It's the Oil Stupid

Thursday, December 28, 2006

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Robert Scheer writes that Ike was right and the Iraq war is not about oil, but about the military-industrial complex. Ike was right but Scheer's logic is flawed. His premise explains the plan for endless war and would be more appropriately applied the deceptively named "war on terror." But why Iraq? We could be fighting anywhere on trumped up reasons just to keep lining the pockets of war profiteers. Afghanistan is perfect terrain for bankrupting a national treasury. Just ask the former Soviet Union. It makes a very decent sink hole for our tax dollars and could be far more easily justified to the American people. Yet Bushco moved heaven and earth to convince us that we needed to leave Afghanistan on the back burner and open yet another theater in Iraq. It has been argued by many that our efforts in Afghanistan are collapsing, largely unnoticed by television cameras, because we shifted our focus and our dollars to Iraq. I don't know that the fight in Afghanistan was winnable. Again, the former Soviet Union might be a good place to start looking for that answer.

Make no mistake. We are in Iraq for oil. Not that there aren't numerous, intertwining agendas at work, including the interests of those military contractors and the many Congresspeople who live in their pockets. But "Occam's razor" dictates that it comes down to oil. Put the money aside for a moment and follow the logic. Iraq is sitting on the second largest proven oil reserve in the world and it's sweet crude. Both President and Vice are oil whores. They and most of their cronies -- including the much abused James Baker who helped place the dauphin on the throne -- owe the bulk of their fortunes to the oil industry. Yet pundit after pundit acts as if it's somehow too obvious to be true that oil is the key motivator for an administration that has been hell bent on getting into Iraq on any dubious rationale it could sell, since before it was even elected. Scheer's is just the latest attempt at pretzel logic to dissuade the reader from the most simple and obvious deduction.

Defining Deviancy Down

Thursday, December 21, 2006

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The MADD mothers have dumped Miss Teen USA. Thank goodness someone in this whole, ridiculous melee is capable of acting like a grown-up. Certainly no one can argue with the reasoning.

"In the past, MADD has teamed with Miss Teen USA to raise awareness about the serious and often deadly consequences of underage drinking. However, we do not feel, at this time, that Ms. Blair can be an effective spokesperson on underage drinking and will not ask her to represent MADD in future initiatives," Heidi Castle, a spokeswoman for MADD, said in a statement.

Full disclosure: I have no love for beauty pageants. I have this crazy, radically feminist notion that women should be judged by the content of their character. I know that pageant organizations have long emphasized the crucial role of talent and an abiding concern for world peace in their contests. Yes, the ideal woman can sing an aria, is congenial, and just happens to look great in a bathing suit. Pageants have to work very hard to elevate the idea of parading women around and judging them by their appearance above the obvious objectifying sexism. They do it by insisting on broader criteria that includes things like morals clauses. When Donald Trump gave Tara Conner a "second chance" he gave the lie to the whole business and reminded the world what beauty pageants are all about. Pretty matters. Character, not so much.

Madman in the Marketplace did an excellent job of putting this charade into a broader cultural perspective. There are different standards for pretty white girls from prominent families.

We like to say that we’re a land that believes in second chances, that if someone is sincere about changing their life we Americans will support and welcome them when they’ve picked themselves up, and we’ll do everything we can to help them. This is, of course, utter bullshit. You get second chances if you’re of the right class, the right race, the right connections. Otherwise the full weight of our government and rapacious tabloid media will be brought down on your head....if a darker pretty girl in it had been tested positive for drugs, she’d be far more likely to be facing charges than a stay at a celebrity rehab center. Our enormous prison system is bulging with people who did the same things that Miss Perfect American is reported to have done. Unlike her, many who get caught doing drugs or acting out in public are put into the system, and once in the odds of them getting a second chance disappear...

It would surely be grand if our culture genuinely supported the idea of treatment for addicts, rather than punishment. But there is a difference between the draconian nature of our criminal justice system and simple consequences. Tara Conner faces neither. I doubt Miss Conner is an addict. She's more likely a kid acting out. But lets say for the sake of argument that she really is an addict in need of treatment. If so, Trump has done the worst possible thing he could have done if his intent was to help her. He's enabled her addiction by depriving her of the opportunity to experience the consequences of her behavior. She violated an agreement. She should have been fired. Period.

Perhaps that's what Rosie O'Donnell was on about in her latest bout of verbal diarrhea. I suppose she means well when she tries to remind viewers of "The View" about simple decency. It's unfortunate that she can't seem to do it without equally indecent ad hominem attacks that will likely land her in a slander suit.

I seem to remember a time when public figures acted with a certain level of decorum. I was very young then, I think. It all seems like a memory in my dreams now; an America that strove for a certain cultural standard, even it never quite achieved it. News was presented with a sense of gravitas by men like Walter Cronkite, rather than the screaming hysteria of a Rosie O'Donnell or Bill O'Reilly. And beauty pageants were shiny, child-friendly spectacles, whose winners usually slipped into a kind of quiet, wholesome obscurity. I don't know. Maybe it was Utah.

Slow News Day

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

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Oh my God! I agree with Tony Snow. Saying that out loud makes me want to wash my mouth out with soap. But when he quipped that the DC press whores must be having a "slow news day," for all their fascination with Laura Bush's skin cancer lesion, I have to agree. Isn't there anything else going on in the world? Here's a little of the exchange, as reported in the New York Times Blog:

Q: Tony, can you tell us about Mrs. Bush’s skin cancer? How is she doing? And how was the decision reached not to disclose this publicly until questions were asked?

Mr. Snow: Yes, I talked to her a couple of minutes ago. She’s doing fine. And she said, “It’s no big deal, and we knew it was no big deal at the time.” Frankly I don’t think anybody thought it was the sort of thing that occasioned a need for a public disclosure. Furthermore, she’s got the same right to medical privacy that you do. She’s a private citizen; she’s not an elected official. So for that reason she didn’t disclose it. But she’s doing fine, and thank you for your concern.

Pressed as to whether Mrs. Bush would begin advocating for screening for skin cancers, Mr. Snow said:

“She’s also had colds, she’s had the flu, she’s had stomach aches –”

Q: But she could still — it could be a platform.

Mr. Snow: You guys are really stretching it. I mean, it is now officially a really slow news day.

Laura Bush's health concerns, either serious, or, as in this case, un-serious, are not my business. I don't want to know. I'm simply not afflicted with such voyeuristic tendencies.

One of my old college roommates used to quip that, "Every time the cat farts in the White House, it's 'news'." This fascination with the daily comings and goings in the halls of power comes at the expense of coverage of things the public actually does need to know. There are two overlapping and interrelated problems that have led to the perception of the nation's capital as the navel of the world. One is the very structure of news gathering. Gaye Tuchman used the term "news net" in her book "Making News: The Construction of Reality." She explains that news gathering relies heavily on a system of beats and bureaus. You can only catch fish where you throw your net, and the nets are thrown at public institutions which are deemed newsworthy and credible. If a public figure says it, it's a "fact" by virtue of conferred status. If a public figure does it, it's news, even if it's painfully boring and irrelevant to the lives of ordinary Americans.

The second half of the problem is the disappearance of those very beats and bureaus from all over the country. Thanks to the consolidation of mass media, local newspapers from across the nation have slipped quietly down the memory hole. Many have been bought out by competing papers and shut down. Others have been replaced by conglomerates which package tasty, little McNews bites and publish them under the mastheads of small "local" papers. The "Media Monopoly" as Ben Bagdikian calls it, now consists of 5 corporations which own the vast majority of newspapers, television outlets, radio, book publishing, and film. Five corporations own the entire info-tainment business. And their focus on the bottom-line has meant, among other things, that the beats covered by reporters have dwindled to a few major focal points. The result is a well-fed beltway press corps and metaphorical tumbleweeds blowing across the rest of the newsworthy world.

There is still another problem, exemplified by this type of reportage that I'm at pains to explain. That of the DC press corps itself, which elevates the trivial and minimizes the deadly serious, even in its given purview. Where was this aggressive questioning during the build-up to the Iraq war? Anyone with an ounce of sense could have driven a truck the gaps in logic provided by DC officials, in their ever-shifting rationales for bombing the hell out of a crippled nation. Where was it when a male prostitute was sitting among them, gaining unprecedented access to the aforementioned halls of power? Where was it when it fell to David Corn at the ever-vigilant Nation to point out that Bob Novack had no business knowing that Valarie Plame Wilson was in the CIA? Why does the press corps have to be clubbed over the head by the blogosphere to notice crimes and misdemeanors in their midst, but positively obsess over an in-office procedure, performed under local anesthetic. It would be funny if the net result for the public at large weren't so serious.

Editors Note: Both Ben Bagdikian's "New Media Monopoly" and Gaye Tuchman's "Making News" are available in Curmudgette's Reading Room, although the latter is currently out of print and available only from resellers. Still, highly recommended.

Who's Uncivil?

Friday, December 01, 2006

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George Will has joined the beltway circle jerk over Jim Webb's testy exchange with Bush. The consensus view of the chattering class seems to be that it was Jim Webb who was rude. I guess when you're the President you can't ever be in the wrong. It's good to be the King. But George Will was also disingenuous in his reportage of the exchange. He left out his majesty's classically Bushy rejoinder. As reported in The Hill:

At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush retorted, according to the source.

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t. It’s safe to say, however, that Bush and Webb won’t be taking any overseas trips together anytime soon.

Of course Will left out Bush's statement. Reporting the things Bush says makes him look bad. The media has been largely complicit in covering for his personality quirks. If he's reported as he is, he looks downright un-Presidential. It is not Jim Webb who has shown "patent disrespect for the Presidency." It's the child-man currently occupying the post. A civil person would have accepted the answer he got to an unwelcome question and moved on. Bush's response was that of a boorish control freak. Once again he put his morally stunted personality on full display and the punditry is too frightfully clever to notice his obvious defects.

George W. Bush has done more to degrade the office of the Presidency than any leader in memory; certainly more than Bill Clinton's or Jack Kennedy's sexcapades could have. At least they knew how to behave in public. Only Bush could get himself snubbed by third world leader. Beyond the echo chamber of the beltway, there's an entire world well aware that the leader of the free world is no longer deserving of respect.

Joe Lieberman: Extortionist

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

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It didn't take long did it?

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut said yesterday that he will caucus with Senate Democrats in the new Congress, but he would not rule out switching to the Republican caucus if he starts to feel uncomfortable among Democrats.

As I pointed out during the CT primary season, Joe Lieberman is not a "nice guy." He's an unbridled egotist who will stop at nothing to get his own way; a passive-aggressive whiner whose non-threatening, girl-haired, appearance, obscures a damaging visciousness.

In the primary he openly tried to extort Democratic voters. Now it's Senate Democrats whose narrow victory could be overturned with a flip of his bony wrist. He'll hold anyone hostage to his ambitions, whether its CT voters, Senate Democrats, or the entire, massive-change-wanting country.

Judith Miller Worries About Blogger Integrity

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Judith Miller has stopped drinking the Neocon Kool-Aid and is now clear headed enough to worry about the damage bloggers can do.

The blurring of entertainment and news and the relaxing of journalistic standards can be seen in online bloggers who are critical of people without giving them an opportunity to respond or who don't post corrections when they learn that what they have posted is wrong, she said.

"I'm worried about bloggers," she said. "(A post) starts as a rumor and within 24 hours it's repeated as fact."

Gosh. I don't know if we can parrot the talking points of shady political insiders and land the nation in an illegal war, but then we don't have the New York Times as a platform for our unverified rumors do we?

I think it's a little late in the game for the credulous Miss Miller to talk about journalistic vigilance.

The Dumbening

Saturday, November 11, 2006

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Just when you thought it was safe to be an American again... You know I almost didn't write this entry; being as it is a rumination on the decline of American civilization. I've been so heady since the election. We have turned a corner as a nation and perhaps put the brakes on our steady slide towards cultural entropy. Tuesday night I felt relief... even optimism. Then I read this:

As gas prices have plunged since topping $3 a gallon this summer, a startling shift is taking place in the car market. Hybrid sales are slowing and SUV sales are speeding up.

Come again?

That’s right: the megawatt popularity of hybrids is dimming and Americans are rediscovering their favorite automotive guilty pleasure, gas-guzzling SUVs.

Yes. Like a coop of chickens slipping into blissful slumber when their heads have been forced under their wings, Americans giddy on an artificial, transparently political, dip in gas prices, jump behind the wheels of those hideous, resource gobbling, behemoths. SUVs exemplify everything that is wrong and stupid in this country; the gluttony, the ignorance of history, the lack of foresight, the love of style over substance, the persistent belief that perception is reality... For instance, ask the average SUV driver "why?!" and he will usually say "safety." But SUVs are not safer. They are more likely to roll over, they lack a number of the safety features of smaller vehicles, and they are far more dangerous to everyone else on the road. Could there be a more perfect symbol of the mentality that has pushed this country to the precipice? As long as I feel safe who cares if I actually am safe or if I pose a mortal threat to everyone else; how many little cars I crush or how many tiny nations are turned to rubble in my pursuit of an illusive sense of security.

I've been pondering "the dumbening" of America for some time, but particularly over the last couple of months. Throughout our search for a new home and a difficult move, it was glaringly apparent to me that we are a nation in decline. As the housing boom goes bust, the country is littered with prefab catastrophes waiting to be bought. We saw listing after listing of cosmetically adorable lemons. Not only are they made of particle board and spit, almost to house they are designed with air conditioning/forced air, gas heat units. Cheap for the builder, expensive and inefficient for the home owner. Heat Rises. Cold falls. Does anyone not know this? Having experienced the wonders of forced air in a couple of rentals -- that delicious combination of dry, baked air, and the total lack of actual warmth -- and paid the attendant energy bills, I turned my nose up at 99.9 percent of the listings. I explained to our baffled realtor that to buy a house with a forced air system, just as energy prices are going through the roof, is a little like saying, "Hey gas is $3 a gallon. Time to buy an SUV." The joke fell flat and after reading Newsweek, it's pretty clear why. People keep buying their cardboard dream houses with the heating vents in the ceiling, and they keep buying SUVs.

We found our smart, efficient little bi-level. We love the house, but the move was horrifying. Why? The dumbening. Before moving we hit all the wickets, including setting up our new phone service. But even after two emails confirming that our phone would be turned on the day we moved in, it was not to be. So I called Verizon (on my cell, obviously) and was told that they had been unable to process our order. It took over half an hour and 3 different customer service people to arrive at the reason. They didn't have our old phone number. Why they didn't have it I still don't know. Why they didn't contact us to get the necessary information I still don't know. I do know that even after providing it so they could process the order, they still could not turn on our phone for another 3 weeks. I received a number of mutually contradictory reasons for this, but my favorite was "the weather." I guess it's never rained in the North East before and they were just flummoxed by it.

When I rented my first solo apartment over 15 years ago, a single phone call had my account set up and my phone turned on the day I moved in. During those three weeks while I parceled out my anytime minutes like canteen water in a desert, I had plenty of time to contemplate how it could possibly be that in the "age of communication" getting phone service has gone from nearly effortless to an herculean feat. I had no phone, no internet... and no television. My Sony lies in pieces in our new garage. Why? The dumbening. How else to explain professional movers so idiotic that they piled my husband's weights on top of it. More remarkable, they apparently delivered it into storage as a crushed pile of rubble and left it there without comment, signing off on the shipment like everything was cool. The loss and damage of this move was the worst I've experienced, and thanks to the wonders of bureaucracy it will be years before I see even partial recompense, but that I guess is not a terribly new phenomenon.

What is new, and I why I think America is dumbening is that no one seems to notice or care anymore that everything works like crap. What amazed me more than anything about my laborious conversations with Verizon was the seeming astonishment of the customer service reps that I was, how say, dissatisfied, at being forced to wait for 3 weeks for phone service through no fault of my own. Gone are the days when the customer was always right and sales people cared about your business. Today's service industries are typified by a prevailing sense that they are entitled to your money and a customer's unhappiness with either product or service is his problem.

It almost doesn't surprise me that Verizon reps seemed shocked by my lack of complacency. Complacency has become the hallmark of American culture. Now, I'm as thrilled as anyone that Dems have taken back both houses of Congress and it truly gives me hope, but look at just how bad things had to get for the tide to turn. Torture scandals, the loss of habeas corpus, unauthorized wiretaps, open cronyism, an illegal war; this litany of criminal offenses goes on. But what finally turned public opinion en masse? The lesson for today is that if you want to create massive political shift in this country, a President publicly shredding the Constitution is not enough. What you really need are some good sex scandals. Not just any sex scandals either. They have to be GAY sex scandals.

We have pulled ourselves back from the precipice and I have hope again. Hope that the self-loathing-gay-Republican-led zeitgeist will translate into a broader reawakening of an American populace grown far too comfortable in an environment of utter wrongness. For against this backdrop of unprecedented government excess and criminality, what I see ambling about town is a people whose biggest concern is which $2,500, flat panel television to dig themselves deeper into debt with. Because as credit card interest surpasses usury rates, you surely cannot have enough debt. (I'm not kidding. Since that beacon of Democratic ethics Joe Biden green-lighted bankruptcy reform, I'm waiting for the revised customer agreement notice that tells me that they can break my legs if I'm a day late on payment.) It's worth it because every American home should have a Fahrenheit 451-style "wall." And if cable rates are rising several times the rate of inflation, so be it. What's important is that we all know what's happening on American Idol.

So, yes, I'm optimistic. But with a Democratic Party that seems hell bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of an historic victory, I still have... concerns. I worry that we are a nation grown fat and happy on a literal and metaphorical diet of empty calories. Couch potatoes staring dumbly at ever larger, more crisply defined, images of pundits telling us what we think and feel, until our critical thinking muscles have gone utterly flaccid. Last Tuesday was a reminder of what can happen when the public flexes. We have a choice now between continued vigilance and a consumer culture more intoxicating than the waters of Lethe.

Cut and Run Republicans, Part 3

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

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Republicans love the military to death... literally. I have written before on the right wing propensity for waving the flag and lionizing our troops when it suits their political purposes; then abandoning our fighting men and women if they are injured (and their families if they die.) In a truly brazen move during a war the signature injury of which is brain injury, a Republican led Pentagon and Republican House and Senate are slated to cut in half the funding for the military's brain injury treatment facilities. The details can be found in the Raleigh News & Observer and in this blog (contains worthwhile action steps). As the Observer reports:

Brain injuries are so common among U.S. troops that they're called the signature injury of the Iraq war, but Congress is poised to cut military spending on researching and treating them.

House and Senate versions of the defense appropriation bill would chop funding for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center from $14 million to $7 million. The center runs 10 facilities across the country, including one at Fort Bragg that has performed research and treated soldiers' injuries since 1998.

"It's just ridiculous," said Sgt. Maj. Colin Rich, a Fort Bragg soldier who has been legally blind since he was shot in the head while serving in Afghanistan in 2002. "Whoever is cutting the budget must have a head injury themselves."

"With the bombs, the gunshot wounds and everything else, their plate is full," he said. "They need that money."

The Pentagon asked only for $7 million and didn't respond properly when congressional staffers tried to find out whether it needed more money for the program, said Jenny Manley, a spokeswoman for the Senate appropriations committee.

"The Pentagon needs to get behind the things that they want," she said. "Otherwise, we'd just be kind of guessing about what they really need."

Pentagon budget experts did not respond Monday to a request for information on why they had not sought more money.

Working Harder -- Earning Less

Monday, August 28, 2006

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The economic data, as reported in the New York Times this morning, could not be more plain; "Real Wages Fail to Match Productivity." Translation: the middle class is getting clobbered. They're working harder as lay-offs, outsourcing, technological advances, etc., reduce the number of actual employees in businesses across America.

We've all seen how this works. I remember it all too well from my years in corporate America. Every so often a department is cut by an employee or two during an oh-so-necessary lay-off. The workload for the remaining employees increases, but the salaries do not. Thus the "productivity" of the average employee goes up. Stock holders are happy. Top management collects bonuses for their brilliance in extracting more work from people for less money. Average workers suffer the consequences... as do customers of those businesses.

Just last night I was discussing with my husband how much I despise the new self-checkout system that increasing numbers of supermarkets are using. I guess I can see the advantage to consumers who only need a few things and don't want to wait. But in real terms this is how it plays out. Supermarkets employ fewer cashiers so that long lines snake down the supermarket aisles. The self-checkout aisles also develop lines reducing the time-saved by motivated self-serve shoppers. So here's how it shakes out. Fewer people are employed. Those who are work nonstop to accommodate cranky customers who have been standing on line forever. And if you're using self-checkout you're paying the supermarket and working for them for free by checking and bagging yourself. It's another version of the scam gas stations pulled when they introduced self-serve gas and promised that it would cost less than full-serve; then simply raised the price on full-serve pumps. Net savings for consumers: none.

We're all frogs being brought slowly to a boil and, as the Times article makes clear, the water is getting hot enough that we just might begin to notice and start jumping. The economy feels bad enough to ordinary folks that the Republican Party is increasingly worried about the upcoming elections. They would probably be more worried if Democrats were offering a real alternative instead of taking potshots at Wal-Mart, which is not to say that they don't deserve it.

How bad is it for American workers? Here are some of the highlights from the Times:

With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers....

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS,the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

Until the last year, stagnating wages were somewhat offset by the rising value of benefits, especially health insurance, which caused overall compensation for most Americans to continue increasing. Since last summer, however, the value of workers’ benefits has also failed to keep pace with inflation, according to government data....

Economists offer various reasons for the stagnation of wages. Although the economy continues to add jobs, global trade, immigration,layoffs and technology — as well as the insecurity caused by them — appear to have eroded workers’ bargaining power.

Trade unions are much weaker than they once were, while the buying power of the minimum wage is at a 50-year low. And health care is far more expensive than it was a decade ago, causing companies to spend more on benefits at the expense of wages....
Average family income, adjusted for inflation, has continued to advance at a good clip, a fact Mr. Bush has cited when speaking about the economy.
But these gains are a result mainly of increases at the top of the income spectrum that pull up the overall numbers. Even for workers at the 90th percentile of earners — making about $80,000 a year — inflation has outpaced their pay increases over the last three years, according to the Labor Department.

“There are two economies out there,” Mr. Cook, the political analyst, said. “One has been just white hot, going great guns. Those are the people who have benefited from globalization, technology, greater productivity and higher corporate earnings.

“And then there’s the working stiffs,’’ he added, “who just don’t feel like they’re getting ahead despite the fact that they’re working very hard. And there are a lot more people in that group than the other group.”
[emphases added]

The rich are getting richer. Everybody else is getting poorer and working harder. Great.

Big Three: Meet the Free Market

Saturday, August 26, 2006

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Michigan Republicans are said to be in a tizzy that their Republican president won't give any face time to Detroit automakers. The Big Three are facing "declining fortunes." Though the LA Times doesn't state it very directly, automakers are hungry and need a snack from the government trough. And they are increasingly disheartened that Bush wants to let market forces work their magic. I love the way Republicans worship at the altar of the free market when it means not raising the minimum wage or laying people off to keep stockholders happy. But when it means shutting off the corporate welfare tap, they're not so enamoured. When they need an infusion of capital, they rediscover the need for big government to meddle in their affairs.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos lashed out at the White House this week for not having set up a long-promised meeting with executives of the Big Three automakers, which are being squeezed by high healthcare costs and shrinking market share.

"We're being ignored here in Michigan by the White House, and it has got to stop," DeVos, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, told reporters.

"It is wrong, and the behavior is inexcusable," DeVos said in a written statement Thursday. "The president needs to meet with the Big Three, and it must happen soon. Jobs are at stake."

Yes, the President must "meet" with the Big Three because otherwise jobs will be lost. Let's rewind a bit and recall that it was less than two months ago that GM announced it was laying off a quarter of its work force. Well, let's be more specific: their blue collar work force. And let us also recall that a Wall Street Journal report at that time demonstrated amply and painfully that for all their whining about pension costs, the pension programs of their rank and file workers were in the black. It is, in fact, the pay packages to top-tier executives that are breaking the bank. But GM's solution wasn't laying off the executive millionaires who are draining their coffers. It was to fire the little guys whose pension plans were not only paying for themselves, but for the company's other losses. And now they want to go hat-in-hand to the federal government for more money so that they can continue to hand giant pay packages to top tier executives who make genius decisions like continuing to make gas guzzling behemoths that a public in full-blown gas pump sticker shock doesn't want and continue kicking their labor force to the curb when they inevitably face continuing short-falls.

Bush himself made clear in January that he was not inclined to bail out troubled U.S. auto companies.

For once I agree with him.

Hillary's Cash & Carry Election

Friday, August 25, 2006

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If you doubt that the US is devolving into an oligarchy where powerful corporations and other moneyed interests control the political process, look no further than New York state. There, an unholy alliance between Hillary Clinton and TimeWarner has seized control of the electoral process by taking away the microphone of her opposition. I first learned about this in Matt Taibbi's most recent take-down of the DLC.

Remember 2000, when Ralph Nader was not only not allowed to debate with Al Gore and George Bush, but wasn't allowed in the building -- not even allowed in a second, adjoining hall in the building, not even when he had a ticket? Well, we have a replay of that proud moment in our history going on now, with Hillary's Senate primary opponent Tasini being shut out of debates by New York's NY1 TV channel (owned by TimeWarner) which is insisting that qualified candidates not only reach 5 percent support in the polls (Tasini is at 13 percent and rising) but raise or spend $500,000. Said NY1 Vice President Steve Paulus: "All Tasini would need is for each [New York state registered voter] to send him a dollar. Right now, with the money he's raised, he does not represent the party he claims to represent."

So a war chest is now the standard for representation? In order to get on television, you need a dollar from every voter? (Are we electing a Senator or holding a Girl Scout raffle? What the fuck?) And this is decided by . . . an executive for a corporate television station?

This morning Buzzflash guest contributor Jeff Cohen connects the dots.

The cover story in the new issue of TIME, the flagship publication of the Time Warner media empire, informs readers that Hillary Clinton has "virtually nonexistent opposition for her senate seat."

Hold that phrase in your head. Because at another outpost of the Time Warner empire, decisions have been made that help ensure Sen. Clinton will have "virtually nonexistent opposition." Time Warner's NY1 TV news channel ("the CNN of New York")adamantly refuses to host a Democratic New York Senate debate. Despite protests over its decision, NY1 says it is giving incumbent Clinton a no-debate free pass because her antiwar challenger, union leader Jonathan Tasini, has not raised enough money; the channel arbitrarily set the bar at a half-million dollars. This despite the fact that Tasini has reached 13% in polls. (NY1 first announced its no-debate ruling just as Ned Lamont -- given no chance months ago -- was defeating pro-war incumbent Joe Lieberman in Connecticut's primary.)

Ironically, NY1 has already hosted and televised a Democratic New York gubernatorial debate between frontrunner Eliot Spitzer and a Democratic challenger who was at only 10% in the polls. But that candidate had raised about $6 million. So spending millions to get just 10% in popular support was rewarded by Time Warner's channel, while building a more effective grassroots campaign, largely of volunteers, was punished. (One wonders how much of the money went to NY1.)

Did I mention that Time Warner's PAC is one of the many corporate PACs that underwrites Hillary Clinton's reelection campaign against the "virtually nonexistent opposition"? Or that conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch has also raised funds for her reelection? Or that Hillary Clinton doesn't criticize a media system now dominated by a handful of (JonBenet-obsessed) entertainment conglomerates -- while Tasini wants to see those conglomerates broken up? [emphasis added]

And there you have it. Hillary is the TimeWarner candidate, not the people's. And, in a bout of unintentional honesty, TimeWarner has admitted what it thinks elections are about: Money.

Sore Loserman

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

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I never thought I'd want repeat that slur, but what else can you say about a man so totally ungracious in defeat. My expectations of Lieberman are never high, but listening to his "concession" speech last night on the news, I couldn't believe my fucking ears. He dropped below even my lowest estimation of his character. It was a flagrant display of narcissism and naked self-interest.

The first red flag was dropped the minute he opened his mouth.

Thank you so much for standing by me in this tough race, for your all work, for all your confidence.

Joe still thinks this is about him. He doesn't understand that running for public office is about representing his constituents; "we the people." I heard more use of the word "me" in that speech than the New York Times included in its "excerpts" of the transcript, but even their abbreviated text stands as a testament to the man's self-absorption.

The only words I heard acknowledging the victor were:

Just before coming out to see you, I called Ned Lamont and congratulated him on his success today...

From there he immediately launched into his campaign speech. By barely acknowledging Ned Lamont's victory, he is disregarding the 52% of his own party who showed up at polling stations to vote their conscience. Well I'm sure they're all just far-left, wacko bloggers. They're not real people. They're not "Team Connecticut."

Lieberman came not to concede to Ned Lamont but bury him; to accuse him of polarizing rhetoric even as he vows to split his own party by running as an "independent Democratic."

I expect that my opponent will continue to do in the general election what he has done in the primary … partisan polarizing instead of talking about how we can solve people's problems, insults instead of ideas. In other words, more of the same old partisan politics that has assailed Washington today.

I will continue to offer Connecticut a different path forward. I went into public service to find solutions, not to point fingers. To unite, not to divide. To lift up, not to tear down. To make my community and country a better place to live and work.

It was a speech worthy of the hypocritical "I'm a uniter, not a divider" President to whom he has bowed and scraped since his premature concession in 2000. If that isn't the height of irony! Well actually, it isn't that surprising. Lieberman is fairly consistent in his distrust of anyone who raises legitimate questions about GOP ethics. So now we understand the Lieberman formula: Pointing out any wrongdoing of Republicans is divisive partisanship. Bashing members of his own party, like Clinton for instance, is brave and noble. Standing up to Lieberman, himself, is tempting the Lord Your God.

A gracious man would have conceded his loss last night, congratulated the victor, thanked his campaign team for their hard work (not for indulging his ego), and honored the voters who turned out to the polls. Even if he wanted to pursue an independent run, he would have alluded to it, and promised to expound on it at a more appropriate time. That's what a gracious man and a truly savvy politician would have done. Instead Joe Lieberman chose to insult every voter in Connecticut who did not invest in his personal ambition.

God Wants You to Vote for Joe Lieberman

Monday, August 07, 2006

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As the New York Times reports:

“Joseph had faith that God will take care of the haters and I have a certain faith that this Tuesday God will take care of the voters.”

Yes, that' s right. God is on Joe Lieberman's side and will surely deliver the votes in the primary. So if you're planning to vote for Ned Lamont, be advised that you are falling for one of the Devil's many tricks.

Lieberman's campaign has been punctuated by one narcissistic, self-referential statement of victimhood after another. The Times article goes on:

When one preacher at the Bridgeport church asked, “Anybody going through hell right now?” Mr. Lieberman leaned over to tap a woman sitting to his left and began to nod his head with a smile.

Get it? Now he's Job, tried and tested by God. You get it woman sitting next to me? You get it members of the press? I'm being tested by God!!

A similar theme emerged in a Washington Post article a week ago, when Lieberman acknowledged the well-financed Ned Lamont, who is daring to run for his seat.

"I felt all along I would have a challenge," Lieberman quipped. "But I was hoping God would send me a poor one."

Yes, God is surely testing Holy Joe. But the Almighty is still on his side, making sure that Connecticut's Democratic voters -- the "most difficult part of the Connecticut electorate" for him -- do not have the temerity to vote their conscience.

The Real Joe Lieberman

Sunday, August 06, 2006

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As much as I hate to dwell on a political race I cannot vote in, I can't take my eyes off the spectacle of Holy Joe. As much as I despise his cheerleading for the illegal war in Iraq and his corporate toadying, I think what I hate most is his faux "nice guy" routine. He's a thoroughly smarmy, political animal and every so often the toothy veneer slips just enough to show the naked careerism that truly drives him. This morning's appearance on "This Week" revealed such a moment. He bobbed and weaved through George Stephanapolous's queries about his stated ambition to run as an independant if he loses the primary. Many bloggers have taken Lieberman to task for the utter disrespect for the democratic process evident in his disregard for the voters in his own party come primary day. But if his decision to keep running no matter what his party's voters want weren't enough, this morning he made a statement that could only be described as extortion, and I think it deserves a bit of examination. In attempting to brush off Stephanapolous's question, Lieberman retorted:

"Well on the last point I say to them, the way to overcome that concern is to make sure I get the Democratic nomination."

And there you have it; the real Joe Lieberman. The implicit threat: Vote for me in the primary or I will be a spoiler. Voting me out is not an option. The only way to get what you want is if you want I want, so you might as well lie back and enjoy it.

It's called extortion. He's attempting to hold Democratic voters hostage to his ambitions. It was all of a second in a slickly handled interview, but it gives the lie to every other high-minded thing he spouts.

Watershed Moment?

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A page one story in the Sunday Washington Post raises the specter of a watershed moment for the Democratic Party. As I said before, the Lieberman/Lamont race in Connecticut is emblematic of the fundamental problem in the Party. Put simply it is about whether or not they continue to be the Republican Lite party. Lieberman is so much the embodiment of an opposition party in the thrall of Republican domination that the most right leaning of Republican activists are currently batting for his team and suggesting, as many Democratic voters have, that he simply switch parties. As The Nation explains, Tom DeLay, Bill Kristol, and Ann Coulter, have all come out swinging for Lieberman, so he's got that goin' for him.

The Post describes the collision of entrenched power and righteous anger.

The passion and energy fueling the antiwar challenge to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in Connecticut's Senate primary signal a power shift inside the Democratic Party that could reshape the politics of national security and dramatically alter the battle for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, according to strategists in both political parties.

A victory by businessman Ned Lamont on Tuesday would confirm the growing strength of the grass-roots and Internet activists who first emerged in Howard Dean's presidential campaign. Driven by intense anger at President Bush and fierce opposition to the Iraq war, they are on the brink of claiming their most significant political triumph, one that will reverberate far beyond the borders here if Lieberman loses.

As Chris Dodd, of all people, points out, this is more than simply opposition to an unpopular war. It's appeasement of Bush Administration radicalism that is driving a good part of the backlash from the netroots and beyond.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said it is a mistake to contend, as the Republicans are doing, that the Democrats have been captured by left-wing, antiwar activists, saying the Connecticut race most of all reflects discontent with Bush rather than an ideological awakening. "This is really about Bush," he said. "It's deeper than an antiwar thing."

The Democratic Party continues, at its peril, to underestimate how divisive a figure Bush is and how much resistance there is to the man and his policies. The disconnect between the party powerful and the people is growing and the Lieberman/Lamont showdown should be serving as a wake up call.

Arguing for the continuation of Republican Lite policies is, unsurprisingly, DLC operative Will Marshall.

"Candidates know they cannot appease [antiwar] activists if they are going to run winning national campaigns," said Will Marshall, president of the centrist Progressive Policy Institute. "It will intensify the tension inside the Democratic coalition as we head into two critical elections."

Let's rewind for a moment to reflect on who Will Marshall is and what he stands for. Marshall is quoted at some length in the Matt Taibbi column I referenced the other day, on "Why the Democrats are still doomed."

Marshall is the president of the DLC's Progressive Policy Institute and owns the distinction of being the first public figure to use the term "body count" in a positive sense with regard to the Iraq war ("Coalition forces still face daily attacks but the body count tilts massively in their favor"). He wasted no time in giving me the party line: "What we're seeing is an ideological purge," he said cheerily. "It's national effort by the left to get rid of somebody they've decided to demonize . . . we have concerns about narrow dogmatism. . ."

We went back and forth for a while. I noted that his conception of "narrow dogmatists" included the readers of Daily Kos, a website with something like 440,000 visitors a day; I also noted that recent Gallup polls showed that fully 91 percent of Democrats supported a withdrawal of some kind from Iraq.

"So these hundreds of thousands of Democrats who are against the war are narrow dogmatists," I said, "and. . . how many people are there in your office? Ten? Twenty? Thirty?"

"Well, it'd probably be in the thirty zone," sighed Marshall.

I asked Marshall if there was a publicly available list of donors to the DLC.

"Uh, I don't know," he said. "I'd have to refer you to the press office for that. They can help you there . . ." (Note: a DLC spokeswoman would later tell me the DLC has a policy of "no public disclosure," although she did say the group is funded in half by corporate donations, in half by individuals).

"So let me get this straight," I said. "We have thirty corporate-funded spokesmen telling hundreds of thousands of actual voters that they're narrow dogmatists?" [emphasis added]

He paused and sighed, clearly exasperated. "Look," he said. "Everybody in politics draws money from the same basic sources. It's the same pool of companies and wealthy individuals . . ."

"Okay," I said. "So basically in this dispute over Lieberman, we have people on one side, and companies on the other? Would it be correct to say that?" I asked.

"Well, I guess if you live in a cartoon world you could say that," he said.

That's the DLC in a nutshell, and sadly, because of the corporate money they bring in, it is also the voice of the Democratic Party establishment. When Lieberman and Lamont face off in the upcoming primary, Connecticut voters will have an opportunity to speak directly to the smug visage of a party that shows contempt daily for the voting public. As the Post points out, it's a message that may reverberate.

Taibbi Explains Why Dems Are Losing: It's Not the Sierra Club

Friday, August 04, 2006

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Earlier today I went off on Paul Krugman for his Kosesque soliloquy on why the Sierra Club (NARAL and other left-leaning issue groups) should put aside their non-partisanship and stop endorsing non-Democrats. Krugman's point, like Kos's, is that we should support Democrats at all costs because Republicans are ruining the country. The reason I can't sign on to this idea, aside from the fact that it means asking organizations to violate their own charters and stated goals to become nakedly partisan, is that it ignores the fact that Democrats are also ruining the country. Krugman implies that Democrats keep losing because they are not mimicking the soul-less authoritarianism of the Republican party. When a reader responding to today's column writes that she's in a dilemma about voting her conscience because she likes Chafee's voting record but does not like the rest of the party or want it in power, Krugman responds:

The strength of the conservative movement is that it rarely agonizes about such things.

So the poltical left would be "stronger" if we stop voting our conscience and become mindless party cogs?

But my disagreement with Krugman on this is not simply about the importance of principle. I think he has misdiagnosed the cause of the Democrats losing streak. We need to stop blaming the voters for the manifold failings of the Democratic Party. Matt Taibbi absolutely nails the Democrat problem in the new issue of Rolling Stone. In his analysis of the Lieberman/Lamont race in Connecticut, he offers some of the most targeted, insightful analysis of the larger problem I've read to date. He pulls apart Lieberman's black church "I met Dr. King" stump speech and exposes the cynicism of his DLC, faux populism.

The scene says everything you need to know about the modern Democratic Party. It spends its weekdays sucking off the Pentagon and Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry, and on the weekends it comes out and spends five minutes getting teary-eyed for the "I have a dream" speech and thinks you owe it your vote because of it. Some party members agree, but quite a few don't, which is why Joe Lieberman—the hawkish one-time vice-presidential candidate who has made himself the most visible symbol of the "new" Democrats—is facing a surprising primary challenge on August 8th. Like Lieberman himself, the "I was there in the Sixties" act is finally getting old.

"I hate the Sixties, and I'm tired of hearing about it—what have you done for me lately?" says Regina Meade, one of the churchgoers. She shakes her head. "I lost a cousin in the war. Twenty-nine years old. What about that? What about that?"

While Lieberman is one of the most vulnerable of the old guard Democrats, his campaign is emblematic of a much deeper problem. That so many beltway Dems have run to his rescue, despite his smooching with Bush, should tell us everything we need to know about where Democratic Party alliances really are. As Taibbi states, they're not with voters.

Of course it's fairly obvious where it's coming from. Even the most casual Democratic voters understand by now that there is a schism within the party, one that pits "party insiders" steeped in the inside-baseball muck of Washington money culture against . . . well, against us, the actual voters.

The insiders have for many years running now succeeded in convincing their voters that their actual beliefs are hopeless losers in the general electoral arena, and that certain compromises must be made if the party is ever to regain power. [emphasis added]

This defeatist nonsense is sold to the public in the form of beady-eyed party hacks talking to one another in the opinion pages of national media conglomerates, where, after much verbose and solemn discussion, the earnest and idealistic candidate the public actually likes is dismissed on the grounds that "he can't win." In his place is trotted out the guy the party honchos insist to us is the real "winner"—some balding, bent little bureaucrat who has grown prematurely elderly before our very eyes over the course of ten or twenty years of sad, compromise-filled service in the House or the Senate.

This "winner" is then given a lavish parade and sent out there on the trail, and we hold our noses as he campaigns in our name on a platform of Jesus, the B-2 bomber and the death penalty for eleven-year-olds, consoling ourselves that he at least isn't in favor of repealing the Voting Rights Act. (Or is he? We have to check.) Then he loses to the Republicans anyway and we start all over again—beginning with the next primary election, when we are again told that the anti-war candidate "can't win" and that the smart bet is the corporate hunchback still wearing two black eyes from the last race.

That's why the Democratic Party is imploding faster than a Republican Party that has detatched itself from discernable reality. Not because the Sierra Club, NARAL, and some kooky Independants aren't behind the Democratic Party right or wrong.

Taibbi goes on to describe, in dirty detail, Lieberman's corporate whoredom, but he could be describing any one of a number of beltway Democrats.

He is everything a Washington insider loves in a politician. He is pompous, pious and available. Routinely one of the very top recipients of campaign donations from the insurance, pharmaceutical and finance sectors, and a man whose wife, Hadassah, is a pharmaceutical-industry lobbyist for Hill and Knowlton, Lieberman has quietly become one of the greatest allies corporate America has in Washington.

For example, Lieberman, who as chairman of the DLC in the mid to late Nineties presided over an organization heavily subsidized by companies such as AIG and Aetna (the latter of which also contributes lavishly to his campaigns), sponsored a bill that limited auto insurance suits by permitting the offering of lower rates to consumers who forfeited their right to sue. He has fought for similar anti-lawsuit laws for tobacco, for HMOs, for pharmaceutical companies. Victor Schwartz, general counsel for the American Tort Reform Association, once bragged that "if it were not for Lieberman, there would never have been a Biomaterials Access Act"—a 1998 law that protected companies like Dow Chemical and DuPont (also big DLC contributors) from lawsuits filed for the production of defective medical implants. Yes, that's right: Joe Lieberman fought for the principle of manufacturing faulty fake tits with impunity.

In a move that was perfectly characteristic of everything he stands for, Lieberman in 2001 offered a piece of legislation, S. 1764, that purported to provide incentives to companies that develop medicines to treat the victims of bioterror attacks but, more important, extended the patent life of a wide range of drugs for several years, delaying the introduction of more cost-friendly generic drugs. Shilling for the socialist subsidy of drug companies while masquerading as a Churchillian, tough-on-security Democrat in the War on Terror age: That's Joe Lieberman, and the modern Democratic Party, in a nutshell.

Taibbi expounds further in the first installment of his new web-only column, in which he demonstrates the curious parallels between the DLC and neoconservatives like David Brooks. The column is worth reading if only for commentary like this:

Brooks worships the status quo because he has no penis and wants to spend the rest of his life buying periwinkle bath towels without troubling interruptions of conscience.

But his larger point, that the DLC has gnawed away the core of the Democratic Party and turned it into a party of corporate toadies, bent on convincing the 91 percent of Democratic voters who want us out of Iraq that they are the lunatic fringe.

The DLC are the lowest kind of scum; we're talking about people who are paid by the likes of Eli Lilly and Union Carbide to go on television and call suburban moms and college kids who happen to be against the war commies and jihadists. On the ignominious-sellout scale, that's lower than doing PR for a utility that turns your grandmother's heat off at Christmas. And that's pretty bad -- but with enough money and enough of the right kind of publicity their side still might win in the Lamont/Lieberman primary on August 8th.

Which tells you just about everything you need to know about the modern Democratic Party. Why is anyone surprised that the Republicans never lose?

I, for one, am less and less surprised. Mr. Krugman and Markos Moulitsas can blame the Sierra Club if they want, but it seems like a race to the bottom of the self-defeatism pond to me. We need to stop assuming voters are idiots who need to be shepherded into the Democratic flock, regardless of whether or not party leaders demonstrate that they can actually lead us back from the cliff.

Put it this way: If the Democrats gain only five rather than six Senate seats this November, Senator James Inhofe, who says that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” will remain in his current position as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. And if that happens, the Sierra Club may well bear some of the responsibility.

Think about that for a minute. The Democratic Party can't win against a party represented by the obvious insanity of a Senator who compared environmentalism to Hitler's "big lie" and it's the Sierra Club's fault? A party that can't make hay of what Republicans have become and offer a reasonable alternative doesn't deserve to win.

I Expect Better of Mr. Krugman

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I am very disappointed in my favorite New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, this morning. He seems to be pitching for Kos's team today. In the most wrong-headed column it has ever been my displeasure to read under his byline, he has taken up the cause of attacking the Sierra Club for not being partisan hacks. This is one Krugman column that should probably stay behind the wall, but here's a peek anyway. After listing detailed examples of glaringly idiotic and self-defeating acts of blind party support from right-leaning organizations, Krugman writes:

It’s possible that the federation’s leadership has been misled by Heritage Foundation propaganda. But it’s more likely that, like the chamber, the federation believes that its interests are best served by acting as a loyal servant of the Republican electoral effort. And both organizations are probably right.

Now compare this with the behavior of advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, the environmental organization, and Naral, the abortion-rights group, both of which have endorsed Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, for re-election. The Sierra Club’s executive director defended the Chafee endorsement by saying, “We choose people, not parties.” And it’s true that Mr. Chafee has usually voted with environmental groups.

But while this principle might once have made sense, it’s just na├»ve today. Given both the radicalism of the majority party’s leadership and the ruthlessness with which it exercises its control of the Senate, Mr. Chafee’s personal environmentalism is nearly irrelevant when it comes to actual policy outcomes; the only thing that really matters for the issues the Sierra Club cares about is the “R” after his name.

In other words the Sierra Club should be idiotic and self-defeating, too. Great plan.

I have written extensively, on this issue, in response to Kos's endless bloviating.

This morning I wrote to Mr. Krugman as well. Here is the text, which may or may not appear on their feedback page.

I never expected such an idiotic column from my favorite New York Times columnist. I'm very disappointed. So your plan is that the Sierra Club should be as cynical and unprincipled as any nakedly partisan right wing hack? And in this way, we will somehow restore dignity to the process? Let's pretend for a moment that Democrats don't share substantial responsibility for the current mess; that they haven't dropped the ball every time it mattered and been complicit in enabling the same corpororate-sponsored, military-industrial-complex controlled agenda. Even so do you really think it serves anyone for issue groups to play the same shameless game the right wing is? If you think getting behind a bunch of weak-kneed Democrats by co-opting the methods of moral cowardice perfected by the authoritarian right is the answer, you're just drinking a different flavor of Kool-aid.

Craven Dems Still Leaving Workers to be Flattened

Thursday, July 27, 2006

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I'd share David Sirota's disappointment if I had ever been optimistic about beltway Dems standing up for the American worker. Writes Sirota:

Last night, I wrote optimistically about the possibility of Democratic Party elites finally realizing the error of their ways in ramming corporate-written trade policies down the throat of average Americans. Though I noted that most of the key players are still comfortable in the minority, and still awash in Washington's pay-to-play culture, I cited some recent moves as evidence that they may at the very least realize that they no longer live in the go-go Clinton Era where rhetoric about the "booming economy" could paper over the very serious economic challenges faced by regular working folks.

Apparently, I was wrong. A stunning piece by Washington Post business reporter Steve Pearlstein today shows that the real agenda of these Big Money insiders is to pretend to care about stagnating wages, slashed pensions, and job outsourcing - but not actually be willing to attack the "free" trade policies that are causing those hardships.

Pearlstein's piece is an eye-opener and he puts trade policies in a broader context of the Democratic Party's political impotence.

Democrats now have a perfect opportunity to deliver what the business community wants -- and to demand in exchange programs designed to provide workers more economic security. But such negotiations will never succeed if influential Democrats give away the store in advance by signaling they support all trade liberalization, unconditionally.

No guarantees of health care, pensions, expanded unemployment insurance -- no more trade deals. It's a simple message even chief executives can understand. Voters, too.

To appreciate why reigning in free trade and standing up to corporations are winning issues for Democrats one need only listen to increasingly frustrated Americans whose earning power is not recovering with the economy. Our current trade policies are a key factor in our increasing income disparity. I've written before that wages for many Americans are stagnant. In fact they are worse than stagnant. Earlier this week the LA Times reported wages for college graduates have actually dropped a stunning 5.2% over the last five years. Consider that as those wages have fallen, the cost of living, particularly energy prices, has risen steadily.

The recent wage slump has affected a substantial part of the workforce. About 30 million Americans age 20 to 59 have a four-year degree and no advanced degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The White House economists did not lay out wage trends for people with master's and other advanced degrees. But other studies have found that their inflation-adjusted wages were essentially flat between 2000 and 2004, and the studies have confirmed a decline for people with four-year degrees.

When wages for people with bachelor's degrees declined in the 1970s, the cause was a flood of baby boomers entering the job market.

This time, economists say, much of the blame goes to trends familiar to workers with less education, who are now creeping up the wage ladder.

Offshoring, which has shifted manufacturing and call-center jobs to such nations as Mexico and India, is increasingly affecting white-collar sectors such as engineering and software design.

And companies have continued their long effort to replace salaried positions with lower-paid, nonsalaried jobs, including part-time and freelance positions without benefits. Those contingent positions make up nearly half of the 6.5 million jobs created since 2001, said Paul Harrington, a labor economist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Harrington said the number of salaried jobs increased an average of 11.5% during the last five economic recoveries, compared with 2.5% during the current recovery.

"There's clear deterioration in the college labor market," he said. "The American economy just does not generate jobs the way it has historically."

As long predicted the repercussions of free market fundamentalism are affecting both white and blue collar workers. The benefits of our economic growth are concentrated in the hands of a very small group of people. As Paul Krugman wrote recently, workers across a broad economic spectrum are being left behind.

Here's what happened in 2004. The U.S. economy grew 4.2 percent, a very good number. Yet last August the Census Bureau reported that real median family income — the purchasing power of the typical family — actually fell. Meanwhile, poverty increased, as did the number of Americans without health insurance. So where did the growth go?

The answer comes from the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, whose long-term estimates of income equality have become the gold standard for research on this topic, and who have recently updated their estimates to include 2004. They show that even if you exclude capital gains from a rising stock market, in 2004 the real income of the richest 1 percent of Americans surged by almost 12.5 percent. Meanwhile, the average real income of the bottom 99 percent of the population rose only 1.5 percent. In other words, a relative handful of people received most of the benefits of growth.

There are a couple of additional revelations in the 2004 data. One is that growth didn't just bypass the poor and the lower middle class, it bypassed the upper middle class too. Even people at the 95th percentile of the income distribution — that is, people richer than 19 out of 20 Americans — gained only modestly. The big increases went only to people who were already in the economic stratosphere.

The other revelation is that being highly educated was no guarantee of sharing in the benefits of economic growth. There's a persistent myth, perpetuated by economists who should know better — like Edward Lazear, the chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers — that rising inequality in the United States is mainly a matter of a rising gap between those with a lot of education and those without. But census data show that the real earnings of the typical college graduate actually fell in 2004.

In short, it's a great economy if you're a high-level corporate executive or someone who owns a lot of stock. For most other Americans, economic growth is a spectator sport.

Free trade enthusiast Thomas Friedman claims that The World Is Flat and that it is incumbent on American workers to make themselves competitive in a global marketplace, but it would be fairer to say that American workers are being flattened by policies that do not serve them. Democrats could gain a real advantage this election year by demonstrating some moral courage, but it would mean biting the corporate hand that feeds them. As I wrote before, their surprising rectitude on the minimum wage is a start but it's a drop in the economic bucket. It allows them to demagogue about their concern for wage earners, while they scratch the backs of corporatocrats who are displacing increasing numbers of middle class workers. The Post's Pearlstein gives us a glimpse at the cynicism of Democratic big-wigs. I wish I could say I was surprised.

The Cult of Bush

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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It occurred to me today, and not for the first time, how cult-like the Bush Administration is. There are obvious indicators like the devotion to secrecy, the emphasis on loyalty, and the fact that his staffers openly disparage the "reality based community" that does not share their unique and privileged perspective on how to remake the world.

In today's column Maureen Dowd seizes on yet another cultish element of the Bush Presidency; his dogmatic adherence to an unchanging world view. In "The Immutable President," she draws from next week's Newsweek cover story:

Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe says he conducted four “freewheeling” interviews with the president last week, and concluded: “Bush thinks the new war vindicates his early vision of the region’s struggle: of good versus evil, civilization versus terrorism, freedom versus Islamic fascism. He still believes that when it comes to war and terror, leaders need to decide whose side they are on.”

The president sees Lebanon as a test of macho mettle rather than the latest chapter in a fratricidal free-for-all that’s been going on for centuries. “I view this as the forces of instability probing weakness,” he said. “I think they’re testing resolve.”

The more things get complicated, the more W. feels vindicated in his own simplified vision. The more people try to tell him that it’s not easy, that this is a region of shifting alliances and interests, the less he seems inclined to develop an adroit policy to win people over to our side instead of trying to annihilate them.

Years ago I got very interested in cults and used the topic for a number of college papers and speeches. For one I even interviewed another college student who had earlier escaped a cult. She had joined during that vulnerable time after high school. As I learned in my research, many cults, like the Hare Krishnas and Unification (Moonies), specifically target college freshmen and both high school and college seniors. The reason is fairly obvious. When we are in transition from a safe feeling environment and experiencing anxiety like we do leaving high school and facing college, or leaving college and facing adult responsibilities, we are scared. When we are thrown into the inevitable fears of a complicated world we crave simplicity. Cults offer that simplicity. They offer black and white, the leader's way or inevitable disaster, choices. Rigidity and cloistering can feel comforting when you are suddenly terrified of the big, bad world. Similarly Bush's Manichean and implicitly xenophobic world view was an analgesic to people terrified by the sudden realization, on 9/11, that terrorists could breach our defenses. To frightened people, "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists," sounds comforting.

While the most extreme cults cut people off from their families and from outside influences, the Cult of Bush has been able to do this to some degree by "handling" the media and limiting the scope of information. Even so enough fresh air has gotten in that the majority of Americans have deprogrammed themselves; with Bush's approval ratings wallowing in the low 30s after their post 9/11 peak at around 90%. His remaining adherents are unsurprisingly dogmatic and impervious to contrary evidence.

Bush is as pampered and coddled as any cult leader. As with most cults, the shroud that protects him conceals both the scandalous and the bizarre. With the G8 Summit and the prying eyes of an unmanageable foreign press, Americans once again caught glimpses of a man untethered from consensual reality. He is used to having his demands for adulation and deference met.

He passes the time by chatting with a Chinese security agent, quizzing him about his English. "You been practicing?" he asks. A moment later, the agent's cell phone rings. The young man has a split second to choose: does he turn his back on a once-in-a-lifetime conversation with the president of the United States, or just let it go into voice mail? The agent snaps open his phone, and walks away. "Cell-phone violation!" Bush calls out. His staffers chuckle nervously: chirping phones are one of Bush's biggest peeves. "The guy didn't know the rules," says Bush. "Give him a break, will you?"

Even amongst other world leaders he expects a conformity of viewpoint and brooks no dissent.

That afternoon the leaders are promised they will see the final text of their statement on the Middle East, which calls on Hizbullah to end its rocket attacks and then urges Israel to end its military strikes. But the document fails to arrive at the promised hour of 4, and it's still not there at 5 o'clock. Bush has had it. "I'm going home," he says to the room full of presidents and prime ministers. "I'm going to get a shower. I'm just about meeting'd out." Some of the leaders suggest they should all work out their differences together. But Bush can no longer keep up appearances. "I thought that was a lousy idea and so did others," Bush says later. "It would lose focus and everybody would then have an opinion."

In the real world, where most of us live, everybody does have an opinion. But not in the strange isolation of the Cult of Bush. People are either with him or they breaking rules; whether out of ignorance or malice. Like most cult leaders, Bush himself, is above rules. Like a guru who preaches celibacy while secretly molesting his followers, Bush demands a rigid application of law for others but considers himself above the law. He oversaw a record number of executions as Governor of Texas, including that of a mentally handicapped man, but has exempted himself from over 800 Congressional statutes with a creative and illegal use of signing statements.

While this entire country is not forced into conformity with Bush's "divinely inspired vision," we are imperiled by the control this insular, political sect has over the levers of power. So is the entire, war-torn world.

I So Do Not Have Time For This Shit!

Monday, July 24, 2006

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I have been posting very little of late because I have been busy, busy, busy. Among other demands my husband and I are very engaged in house hunting. (More later on "the dumbening" and just why it is that all new houses seem to be built without the basic awareness that heat rises and cold falls.) But in one of my few spare moments I became aware that someone who commented on The Blogging Curmudgeon a while back was taking my inventory on his own blog. He's entitled but I think it is particularly telling that rather than respond to my response to his initial comment on my blog, where he started this exchange, he scurried back to his own blog to issue his retort without even alerting me. Shadow-boxing and air-guitar are fun hobbies too, I hear.

Here are the relevant links:

  • My own blog entry on the minimum wage, where Internet Esquire makes the case for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit as a better option for the working poor by providing no data, and by providing a link to one of his own blog entries that contains no supporting data, but links to still another of his own blog entries that provides no supporting data.

  • Internet Esquire's response to... I don't know... a blow up doll he has of me maybe... in which he explains that not providing data to support his own arguments is his clever litmus test to determine who is "unbiased" enough to be his research monkey. He also provides a novel explanation for his butchery of the English language: I meant to do that.

  • Internet Esquire's next blog entry in a growing series of substance-avoidant misrepresentations of my views, in which he calls my belief that work should be valued and paid a living wage "pretentious" and "pollyannaish."

  • Internet Esquire's latest Curmudgette-centered blog entry, in which he mysteriously deduces that my desire for him to back up his contentions with facts means that I hate rich people, and attempts to use reverse psychology to keep me from ever taking apart his feeble rhetoric again.

That last is worth reading just for his explanation that responding to other bloggers on his own blog, rather than engaging them directly and with their knowledge, allows him to distill their ideas properly, provide clarification, and "find common ground with an adversary." (I guess it is easier to find common ground with people when you don't actually communicate with them.) Oh silly me. Here I thought it was a way to take them out of context, distort their meanings, and remain eternally self-satisfied.

They Stuff Kittens in Jars Too!

Monday, July 17, 2006

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My husband periodically emails me articles from the Onion without link or attribution. Sometimes I get as far as two paragraphs in before I realize they are satire. The Onion is incredibly clever and I can see how one might be snookered for a minute or two. But this guy is an idiot.

It's the stuff of webby fantasy and urban legend: a reader who takes an Onion story seriously. Last week, a speedy and vicious blogosphere watched its collective wet dream made real when "Pete," proprietor of antiabortion blog March Together for Life, posted "Murder Without Conscience," a furious excoriation of a 7-year-old fake column in the Onion titled "I'm Totally Psyched About This Abortion!" [Ed. Note: The original "Murder Without Conscience" entry has been altered since its publication and now includes some graphic images.]

The Onion is a satirical newspaper founded in 1988 by University of Wisconsin students and is these days published weekly from New York. The piece that inspired Pete's July 6 extended smack-down was a 1999 Op-Ed by fictional columnist "Caroline Weber." Pete did not realize that the Onion traffics in satire, and that the piece was a send-up of the notion that pro-choice activists are actually "pro-abortion." Weber's outrageous claims that she "seriously cannot wait for all the hemorrhaging and the uterine contractions" and that "this abortion is going to be so amazing" did not tip off Pete. In an utterly unironic retort, he cited lines like, "It wasn't until now that I was lucky enough to be pregnant with a child I had no means to support," and "I just know it's going to be the best non-anesthetized invasive uterine surgery ever!" to illustrate his disgust with the author.

Spoken like a person without a womb. But Pete explains that he was confused by the piece because it was such an excellent example of art imitating life.

Four days after his initial Onion entry, Pete posted a follow-up, acknowledging that he now understood that the piece had been a joke. "Needless to say, a few people wanted to let me know that I was a dolt for thinking that her article was real," Pete wrote. "As a matter of fact, call me a dolt, because in the beginning I really did think it was real. Why? Because I meet women like her in the field all the time.

Sure you do, Pete. The world is just full of women who love having invasive surgery, on their most intimate parts, without anesthetic. I know I do. Pap smears and root canals are fun, but nothing beats having your insides sucked out through vacuum tube. Oh, and Pete... let me help you out. I'm being facetious... oh, just look it up.

Some years ago I got an email from a friend about the horrors of the "Bonsai Kitty" market. My friend was a passionate defender of animal rights and was horrified to learn that a site was marketing cats that had been grown and fed since kittenhood in jars in order to attain the desirable, dwarfed distortion that characterizes bonsai trees. (The site is long gone but some of it remains in Google cache.) I looked at the site, pronounced it hilarious, and emailed her back. Um, this is satire, I told her. She was unconvinced, remaining as credulous as Steve Martin watching nefarious, Mexican cat jugglers in the "The Jerk," until I pointed out that there was no actual ordering information on the site; only a link that promised an order form would be forthcoming. She finally conceded that it was probably a hoax, but that it wasn't funny and made a mockery of the very serious problem of animal cruelty. It should come as no great surprise that we are no longer friends. The humorless, as a species, are a particular challenge for me.

Pete, the anti-abortion fanatic, offers a novel explanation for his inability to process irony.

The funniest thing about the whole ordeal, said Pete, is that "I come from Germany -- a German economy, a German culture, German friends. And Germans have no humor."

Very good. I'll be sure not to mention the war.

Chris Bowers Trivializes Netroots

Thursday, July 13, 2006

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There was a surprisingly capable overview of the latest kerfuffle in the Daily Kos family of sites on Fox's website. It focused largely on Maryscott O'Connor's magnum opus "Something is Rotten in Blogmark." I read the piece over the weekend and thought it very restrained. I also found the outrage it inspired hilaaarious. But Fox used the piece to point out the increasingly apparent hypocrisy on the Daily Kos.

Hypocrisy in an organization is an awful thing for a devoted team member to recognize, but even harder to admit. To her credit, O'Connor expanded on another obvious contradiction — Kos's support for the seemingly moderate former governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, implicitly due to Armstrong's consulting arrangement with the presumptive 2008 presidential candidate — while elaborating on the Hackett affair.

"[A]bandoning Hackett, signing on with the candidate anointed by the DLC, seemed in complete contradiction to the ideas and ideals behind Markos's book," she wrote..

Sounds like real world Machiavellian politics have crashed the gates, doesn't it? Yet, O'Connor is not the only Kossack having such doubts. The day before she posted her personal revelations, Richard Silverstein wrote another blog — this one conspicuously not posted at DKos — entitled "Don't Cross the 'Cult of Kos' or You'll Live to Regret It." In it, Silverstein raised a very important question:

"[H]ow does a political blogger who endorses candidates at his site create a transparent environment when he may also be consulting for — or have some other undisclosed relationship with — some of these same candidates?" Silverstein asked.

How indeed, Richard?

Many of the issues raised by the Fox piece have been raised on this site by me and in visitor comments. I consider them serious enough to write about them. But MyDD's Chris Bowers dismisses the whole thing as a "flame war" and mocks Fox for its "obsession with the progressive netroots." So, Chris, do you want the progressive blogosphere to be relevant or not? Is this citizen journalism and involvement in the greater political process, or is it just a bunch of geeks playing around on a message board? It's getting to be high time to decide.

I find this kind of schizophrenia particularly ludicrous when it comes from VIBs like Bowers, who want the blogosphere to be a vehicle for political change, an aggressive watchdog to nip at the heels of a dozing mainstream media, and financially viable. When bigger players in the media start to pay attention, that's actually a good thing. But it can be a bit uncomfortable if your house is not in order, and Kos's house is not in order.

I also find it deeply ironic that the blogosphere, a grassroots answer to journalism and political activism, routinely silences and marginalizes the teeming masses who make it up. Maryscott seems concerned as well about the bully tactics used to intimidate dissenters.

There is a sort of groupthink, Lord of the Flies kind of behaviour at DKos over certain issues that absolutely makes me nauseated.

So come on Chris. Condescend to me a little more about how my issues and concerns are the stuff of typical "flame wars." Otherwise I met get uppity and begin to think my values and opinions matter.

World Destruction

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

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This is a world destruction
Your life ain't nothing
The human race is becoming a disgrace
The rich get richer
The poor are getting poorer
Fascist, chauvinistic government fools

People, Moslems, Christians and Hindus
Are in a time zone just searching for the truth
Who are you to think you're a superior race?
Facing forth your everlasting doom

We are Time Zone
We've come to drop a bomb on you

World destruction, kaboom, kaboom, kaboom!

Public Image Limited and Afrika Bambaataa circa 1984, the heart of the Reagan era, and more timely now than ever. For months now that song has been in my head like an unshakable commercial jingle. With every story I read on the economy, for instance, I hear the plaintiff whine of John Lydon, "The rich get richer, The poor are ge'in' poorer."

As I've noted in earlier entries, the wealth gap has been increasing steadily over the past 30 years, but the rise of the American aristocracy has been given a substantial boost by Bush Administration policies and the Republican takeover of all the levers of government. Management does set the tone, after all, and one need look no further than the way our CEO President captains his own ship to see evidence of his contempt for working stiffs.

President Bush’s most senior aides -- the ones who hold the coveted title of "assistant to the president" -- recently received a $4,200 cost-of-living bump-up in compensation and now earn a top pay rate of $165,200, according to an internal White House list of staff salaries. The list was compiled by the administration for the year that ended June 30 and is displayed both alphabetically, and by dollar ranking, below. Those at the bottom of the White House staff pay scale -- the folks answering phones and responding to the president’s mail, for example -- remain stuck at last year’s pay floor of $30,000, according to a year-to-year comparison of White House data obtained by National Journal.

I noticed the other day that the Washington Post has noticed the income disparity in its own backyard. In the DC area, they note that the "Well-Paid Benefit Most As Economy Flourishes." Well no kidding.

Wages are rising more than twice as fast for highly paid workers in the Washington area as they are for low-paid workers, an analysis of federal data by The Washington Post shows.

That means the spoils of the region's economic expansion are going disproportionately to workers who are already well-paid, widening a gap between rich and poor in a place where it is already wider than in most of the country.

Molly Ivins points out that the cruel impact of Bush's policies and determination to make the poor more "self-sufficient" are beginning to become very apparent.

Anyone who doesn't think this is a country where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer needs to check the numbers -- this is Bush country, where a rising tide lifts all yachts.

According to the current issue of Mother Jones:

  • One in four U.S. jobs pays less than a poverty-level income.

  • Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has risen steadily. Now, 13 percent -- 37 million Americans -- are officially poor.

  • Bush's tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those making $1 million are saved $42,700.

And yesterday the New York Times editorial board took the piss out Bush's tax revenue triumph.

Much of the increase in tax receipts is from corporate profits, high-income investors and super high-earning executives, sources that are just as unpredictable as the financial markets to which they’re inevitably linked.

So, the revenue surge is neither a sign that the tax cuts are working nor of sustainable economic growth. A growing number of economists, most prominently from the Congressional Budget Office, point out that upsurges in revenue are also the result of growing income inequality in the United States, an observation that is consistent with mounting evidence of a rapidly widening gap between the rich and everyone else. As corporations and high- income Americans claim ever more of the economic pie, revenues rise, even if there’s no increase in overall economic growth. [emphasis added]

I caught a few minutes of "Hardball" yesterday -- a few minutes is about all I can generally stand. I always get a charge out of listening to a bunch of overpaid TV pundits discussing why average Americans are so down on the economy when it's growing so well. Maybe, Chris Matthews posited, it's because the Iraq war is making everyone feel pessimistic about everything. To his credit, David Gergen pointed out repeatedly that it depends on whether you're part of the investor class or not, and that average Americans really aren't enjoying the benefits of economic expansion. He was a voice of reason in an otherwise surreal discussion. For some reason this exchange has not, as yet, been included in the official transcript for yesterday's show, but others like it aren't hard to find. It's become a running narrative amongst the well-heeled, made very evident in the pondering of the six figure earning punditocracy. They all seem baffled that average folks with stagnant wages, looming threats of lay-offs, and declining health and pension benefits, aren't feeling more upbeat. Becoming a disgrace indeed!