Is There a Blessing for the Czar?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

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Rabbi: May God bless and keep the Czar...
far away from us!

-- A Fiddler on the Roof

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Nope. You just can't make this stuff up.

Supreme Court to Whistleblowers: Vaffanculo!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

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The Supreme Court dealt a massive blow to free speech today when it ruled that whistleblowers could not seek recompense for punitive actions, abridging their First Amendment rights. From the Christian Science Moniter:

Government employees do not enjoy free-speech protection against being disciplined for exposing official misconduct at work.

In an important decision that will make it more difficult for some government whistle-blowers, the US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that public workers who make allegations of misconduct in official reports and in work-related statements may be disciplined for their speech without violating First Amendment protections.

The case which allowed the high court to establish this precedent centered around what may have been an illegally obtained warrant. In a time when serious questions about our civil liberties, particularly those pertaining to the Fourth Amendment which protects us from search and seizure without probable cause, the attitude from the newly configured court is especially chilling.

The 5-to-4 decision came in the case of Richard Ceballos, a supervising district attorney in Los Angeles. Mr. Ceballos had raised questions in a memo about whether a deputy sheriff had lied to obtain a search warrant. Ceballos later testified for defense attorneys who were attacking the validity of the search warrant and seeking to have the case against their client dismissed.

Other prosecutors in Ceballos's office disagreed with his assessment, and a trial judge ruled the case could go forward.

Ceballos was reassigned. He later filed a federal lawsuit saying his supervisers demoted him in retaliation for his memo and testimony on the search-warrant issue.

Today the Supreme Court gave carte blanche to government employers to fire, demote, or otherwise punish eployees who raise questions about the possible wrong-doing of public servants. Writing for a majority Justice Anthony Kennedy determined:

"When public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, [they] are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline."

Not surprisingly the majority of five included the usual suspects and our newest appointments: Justice Samuel Alito and the freakishly Damien-like Chief Justice John Roberts.

In his dissenting opinion Justice David Souter wrote:

"But I would hold that private and public interests in addressing official wrongdoing and threats to health and safety can outweigh the government's stake in the efficient implementation of policy."

When those interests do outweigh the government's stake, Souter writes, "public employees who speak on these matters in the course of their duties should be eligible to claim First Amendment protection."

Greenspan Shrugged

Sunday, May 28, 2006

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In February of 2004, then Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan stunned the financial community when he inexplicably began extolling the virtues of adjustable-rate mortgages. Many financial advisors and economists sounded the alarm bell. Said Axel Merk of Merk Fund:

In a speech at the Credit Union National Association, Greenspan today said that homeowners "might have saved tens of thousands of dollars had they held adjustable-rate mortgages rather than fixed-rate mortgages during the past decade." He continued: "American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage-product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage."

Short-term or variable rate mortgages are the better deal in an environment with sinking interest rates, such as what we had in the past decade. However, as the Bank of England has warned, many consumers are not aware of the risks posed of short-term debt exposure in a rising interest rate environment.

There are already numerous variable and short-term instruments available for the sophisticated (or naive) homeowners. Greenspan's speech is an encouragement to use these short-term instruments. As the Wall Street Journal comments, "It is almost unheard of for an official of the central bank to offer advice on interest rates, over which it has enormous influence."

We would go much further than this: unless Greenspan clarifies his comments, he must resign...

Chicago Sun-Times collumnist Terry Savage warned:

Greenspan has a track record of forecasting mistakes. For instance, in 1990 he said, "I see no recession on the horizon." That was just before a very tough recession. Also of note, in the early 1970's, Greenspan went on record as saying there was no reason for gold to trade over $32 an ounce. Gold subsequently soared over $800 an ounce.

Every forecaster makes mistakes. But now Greenspan is advising homeowners to play the interest-rate market by taking on adjustable-rate mortgages. He also stated that he's not worried about American household balance sheets, in spite of record bankruptcies, because rising real estate prices bolster consumer finances. That's the logic that produced the stock market bubble.

What if Mr. Greenspan is wrong again? What if interest rates rise? Home values will fall. And the burden of adjustable-rate mortgages will be huge.

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman expressed concern:

A number of analysts have accused Mr. Greenspan of fostering a debt bubble in recent years, just as they accuse him of feeding the stock bubble during the 1990's. Just two months ago, Mr. Greenspan went out of his way to emphasize the financial benefits of adjustable-rate, as opposed to fixed-rate, mortgages. Let's hope that not too many families regarded that as useful advice.

Well it appears that too many families did. Now, not even two and a half years later, foreclosures are sky-rocketing. From MSNBC:

“It's been just like a roller coaster,” Bridget [Edwards] says. “Our payments have been just up and down.”

Up and down, from $1,300 a month to more than $2,000.

The reason?

“We have an adjustable-rate mortgage,” she explains. “I really didn't know it would change like this.”

Today, foreclosure looms over their $129,000 home. That’s a problem facing a growing number of Americans, who are finding themselves one crisis away from financial ruin. RealtyTrac, an industry organization that maintains a nationwide database of foreclosures, says mortgage defaults between January and March of this year numbered 323,102 compared with 188,122 during the same period last year — an increase of 72 percent. [emphasis added]

Indianapolis leads the nation, with one out of every 69 homes in foreclosure. Atlanta follows closely at 1 in 70 homes. Then Dallas — where the Edwardses live — at 1 in 99. Memphis is fourth at 1 in 101. Denver rounds out the top five at 1 in 105.

Arianna Huffington once suggested that Randian, free-market fundamentalists like Greenspan sleep with copies of "Atlas Shrugged" under their pillows. I wonder how he sleeps at all.

The Soft Bigotry of High Expectations

Saturday, May 27, 2006

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Being a member of the better sex is exhausting. The double duty of upholding the moral standards of both women and men wears on a girl. Being a bastion of such rectitude, I take it a little personally when someone like Newsweek's Mark Starr bemoans the failings of my sisters to loft society into a higher stage of evolution.

Starr rhapsodizes:

Once upon a time, the dream of the feminist movement was one of equal opportunity. They didn't want to be like men, just to have the same chances. There was an implication, a faith inherent in that aspiration, that not only could they perform the same jobs, master the same subjects and play the same games but that they would do it in a fashion that might be better for our society. The conceit was that they would imbue all they touched with a women's sensibility, which would be more nuanced, more empathetic and, ultimately, more humane.

It falls to women to create this utopia because men are our lessers. Starr shares a bit of his thinly-veiled, masculine self-loathing:

I grew up in an extended family dominated by males and one didn't have to be an Einstein to recognize our multitude of emotional shortcomings. Fortunately, the Starr men were just smart enough to marry up and improve the family gene pool. Still, trust me on this: by virtually any standard other than sports trivia, Scrabble and the ability to grill medium rare, I don't measure up to any of the following people—my mother, my wife, my daughter.

But Starr has learned to his chagrin that women can be jerks too. And now, even that glorious symbol, the female athlete, has been tarnished by the behavior of the Northwestern University women's soccer team, revealed for all the world on The debauched, hazing ritual was indeed un-lady-like.

Perhaps women's athletics remained one of my last illusions. I certainly have none about big-time men's collegiate sports. While I don't pretend to be immune to their entertainment value, I am convinced they corrupt the entire system. But I hoped that women's collegiate sports might prove to be something better, something that perhaps reflected the legacy of the 1999 Women's World Cup.

What people like Starr don't seem to understand is that casting women as superior is as objectifying as casting us as inferior. It also gives men interminable latitude to drag their knuckles across the floor, revel in sexually degrading behavior, and generally behave like animals.

So when young men like the members of the Duke lacrosse team hire strippers, hurl racist epithets at them, and otherwise engage in drunken and disorderly conduct, they're just boys being boys. So typical is this behavior, apparently, that their counterparts on the Duke women's lacrosse team have seen fit to wear armbands proclaiming their innocence. As Salon's Kevin Sweeney points out, whether or not they are guilty of rape is for a jury to decide, but to call them "innocent" is a stretch. Says Sweeney:

For women who step forward to file an accusation of rape, it is often the hardest thing they will ever do in their lives. By making such a public stand of unity before the facts come out, by saying so clearly that the accused is a liar, the women of Duke's lacrosse team won't make it any easier for other women to step forward.

Yep. Sometimes women are jerks.

Fineman and the Beginner's Mind

Friday, May 26, 2006

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One almost has to admire the Zen-like simplicity of Howard Fineman's mind. Surely each moment is new for him. He seems blissfully unencumbered by the travails of history, or even, of recent months. Fineman lives completely in the "now" of each dawning news event.

If you want a date to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush era in American life, you may as well make it this one: May 25, 2006. The Enron jury in Houston didn't just put the wood to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. The jurors took a chainsaw to the moral claims of the Texas-based corporate culture that had helped fuel the rise to power of President George W. Bush.

Those of us more attached to the events of the last few years would be more likely to mark the decline of the presidency by things like a war of escalating tragedy three years after Bush declared "Mission Accomplished," the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, a speech on immigration that managed to offend Republicans and Democrats alike, the collapse of his grand vision for converting Social Security to private accounts, the squandering of international good will after 9/11 to the extent that America is now reviled around the world, the David Copperfield-like magic trick that turned an inherited surplus into the largest projected deficit in US history which continues to be fed by endless tax cuts for the wealthy, etc. etc. etc... Americans have retained knowledge of these occurrences even if Fineman hasn't and the demonstration of their impact is the death spiral of Bush's poll numbers, which have wallowed in the 30s for months.

Even though Fineman has chosen in the present moment to mark Bushco's demise by the happy event of Lay and Skilling's convictions, he wishes into the cornfield the enmeshment of this Administration with the machinations of Enron. Says Fineman:

First, caveats. There's no evidence that the president or anyone in his entourage knew about or benefited financially from the house of cards that Lay and Skilling built—and that a federal jury now has found to have been an edifice of fraud.

The Bush Crowd was old school in the energy bidness and viewed Lay & Co. as hustling parvenus who had no real interest in finding and pumping oil—what real men in Texas do.

Most of what Enron concocted was assembled in the go-go Clinton years. Bush's idea of an oilman was his old Bible-study buddy, the upright, clean-as-a-whistle Don Evans. As the Enron scam was falling apart, Lay frantically sought help from Evans—by then the Commerce secretary—among others (including Democrats such as former Clinton Treasury secretary Robert Rubin). He got nowhere, and had the chutzpah to be bitter about it.

It must be lovely to enjoy a mind so untroubled by facts. For a record more grounded in reality, Robert Parry has a memory span longer than the single beat of a hummingbird's wing.

Contrary to the official story, the Bush administration did almost whatever it could to help Enron as the company desperately sought cash to cover mounting losses from its off-the-books partnerships, a bookkeeping black hole that was sucking Enron toward bankruptcy and scandal.

As Enron's crisis worsened through the first nine months of Bush's presidency, Lay secured Bush's help in three key ways:

--Bush personally joined the fight against imposing caps on the soaring price of electricity in California at a time when Enron was artificially driving up the price of electricity by manipulating supply. Bush's resistance to price caps bought Enron extra time to gouge hundreds of millions of dollars from California's consumers.

--Bush granted Lay broad influence over the development of the administration's energy policies, including the choice of key regulators to oversee Enron's businesses. The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was replaced in 2001 after he began to delve into Enron's complex derivative-financing schemes.

--Bush had his NSC staff organize that administration-wide task force to pressure India to accommodate Enron's interests in selling the Dabhol generating plant for as much as $2.3 billion.

That's just the overview. For an article rich in detail on an effort on Dabhol that reached all the way the Vice President's office, Bush's complicity in extorting California, and Lay's involvement in the shaping of Federal energy policy, read the entire article here.

All Interest Is Self Interest

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

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The curmudgeonly Jack Cafferty states the obvious once again:

Let's see now. Congress seems to think it's fine for the NSA to spy on all of us without any sort of a warrant whatsoever. But it's not OK for the FBI to conduct a raid on Congressman William Jefferson's office with a warrant after finding 90 grand in his freezer and after waiting weeks for him to comply with a subpoena to turn over evidence in an ongoing corruption investigation, evidence which he has refused so far to turn over.

Now, members of both parties are all worked up about this. They positively have their shorts in a knot over this. You see, they want the Capitol police to handle their stuff, you know, the same ones who failed to give Congressman Patrick Kennedy a breathalyzer after Kennedy crashed his car into a stationary barrier a couple of weeks ago. Instead, they just drove Kennedy home and said, "Good night, Congressman, and have a nice evening." You see, the Capitol police answer to Congress. The speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert even complained personally to President Bush about the raid on Congressman Jefferson's office. It's believed this was the first raid of a congressman's office in 219 years. Well, judging by the reaction on Capitol Hill, maybe the FBI ought to raid their offices more often. What is it do you suppose they're hiding in those offices?

Once again, Congress is demanding a different set of standards for themselves.
Hypocritical? Congressmen? You don't say. Well perhaps Hastert's sudden, unexpected foray into civil rights advocacy has something to do with this:

"Whether they like it or not, members of Congress, including Hastert, are under investigation," one federal official said tonight.

The investigation of Hastert’s relationship with Abramoff is in the early stages, according to these officials, and could eventually conclude that Abramoff’s information was unfounded.

Officials said the next logical investigative step would be for the FBI to seek a wide range of documents from the members of Congress named by Abramoff, including letters and business documents.

Hell's Grannies

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This is a frightened city. Over these houses,
over these streets
hangs a pall of fear.
Fear of a new kind of violence
which is
terrorizing the city. Yes, gangs of old ladies

attacking defenceless fit young men.

-- Monty Python's Flying Circus

Well now I've seen everything. Two elderly women have been charged with running life insurance scams on homeless men and running them down with their cars. That's right. Grannies are rolling bums for money. From Time:

In a shocking, real-life update of Arsenic and Old Lace, two elderly women were arrested last week in Los Angeles for taking out life insurance policies on homeless men and then bumping them off. Literally. The two victims were killed in hit-and-run accidents after Olga Rutterschmidt, 73, and her friend Helen Golay, 75, allegedly took out at least 19 life insurance policies in the men's names. The women had collected more than $2 million before they were arraigned last week on eight counts of federal mail fraud. With the investigation still ongoing, police say they expect the suspects will also be charged with murder or with conspiracy to murder.

According to prosecutors, the women obtained life insurance policies for the homeless men through several companies, including Mutual of Omaha and Monumental Life. After the men had signed the policies, authorities allege the women provided the transients with food and shelter for a little over two years before mowing them down to collect the payments. The waiting period appears to stem from California insurance law that allows companies to contest new policies only within two years of issuing them.

Good Morning Richard Cohen

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Originally published: Friday, May 05, 2006

Lt. Steven Hauk: Sir, in my heart, I know I'm funny.
-- Good Morning Vietnam

"First, let me state my credentials," writes the Washington Post's Richard Cohen. "I am a funny guy." Such arrogance does not really invite further indulgence, but somehow I made it through the rest of his column. It only gets worse. Stephen Colbert, veteran of the legendary Second City and star of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," whose list of credits includes, "The Daily Show," "Strangers with Candy," "Exit 57," and Robert Smigel's "The Ambiguously Gay Duo"... not funny. And Cohen knows funny.

Not only wasn't the accomplished, comic actor, writer, and producer funny, he was "rude," and "a bully." Writes Cohen:

Rudeness means taking advantage of the other person's sense of decorum or tradition or civility that keeps that other person from striking back or, worse, rising in a huff and leaving. The other night, that person was George W. Bush.

Riiiiight... A President who has exempted himself from over 750 laws, including a ban on torture; who has authorized wiretapping of private citizens without warrants; who lied this nation into a war that has now cost the lives of over 2400 service people and countless thousands of Iraqis; who entertained at this same event two years ago with his own comedic bit about looking under chairs, tables, and behind drapes for the non-existent WMD that were the pretext for that war... that President was held captive by rules of etiquette. Apparently we've been going about this thing all wrong. It's not Congress or due process of law we should be appealing to to rein this White House in. It's Miss Manners.

Lt. Steven Hauk: Sir, the man has got an irreverent tendency.
He did a very off-color parody of former VP Nixon.
General: I thought it was hilarious.
Lt. Steven Hauk: Respectfully, sir, the former VP
is a good man and a decent man.
General: Bullshit! I know Nixon personally.
He lugs a trainload of shit behind him that could
fertilize the Sinai. Why, I wouldn't buy an apple
from the son of a bitch and I consider him a
good, close, personal friend.

Cohen would have us know that there was nothing courageous about Stephen Colbert's performance.

His defenders -- and they are all over the blogosphere -- will tell you he spoke truth to power. This is a tired phrase, as we all know, but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions, consequences -- maybe even death in some countries. When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or -- if you're at work -- take away your office.

What then, I wonder, is Cohen's excuse for reciting White House spin without question or scrutiny for the past five years? Cohen may consider himself the superior wit, but I for one think his drooling sycophant shtick is getting old.

Colbert took a swipe at Bush's Iraq policy, at domestic eavesdropping, and he took a shot at the news corps for purportedly being nothing more than stenographers recording what the Bush White House said. He referred to the recent staff changes at the White House, chiding the media for supposedly repeating the cliche "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" when he would have put it differently: "This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg." A mixed metaphor, and lame as can be.

I have a BA in English. That's my credential. Mr. Cohen, that's not a mixed metaphor.

Lt. Steven Hauk: "Good morning, Vietnam."
What the heck is that supposed to mean?
Private Abersold: I don't know, Lieutenant,
I guess it means good morning, Vietnam.

Kos Foolishness Exposed in Salon

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Originally published: Tuesday, May 02, 2006

As I wrote days ago, Kos has been rallying his forces against the Sierra Club for daring to endorse an environmentally friendly Republican. Now his embarrassing tirade has landed on the pages of Salon. As I explained in my earlier entry, Kos's position on this reveals him as the authoritarian, anti-democratic bully he is. It also shows him to be a poor political strategist.

Kos would like to relegate issue groups like the Sierra Club and NARAL to props for the Democratic Party. He thinks they should serve the Party. Whom, then, does the Party serve? What is to motivate Democrats to consider the agendas of organizations who sit squarely in their hip-pocket? Is Kos really so ignorant of the voting records of Democrats that he thinks they'll just automatically champion women's rights and environmental protections? Kos expects us to trust that even though some Democrats are anti-choice and consistently vote to allow ANWR drilling, that if the party retakes the House and Senate, they will control the agenda and do the right thing. Was he asleep in the year plus when Jim Jeffords defection allowed the Democrats to retake Senate? Beltway Democrats had an opportunity to check the unbridled aggression of the Bush Administration, insist on facts regarding the march into what is likely the greatest military blunder in US history, and prove their worthiness to maintain control of the Senate. Why on earth should any progressive believe that they will not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory once again?

It would be a very gullible issue group who put blind trust in Democratic leadership. Why would a group like NARAL want to be a cog in a machine that would replace one anti-choice Senator, Rick Santorum, with another, Bob Casey. But those are the options Democrats are handing Pennsylvania voters, by throwing their weight behind the backwards son of a former Governor, putting name recognition before principle. Someone has to put the issues first and thank goodness the Sierra Club has the courage to do so.

As quoted in Salon, Carl Pope explains, "It is absolutely vital that environmentalism be nonpartisan." Well no kidding. They would be fools to trust the future of the environment of the mostly falling fortunes of the Democratic Party.

As Martha Marks, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection, further explains, "If the environmental community turns its back on Lincoln Chafee, who is one of the strongest environmental leaders of our day -- Democrat or Republican -- then it will have no credibility with any Republicans going forward…. The only time you make any long-term, permanent progress on anything in this country is when you have bipartisan support." Pay attention Markos. That is a strategy for success. These issue groups aren't so dumb as you think. They are actually considering the possibility that the Democratic Party will continue its losing streak, a fairly safe bet, and putting the advancement of their cause first.

It's that kind of bipartisan approach that makes victories like this one possible.

Here's the latest on the battle over the refuge:

Thanks to the heroic effort of 29 moderate Republicans (who were encouraged, no doubt, by the many letters they received from activists like you), the House of Representatives decided to strip from its budget reconciliation bill language that would have authorized oil and gas drilling in the refuge. The House bill narrowly passed, which sets up a showdown with the Senate, whose version of the bill includes Arctic drilling.

As this issue goes to the Senate, where Democrats are currently in the minority, Republican opposition to ANWR drilling is crucial. It has thus far been blocked only because there is bipartisan support for the environment. Democrats Akaka, Inouye, and Landrieu have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to give the entire candy store to the oil companies as in this March 2005 vote, which was only blocked because of Republicans crossing party lines. Would that happen if environmental groups only approached Republicans with sticks and no carrots?

Kos may think politics are a game and that what's important is what team jersey you're wearing, but some of us care about the future of the planet, a woman's right to choose, and host of other issues that must transcend petty gamesmanship. Especially when the Democrat team keeps handing off the ball to Republicans and walking them walking them into the end zone.

Kos can promise all he wants that, "when Democrats regain power, choice, the environment, worker's rights -- the whole gamut -- will be protected." But I don't like the odds and I think his despised "single issue" groups are wise to hedge their bets.

Kos Takes Sierra Club to the Woodshed

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Originally published: Friday, April 28, 2006

Readers of the Daily Kos, at least those who read Markos's blog entries, are by now quite familiar with his disdain for single interest "silos." Why, oh, why he opines, won't organizations like NARAL and the Sierra Club get on board with the Democratic Party and stop endorsing Republican candidates like Lincoln Chafee? Yesterday brought another tirade against the environmental advocacy group for endorsing the moderate Republican. Kos's logic is fairly simple. Endorsing any Republican, even one with a voting record consistent with the interest group's goals, assists the Republican Party to maintain their congressional majorities. The Republican Party as a whole does not further those same goals. Therefore, to endorse the individual Republican candidate, is "stupid." In other words, Kos wants non-partisan organizations to become nakedly partisan.

I wrote yesterday how Lincoln Chafee repayed the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters for their endorsement by failing to block the nomination of a polluter lobbyist to handle clean air issues at the EPA. And this polluter lobbyist is really, really bad.

I emailed the Sierra Club's national press secretary, David Willett, and asked him if the Sierra Club was still happy with the Chafee endorsement despite the vote, and the response:
Absolutely. If we only endorsed candidates who voted with us 100 percent of the time, we wouldn't support very many candidates, including many Democrats. Chafee IS an environmental champion and we support him.
Nice. Chafee enables 30-40 years of anti-environment judges and gives a rabid polluter the keys to our clean air office, and he's a "champion" of the environment.

I wish conservative issue groups were this stupid. And I wish ours were as smart as theirs.

According to Kos, Republicans have us coming and going, in terms of message discipline, centralized authority, and dogmatic adherence to the party line. Well, of course they do. They're Republicans. They're essentially autocratic. What Kos demonstrates with these little diatribes is that he is too. His formula for "winning" is to adopt the same "with us or against us" mentality that has defined the Bush Presidency. NARAL and the Sierra Club dare to endorse a Republican candidate, they have become the enemy. They are "stupid." They are "morons." If this kind of infantile name calling and bullying sounds familiar, it should. It's how Republican hard-liners talk. Kos increasingly reveals himself as a poor man's Tom DeLay. The only thing standing between Kos and a K-Street Project like racket is his current lack of power and resources.

Taking another page from the Republican playbook, Kos also plays fast and loose with the facts to make his case. In another recent tongue lashing of the Sierra Club, he does his best impression of Ann Coulter, by citing a source that was, itself, wrong about Chafee's voting record.

This may very well be the most moronic move by any organization this election cycle.
U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican senators in the country. But Wednesday, the national Sierra Club came out in support of him.

The Sierra Club is endorsing Chafee even though the group gave the senator only a 20 percent rating in its environmental scorecard in 2004.

The club said a vote for Chafee is better than a vote for a Democrat because of his position as a dissident within the majority party.

Um, guys over at the Sierra Club? Yeah, you, Carl Pope? How has Bill Frist and the Republican Congress been for your agenda? You know, the guys that Chafee enabled? And how was his 20 percent rating? That's all it takes to get an endorsement these days? Are you really that easy?

Of course, the idea would be to make Republicans the minority party. But good luck seeing your agenda continue to be demolished by the GOP leadership Chafee will continue to enable.

A 20 percent rating on environmental issues? Endorsing such a candidate would indeed indicate a serious lapse in judgment on the part of the Sierra Club, if it were true. But it's not.

Carl Pope, President of the Sierra Club, explains:

Update: The Sierra Club's endorsement was criticized in the blogosphere, where an inaccurate article misleadingly stated that Senator Chafee only had a 20% environmental rating from us. This number came from an article on a local Rhode Island TV station's website. The station has since removed that number. The League of Conservation Voters Scorecard currently ranks Senator Chafee at 90%.

Member of Daily Kos slouise217 exposes the erroneous reporting of the source Kos cites without scrutiny.

I looked up Chafee's record

In 2006 (yeah, only 2 votes so far)

100% pro-environmentalist

In 2005, on 19 votes

84% pro-environmentalist

In 2004, on 5 votes

20% pro-environmentalist

In 2003, on 20 votes

50% pro-environmnetalist

In 2002, on 14 votes

79% pro-environmentalist

In 2001, on 7 votes

57% pro-environmentalist

In 2000, on 7 votes

100% pro-environmentalist

In 1999, on 6 votes

50% pro-environmentalist

That's as far back as it goes.

So the reporter of this story seems to have deceptively quoted only one year of Chafee's record, and that year is his worst year.

Now, I don't know how other politicians typically do on these votes - the Sierra Club website's VoteWatch didn't seem to have an easy way to compare Senators side by side. But overall, Chafee's record is that on 80 votes in the past 7 years, he voted pro-environmentalist on 67% of the votes.

I am NOT saying that the Sierra Club shoulda given him ANY donations.

I'm just saying that the 20% rating, from one year, is not an accurate picture - it's not even from the last full year that he voted in the Senate. In 2005, he had an 84% pro-environmentalist record, and counting back from today through 2004, his record is a 73% positive rating.

Like I said, I don't know what rating most Senators get. I don't know what a good rating is for a Republican, since I didn't quickly find a site that ranked them like that, but it sure seems to me like this was a questionable presentation since it only mentions that one really bad year for him.

I guess slouise217 never got the memo about not confusing Kossacks with facts. Daily Kos enforcer Armando is quick to dismiss her call for credible journalism by redirecting the issue to the party line:


The Sierra Club does not consider the Majority Leader vote.


The most important vote on the environment in every Congress is the leadership vote.

Morons that they are they dont consider it.

As I explained in an older entry, Kos does not consider himself ideological. His entire focus is on crafting a winning agenda. I would go a step further and say that he lacks the sense of civic responsibility that should lie at the heart of politics. Like the current, eerily monolithic Republican Party machine, Kos has no love for small "d" democracy. Ed in Montana explains:

I have no trouble

With folks thinking that the decesion to endorse Chaffe was the wrong one. What I have trouble with is Kossacks not understanding that its one of the Club's strengths that they allow, and even require, that local members vote on whom to endorse in their own state. It's called grassroots democracy, which sometimes gives results that I don't like.

If folks don't like it, join the Rhode Island chapter of the Club and work to reverse it.

Bloggers should look closely a DKos's track record for winning endorsed races first (2 won and 13 lost) before casting the first stone at other political strategies.

So, not only does Kos expect special interest groups to sacrifice their ideals on the altar of team loyalty, his own losing streak rivals that of the Democratic Party he hopes to re-envision. Kos's entire winning strategy seems to be to browbeat people into a "Democratic Party right or wrong" loyalty. He dangles in front of reluctant donkeys the carrot of endless promises that a Democratic majority will advance all progressive causes. Two words: Zell Miller.

As Will Rogers famously quipped, "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." Democrats will never operate with the hierarchical discipline of Republicans. They can, however, be counted on to vote with Republicans on enough issues to gradually cede all power to the statist, corporatist agenda of the radical right. If anything, we need grass roots, small "d" democratic organizations to push harder against a Democratic Party that has come unmoored from the concerns of constituents. It is only through direct citizen action that a progressive agenda has any hope of moving forward. As kaleidescope points out, the Democratic Party, without the pressure of grass roots agitation and independent, non-partisan organizations, has never been and will never be an agent of progressive, social change.

So By Kos's Logic

The mid-sixties NAACP should've endorsed segregationist Democrats in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

Editor's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I was banned from the Daily Kos. Said banning is explained here. I suppose some might say that my criticism of the agenda and social climate of the Daily Kos is just sour grapes. It's not.

Of Jocks and Rape

Monday, May 22, 2006

Comments: (5)

Originally published: Saturday, April 22, 2006

I have stayed out of the Duke Lacrosse rape story. I have no capacity for journalistic dispassion on this issue for reasons that should become clear as of this writing. My associate the Blogging Curmudgeon emailed me this CNN story this morning and I found myself staring at the smug visage of Reade Seligmann for several uncomfortable moments: handsome, entitled, determined, all-American, boy-next-door. Suddenly, I was hurled back in time to my own high school days; days I prefer to think of as long ago and far away.

In my case it was the star of our high school basketball team who I knew better as an altar boy at my church. He was handsome, poised, intelligent, and we all knew, destined for greatness. When I first heard, through the rumor mill, that a girl had accused him of date rape, I simply did not believe it. No one did. We all sounded much like the good reverend quoted by CNN:

"Knowing Reade Seligmann as well as we do here at Delbarton, I believe him innocent of the charges," said the Rev. Luke L. Travers, headmaster at Seligmann's $22,500-a-year high school.

It was unimaginable, simply unimaginable. I was not a stupid girl, by any stretch. Even then, I was feminist enough to know how unlikely it was that a girl would subject herself to the consequences of a rape allegation if it were untrue. But I didn't know this girl. I knew Mike and fairly well. So, like the rest of our humble congregation, I dismissed the allegations even before the courts did.

A few months after the whole thing had blown over, Mike and I took a drive one night after a youth group meeting. I had scored a little pot and we decided to sneak off to a secluded spot in the woods to smoke a joint. And Mike made a pass. I was incredibly flattered. I was an awkward girl, woefully inexperienced with boys, and I did not think of myself as terribly pretty. Mike was a golden boy, the kind of kid I felt fortunate even wanted to be my friend, let alone kiss me.

As suddenly as it started, it all went horribly wrong. He tore at my clothes and pinned my arms to the ground. In a split second, he became someone I did not recognize; a young man possessed by rage and brutal determination. Never in a million years could I have imagined that such violent depravity resided underneath that cool exterior.

He left me in front of my house, bruised, grass stained, and bleeding. Mostly I felt numb. I suppose that was partly due to the fact that I was still pretty high. In a strange way, I have always been grateful that I had smoked so much dope that night. In truth, I had been on something of a bender in the days leading up to that evening, so I was really pretty wasted. I was looking at the world through waxed paper, and maybe, just maybe, that lessened the impact of both the assault and the disillusionment.

I never reported the incident to the police. I am embarrassed to admit that, in part, I still considered Mike a friend and didn't want to get him into any more trouble. We actually did remain friends and he later apologized for what he knew was inappropriate behavior, but in the course of the apology, he made yet another attempt to rip my pants off. A knee to the groin stopped him that time, but it also ended the friendship.

In time shock gave way to bitter hatred. I despised Mike. He knew it and he knew why. Yet he always exuded that same sense of calm, smooth detachment. I secretly marveled at his ability to project such an air of moral superiority, knowing, as I did, the monster that remained so well hidden.

Some time later I confessed the whole thing to his then girlfriend. Monica was a lovely girl from a good family with her whole life ahead of her. Word was they were considering marriage. So I took her aside her and told her that the allegations of date rape – they were starting to pile up – were true, and that I knew this because I was one of his victims. Then I knew, at last, what it felt like to be that anonymous girl who I myself had dismissed as a disgruntled liar not so long before.

The names in this story have been changed to protect the guilty.

Caitlin's Hellish Crusade

Comments: (0)

Originally published: Thursday, April 20, 2006

So many times I have opined like Morticia in "Adams Family Values":

I'm just like every modern woman trying to have it all. A loving husband, a family. I only wish I had more time to seek out the dark forces and join their hellish crusade.

In other words I want to be Caitlin Flanagan. I want to be the kind of stay-at-home mom who has a full staff, so that I have more time for idle pursuits like being published in prestigious magazines and locking down book deals. If I don't get a nanny soon to take my daughter to the park and bandage her scraped knees, I'm not sure I can even give this little blog my all.

For example I've been trying to write this entry for three days but the laundry was piling up, the kitchen counters needed a good bleaching, and don't even get me started on the Sisyphean effort of loading and unloading the dishwasher. All that and my child actually requires meals on occasion. No really. She does. The demands of motherhood are manifold.

I was going to chuck the idea and gaffe off the furor surrounding Flanagan's newest collection of essays, "To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife." But then I saw her on the "Colbert Report" last night. What can I say except, OH MY GOD! I LOVED HER SHOES!! A delicious little pair of fuck-me pumps that reminded me, once again, of the important things in life. Things like nurturing children, supervising the baking of cookies, and giving my loving breadwinner a proper schtupping.

My husband makes a decent living and I don't have to consider a "real" job. Being a woman of letters isn't real work, of course, but it is a little time consuming. To properly undertake such leisurely pursuits does require a support system of some kind.

Caitlin Flanagan has renewed my hope and inspiration. There's just no reason any relatively attractive woman can't have it all: a wealthy husband, a lovely home, a maid, a nanny, a little writing hobby, a contributing editorship, and the opportunity to flirt shamelessly with Stephen Colbert on national television. The rewards of traditional values are more than worth the sacrifices.

There are those, like Joan Walsh of Salon, who claim Flanagan is a tad hypocritical and manipulative.

Everyone knows Caitlin Flanagan isn't a stay-at-home mother, she's an accomplished writer who plays a stay-at-home mom in magazines and on TV. Right? Part of why I've never gotten upset about Flanagan's pro-hearth and home shtick is that I've seen it as just that, shtick. I'd read enough to know she had a full-time nanny when her twin sons were infants and she was trying to be a novelist; then she wrote about modern womanhood and family life for the Atlantic Monthly after they hit preschool; now, with her boys in grade school, she's got a great gig at the New Yorker. So how is she not a career woman who's also a mom?

I've been too busy to figure it out, since I am a career woman who's also a mom. I haven't always found time to read Flanagan's glossy essays, although I know I should, since she drives some feminist writers I admire to fits. Not me, I always said, with (dare I confess?) a semi-secret, Flanagan-like flash of self-satisfaction: I would never judge those women who are driven nuts by Flanagan, but maybe I'm just a little wiser, a little more secure in my choices, just a bit harder to rattle than they are, the poor dears.

Then I picked up Flanagan's new book, "To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife," and I lost my equanimity. It's mostly a lightly reworked compilation of her New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly essays from the last few years, but dressed up with a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger introduction blaming feminism for causing women "heartache," and a truly below-the-belt conclusion, on how surviving breast cancer confirmed Flanagan's conviction that traditional marriage and motherhood is best. I put the book aside for almost two months because even though I'm tough, I'm not tough enough to kick someone with cancer, and Flanagan deserves a kick for the dishonest and divisive gloss these new essays give the book, and her whole career. But I guess I learned something new about myself in this process: Apparently I am tough enough to kick someone with cancer, but only after feeling bad about it for a while.

One bitter feminazi even went so far as to insist that the lovely Flanagan is pulling off an even more massive deception:

Sorry to be a spoiler - and, really, that woman they hired for the author photo is gorgeous - but I finally get it: Caitlin Flanagan is actually a man! She had me going there for a while with the whole "woe is men" thing: Surely they should suffer less nagging about lunch and laundry and enjoy more conjugal hokey-pokey, right?

A profile in Elle makes her look vicious:

Driving to meet Flanagan, I call home to Brooklyn and learn that our gerbil has just died. My elder girl is a little sad, my babysitter tells me, but doing okay. My younger, barely two, doesn't know the difference. I feel a twinge of guilt for not being there, and it's the first thing I mention once Flanagan and I settle in to talk in the sunroom of her large, gracious home in L.A.'s affluent Hancock Park. What will she say, this woman who insists that children suffer if their mother works at all, who loved teaching high school English but wouldn't think of returning until her twin boys, eight years old, are in college "because I would never be away from my kids"?

"She'll grow from it," Flanagan says winningly. "Your daughter will grow from her gerbil dying while you're not there." There isn't a hint of disingenuousness in her voice; indeed, she's so earnest I worry that I've exaggerated "Gerby's" place in our hearts. Maybe she's different in person than on paper….

Midway through the interview in her home, I say that I noticed she removed the most searing line from her revised "Serfdom" essay: "When a mother works, something is lost." So, I ask her, do you stand by that line? "Yeah," Flanagan says, her voice now soft, serious. "The gerbil's dead, and you're here."

It's not surprising that Flanagan pushes buttons. Even I winced just a little at her enthusiastic agreement with Colbert's nostalgic reference to the good old days when women who declined sex with their husbands were labeled crazy and lobotomized. But I'm sure she was just being her playful, kittenish self. And I did love her shoes.

MSOC in the Washington Post

Friday, May 19, 2006

Comments: (2)

Originally published: Saturday, April 15, 2006

Well of course the mainstream media wants to cast the lefty blogosphere as turgid with impotent rage. David Finkel paints a portrait of My Left Wing's Maryscott O'Connor as a woman animated by anger and venomous hatred of Bush in today's Washington Post. But then, that's how Maryscott characterizes herself.

"It has come to the point where the worst people on Earth are running the Earth." And now, "I have become one of those people with all the bumper stickers on their car," she says. "I am this close to being one of those muttering people pushing a cart.

"I'm insane with rage and grief.

"But I also feel more connected than I ever have."

That's the beauty of Maryscott's turn in the limelight. Even Fox's John Gibson can't define Maryscott as an angry liberal. She's beaten him to it, and completely disarmed him. She dominated this interview on "The Big Story." She showed all too clearly the difference between passionate conviction and the mealy-mouthed cautiousness that has come to characterize Party insiders. Democrats in both houses of congress and throughout too much of liberal blogosphere contort themselves into increasingly unrecognizable shapes, for fear some negative sounding label might attach itself. In the process they've forgotten how stand up straight for much of anything. Good for Maryscott for reminding them how it's done.

In Other Words, Soj, You're a Fraud

Comments: (4)

Originally published: Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Soj, you are a character! I mean that literally. It seems that your identity and the particulars of your life and career came under a bit of scrutiny on both the Daily Kos and Booman Tribune. As if that weren't bad enough, the findings of these discussions found their way into the hands of your nemeses the Super Patriots. Now I find that you have penned the most bizarre mea culpa it has ever been my displeasure to read. Unfortunately, that writing raises far more questions than it answers. Soj of March 2006 writes:

The truth is that I have not always been "me", that is to say "Soj". I use a pseudonymn and protect my own privacy for a number of reasons, but how I became "Soj" involves someone who was very close to me and the idiot Super Patriots have managed to re-open that wound.

The person they say I am is "SE Reames". Just about everyone who knew him called him "Eddy" however and he was a very good friend of mine, someone I've known for over 20 years. He's not here anymore, which is why it hurts, and these bozos got their laughs off of me like they wanted to.

I don't know how Eddy had been using the internet, but I know for a long time his nickname (or "handle" as they used to call it) was Sojosoniq. That was what he called his "DJ name" because he used to spin records when he lived in Des Moines, Iowa. He never made any professional records or anything, but he used to upload his mixes onto the internet and "Sojosoniq" was his DJ name.... At some point while at my house, he showed me this DailyKos website (which by the way is the first time I'd ever heard of the word "blog"), logging on as "Soj". Why it wasn't Sojosoniq, I don't know, maybe because it was a political website and he wanted a more "serious" name. I don't know and frankly I don't care.

Soj of June 2005 wrote:

I've never done this before but I think now is as good as time as any to explain the name "soj".

First, it is most definitely inspired by the feminist Sojourner Truth, who spoke with incredible courage at a time when she was a double non-entity - both black and a woman. Her speeches and statements are online and if you look at the date she spoke them, it just amazes me that anyone could speak "truth to power" at a time when the mentality was so different.. and so hostile to what she had to say. That's real courage and it inspires me daily to stand up for and to say what's right.

Secondly, I like the second part of her name, which is "truth". And that's something that inspires me every day, to speak the truth on the issues I feel are important.

Third, the word "sojourner" comes from an old Latin root, which means someone who "sojourns", or to be a "temporary traveler". Since I've traveled all my life and been a temporary resident everywhere I've lived, I am indeed a living sojourner. It's also a semi-synonymn with the word "pilgrim" and often feel like my entire life has been a pilgrimage.

Fourth, "The Sojourner" by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, is one of the most profound and moving books I've ever read in my life. I regret to say my copy of this book is in a box in the USA now, but I've read it dozens and dozens of times and the story is in my heart if not on my bookshelf.

So were you lying then or are you lying now?

Now when you say that your long lost friend Eddy introduced you to blogs when he showed you Daily Kos -- you know, the first time you'd heard the word "blog" -- was that before or after your pursuit of Tom Tomorrow led you to the same discovery.

Seven or eight years ago I used to read a free newspaper in a midwestern city, which had what I thought was a local comic strip of biting political satire. It turns out that comic was This Modern World, distributed nationally, written by a genius who calls himself Tom Tomorrow.

Approximately three years ago, in a late-night web surfing session, I re-discovered that comic strip online and there on his site was a "blog". One thing led to another and I was soon visiting others, including DailyKos, and joined up.

So Eddy let you borrow his password and post under his name. What a guy.

So perhaps a half dozen times in 2003, if you find some ancient old comment on there under "Soj", that was me. But the vast majority of them were him. It was a fairly small website at that time and neither he nor I had any idea of what would come in the future.

The first soj diary currently listed in the Daily Kos data base, a diary entitled "What's Going on in Russia" is dated 11/1/03. I count 73 diaries in 2003, mostly on foreign affairs, and strangely, including several of the World Updates that you do to this day, under the name PDB. Is that an idea you took from the late Eddy Reames -- God rest his soul -- along with his identity?

The first comment in the data base is dated 10/14/03. I count 438 comments in 2003 under the nickname soj. I've read a number of them. The writing style is awfully similar to yours. A lot of them are in the area you take such pride in, foreign affairs. And many of them are in the threads for World Updates by soj.

And while we're on the subject of World Updates, another important point suggests itself. Your first World Update appears on Daily Kos on 11/8/03. On 11/12/03 another World Update becomes the first post on a blog then called "Flogging the Simian" now called "An American in Romania." It is the blog of someone called soj, but it appears in November of 2003; a time when you claim to have only contributed a half a dozen posts under your friend's moniker. Someone started this blog. Was it the late, great Eddy Reames, or was it you?

In an entry dated 12/31/04 you say, "I started my blog in November of 2003, covering the revolution in the Republic of Georgia." You thank the many people who helped you with Flogging the Simian.

My humble and eternal gratitude goes to: PB, BC, HH, SS, BL, RC, PF, EF, SM, CT, GB, MB, SM, EB, KC, EA, JK-S, TH-J, JG, SH, DT, VR, RYP, JT, BS, DM and last but not least, Debra Bennett. I sure hope I haven't forgotten anyone :)

You've forgotten SER, Samuel Edward Reames, your dear departed friend, who gave you your entre into the blogosphere. That's quite an oversight.

And now, according to you, you've co-opted not only the ideas, but the identity of a dead man, so you could feel close to him. That's a little creepy.

So to answer your question, at some point after his death, I was on the internet and on the DailyKos site. And partly to honor his memory and feel like a piece of him was "still there", and partly just due to laziness, I continued to use his nickname.

I'm also a little confused about this.

Idema always claims to have contacts in military intelligence. Let me tell you what a damned lie that is, because the real military intelligence contacted me two years ago asking me (in confidence) if I was Eddy Reames, etc. I had a courteous discussion with that officer and she and I have had a productive relationship ever since, but then again she is a real officer and not a blowhard show-off like Idema and the "anti-sex trafficker" crew.

Two things: 1) What exactly is the "real" military intelligence? There are 4 branches of the US military: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Each has its own intelligence division. The Coast Guard has yet another. Who contacted you? Naval Intelligence? Coast Guard Intelligence? How does your contact with this one officer give you such insight into Idema's alleged contacts? Did this officer speak for every military intelligence agency? Did they tell you that Idema had no contact with any of those agencies? 2) Being an "anti sex trafficker" is a bad thing? Who on earth do you know who is "pro sex trafficking?"

You tell us that Eddy was a pretty simple guy, and never did the exciting things that you imply you have done.

He never had anything but civilian, unclassified jobs at ordinary places of employment like a hardware store.

The outrageous nature of your career claims have been well covered elsewhere. Are you now attempting to throw a little sand in our eyes and obscure your job record once again? Is this you or the late Eddy Reames describing menial work on 12/4/03?

As for being "distracted" by a menial job, I rather find that menial jobs pay me a little but don't ask me to think too much. I use that time to think and read and research and just generally learn things that otherwise I'd never have time to do. I might get paid only X dollars per hour, but in a sense, the City of Macon (and so many other jobs before it) are paying me to:

Read the news, learn Romanian, build complicated charts and datasets in Excel, read internal Homeland Security documents, learn how to file/write grants to federal agencies, meet criminals and the victims of crime and hang out with all kinds of lower-income people I'd never otherwise meet, etc, etc.

I only ask because it strikes me that, if it's Eddy, you two had a lot in common: an interest in Romania, working for the Macon PD and Homeland Security... Yet this post describes it as menial work. Whereas this more recent post makes it sound much more exciting and important.

A few years ago I was unemployed and through a moderately strange series of flukes, I ended up working in law enforcement. I should mention here I've been a lifelong pacifist. I was "promoted" straight to the Detective Bureau and worked murders, rapes, armed robberies and child molestations.

Eventually 9/11 happened and the creation of Homeland Security and because of my skills, I ended up working with the federales for a while. I got far enough inside the alphabet soups that I knew that this was not the right career path for me. In fact, I was strongly disillusioned by the sheer lack of understanding on the part of those who should be better informed and knowledgeable.

I quit all my positions in June 2004 after wrapping up a terrorist case and finalizing the preparations for the G-8 summit in Sea Island.

Then, of course there's this from the blog of... someone called soj, which again describes the job as pretty mundane. It's from 3/19/04, a few months before you claimed in the previous post to have been retiring from law enforcement. At what point did your illustrious law enforcement career really take off?

A lot of people already know this, so it's not like I'm giving away state secrets or anything, but in case you didn't already know, I work for the police.

Let me just clarify this issue right up front, because I know a lot of the people who visit this odd little corner of the universe come from countries with different kinds of police. Let me clarify this: I am talking about the police in my town only. I can't speak for all police. I am only going to speak about my police.

Also let me say before there's any confusion: I am not a police officer. I do not carry a gun. I have never arrested anyone. I have never put anyone in jail. I do not drive a police car. My job is to interview people....

For the record: I work in a "normal" office. I sit behind a desk. I have a computer and a printer. There are no bright lights. There are no "1-way" mirrors. There are no videocameras or recorders of any kind.

My job is essentially to be the invisible third person in the room besides the detective and the suspect/witness/victim. When they're talking, I type down everything they say. When I say "everything", I mean everything.

Where I come from, that's called stenography.

One more thing:

I'm an intensely private person and I've been keeping my personal life to myself since I was 13, when I tricked a person who lied to me when giving me an "assessment" test. I should tell you all about that sometime, about how a certain very prestigious university was trying to recruit pre-teens for a special program over the summer, but that's neither here nor there today.

Now you're just giving me a headache.

On Edit: I crossposted this on the Daily Kos, Booman Tribune, and Flogging the Simian. The response has only made me more disturbed at the trend of the "lefty blogosphere." Soj deleted it immediately. No shock there. I took a fair bit of abuse on Booman Tribune. But the most stunning display of cultish weirdness was on the Daily Kos. A handful of people made post after post demanding that I pull the diary and whipped themselves into a frenzy when I did not obey their commands. All but a couple demonstrated such poor reading comprehension skills that they repeatedly accused me of "outing" soj. I, of course, did not "out" soj. Soj did... or rather, he outed the original soj who has since gone to his reward. All I did was cut and paste his text.

The rabid Kossacks baited me to comment on the thread, knowing full well that they would have troll rated me into oblivian the minute I did so. Kos's new rating system is an experiment in mob rule so naked, so medieval, it should come with cyber torches and pitch forks. Gone is the sliding scale of ratings. It's now a binary system that invites troll-rating abuse. More and more Kossacks are banned, according to Armando, "by the community." Well I chose not to give them the opportunity, but the point is moot. Armando got the diary pulled and me banned from Daily Kos. I suppose it would be an awful punishment if I gave a damn about the Daily Kos. My disdain for that experiment in manufactured consent and glorified mediocrity is well documented.

Date Rapists Givin' You Trouble?

Comments: (0)

Originally published: Friday, March 31, 2006

Just give 'em a hummer. Thus spake Sharon Stone.

Young people talk to me about what to do if they're being pressed for sex. I tell them (what I believe): Oral sex is a hundred times safer than vaginal or anal sex. 'If you're in a situation where you cannot get out of sex, offer a blow job.' I'm not embarrassed to tell them.

Well I'm mortified to read it.

My contempt for Sharon Stone was well established with the first "Basic Instinct" movie. Her gleeful participation in a depiction of lesbian and bisexual women that was at equal turns derivative and demonizing; her endless revelry in the tasteless beaver shot that made her career... Must she enjoy turning female sexuality into a cheap sideshow so very much?

With the release of the stunningly unnecessary "Basic Instinct 2," Stone has been turned loose on an unsuspecting public once again. Her statements, compiled here by Salon, are worth the price of admission.

Stone's Madonna/whore dichotomy divides the world into women who show their boobies and women who can be taken seriously. As ever, she revels in her role of trivialized sex pot.

People just are sitting there going, like, 'I don't care what she's saying, I don't care what she's saying, I just want to know, does she get naked in that movie? Is she naked? Nude? Nude? Naked? Do I see her boobies? I don't care what she's saying, I don't care, I don't care, is she naked?' So let's just get through to that ... YES!

Hillary, however, who has never shown her naked boobies in public, to my knowledge, is still just too sexual to have any real gravitas.

Hillary Clinton is fantastic. But I think it is too soon for her to run. This may sound odd, but a woman should be past her sexuality when she runs. Hillary still has sexual power and I don't think people will accept that. It is too threatening...

Perhaps the Senator from New York should go back to her cookie recipes and leave all the politicking to the hopelessly unattractive.

Note to Miss Stone: It's harder with you around.

A Question of Ethos

Comments: (0)

Originally posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"I think, therefore I am." -- Rene Descartes

"If I am not for me, who will be? But if I am only for me, what am I? And if not now, when?" -- Hillel the Elder

"I am in earnest; I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard." -- William Lloyd Garrison

"I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." -- William Ernest Henley

"I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." -- Walt Whitman

"I yam what I yam." -- Popeye

"Who the fuck are you?" -- Armando

Lesson for today: Never ask the hopelessly self-important what makes them so much better than the rest of us. The answer will invariably be profane.

Is Our Children Employable?

Comments: (6)

Originally published: Friday, March 24, 2006

For that matter what are the job prospects for any of us? A soft economic recovery and an increasingly level (or "flat," to borrow Thomas Friedman's strange phrasing) global marketplace are rapidly reducing the options of American workers across a range of careers and vocations. Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post asks "Will Your Job Survive?" Meyerson's alarm bells were tripped by a disturbing report from Princeton University economist Alan Blinder. I hate to go all "Lou Dobbs." But Blinder's prognostication about the job market of the not too distant future should send a chill down the spine of any American concerned about the future of the US economy.

In the new global order, Blinder writes, not just manufacturing jobs but a large number of service jobs will be performed in cheaper climes. Indeed, only hands-on or face-to-face services look safe. "Janitors and crane operators are probably immune to foreign competition," Blinder writes, "accountants and computer programmers are not."

There follow some back-of-the-envelope calculations as Blinder totes up the number of jobs in tradable and non-tradable sectors. Then comes his (necessarily imprecise) bottom line: "The total number of current U.S. service-sector jobs that will be susceptible to offshoring in the electronic future is two to three times the total number of current manufacturing jobs (which is about 14 million)." As Blinder believes that all those manufacturing jobs are offshorable, too, the grand total of American jobs that could be bound for Bangalore or Bangladesh is somewhere between 42 million and 56 million . [emphasis mine] That doesn't mean all those jobs are going to be exported. It does mean that the Americans performing them will be in competition with people who will do the same work for a whole lot less.

Meet the competition, or at least some of it.

It's nearly five p.m. and factory workers at one of Vietnam's largest industrial parks flood into the streets of Ho Chi Minh City's sprawling outskirts. Some of the workers are clocking out, others signing in. Those who are done for the day cross the busy highway to buy groceries from vendors camped along the dusty street. Among them are employees of Danu Vina Corporation, who earn less than $2 for a hard day [emphasis mine] making stuffed animals that will be sold in the U.S. by Hallmark, Disney, and Starbucks.

The news from Corpwatch is that the Vietnamese are balking -- and striking -- over the low wages and poor working conditions. But the bigger news is the lengths to which US corporations will go to keep labor costs at a bare minimum and their determination to go where they must throughout the third world to find a work force poor and powerless enough to keep their stockholders happy.

But to remain attractive to foreign investment, government officials argue, Vietnam must provide the kind of cheap, docile labor force that foreign investors demand. But on paper, at least, Vietnam's workers are supported by has some of the strongest labor laws in the world. Under the Communist system, workers in every factory are required to be represented by the official government union within a few months of opening.

"When foreign investors enter Vietnam, they must follow the country's labor rules," says security manager Long Nguyen. ''If they don't, the Vietnamese government has the responsibility to enforce the law or expel the company. The government has to protect the worker. The unions that represent workers in factories of foreign and joint-stock companies are weak. They don't have the strength to stand up to the management.

Since the influx of private companies started a few years ago, however, enforcement of policy has been lax. According to the International Labor Organization, only 10 percent of workers in the export sector are represented by a trade union and observers can't remember a single case when a company has been forced out for breaking the law. So, most expect continued low wages and increasing numbers of wildcat strikes.

I have to admire the moxie of the Vietnamese labor force, but it's quite clear that the multinational corporations who employ them do not. If wages of $55 dollars a month spook these conglomerates, how can Americans compete?

More good news from Meyerson:

Also dying, if not yet also kaput, is the comforting notion that a good education is the best defense against the ravages of globalization -- or, as Bill Clinton famously put it: What you earn is the result of what you learn. A study last year by economists J. Bradford Jensen of the Institute for International Economics and Lori Kletzer of the University of California at Santa Cruz demonstrates that it's the more highly skilled service-sector workers who are likely to have tradable jobs. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the proportion of jobs in the United States that require a college degree will rise by a measly one percentage point -- from 26.9 percent in 2002 to 27.9 percent in 2012 -- during this decade.

So perhaps it doesn't really matter that our children isn't learning. And they isn't.

Apparently, a lot of our schools are turning out adults so undereducated it just isn't cost effective to train them. Just last year Toyota withdrew plans to open a factory in the US because the workforce was too illiterate to employ. They've taken their business to Woodstock, Ontario. Explained Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association:

...Nissan and Honda have encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained - and often illiterate - workforce. In Alabama, trainers had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech plant equipment.

"The educational level and the skill level of the people down there is so much lower than it is in Ontario," Fedchun said.

In addition to lower training costs, Canadian workers are also $4 to $5 cheaper to employ partly thanks to the taxpayer-funded health-care system in Canada, said federal Industry Minister David Emmerson.

So failing schools and an inefficient health care system are costing Americans jobs. When do the benefits of unrestrained "free markets" kick in? The tide appears to be rising, yet so many boats are sinking.

In the pages of the Washington Post, George Will bemoans a Florida Supreme Court decision against vouchers for private schools; a decision that could deny 733 children the financial assistance to get out of their failing schools. Where, I wonder, is his sympathy for the thousands of other children in those same failing schools, who weren't exceptional enough to qualify for the OSP voucher program? Such is the irony of our American "meritocracy." The more "level" (or "flat") we insist we're making the playing field, the greater the ensuing inequity; and the more Americans are faced with a future of diminishing returns.

Porn Star to Discuss Family Values with Bush/Rove

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Originally published: Monday, March 13, 2006

God bless the Republicans. They really are the "big tent" party; where a porn star like Mary Carey is as welcome as James Dobson and Jerry Falwell. According to Carey's press release, she will be dining with President Bush and lunching with his brain.

At the invitation of the Nation Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Mary Carey will meet and interact with key Congressional leaders and Administration officials to discuss advancing powerful pro-business, pro-family agendas and meeting positive legislative goals. She will join Karl Rove, senior advisor to the President, for lunch on Wednesday the 15th, and President Bush for dinner on Thursday the 16th.

Says Carey about her second high profile meeting with Bush:

"I'm always excited to learn more about what's going on in our nation's capital, since most people in the porn industry think an Iraqi pullout is a form of safe sex," quipped Carey. "Since I'm seriously considering running for governor of California again, I'm going to need a lot of support from Republican lawmakers nationwide - however I can get it."

Well why not? If California can be governated by an action star, what's to stop a porn star from assuming the position?

One thing Republicans have never lost sight of is that the business of America is business. Ms. Carey will be the recipient of the 2005 California Business Woman of the Year award.

What is the Sign Language Symbol for "Straitjacket?"

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Originally published: Thursday, March 09, 2006

Because power has driven the alpha chimp mad.

In January I wrote about the debut of SmirkBlog, a recording of the "thoughts" of owner Jeff Tiedrich. I had some concerns about Tiedrich referring to himself as Chairman Jeff and... well... some other things. Not suprisingly the Chairman's grandiosity has grown more pronounced. His blog header now reads:

SmirkBlog Infallible thoughts from Chairman Jeff's Little Red Book.

Let this be a lesson to you. These online "communities" may start out with the best of intentions, but eventually they all become petty tyrannies. One day you're a bunch of like minded folk discussing headlines and strategizing about how to rescue our democracy from its steady slide toward dictatorship. The next you're catering to the whim of your own tin-horn tyrant, who holds the codes to bannish you to cyber-Siberia. Those chimpsters would do well to heed the warning of Woody Allen's "Bananas." How long do you really think it will be before the Chairman starts blogging something like this?

From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now... 16 years old!

Oh, what would Nim Chimpsky say?

Can the Democrats do Better? Markos has a Vision!

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Originally published: Thursday, March 09, 2006

"Together, America Can Do Better." That's the slogan the Democratic Party's brain trust has produced. Sadly, this weak, grammatically incorrect verbiage is appropriate to the current party backdrop. It's innocuous, meaningless, purposeless, and fairly inoffensive. Better relative to what? A Republican agenda that is driving the nation off a cliff? But according the Washington Post, Democrats are still foundering when it comes to articulating a unified strategy and compelling vision, even though they are faced with the most corrupt, incompetent, dangerous administration in American history. It should be a no-brainer, but they don't really want to differentiate themselves from Republicans on any of the important issues: the occupation of Iraq, corporate excesses, military adventurism, wholesale violations of civil liberties... In short they don't conflict with the dangerous vision of "American Empire." If they did they would have crafted an opposition by now. No. The Democrats just want to adminstrate that empire "better." How to market that idea? Well, you can see what they've come up with. I shudder to think what slogans didn't make the final cut: "Democrats: We're Not AS Bad" or "Democrats: The Slower Boat to Hell."

Meanwhile, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, whom Eleanor Clift once characterized as "Moses leading Democrats to the promised land," may have really hit on a strategy. It would not force Democratic candidates to address any of those hot button issues. It would be a full frontal assault on the "family values" meme we've all been beaten to death with. Kos, the man whose dis of the "sanctimonious women's studies set" and endless diatribes against NARAL sent women running in droves from his site; the man who said he would not be part of a party defined by abortion rights, has finally realized that the death spiral of Roe v. Wade could affect men.

Good point. No abortions means more 18 years of child support after a drunken "mistake". [sic] Choice isn't a woman-only issue.

Tracing back through the links, we find that the notion comes from Digby, via Atrios. Digby, to his credit, appears to have been directing this idea to some thickie who just hadn't considered the full ramifications of the South Dakota law and its portents for the future. There-in lies the marketing genius of Kos's revelation. What Kos understands innately is that all interest is self interest. He is now ready to begin Crashing the Gate with a new vision for the Democratic Party. Democrats must become the party of rabid self interest. "Ride the wave," my ass. Don't let Kos's claims that he's no leader fool you. The man who's said flat out that the reason he wrote his book was his desire to buy a house, is absolutely the man to craft this winning strategy.

Forget morality. Forget civic responsibility. Forget what we can do for our country. What can the Democrats do for ME? There's your '06 strategy. Reagan's "Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?" was clever but it didn't go far enough. Eight years of Reaganomics showed us that "greed" works as a political strategy, so why not "total selfishness?" And Democrats could finally win over that 18-34 white male demographic which has so long been a lock for Republicans. While we're at it we could really show the Bush family that they don't have the drunken frat boy vote sewn up. Let's try out some new bumper sticker copy shall we:

  • "Democrats: Fighting For Your Right to Paaaaaarty!"

  • "You Can't Spell Democrats Without ME"

  • "Vote for [insert name of Democratic candidate here]: Because Everybody Makes Drunken Mistakes"

  • "It's Spring Break Again in America."

From the Annals of Our Cultural Entropy: What is Going On With Our Food?

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Originally published: Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I'm worried about our food supply. No, I'm not terribly concerned that terrorists will contaminate our grain silos with bio-toxins. As with so many things, Americans have become our own worst enemies, when it comes to food. I stopped buying food in supermarkets, for the most part, years ago, because what sits on those shelves isn't food. It's processed chemicals with elements that may or may not be derived from organic matter. There's no food in our food.

I do most of my grocery shopping in Whole Foods – a luxury that may force me to take out a second mortgage at some point – and Trader Joe's. But what I saw at my local Trader Joe's the other day has thrown my relationship with that store into peril. I've written them a letter.

Here is the text:

Dear Lauree Bradley, Director of Product Information
Trader Joe's Company
538 Mission Street
South Pasadena, California

During a recent shopping trip to Trader Joe's in [location redacted], I observed a situation that imperils not only food quality but safety. I reported this situation to two store managers and my concern was received with total nonchalance.

I have been purchasing Trader Joe's frozen chicken parts for years. On Friday, when I attempted to take a bag from the freezer bin, I observed that the bags near the top were completely thawed. Other bags were thawed to varying degrees. I assumed that the freezer was broken and informed the first employee I saw. He assured me that it was a natural result of the defrost cycle of the freezer and began to remove the chicken that was completely thawed and sloshing in its juices in the bags. I asked to speak to a manager.

The manager also assured me that the situation was due to the defrosting of the freezer and said she was sorry that I "had to see that." She offered me a bag from the bottom of the freezer that appeared to be completely frozen. I said, no thank you. How could I tell what bags may have been reshuffled to the bottom of the freezer and refrozen? Depending on how completely that chicken has thawed, there is a serious risk of contamination, let alone the loss of quality caused by even partial thawing and refreezing. I was assured by the manager that it wasn't a problem, because the frozen chicken sells so quickly. I disagree.

After purchasing the rest of my groceries, and heading for the car, I noticed that I had been overcharged 50 cents for a bottle of Marsala wine. I went back into the store and located another manager, who checked the shelf and conceded that I had been overcharged and would be refunded. I took the opportunity to inform him of my disgust over the condition of the frozen chicken. He also assured me that it was just part of the defrost cycle and that it wasn't a problem, as the thawed chicken was removed when it was observed by staff or customers. This, I informed him, is not a system of regulation! He graciously refunded me the entire cost of my Marsala, which I now realize I have little use for, as I have no chicken.

I don't know what disturbs me more; the fact that I observed perishables thawing in the freezer bins, or the fact that store managers exhibited so little concern over a potential public health risk. Those bins also contain frozen prepared meals, raw shellfish, and stuffed meats. Such items are far less forgiving of thawing and refreezing than meats alone.

I have a small child. As of now, I am not comfortable feeding her anything from a Trader Joe's freezer bin. I cannot be as cavalier about her health -- nay, her life -- as the managers and staff of the [redacted] Trader Joe's.

I am left with a number of nagging questions:

1) Was an episode of violent nausea I experienced a couple of weeks ago after eating a meal including Trader Joe's frozen chicken caused by that chicken or some other factor? I consumed the rest of the bag without incident, so I assumed it was a fluke. Now, I'm not so sure. Perhaps I just got lucky.

2) How is it that my own freezer remains frost-free without periodically thawing out all my food, when Trader Joe's freezer bins are incapable of the same feat?

3) Is the management of Trader Joe's aware of the risk posed by food poisoning?

4) Can Trader Joe's afford to eat the profit losses caused by spoilage of its frozen food -- even if it is confined to those items eye-balled by staff and customers -- or are those losses being passed on to consumers in the form of price increases?

5) Why do East Coast Trader Joe's stores pale in comparison to the West Coast stores, in terms of inventory, customer service, price/value, etc? I realize that's a separate issue. I just needed to get that off my chest.

If you were wondering how a nation of such vast wealth as the United States manages to produce 76 million cases of food poisoning per year, well, mystery solved. Let's put that number into perspective shall we? From Wikipedia: the United States logs 26,000 cases of food borne illness for every 100,000 inhabitants. The United Kingdom sees 3,400 cases for 100,000 inhabitants, and France, 1,210 cases for 100,000 inhabitants. We are devolving into a third world country. We have a population so uneducated that two store managers, responsible for food handling, looked at me like I was a crazy person, when I pointed out that frozen food should not be stored in warm freezers.

And don't expect government oversight to be the answer. Our government is too busy handing our port security over to countries with ties to terrorism and the writing of our legislation to the industries they are supposed to be regulating. We'll have to rely on our new found religion of "free market fundamentalism" to work it's corrective magic. John Stossel would probably tell me that Trader Joe's has the right idea, because now they can charge 10 times the regular price for those packages of chicken they can guarantee were never thawed and refrozen.

This morning I received two emails about pending legislation that will further undercut the rights of consumers to know what dangers lurk in their food. H.R 4167 will actually negate state labeling laws, forcing them to comply with the more lax federal standards. This effort is being spearheaded by Congressional Republicans – you know, the party devoted state rights – at the behest of Grocery Manufacturers of America. (So call your Congressperson.)

If you think federal labeling laws are sufficient, think again. Recently,
McDonald's "voluntarily" disclosed that their fries derive their flavor from wheat and dairy ingredients, to which some people are very allergic. I checked. It really is voluntary on their part, because the woefully insufficient labeling law -- a law that doesn't even require disclosure of allergenic substances in refined oils -- provides an exemption for restaurants. Here's my favorite part of the McDonald's statement.

McDonald's director of global nutrition, Cathy Kapica, said its potato suppliers remove all wheat and dairy proteins, such as gluten, which can cause allergic reactions.

Because everybody knows that potatoes come out of the ground just chock full of wheat and dairy.

For my part I swore off McDonald's fries after learning from the movie "Supersize Me" that they don't biodegrade. A jar of McDonald's fries left sitting on a shelf changes little over weeks, months, and years. Perhaps it's small of me but I'm a little put off by the idea of food that has a half-life longer than plutonium.

I write this with full knowledge that I may be sued for food disparagement. Many states now have laws to protect vulnerable corporations from citizens maligning their perishables. It was such a statute that Texas cattle ranchers used to punish Oprah for expressing her fear of mad cows. Oprah won that fight, and presumably a victory for speech, but that was before our political climate devolved into one of "first amendment zones" to protect the President from dissent If you haven't noticed, corporate rights trump consumer rights in nearly every arena now. So it's probably only a matter of time before publishing a letter of complaint to a grocer will land me in court. And if Oprah's experience is any guide, I'll have to hire Dr. Phil to help me "get real." That's an indignity I don't know if I'd survive. I'm a strong woman but I have my limits.