Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Fitting Sentence

For the most part, I’ve stayed out of the fray with Judy Miller and the New York Times and their part in outing CIA agent Valerie Plame, wife of Joe Wilson…and no, I won’t get into the entire background because I’m sure anyone who may be reading this knows it by now (if not, Arianna Huffington, Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher Online, and also Kos and Atrios of course, among others, have covered it thoroughly).

However, after reading the latest chapter in this saga today, I absolutely have to comment on it. As you can read from this link, Miller said she doesn’t know where the name of “Valerie Flame (sic)” came from in her notes. Also, apparently, Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor trying to get to the bottom of this mess, asked Miller if Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, had given her classified information, and Miller replied, “I believe so, but I couldn’t be sure.”

(Good luck to Fitzgerald…as this has unraveled, I can see the wisdom in his approach a bit more, though I still think Novak has gotten off pathetically easy, at least up to now.)

Miller’s latest testimony reveals at least three things: 1) She is one of the stupidest individuals on the planet if she doesn’t know who provided her the name of an active CIA agent in her own notes which is not supposed to be revealed; 2) If this isn’t the case, then she’s an incredibly brazen liar; and 3) She is doing everything humanly possible to protect Libby.

Now that I have that out there, I’d like to give you a bit of background information on me. Way back when I was an undergraduate journalism major at Temple University, I and the rest of my class had an exercise to perform for one of our news writing classes where we had the length of the class (2 hours) to go out onto the campus, come up with a news story, come back and type it up (only punch cards were used on the mainframe computers…we’re going WAY back here, I know), edit it, and turn it in by the end of the class.

I tried to come up with something or someone to interview (which, knowing what I know now, probably would have been easy), but the only story I could come up with at the time was something that amounted to a literary essay on the pigeons that flocked to the benches near the grass cutout areas on campus and the sweet-smelling food trucks, concocting their egg, bacon, and cheese bagel sandwiches and other greasy and sugary delicacies that provided an ambrosia that is difficult to capture in mere words.

The pigeons were fearless; at the scent of food, they would climb the benches and come trotting over next to your shoulder to get a whiff or a bite of whatever it was you were trying to consume. Even the spew of bus exhaust (I think the “C” still drops students off at 12th and Norris sts. then as now) and a steady stream of human traffic and bicyclers did not deter them. So I made them the subject of my “story.”

I’m pretty sure that I got a C minus for my trouble. Oh well.

I thought of the pigeons when I read about Judy Miller’s testimony today, and I believe that, if she really wants to be a serious journalist again after this entire episode, she should start all over again and enroll in a news writing class at Temple University, and her first assignment should be to write about the urban pigeons.

She may actually improve on my earlier attempt many years ago, since she already has experience effectively interacting with moochers and opportunists of the human variety as opposed to the avian type.

Redemption For A Red State?

I’m starting to learn more about Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, and though I don’t live in the state, it appears that he would be superbly qualified to serve as governor, especially since he has already served as lieutenant governor to Mark Warner, a Democrat who cannot seek another term in office in accordance with the state’s constitution.

This links to the CNN story in which Kaine states his opposition to the death penalty. I think saying that Kaine did not handle this well by mentioning some of the worst human monsters in history is a huge understatement. Also, though I’m glad to see Kaine strike back against Kilgore on the Medicare fraud charge, the author of the Kos post is right; Dems lose when they get into dueling ad wars with the Repugs, and when Kaine gave Jerry Kilgore, Virginia’s attorney general and the Republican gubernatorial candidate, this kind of ammunition, he did what any politician would do, especially a Repug; he beat Kaine senseless with it.

The reason why I’m mentioning this, though, is because Kaine is a Roman Catholic politician who is advocating a position or belief that is in strict accordance with his religion, and he’s getting clubbed for it. In case anyone hadn’t noticed, the Roman Catholic Church opposes the death penalty. Personally, I think it is justified in some circumstances (certainly not the way Texas uses it, however), and though I’m at odds with my church over this issue, I will have to find some way to reconcile that.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a gutsier position by Kaine than any Repug who automatically opposes a woman’s right to choose as though they are pre-programmed from the Bushco factory in Crawford, TX at the behest of Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (Kaine also states that he’s opposed to “partial birth abortion,” which is not a medical term after all, but a political catchphrase…since he’s running in a highly red state, he has to curry the favor of the evangelical hypocrites or else he won’t pull out a win).

Also, if you’re going to automatically oppose a political candidate for their position on capital punishment, I would ask that you consider the campaign for governor of New York between incumbent Mario Cuomo and George Pataki in 1994. The following was reported by

Cuomo is notable for his liberal political views, particularly his steadfast opposition to the death penalty (while governor, he vetoed several bills that would have re-established capital punishment in New York State; the death penalty was in fact reinstated by Pataki the year after he defeated Cuomo in the 1994 election).
Given the fact that an individual of Mario Cuomo’s intellect, fairness and judgment was voted out of office over this issue, think about what this country has lost without him in government service since that time (he’s doing well otherwise, of course).

I hope and pray that there are enough voters in this red state to understand how important it is not to vote for a candidate of any political party based on their position on a single issue. This was a lesson learned from the Cuomo/Pataki campaign as far as I’m concerned, and I hope it doesn’t emerge as a lesson learned from the very close Kaine/Kilgore campaign also.

Update 10/24: Here's more from E.J. Dionne.

More News For The Investor Class

The following item appeared in yesterday's issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer (courtesy of Bloomberg News):

Tech graduates still lag other majors

A government report bolsters businesses' demands for better efforts to boost math, science graduates.

By Paul Basken

The United States is spending $2.8 billion a year on hundreds of programs to boost the numbers of college graduates with mathematics and science degrees, yet the increases still lag behind other fields, federal auditors said yesterday.

The number of U.S. graduates with science, technology, engineering or mathematics degrees increased by 8 percent from 1994-95 to 2002-03, while graduates in other fields increased 30 percent, the Government Accountability Office said in a report to Congress.

"Little is known about the extent to which most STEM programs are achieving their desired results," the GAO said, using the acronym for programs to boost the numbers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates.

The quality of grade-school teachers, insufficient mentoring of young women and minority students, and stricter visa rules since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks may help explain why the United States is not producing more such graduates, the GAO said.

U.S. business groups have been pressing for greater efforts to increase the numbers of technology graduates, calling the matter critical to U.S. economic competitiveness.

More than a third of U.S. manufacturers reported open positions this year because of a lack of qualified people, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. By 2010, the number of unfilled jobs is expected to exceed the overall unemployment rate, said Stephen Jordan, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Center for Corporate Citizenship.

Thirteen federal agencies spent about $2.8 billion in fiscal 2004 on 207 programs designed to produce more technology graduates, the GAO said.

The costs ranged from $4,000 for a national scholars program sponsored by the Department of Agriculture to a $547 million National Institutes of Health program to expand training in biomedical, behavioral and clinical research, the federal auditors said.

U.S. companies spend almost $3 billion a year to help improve grade schools nationwide, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber was host to representatives from dozens of major U.S. companies - including Microsoft Corp., General Electric Co., Intel Corp., and International Business Machines Corp. - earlier this month to explore ways to spend that money more wisely.

The Business Roundtable and other leading U.S. business organizations issued a report in July saying the country needs to double its science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates by 2015.

"The critical situation in American innovation threatens to undermine our standard of living at home and our leadership in the world," John Castellani, president of Business Roundtable, a Washington-based lobby organization that represents chief executives of 160 U.S. companies.
Our standard of living has ALREADY been seriously undermined, Mr. Castellani, and we are continuing to lose ground every day. It says something that "the crowd on 'Carpet Row'" is apparently just becoming aware of that reality now.

You know, it is a source of continual fascination to me that these mighty captains of industry will complain in a heartbeat about the way our students are being educated (or not being educated in many cases) in science and mathematics, not learning enough and graduating in the numbers they would like (and yes, I definitely admit that we have work to do about that), but these same business leaders are, at best, silent when our politicians pass legislation that encourages the exporting of jobs in this country overseas (or, in some cases, they are actually cheerleading over it). Or do these business leaders care that overseas students are just going to take the skills they learn in this country back home anyway?

I think this link provides some important information regarding this trend, which isn't likely to let up in the forseeable future, unfortunately. I had also heard that the Bush Department of Labor has published guidelines to encourage companies to "offshore" jobs, selling the tax benefits of this repugnant practice, but I couldn't find a link at the U.S. Department of Labor site to verify that. Also, Paul Craig Roberts at Counter Punch (link in the right column) has written extensively on this topic, and I highly recommend his columns (Roberts worked in the Commerce Department in the Reagan Administration - I was never a fan of Ronnie Baby, but unlike Dubya, he at least had people in important government positions who were actually competent).

Also, here is a link to a bit of good news from Lou Dobbs, who has been beating the drum on the issue of outsourcing/offshoring for some time now (is it a surprise that the Repugs buried this study in an omnibus spending bill, not wanting word to get out that might upset their primary campaign contributors?).

When I hear people like John Castellani advocating legislation to ensure reasonable-paying jobs with decent benefits to go along with the wishes of his Fortune 500 clientele, then I'll consider the whining of these beyond-rich individuals a bit more seriously (and don't get me started on CEO compensation - that's a whole other rant).

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Signing The Pledge, Part II

For what it's worth, I signed, and this was the reply from DFA (you can view some wonderful responses by people who signed from the "local" link below).

Thank you for signing the pledge. You can view other Americans like you who have also signed the pledge at:

Thank you for all that you do.

- The DFA Team

P.S. Here`s a sample email message to pass along:

Subject: Set the Iraq Agenda: Sign the Pledge

The war in Iraq began two years ago, on a promise of security -- and a web of deception. Now the mistruths have fallen away -- and we see a presidency, and American prestige, sunk in a quagmire.

The cost: almost 2,000 American lives lost. Over $300 billion spent. A growing tab for our children and grandchildren, in the form of the largest budget deficit in our country`s history. And for the Iraqi people, a stable democracy -- and peace -- remain nowhere in sight.

This is unacceptable. Take the pledge to send to Washington only those leaders with the courage to face the Iraq mess head-on.

(Here is the link to the pledge - sorry I didn't notice earlier that it hosed the right navigation column.)
And here is more on Dubya's latest photo-op-attempt-gone-badly yesterday.

Signing The Pledge, Part I

I was going to let this go, but if posting this here can help...

(I know I've put up a lot lately - the activity will taper off a bit, I'm sure.)

This is a message from Jim Dean for Democracy For America.

The war in Iraq began two years ago on a promise of security -- and a web of deception. Now the mistruths have fallen away -- and we see a presidency, and American prestige, sunk in a quagmire.

The cost: almost 2,000 American lives lost. Over $300 billion spent. A growing tab for our children and grandchildren, in the form of the largest budget deficit in our country's history. And for the Iraqi people, a stable democracy -- and peace -- remain nowhere in sight.

We captured a tyrant, but made no provision for keeping the peace. An insurgency took off. Terrorists moved in. And now, we have a country in the heart of the Middle East breeding extremist violence -- and verging on civil war.

This is unacceptable. We have to address this issue and resolve it. But from Washington, we hear little but presidential excuses and the quiet wringing of hands.

Someone needs to take a stand. Here's the deal: that someone can be you.

Take the pledge to send to Washington only those leaders with the courage to face the Iraq mess head-on. Do it today:

We can shake our heads at Bush and shake our fists at the Congress. In the end, though, we make the Congress. We elect it. It answers to us. And in 2006 and 2008, we can get Congress' attention by telling our elected officials to face the facts -- or go home.

Use your power. As the time draws closer to select candidates for the next United States Congress, pledge the following:

I pledge to only support candidates who:

1. Acknowledge that the U.S. was misled into the war in Iraq
2. Advocate for a responsible exit plan with a timeline
3. Support our troops at home and abroad

As we sign the pledge, our names will appear on the Democracy for America pledge map. Let's fill it from coast to coast -- so that candidates and the media can't help but see it.

Why sign the pledge? Because you know America can't afford to take more of this. It's time for the public servants we send to Washington to face the truth.

We expect our leaders to show courage and honor for the sacrifices of our soldiers in Iraq. The best way to do that: face the crisis that has killed thousands, emptied our treasury, and destroyed our credibility.

You have shown that courage. Let's tell Washington we expect it to do the same.

Thank you.

Jim Dean
Democracy for America

P.S. If 10,000 patriots sign the pledge today, that would make a great start. But 100,000 signatures would begin to set the nation's agenda. Help us reach that goal -- sign today:

"What Castle?" Dubya Asked

(You can consider this a follow up to both "Taking Care Of The Castle" and "A 'Gilded Age' For Some.")

Doesn't it figure? The ONE SECTOR of this economy with some actual, bona fide growth for non-millionaires (housing, loan refinancing and credit consolidation...and doesn't THAT tell you how peachy things are?) is one that is facing the axe from President Stupid Head's commission.

I know there's a lot of political "yak yak" all over the place, including here of course, but often, the news that really impacts us appears in the business section, such as this column from Jeff Brown that appeared in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

This is definitely something we have to watch (and I'm not even going to ask how anyone thinks the alternative minimum tax bite can be lessened by messing around with the homeowner mortgage deduction - only Bushco could come up with something like this).

On Personal Finance Defending your home's deduction

By Jeff Brown
Inquirer Columnist

Note to Washington: Keep your grubby hands off our mortgage deductions!

Yesterday's papers carried accounts of an idea being considered by President Bush's tax-overhaul commission - to eliminate the vile alternative minimum tax by, among other things, trimming the break homeowners get on mortgage interest.

Currently, homeowners can deduct all the interest paid on mortgages of up to $1 million, often dramatically slashing their income tax.

Various news accounts said the commission may recommend dropping that ceiling to $300,000 or $350,000.

Since the median home price nationwide is about $220,000, most homeowners would see no change in the deduction.

But a $300,000 ceiling would hurt many homeowners in the higher-priced areas, such as the East and West Coasts.

Imagine you had a $400,000 mortgage and were only permitted to deduct interest paid on the first $300,000.

Annual interest payments on the remaining $100,000 would be about $7,200.

Losing the tax deduction on that would cost you about $1,800, assuming a 25 percent tax bracket.

Granted, many people with $400,000 homes could afford an $1,800 sting.

Curtail, then kill?

But would a cut in the interest deduction be the first step toward total elimination? Would loss of this deduction really be offset by savings on the AMT, which is affecting more and more middle-income taxpayers? Or would ordinary homeowners get the short end - paying for an AMT elimination that mainly benefited the rich?

It's too soon to know. But for many homeowners, the mortgage-interest deduction is the biggest tax-saver on the return.

It's sacred.

Still, I believe lots of homeowners overestimate this deduction's value and sometimes make unwise decisions as a result.

Many people buy more home than they can afford on the theory a big interest payment will save them a lot of taxes.

In fact, it doesn't make sense to pay another dollar in interest just to save 25 cents in tax.

Examples like the one above are fairly typical, but they don't tell the whole story. Take, for example, a married couple with $100,000 in annual taxable income, filing a joint return. The first $14,600 is taxed at only 10 percent, the next $44,800 at 15 percent, and the remaining $40,600 at 25 percent.

Although this couple is said to be in the "25 percent tax bracket," once the three rates are combined the federal tax bite actually is about 18 percent.

Calculate real tax rate

Also, this assumed $100,000 in taxable income, which is what's subject to tax after various deductions are made. Many couples with $100,000 in gross income - before the deductions are taken - actually pay only 15 percent in federal income tax, perhaps less. This is called the "effective rate."

Using this figure, the mortgage-interest deduction isn't quite as valuable as it first appears. For an accurate measure of the deduction, you have to do your return twice - with the deduction and without - to see what it's really saving you.

There's no doubt, however, the mortgage deduction does save homeowners something at tax time - in many cases thousands of dollars. It's not something to be given up lightly.

The President's bipartisan commission is to have final recommendations by Nov. 1. If they include a cut in mortgage-interest deductions, and if the President embraces the idea, there's going to be quite a battle.
Damn straight there will be a battle!

All right, boys and girls, repeat after me, OK?


"God Was With Me"

In memoriam (from everyday people come extraordinary things)...

Update: Also, another leading African American passed today (from today's Inquirer)...

C. DeLores Tucker dies at 78

Lifetime of activism with many firsts

By Gayle Ronan Sims

Inquirer Staff Writer

Political activist C. DeLores Tucker, 78, who marched arm in arm with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was the first African American to serve as secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and in later years protested against obscenities in rap music, died yesterday.

The West Mount Airy resident spent her entire life fighting for civil rights; it was a struggle she carried out with poise and elegance. She was known for wearing turbans with her matching ensembles, even when taking to the streets or being arrested.

Within hours of her death - of undisclosed causes at Suburban Woods Health and Rehabilitation Center in Norristown - many of the area's highest-ranking politicians issued statements.

"The cause of civil rights was a lifelong crusade for C. DeLores Tucker," Mayor Street said. "Her continued work promoting and protecting the legacy of Dr. King and the nonviolent movement for change will never be forgotten."

"America has lost one of the great civil rights activists of our time... . She did it with dedication, class, grace and dignity," Gov. Rendell said.

"I think the state, the nation and the world will long remember a woman who stood up for all people and who dedicated her life to helping others," said Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll.

"She was an unstoppable bell ringer for social change," said U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.).

"At a time when women and people of color often were relegated to second-class citizenship, she rose above and challenged those assertions, demanding to be engaged based on her intellect and passion," said State Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D., Phila.).

Known for thunderous speeches reflective of her father, the Rev. Whitfield Nottage of the old Ebenezer Community Tabernacle in North Philadelphia, Mrs. Tucker took to the stump at age 16 - protesting from the back of a flatbed truck outside the old Bellevue Stratford hotel because it refused entrance to black athletes.

Cynthia DeLores Nottage, the second-youngest of 11 children, married William Tucker shortly after graduating from Girls High School in 1946.

In high school, she had shown attributes of a leader and activist by organizing students for elections. Throughout her life she got women to identify with her, giving them the feeling they were all running together.

After attending classes at Temple University, she earned a real estate license and with her husband founded an insurance company in the Olney section of the city. Later, she took business classes at the University of Pennsylvania.

The flamboyant Mrs. Tucker marched into history at the side of Dr. King during a civil rights protest in Selma, Ala., in 1965.

In 1970, she was the first black woman to be named vice chair of the state Democratic Party and the first woman vice president of the Pennsylvania NAACP.

One year later, Gov. Milton J. Shapp tapped her as the first black and first woman to be secretary of the commonwealth. Mrs. Tucker relished her high political profile. The license plate on her state limousine read "3" - to let everyone know she was the third-most-powerful person in Pennsylvania government.

During her tenure, Mrs. Tucker helped streamline voter registration and lower the voting age to 18, and started the first State Commission on the Status of Women.

Mrs. Tucker fell from political grace in 1977, when Shapp fired her for using state employees to write political speeches that earned her $65,000.

Supporters, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory and Rosa Parks, rallied around her, saying her dismissal was racially motivated.

After being fired, Mrs. Tucker excused herself by saying: "Maybe it is wrong, but it is a way of life."

She wondered at the time whether a white man would have been treated the same way.

Mrs. Tucker was not reinstated, and she never again held public office. She ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1978, and lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1980.

She returned to selling real estate and insurance, but remained politically active, making many friends along the way. She was head of the minority caucus of the Democratic National Committee and was a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus.

In 1984, Mrs. Tucker founded the National Political Congress of Black Women, now called the National Congress of Black Women.

In 1993, she grabbed headlines when she came out against obscenities in rap music. She protested, wrote letters, and picketed the NAACP in 1994, even though she was on the board of trustees, when it nominated gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur for one of its Image Awards. (He did not win.)

Mrs. Tucker said in a 1994 Inquirer article that she was "ready to go to jail, ready to die, whatever is necessary to stop this pornographic filth... ."

Indeed, Mrs. Tucker was always ready. She was arrested a handful of times while picketing in front of music stores that sold the music.

She was such a vocal and visible opponent of the messages in the music that rappers took to ridiculing her in their lyrics. She fired back with defamation lawsuits against the artists and the conglomerates that distributed their music.

In 1999, a federal judge threw out the suit Mrs. Tucker filed against the estate of Shakur, who was slain in 1996, involving the rhyming of her surname with an obscenity in his 1996 album All Eyez on Me.

She was also unsuccessful in suits against Time, Newsweek and other publications for their apparent misinterpretation of a lawyer's comment to reporters about her lawsuit seeking damages for emotional distress because of a "loss of consortium."

The legal definition of consortium includes a spouse's loss of "society, guidance, companionship and sexual relations," but it was the sexual aspect that magazines and a number of newspapers, including the Philadelphia Daily News, cited.

Mrs. Tucker and her attorneys denied that the suit had anything to do with damage to her sex life.

The suit was thrown out by U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter in 1999.

Mrs. Tucker is survived by her husband.

Services have not been arranged.

A "Gilded Age" For Some

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends” – let us have no illusions about what is at stake here, after all. With that in mind, I think it’s time for a heaping dose of genuine populist outrage. This column from Molly Ivins provides the necessary fuel for the fire, as it were, and the very last sentence should be memorized by everyone.

To get more of a flavor for “the have’s versus the have nots,” I went back to the old site and found the following from last March about Jack Welch and a gentleman from U.S. Airways who may or may not still have a job.

I should let you know (from a highly reliable source) that Jack Welch was interviewed by Dan Rather on "60 Minutes II" tonight (I always thought that was a dumb premise for a TV show, by the way...sticking a "II" on the end of a title of a landmark program to make the new show sound special). In the interview, Welch described how, when he stepped down as CEO of G.E., the board approved some particularly lavish severance package for him worth millions, but he passed it up, saying $7.1 mil plus perks (including private plane) was enough apparently (what a guy). So, it turns out that after he passed it up, one of his trophy wives filed for divorce and cleaned him out, and he ended up regretting not taking the money (awww...). Partly as a result of this, he ended up marrying again, finding a true soul mate (money, status, and power being powerful aphrodisiacs), and together the two of them have written a book (of course they have...he wouldn't be on TV unless he was plugging something, right?).

(By the way, I consider interviewing Jack Welch to be another "right turn" for CBS and Les Moonves as they do whatever it takes to try and prop up the network with its lousy ratings...I stand by the journalistic "old guard", but I know I'm in the minority in that department. I don't really blame Rather for that because he's just following orders, as they used to say.)

(Update 1 10/13: As further proof of that, Mike Wallace, of all people, gave Louis Freeh a free pass last Sunday while he blasted Clinton over allegedly being soft on terrorism. As I said previously, Freeh supported his boss the same way Brutus supported Caesar.)

(Update 2 10/13: Naah, CBS isn't desperate for ratings - not much they aren't. What's next, Andy Rooney, Morley Safer and Lesley Stahl in Kangols, Pumas or "fly" sweat suits?)

As you consider this about Jack Welch, please take a few minutes and read over this excellent column from Philadelphia Inquirer business writer Andrew Cassel, published today (property of Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. and Knight-Ridder, and no remuneration received by yours truly for same...).


In a Florida airport recently, waiting for a flight home, I fell into conversation with a US Airways pilot who was doing the same. He was chipper, but his story was sobering.

In his late 50s, with kids to put through college, he had seen his pay cut several times in recent years as his airline navigated the unfriendly financial skies. He figured he was taking home about 40 percent less than in better times.

He also faces a Catch-22 future. Under FAA rules, he has to stop flying at age 60. But US Airways won't be paying his retirement pension: In Bankruptcy Court, the airline passed its obligations to a federal agency. And the agency won't let pilots start collecting until they hit age 62.

The guy wasn't griping; he understood that times were tough and that companies such as US Airways were struggling to survive. The main lesson, he said, is simply this: You'd better save more money when you're young.

It's a good bet that lots more people will soon be coming to that realization, even if they don't work for troubled airlines. Throughout the American economy, increased financial risk is a consistent theme of our time.

Financial writer Daniel Gross calls it the "death of welfare capitalism." Year after year, in industry after industry, the guarantees and safety nets that characterized corporate life for generations of workers are eroding or being abandoned.

Job security? Pensions?

Career-long job security is practically a joke. Traditional defined-benefit pensions are being replaced by individual savings plans such as 401(k)s. Health-insurance plans are growing less generous or more costly, with workers picking up more of the tab.

You can decry all of this as evidence of corporate ruthlessness, but the truth is really that big, paternalistic companies are among the most vulnerable these days.

General Motors, whose corporate debt was given near-junk status this month, is the latest case of an industrial giant being hamstrung by its past promises to workers and retirees.

Remember Bethlehem Steel? The reason the onetime Pennsylvania manufacturing icon is now a memory isn't that it didn't know how to make metal competitively. It couldn't both make metal and provide the pensions and health care it had promised to thousands of past workers and their families.

You can see how all this is changing the way we work in a new study by the Washington-based Employee Benefit Research Institute.

It says the number of companies offering health benefits to retirees dropped substantially between 1997 and 2002.

Moreover, "most American workers will never become eligible for retiree health insurance from a private employer" in the future, it said.

Early retirees hit hard

This will particularly affect those hoping to leave work at 60 or 62, before they are eligible for Medicare.

The proportion of employers offering benefits to such "early retirees" fell to 13 percent in 2002 from 22 percent in 1997, the study says.

Rising medical costs are obviously driving the trend. But accounting standards are also part of why companies are more reluctant to offer health benefits, the institute argues.

Since 1992, firms have had to show the costs of promises to future retirees on their earnings statements. That affects today's bottom line, and often a company's stock price as well.

So older companies are cutting benefits where possible, and newer firms are being less generous to start with.

Workers are beginning to figure this out; the study says fewer than half of those between ages 45 and 64 expect to receive health benefits in retirement.

Nevertheless, it seems the trend may be moving faster than people's expectations. "Baby boomers may find themselves unpleasantly surprised by what awaits them in retirement," institute researcher Paul Fronstin says in the study's introduction.

Clearly, more of us need to pay attention to what's been happening to the folks at US Airways.


"Clearly" indeed. Given all of what Cassel just wrote, I think Jack Welch should be put on a slow boat to China without oars (he could visit some of our jobs when he's there). He actually doesn't represent the worst of the crony capitalism currently holding sway over our lives, but he and a few others "let the genie out of the bottle," so to speak.
As I pointed out back then, whether we realize it or not, we are returning to the era of the Carnegies, Rockefellers, Jay Gould and Tammany Hall, etc. The very few rich will have everything and the rest of us will have table scraps.

So, do you know what you should do? This. Stop watching "American Idol," "CSI: Wherever," "NASCAR/Winston Cup/NEXTEL/Some other corporate benefactor this week," turn off the TV, contact Dr. Dean, his brother Jim or Tom Hughes at Democracy for America and DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS! Think. Talk. Write. Organize. Make flyers to hand out at a supermarket or stick under bunches of car windshield wipers. SOMETHING!! Or, even start your own blog, if you think that will help (and good luck trying to get traffic to your site, I might add). And I mean no personal disrespect to anyone - if you're reading this…and I say this with all humility…then you're probably a leg up on a good many other people.

One more thing: the new fraud bankruptcy law goes into effect on October 17th (excepted for the recent hurricane victims). I found this article on it from the Bucks County Courier Times; I mean no disrespect to Crissa Shoemaker, but this piece (which emphasizes primarily how the law will affect professionals in financial services) doesn't really give me the background I was looking for. It is instructive, though. However, Molly Ivins tackles this also in greater detail.

Update 10/24: Since everything I've described above is "part and parcel" of the Repugs' slide in the eyes of a growing number of people, I've added this from Will Durst so the Dems can find a clue about how to "make hay" over it.

Thursday Roundup

(Places to go for interesting reading…)

Atrios/Think Progress have some good stuff on Bushco’s latest misadventures (“Operation Photo Op”…yeah, you’ll see Dubya in Tikrit one day – maybe airbrushed in a la “Wag The Dog”).

Brandoland pays tribute to Keith Olbermann “connecting the dots” between terror scares and unpopular goings on in with Bushco (what a treasure to have someone associated with a TV news organization WHO ACTUALLY HAS A BRAIN!).

Liberal Serving/Pandagon/Santorum Exposed are all over the latest fraud that Little Ricky’s minions tried to perpetrate (namely, that Bono and U2 were going to perform a benefit for the Senate Hypocrite in Philadelphia, which the band categorically denies).

The Hollywood Progressive Institute had a link yesterday to “Radar Online” about Bushco’s “ambiguously gay” administration that was amusing. They also had a story last Monday, as a follow up to a quote from Sen. Richard Lugar, about the bind we are in over this country’s ridiculous energy policy that isn’t funny at all (and Venezuela is now going to value its currency against the euro instead of the dollar – “reaping the whirlwind” indeed).

Update: I'm glad you can't see how red my face is for forgetting to point out that Atrios, Casey Morris at Democracy Cell Project (via Atrios) and The Daily Kos, among MANY other sites, are quite rightly trashing Richard Cohen for his recent column positing that Patrick Fitzgerald should just drop the investigation into the "outing" of Valerie Plame (establishing criminal activity versus intent regarding the whole thing is just too darn complicated, you see).

This is truly sad. I've respected Cohen's work in the past, but apparently, he has completely sold out. His credibility is totally shot at this point. He should just go shill for Faux News since his true colors have been revealed.

The Drumbeat Gets Louder

Oh, by the way, I thought I'd pass this little tidbit along in between the "stories" of Oprah helping to arrest a sex offender, the identity of the newest actor to play James Bond, and Britney Spears' missing underwear on eBay.

(And as always, thanks to The Bulldog and The Martian for all they've done on this and continue to do.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Taking Care Of The Castle

Boy, “Our Kid” (as Brendan refers to him) sure is hard at work today, isn’t he? Why, he’s got his hard hat on and, golly, his sleeves are rolled up again, and he’s got that leather work belt look going too, I guess (of course, he’s a bigger tool than anything he’s carrying around his waist).

I don’t know how many more times Dubya is going to head down to the coast for photo ops, but I think we can look forward to at least a few more, since it gets the media focus away from the right-wing hissy fit over Harriet Miers and the ongoing Plame-gate investigation (dutifully ignored once again by the dear MSM...and as long as I linked to Brandoland above, check him out today on that!), with CNN and the rest obliging by giving Dubya prime news real estate over this nonsense (and it’s an equally clever move to get Dubya into the same sentence with Habitat for Humanity, especially since the Carters have apparently had a falling out with the organization…as I’ve said before, the Repugs are good at this stuff, though I hate to admit it).

Also, in the matter of homelessness in this country, USA Today ran this feature story. Though it sounds like the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is trying to get a handle on this problem, some passages in the story led me to believe that this is more of an exercise in crafting a story without much of anything really new to report. This paragraph caught my attention:

HUD will need six months to add up the local reports (i.e., to tabulate the number of homeless people in this country), and the agency isn't planning to announce the total because counting methods weren't uniform, spokesman Brian Sullivan says. Whatever flaws the count may have, it is the most ambitious attempt ever to measure the scope of homelessness in the nation.
It’s such an ambitious report that we won’t be able to read it, right? And of course it’s coming in six months, after which time most people’s attention will have focused away from Katrina and the aftermath. Also, even if the counting methods “weren’t uniform,” at least the numbers would give us some idea over what we know now, but again, we WON’T know, as it turns out, because we’ll never see it (so why the hell is USA Today even mentioning it, I wonder?). This is vintage Bushco.

Also, from a link to this story, I read this little nugget.

“HUD doesn't count as homeless those doubled-up with others, or families crowded into motel rooms.”
Why the hell not?

So, anyway, since this whole story “rang a few bells” with yours truly, I decided to poke around a bit more, starting with a visit to HUD’s web site. Under a news release for the Katrina Housing Assistance Program, I came across this:

Families will be given a rental subsidy based on 100 percent of Fair Market Rent in that community. Eligible families include displaced public housing residents; Section 8 voucher holders; other HUD-assisted households; and, pre-disaster homeless individuals who were directly affected by the hurricane.
This sounds well and good, though I wonder how "fair market value" will be determined. I’m sure it’s “pre Katrina,” though the skeptic in me notices that that isn’t mentioned. Also, evacuees will have to register with FEMA for disaster assistance. I don’t need to say a word about how Mike “Horsey Time” Brown just about ruined morale, so I hope his exit will give the many fine workers in that agency the boost they need. Also, under Bushco, FEMA seems to have an entirely different attitude towards refugees from natural disasters (as witnessed by that account of the woman who was housed at the FEMA camp in Oklahoma that was posted a few weeks ago…I linked to it at the time, but I can’t locate the link at the moment).

This led me to this story (in my ongoing effort to try and “connect the dots”) of HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson in the Houston Chronicle where Jackson stated that the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, which houses many of the city's poorest residents (and where the population is predominantly African American) should not be rebuilt. A. Jackson also criticized another Jackson (Jesse, by name) for making the Katrina fallout “a racial issue.” Jesse responded (properly, I think) with this:

The news coverage of the evacuation and relief efforts made it clear that a great many of those affected were black, poor and unable to leave on their own, he said.

"Those are the images that were burned into the consciousness of the world and became so embarrassing," he said.
Is Jesse Jackson a publicity hound at times? Sure he is. But he’s also done a lot of good (such as freeing our captured soldiers in Bosnia in the 90s, which seems like a lifetime ago now), and I never hear him getting any credit for it.

I thought this excerpt from the story was instructive also (and I’ll follow up on it shortly).

Alphonso Jackson predicted New Orleans will slowly draw back as many as 375,000 people, but that only 35 to 40 percent of the post-Katrina population would be black.
A. Jackson says this and then criticizes J. Jackson for making the reconstruction “a racial issue?” Please. This is but another shining moment from a Bushco underling; just file it with Mike (“Bird Flu Is Coming! Run For Your Lives!”) Leavitt, Mike (“City Of Louisiana”) Chertoff, and Don (“The Army You Have”) Rumsfeld.

And once more, Dubya shows what kind of a “hands on” guy he really is.

Jackson said he has been asked by President Bush to help New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin rebuild the city. His advice to Nagin during a meeting Friday: Build higher, sturdier and more water-resistant housing.
(no comment…)

This link also describes how A. Jackson wants to make it easier, according to the story, “for lenders to package their home loans with a complete set of settlement services, all at a guaranteed price, thereby giving big lenders too much power and squeezing small real estate providers out of the market.” There’s also stuff in the story about A. Jackson “verbally abusing HUD employees” (nice guy).

To me, the plan is crystal clear (and I’m sure to you also). New Orleans is going to be rebuilt at the Las Vegas of the Gulf Coast, and the poor resident who used to live there won’t be able to any more.

So what do we do with them? How do we provide equitably for the most needy in our society (yes, I know that’s a typical “bleeding heart liberal” question, but at some point, we will have to answer it).

I think the Bringing America Home Act sponsored by U.S. Rep. Julia Carson (D-IN) is definitely a step in the right direction. The latest information I have on the act is dated from last August. I contacted Rep. Carson to find out if there are any new developments. I’ll let you know if I hear from her.

We all have different castles. Some are McMansions, some are condos, some are apartments, and some are empty refrigerator boxes underneath a highway overpass. But everyone is entitled to have something, whatever it may be.

Dubya can pretend to do all of the constructing he wants. But by virtue of how his administration is “handling” the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, I believe he is oblivious to that simple fact.

Update 10/13: This sure is an efficient use of our taxpayer dollars, isn't it? I guess Dubya thinks $11 mil will make the problem go away (and I'm sure he's paying special attention to this because the brunt is being borne by the beloved red states).

No "Big Chair" For Him

I know this item is a couple of days old, but I had to comment on it.

I’m beginning to wonder if Antonin Scalia missed his true calling. If he seriously expects us to believe that he didn’t want to be Chief Justice, then I think he should be a politician, since he obviously has experience at peddling “a bill of goods.”

You can bet that, if Reagan had wanted Scalia to attend a swearing-in ceremony for the chief justice, he wouldn’t have blown it off for “a two-day seminar in Avon, CO on the separation of powers.” But for Dubya, who of course passed Scalia over, I’m sure Scalia didn’t feel too bad about not making the appearance.

(By the way, at the mention of Reagan’s name, I hope you dutifully took your hat off and placed it over your heart and sighed, “Ronald Reagan” the way the townspeople of Rock Ridge do for Randolph Scott in “Blazing Saddles”:- ).

Also, apparently the first case coming up for the Supreme Court under new Chief Justice Roberts is going to involve the federal government’s ability to regulate and control pollution on wetlands (haven’t found a link yet). I wonder how quickly the Supremes will cave and make it easier to foul our environment further (once again, as always, thank you red staters!).

Vote For Ron And Greg

Local PA politics coming up (so all of you Anonymous "spiders" can rest for now:-)...

This letter from Matthew Bulger of Lower Makefield appeared in today's Bucks County Courier Times.

Ex-supervisor Fred Allan is trying to become a Lower Makefield supervisor – again! The first time around he was appointed to the board. This time, it seems, he’ll say just about anything to get elected.

In his campaign literature Allan claims that he and his running mate will bring new ideas and leadership to the job. What’s more, he promises that these ideas will lead to new sources of revenue that will enable Lower Makefield to avoid future tax increases. Curiously, Allan offers few specifics. Additionally, he fails to make any mention of the fact that he served as a supervisor from 1999 to 2001.

There is, of course, a simple explanation for these omissions: He had no new ideas when he first served and he has none now.

Minutes of board meetings during Allan’s tenure reveal a politician who said little and proposed nothing. Given that, why should we now believe that he would bring new ideas and leadership to the board?

Ordinarily Allan’s record as a supervisor would be considered unremarkable at best. But these are not ordinary times for Lower Makefield. On Allan’s watch, the township’s general and sewer funds slowly dwindled while he took no action to find new sources of revenue that might have averted the budget crunch that exists today. As such, Allan’s tenure as a supervisor was worse than unremarkable; it was irresponsible.

Two years of Fred Allan’s “ideas” and “leadership” were enough. We need real leadership and genuine foresight. We need Ron Smith and Greg Caiola to be elected to the Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Audrey Hepburn Would Not Approve

This is whacked, people.

OK, so let me try to follow this. The plan is to blow up children's cartoon characters to get adults to donate money on behalf of "ex-child soldiers in Africa."

Many of whom, presumably, are going to go out and do exactly what is depicted in the ad.

If adults outside of the U.S. want to watch war on T.V., all they have to do is hear the sounds and view the pictures coming out of Iraq (see, they can do this and we can't because they're censored by The High Exalted Leader, President 37 Percent Mandate). They don't have to watch cartoon character violence.

Besides, if you're going to blow up some cartoon characters, try some out of Anime. The Smurfs are sooo 80s (I didn't like them either, but this is still extreme).

And I'm also sure that UNICEF is getting a lot of response to the ad. However, if it's more shock along the lines of "what the hell are you people smoking?" than donations, then I would say that the ad failed.

Or, of course, UNICEF could talk to its viewing audience like adults and treat them with a bare minimum of courtesy and respect for their intelligence, and make their case in that manner.

(or am I asking WAY too much again...)

(also, here is more on the great lady herself...)

All The News That Gives Him Fits

Crooks and Liars had a good post yesterday linking back to The Huffington Post (“Clueless in Phoenix”), which reported on some unkind remarks about bloggers from Bill Keller, Judith Miller’s boss at the New York Times (or the “Waaah,” as Atrios refers to it). Keller must have communicated this at a conference of advertisers last Friday in Phoenix, AZ.

So “bloggers recycle and chew on the news,” huh Bill? Well, guess what? As I’ve said many, many times before, bloggers WOULDN’T EVEN EXIST IF YOU AND SOME OF THE MSM WERE ACTUALLY DOING YOUR JOBS!

I don’t have anything of substance to add to the incredible reporting going on by some of the big-hit bloggers into the whole Judith Miller/Valerie Plame/Karl Rove/”Scooter” Libby/Patrick Fitzgerald thing going on (among others). I’m only mentioning this to point out that anyone who isn’t reading up on this story from The Huffington Post and elsewhere should check it out (Arianna has a ton of links to other sites covering this very well in her piece that I’ve linked to above). It’s a scandal truly worthy of the “gate” suffix that’s attached to it, and the bloggers are piecing it together and reporting on it in expert fashion.

The Venom Of The Snake

Charles Krauthammer oh so elegantly provides some inappropriate (in my mind) historical context surrounding Cindy Sheehan and the antiwar movement in this column, and then digs his fangs into her, so to speak, in the very last paragraph (speaking only for myself, I gave up on Krauthammer a long time ago).

Fortunately, John Grant of Plymouth Meeting, PA, in a Letter To The Editor in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, calls out Krauthammer and his words for what they really are.

I worked with Cindy Sheehan in Texas and here in Philadelphia. Charles Krauthammer's Oct. 3 op-ed smear ("Sheehan's moral authority in doubt") is an example of the gauntlet of garbage one must put up with when an antiwar message begins to reach ordinary Americans.

Sheehan has never supported any Stalinist organizations, endorsed the Tiananmen massacre, defended Saddam Hussein or held a bake sale for Kim Jong Il. This line is a tiresome red herring used by extremist right-wingers. It's simply garbage. The fact is, the recent highly diverse march in Washington was sponsored by thousands of very mainstream organizations, including a number of members of Congress.

Is the war in Iraq a case of bungling or corruption? Sheehan, indeed, leans toward the latter. By now, only die-hard Bush loyalists refuse to recognize the fabric of lies and secret acts that got us into this war. The fact is, corruption and bungling got us where we are. To twist this into a case that Sheehan supports the violent insurgency in Iraq is, again, simply garbage.
(note - more light blogging today...)

He's At It Again

Headline: “Bird Flu Pandemic Risk Very High,” according to HHS secretary Michael Leavitt in this CNN story.

Buried deep in the story is this:

"Whether or not H5N1 is the virus that will ultimately trigger such a pandemic is unknown to us," he (Leavitt) told a news conference.

"The probability is uncertain. But the warning signs are troubling. Hence we are responding in a robust way."
I guess, since the New York subway “terrorist scare” turned out to be a hoax, Bushco needs something else to try and get us good and crazy and totally distracted.

Please see “Bush Crony Alert” on 10/6 if you need more information on this.

The beat goes on…

Monday, October 10, 2005

"Real Time" Update

The show began with a parody of one of these fragrance commercials, only the name of the fragrance was called “Harriet” (cue the crooning of the alto sax with the whispery voice-over: “mysterious, dispassionate…unqualified”).

Bill Maher then began a mediocre monologue with “Bush had a big decision to make, and he made up his mind…he’s going to dress up as Spiderman for Halloween,” and then came up with, “He was so desperate to win back the anti-gay crowd that, for the next Supreme Court vacancy that may come up, he said he’d nominate the tiger that ate part of Siegfried and Roy” (ugh…). He saved it with this one, though, I thought: “According to a BBC documentary, Bush told some Palestinian ministers that God told him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently, that’s what happens when you mix the New Testament with ‘Old Milwaukee’.”

The first guest he interview via satellite was Ann Coulter, and I’m going to communicate very little of the exchange between the two of them because I refuse to serve as an unwitting propaganda vehicle for her. The one thing I should point out about her, which is true of many in the right-wing echo chamber and some lefties too I’m sure, is that these people are lawyers. They are trained to propagandize and try to influence an opinion any way they can, even if the facts aren’t entirely consistent with their argument.

The fact that this woman even gets the time of day from ANYONE in the media anywhere is testimony to her success at influencing small minds everywhere. When Maher said to her (quite rightly) that, “if a Democrat pulled what Tom DeLay did, you and the right would be screaming,” and she casually laughed that off with, “oh, that prosecutor (Ronnie Earle) has been known for doing this for years. He has nothing,” (so in touch with reality she is). Maher also confronted her over what Bill Bennett said about aborting black babies to lower the crime rate (yes, I read the actual quote, and Bennett denied that it was a good idea, but his denial was of a nature that led me to believe that Bennett would like for it to happen anyway – “somebody said it should be done, it’s bad, but somebody said it should be done.”). Coulter, in an attempt to blame the Democrats for thinking the same way Bennett did, then came up with some story that, during the 2000 presidential election recount, Democrats were spreading stories that blacks were raping their babies (in an effort to show how the Democrats take the black vote for granted at times); typical garbage for her. At least the audience had good enough sense to stir and even hiss a little bit at times. Coulter even sounds annoying. I had never heard he talk before, and I don’t plan to ever again.

The three panelists were Andrew Sullivan, Ben Affleck, and Salman Rushdie. Speaking first of Miers, Maher asked, “How does she recuse herself since she’s been so close to Bush?” (she actually said she thought Bush was brilliant…isn’t that hilarious? Of course, the joke will be on us if she is somehow confirmed). Sullivan (who was thoroughly hard on Bush) said, “That’s the problem. Bush wants someone who’s loyal. Nominating Miers was his ‘Mel Brooks moment’…’it’s good to be king’ and all that. Bush had 25 ‘brilliant’ judges (Sullivan’s choice of words which, if I knew the names, I’m sure I wouldn’t agree with) sitting on the sidelines, and he stiffed all of them.” Salman Rushdie pointed out that “Bush and (Tony) Blair both play the ‘trust me’ card, and it doesn’t work in either case.”

Andrew Sullivan (who genuinely impressed me, I must say, though there are quite a few points upon which we disagree), said, “I trusted Bush on Iraq and I trusted him on spending, and I’ll never trust him again.” Sullivan then said, “Any true conservative would have voted for Kerry,” and I screamed “YES” loudly so loudly that I almost woke up the young one, which would have been simply unpardonable.

Maher then pointed out that Bush has actually done a good job with racial diversity in his cabinet (I grudgingly have to give him that), but when it comes to religion, it’s not enough to just say you’re religious: “you have to be ‘double-dog Christy” (re: The Big Guy) to use Maher’s words. Ben Affleck then pointed out that “just being religious doesn’t make you stupid,” and then this led into an exchange between Sullivan and Maher where Sullivan told Maher not to put down people of faith just because they are that way, and you shouldn’t judge people like that based on the fundamentalist nut jobs that are out there now (not a direct quote from Sullivan, but that’s what he thought of them).

Salman Rushdie pointed out that he attended some Washington social event a few years ago and met both Republican and Democratic politicians, and Rushdie pointed out that practically every Republican politician he spoke with used religious terminology and references, and the Democratic politicians didn’t. I don’t think Rushdie was trying to imply anything, but he was merely stating a fact. Sullivan reminded Maher that, “genuine people of faith don’t make asinine statements like the kind made by Franklin Graham,” and Ben Affleck pointed out that “religion helps us aspire to other things.”

Of the panelists, I think Sullivan was often the most persuasive, and Rushdie tossed out some nice lines that were clever and obviously the product of an accomplished literary mind. As I watched and heard Ben Affleck (who I guess was supposed to be more liberal than he came across, which I think surprised Maher a bit), I found myself wishing that he would run for office, because the audience was responding to him (not surprising since he’s a good actor) and also because he seemed to have a “middle of the road” point of view that played well.

Salman Rushie, returning to religion, said “I think God has been in a bad mood lately, feeling like he has to destroy something,” referring to Katrina and Rita of course (and he might as well have been referring to the Asian earthquake, which hadn’t hit yet of course). Maher came up with this line: “I love Jesus. I just don’t like the Christians who don’t believe what he says.” Maher also then brought up the case of Ashley Smith, the woman who read “The Purpose-Driven Life” to that courthouse thug in Atlanta who held people hostage, when it fact it turns out she was also supplying crystal meth to the guy also. The group was kind of ambivalent about that to say the least.

Maher then interviewed Kayla Williams via satellite, who is an Arabic translator who served in Iraq and also has written a book about her experience, and Maher questioned her when she said in the book that “some things you need to forget.” She responded by saying that she thought an interrogation office crossed the line when a man bled to death, and she told him, “Anyone who is innocent when they come in here will be a terrorist when they leave.” She said that it’s a tragedy that lower-level officers are paying the price for what has happened and the higher-ups aren’t being held accountable.” Maher asked her if it’s true that, in this war exclusively, our troops have crossed the line when it comes to torture, and Williams said that wasn’t true. “The Stanford University prison experiment of 1971 shows that more of us can cross the line at any time,” she said. Maher asked her if it’s easier to be a woman or gay in the military, and Williams cleverly replied, “Why not both?” When asked about sexism in the Army, Williams said, “There’s sexism everywhere.” She otherwise found the Army to be “a very empowering experience.” Overall, I thought Williams presented herself admirably, and I give her a lot of credit along with my respect.

The group then went back to the vote to on the bill to “clarify existing guidelines” for our military in the use of torture, and Andrew Sullivan pointed out that the vote was 90-9 in favor of the legislation sponsored by John McCain. Sullivan then went back to what Maher asked Williams earlier about torture in other wars, and Sullivan said that, “this (Abu Ghraib) didn’t happen in World War II, because back then, we had a president with morality (wow!),” and the McCain bill “is about our values.” Sullivan also reminded everyone that, even though the bill passed in the Senate, Dick Cheney is “ferociously” trying to kill it in the U.S. House (figures). Ben Affleck pointed out that, based on the language from the Bush Administration on the war, “only extreme measures will suffice.” Salman Rushdie said we should make sure that we “do not become the enemy,” and added that “The rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the rotten tree.” Maher, with faux outrage, said to Rushdie, “I will not have the president denigrated this way!” Maher also pointed out that, in response to the recent subway threat in New York City, “the security warnings seem to go up when the approval ratings go down” (and apparently NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose not to go along with this scheme as far as I know…good for him – have to check with Itsez since that’s his turf), prompting Rushdie to ask, “what is the difference between yellow fear and orange fear?” Andrew Sullivan said that Bush has made us more vulnerable by the manipulation of fear (I constantly had to keep reminding myself that he’s a conservative), with Rushdie adding that, because of the different clues and messages coming out of Bushco, “this government must have been reading ‘The DaVinci Code’.”

Returning to the Katrina fallout, Andrew Sullivan reminded everyone that Joe Allbaugh, former FEMA director who installed Mike “Heckuva Job” Brown into the role when Allbaugh left to make a ton of dough from the Iraq reconstruction, was already setting up reconstruction bids for the Gulf Coast before Katrina even hit (unbelievable). There was also a discussion of a gun law recently passed in Florida which Ben Affleck vociferously defended, though I have to admit that I need to look into it a bit more myself (though I must say that calling it the “Shoot First” law doesn’t make me feel "warm and fuzzy").

In the “New Rules” segment, Maher said that Bush “should stop reporting that we’ve killed al Qaeda’s number two leader, or something like that. We must have killed this guy nine times by now. It turns out that he’s not a terrorist. He’s a zombie.” Also, taking final shots at Bush and Miers, Maher asked, “does Bush just go with the first person he sees? Crony bullshit jobs are for buddies (sorry..that’s the quote). Bush puts stooges where they can do real damage.” He ended up with calling Bush “a dimwit who enjoys feeling superior,” and called sycophants Mike Brown and Miers “Goober and Aunt Bea.”

Scheduled to appear on the show next week are fmr. Sen. Max Cleland, editor Tina Brown, and comedian Larry Miller. Plus, via satellite, author Tom Wolfe.

Update 10/12: Here is a link to the transcript of "New Rules" from Maher's site.

When Dubya Doesn't Get His Way

This came from Atrios, who apparently got it from Steve Gilliard (an interesting episode with a reporter standing up to President 37 Percent Mandate…of course, it was someone not from the U.S. Press).

I’m not going to try and dissect all of the misinformation and outright lies that Dubya came up with in the Coleman interview, but I am going to focus on one (which apparently is one of this week’s approved “talking points” which are supposed to be properly digested without question by our pliant media).

Dubya said, “I’m the first president to call for a Palestinian state.”

This is lawyerly semantics. The foundation for what could be a Palestinian state (I’m done with holding my breath awaiting a solution for the Mideast, by the way, especially with more of our people getting killed in Iraq) was already laid out on the basis of work performed by…guess who?

(One more thing...I'm sick and tired of listening to Dubya and his fellow intolerant fundamentalist "Christians" talking about religion. I've said this before and I'll probably say it a hundred more times; the actions of these people have no basis in any religion that I was ever taught or exposed to in my life.)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Presidency In "Red" Alert

Dubya is definitely in trouble. David Broder (a middle-of-the-road but largely respected Washington Post columnist) has a column today on people starting to bail out on him, and even conservative propagandist Glenn McCoy drew a cartoon blaming Bush for the Miers nomination that appeared in the Inquirer yesterday (and that has NEVER happened before).

Bill Maher on "Real Time," by the way, was ALL OVER Bush on Miers. I have to get to the update soon...funny stuff. Maher also thinks it's inevitable that Rove will be indicted. God, if that is so, then the day that happens should be declared a national holiday.

I hate to throw cold water on all of this, though, but we need to be reminded that we have THREE MORE YEARS of this guy unless all of us contact our elected representatives and tell them to IMPEACH BUSH NOW! I got that started a couple of days ago with the chicken Dems who supported Roberts, though I'm sure, to be honest, that they didn't listen. One piddly little blogger won't get their attention. However, I'm sure a TIDAL WAVE of phone calls, Emails and "snail mail" messages might do the trick.

Update: This excellent column from Trudy Rubin in today's Philadelphia Inquirer provides more fuel for cooking Dubya's goose, as it were.

Iraq details we didn't hear about in speech

By Trudy Rubin

President Bush gave an amazing speech on terrorism and Iraq on Thursday in which he left out almost everything you need to know.

The speech was aimed at reversing the slide in public support for the Iraq war. The President's theme? Iraq is "the central front in our war on terror."

If we retreat, Islamic militants will take over Iraq and use it as a "haven for terror" from which they will destabilize the region and the world, he said. So we must "never back down" until we achieve "complete victory" - a term whose definition wasn't provided.

Nor did the President give you the information to judge whether we should stay in Iraq.

The President didn't tell you that Iraq has become an al-Qaeda haven because of mistakes made by the Bush team. He tried, instead, to debunk such charges by arguing that Islamists hated us before the Iraq war started. True, but irrelevant.

The Iraq war didn't trigger al-Qaeda's crimes, but it strengthened the hand of Islamic radicals in the region.

Prior to the Iraq war, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was an obscure jihadi holed up in the Kurdish mountains along with a small band of Islamists. U.S. forces knew his location and could have destroyed him. Instead, our mistakes turned him into the most dangerous Islamist radical in the region.

The President didn't tell you that Iraq descended into its current violence because the Bush team invaded with no plan for the postwar era. Donald Rumsfeld sent too few troops to stabilize the country. Iraqi insurgents quickly perceived our weakness, and the country became a magnet for radicals from elsewhere.

According to the CIA, Iraq has assumed the role once played by Afghanistan as a proving ground for Islamic extremists. These radicals can get trained in Iraq for urban warfare. Arab leaders say the violence is already spilling into their countries.

So we made Zarqawi into what he is today and provided him with a base. What do we do now? The President didn't tell you how we can dry up this terrorist haven we've facilitated in Iraq.

Bush claimed to have "a comprehensive, specific military plan" that involves training Iraqi military forces so we can draw down U.S. troops. He echoed what Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior commander in Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 29: The military is eager to turn responsibility over to Iraqi forces.

That assumes that the Iraqis are capable of assuming leadership. A skeptical Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) told Casey: "Most people that I talk to say... they are not ready to do that."

The President didn't tell you that only one battalion out of about 80 battalions of the Iraqi army - fewer than 1,000 men - is fully capable of planning and operating on its own. About 30 battalions could take the lead if U.S. forces support them.

But the issue is much bigger than training Iraqi forces. What matters is motivation: whether Iraqis know for what and against whom they are fighting. In an Iraq fractured into religious and ethnic factions, Iraqi forces also have conflicting loyalties. That makes it hard for an Iraqi military to jell.

The President didn't tell you that most senior U.S. military officers believe the Iraqi insurgency can't be defeated by military means. The key is political. Unless Iraq's factions can find common ground, the low-level civil war will continue and the Iraqi military won't be able to assert control.

The President did speak of the need to support Iraqi democracy, as Iraq moves toward a vote on a constitution next weekend and elections in December. But he didn't tell you that the draft constitution is splitting the country further, as minority Sunnis fear it shuts them out of power and a share of Iraq's oil.

At the Senate hearings, Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) asked Casey whether the vote on the constitution could "lead to a worsening political situation, rather than a better one."

"I think that's entirely possible, Senator," Casey replied frankly. Needless to say, the President didn't tell you that.

The most important thing the President neglected to tell you is that we face two unhappy choices in Iraq.

Pull out from Iraq now, and the current low-grade civil war in Iraq will worsen. I've seen full-scale civil wars up close - in Lebanon and Bosnia - and Iraq has far to go to equal their horrors. None of the factions can control the whole country; Iraq would likely split into three pieces. The Shiites in the south would fall further under Iran's sway; "Sunnistan" in the center would become more of a magnet for jihadis.

Stay on, and we may only be postponing the above. Without some political accord among Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, the insurgency won't be tamed in the foreseeable future, or the Islamists stopped.

It may be time for sterner U.S. warnings to all Iraqi factions that we can't stay unless they agree on a formula that gives each a fair stake in their country. Should the constitution fail, the December election provides one last chance for political compromise among Iraqis.

If December doesn't bring better political news, all options will have to be reconsidered.

The President most certainly did not tell you that.

Doin' The "Mind Guerilla"

(Don't worry...I don't know exactly what that means either - I'm just guessing.)

I, like millions of other people I’m sure, have often wondered what John Lennon would be like today had he lived into old(er) age, with today marking what would have been his 65th birthday. Would he have been some paunchy geezer with a flag bandana wrapped around his head attending peace rallies or World Trade Organization demonstrations somewhere, or would he have become a pragmatic broker of alliances between business and government leaders and entertainment industry types of behalf of worthy causes (maybe doing what Bono does today, possibly with him)? Or would he have just become a recluse altogether, or even run off with May Pang? We’ll never know, of course.

One thing I will say is that Lennon frequently re-invented himself in his career and his life when it suited his purposes, and I think the world was better for it. How it affected his personal and family life is an entirely different matter, though, and that’s a reason why I’m glad to see that Cynthia Lennon has written a book about him that apparently says what she truly wanted to say (she wrote a book in the 70s which, to my knowledge, wasn’t censored, but it was made clear to her from Yoko Ono and John that some subjects were off limits).

Lennon did make charitable contributions and donate his time in the 70s (as he did in an appearance in Philadelphia for a Variety Club Telethon in 1975, which was captured in the photo). However, I thought this column, which contained an excerpt from a two-part interview Lennon gave to Playboy Magazine published after his death (the interviews were excellent, by the way, and got into all kinds of stuff related primarily to the Beatle songs) was a bit revealing about his attitude towards charities in general. I can appreciate how Lennon would feel because, after he achieved his fame, he and the other Beatles probably ended up facing people left and right with the hand out “putting the bite on them,” and a long, LONG time ago, those four guys were destitute also.

(I know the column starts off with conservative hack Jonah Goldberg trashing “Live 8,” and I apologize for that. I suppose, for some people, there is NOTHING in this world, no matter how good or well intentioned, that cannot be held up for ridicule somehow.)

This link takes you to a review of Yoko Ono’s Broadway musical about Lennon (the title of the review is a hoot), which I’m sure has closed already…I’d be truly surprised if it were still running (all of mankind can breathe a sigh of relief).

I’m not saying Lennon shouldn't be commemorated. I’m just saying that he shouldn’t be deified. I think he was, in many ways, a regular, well-intentioned guy with some problems who just happened to be one of the greatest poets and musicians who ever lived. And I think “Instant Karma” should be the national anthem, so there!

One more note in a related vein: apparently, J.D. Mullane wrote a column in the Bucks County Courier Times today trashing the '60s. I’ll do my best to avoid it.