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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Civil war continues in Iraq

The civil war in Iraq continues unabated, despite the increase in the number of US troops in recent days:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A series of attacks killed at least 51 people across Iraq Thursday, including 43 within a half hour in a Shiite section of Baghdad, officials said.
That's why we have to "stay the course," of course. The course has worked so well to date that we'll just stay on it, and on it, and on it, and on it ...

And, so far this month, 62 American GIs have been killed there.

No assassinations, please

As you may have heard, a fictional docudrama depicting the assassination of George Bush is being aired on British TV. Barbara O'Brien of the Mahablog offers her ten reasons for not wanting Bush assassinated:

10. Regular television programming would be pre-empted for days, except maybe for the Super Bowl.

9. News coverage of the assassination and state funeral would shine the rosiest light possible on the President’s memory, causing some viewers to think maybe he wasn’t so bad, after all. (In fact, this might be the only way Bush could get his approval numbers over 50 percent again.)

8. Darryl Worley would record a song about it.

7. For the next several months you wouldn’t be able to pass a supermarket tabloid rack without seeing pictures of Bush and Jesus — together forever.

6. You’d have to listen to your wingnut father-in-law rant about it all through Thanksgiving dinner.

5. The Right collectively would become even more paranoid than it is already.

4. For the rest of your life, you’d have to listen to people referring to Bush as a “martyred president.”

3. The assassination would fuel a whole new generation of conspiracy theorists.

2. Bush wouldn’t live long enough to see what historians will write about his presidency.

1. Dick Cheney.

Need I say more?


The taxi drivers are out to get us

Now, I guess all taxi drivers are terrorists. Montana Senator Conrad Burns told us so.

Burns talked about the war on terrorism, saying a "faceless enemy" of terrorists "drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill at night."
Then, Laura Bush said,

"In Washington, Senator Burns is a respected voice on the issues facing rural communities in Montana and across the nation."

Sadly, it's getting more and more dangerous for any foreign-looking person to be in this country. I have many friends abroad, and, frankly, I would advise them not to visit the US at this point in its history. What a sad state of affairs.

Another secret hold

I blogged yesterday about the secret hold Alaska's Ted Stevens had placed on the Obama-Coburn bill to create an on-line data base of information on government contracts. TPM Muckraker now says a second Senator may have placed a secret hold on the bill, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV). No great surprises there, given that Byrd is a master of pork barrel politics.

Giving away electoral votes

The bill in California to give all the State's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote even if that candidate lost the popular vote in California has now passed both houses and gone to the Governor for his signature. I posted about this before and wondered why the Democrats would do this in a State that's usually pretty safely in the Democratic column. It's a give-away to Republicans unless enough red states with a counter-vailing number of electoral votes adopt the rule. I just don't get it. I particularly don't get it when it's clear that this move is only coming from Democrats. That means that the states most likely to adopt it are going to be those whose home-state votes would tend to go for Democratic candidates. It's as though one side in a war decided to unilaterally dis-arm.

Good night and good luck

If you haven't seen this clip of Keith Olbermann blasting Donald Rumsfeld & Co. last night, take five minutes and do so. It's powerful stuff.

Theater of the absurd

I thought I had seen everything, but this has to border on utter absurdity:

Welcome to the ``Flat Daddy" and ``Flat Mommy" phenomenon, in which life-size cutouts of deployed service members are given by the Maine National Guard to spouses, children, and relatives back home.

The Flat Daddies ride in cars, sit at the dinner table, visit the dentist, and even are brought to confession, according to their significant others on the home front.

``I prop him up in a chair, or sometimes put him on the couch and cover him up with a blanket," said Kay Judkins of Caribou, whose husband, Jim, is a minesweeper mechanic in Afghanistan. ``The cat will curl up on the blanket, and it looks kind of weird. I've tricked several people by that. They think he's home again."

[Hat tip to Kos]

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Secrets holds and the "bridge to nowhere"

If you've not been watching the blogosphere recently, you may not be aware of the secret hold put on a bill introduced by Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would create a public, searchable database of all federal grants and contracts. Envisioned as a Google-like website, it would provide on-line access to the information, thus enabling the on-line community to scrutinize and police contract abuses. The Senate was set to vote on this bill just before the August recess, when one senator put a secret hold on the bill, thus preventing any action on it.

As TPM Muckraker put it:

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously passed the measure July 27th, and S.2590 seemed to be speeding on its way to full Senate passage when, in the dark of night, an unknown Senator placed a "secret hold" on the bill. According to Senate courtesies, the bill will never come to a vote as long as the hold continues.

So who's the culprit?

The blogosphere went to work, contacting Senators one-by-one and obtaining denials from most. In the end, the culprit was smoked out. It was ALaska's Senator Ted Stevens of "the bridge to nowhere" fame.

Stevens says he put the hold on the bill because the program's proposed $15 million cost was excessive. Hmmm. The "bridge to nowhere," to connect the town of Ketchikan, with a huge population of 8,900, to the island of Gravina, with a collossal population of 50, is expected to cost a total of nearly $1 billion, of which $320 million was to be charged to the taxpayers. That's $6,400,000 of taxpayer's money for each and every resident of Gravina.

It's more likely that Stevens was trying to kill the bill as a way of punishng Sen. Coburn for backing an unsuccessful effort to stop the "bridge to nowhere."

Knowing Stevens, he won't back down on this one either.

War Drums

Apparently, Fox News is beating the drums of war (with Iran). Maybe they hope that will bring their ratings back up.

Fox News' Nielsen ratings plummet

It's always nice to see people who get what they deserve:

CNN was up 21 percent in total viewers in prime versus August 2005, with an average audience of 900,000 tuning in during the month. The news net was also up 25 percent in the target 25-54 demo.

Rival Fox News Channel was down 28 percent in prime, averaging 1.51 million viewers versus 2.09 million during August 2005, a period marked by the landfall of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent destruction of New Orleans. FNC was also down 20 percent in its target demo, dropping from .54 million in August 2005 to .43 million this month.

Government of the idiots, by the idiots, and for the idiots

It costs the IRS about 3 cents for every dollar of taxes they collect. So, that's why they've decided to privatize tax collection. It only costs private tax collectors 23 cents per dollar. And, it fits with Bush's ideology.

From the LA Times:

Unless Congress steps in to stop it, the IRS is set to begin implementing a wildly inefficient plan to outsource the collection of past-due taxes from those who owe $25,000 or less. IRS employees could collect these taxes for about three cents on the dollar, comparable to other federal programs' collection costs. But Congress has not allowed the IRS, which is eliminating some of its most efficient enforcement staff, to hire the personnel it would need to do the job. Instead, the agency has signed contracts with private debt collectors allowing them to keep about 23% of every taxpayer dollar they retrieve. Employing these firms is almost eight times more expensive than relying on the IRS, but, according to IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, it fits in with the Bush administration's efforts to reduce the size of government.

Frist falsifies medical license application

The New York Times is very careful in this piece not to accuse Bill Frist of falsifying his renewal application for his medical license, but it sure sounds like he did:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (AP) — The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, did not meet all the requirements needed to keep his medical license active even though he gave paperwork to Tennessee officials indicating that he had, his office acknowledged Tuesday.

Tennessee requires its licensed physicians to complete 40 hours of continuing medical education every two years. Mr. Frist, a heart-lung surgeon, submitted a license renewal with the Tennessee Health Department stating he had fulfilled that requirement.

Frist's staff seemed to be arguing that Frist simply wasn't aware of the change in the Tennessee requirements for continuing education when he completed the application, but the article goes on to say:
A renewal application that Mr. Frist filed with the medical examiners board this February specifically mentioned the continuing education requirement and was signed on his behalf by his accountant.
It appears to me to be a deliberate lie on a State application. I wonder if that's a felony under Tennessee law.

Iran's bid for world domination - not

Matthew Yglesias hits thenail on the head with this one:

... if Iran is preparing to mount a Hitler-style bid for world domination they must be engaged in a big military build-up, right? But there is no such build up. Maybe there's no need for a build-up because the Iranian military is already so vast and mighty? Well, no. Iran has a defense budget of about $6 billion a year.

The United States spends over 50 times more than that. But perhaps comparisons to the USA are misleading. Lets compare our would-be regional hegemon to its neighbors. Well, Israel spends $9.6 billion and Saudi Arabia spends $25.2 billion. Pakistan, immediately adjacent to Iran and nuclear armed, actually has engaged in a recent defense buildup. What kind of quest for hegemony is Iran supposed to be on? Ignorant American pundits and television personalities may be unaware of these facts, but surely Iranian military and intelligence officials have noticed that Iran has no capacity whatsoever to conquer the region.

Meanwhile, the freaky and unpredictable Iranian regime has actually been in power for a very long time. Since before I was born. The regime is not only long-entrenched, but quite corrupt. Mightn't this lead you think it's being run by reasonably comfortable men who enjoy the fruits of power, intend to stay in power, and know a thing or two about maintaining their power rather than by irrational lunatics who've been waiting in the wings for 27 years preparing to spring their bid for world domination upon us without first having acquired so much as a single modern tank?

And then there's the small matter that our purported would-be Hitlers in Teheran were trying to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the United States as recently as 2003. Their proposal was rejected by the Bush administration. Not rejected, I remind you, because the Bushies found the details of the proposal inadequate and Teheran refused to compromise further. No! It was rejected without any effort at negotiation because, at the time, the administration was busy threatening to overthrow the government of Iran as the second or third item in an ambitious plan to overthrow every government in the region.

So, here's Iran. Outgunned by its two leading religio-ideological antagonists, Israel and Saudi Arabia, in the region. One immediate neighbor is Pakistan, with a larger population base and a nuclear arsenal. Another immediate neighbor, Afghanistan, is occupied by soldiers under the command of an American president who has spurned peace offers and threatened to overthrow the Iranian government. A second immediate neighbor, Iraq, is occupied by a larger number of soldiers from the same country. The Iranian military's equipment is outdated and essentially incapable of mounting offensive operations. So Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. Under the circumstances, wouldn't you? Don't you think a little deterrence capability would serve the country well under those circumstances?

I'm sorry to have gone on at such great length here, and a little nervous about stepping outside the "sensible" zone with my commentary on this topic, but somebody needs to call bull$#*t on the prevailing elite consensus about Iran. Of course it would be better to find a way to persuade, cajole, whatever Iran out of going nuclear -- the spread of nuclear weapons is, as such, bad for the USA. But there's no need -- absolutely no need -- for this atmosphere of panic and paranoia.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

US Constitution, Nothing but an 18th Century Document

Here's what Judge Richard Posner, of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, thinks of the Constitution of the United States (as quoted by Glenn Greenwald):

The Constitution is nothing but "an 18th Century document," Posner complained, and "the notion that [the Founders] had the answers to 20th Cenutry problems . . . is, I think, wrong and dangerous."
Somewhat more sophisticated than our President, who said, "The Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper," but not very different in effect. Isn't it nice that those who are sworn to protect and defend the Constitution and those who are appointed to interpret it think it's just an 18th century document that has no relevance to modern America?

Move right along, nothing to see here

The Bushies have sent the fox out to investigate the hen house, as usual:

Aug. 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Treasury official leading a government inquiry into the hedge-fund industry is owed up to $2.5 million in payments keyed in part to hedge-fund investments.

The official, Emil Henry Jr., has a severance agreement with his former firm, Gleacher Partners LLC, that entitles him to 20 percent of the 2006 profits of an asset management unit specializing in hedge-fund investments, according to his federal financial disclosure form.

The arrangement has been cleared by ethics specialists and Henry has disqualified himself from making policy decisions on hedge funds until the Gleacher payouts are completed, said Treasury spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli. Still, some securities and ethics attorneys said the severance deal poses at least an appearance of a conflict of interest, especially because the Treasury hedge-fund review is closed to the public.

Taking back the House

Chris Bowers at MyDD has taken a close look at the 60 most closely contested House races. He concludes that, as things stand now, the Dems look likely to pick up from 12 to 19 seats. 12 is not enough. Anything 15 or over is enough to take the majority, albeit a weak one.

It's time to start thinking about where a contribution would do the most good.

No Arabic allowed on Jet Blue

Now, you're on the no fly list because of an inscription on your t-shirt:

NEW YORK, NY August 29, 2006 —An Iraqi architect says he was not allowed to board a Jet Blue flight at JFK because of the Arabic inscription on his t-shirt.

REPORTER: Raed Jarrar was wearing a T-shirt that read We Will Not Be Silent in Arabic and English, when he was approached by security officers. The officers said the Arabic script was upsetting other passengers, and told Jarrar to either turn the shirt inside out or wear something else. Jarrar protested but finally wore a T-shirt provided by a Jet Blue employee.

Just remember, the goal of the terrorists is to terrorize us. When we do things like this, they win.

Arlen Specter - American traitor

Raw Story tells us that the Senate is planning to push the Arlen Specter "give the President every power he seeks" bill as soon as it re-convenes next week. As usual, the Dems probably will still be on vacation, and those who do come back won't have the guts to try to block it.

It's just painfully sickening to watch our country going down the tubes.

Income statistics

The US Census Bureau has released the Current Population Reports on Consumer Income for 2005.

The Bureau is touting the fact that Median Household Income (in real terms) rose from $45,817 to $46,326 (about 1.5%) between 2004 and 2005. I guess they hope to use these data to offset the report in the NY Times the other day that this is the first recovery since World War II in which real incomes have fallen.

What the Census Bureau doesn't tout is the fact that the real median Earnings of Full-time, Year-round workers fell between the two years. For men, the median fell from $42,160 in 2004 to $41,386 in 2005 (1.8%), and for women, the median fell from $32,285 to $31,858 (1.3%). These, of course, are the principal bread-winners, yet their incomes are falling. I guess the rise in household income is attributable to sending the kids and the grandparents (and, what otherwise might have been stay-at-home moms) out for part time work to make up the difference.

Somehow, I don't see this as much to crow about.

Having your ear tuned to the market

This certainly reminds me of Soviet style communism.
China is developing a patriotic internet game featuring Chinese heroes to wean the young off their addiction to violent foreign games.

Unlike the more popular games, where players have to slay dragons, fight aliens or beat up bad guys, in Chinese Heroes players "click on statues to learn about their experiences and carry out tasks like moving bricks", Xinhua news agency said.

Kou Xiaowei, an official with China's General Administration of Press and Publication, which is organising the game's development, said: "We hope the game will teach players about Chinese ethics."
I'm sure this game will rise to the top of the best seller list almost immediately. Every kid wants to click on statues of heros and, boy, it's really fun to move bricks.

White House to be subpoenaed in NSA spying case

This story is rather interesting. My former litigation opponent, Bruce Afran, is planning to subpoena the Bush White House:

Two attorneys representing claimants in a lawsuit over wiretapping by the National Security Agency will subpoena the White House today…

Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, who represent hundreds of plaintiffs in lawsuits against Verizon, AT&T, and the US Government, will announnce today that they are serving both the Bush administration and Verizon with subpoenas…

Mayer explained that the subpoena seeks to learn "whether the Bush administration has unlawfully targeted journalists, peace activists, libertarians, members of congress or generated an 'enemies list.'"
I very much doubt that we'll see Bush (or anyone from the White House) appear pursuant to this subpoena, but it's always fun to dream.

Meanwhile, I'm getting to like my old adversary, Bruce, more and more as this case progresses.

A stake in the future

Publius has an interesting post on the role of income/wealth in promoting socially beneficial behavior. Among his observations, Muslims in America tend to be better educated and have higher incomes than the average American, whereas in England, Muslims then to be considerably worse off than the average citizen. Publius believes, and I tend to agree, that this tends to explain why Muslims here are far less radicalized than those in Britain.

Muslims here have a stake in the future. Muslims in England see little opportunity in the future -- at least as things now stand.

As Publius puts it:

The truly interesting question, though, is not so much establishing that class matters, but why class matters. I’ve touched on this before, but I think it gets back to the idea of having a stake in the future — or in game theory-speak, to the idea of iteration and repeat-game scenarios. People with money and an education have a greater possibility of future economic and social benefits — i.e, they have greater incentives to stay “in the game” and within its rules. They know they’ll be playing future “games” and will have strong incentives to maintain their reputation to reap the benefits.

For example, take a well-to-do suburban kid and an inner-city kid. One avoids trouble in youth, the other doesn’t. Why? Conservatives would tend to focus more on individual merit and culture, whereas old-time Lefties would focus on economics. The latter would argue that the inner-city kid — facing a bleak future with no prospects — has no future benefits to keep him in line. Therefore, there is less reason to worry about one’s reputation. In economics lingo, “bad” behavior has fewer opportunity costs because there were no opportunities to begin with. If the suburban kid, by contrast, sells crack, then he loses his ticket to a good college and his ticket to future “games” (i.e., jobs, social relations, dating Comp Lit majors, etc.).

One reason I like thinking about this stuff from a game theory perspective is that it lets me be a materialist without embracing the more misguided aspects of the old Left’s idealism. Call it a “Third Way.” Conservatives argue that individuals are flawed and that culture matters most, and so economic reform doesn’t help much. Old Lefties (in the line of Rousseau), however, argue that men are bad because of economics and inequalities. Fix the inequality, fix the man. In short, man can be made good. (On an aside, that’s why Rousseau and the French Revolutionaries he inspired are the true intellectual ancestors of the neocons and the intellectual assumptions of the Iraq War).

The game theory approach sort of splits the baby. Contrary to conservative assumptions, economics is in fact the primary source of the problem. But contrary to old Left assumptions, fixing the economics doesn’t necessarily make the person better (I am, after all, a Madisonian pessimist on this stuff). It simply aligns individual self-interest with public self-interest. Giving someone an economic opportunity doesn’t make him a better person, it just gives him incentives to behave. Thus, the suburban kid (or his culture) isn’t necessary “better” than the inner-city kid. It’s just that his opportunity costs are higher for bad behavior. In other words, if he acts selfishly (i.e., in a way to maximize benefits to him), the public benefits as well. The suburban kid not selling crack is, in this sense, acting as selfishly as the kid selling crack. It’s just that society is better off with the former.

The upshot of all this is that if we really want to reform the problems facing the Middle East or even our urban inner-cities, we need to focus on economic reform first. Dreamy democracy promotion comes second. Before you can have the latter, you have to a population committed to stability and invested in the future. Our new allies in Sadr City aren’t exactly there right now.
Frankly, I don't think you need the game-theoretic framework to explain this. The central idea is pretty simple, and the standard economic concept of opportunity costs works without the extra embellishment of game theory. With or without game theory, the idea has merit I think.

One important lesson of all this, it seems to me, it that the growing disparity between the rich and the poor in this country is likely to lead to anti-social behavior on the part of those not participating in the benefits of the economy. The rich don't seem to understand this, but it may come back to haunt them if they end up having to live in a lawless, chaotic society, where the majority of the population has nothing at stake in preserving stability.

One of my biggest fears

One of my biggest fears, a fear that's been growing throughout the course of this administration, is the fear that even once we rid ourselves of the Thuglican government and have elected Democrats in their place, we won't have ridded ourselves of the Bush legacy, particularly his usurpation of Constitutional powers.

It's in the nature of people in power to want as much power as possible. Our founding fathers knew that. That's why they created the separation of powers and the deliberate competition between branches of government.

Now that Bush has paved the way to government of the executive branch, by the executive branch and for the executive branch, his successors will inevitably want to follow in that path, be they Democrats or Republicans.

That means they'll continue to push for warrantless surveillance, for the power of the president to imprison anyone on his/her say so alone, to wage war without Congressional consent, and on and on. The "unitary executive" is probably here to stay.

I fear the damage is permanent, and that we've lost everything that made this country great.

I hope I'm wrong.

Investor optimism plummets

An index of investor optimism is down 40 points, from 93 to 53, just since the turn of the year:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investor optimism fell in August to a new low for the year as investors expressed growing concern about the slumping real estate market, according to the UBS/Gallup Index of Investor Optimism released on Monday.

Optimism dropped to 53 during the month of August, down from 55 points in July and down 40 points since the beginning of 2006. The August reading is the lowest since November 2005.
Looks like I'm not the only one worried about the real estate bubble.

Seven days to the grand re-opening of Scatablog

We're going to be making a few changes in the appearance of Scatablog, beginning the day after Labor Day -- seven days from now. So keep your eyes open.

One hell of a roller coaster ride we're about to experience

Via AtriosShiller won't say it, but it sure looks like the long-term norm (ignoring the Great Depression) on that scale is around 110-115. With prices now indexed at 200, that could mean a drop of 45% or so in home prices if we return to the historic norm.

Fasten your seat belts and hold on tight folks. The roller coaster has breached the top and is just about to plummet to the ground.

For years, Paul Krugman has claimed that our entire economy these days is based on the real estate bubble. When the bubble bursts, what's left?

Controlling self-interested behavior

Kevin Drum makes a point that few Republicans seem to be able to understand while they kneel piously before the altar of the Free Market:

... it's foolish to paint Wal-Mart or the broader business community as "evil." They aren't, any more than ordinary human beings are evil. It's just that, left to their own devices, both humans and corporations tend to act solely in their own self-interest. That's why we have laws to control human behavior, and it's why we need laws and regulations to control corporate behavior. I prefer a society in which people don't gun each other down in the streets, and I also prefer a society in which middle class workers prosper when the economy grows. I support laws that encourage both.
Precisely. Laws and regulations are particularly necessary in situations where the social costs of bad behavior are not "priced" in the market. In Wal-Mart's case, for instance, there is little or no cost to the company (which often has a sort of monopsony on the low-end labor market in the areas where it operates) to refuse health insurance to its employees. Hence, the state bears the cost.

At the height of the liberal "great society," of course, some regulations were just stupid and non-sensical. But, just because some regulations are bad doesn't mean all regulations are bad.

The Cheney Presidency

by Robert Kuttner August 26, 2006
GEORGE W. BUSH has been faulted in some quarters for taking an extended vacation while the Middle East festers. It doesn't much matter; the man running the country is Vice President Dick Cheney.
When historians look back on the multiple assaults on our constitutional system of government in this era, Cheney's unprecedented role will come in for overdue notice. Cheney's shotgun mishap, when he accidentally sprayed his host with birdshot, has gotten more media attention than has his control of the government.
Historically, the vice president's job was to ceremonially preside over the Senate, attend second-tier foreign funerals, and be prepared for the president to die. Students are taught that John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, compared the job to a bucket of warm spit (and historians say spit was not the word the pungent Texan actually used).
Recent vice presidents Walter Mondale and Al Gore were given more authority than most, but there was no doubt that the president was in charge.
Cheney is in a class by himself. The administration's grand strategy and its implementation are the work of Cheney-- sometimes Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, sometimes Cheney and political director Karl Rove.
Cheney has planted aides in major Cabinet departments, often over the objection of a Cabinet secretary, to make sure his policies are carried out. He sits in on the Senate Republican caucus, to stamp out any rebellions. Cheney loyalists from the Office of the Vice President dominate interagency planning meetings.
The Iraq war is the work of Cheney and Rumsfeld. The capture of the career civil service is pure Cheney. The disciplining of Congress is the work of Cheney and Rove. The turning over of energy policy to the oil companies is Cheney. The extreme secrecy is Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
If Cheney were the president, more of this would be smoked out because the press would be paying attention. The New York Times' acerbic columnist Maureen Dowd regularly makes sport of Cheney's dominance, and there are plenty of jokes (Bush is a heartbeat away from the presidency). But you can count serious newspaper or magazine articles on Cheney's operation on the fingers of one hand. One exceptional example is Jane Mayer's piece in the July 3 New Yorker on Cheney operative David Addington .
Cheney's power is matched only by his penchant for secrecy. When my colleague at the American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss, requested the names of people who serve on the vice president's staff, he was told this was classified information. Former staffers for other departments provided Dreyfuss with names.
So secretive is Cheney (and so incurious the media) that when his chief of staff, Irving Lewis Libby, was implicated in the leaked identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, reporters who rushed to look Libby up on Nexis and Google found that Libby had barely rated previous press attention.
Why does this matter? Because if the man actually running the government is out of the spotlight, the administration and its policies are far less accountable.
When George W. Bush narrowly defeated John Kerry in 2004, many commentators observed that Bush was the fellow with whom you would rather have a beer. It's an accurate and unflattering comment on the American electorate -- but then who wants to have a beer with Cheney? The public may not know the details of his operation, but voters intuitively recoil from him.
Bush's popularity ratings are now under 40 percent, beer or no, reflecting dwindling confidence in where he is taking the country. But Cheney's ratings are stuck around 20 percent, far below that of any president.
If Cheney were the actual president, not just the de facto one, he simply could not govern with the same set of policies and approval ratings of 20 percent. The media focuses relentless attention on the president, on the premise that he is actually the chief executive. But for all intents and purposes, Cheney is chief, and Bush is more in the ceremonial role of the queen of England.
Yet the press buys the pretense of Bush being ``the decider," and relentlessly covers Bush -- meeting with world leaders, cutting brush, holding press conferences, while Cheney works in secret, largely undisturbed. So let's take half the members of the overblown White House press corps, which has almost nothing to do anyway, and send them over to Cheney Boot Camp for Reporters. They might learn how to be journalists again, and we might learn who is running the government.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe

Katrina: 1st Anniversary of Monumental Bush Administration Failure

Excerpts from a message from Senator Obama: This week marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the greatest natural disasters to ever strike our shores. The images of Katrina are still seared in our minds one year later: mothers holding their babies above water, seniors slumped in wheelchairs, and bodies floating down American streets. We vowed then, and still vow today, that we'll never forget. One of greatest tragedies of Katrina is that our government failed us. The people who are supposed to be there for us when the chips are down failed and forgot the hundreds of thousands of people who needed them the most—and left them to fend for themselves. One year later and we're still hearing about survivors pleading with the government for trailers and food stamps. Today, many have already forgotten the tragedy—and how Americans stepped up in the face of massive government failure to take care of each other. The news cycle moved on, but those affected didn't have that luxury. From the beginning, the idea that has been at the center of the American experience is that amid a melting pot of races and backgrounds and beliefs, we still feel a responsibility toward each other. That out of many, we are one. It's what brought together white and black, rich and poor to march together and fight together for civil rights. It's what's caused soldier after soldier to risk their lives to save those people they never met. And it's what sent Americans from all over the country deep into the waters of New Orleans, willing to do whatever it takes to pull their neighbors to safety.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Inequality: It's the Republicans, Stupid!

In light of Walldon’s important post below on wage stagnation, “A rising tide lifts only the millionaires' yachts,” and an earlier one on the so-called “educational premium” as responsible for growing income inequality, I will put up this little piece I was working on.

I think James K. Galbraith pretty solidly dismantled the “education premium” argument for recent growth in income inequality in his 1998 book, Created Unequal. As far as I can tell, this theory in itself, as the explanation for growing inequality, has no more empirical support than the argument that government policy is primarily responsible. In fact, I would think far less. Funny how we too often go along with how the conservative economists (almost an oxymoron, but not quite) stack the deck: they say it’s the education premium, then we say, no, it is government policy, they say prove it, we say, well, it is hard to prove, so it must be a mix of factors. Since a mix of factors means nothing to anyone who hears the argument, while education premium is clear (as well as self-satisfying to the college educated), the conservatives win the argument.

If it is the education premium, then how come income inequality virtually always increases during Republican administrations, and decreases during Democratic administrations? Could it be that Republicans always follow policies that attempt to depress wages ostensibly to favor management – it’s a false premise that bounces back against even the small businesses, I would say -- while Democrats generally try to adopt policies that improve wages to favor labor? How could income inequality – not wealth inequality, and it’s important to keep the distinction clear – be reduced in the 90s under Clinton, as it was, when surely the importance of education was growing just as rapidly as it is now?

In my mind, the so-called “growing education premium” is just that: so-called -- a smokescreen to prevent people from seeing what is right in front of them. When Democrats are in office, the emphasis is on eliminating poverty and improving wages and incomes within the lower and middle classes, and the economy flourishes as a direct result of the massive infusion of confidence that comes from such policy changes. When Republicans are in office, the economy stagnates, period. (That goes for Reagan, too, although he managed to make it look otherwise.) It’s right there in the numbers.

Now granted, using the last 60 years or so – post-war America – does not render enough comparisons of Republican vs. Democratic administrations that would meet statistical models of certainty. That’s why it is political, why ultimately we must make an educated judgment on causation because that is the best we can do. But from Truman, through Kennedy and Johnson, even most of Jimmy Carter, and certainly Bill Clinton, Democrats did Democratic things when they came into office and our economies flourished for ordinary working people. Poverty came down, so did unemployment, and so did income inequality. The economies usually worked better for the wealthy, too, since the business climate improved and stock market performance also has tended to be better under Democrats. The difference is that the middle and lower classes participated in the improvement more.

I think the bottom line is that, in a macro sense to explain and counsel government policy, classical economic theory fails badly. I believe in the social contract theory of how we, as a society, tacitly agree to divide up the rewards of economic activity. The deck inherently is stacked in favor of the wealthy, who have the resources to bend government to their concerns, unless government deliberately and consciously makes sure working people have bargaining resources, too, as has been the case beginning with Teddy Roosevelt and continuing through the Democratic presidents in the 20th century. The mainstream social contract today is a mix of Friedmanism (Milton, that is) and Galbraithism (John Kenneth). Yes, we believe in maximum marketplace freedom that allows Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to create unimagined new wealth (and allows us to open that store we always wanted to do), and we believe, in general, that corporate profits are a good thing. But in this mainstream social contract, we also believe in public education, Social Security, some way of achieving universal health insurance against being wiped out by a health crisis at the wrong time – such as after the layoff and before the next job – some level of government mandates on workplace safety and a clean environment (with the businesses affected being able to shape fairly and reasonably the rules they will have to live by), low unemployment, and continuing improvement in the lot of ordinary people, including continuing improvement in eliminating poverty. Minimum wage, enforcement of the labor laws, enforcement of workplace safety, progressive taxation and full employment as a national goal (all of which the Republicans reject) tend to do these things. They give working people better bargaining power for carving up the national wealth more fairly.

What the stagnation of wages in a time of high productivity and huge corporate profits shows is that the mainstream social contract is not being followed by the Administration in power. In my opinion, period, that is 100% of the explanation, all of it, every bit of it. It is the product of the minority who have succeeded in capturing the Republican Party, and now the government itself, who have never accepted the mainstream social contract. They have bought totally into Milton Friedmanism as an ideology, and by hiding it (tapping into resentment of the “power elite” and using phrases like “compassionate conservative”), have been able to undermine the bargaining power within the national social contract that 70 years of presidencies had created or allowed for ordinary people.

Obviously, there is an “educational premium” that contributes heavily to unequal incomes. The word “it” above does not mean inequality per se, but its growth since 1980. The mainstream American social contract today allows for a high level of wealth and income inequality (more so than in other countries, but $200 million for a CEO is well beyond the tolerance point), but what we had going through several generations in the post-war period was gradual reduction in that inequality. That most of all signaled continuing reduction in poverty and improving real wages for all workers – especially during Democratic administrations. Now we really see what pure Republican ideology does, and it’s not good. Terms like “educational premium” are used to hide that.

Federal judge blocks Florida from banning voter registration drives

You may recall that the Republicans in Florida recently passed a state law that makes it virtually impossible for any independent group to conduct voter registration drives. The law asseses heavy fines for any mishandling of any voter registration for any reason, including, for example, if the voter registration was destroyed by hurrican damage when in the hands of the independent group. As a consequence, the League of Women Voters, among other independent groups, was forced to cancel their planned voter registration drives.

The reason for this law, of course, is that new registrants rounded up by independent groups tend to favor Democrats, so Republicans see it in their interest to supress the vote by supressing voter registration.

Several other states, including Ohio, have adopted or plan to adopt similar laws.

Well, there's some good news today. A federal judge in Florida has blocked the State from enforcing this absurd law. Hopefully, similar prohibitions will be invoked on the other states that plan this kind of disenfranchisement.

America, the police state

I've been out of town over the weekend, so I didn't blog about this story when it came out. Two American citizens have been refused re-entry to the United States by immigration officials because they refused to submit to interrogation by Federal agents without right to counsel while on foreign soil.

Muhammad Ismail, a 45-year-old naturalized citizen born in Pakistan, and his 18-year-old son, Jaber Ismail, who was born in the United States, have not been charged with a crime. However, they are the uncle and cousin of Hamid Hayat, a 23-year-old Lodi cherry packer who was convicted in April of supporting terrorists by attending a Pakistani training camp.

Federal authorities said Friday that the men, both Lodi residents, would not be allowed back into the country unless they agreed to FBI interrogations in Pakistan. An attorney representing the family said agents have asked whether the younger Ismail trained in terrorist camps in Pakistan.

They're not charged with anything. They simply aren't allowed to come home.

Now, the proper way to handle this is for the government to charge them with something, arrest them and try them in a court of law if the government has any evidence. If it doesn't, you allow them to come home, and, if you suspect they may be dangerous, you get a FISA warrant to follow them around.

Instead, the government choses to violate the most basic rights of our so-called democracy. First, the right of a citizen to citizenship, and second, the right to due process and a fair trial.

A rising tide lifts only the millionaires' yachts

Real wages have failed to keep up rise during a period of sustained economic growth for the first time since WWII. From the NY Times today:
With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers…

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

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”
We've known this has been a singularly poor period for wage growth. There continues to be disagreement over the cause, even among liberal economists, but I'm convinced the Bush policies and the overall ideological background noise supporting it is largely responsible.

Hopefully, people's discontent alone will be sufficient to sweep out the Thugs running our government in the upcoming elections.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Environment and the Courts

For we who worry about global warming, the Supreme Court has agreed to rule next fall on whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The case is among the most important environmental disputes ever to come before the court.
The outcome will have much to say about whether the country will be able to act more aggressively on a problem with potentially grave consequences for the earth and its inhabitants. It could also determine whether states that have acted on their own to limit global warming emissions from vehicles — as California and 10 other states have done — can proceed without fear of a federal veto.
President Bush has advanced many reasons for not pressing for strong controls on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, power plants and other industrial sources. But his ace in the hole has been the claim that the federal government has no authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
The case turns largely on a simple reading of the Clean Air Act. The administration argues that the act mentions carbon dioxide only in passing, and that if Congress had been truly worried about global warming it would have given the gases that cause it more emphasis and instructed the E.P.A. to take aggressive steps to control them, as it did with sulfur dioxide and other pollutants. The administration argues further that the science on global warming is too "uncertain" to justify anything more than a voluntary effort to deal with it.
The plaintiffs — a formidable collection of state governments and environmental groups — argue that the plain language of the Clean Air Act gives the government jurisdiction over "any air pollutant" that threatens "public health or welfare" and, further, that "welfare" specifically includes effects on climate and weather. This interpretation of the act was first set forth by President Clinton's E.P.A. and stood as agency policy until Mr. Bush reversed it (without consulting his own E.P.A.) in 2001.
As for the science that the administration finds so shaky, the plaintiffs will argue that the science has grown steadily more persuasive since the Clean Air Act was last revised in 1990; that the administration has cherry-picked arguments about details while ignoring the vast preponderance of the evidence; and that the consensus among mainstream scientists — a consensus reinforced by a recent National Academy of Sciences report — is that the earth is inexorably heating up and that industrial emissions are largely responsible.
This is a case of global importance, not least because America's failure to act decisively has discouraged the rest of the world from acting decisively. On the face of it, the law plainly gives the government the power to regulate greenhouse gases. A ruling that tells the administration that it has that power does not mean that it will actually use it. But it will no longer be able to hide behind a legal fiction.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Global Warming and the Courts

NYT July 8, 2006 Editorial

For we who worry about global warming, the Supreme Court has agreed to rule next fall on whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The case is among the most important environmental disputes ever to come before the court.
The outcome will have much to say about whether the country will be able to act more aggressively on a problem with potentially grave consequences for the earth and its inhabitants. It could also determine whether states that have acted on their own to limit global warming emissions from vehicles — as California and 10 other states have done — can proceed without fear of a federal veto.
President Bush has advanced many reasons for not pressing for strong controls on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, power plants and other industrial sources. But his ace in the hole has been the claim that the federal government has no authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
The case turns largely on a simple reading of the Clean Air Act. The administration argues that the act mentions carbon dioxide only in passing, and that if Congress had been truly worried about global warming it would have given the gases that cause it more emphasis and instructed the E.P.A. to take aggressive steps to control them, as it did with sulfur dioxide and other pollutants. The administration argues further that the science on global warming is too "uncertain" to justify anything more than a voluntary effort to deal with it.
The plaintiffs — a formidable collection of state governments and environmental groups — argue that the plain language of the Clean Air Act gives the government jurisdiction over "any air pollutant" that threatens "public health or welfare" and, further, that "welfare" specifically includes effects on climate and weather. This interpretation of the act was first set forth by President Clinton's E.P.A. and stood as agency policy until Mr. Bush reversed it (without consulting his own E.P.A.) in 2001.
As for the science that the administration finds so shaky, the plaintiffs will argue that the science has grown steadily more persuasive since the Clean Air Act was last revised in 1990; that the administration has cherry-picked arguments about details while ignoring the vast preponderance of the evidence; and that the consensus among mainstream scientists — a consensus reinforced by a recent National Academy of Sciences report — is that the earth is inexorably heating up and that industrial emissions are largely responsible.
This is a case of global importance, not least because America's failure to act decisively has discouraged the rest of the world from acting decisively. On the face of it, the law plainly gives the government the power to regulate greenhouse gases. A ruling that tells the administration that it has that power does not mean that it will actually use it. But it will no longer be able to hide behind a legal fiction.

Friday, August 25, 2006

First Pluto, now Carson Pirie Scott

We've lost a lot this week. First, Pluto was de-commissioned as a planet and now the Carson Pirie Scott store on State Street in Chicago is going too.


When I told my wife (my child bride) this, she didn't even know what Carson Pirie Scott was -- so I guess it's really an oldie's thing. No wonder they're going down.

CHICAGO - State Street may still be a great street, as the song says. But Friday's news that the Carson Pirie Scott department store was leaving the landmark building it's called home for more than a century was just the latest reminder that it is no longer the same street.

And, to make matters worse, Marshall Fields is changing its name to Macy's.

One of my biggest complaints about modern society is that every place is the same. You can go into a store in Kuwait City or in Lima, Peru or in Paris or in almost anyplace in the world, and you find the same brand names, the same designs, the same junk you find everywhere else in the world. Apart from the wilds of Tibet or the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, everyplace is exactly the same. In the old days, you travelled to find new and interesting things. Today, you travel, and (at least at the commercial level) you find the same thing you could have found in your own back yard.

Obviously, the modern Carson Pirie Scott is no different from any of these other places, but at least it had a venerated name and location. Now, let's just go to the mall.

I guess I'm getting old.

EPA deliberately falsified toxicity tests on 9/11 pollution

According to a letter published in Raw Story, the EPA deliberately falsified the toxicity tests of the pollution emanating from ground zero in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Numbers of workers at the site have since come down with pulminary disease caused by the pollutants. Several have died.

That sounds to me like a potential manslaughter charge could be filed against those who directed the falsification. Christie Whitman?

A scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency has written a letter to Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and other members of the New York congressional delegation blasting the EPA for hiding dangerous toxins from Ground Zero workers in the aftermath of 9/11, RAW STORY has learned.

The letter, written by Dr. Cate Jenkins and obtained by RAW STORY, claims that EPA-funded research on the toxicity of breathable alkaline dust at the site “falsified pH results” to make the substance appear benign, when it was, in reality, corrosive enough to cause first responders and other workers in lower Manhattan to later lose pulmonary functions and, in some cases, to die.


Try Googling "failure" and then click on the first result ;)

Rebroadcasting Hizbullah

I have hesitated to blog about the arrest yesterday of Javed Iqbal for re-broadcasting Hizbullah television broadcasts to his clients in the New York area because I wasn't sure exactly what he was being charged with. He's being prosecuted under a law that forbids business transactions with terrorist organizations, and I assumed that he was being prosecuted for having purchased the television transmissions from Hizbullah.

If that, in fact, is the basis for the prosecution, I suppose I can accept it. After all, giving money to a terrorist organization is providing them direct aid.

In today's NY Times article on the arrest, however, it appears that perhaps the government was simply arresting him for disseminating Hizbullah's TV broadcasts, without Iqbal's necessarily having paid Hizbullah anything for them. If that's the case, it's hard to tell how, for example, that would differ materially from, say, a CNN reporter on the scene in Lebanon telling us what a Hizbullah spokesman had said about the Israeli attacks. The CNN reporter would be disseminating Hizbullah's views, and, if that's considered illegally aiding a terrorist organization, then virtually any reporting about the terrorists would be illegal.

Here's what the ACLU spokes person said about it:

“It appears that the statute under which Mr. Iqbal is being prosecuted includes a First Amendment exemption that prevents the government from punishing people for importing news communications,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Such an exemption is constitutionally necessary, and the fact that the government is proceeding with the prosecution in spite of it raises serious questions about how free our marketplace of idea is.”
Once again, it looks as though the government is way over-stepping its bounds.

Terrorists mean to terrorize

Via Kos, I came across this piece by Bruce Schneier. The nickle version: Terrorists mean to terrorize. If you let them terrorize you, they've won. So true.

I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.

We're all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been trumpeting the story ever since.

In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports.

Regardless of the threat, from the would-be bombers' perspective, the explosives and planes were merely tactics. Their goal was to cause terror, and in that they've succeeded.

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if they had blown up 10 planes. There would be canceled flights, chaos at airports, bans on carry-on luggage, world leaders talking tough new security measures, political posturing and all sorts of false alarms as jittery people panicked. To a lesser degree, that's basically what's happening right now.

Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we're terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists' actions, and increase the effects of their terror.

... The implausible plots and false alarms actually hurt us in two ways. Not only do they increase the level of fear, but they also waste time and resources that could be better spent fighting the real threats and increasing actual security. I'll bet the terrorists are laughing at us.

Another thought experiment: Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn't engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press didn't write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn't use the event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we'd reacted that way, then the terrorists would have truly failed.

It's time we calm down and fight terror with antiterror. This does not mean that we simply roll over and accept terrorism. There are things our government can and should do to fight terrorism, most of them involving intelligence and investigation -- and not focusing on specific plots.

But our job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320 million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not terrorists. Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance political careers or increase a television show's viewership.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.

German State: Wire transfer snooping illegal

Raw Story says that a German state has found the US snooping on wire transfers to be a violation of both German and EU law:

The Data Protection Commission within the German lander (or state) of Schlewsig-Holstein published an analysis of the handing over of transactional data from the agency SWIFT in Brussels to the US government. It found that the practice violates German and European data protection law because there is no legal basis for the transfer of intra-European transactional information to the US SWIFT processing center, and because US-EU transactions do not have their data properly safeguarded by the US.

With the Commission finding a lack of legal basis for the SWIFT monitoring, it called for an immediate cessation of the mirroring of European data in the US SWIFT data center.

I wonder how Bush will counter this one. Do you suppose his Article II powers include overriding German law? Or, alternatively, I suppose we could attack and invade Germany to force our laws on them.

If you don't like the results of the election, throw out the election

It seems the Democratic Party should be renamed the unDemocratic party:

The Democratic primary victory of Alabama lesbian Patricia Todd for a seat in the statehouse was overturned by a party committee tonight. The committee vote was 5-0. Had the committee not reversed the election, which Todd won by 59 votes, she would have become the first openly gay elected official in the state's history. No Republican has entered the race in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. Todd's race was to determine who would represent District 54 in Birmingham in the statehouse.

… The committee disqualified Todd and her opponent, Gaynell Hendricks, because they had not filed a required campaign finance report on time. The same rule has been ignored by all candidates since 1988 and the Associated Press has reported that this year's party nominees for Governor and Lieutenant Governor have not filed the reports as well.
There seems to be an increasing trend these days to just undo the results of elections when you don't like them. I thought it was just Republicans, but now the Democrats are doing it too.

Congressional intelligence?

The short version of Juan Cole's comments on the Congressional Intelligence Committee's misleading report on the Iran menace:

Folks, we are being set up again.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Court rules its okay to wiretap anyone with information not gererally available

Another bad ruling from a Republican appointee:

Journalism took another hit yesterday when a federal judge ruled the government could legitimately tap the phones of anyone handling "material that is not generally available to the public."

As one observer noted, that's just what a free press traffics. "If the press could only report on 'information generally available to the public,' there would be no need for a press," secrecy expert Steven Aftergood told JTA.

The Judge, T.S. Ellis III was a Reagan appointee.

Crazier by the minute

Katherine Harris, she gets crazier by the minute. Here's what the Florida Baptist Witness quotes her as saying,

We have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers.
Let's just hope all her potential voters believe that and don't turn out to vote because God will do it for them.

[A hat tip to Raw Story]

Trumping up the scare factor

The House Intel Report (PDF) is part of the apparently coordinated effort to exaggerate the threat from Iran. As Matthew Yglesias, guest blogging at Talking Points Memo, points out, the chart from the report (above), purportedly showing the range of Iran's missles, shows them being fired from Kuwait, not Iran, and includes two ranges (the two larger circles) for missles that do not exist.

I'm sure CNN and MSNBC and ABC and CBS and NBC will helpfully point that out to their viewers when they show this graphic.

Pluto purged

Pluto has been purged from the panoply of planets.

Sigh... What will we tell the children?

Always in search of an opportunity, perhaps it's a good time to buy stock in whatever company makes those posters showing the planets that they display in second grade classrooms.

Supporting the troops the GOP way

Here's how our lantern-jawed, macho GOP tough guys support our troops:

Congress appears ready to slash funding for the research and treatment of brain injuries caused by bomb blasts, an injury that military scientists describe as a signature wound of the Iraq war.

House and Senate versions of the 2007 Defense appropriation bill contain $7 million for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center — half of what the center received last fiscal year.

[A hat tip to the Carpetbagger]

The war drums are beating

Laura Rosen at Washington Monthly picks up on the fact that there have been a flury of Iran-bashing "news" stories coming out of the government in the two days since the Iranians responded more or less negatively to the UN demand they cease nuclear activities.

Not mentioned in her piece is today's piece in the NY Times saying that many in the GOP believe the CIA is underplaying the threat from Iran. As everyone else in the blogosphere has pointed out, this is exactly what these same people were saying about Iraq, before the war there.

Laura asks, "Is the timing of these statements and reports coincidental? Is it coordinated? And if so, by whom?"

I opt for coordinated, but as Atrios points out, "You don't roll out a new product until after Labor Day."

Director for Lessons Learned

A "bonus fact" from Jim Hightower:

* Annual salary of Stuart Baker, hired by the Bushites to be the White House "Director for Lessons Learned $106,641:

* Number of lessons that Bush appears to have learned: 0

Ahh, the good ol days

When I saw this in the Shreveport Times, I couldn't believe it was from a current news item:

COUSHATTA -- Nine black children attending Red River Elementary School were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children.

The situation has outraged relatives of the black children who have filed a complaint with school officials.

Superintendent Kay Easley will meet with the family members in her office this morning...

Easley would not comment much on the allegations Wednesday, saying it is a personnel issue. She acknowledged that she has investigated the claim. And she confirmed that the bus driver did not run her route Wednesday, nor would she today.
Didn't we resolve this issue fifty or sixty years ago?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Greenwald v. Althouse

Ann Althouse had a thoroughly inane op-ed [behind subscription wall] criticizing Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's decision in today's NY Times, and Glenn Greenwald steps in to squash the bug with a piece he titles "Ann Althouse - NYT legal expert on a case she knows nothing about." It's too long to summarize, so go read it yourself.

Now this is the way I want to go!

BEIJING (Reuters) - Striptease send-offs at funerals may become a thing of the past in east China after five people were arrested for organizing the intimate farewells, state media reported on Wednesday.

Military draft imminent?

One group of veterans says so:
An Iraq War veterans group says the call-up of thousands of Marines from the Individual Ready Reserve, announced by the Pentagon today, is "one of the last steps before resorting to a draft."

"This move should serve as a wake-up call to America," said Jon Soltz, an Army captain who served in Iraq and heads the group, which raises funds for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans running for Congress. "Today's announcement that thousands of Marines in the Individual Ready Reserve will be called back to go to Iraq is proof that our military is overextended, and there is no plan for victory in Iraq."

While the Pentagon has repeatedly maintained the armed forces have met their recruiting and retention goals, Soltz says, "Today's actions speak louder than words."

The IRR are reservists, who have returned to civilian life, don't drill on a regular basis and prior to the Iraq war were rarely called to active duty. The Army has been dipping into their IRR pool since shortly after the beginning of the war, but today the Marine Corps said they also planned to call thousands of these traditionally last resort troops back to active duty.

I'm 64, but maybe I'll have to go back to college to avoid the draft. Let's see. What field should I pick this time?

The California Senate has passed a bill, now awaiting approval in the Assembly, that would award all of California's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of who won the popular vote in California. The law will only become effective if other states with a collective total of 270 electoral votes, pass similar legislation.

The bill apparently has been sponsored and promoted by Democrats. Why? California is a reliably Democratic state, whose electoral votes reliably go to Democratic candidates. Why would you voluntarily give away those votes to Republicans from other states?

Presumably the reason is to attract candidates to campaign in California and to prevent occurrences like the Al Gore loss in 2000. Frankly, who needs the candidates? And, the next time around it may be the Republican who wins the popular vote by a hair with the Democrat gaining the electoral college. Without the vote fraud in Ohio, that might have been the way the 2004 election would have gone.

I suppose I wouldn't mind it so much if all 50 states signed on, but as long as it's the predominantly Democratic states that are giving up their votes, I'm very dubious.

Income inequality

There's a debate going on in the blogosphere among blogger economists that was spawned by Paul Krugman's column in the NY Times the other day arguing that the increase in income inequality in the US is not due simply to increasing returns to education, as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson claimed recently, but due to government policy. Republican policies have led to increasing inequality while Democratic policies have pushed for greater equality according to Krugman. See here and here and here, for example.

Many economists, even liberal economists, took issue with Krugman's allegation, particularly as it relates to pre-tax income, arguing that there are no real ways that goverenment policy could have had that much effect on pre-tax income. Hence, they argue, the rise in income inequality must be due to other, more natural economic factors, such as changing technology. Others have argued that there are several plausible policy mechanisms, including minimum wage laws, enforcement of labor relations laws, welfare policies, and the fact that higher after-tax income in one year leads to higher pre-tax income in the subsequent year due to earnings on the reinvested after-tax income from the prior year.

To some degree, the arguments raised by those on the Krugman side of this argument, while true, don't seem to have enough behind them to convincingly explain the magnitude of the effect.

I'm going to step in here with one additional observation on the “liberal” side of the argument. It seems to me that much of the growth in income inequality may be explained by differences in the accepted norms of social behavior associated with the conservative v. liberal divide. During recent periods when Republicans have been presidents, the view that chief executives and other high level managers have reached those high positions because they were far more productive than those in lesser positions has tended to prevail. The more people believe that myth, the more justified are the CEOs when they (or their buddies on the Board) vote themselves huge pay raises and bonuses and the easier it is for them to do so.

This trend is augmented by the social Darwinism of the conservatives when they are in power. The poor are poor because they are either stupid or unwilling to work. In either case, they don't deserve to make much money. The rich are rich because they are the productive people in our society. They deserve an ever increasing share of the income and wealth. I suspect that the widespread acceptance of these views tends to result in decisions at all levels of the economy that tend to promote income inequality. As a businessman, you treat the workers like dirt because they are dirt. You give yourself and your buddies in management a big pay increase because you think you are the elite.

This may not really be an effect of “economic policy” per se, but it seems to me it probably does play a role in the outcome for income distribution.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Save the master race

Pat Buchanan thinks only whites have the genetic endowments needed to perpetuate American society.

In his new book, State of Emergency, Pat Buchanan argues for “an immediate moratorium on all immigration.” Why? To preserve the dominance of the white race in America. Buchanan explains on pg. 11:

America faces an existential crisis. If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built. No nation has ever undergone so radical a demographic transformation and survived.

Indeed, Buchanan argues quite explicitly that only whites have the appropriate “genetic endowments” to keep America from collapsing. From pg. 164:

In 1994, Sam Francis, the syndicated columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times…volunteered this thought:

The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted by a different people.”

Indeed, Buchanan argues quite explicitly that only whites have the appropriate “genetic endowments” to keep America from collapsing.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor accused of conflict of interest

Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, is accusing Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of a conflict of interest in the ACLU v. NSA law suit:

According to her 2003 and 2004 financial disclosure statements, Judge Diggs Taylor served as secretary and trustee for the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan (CFSEM). She was re-elected to this position in June 2005. The official CFSEM website states that the foundation made a "recent grant" of $45,000 over two years to the ACLU of Michigan--a plaintiff in the wiretapping case.

According to the CFSEM website, "The Foundation's trustees make all funding decisions at meetings held on a quarterly basis."

Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch is crying foul. "If Judge Diggs Taylor failed to disclose this link to a plaintiff in a case before her court," said President Tom Fitton, "it would certainly call into question her judgment."

The link looks pretty indirect to me (and, who knows, she may have voted against the grant), but I guess this does raise a question or two.

Stop beating a dead horse

A number of bloggers are making a big thing about the Associated Press report that Richard Armitage, then no. 2 in the State Dept., had a one hour meeting with Bob Woodward (the first reporter to learn of Valerie Plame) in June 2003, just at the time the Bush administration was making its concerted effort to swift-boat Joe Wilson.

Frankly, I don't see what the big deal is. Patrick Fitzgerald has clearly signalled that he's not going to indict anyone for leaking Plame's identity but will only indict those who lied and covered up about it (and, even then, the evidence has to be overwhelming). Note that Karl Rove has been given a free pass. I doubt that Armitage was in on the cover up, so I doubt he will be indicted for anything.

Without any more indictments, this story is dead. At most, the civil suit may bring out a few facts that will titilate the press, but I doubt it.

Ideology trumps science once again

About thirty or forty years ago, I recall seeing a story in the news about Soviet scientists who were sent to Siberia because the science they were pursuing (nuclear physics or something similar) was not consistent with Marxist ideology. As a consequence, the Soviet Union was falling behind in that particular field -- even behind the Chinese as I recall.

Today, via Kevin Drum, we see this from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Like a gap in the fossil record, evolutionary biology is missing from a list of majors that the U.S. Department of Education has deemed eligible for a new federal grant program designed to reward students majoring in engineering, mathematics, science, or certain foreign languages.

That absence apparently indicates that students in the evolutionary sciences do not qualify for the grants, and some observers are wondering whether the omission was deliberate.

Remember what happened to the Soviet Union?

Rumsfeld to be replaced?

Laura Rozen says that Bush is putting out feelers to find a replacement for Rumsfeld. I'll believe it when I see it.

Someone (I forget who) said recently that Bush would wait for Lieberman to win his Senate seat, then offer the Defense Secy job to Lieberman, who would resign from the Senate in order to accept the job, thereby giving the Republican governor of Connecticut the opportunity to replace Lieberman with a Republican.

If Bush actually does replace Rumsfeld, I'm sure it will something like that and be just as bad as what we've got, if not worse -- not that you could get much worse than what we've got.

The American Taliban - at it again

Doesn't this just make us all want to be Christians?

First he dismissed 81-year-old Mary Lambert from the Diaconate Board of the First Baptist Church along with two members, claiming there were attendance issues.

Now the Rev. Timothy LaBouf has dismissed Mary Lambert as a Sunday School teacher for an adult class after she's been on the job for over 50 years, claiming that his interpretation of the Bible is that a woman is prohibited from teaching men.

Iran ready for serious talks?

I have no idea whether this is for real or just another stalling tactic. In any event, talking is better than dropping useless bombs, so let's hope Bush comes down from his throne on high and decides to talk. Of course, I know it's a long shot to hope for anything reasonable from Bush.

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Tuesday that Tehran was ready to enter "serious negotiations" over its disputed nuclear program but did not say whether it was willing to suspend uranium enrichment — the West's key demand. The negotiator, Ali Larijani, hand-delivered Iran's response to a Western package of nuclear incentives aimed at persuading it to suspend enrichment.

Lieberman v. Lamont in dead heat?

It's hard to believe there could be this large a shift in voter opinion in just a week or two, but who knows?

Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont are in a statistical tie in the race for United States Senate in Connecticut according to the latest survey from the American Research Group. Among likely voters in November, 44% say they would vote for Lieberman, 42% say they would vote for Lamont, 3% say they would vote for Alan Schlesinger, and 11% are undecided.

Lieberman leads Lamont 57% to 18% among enrolled Republicans and 48% to 38% among unaffiliated (independent) voters. Lamont leads Lieberman 65% to 30% among enrolled Democrats.


Rasmussen has him up by only two points too!

Israeli-Syrian negotiations?

Bush won't talk directly to Syria, but maybe Israel will:

A senior Israeli minister suggested yesterday that, in the wake of its inconclusive war with Hizbollah, Israel should consider resuming peace negotiations with Syria.

Avi Dichter, the Internal Security Minister, told the army radio station that, in exchange for peace, Israel could return the strategic Golan Heights, conquered in the 1967 war. He noted that Israel had paid similar territorial prices for treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

"Any political process is preferable to a military-fighting process," Mr Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, said. "Syria is a very significant country."

Although Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, ruled out such negotiations unless Syria stopped sponsoring terrorist groups, the idea was already gaining purchase among his colleagues. Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister, has appointed a "project manager" to assess the prospects.

Amir Peretz, the Defence Minister, and Shimon Peres, the vice-premier, have also speculated about renewing contacts with Damascus, despite recent hostile statements by Syria's President, Bashar Assad. The aim would be to detach Syria from its central role in the Tehran-Damascus-Hizbollah axis before Iran acquires nuclear weapons. "Assad may be a bastard," an official was quoted as saying yesterday, "but it might be better to have him in our camp".

It would certainly be nice if we had someone in our government who could get past the, "we don't negotiate with terrorists" crap.

More from the lynch mob

This time it was Continental Airlines and the US authorities who threw a Muslim off a flight for no apparent reason:

A British Muslim airline pilot yesterday described the "humiliating" moment when he was hauled off a transatlantic flight just before take-off.

Amar Ashraf, 28, who was born in Wrexham, North Wales, said he felt " demoralised and humiliated" after being told to leave the flight from Manchester to Newark by a stewardess, and then being questioned by armed police. He believes his removal was down to having a "Muslim-sounding name".

Mr Ashraf, 28, a British Pakistani who was returning to his job as a pilot for one of Continental's partner airlines in the US, will lodge a formal complaint with Continental Airlines, with whom he was travelling, as well as with the US authorities.