to hell, and now everybody and his dog want to be in the limelight simply because the perks seem like fun. B-list performers, for example, now go everywhere with their entourage--including, of course, bodyguards. I remember, when I lived in West Los Angeles, seeing Cary Grant walking around doing chores--and he was by his lonesome. Go figure.

Go figure.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Better living through government regulation

The story of New York's ban on trans fats is just the sort of thing that prompts conservatives to rail against big-government liberals and the dangers of allowing the government to restrict personal freedom. Unlike, say, warrantless wiretapping or the elimination of habeas corpus.

But Ezra Klein puts it into perspective by pointing out that it isn't really about personal freedom, it's a minimal burden to businesses, and it's sound health policy.

Restaurants don't have [nutrition] labels. And they're not one size fits, or serves, all. You could force a big sign in each establishment that uses the substances, or a little emblem next to each food that carries the fats, and that would be a perfectly acceptable solution. On the other hand, given that there's no conceivable social good in consumption of the fats, and as Scott points out, no conceivable consumer restrictions caused by eliminating them, there's really no sense in simply ensuring that only those without sufficient choices will continue consuming the stuff. Indeed, the ban simply decides that there's no real reason to preserve the freedom of businesses to minimally cut costs by harming the health of their consumers, most of whom won't know they're being damaged till far too late. Indeed, it's the freedom to not be needlessly poisoned so businesses can save a few pennies.

If you want to know more about the actual nuts and bolts of the legislation, this article was the first to come up with a Google search.

And what's the deal with airline food, am I right?

One of the more aggravating things about the blogs is witnessing constant accusations from the right that they, in fact, have a wonderful collective sense of humor, and why are "lefties" always so dour and humorless, etc. First, there's the dearth of prominent humorists who present themselves as conservatives-- P.J. O'Rourke (who I think prefers 'libertarian') and the Cable Guy vs. pretty much everyone else? But that's easily explained as a left-wing Hollywood conspiracy to squelch dissenters. I'd suggest that if Larry the Cable Guy represents such a triumph of conservative comedy that not even secular humanism could silence his schtick, it's pretty solid evidence that conservative humor just doesn't have much going for it. But that's easily explained as my own left-wing elitism.

Pointless as it is, I'd like to pose the following question: What if you're not being victimized by a shadowy conspiracy-- what if you're just not funny? I even have a handy example ripped from today's headlines, as they say.

Funny: Mocking ham-fisted, if well-intended, government efforts to address racial inequality through cookie-cutter solutions.

Not funny: Doing the same thing, but ineptly and in the context of your support for a political party identified with segregation.

An editor at a Tufts University conservative journal is apologizing for publishing a satirical Christmas carol that ridiculed black students and campus affirmative action policies.

"O Come All Ye Black Folk" was published in the most recent edition of the Primary Source. The publication bills itself as "the journal of conservative thought at Tufts University."

The parody of "O Come All Ye Faithful" proclaims, "Born into the ghetto. O Jesus! We need you now to fill our racial quotas."

The university isn't calling for censorship of the conservative group. Isn't that progressive of them?

Preseeeeeeent... Gospels!

One of the great things about America is the segregation. Not the kind based on skin color or class, but segregation based on concepts: 'military' and 'government.' 'Public' and 'private.' And, of course, church and state.

The ascendancy of the reactionary right in the last decade brought with it an attendant sense of entitlement. In a way, it made for a natural alliance. The wealthy corporatists see themselves as America's nobility, and therefore its rightful rulers. The fundamentalists see power as a divine right fit only for them. Anyone who knows anything about pretty much any period of history anyplace on the planet is familiar with the consequences of a group that sees itself as infallible actually taking power.

And I'm sure I don't need to point out that the Founding Fathers, children of the Enlightenment that they were, recognized the dangers of unchecked power and zealotry. We get an earful of that in jr. high civics courses. There's Jefferson and the Establishment Clause, and Washington's willingness to relinquish the reins of state. And that most central of phrases, "checks and balances."

Those delineations have grown increasingly blurry in the last decade as fundamentalists have stepped up their efforts to turn their beliefs into law-- hey, it's what they do. But the corporatist GOP recognized them as useful dupes, and fed their dreams of theocracy while emptying the nation's coffers. How much influence the reactionary Christians actually have is still a topic of debate, but they're feeling very "empowered" these days, and it's leading to a disturbing erosion of the concrete barriers between the military, the clergy, and the state.

A military watchdog group is asking the Defense Department to investigate whether seven Army and Air Force officers violated regulations by appearing in uniform in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization.

In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe efforts to spread their faith within the military. (. . .)

Army Brig. Gen. Bob Casen refers on the video to the Christian Embassy’s special efforts to reach admirals and generals through “Flag Fellowship” groups. Whenever he sees another fellowship member, he says, “I immediately feel like I am being held accountable because we are the aroma of Jesus Christ.”

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group led by retired Air Force lawyer Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, is requesting an investigation in a letter to the Defense Department’s inspector general.

Weinstein, who was a White House lawyer in the Reagan administration, set up the foundation last year to fight what he says is pervasive proselytizing in the military.

“Please tell me that this video would not be the greatest recruiting tool for al-Qaida,” he said Sunday.

In the letter to the inspector general, Weinstein’s foundation cites Defense Department regulations barring personnel from appearing in uniform in “speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration . . . which may imply service sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted.”

NPR featured a story about this as well. You (should) be able to listen to it here after 7:30 EST.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Let the flip-flops begin!

I've pointed out before that Mitt Romney's MO is to make like Bush-- talk liberal, govern reactionary. Given the '06 results and the familiarity of that schtick, it might not be so easy to get away with it in two years (although it's still working all right for the Governator).

Comments Governor Mitt Romney made during his 1994 Senate bid, in which he said the gay and lesbian community "needs more support from the Republican Party," resurfaced yesterday, posing a potential hurdle as he appeals to conservatives for a probable presidential campaign.

Bay Windows, the Boston-based gay and lesbian newspaper, republished excerpts from an August 1994 interview the paper did with Romney during his campaign against Senator Edward M. Kennedy. In the interview, Romney said it should be up to states to decide whether to allow same-sex marriage and he criticized Republican "extremists" who imposed their positions on the party.

"People of integrity don't force their beliefs on others, they make sure that others can live by different beliefs they may have," Romney is quoted as saying.

More recently, Romney's words and deeds have sent a very different message. (. . .)

Romney has been an outspoken proponent of a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Last spring, he wrote a letter to Senate majority leader Bill Frist urging its passage.

Are there any GOP hopefuls for '08 whose actions aren't dictated by shameless pandering?

Last Neocon Standing

McCain's insistence that the war in Iraq can only be addressed by more force, more lives, and more billions amounts to him adopting a position that even Bush is backing away from, and it's getting disturbing. But in spite of the widespread acknowledgment that "the same, but more of it" is no solution at all, McCain is receiving his usual plaudits from a press corps that can't get enough of the guy.

McCain's willingness to call for a deeper commitment to the war, however, has won praise and admiration even from those who have come to feel that he is wrong, simply because his views are unpopular. Wrote columnist George Will, a recent critic of the neocons, McCain brings a "steely" moral clarity to the Iraq debate. But there are more skeptical ways to assess the senator's "straight talk" about Iraq.

Despite his bullish claim that more combat troops are available for deployment, McCain almost certainly knows the contrary to be true. Last month the Washington Post (a newspaper whose editorial page strongly supports the war) reported that top military officers and defense analysts think that McCain's escalation scheme is "implausible" and probably impossible. Not only would increasing troop levels inflict severe stress on the already strained Army and Marine Corps, but the results would be far less significant than the senator has suggested. For someone who constantly touts his concern for soldiers and their families -- and who is no doubt sincere -- the former POW sounds strangely oblivious to the extreme price they pay during repeated rotations back into Iraq. He also sounds ignorant of the long-term danger to the American military posed by the war's costs.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

And the winner for most ink spilled over the least news is... the Iraq Study Group!

When the existence of the Iraq Study Group first began to be reported, much of the speculation was that James Baker had been called in to salvage Bush's legacy for the sake of the family. Their report walked a weird line between blunt realism (the White House deliberately underreported the level of violence) and providing plenty of face-saving wiggle room for the administration. Unfortunately, I'm inclined to agree with Arkin's assessment-- the president will claim a bold new strategy, and nothing will change.

The wise men have confirmed what the American public has known for some time: Iraq is finished. Our strategy, whatever it is, isn't working. It is mighty disappointing, but not surprising, though that the Study Group couldn't see that there is nothing left that the United States can do to really influence what will happen there. What is more, what it actually is proposing in its two fundamental points isn't necessarily going to make any difference. (. . .)

Here's how I see Iraq playing out in the short term: The president makes an announcement within a month about his "new" plan. Washington is ever so pleased with a new approach. But the a la carte plan is seen by the Iraqis for what it is; it is not a U.S. timetable for withdrawal. It is not an unequivocal pledge not to establish permanent bases. It is sovereignty and authority in name only for Iraq with continued American control behind the scenes. I can't see who any of this equivocation will deflate the insurgency or stem the hatred for America that is fueled by our presence.

Should we just inaugurate the Republican now?

There are signs of something of an awakening taking place among reporters in the last month. Some are quietly acknowledging that the press-at-large treated Gore and Kerry pretty shabbily while largely giving Bush's nonsensical policies and faux-populism a free pass in the last elections. Beyond that, the media is finally willing to use the term 'civil war' to describe Iraq's descent into chaos.

On the other hand, it's been difficult to watch the press act shocked-- shocked!-- at the ISG's findings, as though it hadn't occurred to anyone that things weren't going well.

And although the next presidential election is two years away, we're already seeing the same old routine. Will America vote for someone as polarizing as Hillary? Will Americans vote for a black man? With the potential Democratic contenders, it's all question marks and unknown quantities.

On the other hand: Commenting on Sen. John McCain's proposal to send more troops to Iraq, The New York Times' Anne Kornblut claimed that "McCain is proving that he is nothing if not an independent-minded maverick on this."

Independent-minded? Maverick? To me, this sounds suspiciously like more of the same sleazy crap that just cost Republicans the midterm elections:

John McCain just hired the worst man in the world to run his campaign, Terry Nelson. Nelson was an unindicted co-conspirator in the TRMPAC scandal as a key point of contact between Tom Delay and the RNC. He was James Tobin's boss during the 2002 New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal, for which Tobin was convicted. He also worked at the head of opposition research for the NRCC this cycle, where robocalls from Republicans pretending to be Democrats were the norm all over the country. Nelson also produced the racist bimbo ad against Harold Ford.

Democrats just crushed Republicans in the election, and the cat's out of the bag that Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. But somehow, nothing's changed. Just thought I'd warn you now.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The $463 billion game of "Gotcha"

It's no secret that the GOP majority is trying to sabotage the Democratic majority when a new session of Congress begins next year-- some are even boasting about it.

Already, the Republican leadership has moved to saddle the new Democratic majority with responsibility for resolving $463 billion in spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. And the departing chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Bill Thomas (R., Calif.), has been demanding that the Democrat-crafted 2008 budget absorb most of the $13 billion in costs incurred from a decision now to protect physician reimbursements under Medicare, the federal health-care program for the elderly and disabled.

But I'm sure you remember the wave of right-wing outrage about the trashing" of the White House by Clinton's outgoing staff. That would be because it received a whole lot of press, in spite of the fact that it wasn't true. As Kevin Drum writes of the above WSJ story:

But the stories! There were hundreds of them, all agog over the news that a few staffers had removed the W keys from their keyboards. So immature! So childish!

But Republican legislators punting on half a trillion dollars worth of spending bills because they're "tired" and they want to gum up the works for the incoming Democrats? It's barely worth a yawn. Some priorities, eh?

Bayh? Bought.

Evan Bayh is one of the many Democrats who wants the '08 nomination so bad he can taste it. His name has been associated with the term presidential run since at least 2000, when the conventional wisdom was that young-ish, conservative-ish, and Southern-ish would be a nearly unbeatable combination. In fact, I didn't know much else about Bayh, until he emerged after the elections to take the credit for the Dems' big win.

John Judis knows something, though-- the Indiana senator's position on the bankruptcy bill.

And Bayh was also a recipient of credit card money. He was tenth among all Senators in 2001-2002 for the receipt of money from finance/credit companies, the year of the vote, and he was tenth in the 2005-2006 session, when the bill finally passed both houses and was signed. So he was paying the companies back for their support.

But it may not be that simple. Feinstein's amendment was a fly on the elephant's hide. While 17 Democratic Senators eventually backed the final bill in March 2005, eight of them also supported Feinstein's amendment in March 2001. They included Baucus, New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman, North Dakota's Kent Conrad, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln, and Florida's Bill Nelson. Many of these senators were as dependent on credit card contributions as Bayh was, but they were willing to vote their conscience on what was a really a small financial matter to the companies. Not Bayh.

Inequity as policy

It's always to good to see Paul Krugman get out from behind the Times' subscription wall, and he's written about a very serious topic in the latest Rolling Stone-- one that David Cay Johnston addressed in his disturbing book Perfectly Legal, but that we don't hear much about in the news.

But in the 1970s, inequality began increasing again -- slowly at first, then more and more rapidly. You can see how much things have changed by comparing the state of affairs at America's largest employer, then and now. In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. GM workers, who also received excellent health and retirement benefits, were considered solidly in the middle class.

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation, with 1.3 million employees. H. Lee Scott, its chairman, is paid almost $23 million -- more than five times Roche's inflation-adjusted salary. Yet Scott's compensation excites relatively little comment, since it's not exceptional for the CEO of a large corporation these days. The wages paid to Wal-Mart's workers, on the other hand, do attract attention, because they are low even by current standards. On average, Wal-Mart's non-supervisory employees are paid $18,000 a year, far less than half what GM workers were paid thirty-five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And Wal-Mart is notorious both for how few of its workers receive health benefits and for the stinginess of those scarce benefits.

Lengthy, troubling, and highly recommended.

FEMA still "squandering tens of millions"

I certainly won't be the first person to observe that when a group of ideologues who think that government can do no right are put in charge of government, we aren't likely to see effective governance. Combine that with a hatred of programs that help the disadvantaged, and maybe this shouldn't come as a surprise.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recouped less than 1 percent of the $1 billion that investigators contend it squandered on fraudulent assistance, according to the Government Accountability Office. Its report shows the disaster relief agency's struggles, one year after the deadly storm, to rush aid to those in need while also preventing abuse. (. . .)

In its latest report, the GAO found that numerous applicants received duplicate rental aid. In one case, FEMA provided free apartments to 10 people in Plano, Texas, while sending them $46,000 for out-of-pocket housing expenses. (. . .)

In addition, $20 million was wasted on thousands of people who claimed the same property damage from two hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. FEMA paid at least $3 million to more than 500 ineligible foreign students in the stricken Gulf Coast, the report said.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Peace. love, and 70-hour work weeks

Many of my Republican friends who should know better love to regard the free market (not that such a thing exists) as a magical panacea that will spread freedom and human dignity throughout the world-- oh, and there's a chance that amid all that philanthropy, you might make a little cash for yourself, which would be a tolerably agreeable byproduct.

Of course, there's a slight risk that freedom and goodwill aren't at the top of the agenda, but how likely is that?

There is a gaping hole in "Secrets, Lies, and Sweatshops" -- BusinessWeek's Nov. 27 cover story exposing how Chinese factories evade the efforts of Western audit firms investigating labor standard compliance. Not once does the 3,000-word story refer to China's proposed comprehensive new labor law. It's an odd omission -- you would think that an investigation into the illegal exploitation of labor in China would take the time to at least mention domestic Chinese efforts to improve the legal standing of workers.

The absence becomes even more perplexing after reading an analysis of the new law published in Japan Focus by Earl Brown, a labor lawyer who once served as general counsel to the Teamsters. The law is a carefully constructed attempt to redress the accelerating inequities caused by China opening up its labor force for the world's exploitation. As such, Brown notes, it has come under sustained, vociferous criticism from U.S. employers operating in China who declare that it will raise their costs of doing business, and who have promised that there will be a "flight of capital" to more accommodating nations should the law pass.

Culture Wars? That's pinko talk, comrade.

Atheist-as-threat-to-America is one of those 80's throwbacks that went on hiatus for most of the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But just as the reactionaries have dominated political discourse in the Bush era, we've seen the resurrection of 'commies' and 'atheists' as bogeymen-- just try to think of it as twenty years sillier instead of twenty years more exasperating.

In his December 3 New York Times column (subscription required), Nicholas D. Kristof condemned the "fundamentalist" writings of atheists such as Oxford University professor Richard Dawkins and author Sam Harris, claiming that "the tone of this Charge of the Atheist Brigade is often just as intolerant -- and mean" as that of Christian conservatives. Kristof concluded his column by claiming that "the Christian Right has largely retreated from the culture wars," adding that he hopes "that the Atheist Left doesn't revive them." Kristof provided no support for his assertion. Nor did he explain how it squares with recent actions by Christian conservative leaders.

Good ol' Media Matters follows with a number of examples demonstrating Kristof's hackery, just in case you need them. One example that also happened to appear on my blog is this one:

The Times itself recently noted that Christian Coalition of America (CCA) president-elect Rev. Joel C. Hunter stepped down because CCA's executive board had "resisted his [Hunter's] efforts to broaden its agenda to include reducing poverty and fighting global warming." The Times noted that Hunter "has gained a reputation as an evangelical leader seeking to expand the agenda of conservative Christian activists from issues like abortion and same-sex marriage."

Combat unreadiness revisited

I suppose the last time we saw any major coverage of ill-preparedness relating to the Iraq war was last fall, when it was revealed that the Katrina recovery effort was hampered by the fact that so many National Guardsmen-- and so much of their equipment-- had been deployed overseas. Before that we were treated to a pretty constant stream of stories about troops in Iraq with outmoded equipment jury-rigging vehicles and so forth.

The depletion of major equipment such as tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and especially helicopters and armored Humvees has left many military units in the United States without adequate training gear, officials say. Partly as a result of the shortages, many U.S. units are rated "unready" to deploy, officials say, raising alarm in Congress and concern among military leaders at a time when Iraq strategy is under review by the White House and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is lobbying hard for more money to repair what he calls the "holes" in his force, saying current war funding is inadequate to make the Army "well."

Kinda makes you wonder where that $300 billion in Iraq funding has been spent. For those with a longer memory, you might recall the endless (and bogus) criticisms of the state in which Clinton had left the military. Six years of unrestricted spending and two invasions later, we actually have a problem with military readiness. The GOP sure has a magic touch.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Obligatory John Bolton post

I might not have had the first Bolton post up on the blogosphere, but at least I can link to one of the funniest.

Looks like the Bush administration is going to need to send someone else to Turtle Bay. Fortunately, there are a lot of Republicans in D.C. who are about to be unemployed. Any bets on how long it takes for the "Santorum to the U.N." campaign to begin?

Update: Anyone who predicted 47 minutes wins.

Not to worry-- the grandkids'll pick up the tab.

One of the worst things about Capitol Hill these days is the resurgence of legislation written by special interests. And one of the worst things about it is the way it represents another redistribution of wealth from America's poorest to America's wealthiest.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former tobacco industry lobbyist, won a long battle in court to withdraw all funding for Mississippi's highly successful anti-smoking program, and last week the last dollar ran out.

"This is truly a case of one man, a longtime tobacco industry lobbyist, using his power to destroy a program that was reducing tobacco use among Mississippi's kids," said Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a national nonprofit organization.

In a report to be issued Wednesday, the group documents what it calls Barbour's "relentless attack" on what it said was the nation's most successful anti-smoking program.

Barbour's company raked in millions from the tobacco companies. The tobacco companies will make money from an increased number of smokers. The cost comes in on the healthcare side. And given that Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, the high costs of caring for Mississippians dying of smoking-related illnesses will have to be passed on to the rest of us.

Love the South, or leave it?

Something that's been a hot topic of debate among progressives since the election is the whole issue of the South's love affair with Republicans. As with the whole "What's the Matter With Kansas" discussion, it's completely counter-intuitive. The very people who would benefit the most from Democratic government are casting their votes for Republicans who will worsen the very conditions that are pissing them off, especially economically.

This piece from TNR puts it pretty bluntly-- we should ditch the South because their alliance with the GOP stems from racism.

Schaller's book is Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South. Published this October, it argues, "The South is likely to become more Republican in the decades ahead," that Democrats can make and keep the Republicans a mere regional party, and that the best shot at a Democratic majority "in the immediate term is to consolidate electoral control over the Northeast and Pacific Coast blue states, expand the party's Midwestern margins, and cultivate the new-growth areas of the interior West." That's exactly how it went down November 7.

The American Prospect has a couple of articles looking at the GOP's "southern problem."

It's not just the values of the South that pose a problem. It is the region's appetite for government. The most solidly red states in the nation tend also to be the most reliant on federal handouts -- farm subsidies, water projects and sundry other earmarks. It's hard to be the party of small government when you represent the communities that benefit most from big government. George W. Bush tried to straddle this divide by pleasing libertarians with tax cuts and traditionalists with spending. The result is a huge deficit.

A lot of people are beginning to conclude that, although LBJ's observation that we've "lost the south for a generation" was an understatement, we might be reaching a point where it doesn't matter anymore.

Muddle diplomacy

It wasn't a good week for the White House's diplomatic efforts. Cheney was reportedly "summoned" to Saudi Arabia, Bush got the brushoff from Iraq's prime minister, and there's been endless speculation that Baker's Iraq study group amounts to "the grownups" stepping in and trying to save Bush's neocon agenda from complete catastrophe.

Then there's the part the White House really dreads-- that's exactly the way it's all being reported:

But instead of flaunting stronger ties and steadfast American influence, the president's journey found friends both old and new near a state of panic. Mideast leaders expressed soaring concern over upheavals across the region that the United States helped ignite through its invasion of Iraq and push for democracy — and fear that the Bush administration may make things worse.

President Bush's summit in Jordan with the Iraqi prime minister proved an awkward encounter that deepened doubts about the relationship. Vice President Dick Cheney's stop in Riyadh yielded a blunt warning from Saudi leaders. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to the West Bank and Israel, intended to build Arab support by showing a new U.S. push for peace, found little to work with.

Visits designed to show the U.S. team was in charge ended, instead, in diplomatic embarrassment and disappointment, with U.S. leaders rebuked and lectured by Arab counterparts. The trips demonstrated that U.S. allies in the region are struggling to understand what to make of the difficult relationship — and to figure whether, with the new Democratic control of Congress, Bush even has control over his nation's Mideast policy. (. . .)

The allies' predicament was described by Jordan's King Abdullah II a week ago, before Bush left Washington. Abdullah, one of America's steadiest friends in the region, warned that the Mideast faced the threat of three simultaneous civil wars — in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. And he made clear that the burden of dealing with it rested largely with the United States.

Maybe the W is for weiner, 'cuz he always gives us the wurst.

Not being able to blog until the evening can be frustrating-- by the time I get to write about the resignation of John Bolton, it's already old news. So I try to find stories that fall through the cracks, or that stay fresh and tasty for more than a couple of hours.

That's the case with the Washington Post's collection of article's assessing the presidency of G-Dub. Of course, it's the Washington Post, and they're asking academic, smarty-pants types, so you know it's nothing more than left-wing propaganda. But it's still a lot of fun to read. (The link goes to just one of the pieces-- the rest can be accessed from the article's sidebar.) It's tough to even excerpt this particular article, and you'll soon see why.

At a time of national crisis, Pierce and Buchanan, who served in the eight years preceding the Civil War, and Johnson, who followed it, were simply not up to the job. Stubborn, narrow-minded, unwilling to listen to criticism or to consider alternatives to disastrous mistakes, they surrounded themselves with sycophants and shaped their policies to appeal to retrogressive political forces (in that era, pro-slavery and racist ideologues). Even after being repudiated in the midterm elections of 1854, 1858 and 1866, respectively, they ignored major currents of public opinion and clung to flawed policies. Bush's presidency certainly brings theirs to mind.

Harding and Coolidge are best remembered for the corruption of their years in office (1921-23 and 1923-29, respectively) and for channeling money and favors to big business. They slashed income and corporate taxes and supported employers' campaigns to eliminate unions. Members of their administrations received kickbacks and bribes from lobbyists and businessmen. "Never before, here or anywhere else," declared the Wall Street Journal, "has a government been so completely fused with business." The Journal could hardly have anticipated the even worse cronyism, corruption and pro-business bias of the Bush administration.

Despite some notable accomplishments in domestic and foreign policy, Nixon is mostly associated today with disdain for the Constitution and abuse of presidential power. Obsessed with secrecy and media leaks, he viewed every critic as a threat to national security and illegally spied on U.S. citizens. Nixon considered himself above the law.

Bush has taken this disdain for law even further. He has sought to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the Magna Carta in Anglo-American jurisprudence: trial by impartial jury, access to lawyers and knowledge of evidence against them. In dozens of statements when signing legislation, he has asserted the right to ignore the parts of laws with which he disagrees.

That's George, all right-- not just the worst president, but the meta-worst.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Guess what? Mitt Romney's a dick!

Romney was one of the 21st century Bush Republicans who made a habit of talking like a liberal during campaign season, then veering hard, hard, hard to the right once safely ensconced in office. Once he had achieved his goal of becoming the Republican governor of Republicans' least favorite state, he predictably toured the country heaping scorn upon Massachusetts.

No one doubted that Romney thought this was the perfect way to grab the White House in 08, and that was confirmed when it was recently reported that he had been meeting with his church elders to set up a campaign network using church volunteers.

Although I wouldn't condemn the guy flat out for today's revelation (I doubt he went in for extended conversation with his yard guys), you just have to love how typical it is of the GOP these days-- talking tough about those damn immigrants taking our jobs while they're outside trimming your hedges.

As Governor Mitt Romney explores a presidential bid, he has grown outspoken in his criticism of illegal immigration. But, for a decade, the governor has used a landscaping company that relies heavily on workers like these, illegal Guatemalan immigrants, to maintain the grounds surrounding his pink Colonial house on Marsh Street in Belmont. (. . .)

In addition to maintaining the governor's property, they also tended to the lawn at the house owned by Romney's son, Taggart, less than a mile away on the same winding street.

Asked by a reporter yesterday about his use of Community Lawn Service with a Heart, Romney, who was hosting the Republican Governors Association conference in Miami, said, "Aw, geez," and walked away.

Does that count as taking the Lord's name in vain?

Medicaid must be destroyed.

The author's opening line says just what I would have: the Republicans are nothing if not persistent. While they're always on message, the message boils down to "if you're not making a fat salary, you can go to hell."

Next month, a commission appointed by the Bush administration will issue its final recommendations for reforming the program--recommendations that look suspiciously like proposals Bush tried and failed to push through Congress three years ago, largely because lawmakers feared they would leave the poorest and sickest Americans without enough health care. (. . .)

The administration has touted this commission as "bipartisan." But, in contrast to some past commissions on entitlement-reform that had truly bipartisan character (with representatives from a reasonably broad philosophical spectrum), Bush's secretary of health and human services, Mike Leavitt, handpicked the voting members. The administration offered congressional Democrats the opportunity to appoint its own members, but it refused to give those who would be selected voting power. (The Democrats, quite understandably, boycotted the commission altogether.)

Given this makeup, the commission's recommendations are about what you'd expect. One big idea is privatization--in other words, using HMOs or other forms of managed-care plans to deliver health insurance to the poor, rather than providing insurance directly from the government. Most states already place at least some of their beneficiaries in managed care. What's apparently different about the commission's recommendations is a push to increase the use of managed care among the elderly and disabled.