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!

Can We Call It Civil War Now?

Monday, July 10, 2006

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Newsweek's Rod Nordland gave a very illuminating interview in Foreign Policy last week. In it he describes the way the press is being "managed" in Iraq and discloses that conditions there are far worse than Americans know. It makes for very worthwhile reading and lends some insight into the way our "free press" is curtailed. But this statement gave me pause.

Living conditions have gotten so much worse, violence is at an even higher tempo, and the country is on the verge of civil war.

Note to Mr. Nordland: You're still spinning for the White House. Iraq is not on the verge of civil war. It is in a civil war. John Murtha had it right when he wrote this in The Huffington Post.

According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, the definition of a civil war is a "war between political factions or regions within the same country." That is exactly what is going on in Iraq, not a global war on terrorism, as the President continues to portray it.

The spin that the country is constantly "on the verge" of a civil war is becoming increasingly dissonant against the backdrop of events like this.

Gunmen roaming a Baghdad neighborhood on Sunday killed at least 42 unarmed Iraqis as soon as they identified them as Sunnis, emergency police said.

Ala'a Makki, a spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party -- Iraq's main Sunni political movement -- said the victims included women and children.

He called the killings in Hay al Jihad "one of the biggest massacres of Sunnis."

Later Sunday, two car bombs detonated simultaneously at a market in Baghdad's Karsa neighborhood, killing at least 19 and wounding 59, police said.

The market is close to the Tammimi Hussainiye, a Shiite prayer site.

In the Hay al Jihad rampage, gunmen -- mostly "young reckless teenagers" -- started to pick up Sunni youth and execute them in public, while others went door-to-door looking for Sunni families who stayed behind, Makki said.

After warning one Iraqi woman she had 10 seconds to leave, the gunmen killed her and her children, Makki said.

A member of the Iraqi Islamic Party was dragged out of his house at 7 a.m. and executed, he said.

A witness in the Hay al Jihad neighborhood said he walked outside his home and saw the main street lined with bodies, and the attackers setting fire to homes.

He said residents tried to call the Ministries of Interior and Defense, without success.

Makki blamed the Mehdi militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The violence continued for eight hours, Makki said, blaming the Ministries of Interior and Defense for not responding, and saying U.S. forces responded too late to stop most of the killings.

Yes, this is the kind of thing our troops are called upon to do now. As Murtha says:

We’re spending all this money and diverting our resources away from the war on terrorism because we’re involved in a civil war in Iraq.

But true to form, The New York Times reports:

In the culture of revenge that has seized Iraq, residents all over the city braced for an escalation in the cycle of retributive mayhem between the Shiites and Sunnis that has threatened to expand into civil war.

How much more does it have to expand -- and I have little doubt that it will get much worse -- before we can call this what it is?

Reasoning with the Schoolyard Bully

Sunday, July 02, 2006

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Every smart kid learns at some point in his or her young life that you cannot reason with the schoolyard bully. The more sense you make the more he will hit you. This is the quandary Democrats, liberals, progressives, and all other opponents of the right wing juggernaut have been grappling with throughout the Bush years, and in the run-up to them that began around the time the first Bush presidency whimpered to its end.

With the ascendancy of right wing talk radio and the development of what David Brock would come to call the "right wing noise machine," Americans have been subjected to a level of pandering demagoguery that has often been understandably disregarded by people with triple digit IQs. People to the left of Rush Limbaugh have repeatedly made the grave error of not taking the threat posed by these juvenile tactics seriously enough. How exactly does one address political commentary that is often the rhetorical equivalent of, "I know you are but what am I?"

As we wend our way towards the mid-term elections, the name calling and stupidity are in high gear and right wing bullies are predictably beating the stuffing out of their favorite whipping boys, those weak-on-defense-liberal-weenies and the "librul" media.

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter offers some advice on "How to Beat 'Cut and Run'" which includes some very insightful analysis of the tactics of that master demagogue Karl Rove.

For more than a quarter century, Karl Rove has employed a simple, brilliant, counterintuitive campaign tactic: instead of attacking his opponents at their weakest point, the conventional approach, he attacks their strength. He neutralizes that strength to the point that it begins to look like weakness.

As a strategy this amounts to hitting your opponent in his "center of gravity." In warfare it would be the equivalent of wiping out the Command Operations Center, communications hub, or some other pivotal installation. Once accomplished you leave your enemy scrambling and uncoordinated. In Karl Rove's hands its things like the "Swift-boating" of John Kerry; turning a war hero into a coward to the point where the same knuckle-dragging troglodytes, who normally lionize the military, take to sporting band-aids with purple hearts on them in mockery of valor. It's an astounding feat on many levels; a triumph of brutal illogic over fact that Rove and his cohorts accomplish again and again.

After escaping indictment, Rove is focused again on what he does best: ginning up the slime machine. Anyone who dares criticize President Bush's Iraq policy is a "cut-and-run" Democrat. The White House's object here is not to engage in a real debate about an exit strategy from Iraq; that would require acknowledging some complications, like the fact that Gen. George Casey, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, believes it's time to start bringing some troops home. The object is instead to either get the Democrats tangled up in Kerryesque complexities on Iraq—or intimidate them into changing the subject to other, less-potent issues for fear of looking like unpatriotic pansies.

Indeed "real debate" is never the object of the right wing noise machine. Put simply, they cannot win on facts; only by turning logic on its ear and inverting reality itself. Astonishingly they have been accomplishing just that for years, leaving those of us in the "reality based community" shaking our heads in wonderment... and getting pantsed.

As Frank Rich points out in today's New York Times, they are relying on that age old technique of tyrants: scapegoating. Just as Hitler blamed the Jews for every ill confronting post-WWI Germany, Bush's political machine is cleverly distracting from his collapsing foreign and domestic policies by vilifying the New York Times for its reportage.

The history of that scapegoating begins on the Friday morning, June 23, that The Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal all published accounts of the Swift program first posted on the Web the night before. In his press briefing that morning, Tony Snow fielded many questions about the program's legality. But revealingly, for all his opportunities, he never attacked the news media....

By Monday, the president had entered the fray and Mr. Snow was accusing The Times of putting the "public's right to know" over "somebody's right to live." What had happened over the weekend to prompt this escalation of hysteria? The same stuff that always happens when the White House scapegoats the press (or anyone else): bad and embarrassing news that the White House wants to drown out.

With the dramatic capture of the seven wannabe terrorists rapidly degenerating into slapstick comedy, General Casey drafting actual plans to "cut and run" from Iraq, and Lawrence Wilkinson testifying before Congress that his former boss Colin Powell's presentation in front of the UN in 2003 was "the perpetuation of a hoax," a political show of strength was urgently needed. For team Bush that means whipping it out in the locker room to show whose is bigger. And those pointy headed intellectuals at the New York Times were just asking for a wedgie.

As discussed here abusers abuse because they're abusers. It's really that simple. And fact based arguments alone won't disarm them. The only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him. Or as Alter suggests:

We'll see this summer if Democrats begin to get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, "This isn't about us. It's about them." We'll see if, when Karl Rove wants to talk about Iraq, the Democrats respond with three familiar words: "Bring it on."

Modern Day Serfdom

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Comments: (1)

I was running errands last evening listening to that rapidly deteriorating news source NPR and caught a few minutes of a segmant on GM's woes. GM, which announced earlier this week that it will eliminate a quarter of its work force, attributes much of its falling fortunes to the ballooning costs of its pension plans. Much of what I heard, while weaving in and out of traffic, was a sober discussion of the bite pension plans are taking out of the big three. But what my NPR affiliate did not mention -- at least in the time it took me to drive home from my neighborhood Lowe's -- is that the pensions that are bleeding these corporations dry are not those of the unionized, "blue-collar" employees who will be displaced by GM's early retirement and buy-out deal. It's the massive pensions that are going to top tier executives.

As discussed in my most recent entry and in the ensuing comment thread, the United States is degenerating into a system of serfdom; a fact which is not lost on Madman in the Marketplace. His excellent diary on Liberal Street Fighter, "Providing for the Lords," is must reading. Drawing primarily from a Wall Street Journal report on this gauling pension disparity, he brings us to the inevitable conclusion; that working men and women in this country are devolving into a Medieval style peasantry in desperate need of torches and pitchforks.

Here are a few tidbits from Wall Street Journal's fine reporting.

To help explain its deep slump, General Motors Corp. often cites "legacy costs," including pensions for its giant U.S. work force. In its latest annual report, GM wrote: "Our extensive pension and [post-employment] obligations to retirees are a competitive disadvantage for us." Early this year, GM announced it was ending pensions for 42,000 workers.

But there's a twist to the auto maker's pension situation: The pension plans for its rank-and-file U.S. workers are overstuffed with cash, containing about $9 billion more than is needed to meet their obligations for years to come.

Another of GM's pension programs, however, saddles the company with a liability of $1.4 billion. These pensions are for its executives.

This is the pension squeeze companies aren't talking about: Even as many reduce, freeze or eliminate pensions for workers -- complaining of the costs -- their executives are building up ever-bigger pensions, causing the companies' financial obligations for them to balloon.

Thanks to WSJ's reportage we now know that it is the executive salary and pension costs that are tearing through these companies like pathogenic viruses, displacing America's workforce and imperiling the health of the companies themselves -- a fact buried in many corporate financials by lumping executive and low level employee pension figures together. Not only are the pension plans of average employees not a threat to corporate solvency, the earmarked dollars have been providing investment revenue. Just not enough to compensate for the massive bite taken by the pensions promised to chief executives.

When General Motors cites retiree costs, the giant auto maker has a point: It owed nearly 700,000 U.S. workers and retirees pensions that totaled $87.8 billion at the end of last year.

But $95.3 billion had already been set aside to pay those benefits when due.

All of these assets are earning investment returns, which offset the pensions' expense. GM lost $10.6 billion in 2005. But deep as its losses have been, they would have been far worse without the more than $10 billion per year in investment income that the GM pension plan for the rank and file generates.

The pension plan for GM executives is another matter. Unfunded to the tune of $1.4 billion, it detracts from GM's bottom line each year.

Just how much is a mystery, because GM doesn't break out the figure. It said executive pensions are "a very small portion of our overall expense" but declined to give the figure.

There is much more in both Madman's diary and the WSJ piece, including a sobering explanation of how both parties have enabled this disaster, guaranteed to raise the blood pressure. Highly recommended.