The Aeration Zone: A liberal breath of fresh air

Contributors (otherwise known as "The Aerheads"):

Walldon in New Jersey ---- Marketingace in Pennsylvania ---- Simoneyezd in Ontario
ChiTom in Illinois -- KISSweb in Illinois -- HoundDog in Kansas City -- The Binger in Ohio

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Nobody's qualified to govern

Once again, the Democrats are proving to the country that they don't deserve to govern anything. It's the committee that invented the six-headed camel.

Unfortunately, the Republicans have already proven that they don't deserve to govern anything either.

We need something else -- maybe a takeover by Finland.

Friday, May 30, 2008

"The Other America": at the pump

It’s instructive to go back to the numbers now and then.

At today’s prices (say, $4.00 per gallon), a year’s worth of gas for a two-car family that together drives 30,000 miles annually, with cars averaging 20 miles per gallon, will cost about $6100. A year-and-a-half ago, with prices around $2.20, that was about $3300. That’s an increase of $2800 in a mere 18 months.

With a median family making about $48,000 per year, with, say, take-home pay of $40,000, gasoline in many cases now consumes over 15% of take-home pay. That’s gasoline. Not repairs or maintenance, monthly payments or depreciation on the car. Just gasoline. In early 2007, it was bad enough: over 8% of median take-home pay – for gasoline only. The increase alone in that time is about 7%.

But hey, get another job that’s closer. Jobs grow on trees these days, don’t they? Switch to public transportation, which will get plentiful in the U.S. one of these centuries. Anyway, those median incomes are growing fast, too, so . . . . Oh, well, never mind!

Half of all Americans, about 150,000,000 people, are in families that make less than the median. Duhhh, but then it's easy to forget. The bottom 40% -- almost half of all Americans, about 120 million of them – take home somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 per year. If that 30,000 miles is a necessity, you’re stuck paying about 20% of all your available family income on gasoline.

Something's not quite right with this picture, don't you think?

Kangaroos on the loose

It looked like a kangaroo court before, but now Gitmo looks even more kangarooish, if that's possible. The prosecutors trying a Canadian detainee in the kangaroo court down there didn't like the fact that the judge kept pressing them for real evidence, so they got rid of the judge.

U.S. military judge at Guantanamo Bay who once acknowledged facing Pentagon criticism over one of his rulings was dismissed Thursday from the case of a Canadian detainee, a defense lawyer said.

Army Col. Peter Brownback had presided over the tribunal's proceedings against Toronto-born Omar Khadr since last year.


Military prosecutors have been pressing Brownback to set a trial date, but he has repeatedly directed them first to satisfy defense requests for access to potential evidence. At a hearing earlier this month, he threatened to suspend the proceedings altogether unless the detention center provided records of Khadr's confinement.

I've done a lot of trial work, but I've never had the luxury of being able to fire the judge when I didn't like his rulings. It must be nice.

The end of the endless primary may be near

Based on the current DailyKos count, Obama needs only 41 more delegates to go over the top. With 86 delegates to be awarded in the primaries that remain between now and Tuesday, if Obama gets only half of them, he will be over the top. Half seems pretty likely to me, given the way the delegates are awarded and the states/territory in play. Maybe the end is near, and we can move on to the real election.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How does the housecleaning get done?

"ABC reporter: Corporate executives forced pro-Bush, pro-war narrative"

"Network news anchors praise the job they did in the run-up to the war"

These are two must-read entries by Glenn Greenwald on the national press stars trying to suppress the information about their utter complicity in letting Bush push us into war, and then extolling themselves for their tough journalism. Many readers may not even be aware of the recent story detailing how the Pentagon used the so-called "independent military analysts" (people like Barry McCaffrey, but many others, too) to pump up the pro-war volume without the networks disclosing that they were part of a Pentagon propaganda program and were also vulnerable to being pressured to hew to the company line because most of them also had direct financial ties to defense contractors.

If you haven't heard about it, here's why: although reported in the New York Times, the networks have virtually blacked it out. Brian Williams (Is he possibly the most arrogant individual in the history of Western Civilization, or what?), Charlie Gibson, Tim Russert, Wolf Blitzer, David Gregory deserve every bit of contempt that can be heaped on them. David Gregory, one of NBC's Nantucket Nabobs (along with Williams, Russert, Chris Matthews, the NBC News President -- Wright, I believe -- and the real big guy, Jack Welch) said challenging the Administration's version "wasn't our job."

But don’t forget the news and corporate managements who pushed the abdication of journalistic standards by the major media. It would be good to see names named of those responsible who are not used to seeing their names in any lights, much less a bad light, and reaching as deep into the executive suites as the responsibility lies. Who, for example, was involved in the decision to fire Phil Donahu, or in the decision that required him to have two pro-war conservatives on for every anti-war liberal?

The closet Democrat

I was mildly amused last night watching all the scurrying around that went on in the wake of Scott McClelllan's tell all book. One of the more amusing things I learned from the likes of Pat Buchanan and Tucker Carlson was the fact that the Bush debacle over the last 7+ years only proves once again the utter bankruptcy of the Democrats and their liberal policies. The theory here, of course, is that Bush and his cronies are actually closet Democrats, practicing liberal big-government liberal policies that don't work, while the true Conservatives, the faithful remnant, are still -- not unlike the Protestants in Northern Ireland -- a small, down-trodden minority, threatened on all sides by those big ugly lib'rals and their lib'ral friends in the main-stream-media.

Ah. Isn't it convenient to always be right?

Monday, May 26, 2008

The deal-killer?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Hillary’s unfortunate reference to Bobby Kennedy. Having seen some of the videotape, it certainly seems like her intent was to use it as a reference point that people would recognize to establish that primaries have extended until June before.

Still, it was a weird reference. For anyone of her age, who lived as a teenager or young adult through nationally and internationally traumatic assassinations of John Kennedy (16), Bobby Kennedy (20), Martin Luther King (20) and Malcolm X (20), all in the space of five years, three in 1968 alone, and then John Lennon (32), with assassination attempts against George Wallace (23), Gerald Ford (twice in 1975, when Hillary was 26) and Ronald Reagan (32, just a few months after the Lennon murder), plus the murders of foreign peace-makers Olaf Palme (1986), Anwar Sadat (1981, less than a year after the attacks on Lennon and Reagan) and Yitzhak Rabin (1995) -- her ages in parentheses -- I would expect a primal shudder to consume her to the core of her very being before uttering the word “assassination” in the context of a Presidential election with video cameras rolling. We had assassinations or assassination attempts, predominantly against liberal world figures, by the way, in 1963, 1968, 1968, 1968, 1972, 1975, 1975, 1980, 1981, 1981, 1986 and 1995 -- one about every 2.5 years -- and she lets words like this rolloff her tongue?

If she were 40, and basically had only read about most of these horrible events, I would be inclined to cut some slack. As someone who lived through that myself, I simply do not comprehend how she could not treat the word "assassination," especially when we would by deduction be referring to another inspirational progressive figure who may well be the most popular person in the world right now, as a toxic word she would no more use outside of close personal acquaintances than a four letter word that begins with "f" and refers to sexual intercourse. How old, I wonder, were the members of that newspaper’s editorial staff? Someone under 40 years old hadn’t even been born in June 1968, and someone 55 would have only been 15 years old. For how many of them, in other words, would that have been a natural memory jogger for recognizing June as a time for primaries to still be in play?

I have defended Hillary fairly religiously, including, with conditions on messages, her right to stay in the race through the last primary. I have tried hard not to join the latest chorus of outrage without seeing the whole context for myself first, and have promoted the "dream team." But this was just weird. What the hell was up with that, anyway? I just don’t see any of the typical excuses – tired, misspoken, etc. – to fit here. I could see the Bosnia exaggeration as a misstep taken in a competitive environment – like puffing on a resume – but this one seems in a whole different class. It's darn close to a disqualifier from any consideration for anything.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The ultimate sacrifice

I feel much better about George Bush after hearing what a courageous step he has taken to sacrifice himself for the good of our country. From Frank Rich:

This month, in case you missed it, [Bush] told an interviewer that he had made the ultimate sacrifice of giving up golf for the war’s duration because “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf.”

[I have just a twinge of a suspicion that the real reason behind this is that he may be embarrassed by his golf game and not want the public watching while he flubs a shot.]

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More "Dream Team" musings

Well, it does look like it’s a done deal for Obama. So now it’s the team question. Jim Webb looked awfully good in his Letterman appearance. There are others, too – lots of strong candidates.

And then there’s the Dream Team. Charles Osgood on CBS radio this morning reminded us that, technically, it’s the delegates to the convention, and not the Presidential candidate, who pick the Vice President. Imagine the groundswell at the convention that will emerge for Clinton. It will dwarf the demonstrations that almost forced JFK onto the Democratic ticket as the VP candidate in 1956. That’s an example, though, of how it could happen, and Hillary’s support will be even stronger than JFK’s was at that point in his career. The fact that it could happen would suggest Obama should tread lightly before naming someone else as his preferred candidate before then.

There are those in the blogosphere hoping Obama does not pick Clinton, because she with Bill would be too much of an independent force that might work at cross purposes with him. I hope he doesn’t listen to that kind of stuff. It would hardly look good to appear afraid of having a strong woman as a running mate – or of having any running mate that’s a strong political force. Start by forgetting election considerations: who would make the most qualified candidate, and that’s pretty much a hands down decision. Of course, does she want to be the candidate, or perhaps more to the point, is she willing to do it if the party wants her to? If yes, it doesn’t hurt that she’s a tough campaigner in her own right, and starts with a natural advantage among working class people, especially in Appalachia, who themselves are sticking to basics and remembering what the Clinton years were like for them.

Webb would be effective in many of those ways, too, and he adds his military hero credentials to counter McCain’s. He would be a strong and likeable campaigner, too, with good connection to the rank-and-file. But besides losing a Senate seat that is less likely to go Democratic again than Hillary’s, he doesn’t have quite the name recognition and pre-built enthusiasm behind her. He wouldn’t have the negatives, either, but I think those will continue to soften, as, in fact, her late performances in the primaries already seem to suggest has been happening.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Three strikes and your out

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Bush aides told Israeli officials that Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term. The White House is denying this, but the White House has denied lots of things before despite the fact that they've since proved to be true. So, who knows?

This will be his third war. I don't think there are any other presidents who have done that in the space of two terms. One more record for the worst president ever.

Keep those filthy dark-skinned arabs off of YouTube

Holy Joe Lieberman wants all Islamic videos removed from YouTube. Here's Google's response:

Last week, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) contacted us to voice his concerns about seeing videos from several Islamic terrorist organizations on YouTube. We appreciated our dialogue with Senator Lieberman and his staff and wanted to explain to the YouTube community how we responded to his concerns.

First, some background: hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to YouTube every day. Because it is not possible to pre-screen this much content, we have developed an innovative and reliable community policing system that involves our users in helping us enforce YouTube's standards. Millions of users report potential violations of our Community Guidelines by selecting the "Flag" link while watching videos.

Senator Lieberman's staff identified numerous videos that they believed violated YouTube's Community Guidelines. In response to his concerns, we examined and ended up removing a number of videos from the site, primarily because they depicted gratuitous violence, advocated violence, or used hate speech. Most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines.

Senator Lieberman stated his belief, in a letter sent today, that all videos mentioning or featuring these groups should be removed from YouTube -- even legal nonviolent or non-hate speech videos. While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. We believe that YouTube is a richer and more relevant platform for users precisely because it hosts a diverse range of views, and rather than stifle debate we allow our users to view all acceptable content and make up their own minds. Of course, users are always free to express their disagreement with a particular video on the site, by leaving comments or their own response video. That debate is healthy.

Hey, Joe, go suck some eggs.

Wake up DNC, the GOP is Starting to Get a Strategy

Below are key excerpts from Rep. Tom Davis' presentation on the plight of the Republican Party.
A. The GOP Brand Members instinctively understand that the Republican brand is in thetrash can. I've often observed that if we were a dog food, they would takeus off the shelf. . . . Democrats are winning by default. They have not made the sale to swingvoters but independents know they do not want us!

B. The President and Congress As the head figure of the Republican brand. President Bush continues toflounder. Although other Presidents have experienced low points that arealmost as bad, this President's lower ratings have been sustained over along period of time. The mold has hardened which is expressed by the verypositive and very negative numbers. ''Very negative" ratings indicate andfuel energy on the ground to "throw the bums out", as expressed in turnout,volunteers and cash raised. Democrats are not winning, we are losing. A strategy of waiting forDemocrats to fumble the ball is high risk at this point. Congressionaldisapproval ratings give us some opening to make the point that Democratsaren't getting the job done. However, antipathy toward President Bush andthe GOP brand make this a tall order. Failure to fundamentally change theGOP brand can lock us into a long period of minority status. Change is theorder of the day and voters are willing to gamble on change against a partyand President they dislike intensely.B. Turnout and Registration Given the strong intensity to the President and the Republican brand,turnout generation is much easier for Democrats than Republicans. The oldadage "people vote against" has spurred off-year election gains forDemocrats in New Jersey, Virginia and Kentucky (although a flawedGubernatorial candidate probably had more to do with a decisive loss in theBlue Grass state). Conversely, the election of Bobby Jindal, in Louisiana,had more to do with state issues than the National agenda. Voter turnout in Presidential primaries has been overwhelminglyDemocratic. In states where Independents and Republicans can choose theirballot in an "open primary" voters are opting for the Democratic ballot. Moreover, Democrats are out registering Republicans in record numbers. In California, Democratic registration has jumped from 42.7% to 43.5% over thepast six months. This is a 469,000 gain from 2004, while the GOP has lost109,000 voters. In Colorado, over the past four months, Democrats have gained 7,000voters, Independents have gained 5,000 voters and the GOP has gained 2,000voters. In Wyoming, over the last six weeks, Democrats gained 4%, whileRepublicans dropped registration. From Nevada to Pennsylvania, Democraticregistration continues to significantly outpace the GOP.

C. The Race for Money Nowhere is the Democratic surge more demonstrable than in the fundraisingtotals. From the Presidential race to the Courthouse, Democraticcontributors are opening up their checkbooks in record amounts. . Net roots and money from the internet have swelled Democratic coffers, fromthe Obama campaign, to their Red to Blue programs, giving Democrats hugefundraising advantages across the board. Much of this is fueled by a strongDemocratic desire to seize power after eight years of Bush and Cheney,coupled with a strong disappointment among grass roots Republicans at theparty's performance in office. Governance is a tough business requiringtough choices and holding together coalitions of economic and socialconservatives is difficult to sustain.Immigration pits our business wing against our grass roots wing. The War hasturned many educated, affluent Republicans away. Spending priorities,scandals, gas prices and home value declines leave little for Republicans tobe enthused over, particularly when our ability to draw issue lines andforce choices by Democrats is frustrated by House Rules, inarticulate andunfocused national leadership and finger pointing. . . .

D. The McCain/Obama Factor Before Republicans get too carried away with the fact that, even thoughthings are bad. we may win the Presidency and that can rescue us, a fewobservations about coattails are in order. This year, to the extent McCain is elected, it will be in spite of hisparty's brand name. McCain has his own branding and it is not consistentwith Congressional Republican branding.

E. Cultural Alignments Cultural attitudes shape voter attitudes, and the urbane Swarthmoreeducated Dukakis and Yalie, John Kerry, lost handily in middle America.Cultural issues have always been a part of the American political landscape,emerging, at times, in starkly partisan alignments. Barrack Obama is a quintessential cultural liberal - the candidate ofHyde Park, the University of Chicago and Harvard. Educated upscale votersfrom both parties, as well as independents of similar backgrounds, identifywith his style and rhetoric. Blue collar voters aren't so sure. Exit polls in West Virginia showed that two thirds of Clinton supporterswere unwilling to commit to Obama in the fall - and that's just amongDemocrats! With an economy perceived to be failing, these voters should beeasy prey to ANY Democrat, but they're not. Herein lies the key for theMcCain campaign, and potentially for alert Republican Congressionalcandidates. Over the last twelve years, partisan alignments have moved away fromwealth and economics to cultural and social issues. Obama's appeal is to the liberal cultural base of the Democratic Party,not to its liberal economic base. His connection to high income suburbs, thegranola belt and college towns, is strong, but his connection to poorerwhites, rural voters and other voters who may be susceptible to theDemocrats' message on the economy is not yet demonstrated. Conservativevalue voters are a long way from being sold on Obama, even while they feelpinched by global trade, a soft housing market and high gas prices. ButRepublicans have to hold these voters to have any chance in 2008. 2008 is different. Demographically, the nation is more diverse and moreurbanized than in 2004. The Iraq war has proved to be the ultimate culturalissue, fueling and giving oxygen to the cultural left, as well as plantingdoubts in many swing voters minds about the direction of the country. Theeconomy is softening and gas prices are skyrocketing, giving Obama anopening to court conservative value voters who are hurting economically. Moreover. John McCain is not a polarizing figure. One could argue he isthe opposite - moderate, bi-partisan, and unifying, which makes his claim onvalue voters different from Bush. How these lunch-bucket Democrats, who areculturally more conservative, vote this fall is the key to victory. The coalition of cultural liberals and African Americans assembled by Obamahas left out vast swaths of middle Americans concerned about the war, gasprices and the economy. But they are hardly ready to embrace McCain, letalone Congressional Republicans. Harsh cultural appeals on abortion and gunsmay have less to do with bringing these Democrats and Independents on board,than reassuring them that we have answers to these other issues This election is about independent voters. Even if we get everyRepublican out to vote, we lose without Independents, forget the Democrats.They've been waiting to get back since the Florida recount. It's all about the Independents.

F. The Next Steps:

1. Gas prices There is no immediate relief in sight. Democrats not only have noanswers, they are part of the problem. Nigeria and Cuba are ready to drilloff our shores, but Congressional Democrats say no. ANWAR and oil shaleoffer new sources, but environmentalists say no. At $124 per barrel, who are we kidding? The President should send an emergency energy package to Congress and dare them to act. (HOW DISINGENUOUS IS THIS?) It should include some global warming initiatives to keep it credible, such as government's utilization of green buildings and use of energy efficient vehicles. But it should also include offshore energy exploration and oil shale production, plus more long-term research dollars on alternative fuels, such as cellulosic and wind and extended tax breaksfor energy efficiency. It could or could not offer immediate tax relief at the pump. You don't want it to be too gimmicky. But, it puts us on offenseand spotlights Democratic failures. And, it gives voters some hope that somebody is doing something.

2. Home Values: You have to hand it to Barney Frank. He produced a bill that gives home owners hope. Never mind that it puts the government on the hook for $300 billion in loan guarantees and doesn't solve the problem. What is our reaction? Our leaders walk out of a White House/GOP conference with thePresident and vow to uphold a veto! That says a lot. Where is our proposal?. . .

3. Immigration: At least the Republican Congress reported out immigration bills in each Chamber (though vastly different). The Democrats have just punted. Rather than deal with a tough issue, they punt. This can be a gift horse. Immigration is one of the most polarizing issues of our time. Hispanics and business leaders want reform. Lou Dobbs wants reform. Taxpayers want reform. Democrats get away with doing nothing because we're afraid of the issue. (WASN'T IT THE REPUBLICAN'S THAT KILLED IMMIGRATION REFORM BILL?) Remember. Hispanic voters are a swing group in this election and future elections. John McCain, being from a border state, may be out of sync with many Republicans but he has standing among Hispanics. Barrack Obama has not made the sale to Hispanic voters. Thus, this issue is a tar baby for anyone who touches it, with land mines everywhere. But the Democrats control Congress and are doing nothing. This needs to be highlighted. Put the onus on them to produce a bill. Put them on defense.

4. American Competitiveness: When Obama says he'll renegotiate NAFTA, his culturally liberal supporters near Central park or Menlo Park cringe. They know better! Bill Gates was shocked that 90% of Republicans supported free trade,while less than 20% of Democratic members do. If you want to fix the economy, let's talk about the Democratic Congress's head in the sand approach to globalization. The public hates Congress. Why don't they associate Democrats with it?(BECAUSE REPUBLICAN'S STOP DEMOCRATS IN CONGRESS FROM DOING ANYTHING).

5. Stock Market Barrack Obama wants to move Capital Gains taxes to 25%. In a floundering stock market that will chase away investment, not attract capital. We should continue to hammer away at the Democrat's tax proposals. Their numbers don't add up; they won't help the economy; and middle America is in no mood for tax hikes.

6. War on Terror: We must continue to hammer on FISA every chance we get. Terrorism ranks sixth today as an issue, but one incident can propel it to first. Democrats will blame Bush for any problems, so it is important that the record on these issues be clear and concise. FISA, intelligence funding, border security, etc. are critical and the lines between protecting our citizens and preserving privacy will crumble with a major incident (ENGINEERED BY REPULICANS?).

7. Health Care One issue of concern to all Americans is Health Care. Health Care is the weakest issue for Republicans. After all, aren't we the ones who opposed extending health care to children of the working poor(S-CHIP)? Never mind the policy arguments. Voters have made their choice.What we have not done is talk about the Democratic failings in Health Care.They control Congress (FALSE GIVEN GOP BLOCKS DEMS WITH FILIBUSTER THREAT). Their presidential candidates claim they want everyone covered. Where's the program? The Democrats, outside of S-CHIP extension, have really done nothing for Health Care.

G. Conclusion: John McCain helps. He doesn't carry anyone over the Finish line, but he doesn't drag anyone down. In all, the lineup favors Democratic gains and that is before theDemocratic money pours in to an expanded playing field. The major variables include: (I) the issues matrix, in October; (2) the Presidential race; (3) the ability to fund key races; (4) spending smartly; and (5) resurrecting the Republican Congressional brand (for open and challenger seats) and having incumbents' personalized branding in their own districts. In the presidential race, we won't win any appreciable black vote and very little cultural liberal votes, against Obama. So let's focus on shoring up our base: socialconservatives; lunch bucket blue collar whites; Hispanics (they are in play for McCain) and military veterans. McCain may lose, but he's not likely to collapse, especially in our targeted districts. Efforts in the South, border states and Arizona, to attach him to us (particularly in challenge and open seats), is important. Resurrecting the brand is probably the most difficult and most important initiative we can take, over the next six months, is restoring the GOP brand name, so that it is not an albatross to our candidates. If leadership feels that it is too difficult a task, at least create an atmosphere where our candidates can brandthemselves. We have to have a party reputation that allows us to compete nationally and especially in swing districts. Democrats have gone out of their way to attract the pro-gun, pro-life candidates where it suits them. However, that dissonance with an Obama candidacy and an Obama Presidency, should it occur, offers us opportunities. Staying on offense on the key issues is critical to our success and having a President working with us to pin the tail on a Democratic Congress can give us opportunities that do not appear today. Of course, Democrats running in tandem with Obama, particularly in bluecollar and southern districts, create their own exposures, but without a major faux pas by the candidate or a major retooling by Congressional Republicans. McCain's coattails will be short.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Mail Room

Back from the warm, sunny shores of Ireland! Yes, we were there for two weeks and there was little or no rain and the temperature topped 20 degrees (Celsius) on several days.

I returned to find the following letter from the National Republican Congressional Committee in my mail:

Dear Mr. Walldon,

The Democrat led Congress has severely misused their power to approve the largest tax increase in American history, deny critical funds for our troops, and sneak through a dramatic expansion of domestic programs.

What's most alarming - they're saving the most liberal plans until January 2009 when they believe Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will be president!

Mr. Walldon, Republican incumbents and candidates need your immediate help to prevent this scenario from unfolding!

Our nation cannot afford to endure a return to tried and true, failed liberal policies. We must stop the Democrats from repeating, or even strengthening their control of Congress - and above all, we MUST stop a potentially unchecked Hillary or Barack!

And on, and on. I want to know where this tax increase and all the domestic programs are. As far as I can tell, the Thuglicans have blocked the Dems at every turn. Hard to believe anyone can lie this blatantly and think they can get away with it, but, of course, their leaders (BushCheney) have been doing it for eight years.

Where never is heard a discouraging word

So the Iraqi President we helped install in power directly contradicts the Administration and neo-con claims that Iran is meddling in Iraq. (Via Juan Cole, Informed Comment)

Shouldn’t that be a front-page, above-the-fold, large-type headline itself? What is the reason why it won’t be? This is not the first time, either, that one of the leaders of the government we claim to be supporting has undermined the rationale for the war-drums against Iran. I don't recall any big to-do about any of those, either, if they were reported at all except in select locations.

What about the several polls indicating that the majority of Iraqis want the U.S. military occupation to come to an end either immediately or at least within a year, and believe that conditions of violence will improve with the U.S. occupation ended, not turn into a disaster worse than the one we created? Shouldn’t that be a front-page, above-the-fold, large-type headline, too? A weeklong dialog of talking heads on CNN, MSNBC – forget Fox – and a nightly one on NBC, CBS and ABC? Why isn’t that?

Aren't these vital pieces of information that Americans need in order to assess what is going on in their name in the world today? What do obviously deliberate blackouts like this tell us about American journalism today? About those who claim to be American journalists today?

After all, shouldn't we give Richard Perle, General McCaffrey, Joe Lieberman and John McCain the opportunity to argue that they understand Iraq better than the Iraqi people?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Now, guess who was for it before he was against it

Two years ago, in an interview with James Rubin for Sky News, Sen. John McCain expressed a willingness to negotiate with the terrorist group Hamas -- the very group that McCain has been relentlessly using to smear Sen. Barack Obama over the last several weeks.
Rubin has written an op-ed in Friday's Washington Post about his exchange with McCain, and The Huffington Post has obtained exclusive video. Here's the key excerpt:
RUBIN: "Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?"
McCAIN: "They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

In the economy as in all domains, nothing is as it seems

DC bureaucrats were giddy with the good news that the GDP growth for the 1st quarter was reported at plus 0.6% when most everyone was expecting a negative number.

The bad news is a better barometer than the GDP is painting a much bleaker picture of the U.S. economy. “Final Sales to Domestic Purchasers” (FSDP), and that number actually FELL 0.4% — its first negative drop since 1991. Simply put, the FSDP measures how much money people are actually spending on stuff — it excludes items that are just added to inventory.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Republican mantra: "Take those jobs and shove 'em"

Thank God. In contrast to Germany, we listened to the libertarians and didn’t go all liberal with subsidies for the solar industry. Who needs 40,000 new jobs, or industry leadership in one that was once dominated by the U.S.? Really, good riddance to all those dirty-fingernail manufacturing jobs, where – gasp – unions might organize the workers. (By way of Dean Baker, TAP)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

From one dream ticket to another? “Clinton-Webb” in 2016?

I am convinced that Obama meant it before this campaign started that it was “too early” for him to be talking about running for President. I don’t think he intended to do so at that point. Clinton was so far in the lead that it would have seemed silly. He may have considered running as a vehicle for becoming Vice President, but he would have been candidate number one for that position in any case without running in the Presidential primaries. The groundswell for that would have been enormous: strong prospects for 16 years of Democratic Presidents, and two of the smartest, most capable Presidents in the history of the country at that.

What I think changed the picture was the high and apparently intractable negatives that continued to follow Clinton around, compounded by the mainstream media’s misplaced contempt for her. It’s all B.S. – what did she ever do to deserve it? – and I think Obama would have agreed it was B.S., but these were dangerous factors that created a serious cloud over the prospects of a Democratic victory in 2008. I believed that Clinton would have overcome much of that reaction, because a lot of it is soft, second-hand received wisdom that would have evaporated when people actually saw her in action, as they did in Upstate New York in her Senate races. What may have been some half-formed and then tentative thoughts -- that she would not be able to erode those negatives in time so he better run for the good of the party -- were solidified with his appearance on Oprah, which was by any standard a spectacular event. It was hard not to conclude that now is the time.

Clinton left herself open, too, by poor public relations concerning her Iraq vote. She would not have satisfied everyone with this answer, but it is correct: the Congressional resolution in October 2002 did not authorize the war that Bush launched, it only authorized war if Saddam Hussein continued to defy the UN resolutions. The second the UN inspection team announced not only that they had been allowed in the country – which had happened a few weeks previous – but that all restrictions and conditions on their inspections had been lifted, then the resolution had done exactly what it was intended to do. Bush was obligated to treat war as a last resort, as he had many times claimed he would, and to hold off on an invasion until the inspection team had completed its work.

The point here is that, just as I would have welcomed that order of a dream ticket, and think it would have won big, I would welcome the reverse, too, if the two could figure out that they could work together. The progressive blogosphere is full of comments on what a bad idea it would be – the impossibility of working together is one of the main reasons cited – but I thought Ted Kennedy’s remarks were way out of line (Kennedy said Obama should pick "somebody that is in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspirations of the American people").

Almost all of the negative press about the Clintons being willing to do anything to get elected, and the so-called racist cast that her campaign allegedly has taken on, has been a fabrication of the mainstream press following what Bob Somerby has trenchantly called, “The Cult of the Offhand Comment.” Another good term that’s closely related is “gotcha journalism.” The same was done to Obama at least with his “bitter” remark: something pulled out of context and reported in a way to give it a meaning the candidate clearly did not intend.

Then everyone reacts to the report of what she said, not what she actually said, and soon it is conventional wisdom that she is turning the campaign in an “ugly” direction. I saw the entire interview in which Bill Clinton (in response to a reporter’s highly obnoxious question) made his analogy of Obama’s South Carolina win to Jesse Jackson’s, and I feel I can virtually guarantee it meant nothing more than that winning South Carolina was no guarantee of the eventual nomination. The Martin Luther King "insult" was pure fabrication out of whole cloth. The most recent flap is another clear case of pulling words out of a humdrum observation and isolating them to beef them up into something divisive. As each of these episodes is debunked, one by one, people who want to believe the worst resort to the “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” argument, thereby falling sucker once again to the media’s “let’s you and him fight” inducements. (Or "if it bleeds it leads")

As far as I’m concerned, it’s still a “dream ticket.” The possibility of 16 years is not dead, either, because not only will this give Clinton many years to whittle down the negatives to the point where perhaps they can be drowned in the bathtub, but in 2016 she will be only 68 years old – as a woman, still a baby, with a very long life expectancy left, a whole lot longer than McCain's. Most of those millions of women hungering for the first woman President who have been loyal to Hillary will still be around. I don’t see that this is her last shot at all.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Don't we call people who want no government anarchists?

by Jared Bernstein
The Most Important Piece of Paper in America
I hold in my hand one of the most important pieces of paper in America: Table T08-0071, an analysis of candidate John McCain's tax plan. I'm looking at it carefully, and you should too. It is a table constructed by the Tax Policy Center's steely-eyed tax analysts, and it reveals nothing less than McCain's secret plan to diminish the US government beyond recognition. If he gets his way, conservatives will finally be able to say they've achieved the goal set out by Grover Norquist: to get government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
The numbers in the table show the revenue loss to the Federal government from McCain's proposed tax cuts. In the far right corner is the 10-year total: -$5.7 trillion.
People deride the Republican candidate as "McSame," implying a continuation of Bushonomics as well as the president's foreign policy. But from the perspective of domestic policy, it's much worse. Sure, McCain extends the Bush tax cuts but that's the least of it. At $1.7 trillion they amount to less than a third of the damage. Note also that the big ticket tax cuts-eliminating the alternative minimum tax and lowering the corporate tax-both follow on another Bush tradition of exacerbating market-driven (i.e., pre-tax) inequalities by cutting high-end taxes the most.
As I stress here , McCain's plans to pay for these tax cuts amount to filling a crater with a teaspoon of sand. Earmarks won't get you there, so he'll have to go after discretionary spending. In fact, he's already suggesting a freeze in such spending, excluding defense, of course. Sound inoffensive until you consider that we're talking about kids' health care, education, child care, training for displaced workers, environmental and labor protections, and dozens more programs that lots of people actually need and care about.

Plus, he can't fill the hole he's dug with cuts in these programs either, which leads you to the inevitable punch line of all this: his target is the entitlements, Social Security and Medicare. Those programs have always been the big enchiladas for the Norquist shock troops and they've never recovered from their Social Security privatization defeat. Well, they're back, incognito.
McCain's top economist, a number cruncher of great integrity named Doug Holtz-Eakin, responds to the Tax Policy's analysis here, and he makes a good point or two, especially regarding the way they score the AMT, but his counterpoints amount to little more than quibbles. In fact, one can't help wonder if Doug, who used to inveigh against supply-side nonsense, has been drawn to the economic dark side. When recently asked about the extent to which these numbers fail to add up, his response was: "I think what [critics] ought to do is remember that the proposals are going to engender economic growth, which is the best thing you can do for near-term budget improvement." That's pure hand waving of the type with which the old Holtz-Eakin had no patience.

This story has yet to catch the fire it should, and hopefully will, once the D's get focused on McCain and his dim vision of government. But the point born of these numbers is as simple as it is compelling: For seven long years, we've tried entrusting our government to those who discredit it, defund it, and fundamentally disbelieve in its role, except when they seek a lucrative contract or a bailout. We gone down the road-and it is a crumbling road, with potholes and failing bridges -- where the solution to every problem is a tax cut, where critical agencies are staffed with cronies at best and opposition lobbyists at worst, where secrecy trumps transparency and cynicism rules, where budget resources are never available for expanding children's health care, but always there for war.

Table T08-0071 is a road map to taking us far, far deeper into this morass. We must not go there.

Hate-filled Right Wing Radio

From the DC underground.

Racial slurs abound these days on right wing radio, particularly among the right's leading shock jocks Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Neal Boortz, Michael Savage and Lou Dobbs. During his May 5 appearance on FOX News, Rush Limbaugh referred to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), who is Hispanic, as a "shoe shine guy."
A 2007 study of talk radio conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in the second quarter of 2007, when right wing radio resorted to spreading fear and hatred in order to defeat immigration reform. Immigration was the #1 topic - representing 16% of all airtime on right wing radio - led by Limbaugh, Hannity, and Savage. Neal Boortz chipped in too, urging listeners to help defeat "this illegal alien amnesty bill" and "yank out the welcome mat." Speaking of undocumented immigrants he said, "Give 'em all a little nuclear waste and let 'em take it on down there to Mexico. Tell ''ll heat tortillas." Michael Savage encouraged his listeners to "burn a Mexican flag" and to "tell them to go back to where they came from."
Bigotry and Hatred is Good Business
Propped up by the conservative bias among corporate media barons who control the airwaves, right-wing radio now claims 91 percent of U.S. radio airspace. reported that "Talk like Savage's, or Limbaugh's or O'Reilly's, has become routine, even systematic, and certainly a big business. According to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, the top five radio station owners that control the 45 most powerful, 50,000-watt or more radio stations broadcast 310 hours of nationally syndicated right-wing talk. But they broadcast only a total of five hours of countervailing talk." Meanwhile the public popularity of progressive talk is growing.
Thanks to Right-Wing Corporate Owners Right-Wing Hate Talk Dominates Airwaves
While progressive talk is making inroads on commercial stations, right-wing talk reigns supreme on America's airwaves. Some key findings:
-- In the spring of 2007, of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners, 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative, and only 9 percent was progressive.
-- Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk--10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk.
-- 76 percent of the news/talk programming in the top 10 radio markets is conservative, while 24 percent is progressive.

Hate-filled Right Wing Radio

From the DC underground:

Racial slurs abound these days on right wing radio, particularly among the right's leading shock jocks Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Neal Boortz, Michael Savage and Lou Dobbs. During his May 5 appearance on FOX News, Rush Limbaugh referred to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), who is Hispanic, as a "shoe shine guy."

A 2007 study of talk radio conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in the second quarter of 2007, when right wing radio resorted to spreading fear and hatred in order to defeat immigration reform. Immigration was the #1 topic - representing 16% of all airtime on right wing radio - led by Limbaugh, Hannity, and Savage. Neal Boortz chipped in too, urging listeners to help defeat "this illegal alien amnesty bill" and "yank out the welcome mat." Speaking of undocumented immigrants he said, "Give 'em all a little nuclear waste and let 'em take it on down there to Mexico. Tell ''ll heat tortillas." Michael Savage encouraged his listeners to "burn a Mexican flag" and to "tell them to go back to where they came from."

Bigotry and Hatred is Good Business

Propped up by the conservative bias among corporate media barons who control the airwaves, right-wing radio now claims 91 percent of U.S. radio airspace. reported that "Talk like Savage's, or Limbaugh's or O'Reilly's, has become routine, even systematic, and certainly a big business. According to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, the top five radio station owners that control the 45 most powerful, 50,000-watt or more radio stations broadcast 310 hours of nationally syndicated right-wing talk. But they broadcast only a total of five hours of countervailing talk." Meanwhile the public popularity of progressive talk is growing.

Thanks to Right-Wing Corporate Owners Right-Wing Hate Talk Dominates Airwaves
While progressive talk is making inroads on commercial stations, right-wing talk reigns supreme on America's airwaves. Some key findings:

-- In the spring of 2007, of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners, 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative, and only 9 percent was progressive.
-- Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk--10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk.
-- 76 percent of the news/talk programming in the top 10 radio markets is conservative, while 24 percent is progressive.

Growing Deficits Threaten Pensions

Accounting Tactics Conceal a Crisis For Public Workers
By David ChoWashington Post Staff Writer Sunday, May 11, 2008; Page A01

The funds that pay pension and health benefits to police officers, teachers and millions of other public employees across the country are facing a shortfall that could soon run into trillions of dollars. But the accounting techniques used by state and local governments to balance their pension books disguise the extent of the crisis facing these retirees and the taxpayers who may ultimately be called on to pay the freight, according to a growing number of leading financial analysts. State governments alone have reported they are already confronting a deficit of at least $750 billion to cover the cost of the retirement benefits they have promised. But that figure likely underestimates the actual shortfall because of the range of methods they use to make their calculations, including practices that have been barred in the private sector for decades.
Local governments use these same techniques for their pension funds and face deficits that further contribute to what some investors and analysts say may be shaping up to be a massive breach of faith with a generation of public employees.

This gap is growing more yawning with the years. It has already presented taxpayers with a whopping bill that is eating up a vast portion of government budgets at the cost of other services. In Montgomery County, for instance, pension and retiree health care costs are already higher than the combined budgets for the departments of transportation and health and human services. Eventually, officials responsible for the funds will have to choose whether to continue paying out or renege on benefits promised to retirees. By their own assessment, state and local governments acknowledge that their funds for retiree benefits are increasingly falling behind, with the number that are severely underfunded soaring to 40 percent in 2006, a five-fold increase from 2000, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

But even these grim calculations are based on assumptions that some analysts consider too aggressive, including projections about how the investments of pension funds will fare and how long retirees will live. "Very small shifts in actuarial assumptions can generate huge changes over time," said Susan Urahn of the Pew Center on the States, which has studied the issue. "It is not very transparent, and even where it is transparent not many people understand it."
Pension funds generate money from worker contributions, government payments and the returns from investing that money. These funds pay an annual pension salary and health benefits to retirees for as long as they live.

However, with workers retiring earlier and living longer, governments have been struggling to keep up with the promises they made. Many are taking out loans to restock their pension funds, which is akin to using a credit card to cover monthly mortgage payments. Others are passing the bill to future generations by using sunny projections of what their investments will return, claiming they do not need to dedicate more money now to their pensions.

Such "accounting nonsense" has been "pushing the envelope -- or worse -- in its attempt to report the highest number possible" for their investment returns, wrote billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett in a recent letter analyzing pensions for shareholders of his company. Taxpayers ultimately will pay the price when these forecasts prove wrong."Because the fuse on this time bomb is long, politicians flinch from inflicting tax pain, given that problems will only become apparent long after these officials have departed," he wrote. "In a world where people are living longer and inflation is certain, those promises will be anything but easy to keep."

Public pensions have broad leeway in their accounting methods because, unlike their counterparts in the private sector, they have no federal oversight. Private pension funds were forced by regulators starting a generation ago to use far more conservative forecasts in their pension calculations and follow uniform guidelines set by the federal government. The move toward stricter regulation provided a clearer picture of pension costs, and many corporations are now switching their employees to 401(k) retirement plans, which offer far less generous benefits.
For public pension funds, a nonprofit body called the Governmental Accounting Standards Board sets guidelines but has no power to enforce them and little incentive to confront the states and localities that finance its budget. So some states, pension analysts said, have adopted accounting techniques motivated more by politics than prudent financial considerations. Virginia, for instance, has been using an accounting method since 2005 that allowed the state to contribute about $300 million less into its pension funds each year than what its own pension board has recommended. Some pension actuaries called this "highly unusual" and "troubling."
Maryland adopted a funding formula in 2002 that prompted a sharp drop in pension funding levels, ignoring repeated requests by the state's pension board to amend this approach. In 2006, even as funding levels dropped, the state significantly raised the retirement benefits promised to teachers and other public employees.

The District of Columbia pension funds are among the healthiest in the region, according to figures provided by the governments. The District has determined that its pension liability is $4 billion this year, which means the funds are slightly overfunded. But if the District used more conservative methods common in the private sector for projecting assets and costs, it could instead face a shortfall of several billion dollars, analysts said.

In Montgomery County, which has promised to pay $3 billion in health-care benefits to retirees, government officials accepted the advice of consultants who urged the county to nearly quadruple the amount it sets aside to cover this commitment. But the county council voted to delay this full funding for five years. Now the council, which claims wide legal latitude, is considering whether to postpone it for another three years.

"The biggest issue is the lack of standards in regards to government pensions," said Timothy L. Firestine, Chief Administrative Officer in Montgomery County. "You can make up your assumptions as you go."

Of all the assumptions, among the most fateful is the figure chosen for how much money the fund will make on its investments. The better these investments fare, the more flush is the fund. And if a government projects a high rate of return, there is less need to tap taxpayer money to finance a shortfall. Most public pension funds limit their contributions by assuming their investments will grow between 7.5 percent and 8.5 percent a year. "While anything is possible, does anyone really believe this is the most likely outcome?" Buffett wrote in the most recent annual report his firm, Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett is also a Washington Post Co. director.

A growing number of leading investors are warning that the return rates used by state and local governments are unreasonably optimistic. Buffett, for one, has pointed out that over the 20th century -- when the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared from 60 points to 13,000 -- the stock market produced a 5.3 percent annual return for investors. Over the next century, the Dow would have to explode to 2.4 million to produce a similar rate of return. Yet even that would be less than the rate of return commonly projected by public pension funds. Many public pension managers say their projections are based on past experience. Moreover, they say they can take more risks than private companies because there's no chance of going out of business.
"There's been a government in our city since 1779," said Mark Jinks, chief financial officer for Alexandria. "You can't be sure that the promises made to private sector employees will outlive their company."

Another concern for public funds is demographic: We are living longer and more of us are getting old. By 2015, life expectancy is expected to reach 79.2 in the United States. By 2030, one out of five people will be over 65.

In addition, retiree costs are soaring. A study by California predicted its retiree health care costs would jump from $4 billion today to $27 billion by 2019. Nor has the crisis in the housing and debt markets helped matters. Investment returns for most pension funds across the nation turned negative for the first part of this year. State and local governments are also facing budget deficits that are expected to top $30 billion next year, according to Standard & Poor's, making it tough for officials to find more funding for pensions. Urahn, of the Pew Center, called the current environment "a perfect storm" and expressed a concern over whether governments may be tempted to cut their pension contributions. Yet most are loath to revise the benefits employees have traditionally been promised.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Bush's Misleading Claims About the Arctic Refuge Denied by Federal Officials

President Bush last week repeated his claim that if only Congress had approved his 2002 plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge it "would likely mean lower gas prices" today. However, oil industry experts and Bush's own Energy Department officials say that Bush is greatly exaggerating the theoretical impact that opening the refuge would've had on current gas prices. They explained that it takes over a decade to find and develop a new oil field. Furthermore, the oil available in ANWR -- even under the most optimistic projections -- could supply less than 2% of U.S. demand, an amount that would have a negligible impact on prices at the pump.

Republicans Block Federal Aid to Wind and Solar

Tom Friedman of the New York Times reports:
Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy. The bickering has been so poisonous that when Congress passed the 2007 energy bill last December, it failed to extend any stimulus for wind and solar energy production. Oil and gas kept all their credits, but those for wind and solar have been left to expire this December. I am not making this up. At a time when we should be throwing everything into clean power innovation, we are squabbling over pennies.
These credits are critical because they ensure that if oil prices slip back down again -- which often happens -- investments in wind and solar would still be profitable. That's how you launch a new energy technology and help it achieve scale, so it can compete without subsidies.
The Democrats wanted the wind and solar credits to be paid for by taking away tax credits from the oil industry. President Bush said he would veto that. Neither side would back down, and Mr. Bush -- showing not one iota of leadership -- refused to get all the adults together in a room and work out a compromise. Stalemate. Meanwhile, Germany has a 20-year solar incentive program; Japan 12 years. Ours, at best, run two years. "It's a disaster," says Michael Polsky, founder of Invenergy, one of the biggest wind-power developers in America. "Wind is a very capital-intensive industry, and financial institutions are not ready to take 'Congressional risk.' They say if you don't get the [production tax credit] we will not lend you the money to buy more turbines and build projects." If the wind and solar credits expire, said Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the impact in just 2009 would be more than 100,000 jobs either lost or not created in these industries, and $20 billion worth of investments that won't be made. While all the presidential candidates were railing about lost manufacturing jobs in Ohio, no one noticed that America's premier solar company, First Solar, from Toledo, Ohio, was opening its newest factory in the former East Germany -- 540 high-paying engineering jobs -- because Germany has created a booming solar market and America has not.

McCain's Mother's Day Present

Just in time for Mother's Day, Senator John McCain opposed the Fair Pay Act—a bill that would help guarantee women equal pay for equal work. The bill simply would have restored critical anti-discrimination rules that the Supreme Court struck down in a recent decision, and failed by just three votes. Adding insult to injury, McCain said that the solution to employment discrimination was for women to get more "education and training."1 Maybe that made some sense in his day, but today with women outnumbering men on college campuses, it makes none. Study after study has shown that women are paid less than men for the same work, even when they have the same education and training. Senator McCain and his Republican allies have chosen to stand in the way of enforcement of a law that's been on the books protecting women for 40 years.

Help!!! The judges are coming, the judges are coming!!!

Guess McCain’s going to trial balloon the “judicial activism” nugget. Simple questions, John: How many divisions and carriers do they command? How many F-16s? How many Federal law enforcement agencies can they order into action tomorrow?

Sit down and shut up!

So you think you're a liberal

Bob Somerby, The Daily Howler, covers some very valuable ground today. First, he notes the importance of pro-Obama people, a group to which I belong, being careful about dumping on followers of Senator Clinton. Quoting Krugman from today:

More tirades from Obama supporters against Mrs. Clinton are not the answer—they will only further alienate her grass-roots supporters, many of whom feel that she received a raw deal.

Nor is it helpful to insult the groups that supported Mrs. Clinton, either by suggesting that racism was their only motivation or by minimizing their importance.

Somerby adds his own gloss, reminding us of the old term, “limousine liberals,” and why Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter can get a foothold by attacking them as out of touch with ordinary people:

But these presumptions and condescensions are deeply ingrained in pseudo-liberal culture—so ingrained that many white liberals don’t even seem to notice. Libs and Dems have long become quite expert at losing votes this way. We issue sweeping statements about vast groups of people, then wonder why they sometimes get mad.
Typically, white liberals avoid such sweeping assertions about African-Americans (good). But uh-oh! When it comes to sweeping assertions about downscale white rubes, sorry folks—not so much.

At any rate, we agree with Krugman on that point; Democrats would be well advised to avoid making sweeping statements about racist white rubes.

The second big point in Somerby’s posting today is about Hillary Clinton’s alleged “pandering,” as with the so-called flag-burning bill which is often used as Exhibit A for that conclusion. She has taken a lot of heat on it from the “liberal” pundits. Did Hillary “pander” on that one? Well, that bill had a critical pro-Constitutional purpose: to head off the very real possibility that a flag-burning Constitutional-friggin’-Amendment, which had already passed the House, would get one more Senate vote and be sent off to the states for ratification. That would have taken flag-burning completely outside Constitutional conduct. As it was, Clinton’s legislation, was a carefully drawn provision that had a chance of being upheld by the Supreme Court, by limiting it to situations where it was done to incide violence.

Oh, and by the way, who else voted for the flag-burning bill in order to defeat the flag-burning Constitutional amendment? Why, Senator Obama, Senator Durbin and most other Senate Democrats. Triangulating? You betcha, and thank God they were – all of them. Sometimes we need to grow up.

We hear a lot of stuff, sometimes from liberals about other liberals. The New York Times, Richard Cohen, and Arianna Huffington, among many others who proudly wear the “progressive” label, have used that episode to prove how lacking in principle Hillary is. Even if I give a wide berth for the practical necessities of law-making and governing, I didn’t know the real story myself, and presumed that was an example of her particular readiness to cut corners. It has been standard anti-Hillary lore -- part of the standard "narrative." It’s a valuable lesson: When you hear something from anyone, even those you assume are on your side and who mostly probably are, don’t bite on it. If it’s bad about Obama or Clinton, and probably especially Clinton considering over two decades of sordid press behavior towards her, be advised that there’s probably another story behind it.

The “No Inflation” Hoax

by Kevin Phillips

Billionaire California bond manager Bill Gross calls it "a haute con job." Bloomberg News columnist John Wasik describes it as "a testament to the art of economic spin." More and more shoppers and consumer simply disbelieve it.
The subject of this scorn is the federal government's vaunted Consumer Price Index or CPI. Americans are now beginning to understand that this indicator has its own share of gimmicks not unlike a sub-prime mortgage or the six pages of fine print that accompanies your credit card agreement.

Some of these CPI ingredients -- product substitution weightings, "hedonics" (price reductions for added product quality or satisfaction), and use of owner's equivalent rent (instead of home ownership costs) -- have a comic aspect suitable to mockery by Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart. But in a larger sense, they're not remotely funny. That's because the federal minimalization and misrepresentation of inflation, pursued statistically over the last 25 years, has been the main buttress of Washington's over-favorable and self-serving portraiture of the U.S. economy.

Distortions aplenty have followed. Some of the most pernicious include the shortchanging of federal pension and Social Security obligations and cost of living increases, a parallel shortchanging of cost-of-living increases in wage contracts tied to the federal CPI, the suppression of equitable interest payments on bank accounts and certificates of deposit, and the camouflaging of weak U.S. economic growth through inadequate adjustments for inflation. The benefits to the executive branch in Washington jump out -- huge annual federal savings on Social Security and pension outlays, as well as on the amount of interest paid on the federal government's multi-trillion-dollar debt. Some $250 billion a year could be involved.
If many individuals are losers, many businesses and financial institutions have been winners. Minimal cost-of-living increases favor corporations, while low interest rates make money cheaper to the financial sector. In particular, the gargantuan $10 trillion increase in financial-sector debt since 1994 could become unmanageable if mounting inflation forced borrowing costs up to 8% or 9%. And it is axiomatic regarding equities that when rates rise in the bond market, that competition usually undercuts stock market values.

In short, there have been three big gainers from understatement of U.S. inflation: the federal government, wage-paying businesses and the institutions and markets of the swollen U.S. financial sector. But skeptics have a weighty counter: Okay, it's easy to understand how they all might profit from understating inflation. But if the understatement is patently false, how can they hope to get away with it?

In fact, the belief by many conservative U.S. economists that inflation is under control, despite global indications to the contrary (including soaring commodity and energy prices), has a major ideological component -- their fidelity to monetarist economic principles (that only money supply expansion can create inflation) and to the Efficient Markets Hypothesis (that markets process all available information, so that if inflation were serious, markets would have reacted already). As late as January, monetarists on the Federal Reserve Board, notably Chairman Ben Bernanke and colleague Frederic Mishkin, believed in the new-version CPI and argued that U.S. inflationary expectations were safely "anchored."

Financial economists and money managers generally agree. A late April survey of 120 U.S. institutional money managers by Barron's, the financial weekly, found that on average, they predicted a CPI inflation rate of 2.72% in December 2008 and just 2.79% in December 2009. Elsewhere in the world, central bankers and politicians are worrying about another wave of commodity inflation akin to that in the 1970s, but U.S. money managers take comfort in the Efficient Market Hypothesis and in the wisdom and sanctity of the CPI.
Critics, by contrast, smell a potential disaster. Oil is up over 80 percent in the last twelve months. The New York Times' consumer reporter, W.P. Dunleavy, wrote on May 3 that his own groceries now cost $587 a month, up from $400 a year earlier. That's a 40 percent increase. Reports in the financial press make frequent reference to foreign investors who distrust the U.S. dollar because they calculate true U.S. inflation at 6% to 9% including food and energy.

California economist John Williams, who runs an organization called Shadow Statistics, contends that if Washington still used the CPI measurements applied back in the 1970s, inflation would be in the 10 percent range. My own analysis, set out in much more detail in an article in the May issue of Harper's, comports with that of the cynical foreign investors.

Therein lies the danger. If the current inflation rate is really 6-9 percent instead of the 2-3 percent claimed by government and most U.S. money managers, then Washington's official estimates that the economy still grew at a rate of some 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2008 become nonsense. Subtracting a 6-9 percent inflation rate from nominal GDP growth would identify an economy that was deteriorating and shrinking, not growing. Concerned foreign dollar-holders would become even more concerned.

In theory, a vigilant Congress might want to hold hearings, but in practice I suspect not. Democratic presidents (notably Bill Clinton) have been involved in the numbers game along with Republican administrations. Neither party has clean hands. Far more likely that any serious investigation will be mounted clandestinely by central banks or sovereign wealth funds in places like China, Singapore and Saudi Arabia as part of their ongoing study of just how much longer they can continue to support a deteriorating U.S. dollar. It is not a happy prospect.

Obama's Sobering Prospects in the General Election

1.Obama has not won in the big states of CA, NY, NJ, PA, MI, TX, OH with large populations of Reagan Democrats and where Clinton has won decisively. Most of these states voted for Kerry in 2004 and is where he won most of his electoral votes.

The states where Obama has won: WA, IL, WI, MN, Conn, VT, DE represented only a small fraction of 68 electoral votes.

2. Obama wins in caucus states where his supporters can influence people....Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Washington, Maine, Wyoming. What happened to the secret voting booth? Most of these states don't vote democrat or have much electoral impact yet have undue influence.

3. in southern states with heavy black turnout: LA, Miss, AL, GA, SC, NC, VA, DC, MD. With the exception of DC and MD, all of these states have long voted Republican, 2004 was no exception so it is not clear that their influence will be important in in these states 2008.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

McCainenomics: Voodo is Back

John McCain who claims to be a straight-talking maverick is misleading America.. He publicly distances himself from the wildly unpopular Bush administration. But it's just more of the same. Making windfall corporate profits the law of the land. Pandering to the religious right. Endless war. McCain's latest ingenious policy proposal is his idea to lift the gas tax during the summer months to supposedly help ease the burden on vacationing families. McCain's idea is so out of touch that everyone from Paul Krugman to Bush's council of economic advisors thinks it's a horrible idea. McCain's proposal is not about making life easier for families. McCain's real special interest is big oil. They get huge tax breaks to help them continue to rake in record profits, even as prices soar at the pump.

Pot and the Kettle: McCain

From the DC underground
John McCain has had a field day with Barack Obama's tenuous associations with Bill Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground who is now a Chicago professor.
Obama has said repeatedly that Ayers' radical past (he was involved in a handful of bombings in the 1960s) occurred when Barack was just a child, and he repudiates those actions. Nevertheless, McCain wants more. He claimed recently:
"I think not only a repudiation but an apology for ever having anything to do with an unrepentant terrorist is due the American people."

Now, however, the Chicago Tribune is pointing out McCain's own radical associations with G. Gordon Liddy: How close are McCain and Liddy? At least as close as Obama and Ayers appear to be. In 1998, Liddy's home was the site of a McCain fundraiser. Over the years, he has made at least four contributions totaling $5,000 to the senator's campaigns--including $1,000 this year.
Last November, McCain went on his radio show. Liddy greeted him as "an old friend," and McCain sounded like one. "I'm proud of you, I'm proud of your family," he gushed. "It's always a pleasure for me to come on your program, Gordon, and congratulations on your continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great."
For those who are unaware, Liddy helped plan the Watergate break-in that would cost Nixon his presidency and landed Liddy a four-year jail sentence. But Liddy's career of inflammatory statements and actions exceed his Watergate actions.

Liddy, on Vitenam:
"I wanted to bomb the Red River dykes [sic]. It would have drowned half the country and starved the other half. There would have been no way the Viet Cong could have operated if we had the will-power to do that."

Liddy, advising Branch Davidians how to defend themselves from ATF agents during a radio show:
"If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms insists upon a firefight, give them a firefight. Just remember, they're wearing flak jackets and you're better off shooting for the head."
Liddy, on the impact Adolf Hitler had on him as a child:
When he listened to Hitler on the radio, it "made me feel a strength inside I had never known before," he explains. "Hitler's sheer animal confidence and power of will [entranced me]. He sent an electric current through my body."

Compared to Liddy, Ayers is a nice guy.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The real decline in jobs -- full-time ones, that is

I see that Warren Buffett made the observation that simple population growth has virtually wiped out a good portion of the alleged (pre-adjustment) growth in the GDP. More noteworthy, however, is that mainstream news organizations actually repeated the connection between jobs and population growth. Besides challenging the pro-Republican concept that GDP rather than employment level should be used to define when we are in a recession or not, wouldn’t it be nice if business and economics reporters got it through their very thick heads that an increase in jobs that doesn’t even keep up with population growth in the working-age population is not, in any real sense, an increase in jobs? Last month, the cheerleaders – Wall Street, Republicans – crowed about the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics found “only” a job loss for April of 20,000, compared to some 85,000 that economists allegedly had expected.

On the one hand, the BLS has a history of correcting preliminary numbers reported, and it certainly seems like the later adjustment in recent years, reported when fewer people are paying attention, has usually been in a negative direction. More fundamentally, though, the U.S. economy needs to produce about 130,000 new jobs every month simply to keep up with growth in the working age population. An economy humming along at a decent pace should do that. If it’s really smokin’, as in the 90s (which just happened to coincide with a Democratic administration), then more jobs will be created than the population growth. An economy barely limping along may show nominal or paper increases that really are declines, because it cannot keep up with those who would like to have a job if they could find one.

It’s a really, really bad economy that even loses jobs in nominal terms, as it is doing now. In real terms, the job losses were 150,000 last month. Lord only knows how bad we should call it when the raw-number jobs losses are worse than the mythical "expectations" of “economists.” As we know, too, an economy can actually be bad even when the upper classes aren’t suffering – the ones who have the biggest voices and are the focus of attention in the media. All that does is mask the massive infection underneath the surface. Maybe someday we'll see a show hosted by Robin Somebody-or-Other, "Lifestyles of the Poor and Anonymous."

The best indicator is not the official unemployment rate, which misses all the people who just dropped out of trying, but the employment-to-population ratio. Economist-blogger Brad DeLong has been emphasizing that lately, and so Has Paul Krugman. I would go even further, however. One thing that tends to get ignored is the number working “part-time for economic reasons,” the BLS terminology for those who presumably acknowledge affirmatively in the survey process that they would prefer a full-time job if they can find one. They are just lumped in to the gross “employed” figure. The number of these part-time jobholders since January 2001 has increased by almost 2 million.

Looking at full-time jobs, certainly a better indicator of the health of an economy than total employment, we get this: in January 2001 59.4% of the working age population had full time jobs. It has dropped since by almost three (3) full percentage points, to 56.4. We are talking a base here of over 230 million, so what may at first glance look like marginal percentage point drops represents a whole lot of people. A mere one percentage point equals about 2.3 million people today. How many in the rest of the family dependent on the wage earner does it also cover? Are we really talking about 15-20 million more Americans since 2001 who have been hit with the consequences of unemployment or underemployment in one form or another?

The bottom line is this: if the economy had merely been growing enough to maintain the pace with population growth since January 2001 – about what one might theoretically expect out of laissez-faire economic policy -- there would be almost 7 million more full-time jobs than there are now. That is the real job loss under the right-wing Republican economic policies of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney: 7 million more Americans who would like to have a job working either not at all or a lot less than they want to (at, most likely, much worse pay).

So much for a 5.0% official unemployment rate. It’s time for the reporting community to recognize it’s basically garbage. (Or at least it’s been made into that during this administration, and that’s a-whole-nother story that even the liberal economists don't want to face.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Let's get straight what "conservative" really means

This is a very good article in The American Prospect elaborating on the difference between modern “movement conservatism” that now controls the Republican Party and this administration, and traditional Republican conservatism of Robert Taft, Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, Richard Lugar and even Barry Goldwater.

I much prefer a term like “right-wing extremism” over any formulation that to any extent whatsoever designates people like Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist or Rush Limbaugh as “conservatives.” They are hardly more the intellectual progeny of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith or Alexis de Tocqueville than Stalin was. They are radicals, with a mindless anti-government ideology that is the antithesis of the pragmatic, empirical approach to public policy that “conservatives” once espoused. They want to uproot and tear out everything that has evolved out of the popular will in the 20th century, not shape any of those programs in an organic way from what has gone before. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, moderate liberals all, have a much better claim to the mantle of conservatism than those right wing extremists because they accept the notion that while government is the only way to accomplish certain societal goals, government can also try to do too much. ut is necessary for certain functions.

The author, Greg Anrig, takes legitimate issue with the blunderbuss way Barack Obama has tried to show his independence from traditional Democratic thinking – talking about the republican Party as the party of ideas, which most certainly today it is not -- when, in fact, he could be making powerful points of permanent effect connecting modern progressivism with the historical conservatism that once the hallmark of that party.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

5 years ago, when sickos ruled the earth

From Atrios (Eschaton blog): These are the people who were given the platform and microphone on American national television. Way, way too many of them still do.

Happy Mission Accomplished Day
Has it already been 5 years?

MATTHEWS: What do you make of this broadside against the USS Abraham Lincoln and its chief visitor last week?

LIDDY: Well, I -- in the first place, I think it's envy. I mean, after all, Al Gore had to go get some woman to tell him how to be a man. And here comes George Bush. You know, he's in his flight suit, he's striding across the deck, and he's wearing his parachute harness, you know -- and I've worn those because I parachute -- and it makes the best of his manly characteristic. You go run those -- run that stuff again of him walking across there with the parachute. He has just won every woman's vote in the United States of America. You know, all those women who say size doesn't count -- they're all liars. Check that out. I hope the Democrats keep ratting on him and all of this stuff so that they keep showing that tape.

Is it possible to get any sicker than that?


I'm off to Ireland for two weeks to try to ignore the primary until everything's over but the shouting.

See ya!