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


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

It ain't just a river in Egypt, as they say.

As articulate and inspiring as ever, Fearless Leader addresses the economic anxiety of Americans:

In an interview last night, Bush was asked why only 41 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the economy. ABC News’ Betsy Stark said, “Can that be summed up in one word? Can that be summed up as Iraq?” Bush responded, “I think so, yeah,” adding, “We’re in a time of war, and war’s unsettling. War’s negative.”

Stark asked Bush why 67 percent of Americans believe he doesn’t understand the problems of average people. Bush said, “I think it’s ’cause of the war again, and I think people are feeling pretty down about, kind of, things ’cause of the war.”

Boy, is it frustrating when your oversight of two wars and the economy are going so amazingly well-- according to cowed staffers-- but people insist on doubting you because of all those pesky reports of record casualties, war profiteering, job growth that's the worst in 75 years, soaring costs for homes, healthcare and education, executive pay skyrocketing while others' income drops, pension guarantees being wiped away, job outsourcing, gas prices and other stuff with which the Bush family is acutely aware given their hardscrabble past.

Simple Equations

Think Progress refers to a poll showing that Iranians strongly oppose permanent US bases in Iraq. The Iraq Study Group recommended that the POTUS "state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq.” One of Osama bin Laden's self-professed motives is opposition to a military presence in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Sounds like a pretty great deal-- in exchange for not spending a few billion dollars and stretching the military even further, we gain goodwill in the region and give people another reason not to side with bin Laden. Too bad the White House and their obedient Republican Congressmen are bent on another course of action.

Last year, congressional conservatives quietly stripped a provision from a funding bill that would have prohibited permanent bases in Iraq. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) pushed a provision through the House — which was accepted unanimously — that put Congress on record as saying the U.S. would not be in Iraq forever.

Joe Biden? Whatever.

Two stories topped the blogs today, with Joe Biden's comments on Barack Obama getting the lion's share of attention. It isn't clearly a case of racism. I'm inclined to think that referring to him as "clean" is probably DC shorthand for scandal-free, especially these days. It's probably considered quite a commodity given the November results.

One the other hand, referring to any black person as "articulate" is seen as one of the most common-- and insidious "compliments" one can receive, and rightly so. Particularly for a US senator and presidential hopeful. Or Biden could simply have been referring to his noted gift for oration.

So I'm not going to get too worked up about it in spite of his history of racially-charged pronouncements. As former right-wing darling (and presidential hopeful) George Allen learned, racism can ruin you these days. And rightly so. Even Rush Limbaugh insists on referring to one-time Klan member Robert Byrd as "Sheets." The difference is that Byrd came clean, apologized, and repented. And he's still in office.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Webb good. Blue Dog bad.

Apparently I have incredible political influence that I wasn't even aware of, because for the second time today I spotted a post that is clearly, without question, a direct response to something I wrote yesterday. This time it was my insightful critique of The New Republic's collective insanity of the last few years-- that whole Iraq, Lieberman, DLC thing.

It also gives another round of applause to Jim Webb for his tough rebuttal to the POTUS' SOTUP The final 'p' is for pap. And almost gives me a palindrome.

It took Senator James Webb, a former Republican secretary of the Navy, Annapolis graduate, and Marine Vietnam veteran, and gun control opponent to make the most unabashed, unapologetic, and unqualified response to President Bush's ill-conceived policies--not only of the past month, but of the past five years. Thank you, Virginia, for giving us Senator Webb.

The senator had eight minutes in the limelight to challenge Bush's version of the "State of the Union." After his November election, conventional wisdom pigeon-holed Webb as one of the new breed of conservative Democrats. Webb's reply clearly demonstrated that he belongs, as Paul Wellstone liked to say, to the Democratic wing of the party, not to the idea-less, accommodating Clinton-Lieberman-DLC group.

And once again, November was not a conservative victory. You could almost see Virginia as the election writ small-- the smarmy Republican thinking his carefully cultivated folksiness meant a sure thing, only to find that most Americans still have a conscience and vote for people with consciences. And no, I'm not at all tired of seeing embarrassment on the faces of Republican friends and family members. Ironically, while I never uttered a single "I told you so" while visiting for Christmas, I was handed plenty of "I guess you think you're pretty smart." Maybe these well-heeled folks just expect petty and vindictive behavior from their peer group. Me? I'm a uniter.

See? Government doesn't work!

And now some "funny" stories from the January 21st installment of This Is True.

*Of the 400 prisoners the U.S. has been holding at its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center for about five years, only "about 75, give or take a few," are expected to actually go to trial, says the chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis. Only 10 trials have been scheduled so far. But to hold the trials, Davis needs a new courthouse -- current facilities can't handle more than one trial at a time. We're fiscal conservatives by definition," says Cully Stimson, Deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs. "We're not building the Taj Mahal here." Indeed, most of the pre-trial legal work is being done in the U.S., not in Cuba. Therefore the planned "conservative" facility will only have three courtrooms. But the new complex includes restaurants and housing for "at least" 800 people. Expected cost: $125 million.

*Colorado ranchers are having trouble getting federal aid for the major blizzard that hit in December. The Federal Emergency Management Agency [aka FEMA] is waiting for documented proof of how much snow fell to compare it to historical averages so it can approve claims -- but the gauges can't be read. They're still buried in snow.

The stealth approach to killing Social Security

There's been plenty of discussion of Bush's healthcare proposal, with most pointing out that it subsidizes poorer people so that they'll forego insurance, a few saying give it a chance (will some Democrats never learn?), and now a columnist for the WaPo pointing out that it's yet another attempt to destroy Social Security.

But if you delve into the details of Bush's health-care proposals, you discover a plan embedded in them that would effectively trim future Social Security retirement benefits for some people, while reducing their current Social Security tax payments to help pay for health insurance.

I'm not attacking this idea, the way I went after Bush's Social Security "reforms" of a few years ago. It's just that I'm a Social Security junkie, and that aspect of Bush's health proposals interests me -- if only because it points out how high Social Security taxes are for many families, relative to income tax.

Then comes the hard stuff. Nothing we haven't seen before in accounting hocus-pocus from this White House-- make government fail because you want it to, and throw in another obstacle for the working class. But still recommended reading.

The Shape of Things to Come, Take Two

Seems like it was just yesterday that I wrote about the crap we're going to be subjected to if Clinton gets the nomination. Well, what should I come across today evidence that it's already waist-deep. I just wish I'd come up with that clever title. Worth quoting at length:

Unsurprisingly, this was reported in The New York Times by Patrick Healy, a reporter whose obsession with Clinton's sex life long ago tipped into the pathological. Notice, too, the language used: Hillary delivered what's clearly a joke with "a touch of humor," suggesting that she was, beneath a thin membrane of levity, dead serious. Then, after the fourth question, her voice goes "low," indicating that the reporter has hit too close to home, and Hillary's strained jocularity can't hide the touchy bitterness resting inches beneath the surface. And now, here comes The Politico's Ben Smith, showing that when it comes to HRC, his new publication will be no less insipid and devoted to BS pop-psychology than its lumbering predecessors:
[Hillary's joke] wasn't revealing because she was suggesting her husband is "evil and bad."

It was revealing because -- asked about dealing with evil men like Osama bin Laden -- her mind seemed to go to her domestic enemies. It's absurd to suggest that she thinks Bill is evil like Osama. But Kenneth Starr? Rick Santorum? Her joke suggests that she buys into the notion that American and Middle Eastern "zealots" are cut from the same cloth, an idea that dovetails with her belief that there was (and is) a right-wing conspiracy to destroy the Clintons.[...]

And so her joke doesn't tell you how she'll govern. But it does tell you how deeply inimical she still feels to elements of the American right, how little she has forgiven.

Smith's evidence for this interpretation? Squat. Nothing. Nada. Hillary never mentioned Rick Santorum -- who she routinely cosponsored Senate legislation with -- or Ken Starr. She didn't mention the right at all. She appears, on the face of it, to have sought a moment of playfulness with her own history, and to have been roundly and widely punished for the slip. Indeed, there's little sadder than her eventual protests, -- "I thought I was funny. You guys keep telling me, lighten up, be fun. Now I get a little funny, and I’m being psychoanalyzed.” -- which suggest she understands exactly how tight a bind she's in. If she seeks moments of humor or spontaneity, the press will devolve into endless psycho-analyses and bullshit resuscitations of old narratives. If she doesn't, they'll repeatedly bemoan her lack of authenticity.

Also of note, in case anyone's forgotten the way the press wallowed in often-imaginary Clinton 'scandals,' just have a look at this piece, which takes us back to the heady days of Bill Clinton being accused of cocaine-smuggling and murder on national television. It also recalls the first Bush's campaign and the notorious Willie Horton ad-- it seems that Arkansas' Mike Huckabee has a similar past: "a convicted rapist who was released under heavy pressure from governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and subsequently raped and murdered at least one and probably two women." Though he's considered a longshot, I can already hear the right screaming that such despicable accusations must be off limits lest the Loony Left and their co-conspirators in the media "coarsen the tone of civil debate." Fine, but surely the politician called 'the other man from Hope' has to be involved in all that drug running and assassination that was going on right in his back yard.

The Enabling Act, Take Two

The main focus on this story in the blogs is "why was this necessary?" I'm not sure this administration needs a more profound reason beyond 'naked grab for power,' but I'm inclined to agree with the Occam's Razor analysis of Scott Lemieux: that good ol' GOP hatred of the government, especially when it works well.

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Will 2008 look just like 2004-- AND 2000?

Salon's War Room posted a piece on Arkansas' Mike Huckabee. Definitely seen as a dark horse candidate, but along with Mitt Romney and John McCain, he's doing his best to triangulate between the hardcore right wing and the other 70% of the nation. Usually, that means imitate Bush-- talk like a warm, fuzzy liberal, then bring in the Machiavellians. It worked for the Governator. McCain has to do the opposite, because the reactionaries don't trust him. But now no one else does either.

While describing himself as a "conservative," the stump speech he delivered Sunday was designed as a broad appeal to the American middle, the heartland that is sick of Washington politics. Drop out a few lines -- like his endorsement of a Steve Forbes flat tax -- and most of the speech could have been delivered by a Democratic candidate for president. Huckabee condemned the incompetence of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. He attacked white-collar crooks who have squandered people's pensions. He spoke of fathers who are worried about pink slips and parents who can't pay their medical bills when their son breaks his arm.

Perhaps the most notable part of the speech was what he never said. He made no mention of his longtime stand on social issues -- pro-life, anti-gay marriage, vocal about his own faith -- that gives him a natural advantage over the Republican front-runners, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who are viewed skeptically by evangelical leaders.

That's been the Republican strategy for the last two elections-- make nicey-nice, win over the voters, then take a hard right turn. Unfortunately, the Democratic approach has been the other side of the sad equation. Taking to heart the DLC line that Americans demand centrists and hate all things progressive, they pretty much renounced their mildly leftist inclinations instead of getting tough with the half-witted trust fund baby with all the folksy charm and country twang of a Connecticut patrician... I mean Texan. While the Dems' policies had broad appeal, they came across as waffling jellyfish-- with plenty of help from snarky "journalists." In spite of that, half the country voted for them, which is quite impressive. And it should have demonstrated twice over that the GOP was winning by faking liberalism, while Dems were losing as they shifted more to the right. (Remember Lieberman's presidential bid?)

But, as you know, Kerry's close call (and Gore's 2000 victory) wasn't enough to keep the lunatics from taking over the asylum. And we all know the results-- national bankruptcy, a Republican party that plumbed new depths of corruption (Grant's administration was pretty damn bad, but this bunch has 'em licked), two failed wars, an unprecedented terrorist attack whose perpetrators are still at large, and a hurricane that all but destroyed one of the most storied American cities handled with utter ineptitude. Just to name a few.

But from what I've seen of Hillary-- and sadly, from Obama to a lesser degree-- some people just haven't taken the lessons of the last two elections to heart. And we're already in for an endless series of Clinton jokes, just as Gore and Kerry were hammered by the press. But even worse. If she takes a third crack at irresolute-as-campaign-strategy, it looks like we're just in for another colossal disappointment. Gore has certainly learned his lesson, and Kerry, too, if only in hindsight. Let's hope the next nominee has already taken it to heart.

Hillary Clinton, who said just 12 days ago that she was "not going to support a specific deadline" for the withdrawal of U.S. troops for Iraq, declared Sunday that George W. Bush has the responsibility to "extricate" the U.S. from Iraq by the time he leaves office in January 2009.

Hey conservatives! It's never too soon to dust off those "for it before he was against it" quips. John Kerry refuted that one (although his credibility was shot to hell by then in the minds of most), but Hillary really did play the hawk card until the last minute. Just the sort of focus-group politicking that BushCo engaged in with gusto-- but sensibly accused their opponents of day in and day out.

Like Creampuffs For Numbskulls

For as much as I've complained about The New Republic during the Iraq years, they do seem to be turning things around these days-- I doubt we'll see another shameful and embarrassing endorsement of Joe Lieberman for president (yes, it really happened), and they'll probably think twice before giving unqualified support to another war. Still, they really should be doing more penance, not to mention burning their DLC pamphlets. But get this-- a joke! And it's funny! In spite of the tortured phrasing! (Although to be fair, a reader pointed it out to them.)

Invaluable reader EC notes that the Bush White House's new pastry chef previously authored the book Desserts for Dummies. He'll now be serving plenty of those!

Hopefully the last word on the Obama/Clinton smear

The NYT ran a story yesterday that, while a bit overdue, was still welcome. It tracks the course of the short-lived (but much-touted by the likes of Limbaugh and Faux News' talking heads) story that Hillary Clinton's trenchcoated spies had discovered that Obama had been educated by Islamic extremists. False and false, but that never stops today's right-- no named source? No named reporter? No problem!

Jeffrey T. Kuhner, whose Web site published the first anonymous smear of the 2008 presidential race, is hardly the only editor who will not reveal his reporters’ sources. What sets him apart is that he will not even disclose the names of his reporters.

But their anonymity has not stopped them from making an impact. In the last two weeks, Mr. Kuhner’s Web site, Insight, the last remnant of a defunct conservative print magazine owned by the Unification Church led by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was able to set off a wave of television commentary, talk-radio chatter, official denials, investigations by journalists around the globe and news media self-analysis that has lasted 11 days and counting.

The controversy started with a quickly discredited Jan. 17 article on the Insight Web site asserting that the presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was preparing an accusation that her rival, Senator Barack Obama, had covered up a brief period he had spent in an Islamic religious school in Indonesia when he was 6.

(Other news organizations have confirmed Mr. Obama’s descriptions of the school as a secular public school. Both senators have denounced the report, and there is no evidence that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign planned to spread those accusations.)

That's just the opener, of course. It goes on to suggest that the Moonie Washington Times instructs the staff to ignore anything published by the Moonie Insight Magazine, to point out that Fox News pundits an with the story even though they were quite aware of its dubious provenance, and a whole lot of other stuff. The one question they can't answer is why in the world people keep voting for their side.

Tour of Duty

A thoroughly unpleasant tale from a soldier serving in Baghdad.

In Baghdad, a busted infrastructure has left entire neighborhoods navigable by vehicle only. The sector we soldiers patrol is known unaffectionately as "Little Venice" because of the dark brown rivers of sewage that backwash from broken pipes. The biggest fear in these parts isn't sniper fire or IEDs, but a flat tire that forces you to wade through the reeking fluids. Occasionally, that fear is realized--like on the day when I met Ali.

When pulling security for a crew that's changing a tire, you need to make sure that your head is constantly moving, if only to provide snipers with the illusion that you're paying attention. It's especially important to keep up the movement when talking to local nationals (LNs). There are very few we trust to give us accurate information about insurgents; they usually just complain about big issues that are out of our hands.

It was during one of these head-swiveling sessions that a short but unusually healthy-looking Iraqi kid approached out of my periphery wearing an Adidas hat and snowboarding t-shirt, his lower torso swallowed by one of Little Venice's excrement canals.

Needless to say, it doesn't have a happy ending, but I'd call it essential reading.

Video Monday

First, some very entertaining clips from the Daily Show on Dick Cheney's interview with Wolf Blitzer. Stewart does a rather splendid job tackling the issue that's baffled so many of us over last six years: How do these bastards keep getting away with lying to the world?

Then there's a rather brutal takedown of McCain, which shows that Internet video may well do the job of the corporate media in the presidential campaign. It's from Robert Greenwald, who brought you "Outfoxed" and "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices."

In the first clips, Stewart sensibly points out that Cheney's talking points for Blitzer directly contradict things he's previously said. On video. In other interviews. During the last two presidential campaigns, I marveled that Democratic campaigns didn't do just this-- show video clips of these idiots saying one thing, then saying the opposite. It's hardly 'dirty campaigning,' although I'm sure the right would scream bloody murder (is it just me, or do they tend to do that when the truth finally gets out?), and it wouldn't go over at all well with the public. Especially with the dizzying level of Soviet-style doublespeak that's become standard procedure with the neo-fascists.

How about a bonus clip? It's Patrick Leahy "handing Gonzales his ass," in the words of one commentor. And it looks like the Washington of Frank Capra-- an oily confidence man (with a smirk every bit as smarmy as G-Dub's own) getting his comeuppance from an indignant senator. Good stuff.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A return to the Eden that was the Watergate Era

More good stuff from Joe Conason. I've already written about the bogus smear against Obama ("He was educated by Islam-O-Fascists!") and the bogus claim that it came from Clinton's staff ("She's as evil as her husband!")

As Conason points out, the sick irony of it all is that today's GOP dirty tricksters all came of age during the Nixon administration. And the masterminds behind Watergate are not only back in power, but doing the only thing they know how to do.

These false claims lacked any sourcing, but that didn't prevent the usual media miscreants from broadcasting them, from John Gibson on Fox's "The Big Story" and Rush Limbaugh down to Melanie Morgan and her sidekick at San Francisco's KSFO radio station. Just the usual modus operandi of the noise machine -- except for that telltale twist of smearing Clinton with responsibility for the attack.

Where could they have gotten that brilliant idea?

Performing a dirty trick on one Democratic presidential candidate in a way that would reflect blame on another Democrat was the specialty of the Watergate crew led by Hunt, which back in the early '70s included G. Gordon Liddy and Donald Segretti, as well as a host of lesser goons and spies such as the ingénue Lucianne Goldberg.

According to "Nightmare: Underside of Nixon Years," the definitive book on the Watergate scandal, by the late, great journalist J. Anthony Lukas, Goldberg filed gossipy espionage reports from George McGovern's press plane on "who was sleeping with whom, what the Secret Service men were doing with the stewardesses, who was smoking pot on the plane -- that sort of thing." Or so she told him.

Meanwhile, Segretti and company had been putting out nasty smear stories about certain Democratic candidates and attributing the smears to other Democrats, in order to divide the opposition and destroy Nixon's potential competitors.

Once again, I have to applaud CNN for strangling this particular right-wing lie in its cradle. Although the mainstream press as a whole bears much of the blame for giving us this disastrous administration in the first place-- and if they had done their jobs all along, every story from the Whitewater 'scandal' to Al Gore inventing the Internet to the rise of the Swiftboaters would've been dealt with appropriately: a quick investigation, a thorough debunking, and a big helping of scorn served up to the Republican party for winning elections through lies.

My war strategy? Faith and grit.

On January 11, I was bowled over by Fearless Leader's disturbing insistence, when questioned, that the half-assed surge would work "because it has to." Now that he's had two more weeks (and several hundred deaths) to put more serious thought into the war, guess what conclusion he's reached?

"He's tried [a surge] two times — it's failed twice," the California Democrat said. "I asked him at the White House, 'Mr. President, why do you think this time it's going to work?' And he said, 'Because I told them it had to.' "

Asked if the president had elaborated, she added that he simply said, " 'I told them that they had to.' That was the end of it. That's the way it is."

She also said during the interview in her spacious Capitol suite that no one else in the White House had asked her what she would do, or what the administration should do about Iraq.

Yes, he's come to the carefully considered conclusion that he's absolutely right. And Pelosi shouldn't feel bad about not being asked for her opinion-- if they actually heard a proposal from a Democrat, they'd lose a favorite talking point. But you've gotta look on the bright side: we only have two more years of contemplating how sorry we are to be able to say 'I told you so.'

As for the prezimudent, it's way past time that someone told him things don't come true because he's such a charismatic leader, but because he's lived life as an over-indulged nitwit.

More to smile about.

I'm leaving myself open to attacks from right-wing bloggers with that title, which just demands to be taken out of context. But the thing with this story is that, in spite of an attempt by the military to put a heart-warming, heroic spin on a story, it's likely to turn people further against the war.

Four American soldiers were abducted during a sophisticated sneak attack last week in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, the U.S. military confirmed Friday. It said three were shot to death and a fourth was mortally wounded with a gunshot to the head when they were found in a neighboring province, far from the compound where they were captured. (. . .)

On Jan. 20, the day of the raid on a security meeting in Karbala, the military said five soldiers were killed repelling the attack.

The brazen assault, 50 miles south of Baghdad, was conducted by nine to 12 militants posing as an American security team, according to two senior U.S. military officials as well as Iraqi officials. They traveled in black GMC Suburban vehicles, the type used by U.S. government convoys, had American weapons, wore new U.S. military combat fatigues, and spoke English. (. . .)

The confirmation has emerged after nearly a week of inquiries. The U.S. military in Baghdad initially did not respond to repeated requests for comment on reports that began emerging from Iraqi government and military officials on the abduction and a major breakdown in security at Karbala site.

Sure, the military is going to propagandize a bit. Fine. But one lesson they should've taken from Vietnam is that, in the age of global communication, attempts to polish a turd are far less likely to succeed. And while we all like stories of brave deeds, we all hate being hoodwinked. It's like Cheney's recent insistence that we've had "enormous successes" in Iraq. At this point, his claims aren't reassuring-- they're nuts, and therefore really damn scary. Even right-wing bloggers have largely given up the ghost in claiming that things are great, but the liberal media only gives us the bad stuff. But I suspect that a quick look at their work on January 20 would turn up plenty of flag-waving stories promoting yet another lie.

I just got a pay cut, and I can't stop smiling.

I've been linking to an awful lot from The American Prospect lately, which I feel a bit guilty about, but there have been some great posts and articles there. Like the commentary on the stunning op-ed in today's NYT that conveniently explains away income inequality in a way that only a die-hard right winger could understand.

"A man earning $500,000 a year is not usually 10 times as happy as a man earning $50,000 a year."

Perhaps not. Who knows, really, given that interpersonal comparisons and the very measurement of happiness are fraught with all sorts of problems? I myself would prefer to cry in a Rolls-Royce if cry I must, actually, but I get the point Cowen is trying to make: Money may not make you happier, so no need to envy the rich or to worry about income inequality.

Funnily enough, Cowen's argument also works in the opposite direction: If increasing income produces smaller and smaller increases in happiness overall happiness might be maximized by reducing income inequality. Think of it this way: Suppose that we make the man earning $500,000 a year give $10,000 of this to the man who makes only $50,000 a year. Given Cowen's happiness thesis, the loss of this amount to the richer man won't make him much unhappier, but the gain of the amount to the poorer man might make him dance on the table with joyful singing heard in the background. A net increase in happiness!

I'd like to postulate a corollary to his response: if hard work results in more income (as it always does in the minds of righties), wouldn't people be much happier if they only exerted minimum effort on the job? You know, be less productive since it won't result in a happier life.

It's remarkable how much of the American right's effort goes toward dreaming up absurd rationalizations for why more Americans should be pleased to get a smaller piece of the pie-- and no health insurance. This rates up there the WSJ's infamous "Lucky Ducky" op-ed, which prompted one lower-class reader to write the editors with a generous offer-- if they'd like to swap for a month, they could live in his crappy apartment, subsist on a diet of beans, and earn so little money that they wouldn't have to pay income tax. For his part, he was more than willing to both take the pay raise and pay taxes on it with a smile on his face.

Other Prospect bloggers added their own takes here and here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

At least the 'war on terror' is a success in Afghanistan.


Rebuffing months of U.S. pressure, President Hamid Karzai has decided Afghanistan will not implement a Colombia-style program to spray the country's heroin-producing poppies, bowing to pressure from top Cabinet members who feared a popular backlash, officials said Thursday.

The decision dashes U.S. hopes that herbicide sprayed by ground applicators would help combat Afghanistan's opium trade after a record crop in 2006. (. . .)

Fueled by the Taliban, a powerful drug mafia and the need for a profitable crop that can overcome drought, opium production from poppies in Afghanistan last year rose 49 percent to 6,700 tons — enough to make about 670 tons of heroin. That's more than 90 percent of the world's supply and more than the world's addicts consume in a year.

The booming drug economy, and the involvement of government officials and police in the illicit trade, compounds the many problems facing Afghanistan's fledgling democracy, amid stepped-up attacks by militant supporters of the former Taliban regime.

Or as Fearless Leader might put it, "We're not shootin' 'em up over there so we can shoot up over here."

How do I rule thee? Let me count the ill-considered ways....

As a Prospect blogger pointed out, there's something very disturbing about Bush admitting that there have been failures in Iraq while Cheney claims "enormous successes" like a Soviet apparatchik.

In the beginning, George W. Bush sent American forces into Iraq with no apparent thought about the sectarian tensions that could explode once Saddam Hussein was ousted. Now, nearing the end of his presidency, Bush is sending more American forces into Iraq with no apparent regard for the verdict of the American people, rendered in November's election, that they've had it with his war. And, by the evidence of all available polling, with Bush himself.

The decline in Bush's support to Watergate-era Nixonian depths since he announced that his new Iraq policy was his old Iraq policy, only more so, stems, I suspect, from three conclusions that the public has reached about the president and his war. The first, simply, is that the war is no longer winnable and, worse, barely comprehensible since it has evolved into a Sunni-Shiite conflict. The second is that Bush, in all matters pertaining to his war, is a one-trick president who keeps doing the same thing over and over, never mind that it hasn't worked. In Isaiah Berlin's typology of leaders, Bush isn't merely a hedgehog who knows one thing rather than many things. He's a delusional hedgehog who knows one thing that isn't so.

It gets worse from there. Funny how much impact these things we already know have when somebody just writes it out for you.

McCain speeds up his race to the bottom

At this point it's just embarrassing. After being one of a very, very small number of Americans who believed that the "surge" could work and supported it fully, he quickly gave himself an out by saying he thought it would only succeed if the plan were more ambitious than the president's. That's remarkably convenient for such a 'maverick.' But not good enough, apparently.

"The goal is to try to salvage this situation and not send the additional troops with a message of disapproval," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., of the GOP meetings.

McCain told reporters Thursday he is interested in drafting a resolution that would establish benchmarks by which the U.S. could measure the effectiveness of the troop increase.

Such a resolution could have broad appeal among Republicans who want to avoid attacking the president but are concerned about sending additional troops to Iraq without an exit strategy.

Pretty much. It's good to see the press pointing out the painfully obvious after six years of complete timidity. And to actually see them doing something besides peddle the line that McCain is a bold loner.

Praise for the right. Or at least as close as I get.

It's always nice to be able to post something from a conservative for a reason other than pointing out the sheer lack of logic and reason, or the stupefying demagoguery. And more often than not, it comes from the Corner's John Derbyshire. Still, for such a short post the bullshit quotient is pretty high.

Steve Sailer notes that the Army is relaxing parameters on the variables in its recruitment standards (but on some variables more than others, and on IQ least of all).

"Maximum age of new enlistees has been boosted from 34 to 42..."

THAT got my attention. You can enlist at 42? Wow.

A couple more wars, a couple more hikes in the enlistment age, and **I** will be able to enlist. I wouldn't mind, and I could sure use the health insurance.

Well, yeah, I'd like to have the insurance, too, although BushCo has been cutting the benefits that come with putting your life on the line for the nation. And the age isn't being pushed up to 42 because the military would just like to give older patriots the chance to enlist. Then there's that IQ comment. There've been several stories about recruiters "helping" potential enlistees beat drug tests, cover up criminal records, and falsify their education. And now that I think about it, while you'll find idiots in the armed forces and at Ivy League schools, I'd attribute the situation not to high military standards, but the economic advantage of some idiots-- the president being a perfect example. There's a reason all those recruiting ads push their college assistance and a bright future in the private sector. And just as some troops don't join out of sheer patriotism, I suspect some wealthy individuals might not be paying $30,000 tuition a year out of passion for a great education.

And now that I think about it, is Derbyshire really to be applauded for saying he would sign up, if they'd only bring the age up a few more years. I'd be willing to bet a big chunk of money that he hasn't called a recruiting station just to offer. Just forget I posted this.

Filibustering is the new black

Why, it seems like just yesterday that Republicans were threatening to rewrite the Congressional rulebook in order to abolish the filibuster. What could've happened in the last few weeks to make them change their minds so completely?

Back when he was in the Senate majority, Kentucky's Mitch McConnell thought it was pretty outrageous that Democrats were using the threat of filibusters to set up a 60-vote requirement for the confirmation of a handful of George W. Bush's judicial nominees. McConnell called the Democrats' tactics an "ugly denial" of "fundamental fairness" that was "unprecedented in the history of the country" and would cause "great damage" to the U.S. Senate.

Now that the Republicans are in the minority, it turns out that using filibusters to force 60-vote cloture votes is nothing other than standard operating procedure. The Senate is set to debate competing anti-escalation resolutions next week, and McConnell tells MSNBC that all of them "are likely, as virtually everything in the Senate is likely, to be subject to a 60-vote threshold."

Well, for it to be standard procedure, there'd surely have to be examples apart from opposing escalation. Oh, right, there was one this week: refusing to increase the minimum wage for the first time in ten years unless it's paid for by increasing the federal deficit.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dick Cheney channels Baghdad Bob

Who can forget the surreal footage of Saddam Hussein's Information Minister talking of the city's impregnability while American armored vehicles rolled in the streets? The thing is, he was probably in a spot where saying what he did was a pretty good way to save his own life. What's Dick Cheney's excuse?

Example 1: When Cheney said that the United States would be in a "terrible situation" today if Saddam Hussein were still in power, Blitzer interrupted to say that "there is a terrible situation" in Iraq anyway. Cheney shot back: "No, there is not. There is not. There's problems, ongoing problems, but we have, in fact, accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime, and there is a new regime in place that's been there for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off. They have got a democratically written constitution, first ever in that part of the world. They've had three national elections. So there's been a lot of success."

Example 2:

Blitzer: Here's what Jim Webb, senator from Virginia, said in his Democratic response last night. He said: "The president took us into the war recklessly. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable and predicted disarray that has followed." And it's not just Jim Webb, it's some of your good Republican friends in the Senate and the House, are now seriously questioning your credibility because of the blunders, of the failures ...

Cheney: Wolf, Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think it's hogwash.

Webb of Terror

Although you can't have missed it if you'd checked in with pretty much any blog out there today, I can't resist posting a link to Jim Webb's loudly praised rebuttal to the SOTU. Crooks and Liars conveniently provides video and a transcript. It's impressive stuff that had managed to prompt talk of a VP spot on the 2008 ticket by this morning.

In other news you already know, John Kerry has bowed out of the race. He wouldn't have been my first, second, or even third choice, but I think he's taken way too much of a beating from the left and the right since '06.

Update: I thought I should explain that last line a bit. Sure, Kerry bungled his campaign and made the same mistakes Gore did-- but that's the fault of the DLC and the Beltway fallacy that Dems have to move to the right to win office (Hillary will run her campaign the exact same way-- in fact, she already is). No, we just need to respond effectively to right-wing dirty tricks.


During last night's State of the Union address, the president didn't seem to make anyone happy, even in his own party. Although he did deviate from the script a bit. The prepared text, written beforehand for the leader of the free world, included the word 'Democratic' as an adjective. Which would be correct. Amid calls for partisanship (and at least one more embarrassing call for fiscal prudence from the man who never vetoed a spending bill), Bush insisted on employing one of the most childish tactics on the right-- saying 'Democrat' instead.

The author of this post writes that "it was almost certainly a deliberate move by Bush." I think that's giving the man too much credit. My guess is that he's just that much of an ideology-driven drone. "We must have more bipartisan spirit in politics today, for the greater good of the nation-- and we would if it weren't for those Democrat sons uh bitches."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Evil: It's what's for dinner

If there's anything good to be said about this administration, and by extension the current Republican party, it's that their tactics are pretty predictable by now-- you know the list. Blame Bill Clinton if something goes wrong. Accuse opponents of doing what you're doing. And always, always mean the opposite of what you say. The SOTU will serve as just one more example.

While Bush will undoubtedly do his usual "I'm a uniter" schtick, he's still busily purging U.S. attorneys. As Paul Krugman writes:

For a long time the administration nonetheless seemed untouchable, protected both by Republican control of Congress and by its ability to justify anything and everything as necessary for the war on terror. Now, however, the investigations are closing in on the Oval Office. The latest news is that J. Steven Griles, the former deputy secretary of the Interior Department and the poster child for the administration’s systematic policy of putting foxes in charge of henhouses, is finally facing possible indictment.

And the purge of U.S. attorneys looks like a pre-emptive strike against the gathering forces of justice.

And we'll be getting another helping of economic policy that claims to be worker-friendly while absolutely screwing everyone but the wealthiest Americans. Ezra Klein catches up with the new health care proposal, and gives us a lovely reminder of the above rules of thumb:

What the early reports either didn't make clear or didn't know was that the plan's changes to health care deductibility don't set limits, they're creating, instead, a standard deduction of $7,500 for individuals and $15,000 for families. My initial understanding was that those were caps: Above them, you couldn't deduct anything further. Below them, you simply deducted what you spent. That was incorrect. Instead, everyone will get precisely those deductions no matter what they spend. If you're 23 and your health care costs $2,000 a year, you still deduct $7,500, pocketing the difference. It would, in that situation, be economically foolish of you to purchase high quality, comprehensive coverage. And that goes all the way up the line. The intent here is clear: To incentivize the purchase of low-quality, high-deductible care, particularly among the healthy, young, and/or rich. To degrade the risk pool, and encourage HSAs. To reduce coverage, costs, and health security.

The Obama/Clinton smear is dead-- bring on Wes Clark!

CNN has, thankfully, done their job and debunked the story about Barack Obama being educated by 'Islamofascists.' Now, I said many times over the course of 2006 that the November elections would be really ugly. And for mid-term elections, there was no shortage of ugly tales from the campaign trail. Now, I think I can safely predict that we havent seen anything yet. In the same week that Clinton and Obama declare that they're 'filing paperwork to form a presidential exploratory committee,' the right-wing press pushes a false story about Clinton as an amoral spy and Obama as a likely terrorist.

Wes Clark hasn't even made an announcement, but this week the reactionaries are piling on with a predictably bogus accusation. But they're certainly masters of feigning outrage.

The worst that can truthfully be said about Clark is that he expressed himself in a slightly odd way. This, it seems clear, he did because it's a sensitive issue and he worried that if he spoke plainly he'd be accused of trafficking in anti-Semitism. So he spoke unclearly and, for his trouble, got … accused of trafficking in anti-Semitism.

James Taranto, who writes the hack "Best of the Web" column for the online version of The Wall Street Journal's hack editorial page, likened Clark's views on this to the notorious anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Scott Johnson of the influential and moronic right-wing Power Line blog argued that "Clark's comments are not simply 'anti-Israel,'" and asked "[i]s it a only a matter only of parochial concern to American Jews that they are now to be stigmatized without consequence in the traditional disgusting terms -- terms that used to result in eviction from the precincts of polite society -- by a major figure in the Democratic Party?"

Needless to say, Clark did not stigmatize American Jews. Indeed, he went out of his way to note that the American Jewish community is divided on the issue. Michael Barone's sneering attack on Clark also managed, almost incidentally, to reveal Barone's own understanding that Clark's remarks are substantially correct. Barone observed that it's "interesting to see a Democratic presidential hopeful denounce 'the New York money people,' people whom Clark spent some time with in 2003-04."

Know your enemy: attend law school

From an Americans United message comes the following-- just let the irony of a bunch of kids pursuing law careers fighting for the right to discriminate sink in for a bit.

A student chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at [California's] Hastings [College of Law] has brought a lawsuit demanding an exemption from the law school's Nondiscrimination Policy. The policy states that all student groups that seek official recognition and direct financial support must not deny membership based on a student's race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex and sexual orientation.

The CLS affiliate argues that its religious liberty is being violated by the requirement.

Last year, a federal district court disagreed with the Christian student group's arguments and upheld the school's right to enforce its nondiscrimination policy. The CLS has asked the 9th Circuit to reverse the lower court's ruling.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Back?!? We never left!

Here's an uplifiting piece from The New Republic on Al Qaeda. Remember them? They're the ones who didn't have anything to do with the $500,000,000,000 war in Iraq. And they're doing rather well these days, according to the author.

In Washington, the consensus view is that, while Bush's foreign policy has been an overall disaster, he still can lay claim to one key achievement: severely weakening Al Qaeda in the five years since September 11.

There was a time when that was true. In the months and years immediately following the Taliban's ouster, Al Qaeda lost its main sanctuary and struggled to regroup in the largely lawless zone along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. Key leaders were captured or killed. Years passed during which the group mounted few major attacks.

But, today, from Algeria to Afghanistan, from Britain to Baghdad, the organization once believed to be on the verge of impotence is again ascendant. Attacks by jihadists have reached epidemic levels in the past three years, with terrorists carrying out dramatic operations in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, as well as multiple suicide attacks across the Middle East and Asia--not only in Iraq, but also in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia. Meanwhile, jihadists have made inroads in the horn of Africa; the Taliban's efforts to turn Afghanistan back into a failed state appear to be succeeding; and Al Qaeda's Iraqi branch recently declared sovereignty over the country's vast Anbar province.

On the Run

Last week's non-story that suggested Hillary Clinton's campaign team was digging up dirt on Barack Obama-- namely that he might well be a closet terrorist-- traveled far and wide thanks to the efforts of our mainstream press. An unsourced assertion in a right-wing magazine spread like wildfire, predictably. And as this piece from Howard Kurtz acknowledges, sort of obliquely, Democratic frontrunners are already on the run from a press that seems interested mostly in making them look bad.

Fox News picked up the Insight charge on two of its programs, playing up an angle involving Hillary Clinton. The magazine, citing only unnamed sources, said that researchers "connected" to the New York senator were allegedly spreading the information about her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The New York Post, which, like Fox, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, also picked up the article, with the headline: " 'OSAMA' MUD FLIES AT OBAMA."

Thus, in the first media controversy of the 2008 campaign, two of the leading candidates find themselves forced to respond to allegations lacking a single named source.

Death doesn't take a holiday

With the news Saturday that we had had the third-deadliest day for US troops since the war began, and today's report that explosions in Baghdad have killed over 100 people, it's especially galling that ideologues like Bill Kristol haven't been completely thrown out of the pundit class.

A few years ago, he notoriously derided those who thought there would be an outbreak of the Sunni-Shiite violence if we invaded. And he's still at it, peddling the old line that Iraq would be a huge success if it weren't for those pesky people opposing it. Who are probably terrorist sympathizers. Bad news for the ol' hack-- that would make about 70% of Americans terrorist sympathizers.

This morning on Fox News, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol said that opponents of escalation in Congress are “leap-frogging each other in the degrees of irresponsibility they’re willing to advocate.” Kristol said, “It’s just unbelievable. … It’s so irresponsible that they can’t be quiet for six or nine months,” adding, “You really wonder, do they want it to work or not? I really wonder that.”

Friday, January 19, 2007

We're here! We smear! Get used to it!

In 2000, the press was extremely tough on Al Gore, and often completely unfair. They generally gave Bush a pass. McCain was endlessly fawned over. In 2004, Bush was still getting a free ride and it was Kerry's turn to take a beating at the hands of the press. It's only January of '07, but it looks like the knives are already being sharpened for the Dems. Never too early to get your chops back.

John Edwards takes a hit on the WaPo's front page because a company that bought his house has had some "legal complaints" filed against it.

The Post says that Edwards "finally succeeded last month in selling his imposing Georgetown mansion for $5.2 million after it had languished on the market" and that Edwards' spokeswoman said at the time that the house had been sold to an unidentified corporation. "In reality," the paper says, "the buyers were Paul and Terry Klaassen."

Reality check No. 1: As the Post acknowledges later in its own story, the Klaassens bought the house through something called "P Street LLC," a limited-liability corporation they seem to have created for the purpose of buying the house. So when Edwards' spokeswoman said that the house was purchased by a corporation, she was right.

And Barack Hussein Obama? Well, I'm sure he knew he wouldn't have an easy time of things before he decided to look into this whole run for the White House scene, but he's already the target of breathless right-wingers. He had his own "suspect" land deal, which involved buying a small parcel of land adjacent to his home from the owner-- who apparently has some character flaws. But, you know, he happened to own that particular strip of land. For obvious reasons, that story never gained ground (although it will undoubtedly rise again). No, the obvious angle for today's reactionary is to go with that whole dark skin issue.

Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage?

The alleged source of this information? "Researchers connected to Senator [Hillary] Clinton." Talk about a double whammy-- one prominent Dem is a terrorist, and a second is a fear-mongering spy!

For a little more fun with the whole 'Obama is definitely a sneaky liar, and probably a terrorist to boot'-- not that you won't be seeing reams of it in the coming years-- check out this bit of hilarity which compares Obama unfavorably to Tom Tancredo, the Colorado politician who makes the news most frequently for his flirtation with racist sentiments.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

2008 verse is the same as the first

The much-anticipated signs that the GOP learned nothing from November's election were coming fast and thick before Democrats took power, and they're still arriving. The latest is yet another move to squash lobbying reform. The WaPo writes:

Senate Republicans scuttled broad legislation last night to curtail lobbyists' influence and tighten congressional ethics rules, refusing to let the bill pass without a vote on an unrelated measure that would give President Bush virtual line-item-veto power.

The move is even getting a boost from everyone's favorite pandering phony-- oops, I mean straight-talking maverick-- John McCain, who's recently reversed his stance on the issue and inched ever closer to becoming a carbon copy of one-time foe Dubya. And losing supporters in droves.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has told conservative activists that he will vote to strip a key provision on grassroots lobbying from the reform package he previously supported.

The provision would require grassroots organizations to report on their fundraising activities and is strongly opposed by groups such as the National Right to Life Committee, Gun Owners of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

While grassroots groups on both sides of the political spectrum oppose the proposal, social conservative leaders such as Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, who broadcasts a radio program to hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians, have been its most vehement critics.

Time to swap the Straight Talk Express for the Money Talks Express.

Ohio still struggling with the 2004 election

Better late than never.... I guess.

Three elections workers in the state's most populous county conspired to avoid a more thorough recount of ballots in the 2004 presidential election, a prosecutor told jurors during opening statements Thursday.

"The evidence will show that this recount was rigged, maybe not for political reasons, but rigged nonetheless," Prosecutor Kevin Baxter said. "They did this so they could spend a day rather than weeks or months" on the recount, he said. (. . .)

t's unlikely another recount would be ordered because of the court case, which voting rights advocates have used as an example of flaws with the state's recount laws. There were allegations in several counties of similar presorting of ballots for the recounts that state law says are to be random.

Baxter said testimony will show that the three workers secretly chose sample precincts for the December 2004 recount that did not have questionable results to ensure the tally from the sample matched a previous vote count. Sample precincts were to be selected randomly before witnesses.

When the results matched, the workers were allowed to recount the rest of the county's ballots by machine, avoiding a full hand recount that would have been more lengthy and expensive, he said.

The article goes to great lengths to point out that this probably didn't affect the outcome of the election. But isn't it bad enough that people can't even trust their votes to count?

Privilege is its own reward

From the Mysterious Cypher comes a story about the future of airport security. Maybe they can flash commercials in the metal detector booth, as well.

Of all the hassles at the airport in this age of heightened security, perhaps the most annoying is the requirement to take off your shoes to send them through the X-ray screener. That burden will be lifted at some airports shortly — for those willing to pay about $100 a year for the privilege.

The Transportation Security Administration has recently approved a new device that will scan your shoes while you are still wearing them. It uses quadrupole resonance technology, similar to a medical M.R.I., to determine whether explosives or weapons might be hidden in your shoes. It is the first important new technology to emerge from the for-profit registered traveler programs.

The hitch is that, for now, you have to pay to join a program in which private companies pledge to move you through the security lines a bit faster if you submit to a government background check in advance and supply biometric data — like a thumbprint or iris scan — that can be used to identify you at the airport.

Sure, I'll exchange being fingerprinted and scanned to get through the line a little quicker. It'd be a bargain at twice the price.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Big pharma payoffs get some attention. Finally.

MSNBC takes a look at attempts by big pharma to pay off makers of generics so that they'll have more time to sell their brand name drugs at higher prices. You might be pleased to hear that there's bipartisan support to stop the practice. You won't be at all surprised to hear that this is old news. I wrote about the story nine months ago, but for some odd reason the GOP wasn't too troubled until very recently.

Drug companies increasingly are reaching legal settlements that delay the introduction of cheaper generic medicines and cheat Americans of billions of dollars a year in savings, federal regulators on Wednesday told lawmakers seeking to ban the agreements.

The Federal Trade Commission and others allege the settlements allow brand-name pharmaceutical companies to pay off would-be generic competitors, which then agree to delay introduction of their less costly but otherwise identical versions of the original medicines.

The FTC issued a report Wednesday, to coincide with a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the topic, that shows the settlements have become more common since two 2005 appeals court decisions upheld their legality.

In the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, half of the 28 patent litigation settlements between brand-name and generic drug makers included such an agreement, according to the FTC. It tallied just three the previous fiscal year and none the year before that.

Ahhhh, that takes me back to the days of Al Gore and "no controlling legal authority" a line that became a mantra among right-wingers who were shocked-- shocked!-- that someone might do something underhanded just because it's legal. Then along came 2000, and it remained a right-wing mantra-- just for entirely different reasons.

Damn the subpoenas-- full speed ahead!

In the run-up to the elections, the critical issue for a lot of progressives was about two words: subpoena power. Alas, the rule of law might not be enough. This administration is filled with experts at rigging the game, and they recognize a fight they have to win when they see it.

Senator Dianne Feinstein was one of the first to make a public note of the odd disappearance of so many U.S. attorneys, replaced by interim appointments by the Bush administration -- appointments which are not subject to Senate confirmation and which can last for the remainder of the Bush era. Feinstein states:

While the administration has confirmed that 5 to 10 U.S. Attorneys have been asked to leave, I have not been given specific details about why these individuals were asked to leave. Around the country, though, U.S. Attorneys are bringing many of the most important and complex cases being prosecuted. They are responsible for taking the lead on public corruption cases and many of the antiterrorist efforts in the country.

'Bushworld' now five stops past 'Bizarroworld.'

Although it's probably the most blogged-about event of the day, I'd be remiss in pointing out the latest example of what makes our president just about the least competent man for the job.

Last night on the PBS Newshour, Jim Lehrer asked President Bush why he hasn’t called on Americans — besides those serving in the volunteer military — to sacrifice something to help our country in this time of struggle. Bush claimed Americans are sacrificing: “They sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible image of violence on TV every night.” Bush explained that “the psychology of the country…is somewhat down because of this war.”

Like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Bush said that he would “strongly oppose” raising taxes on the wealthy to help offset the increasing costs of war in Iraq because he wants “people to feel like their life’s moving on.” The Wall Street Journal reports, “The growing financial strain of Iraq will be spelled out as never before in a series of defense and war-related spending requests by the White House next month, expected to total more than $700 billion through Sept. 30, 2008.”

And there you have it. It took Fearless Leader months to arrive at a "new" Iraq strategy that almost no one thinks will work, but is guaranteed to cost much more in blood and money. But don't worry about it! It's bad enough that you might be upset by icky pictures on the news-- don't trouble your head with where we'll come up with the scratch to pay off that $700 billion IOU.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The March of Anti-Science

I've railed against BushCo's opposition of science. I've complained bitterly of the Boy King's desperate need to have some quixotic endeavor that will stand as his glorious legacy. I've groused about the money being wasted on pointless manned expeditions back to the moon and to Mars, which combines the previous two issues. Add them all up, throw in some more human suffering courtesy of the neo-fascist agenda, and you get this article, from today's WaPo.

The government's ability to understand and predict hurricanes, drought and climate changes of all kinds is in danger because of deep cuts facing many Earth satellite programs and major delays in launching some of its most important new instruments, a panel of experts has concluded.

The two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, determined that NASA's earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, has experienced enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission.

Maybe it's this sort of thing that will puzzle historians some day-- that it was self-styled conservatives who squandered the nation's wealth constructing moai, while convincing the public that utopian liberals were the real danger.

The Grand Experiment

A little more than a decade ago, I worked for a company that used a state-of-the-art system for staffing the store, which consisted of book, music and movie/game rental sections all in one warehouse-sized building. Great concept, and like Wal-Mart and others, they were able to offer lower prices than competitors.

Since it was a high-volume store, they figured they could track sales by computer and use the information to decide how many people were needed in each section and in front at the registers at each time of each day. The computer would then spit out a schedule for employees (with some adjustments for things like students' class schedules).

What was supposed to be an egalitarian system designed to ease managements' scheduling hassles, ensure good customer service and fast checkouts, and save money by not overstaffing was-- as we peons predicted-- a disaster. The store was chronically understaffed, and employees were outraged over the arbitrary scheduling, such as staying until after midnight and being due in at 8 am the next morning, or finding yourself working a completely unpredictable mix of days and nights, weekdays and weekends. Or finding yourself with thirty hours one week and five the next.

In no small part, that was the beginning of the end. Employees who had been thrilled to work there because the store paid over minimum wage were now unhappy because their entire lives were being dictated. The store developed a horrible reputation for bad customer service and interminable checkout lines. Cashiers weren't paid as much as those of us in the various departments, and quickly realized that they were doing a lot more work. Turnover increased, and the quality of employees dropped. Each section of the store became a chaotic mess that no-one stayed long enough to master.

Within a few years, the store closed down in spite of the fact that it was bigger, better and cheaper than the competition. Not exactly an advanced business theory, there. If you aren't a total dick to employees, they'll be happier to work for you. That makes for happy customers. And that's one of the big reasons I didn't hate Wal-Mart when it was Sam Walton's baby-- he didn't have contempt for working class Americans like his vile brood.

The morale and attitude that people come to work with each day really matters to your business -- and affects your business. People who are treated as if they were simply game pieces to be moved around won't stock merchandise with enthusiasm or deliver the kind of customer service Lee Scott would hope. More important in the long term, good people won't work at your store if they are treated the way the new schedule will result in their being treated -- in terms of managing both their lives and their incomes. No one who is serious about full-time work can tolerate having a different schedule and a different paycheck across seven days every week.

Wal-Mart's big problem is long lines at checkout. It often takes longer to check out than to fill your shopping cart in the first place. Here's a simpler solution: Schedule two more checkout clerks at every store for every shift. Will it cost money? Sure. But customers clearly walk out, or pass up shopping at Wal-Mart in the first place, because the lines are so long. I personally walked out of two Wal-Marts, leaving behind full shopping carts (that had to be restocked), during the holidays because the lines were too long. Wal-Mart could also use existing employees to open additional checkout lines -- putting aside their routine work -- when lines get particularly long. And they could use a manager to guide customers to the next open line, rather than letting people "guess" which line will move fastest (a system Whole Foods uses with great effectiveness).

One of Wal-Mart's biggest problems is its relationship with its own employees. About 50 percent of Wal-Mart employees in the U.S. quit every year -- that's 12,000 employees a week who quit and need to be replaced. What's the cost of that, both in literal terms, and in terms of lost opportunity because employees are so inexperienced?

Death, sure. Maybe not so much the taxes.

Boy, Republicans sure love their tax cuts, don't they? I've always been amazed by wealthy friends' capacity for treating tax evasion like an act of heroism. Of course, what they're really cheering for avarice, as typified by BushCo.

Top officials at the Internal Revenue Service are pushing agents to prematurely close audits of big companies with agreements to have them pay only a fraction of the additional taxes that could be collected, according to dozens of I.R.S. employees who say that the policy is costing the government billions of dollars a year.

“It’s catch and release,” said Douglas R. Johnson, an I.R.S. auditor in Colorado for three decades who said he grew so frustrated at how large corporations were allowed to pay far less than what he thought they owed that he transferred to the agency’s small-business division.

With one exception, other working agents would talk about the issue only on condition they not be identified because they feared being fired. They said a policy intended to avoid delays in auditing corporations was being pushed so rigidly that it prevented them from pursuing numerous examples of questionable corporate tax deductions.

I've mentioned it before, but David Cay Johnston's book Perfectly Legal (so disturbing I actually couldn't finish it) highlights the many ways in which our tax code has been structured to-- guess what?-- benefit the wealthiest Americans and turn the screws on the working class.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Layin' it on the line

As long as I'm picking on the media, I'll post this video clip on the reaction to Fearless Leader's speech by The Daily Show. Interviews with flavor-of-the-month politicians instead of experts, and lots of idiotic attempts to sound insightful-- with a great capper from Stewart.

The ol' right-wing shuck 'n jive

Considering what I know about the origin of that expression, it's probably a very inappropriate choice of words. But it's the first thing that came to mind when I read about the latest salvo of fake reactionary outrage. Sadly, it's one tactic that appears to draw in the media every damn time-- and never to point out that these feeble attempts at misdirection insult the intelligence of a 10 year-old. It worked wonders for the neo-fascists when it was about Mary Cheney during the presidential debates, and it was just as nonsensical then.

"The issue is, who pays the price?" Boxer asked Rice, who was appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss President Bush's strategic shift in the war in the Middle East. Boxer continued, "I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families." (. . .)

Reaction from right-wing media sources was fast and vicious. The Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post slapped a "Dem childless Condi slur" headline on its cover this morning, and featured an article referring to Boxer as "an appalling scold" and calling the exchange "breathtaking" in its "vapidity [and] sheer mindlessness." Murdoch's Fox News is airing affronted segments about what they are calling Boxer's "personal attack" on Rice, which they deemed "offensive to someone who doesn't have children." And the National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez classed the whole thing up with her blog post, headlined "The word I'm thinking of rhymes with witch," in which she commented, "When 'The View' loses Rosie, Barbara Boxer ought to take her seat at the catty table."

You see? Mary Cheney was a publicly avowed lesbian, but to actually say it is verboten. Condi doesn't have kids, so pointing that out is actually a vile smear. Now, I have some serious issues with the direction feminism is taking, particularly in academia. But this is one instance where I'd be the first to say-- whatever Boxer's intent was-- that the creepy right-wing backlash reflects more on their 19th century opinion that a woman's worth is based on her successful reproduction. And it says about the same of the mainstream press, which is really sad.

Shmekel of the Month

Joe Lieberman must be expecting something pretty good out of this administration. While DLC types have always heaped praise upon him for his centrism and just generally being the antithesis of the much-maligned but rarely in evidence "knee-jerk, angry liberal," he continues to justify every single criticism the progressive blogs had of him while seeking to oust him from the senate. To wit, that he isn't "bipartisan" so much as he is "chickenshit." He'll bash Democrats if it gets him on TV, and side with corporate interests-- and in this case criminals-- if he sees some advantage in it.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the only Democrat to endorse President Bush’s new plan for Iraq, has quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. (. . .)

But the decision by Lieberman, the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to back away from the committee's Katrina probe is already dismaying public-interest groups and others who hoped the Democratic victory in November would lead to more aggressive investigations of one of the White House’s most spectacular foul-ups.

I was way too gentle in using the term shmekel for Lieberman. How about flaming dickhead? Is it asking too much of a politician to leave gentility at the door when people are dying because of stupidity and corruption? Apparently so, considering Lieberman's eagerness to support the Iraq war no matter how he has to twist reality to get there.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

You "surge" with the army you have...

The thousands of troops that President Bush is expected to order to Iraq will join the fight largely without the protection of the latest armored vehicles that withstand bomb blasts far better than the Humvees in wide use, military officers said.

Vehicles such as the Cougar and the M1117 Armored Security Vehicle have proven ability to save lives, but production started late and relatively small numbers are in use in Iraq, mostly because of money shortages, industry officials said.

More than 1,000 American troops have been killed by roadside bombs since the war began in March 2003. At present there are fewer than 1,000 of the new armored trucks in Iraq. At $500,000 to $700,000 each, they cost more than twice as much as a standard Humvee, but already they are proving their worth.

$300 billion, four years, 3,000 American lives later-- and the GOP couldn't even outfit our forces. Aren't tax cuts great, though?

Shmekel of the Day (with apologies to Atrios)

I'm not sure if Lieberman is hoping for a trip to the White House in '08, he's seriously self-deluded, or just a raving idiot, but he's been outdoing himself lately.

As TNR notes today:

"We need to cut through the confusion. Bringing security to Baghdad--the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development--is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail."

--Frederick Kagan and Jack Keane, The Washington Post, 12/27/06

"Thanks to General Keane and Fred Kagan for the extraordinary contribution that you have made to the debate, both in terms of overall policy, but the combination of real on-the-ground, boots on-the-ground operational experience that, General Keane, you bring; and the sense of history and policy, Fred, that you bring--you are a powerful combination. And at a perilous moment for our nation, you are making a very significant and unique contribution.

--Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman on Kagan's and Keane's presentation of their plan at The American Enterprise Institute, 01/05/07

"President Bush tonight announced a new approach that called for sending some 21,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq but also warned its government that 'America's commitment is not open-ended.'"

--The Los Angeles Times's summary of Bush's speech, 01/10/07

"I applaud the President for rejecting the fatalism of failure and pursuing a new course to achieve success in Iraq. ... Success is attainable in Iraq, and tonight the President has offered a comprehensive program to chart a new course in both winning the military struggle to establish order and in achieving the political and economic objectives to build a more promising future for Iraqis. However, no progress is possible unless we restore order, particularly in Baghdad. Tonight, the President did not take the easy path, but he took the correct and courageous course."

--Lieberman, in a statement released after the president's address, 01/10/07

But all that demonstrates is the Lieberman is an ass-kissing hack. With this piece from Greg Sargent, we see that he's a true Bushie-- lying or incompetent.

Okay, so the British commanders told [GOP Rep. Susan] Collins that their presence was "less and less tolerated." One American commander said outright that a "surge" wouldn't do any good. And only one American commander said an increase might help -- a small increase that could be solved by a reallocation. According to Collins' account, then, not a single commander came anywhere near saying anything that could be construed as desiring -- or even supporting -- any kind of large scale increase.

Yet Lieberman has repeatedly claimed that he emerged from these same discussions "strongly" convinced that an escalation is the right course of action. He even asserted that the commanders were "asking" for more troops. Either Collins or Lieberman is not leveling with us here.

You suck, Lieberman.

The Great Man Theory

A apir of articles on TNR today took me back in time a little over a year, when I wrote about the 'Great Man' concept of history pushed by Hegel. Rather, I wrote about Karl Popper's criticism of it as one of the hallmarks of totalitarianism.

First, an article that goes a little more in-depth than I did regarding Bush as a (not-so) great man. While he fits Hegel's criteria in the most pitiable sense:

[Great men of history] have derived their purposes and their vocation, not from the calm, regular course of things, sanctioned by the existing order; but ... from that inner Spirit, still hidden beneath the surface, which, impinging on the outer world as on a shell, bursts it in pieces...

Sadly, Bush fails in the only part of Hegel's plan that really matters-- what separates crackpots and petty tyrants from the truly great:

Well, it’s a matter of time before we know whether Bush’s “object is attained” in Iraq, and the course of human history thereby guided safely into a new stage of progress. That looks like a very long shot indeed. And Hegel is pretty clear about success being the criterion for judging these figures. “They are great men,” he writes, “because they willed and accomplished something great; not a mere fancy, a mere intention, but that which met the case and fell in with the needs of the age.”

Which is why the news of the last 24 hours on Iraq is so disturbing. Bush has always liked to compare himself to admired presidents who've made it through troubling times, like Lincoln and Truman. Like the many once-rabid, now sheepish supporters who went to his staged campaign rallies, his neocon enablers appear to agree-- and this Salon article gets to the crux of the Great Man problem:

To [Lindsey] Graham's crowd, the president is now seizing the reins of the war from the misguided military brass. "The president has retaken control of Iraq strategy," the American Enterprise Institute's Frederick Kagan told a crowd of reporters late last week. "For too long I think the administration has allowed a military leadership that was clearly on the wrong track to continue driving in the wrong direction."

Kagan and his colleagues envision this as an epochal moment for Bush, akin to President Lincoln, during the Civil War, removing a timid George B. McClellan and promoting the fiery Ulysses S. Grant. The role of McClellan in this drama is being played by outgoing Gens. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq for the past two and a half years, and John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command since 2003. "I respect General Casey and Abizaid, but the strategy they've come up with for the last two years has not worked," Graham told NBC's Tim Russert. "Iraq is not more stable than it was when they took over two years ago."

Graham's claims are incredibly grating to military officers, who say Casey and Abizaid are being blamed unfairly. "Casey and Abizaid are as good as they come," Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004, uttered during an interview with Salon. "From the highest point of this administration, there will be an effort to rewrite history," he said with some disgust.

The problem, of course, is that Bush's Great Man narrative is only that-- a narrative, retroactively scripted to squeeze unpleasant reality into a heroic myth. As evidence, have a look at this:

[Bush] put it far more bluntly when leaders of Congress visited the White House earlier on Wednesday. "I said to Maliki this has to work or you're out," the president told the Congressional leaders, according to two officials who were in the room. Pressed on why he thought this strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back: "Because it has to."

He might as well have said "Because I'm the star of the show." This whole tragic, disastrous administration seems to revolve around the fact that the Boy King fails to realize that great deeds make for a great man, and a (self-styled) great man's deeds aren't invariably great themselves. It's just a shame that he couldn't have learned the lesson as a fry cook at Arby's rather than the Oval Office. I'd be nervous if George W. Bush were in charge of my curly fries, but allowing him to send thousands of young Americans to their deaths is a disgrace.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Fatwa of the Week" was spoken for...

Speaking of the right's partiality for totalitarianism, and having recently written about their reaction to electoral defeat-- which has been to become even more extremist-- I give you this:

Forget Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person In The World" contest — it's now been completely upstaged by a new Sunday contest on Fox: Sean Hannity's "Enemy of the State" award. Last night, Hannity's new Sunday night program aired for the first time, and from here on he'll award his "Enemy of the State" prize — a term originating with ancient Roman dictators placing bounties on rivals — on whatever red-state abortionist, anti-war activist, or run-of-the-mill Democrat who has attracted Hannity's ire that week. Imagine Hannity in that famous Twilight Zone episode, as the ranting Chancellor putting to death the old librarian portrayed by Burgess Meredith, and you'll get the idea. So who won the first "Enemy of the State" prize last night?

As a reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog asked: Who doesn't immediately associate that phrase with Communism or Nazism?

I suspect the answer is that Hannity's fans have that association, too. It takes me back to my musings on liberal and conservative humor. Olbermann's title is laughably over the top-- no one would take seriously the assertion that Bill O'Reilly is literally the most vile human being on the face of the earth. With the knockoff segment 'Enemy of the State,' I suspect Hannity is trying to achieve the same effect. But in true right-wing form, instead of amusing hyperbole, they go with a phrase that not only suggests treason, but does so in the context of murderous purges throughout history. What a knee-slapper, huh?

A tribute to MLK

It wasn't that long ago that Republican lawmakers tried very, very hard to derail the notion of Martin Luther King Day. As any of them would have vigorously argued, it had nothing to do with race. No matter that Jesse Helms was one of the fiercest critics, or that the last county in the United States to hold out against it was in South Carolina-- less than a year ago.

Martin Luther King's legacy, not unlike America's Founding Fathers, is one of Enlightenment values. And a look at conservatives' reaction to King, then and now, highlights an ugly historical thread that continues to define the American right: totalitarian leanings ("so long as I'm the dictator"), self-anointment as America's rightful ruling class, and of course racism.

Rick Perlstein does an excellent job of highlighting the right wing's attempt to hijack his legacy, having failed to demolish it.

Richard Nixon called King "a great leader--a man determined that the American Negro should win his rightful place alongside all others in our nation." Even one of King's most beastly political enemies, Mississippi Representative William Colmer, chairman of the House rules committee, honored the president's call to unity by terming the murder "a dastardly act."

Others demurred. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond wrote his constituents, "[W]e are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case." Another, even more prominent conservative said it was just the sort of "great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they'd break."

That was Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, arguing that King had it coming. (. . .)

The conservative argument, consistent and ubiquitous, was that King, claiming the mantle of moral transcendence, was actually the vector for moral relativism. They made it by reducing the greatest moral epic of the age to a churlish exercise in bean-counting. Shortly after the 1965 Selma voting-rights demonstrations, Klansmen shot dead one of the marchers, a Detroit housewife named Viola Liuzza, for the sin of riding in a car with a black man. Vice President Hubert Humphrey attended her funeral. No fair! Buckley cried, noting that a white cop had been shot by a black man in Hattiesburg shortly thereafter; "Humphrey did not appear at his funeral or even offer condolences." He complained, too, of the news coverage: "The television cameras showed police nightsticks descending upon the bodies of the demonstrators, but they did not show the defiance ... of those who provoked them beyond the endurance that we tend to think of as human." (In actual fact, sheriff's officers charged into the crowd on horseback swinging rubber tubes wrapped in barbed wire.)

As you might suspect, today's conservatives argue the opposite-- that King was a lonely voice crying out against moral relativism, and therefore one of them. A must-read on many levels. Even the citation of William F. Buckley whining about media bias is the template for the right's arguments about Iraq today-- a classic example of the moral bankruptcy that defines the movement and the disavowal of personal responsibility that defines this administration.