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


Thursday, September 27, 2007

High Wind in Missouri

Sorry about the disappearing act. I had to travel unexpectedly this week, and just returned. Posting should be back to normal next week.

In the meantime, why not read Karel Capek's War With the Newts? It's a frighteningly prescient dystopian satire that's all the more brilliant for having been written in the 1930s. Capek targets bigotry, jingoism, the dangers of multinational corporations, and too many other social ills to list. Although it's extremely funny, the humor is pitch-black and the tone is ultimately bleak. If my recommendation ain't cuttin' it, how about Kurt Vonnegut ("brilliant, blackly funny, and prophetic") or Arthur Miller ("It is time to read Capek again")?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Not really a ranch. More of a "ranch."

Years ago, Adam Ant asked the question "Why do girls love horses?" And it's a really good question. Why do girls love horses? And speaking of awkward segues, here's a story about Fearless Leader and horses.

When this story popped up a couple of days ago, I figured I'd pass. But it's Friday, I'm feeling a little frisky, and it seems like a good time for it-- especially with the horse angle that didn't figure into the first stories I saw. Enjoy.

President Bush may like to be seen as a swaggering tough guy with a penchant for manly outdoor pursuits, but in a new book one of his closest allies has said he is afraid of horses.

Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, derided his political friend as a "windshield cowboy" – a cowboy who prefers to drive – and "the cockiest guy I have ever met in my life".

He recalled a meeting in Mexico shortly after both men had been elected when Mr Fox offered Mr Bush a ride on a "big palomino" horse.

Mr Fox, who left office in December, recalled Mr Bush "backing away" from the animal. (. . .)

Mr Bush has spoken of his fondness for shooting doves and cutting brush on his Crawford ranch in Texas, which he bought in 1999.*

The property reportedly has no horses and only five cattle.

*Just try and tell me that the reporter wasn't intentionally infusing every word of this sentence. "While spending time at the pretend ranch he bought just as he started his presidential campaign, Bush enjoys killing small animals and doing yard work." The only thing missing is angling for fish in painstakingly stocked ponds.

Oh, and I need to credit my source on this one-- "One Word: Plastics."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Our Symbolic Senate

Oooooooooh-kay. After the Senate was unable to bring to an "up-or-down vote" measures on restoring the right of habeas corpus to people detained by the government AND to expand the time between tours of duty for troops in Afghanistan (which I would call 'supporting' them), that august body has managed to pass another measure. Read it and weep:

Cornyn Amdt. No. 2934

To express the sense of the Senate that General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces.

While the Republicans (with the help of Joe Lieberman) were more than willing to deny troops a decent resting period at home before sending them back into the shit, a number of Democrats were willing to urinate submissively when it came to be their turn to show some guts.

Which senators were actually able to reject this blatant piece of smarmy, right-wing agitprop?

Akaka (D-HI) Bingaman (D-NM) Boxer (D-CA) Brown (D-OH) Byrd (D-WV) Clinton (D-NY) Dodd (D-CT) Durbin (D-IL) Feingold (D-WI) Harkin (D-IA) Inouye (D-HI) Kennedy (D-MA) Kerry (D-MA) Lautenberg (D-NJ) Levin (D-MI) Menendez (D-NJ) Murray (D-WA) Reed (D-RI) Reid (D-NV) Rockefeller (D-WV) Sanders (I-VT) Schumer (D-NY) Stabenow (D-MI) Whitehouse (D-RI) Wyden (D-OR)

To the other Dems who capitulated-- and abstainers Biden, Cantwell and Obama-- you have my thanks for once again handing the GOP a club with which they will pound you mercilessly. And all the while, they'll be repeating the words "Even Democrats agreed with us..." Thank you as well for helping the GOP de-legitimize progressive activist groups while they keep dishing out Willie Horton stew.

Down-home, no-nonsense truth-tellin' from the most genuine guy in Washington...

... would be really nice. However, Bush wasn't offering any. Some choice cuts from today's news conference:

Reporter: Do you think there's a risk of a recession? How do you rate that?

Bush: You know, you need to talk to economists. I think I got a B in Econ 101. I got an A, however, in keeping taxes low and being fiscally responsible[!?!?] with the people's money.

Reporter: And what do you think it does to change the dynamic in an already hot region, in terms of Syria and Iran and the dispute with Israel, and whether the U.S. could be drawn into any of this?

Bush: I'm not going to comment on the matter. Would you like another question?

Reporter: Did you support it?

Bush: I'm not going to comment on the matter.

Reporter: Can you comment about your concerns that come out of it at all, for the region?

Bush: No.

Reporter: You won't comment on what the Israelis may or may not have done...

Bush: That's an accurate statement. I hope you got that. That's my answer. Of course, now [NBC's David] Gregory's worried I'm actually going to comment, see?

Reporter: That's what I'm hoping.

Bush: Well, I'm not going to so you might want to go to another subject.

Reporter: Mr. President, back to the economy for a moment: The Fed took its half-point rate cut the other day. Do you think that was enough to stave off recession? And if not, are there other steps you're prepared to do to make sure?

Bush: I do not comment on the decisions made by the Fed.

Reporter: Quick follow up on that?

Bush: Ann?

Reporter: Quick follow if I may, Mr. President?

Bush: No, you may not.

Sure, Fearless Leader could explain his positions and policies so eloquently it would shame Demosthenes. Like how being the most free-spending president in history is "fiscally responsible." But, like every seven year-old who can run the hundred meter dash in under 5 seconds, he just doesn't feel like it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Voodoo Economics: Perfect for a boom, perfect for a bust.

Yeesh. One of the creepiest things about conservatives I know is their remarkable ability to shrug off a simple test: "Were the situation reversed, would I still hold the same position?" Bush v Gore was one of the most egregious (and costly) examples, but the serial adultery to be found among the ranks of GOP presidential hopefuls makes the dreaded Bill Clinton look like a choirboy. One Republican family member of mine in particular felt that Clinton should have been removed from office, tossed in the slammer, and preferably given regular treatments of paper cuts and sea-salt massages. She's a Giuliani supporter. Another of her firm beliefs involves the economic pain of the 80s, the upswing of the 90s, and the largely unpleasant 00s. You see, it's all about time lag. Democrats plant economic time bombs that mysteriously blow up after six or seven years of Republican policies. Republican presidents, by contrast, plant supply-side seeds of gold that mature years after their policies have been replaced by Dems. Had the sequence been different, I'm quite confident that she'd be of the opinion that only a drooling idiot could maintain that it took so many years for policies to have an effect.

Jonathon Chait takes a look at the many, many ways in which the foundation of Republican economic policy (until the 1980s seen as the domain of reactionary crackpots) follows this sort of non-reasoning. And how 2008 is going to see another round of fools claiming that anything less than expanded tax cuts-- you know, to fight the deficit and pay for their trillion-dollar war-- is the equivalent of wearing a beret, brandishing a hammer and sickle, and probably feasting on toddler pot pie to boot.

The original reason we needed a tax cut was that a surplus meant taxpayers were overcharged. Then the overcharge disappeared, but we needed a tax cut on account of the recession. Currently, we need tax cuts because the fact that the recession ended means the old tax cuts are working. If the economy tanks, I assume we'll just be told again we can't raise taxes during a recession.

This Orwellian spectacle has grown so familiar that it has simply become an accepted fact of life in Washington. A New York Times article earlier this month called the economic expansion "one of the few positive developments President Bush and the Republican candidates have been able to cite." But, the same article proceeded to explain, "the threat of a recession would make it harder to advocate allowing President Bush's tax cuts to expire, as the lower rates are scheduled to do in 2010, and easier for Republicans to argue that Democratic proposals to raise taxes on the rich risk making the economy worse." So, if the economy keeps growing, it helps the GOP. But, if it stops growing, it hurts the Democrats. Sadly, this is probably an accurate summation of the debate.

I know that sounds like the start of countless articles written over the last five years, but it gets better. Plus, it's nice to see Chait take a swipe at the MSM's laziness on economic matters.

Joe 'n Me

With a badass name like "Specter Amendment 2022," you know it's got to be cool. And while I'm not a fan of terrorists, I'm also not a total moron. Which means I believe it's a bad idea to indefinitely detain and torture someone without actually leveling charges against them. Especially when they turn out to be innocent. Not so much a deterrent to extremism as an incentive. Which means I would've voted "yea" on the move to restore the right of habeas corpus to detainees.

Every senate Democrat and even six Republicans are smart enough to agree. Joe Lieberman and the other 42 Republicans? Nope.

NAYs ---43
Alexander (R-TN) Allard (R-CO) Barrasso (R-WY) Bennett (R-UT) Bond (R-MO) Brownback (R-KS) Bunning (R-KY) Burr (R-NC) Coburn (R-OK) Cochran (R-MS) Coleman (R-MN) Collins (R-ME) Corker (R-TN) Cornyn (R-TX) Craig (R-ID) Crapo (R-ID) DeMint (R-SC) Dole (R-NC) Domenici (R-NM) Ensign (R-NV) Enzi (R-WY) Graham (R-SC) Grassley (R-IA) Gregg (R-NH) Hatch (R-UT) Hutchison (R-TX) Inhofe (R-OK) Isakson (R-GA) Kyl (R-AZ) Lieberman (ID-CT) Lott (R-MS) Martinez (R-FL) McCain (R-AZ) McConnell (R-KY) Murkowski (R-AK) Roberts (R-KS) Sessions (R-AL) Shelby (R-AL) Stevens (R-AK) Thune (R-SD) Vitter (R-LA) Voinovich (R-OH) Warner (R-VA)

With one abstention, the vote was 4 away from passing. I'm sure media outlets in the Middle East will take note of that fact.

Filthy Lucre

CREW has released their annual assessment of the most corrupt members of Congress, and I certainly see some new faces as well as some old favorites. Democrats making the list are William Jefferson (for obvious reasons), John Murtha (who has a long history of questionable financial dealings), and a couple of reps. from West Virginia and Georgia I'm not familiar with. The other 18 are from the GOP, including Doolittle, Lewis and the infamous Ted Stevens.

In fact, Alaska has three elected officials on the 22-person list. Making it (to paraphrase a Bloom County strip from way back when) the proud land of "Keep those government yahoos out of my hair-- and hurry up with that federal bailout check!"

But one person making the list, a New Mexico Republican, almost gives me hope:

The former U.S. Attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico, David Iglesias, stated that, in mid-October 2006, two members of Congress from New Mexico pressured him about an ongoing corruption probe of state Democrats. Apparently, Rep. Wilson first called Mr. Iglesias and Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) called a week later. After Sen. Domenici admitted that he called Mr. Iglesias, Rep. Wilson finally admitted that she too had called the U.S. Attorney.

By contacting Mr. Iglesias about an ongoing investigation, whether to pressure him -- as he believed -- or merely to request a status report, Rep. Wilson violated House rules and her conduct does not reflect creditably on the House.

I get the feeling that isn't enough to put her in the top 5% of this bunch. A bit of influence peddling? Pffft. Strictly small time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cronyism, nepotism, and other free-market ideals.

The first time I heard about Neil Bush's magical rain-making machine, he was raking in the cash via investment from foreign governments ("Sure would be a shame if something happened to our international relations..."). The next time I heard about it, his company was being given Katrina relief aid at his mother's behest.

Now there's another story about Neil's little cash cow, and how-- for a third time-- he's benefiting from a rigged playing field. This time, courtesy of the federal government.

An independent watchdog agency has asked the Department of Education to investigate why President Bush's younger brother, Neil, has received money earmarked for the president's signature education initiative to sell a curriculum program that has not been subjected to the rigorous evaluation it deserves.

Neil Bush, 52, who has no background in education, founded Ignite! Learning in 1999 with donations from his parents and a slate of international business interests. The company produces "Curriculum on Wheels" devices -- computer/projectors that are pre-loaded with software aimed at preparing students for standardized tests that are the central tenet of the president's No Child Left Behind law.

The "COWs" are sold to school districts at a cost of $3,800 to $4,200, although they have not been subjected to peer-reviewed scientific studies, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. CREW says nearly $1 million has been spent on the systems in 16 school districts, mostly in Texas, where George W. Bush served as governor before his election in 2000, and Florida, where brother Jeb Bush is governor.


One of the more pitiful aspects of Alberto Gonzales' inglorious stint as the top justice official in the nation was his preferred method of deflecting any and all criticism: to his credit, it wasn't 9/11. Instead, it was all about the kids. Our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Yes, to criticize Gonzales' hacky tenure at the DOJ was to waste precious minutes keeping him from protecting the nation's youth. Why, you might as well be molesting kids yourself. You know, in just the same way as criticism of Fearless Leader is like sending a care package to our worst enemies.

The sad, predictably Bushian irony of the whole thing is the alarming number of government officials who've been arrested for crimes related to pedophilia, child pornography, etc. And if memory serves, they've almost all come from law enforcement-related offices.

John David R. Atchison, 53, an assistant U.S. attorney from the northern district of Florida, was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Detroit Monday afternoon.

An undercover officer posed as a mother offering her child to Atchison for sex, according to police.

He was arrested at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

He is charged with enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity.

According to authorities, Atchison made contact with a detective working undercover for the Macomb County Sheriff's department's.

The detective, acting as the child's mother, allegedly arranged a sexual encounter between Atchison and her 5-year-old daughter, police said.

I'll spare you the gruesome details. And I agree with Gonzo on one thing-- stopping people like this from ruining children's lives is very, very important. You just don't want Barney Fife heading up the project.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Please Stand By

Apologies for the lack of posts. I've had a serious outbreak of real life, and it's keeping me awfully busy. Hopefully it won't be long before things get back to normal and we'll continue our regularly scheduled kvetching.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The exact opposite of "Stickin' it to The Man."

Via Dean Baker, a look at yet another example of the Bush administration rigging the game in favor of big business at the expense of the regular guy. That's also revealing, in glorious MSM fashion, for its inability to draw a straight line between point one and point two.

Toward the end of last week, I was rehashing the GOP's obsession with eviscerating federal laws that benefited consumers-- which they do with only slightly more fervor than they enact federal laws to do away with consumer-friendly state laws. The other part of the equation has been to simply allow government agencies like the FDA to simply languish by installing hacks or imbeciles who are more than happy to ensure that things don't get done.

To paraphrase Reagan, there they go again. And yes, they've broken the law. Again.

Private insurance companies participating in Medicare have been allowed to keep tens of millions of dollars [$60 million in 2003 alone] that should have gone to consumers, and the Bush administration did not properly audit the companies or try to recover money paid in error, Congressional investigators say in a new report.

Under federal law, Medicare officials are supposed to audit the financial records of at least one-third of the insurance companies each year. But the investigators said the Bush administration had fallen far short of that goal and had never met the “statutory requirement.”

Indeed, they said, the proportion of companies audited by Medicare declined steadily — to 14 percent in 2006 from 24 percent in 2001 — despite a steady growth in Medicare payments to the plans. Those payments now total $75 billion a year, about one-fifth of all Medicare spending.

The flip side of the story?

In separate action, the Bush administration is vigorously pursuing money that it says is owed to insurance companies by Medicare beneficiaries. The Medicare agency has sent letters to more than 135,000 people saying they still owe premiums for prescription drug coverage provided in 2006. In most cases, the premiums were supposed to have been withheld from monthly Social Security checks, but the government withheld the wrong amounts or nothing at all.

Pure, unadulterated evil. They're actively permitting incredibly profitable insurance companies to defraud the public, and turning the federal government into a corporate enforcer for those incredibly profitable insurance companies.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Spam Age

I like it when a neologism just suggests itself to me out of nowhere. And in trying to describe the Bizarroworld political reality of the United States, the Spam Age seems to fit. (Although I feel sorry for the ground pork shoulder and nitrate blend for the unfair association with Republicans.)

Spam fed a lot of American troops in WWII. Its ubiquity, perseverance, and perceived lack of quality among returning GIs probably set it on its way to becoming (as lowercase-s 'spam') synonymous with tenacious and unwelcome e-mail notable for its incredible stupidity and blatantly fraudulent claims.

But there's another similarity. When the war ended, Spam was still a success. The e-mail variant is even more of a hit. Some returning troops found that-- in spite of Spam already being a punchline and object of scorn-- they had developed a taste for the ground & compressed pork scraps (and it still has headcheese beat by a damn sight). And although most of us are cagey enough to know that there are better options out there, small-s spam is even cheaper to produce. You only need a feel people to swallow it to stay in business.

Which brings me to today's Republican party. It isn't made from prime cuts, and its biggest consumers are the ones most likely to suffer from heart disease and hypertension (Spam), or bank accounts emptied out by Nigerian conmen (spam). But there are enough people who will either swallow anything, or-- like returning GIs and their gastronomic Stockholm Syndrome-- are unable to resist in spite of knowing better, that it continues to thrive.

And just as spam artists are insanely profitable crooks who manage to trick others into doing their dirty work for them (through zombie computers), the Republican party focuses solely on self-perpetuation. Just keep dishing out lies and scams by the ton, and some of it has to stick.

If it hadn't been for a cute analogy, I could've just said this:

At General Petraeus' Iraq hearings, Dems say "This is all a lie." GOP says "Flag, 9/11, patriot, freedom, victory."

Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the Armed Services Committee: "The surge is intended to provide breathing space ... But while our troops are holding back the opposing team to let them make a touchdown, the Iraqis haven't even picked up the ball ... What's the likelihood that things will change dramatically? Will there be political progress in the near term? Or are we merely beating a dead horse?"

Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee: "Our witnesses have been sent here this morning to restore credibility to a discredited policy. This is not a knock on you, Gen. Petraeus, or on you, ambassador Crocker. But the fact remains that the administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees of the Congress that victory is at hand. With all due respect to you, I must say: I don't buy it."

Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee: "Gen. Petraues is coming back not just as a guy who's going to give us his take on the Iraq situation, but as the leader of more than 160,000 American personnel in uniform in Iraq. They're not only watching his testimony, they're watching our testimony . ... Let's lead off this hearing with this stipulation -- that the gentlemen who are appearing before us, especially Gen. Petraeus, whose credibility has been attacked all week long, especially by the left in this country, represents the very best of the military tradition."

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee: Between invoking the memories of 9/11, equating Iraqi war opponents with Neville Chamberlain and accusing Democrats of working with MoveOn in a full-page New York Times ad that called Petraeus "Betray Us," Ros-Lethinen said: "It is significant that, on the eve of this grim anniversary [of 9/11], we would be holding a hearing highlighting the contrast between those who are inspired by this latest greatest generation ... and those of us who believe we should simply retreat."

They're counting on us to say "I think I'll have the spam, spam, propaganda, and spam. That hasn't got much spam in it." But it's way past time to say "I don't want any spam at all! I DON'T LIKE SPAM!!!"

Black Monday

Some days the whole blogging thing just leaves ya feeling a little queasy. In the case of today, it's the frightening reminder that as insane as things have become in American politics and the media, maybe we've just seen the eighth of the iceberg that's breaking the surface.

ITEM! First, a look at the past via Vanity Fair's article on the MSM's all-out assault on Al Gore in 2000. To a slightly lesser degree repeated in 2004. And already happening again, in spite of the enormous costs. And it was no secret:

As Time magazine's Margaret Carlson admitted to Don Imus at the time, "You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get into the weeds and get out your calculator, or look at his record in Texas. But it's really easy, and it's fun to disprove Al Gore. As sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us."

What Carlson fails to do, as was so often the case, was acknowledge that those "whoppers" were complete fabrications and played a major role in landing a lunatic and his entire fascistic coterie in every branch of the government.

And I don't need to point out how the MSM is fawning over no-nonsense, tough-guy Republicans. In spite of the fact that all of them are running on the same platform-- more of the same insane bullshit that's wrecked the nation for the last six and a half years.

ITEM! On eve of 9/11 anniversary, General Petraeus to help BushCo run out the clock! For a while, even I thought critics of the war were being too cynical when they suggested that the real neo-con strategy in Iraq was to just keep it going until it wasn't their problem anymore. Boy, was I wrong. After all, the war's enablers have been dangling September, 2007, out there as the magical day of reckoning since the beginning of the year.

As Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained it back in January, the "surge" was going to be "a matter of months, not 18 months or two years."

As Cheney explained it in 2005: "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

And as Donald Rumsfeld explained it in 2003: "[The Iraq War] could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

So you can forget today's testimony from Petraeus, because it has absolutely nothing to do with reality. From the NYT:

General Petraeus, whose long-awaited testimony before Congress will begin Monday, has informed President Bush that troop cuts may begin in mid-December, with the withdrawal of one of the 20 American combat brigades in Iraq, about 4,000 troops. By August, the American force in Iraq would be down to 15 combat brigades, the force level before Mr. Bush’s troop reinforcement plan.

The precise timing of such reductions, which would leave about 130,000 troops in Iraq, could vary, depending on conditions in the country. But the general has also said that it is too soon to present recommendations on reducing American forces below that level because the situation in Iraq is in flux. He has suggested that he wait until March to outline proposals on that question.

In short, "ask us in another six months." After all, the number of Americans and Iraqis killed in the really won't be that big, relatively speaking. And what's $200 billion when you've already spent three times that?

ITEM! One of my major GOP annoyances (but oh, there are so many!) is the issue of war profiteering in Iraq. American companies stolen billions of dollars in Iraqs. Which ultimately kills American troops. Yet no member of the GOP I can name has uttered word one in protest. Looks like it's time for that can't-do spirit to appear on the home front as well, courtesy of the same GOP that can do no wrong. Because when everything they touch turns to shit, it can only be Bill Clinton's fault.

Rep. Frank (D-Mass.), a smart progressive, chairs the House Financial Services Committee, the current name for the Banking Committee. But judging by Wednesday’s kickoff hearing in a series of inquiries into the deepening financial mess, Rep. Frank faces a tougher challenge than Pecora did.

This is because the Bush administration and most on Wall Street are still in deep denial of what is occurring in credit markets. The administration testimony suggested that the deniers dearly want to believe that the meltdown in sub-prime mortgages is a one-off, that the economy dodged a bullet, and hence only the most modest government response is required.

This kind of denial has superficial appeal because, unlike in 1933 when Pecora began his work, we haven’t yet had a full-blown crash. But if the government’s only response is to wait for the Fed to bail things out and to do a little tweaking of abuses around the edges, that crash will come.

As Frank put it, “I am not pleased that so many of us were surprised at how the sub-prime crisis spilled over into broader financial markets. I don’t want us to be surprised again.”

“We have had a test case,” he observed, “and in the mortgage market, sensible regulation worked better than its absence.”

ITEM! Here's a fun little piece of trivia. Did you know that Osama bin Laden, who owes his entire career in violent extremism to the Republican party, is widely considered to have been the mastermind of the terrorist attacks on America in September, 2001? But in spite of an ongoing career in home videos and international terrorist networking-- and more than $500 billion(!) of US taxpayers' money and six years' time devoted to bringing terrorists to justice-- he hasn't been caught? Astonishing, but true!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Give me selective Federalism AND give me death!

More than a year ago, Henry Waxman compiled a report that demonstrated the GOP's staunch commitment to better living through smaller federal government:

In 2005, FDA headquarters issued 535 warning letters to companies, a 54% decline from 1,154 such notices issued in 2000, according to a report by the House Government Reform Committee's Democratic staff.

But over the same period, the number of violations reported by FDA inspectors in the field barely budged, dipping just 1% — from 6,334 to 6,268.

That is, when the report wasn't demonstrating the GOP's staunch commitment to better living through expanded federal authority:

The House and the Senate have voted 15 times to override state health, safety and environmental laws. Congress has enacted laws that bar states from regulating emissions from lawnmowers, requiring the use of clean-burning gasoline, or controlling the siting of electricity transmission lines and liquefied natural gas terminals.

Huh. So... it's all about states' rights. Even when it undermines public safety. Except when it's about increased federal control, especially when it undermines public safety. Gee. Maybe a more recent example can help me figure out what this contradictory stance is supposed to accomplish. Hopefully I can find a common theme.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today announced strong opposition to provisions in the House “Farm Bill,” H.R.2419 that would end federal meat inspection. The bill, which recently passed the House, lowers food safety standards by encouraging meat and poultry producers to forgo rigorous safety enforcement and opt for less stringent state guidelines. . . .

The Farm Bill would also remove the current ban on shipping state-inspected meat to other states. This would have a serious impact on consumers if products processed in a particular state are found to have been tainted and must be recalled. “Individual states do not have the full capacity to track recalled meat and poultry in other states," [said AFGE president John Gage.]

All right, let's see what we've got.

First example: limiting the ability of the federal government to protect citizens from dangerous products.
Second example: limiting the ability of individual states to protect citizens from dangerous products.
Third example: limiting the ability of the federal government to protect citizens from dangerous products.

No, I'm afraid I'm baffled. Could it be that this isn't actually about federalism at all? That the GOP could simply be paying lip service to a concept while lining their pockets with corporate dollars? Even though that money is literally a means by which corporations can create hazardous-- and even deadly-- products with less fear of being held responsible?

Naahhhhh.... I'm just being a nutty radical again. That sort of thing only happens in China. And American companies have made it perfectly clear that they will not tolerate the dangerous manufacturing processes and political corruption of that nation. If it kills enough people to wreck the profit margin, that is.

Meanwhile, on the back of a cocktail napkin in Baghdad's Green Zone...

(UPDATE: The Prospect has a more detailed account of the exchange between a Republican politician and the apparently-quite-rational Mr. Walker. It's tragic, even if you ignore the fact that people are dying because wingers can't admit failure.)

Ever since the 'surge' began, revelations of a still-deteriorating situation in Iraq have invariably been met with one statement: any assessment of the surge is premature until we have General Petraeus' official report in September.

It was learned weeks before the report that it would pass through the hands of White House spin-meisters before being revealed to the public, and the final, gloriously optimistic word (take note of that term) is that sectarian violence is down an incredible 75%.

Strangely, that contradicted every other existing study of the situation in Iraq, and even other reports from other generals on the ground in Iraq. How could it be that reports of our position in Iraq as 'fragile,' 'tenuous,' or even 'untenable' are floating around even as the administration claims success? It's easy, once you know the secret:

U.S. Comptroller General David Walker was asked today about the military's claim that sectarian violence in Iraq is down 75 percent as a result of the "surge." His reply: "We were briefed on the methodology. We're not comfortable with the methodology."

Undoubtedly, people will be eager to see the methodology that contradicts everything else we've seen and heard. So howzabout that report, so we can see for ourselves? Uhm, yeah... about that "report" that will finally justify the surge...

A senior military officer said there will be no written presentation to the president on security and stability in Iraq. "There is no report. It is an assessment provided by them by testimony," the officer said.

The only hard copy will be Gen. Petraeus' opening statement to Congress, scheduled for Monday, along with any charts he will use in explaining the results of the troop surge in Baghdad over the past several months.

That testimony will follow the meeting of the president, Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker at the White House.

Gen. Petraeus is expected to tell the president the surge is working but that more work is needed.

I guess Fearless Leader really IS a genius, because that's exactly what he's been saying since, uhhhh... long before the 'surge' even began.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Net Neutrality takes a hit

The Bu$hCo Department of Justice-- recently in the news for having its top kid resign amid evidence of corruption and incompetence, allegations of manipulating federal elections, illegal hiring practices, and appointment of unqualified partisan operatives to influential positions-- is in the news again. And it involves injustice again.

The Justice Department on Thursday said Internet service providers should be allowed to charge a fee for priority Web traffic.

The agency told the Federal Communications Commission, which is reviewing high-speed Internet practices, that it is opposed to "Net neutrality," the principle that all Internet sites should be equally accessible to any Web user.

Several phone and cable companies, such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp., have previously said they want the option to charge some users more money for loading certain content or Web sites faster than others.

Thanks to Black Whirlwind-- "the man whose news always blows"-- for making the day in news even worse. And if anyone had told me in 2000 that my fellow Missourian John Ashcroft would actually emerge as the hero of this administration's transformation of the Justice Department into an American Stasi, I would've laughed my ass off. After all, I was the one trying to convince people that this would be the most reactionary, corrupt and incompetent administration in memory. My own naivete was breathtaking.

Ladies and gentlemen, the next president of Bizarroworld...?

Fred Thompson worries me. One reason is that he's quickly become the darling of "conservative intellectuals." Another is that, more than any other Republican hopeful, he has the stupefying blend of personal shortcomings that have translated into massive electoral success with conservative voters in the last few decades.

1. He's a pretend tough guy.
2. He's a pretend regular guy.
3. He's a very real bullshit artist.
4. He's a blank slate-- that is, a PR man's dream come true.

That's just the short list, but the more I learn about Thompson the more he appears to combine the worst traits of Reagan and Bush the Second. Like Reagan, he's an actor who manages to project paternal authority and down-home charm. Even when he's lying to the nation. Like the Boy King, he personifies that "born on third base and thinks he hit a triple" spirit that conservatives keep mistaking for the pioneering spirit of a self-made man.

And by self-made, I mean he knocked up the daughter of a wealthy family in high school. But, hey-- her folks weren't cutting the checks when he decided to throw her over for a woman younger than his own daughter. That takes initiative, folks.

And it makes thousands of julienne fries.

Another story in TNR that serve as a nice companion piece for yesterday's lesson in supply-side economics. This time it's about another piece of fiscal insanity that's become right-wing gospel: brutally regressive taxation as the only fair taxation. And-- in perfect accordance with the axiom that any conservative proposal is designed to achieve the exact opposite of its stated goal-- that gives us:

[T]he so-called FairTax, which has been endorsed by John McCain and Fred Thompson, as well as second-tier presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Democrat Mike Gravel. Georgians John Lindner and Saxby Chambliss have introduced FairTax legislation in the House and Senate that would establish a 23 percent national sales tax.

I know plenty of conservatives (and high-earning, pious Christians) who fully subscribe to this view. Including a tax attorney, for the luvva Pete. But it really doesn't make a difference to any of them that this plan is neither conservative nor Christian:

For starters, the FairTax is deceptively calculated. When you think of a 23 percent sales tax, you think of paying an extra 23 cents on the dollar. That's how every sales tax in the world works. The FairTax, on the other hand, doesn't represent 23 percent of the pre-tax value of the item you bought, but the post-tax value of the item. So, under FairTax, you wouldn't pay $1.23 for a $1 widget--but $1.30, since the 30-cent tax is 23 percent of $1.30. How straightforward!

The legerdemain doesn't end there. Unlike every other sales tax in the world, the FairTax actually applies to everything--every pencil, every tank--the government buys. Unfortunately, the FairTax proposal doesn't take into account this increase in government spending. Thus, it will either provoke a massive cut in federal spending or a massive increase in taxes.

And what about the poor who bear the brunt of this highly regressive tax? The FairTax would track every household's monthly income and then cut checks to minimize the pain, a logistical challenge that will ultimately resemble some welfare state nightmare. What's more, this would cost gobs of money, forcing further cuts in spending.

For these and other reasons, every reputable tax expert who has ever looked at the FairTax has concluded that the true tax rate would have to be much, much higher than 23 percent (or even 30 percent) to work--and, even at that unrealistically low rate, the plan would inspire massive tax evasion. In short, the FairTax is a crackpot scheme from beginning to end.

FairTax: the sensible and just way to expand government, bankrupt the nation, and condemn millions of Americans to poverty.

CIA officers: Bush knew

Sidney Blumenthal starts the day off with a bang. Or a bombshell. Or some other unfunny play on words, if you prefer. Just add it to the evidence room, along with the Downing Street Memo, the Joseph Wilson smear campaign, et al.

On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam's inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again.

Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD. No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the NIE, on the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD.

The story also suggests that the rumors about Colin Powell have been right: he knows he was set up by the White House and isn't too happy about his role as dutiful soldier/useful idiot.

Secretary of State Powell, in preparation for his presentation of evidence of Saddam's WMD to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, spent days at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and had Tenet sit directly behind him as a sign of credibility. But Tenet, according to the sources, never told Powell about existing intelligence that there were no WMD, and Powell's speech was later revealed to be a series of falsehoods.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Loan Sharks: Where the Customer is Our Chum

It's been a real golden age for credit card companies. Record profits, virtual ownership of enough congressmen to guarantee passage of whatever they want, and no shortage of Americans on the hook for plenty of cash. The only thing that would make it better is apparently debtor's prisons. (Please knock on the nearest piece of wood.)

Now that the housing market is looking grim, consumers are facing impossible debt loads, and there's already talk of a massive public bailout of unscrupulous subprime mortgage lenders and greedy banks, that can only mean one thing for civic-minded card issuers: profiteering!

Direct mail credit card offers to subprime customers in the United States jumped 41 percent in the first half of this year, compared with the first half in 2006, according to Mintel International Group. Direct mail offers targeted at customers with the best credit fell more than 13 percent. . . .

The increase in direct mail to subprime customers tracks the slide in the housing market. In June, mail offers to these households were nearly double those of June 2005, near the peak of the US housing market[.]

Please note that this is only a counterintuitive corporate strategy when you're not writing the laws governing debt repayment and bankruptcy.

The 999 lives of voodoo economics

Hopefully not just in time for a repeat of the Reagan-era Savings & Loan bailout (also involving a crooked Bush), Jon Chait examines the phenomenon of supply-side economics. That is, how a patently insane economic theory could go from an object of conservative derision to Republican gospel in spite of failing not just in theory but in practice-- twice! And turn the party of thriftiness into the biggest debt-financed spenders in global history along the way.

The result has been a slow- motion disaster. Income inequality has approached levels normally associated with Third World oligarchies, not healthy Western democracies. The federal government has grown so encrusted with business lobbyists that it can no longer meet the great public challenges of our time. Not even many conservative voters or intellectuals find the result congenial. Government is no smaller--it is simply more debt-ridden and more beholden to wealthy elites.

It was not always this way. A generation ago, Republican economics was relentlessly sober. Republicans concerned themselves with such ills as deficits, inflation, and excessive spending. They did not care very much about cutting taxes, and (as in the case of such GOP presidents as Herbert Hoover and Gerald Ford) they were quite willing to raise taxes in order to balance the budget. While many of them were wealthy and close to business, the leaders of business themselves had a strong sense of social responsibility that transcended their class interests. By temperament, such men were cautious rather than utopian.

Over the last three decades, however, such Republicans have passed almost completely from the scene, at least in Washington, to be replaced by, essentially, a cult.

Recommended reading, in spite of weasel words, at least in places, and, essentially, an overuse of the comma. Especially recommended for conservative friends and relatives of mine who are still convinced that I'm the loony radical. But that's Bizarroworld for ya.

Lie. Whitewash. Repeat.

Hope everyone had a swell Labor Day weekend. There was plenty of news (there always is when I decide to take an extra day or two off from blogging), so I thought I'd go with a news roundup to get back up to pace.

ITEM! Larry Craig makes like Ross Perot (a very, very heterosexual Ross Perot): He was arrested. After thinking about it for a few months, he decided to plead guilty. After a few days, he changed his mind. He announced that he planned to resign. He changed his mind. Sure, he looks like a tower of Jell-O now (not to mention a habitual liar), but he wants you to know that he's the victim of a grave breach of civil rights(!?!) involving "very serious constitutional questions." So he's hiring very expensive celebrity lawyers. Somebody's going to have to dig up a quote of Craig on Guantanamo detainees-- I have a funny feeling he hasn't shown much concern over those constitutional questions. Hey, he wasn't even beaten, humiliated, and denied representation for the months between his arrest and confession. Man, what a douche.

ITEM! Ohio Rep. found dead in DC apartment: GOP Congressman Paul Gillmor, 68, was discovered after failing to show up for work. That'd suck.

ITEM! Dems unveil '': From Black Whirlwind (NOTE: not a 70s blaxploitation star), an interesting article on a new site designed to be an archive of information on Mitt Romney. The site "gives access to raw material for bloggers, journalists, and voters." It'll be interesting to see what happens with it.

ITEM! GAO: 15 of 18 'benchmarks' partially or completely unfulfilled.
Senate Armed Services Committee independent report: "[Iraqi Security Forces] will be unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months."
George W. Bush speaking in Australia: "We're kicking ass."

ITEM! White House refuses to name archiving company that "lost" millions of White House e-mails. Let me guess-- they'd only need to name the company and allow oversight if there was any wrongdoing, but since it's all perfectly legitimate there's no reason to investigate. Oh, and refusing to take BushCo at its word is still something only treasonous America-haters would even dream of. One other pertinent fact: this is all totally illegal.