Saturday, February 03, 2007

Saturday Videos

Joe Hunter of The Funk Brothers, Motown's first bandleader, died today (here he is doing the honors on "Come And Get These Memories" by Martha Reeves and The Vandellas - I wonder whose idea it was to use the teddy bear as a prop?)...

...we also lost Billy Henderson of The Spinners today ("My Lady Love," sort of a forgotten Motown song by the group before they switched to Atlantic and achieved their fame - nothing like that '70s wah-wah guitar)...

...U2 ("Vertigo" - Bono takes enough of a break from trying to save the world to hook up with the group and make a kickin' song with a trippy video)...

...Tool ("Vicarious" - charming stuff of nightmares)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Videos

The Pretenders ("Middle Of The Road")...

...Happy Birthday to Dave Davies of The Kinks ("Death Of A Clown," from back in the days of Clearasil and spy movies; I saw him flip off somebody like that years ago at the Mann Music Center also - the kids were dancing a lot better in the Pretenders video)...

...Happy Birthday also to the great Stephen Stills ("Bound To Fall," from "Take 1 Beat Club" in 1972 - pancakes??)...

...and a belated Happy Birthday to bandmate Graham Nash ("These Empty Days").

Once More For Molly

I thought this excerpt from Paul Krugman’s appreciation of Molly Ivins today was important to remember (Atrios noted most of the rest already - sorry it's "behind the wall")…

So Molly Ivins – who didn’t mingle with the great and famous, didn’t have sources high in the administration, and never claimed special expertise on national security or the Middle East – got almost everything right (on Iraq). Meanwhile, how did those who did have all those credentials do?

With very few exceptions, they got everything wrong. They bought the obviously cooked case for war – or found their own reasons to endorse the invasion. They didn’t see the folly of the venture, which was almost as obvious in prospect as it is with the benefit of hindsight. And they took years to realize that everything we were being told about progress in Iraq was a lie.

Was Molly smarter than all the experts? No, she was just braver. The administration’s exploitation of 9/11 created an environment in which it took a lot of courage to see and say the obvious.

Molly had that courage; not enough others can say the same.

And it’s not over. Many of those who failed the big test in 2002 and 2003 are now making excuses for the “surge.” Meanwhile, the same techniques of allegation and innuendo that were used to promote war with Iraq are being used to ratchet up tensions with Iran.

Now, more than ever, we need people who will stand up against the follies and lies of the powerful. And Molly Ivins, who devoted her life to questioning authority, will be sorely missed.

I’m attaching this link to a column from May of 2005 soon before this blog began as an example (as Krugman points out) not only of her lively wit (in which she takes on a favorite target, Texas Judge Priscilla Owen and – Al Franken, take note here – Norm Coleman in the dustup he had with George Galloway), but of the concise way in which she makes her case with the facts as we nod in agreement over her conclusions.

That is great writing, the product of guts and a nimble, incisive mind. For me, that is the gift she gave us that I’ll miss the most.

Welcome To America; Now Go Away

I saw this in an Associated Press story that appeared in the Inquirer yesterday; it turns out that the United States has lost billions in tourism since 9/11, which is a big deal of course.

The AP story noted the following…

Fewer international visitors have been coming to the United States (since 9/11), despite an initiative announced a year ago by top government officials.

In 2000, this country was the destination for 7.5 percent of all international travelers. After the 2001 attacks, tourism plummeted. Four years later, only 6 percent of international visits were to this country, the Commerce Department said.
That’s a shocking number.

Reasons cited for the decline include delays in getting visas, long lines at airports, and failure to promote the United States abroad.

Lawmakers and travel executives are working on ways to boost international tourism, which contributes $1.3 trillion and 7.3 million jobs to the U.S. economy, according to the Travel Industry Association.

“It’s a significant part of the economy, and we’re losing our share,” said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D., N.D.), chairman of a Senate panel investigating the issue.

Travel executives are asking, among other things, for more airport and consular staff, a visa system that uses new technology, and a campaign to promote the United States as a welcoming place to visit.
To do my part, I submitted the following promotional slogans to the Commerce Department that they could use if they wanted to promote this country…

“Come To America And Be Adopted By A Celebrity.”

“The World’s Finest Health Care Can Be Yours If You’re A Thoroughbred Racehorse.”

“For Illegal Immigrants, Headsets Optional In Plane Wheel Well Seating.”

“It Is Highly Unlikely That You’ll Be Captured And Sent Overseas For Extraordinary Rendition.”

“We’re Still Working On The Fence Between Us And Mexico, But The Deadly Invisible Force Field Between Us And Canada Is Only A Rumor.”
I can’t understand why I haven’t heard back from anyone.

Where The Rubber Meets The Road (2/2/07)

As reported in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, here is how Philadelphia-area members of Congress were recorded on major roll-call votes last week.

(I could have phoned this one in, as it turned out.)


Congressional pensions. The House voted, 431-0, to deny congressional pensions to members convicted of crimes such as bribery, perjury and fraud. The measure (HR 476) goes to conference with the Senate.

All Philadelphia-area representatives voted for the bill.


Minimum wage. Senators failed, 54-43, to reach the 60 votes needed to advance a bill (HR 2) raising the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour over 26 months.

A yes vote was to advance the bill.

Voting yes: Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.), Bob Casey Jr. (D., Pa.), Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Arlen Specter (R., Pa.).

Not voting: Thomas Carper (D., Del.).
The bill eventually passed in the Senate, but as noted here, the Senate and the House will negotiate on a final bill which will be sent to Dubya (and God only knows what he’ll do in when it reaches him).

State wage sovereignty. The Senate rejected, 69-28, a proposal to abolish the federal minimum wage and allow each state to set its own base wage. States now must abide by the federally set floor but can require a higher minimum wage.

All Philadelphia-area senators voted to keep the federal minimum wage.

Illegal immigrants. Senators voted, 94-0, to amend HR 2 (above) to deny federal contracts to companies found to have hired illegal immigrants. Firms would be exempted from the provision if they used the government's online database to verify worker information.

All Philadelphia-area senators voted for the measure.
This week, the Senate debated measures disapproving of President Bush's Iraq war escalation (as noted previously, the pointless Levin-Warner declaration); the House voted on stopgap appropriations for agencies still without regular 2007 budgets.

Friday Freeper Financial Fiction

This appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times yesterday, and the author is some idiot named Jay Ambrose.

(Note: You have to register at the Sacramento Bee's web site to read this, but it really isn't worth the trouble.)

It has now become obvious that Democrats want another Great Depression, the era of their most robust ascendancy. If the facts won't give them one, they will do what Sen. James Webb of Virginia did in his response to President Bush's State of the Union speech: They will invent one out of thin air.
First of all, here is a link to a Wikipedia article on The Great Depression (and this links to some additional history including photographs from that period).

As you might expect, scholars and economists disagree on what exactly cause The Great Depression (which was worldwide, by the way), but it was precluded by speculative excess on the part of businesses in this country in the prior decade (according to FDR, and that makes sense to me), along with the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 (a shock treatment of sorts after the 1929 stock market crash that started the whole thing in this country) along with Britain’s decision to return to the gold standard, among other factors.

You could argue about the value of Roosevelt’s alphabet soup of government programs as a response to the depression, but they served both the practical need of providing employment for awhile to those who could not find work and the emotional need of uniting this country in a common cause against this scourge. Also, this ushered in the era of government deficit spending, which can be good if managed responsibly. And you could even go further still and note that the depression did not officially end until this country had entered World War II.

However, for Ambrose or anyone else to try and scare people into believing that the Democratic Party wants to see the return of “Hoovervilles” and other blights of poverty from that era is both laughable and sickening at the same time.

They will tell you, as he did, that the middle class "is losing its place at the table," that wages and salaries are frighteningly low and that our "manufacturing base is being dismantled." About the only thing they leave out is references to bread lines.

Here is something that might surprise you, and would certainly surprise Webb, assuming that he was as sincere as he looked: The middle class has seldom had it so good.
Here is a link to Crooks and Liars that presents both the video and the transcript of what Webb said, by the way.

And even though Ambrose discounts this later (see, we must never allow anything to interfere with the finely-tuned machinery of American business as far as Ambrose is concerned), I want to highlight this paragraph from Webb’s response…

When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.
And if Ambrose doesn’t want to believe Webb when he points out that “our manufacturing base is being dismantled,” fine. Believe Paul Craig Roberts, then, who worked in the commerce department of the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan…

Job growth over the last five years is the weakest on record. The US economy came up more than 7 million jobs short of keeping up with population growth. That’s one good reason for controlling immigration. An economy that cannot keep up with population growth should not be boosting population with heavy rates of legal and illegal immigration.

Over the past five years (2001-2006) the US economy experienced a net job loss in goods producing activities. The entire job growth was in service-providing activities--primarily credit intermediation, health care and social assistance, waiters, waitresses and bartenders, and state and local government.

US manufacturing lost 2.9 million jobs, almost 17% of the manufacturing work force. The wipeout is across the board. Not a single manufacturing payroll classification created a single new job.

The declines in some manufacturing sectors have more in common with a country undergoing saturation bombing during war than with a super-economy that is “the envy of the world.”
But don’t worry – Ambrose is about to indulge in more fairy tales…

The economic columnist Robert Samuelson has reported that the percentage of families with inflation-adjusted, before-tax incomes of more than $50,000 was 35 percent in 1980, 40 percent in 1990 and 44 percent in 2003. A progressive policy group economist, Stephen Rose, has reported that over a 25-year period ending in 2004, there was a 13 percent increase in adults between 25 and 59 in households with real incomes more than $100,000 and a 14 percent decrease of this age group in households with real incomes of less than $75,000.

I talked to Rose for a column last year after reading some other of his statistics about Americans in their prime working years. The median income of this group, he found through U.S. Census research, was $63,300. He also discovered that the median in this group for two-earner households was $80,000.

As for wages, they zoomed in 2006. According to the New York Times, they increased for rank-and-file workers by more than any year "from the late 1970s to the mind-1990s." The economic commentator Lawrence Kudlow shares an economist's finding that wages went up more during "the first five years of the Bush expansion" than over the first five years of the expansion that occurred under the presidencies of his father and Bill Clinton. Unemployment is an extraordinarily low 4.5 percent, with a record number of jobs, 146 million.
Lawrence Kudlow writes for the National Review Online, by the way, so that should tell you all you need to know about him.

And it’s funny how Ambrose doesn’t mention anything about wages versus inflation or cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) here or energy costs (and perish the thought that he would discuss the effect of offshoring in holding down salaries).

Luckily, Paul Krugman gets into some of that here…

Because employers don't have to raise wages to get workers, wages are lagging behind the cost of living. According to Labor Department statistics, the purchasing power of an average non-supervisory worker's wage has fallen about 1.5 percent since the summer of 2003. And this may understate the pressure on many families: the cost of living has risen sharply for those whose work or family situation requires buying a lot of gasoline.

Some commentators dismiss concerns about gasoline prices, because those prices are still below previous peaks when you adjust for inflation. But that misses the point: Americans bought cars and made decisions about where to live when gas was $1.50 or less per gallon, and now suddenly find themselves paying $2.60 or more. That's a rude shock, which I estimate raises the typical family's expenses by more than $900 a year.

You may ask where economic growth is going, if it isn't showing up in wages. That's easy to answer: it's going to corporate profits, to rising health care costs and to a surge in the salaries and other compensation of executives. (Forbes reports that the combined compensation of the chief executives of America's 500 largest companies rose 54 percent (in 2004).)

The bottom line, then, is that most Americans have good reason to feel unhappy about the economy, whatever Washington's favorite statistics may say. This is an economic expansion that hasn't trickled down; many people are worse off than they were a year ago. And it will take more than a revamped administration sales pitch to make people feel better.
Back to Ambrose...

Our manufacturing base is not being dismantled. Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute quotes a Federal Reserve document as observing, "Over the 12 months ending in December, total industrial production increased 3 percent to a level that was 112.4 percent of its 2002 average."
I’m not going to play the game of trying to decipher Ambrose’s numbers (to tell the truth, I know my own household finances of course, but I’m certainly not a financial expert in the class of Krugman or Roberts). Instead, I’ll link to this ThinkProgress post that references an American Progress story noting the following (including the 2002 period mentioned by Ambrose – sorry if any of this stuff is mind-numbingly repetitive)…

Job growth is the weakest on record. Job growth during the current business cycle, beginning in March 2001, has averaged an annualized 0.5 percent per month, the lowest of any business cycle since the Great Depression. In fact, this is less than a quarter of the average of all prior business cycles since World War II.

Sharp spike in costs for necessities. From March 2001 through June 2006, prices for the five largest consumption items–medical care, housing, food, household operation, and cars–grew more than twice as fast as they did for the smallest five consumption items. At the same time, college costs continue to soar.

Wage gains have been minimal. Real wages have barely moved during the recovery or since the period when the economy stopped losing jobs in August 2003. Between March 2001 and December 2006, real hourly wages grew at an average annualized rate of 0.5 percent, and real weekly wages grew at an average annualized rate of 0.4 percent.

Families spent all of their disposable income and then some. For the first time since the Great Depression, the personal saving rate became negative in 2005. In the third quarter of 2006, the saving rate was -1.2 percent, the sixth quarter in a row with a negative saving rate.
Back to Ambrose again...

Webb is playing a demagogic game when he additionally says the benefits of high corporate profits and a booming stock market are "not being fairly shared." Sharing fairly as a matter of governmental coercion is a socialist program that forever fails while free markets have done more to produce prosperity and lift people out of poverty than any economic scheme ever. Corporate profits tend to profit everyone.
Oh really?

Primarily because of obscene corporate profits and the overall consolidation of wealth of the investor class, it is harder for non-rich Americans (re: most of the country) to meet day-to-day expenses, to say nothing of splurging on luxury items of one type or another, as pointed out above.

How the hell is that “profiting everyone”?

But no, Webb conjures up the robber barons and "dispossessed workers" of the early 20th century, takes a shot at soaring CEO salaries and worries about an America "drifting apart along class lines." As I've noted, the middle class is more than holding its own, and those getting richer are not just the rich. Whatever you think of CEO salaries, they are not the cause of poverty increases, which are rather a consequence of immigration that also holds down low-range wages.

Whenever you point out that the American people are doing well relative to where they have been in the past, people accuse you of callousness, as if facts were signals of insensitivity.

The Webb remarks, echoing other Democrats, are laden with hints of an interventionism unwarranted by circumstances and that could be hugely counterproductive. If the Democrats get this wrong, they could ultimately produce something approximating the Depression-type horrors they have created in their politically inspired imaginations.
Ambrose does a good job of recycling freeper propaganda spoon-fed to him by his handlers. Of course, who can say how he’d fare if he actually had to go out and compete for work as most of the rest of the middle class of this country is forced to do.

I didn’t know that the splendid, scenic airy mountain vistas of Colorado where he is based could have the effect of dulling someone’s brain to the point where they started living in an alternative to reality.

Escalate This!

The latest from Democracy For America...

The race for the White House has begun. At the same time, President Bush is escalating the War in Iraq.

Will you join us in calling on all of the 2008 presidential candidates -- regardless of party -- to oppose President Bush's plan and propose an alternative of their own?

Help DFA gather 50,000 signatures by Monday:

Click here.

We will deliver your signature and comments to all the announced candidates for president. We will also share their responses and alternative plans.

Why petition the candidates? For the next year, each candidate for president will talk to thousands of voters in-person and millions more through the media. One candidate will be sworn in on January 20, 2009 and will inherit the governmental quagmire of George W. Bush. At this stage in the primary process, you have the power to shape their policies and proposals.

Don't let the presidential candidates duck this issue. Sign the petition today:

Click here.

Your name and comments will be shared with every presidential candidate next week. While the Senate is debating non-binding resolutions, you'll be asking the men and women who want to be president to make a more substantial commitment.

This is a new day in presidential politics. "Fat cat" consultants and the corporate media should not pick the contenders or the issues. You should. Every candidate wants your support, so insist that they commit to end the War in Iraq and bring the troops home safely.

Here is the text of the petition:

We call upon the 2008 candidates for president to oppose any escalation of the Iraq War, to demand a swift end to the occupation, and to propose a plan that brings our brave men and women home.

Please sign today:

Click here.

Thank you for all you do,

Tom Hughes
Executive Director
This provides an update on what Russ Feingold is proposing to do with the utterly toothless Warner-Levin amendment on Iraq (and I just love the way our corporate media has been enforcing this fictional narrative of Warner confronting Bush, though I do not intend to demean Warner’s service to our country by pointing that out).

And speaking of service to our country, here are the words of one who is suffering for our nonsensical policy (we have one?) in Iraq.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Thursday Videos

Chevelle ("The Red" - the woman running the session looks oddly like one of my ex-bosses)...

A few belated happy birthdays from yesterday...first is Charlie Musselwhite celebrating number 63 (a bit of "Gone Too Long")...

...also, happy 41st to bassist Alan Jaworski of Jesus Jones ("Right Here, Right Now" - the '90s seems like a lifetime ago now)...

...and that charming gentleman John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) turned 51 yesterday ("God Save The Queen," by the Sex Pistols - did you know that Lydon and his wife were due to board Pan Am 103 before it blew up over Lockerbie, but had to cancel at the last minute?).

Energy Action From One Corps

This links to a blog post by George Stern of One Corps, associated with the Edwards '08 Campaign. George's post includes these excerpts:

One Corps' first National Day of Action (on January 27th) was a huge success thanks to the efforts of hundreds of chapters nationwide.

In the coming days, we'll kick off the planning for February's National Day of Action, which will take place on Saturday, February 24th and will be centered on health care.

In the meantime, you can continue taking action today by
inviting your friends, filling out your profile, and starting in on local projects.

Thank you for joining One Corps, for all the work you've already done, and for all the change you're bringing. Together -- as One Corps -- we are building the one America we all believe in.
And here is a video of Senator and Mrs. Edwards doing their part along with a few other good folks in Wilkes Barre, PA (very cool).

Sublime Stupidity

I saw this at Eschaton about an hour ago (my…head…must…not…explode!!):

Dear Dr. Mjos:

Landmark Legal Foundation herewith submits the name of
Rush Limbaugh as an unsolicited nomination for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

We are offering this nomination for Mr. Limbaugh's nearly two decades of tireless efforts to promote
liberty, equality and opportunity for all mankind, regardless of race, creed, economic stratum or national origin. We fervently believe that these are the only real cornerstones of just and lasting peace throughout the world.

Rush Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host in the United States and one of the most popular broadcasters in the world. His daily radio show is heard on more than 600 radio stations in the United States and around the world. For 18 years he has used his show to become the foremost advocate for
freedom and democracy in the world today. Every day he gives voice to the values of democratic governance, individual opportunity and the just, equal application of the rule of law -- and it is fitting the Nobel Committee recognize the power of these ideals to build a truly peaceful world for future generations.

Thank you for your thoughtful and serious consideration of this nomination. Should you require additional information, please don't hesitate to contact me.


Mark R. Levin
I think I need an intervention after this one.

Run, Stuart, Run!

Congratulations to Al Franken for entering the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota for the right to run against Repug incumbent Norm Coleman. I’m sure Franken has done his homework, especially since he moved the location from which he airs his soon-to-be-ending program on “Air America” from New York to Minneapolis.

The problem is that I can see the Repugs perpetually trying to press hot buttons on him to get a rise, and that’s a challenge he’ll have to answer carefully (though I trust him to know when to do battle and when to say screw it and walk away).

Coleman, I should point out, has reformed himself somewhat for appearances sake (trying to distance himself from Dubya on Iraq a la Mike Fitzpatrick, for example), but never doubt that he is still a Repug through and through. However, I don’t think we’re going to be hearing him yap about how the U.N. is solely responsible for the Iraq “oil for food” scandal or how he’s “a 99 percent improvement over his predecessor” (the great Paul Wellstone, who was unable to defend himself against this scurrilous quote on account of the fact that he was dead).

I expect Franken to run a witty and erudite campaign, and that may be the problem, actually. If he can’t hold his own in photo ops such as a cow-milking contest of master the nuances of governmental rules and regulations of his home state and convey that he could be an effective advocate on the issues, then all of his cleverness and entertainment value won’t mean a thing.

But I have faith in him. He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it…

Oh, never mind.

The Dubya Syndrome

(dated ‘70s movie reference – sorry…)

I noted this in a comment at Prof Marcus’ site yesterday, but I think it bears repeating (maybe I’m right, I don’t know; hopefully it will never matter).

We know that President Nutball signed an executive order recently “…that gives the White House much greater control over the rules that the federal government develops to regulate public health (and) safety,” as well as privacy and other issues.

And as noted here, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued its first license for a major commercial nuclear facility in 30 years.”

Do you have faith that our red-state president won’t try gutting regulatory compliance for a facility such at this in the name of assuming more control and making it easier for his corporate friends to shirk their responsibility for running such an operation safely? I don’t.

Sweet dreams, everyone.

The Deceitful Past Of Doctor Liar

As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reports here, Henry Kissinger testified yesterday on Capitol Hill that Dubya has “a secret plan” to end the war in Iraq.

I wonder if that was anything like “the secret plan” of Richard Nixon, for whom Kissinger served as national security adviser, to stall the attempted peace talks in with North Vietnam in 1968 so Nixon could win the election?

That is the charge of authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan made in Vanity Fair magazine seven years ago (noted here by writer Martin Kettle).

Using a go-between named Anna Chennault, Nixon encouraged Nguyen van Thieu, president of South Vietnam, not to participate in the talks. As a result…

…Nixon's efforts paid off spectacularly. On October 31 (1968), Johnson ordered a total halt to the bombing of North Vietnam, the precondition for getting the North and their Vietcong allies to join the talks. Two days later…Thieu announced his government would not take part. Less than a week later, Nixon was elected president with less than a one-point margin in the popular vote over Humphrey.
And how did Lyndon Johnson react when he heard Thieu was pulling out of the talks? As Kettle recounts…

…Johnson exploded. He told his advisers that he would go public on a development that could "rock the world". That development, he said, was Nixon's "conniving" with the Thieu regime. An adviser had told Johnson that Nixon was "trying to frustrate the president by inciting Saigon to step up its demands". "It all adds up," Johnson told his advisers.
Another factor not to be discounted is the fact that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover knew about what Nixon was up to, but being an ally of Nixon, decided not to tell Johnson. Also noted in the article is the information that Johnson offered Humphrey the chance to go public about Nixon, but Humphrey was afraid that the charges would be seen as election dirty tricks. Once Nixon had won, Johnson again contemplated revealing what he knew, but decided the national interest precluded it.

In the five weeks leading up to the election of 1968, 960 Americans were killed in Vietnam. In the years to come, under Nixon, 20,763 more US soldiers would die.

"What the Nixon people did," the US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, then attached to the advance US guard to the Paris talks, tells Vanity Fair, "was perhaps even a violation of the law.”

So now, many years later, Kissinger slithers forward to concoct more fabrications in front of Congress in the name of furthering another divisive war. And more fool anyone who actually takes him seriously (I’ll leave out the bombing of Cambodia for now, which supposedly wasn’t an escalation of the war).

I’ll let Molly Ivins weigh in on this character once more (hasn’t yet completely sunk in that she’s gone).

For All The Innocents

Daniel Pearl was murdered five years ago today, and Shaun at Kiko’s House wrote a great post on this tragedy and its accompanying events here. Also, I would ask that you also reflect on Margaret Hassan, Nicholas Berg, and all of the other blameless ones who have died for this senseless, stupid war in Iraq.

(Blogger, by the way, is being particularly obnoxious today – I don’t know yet whether or not that will affect my ability to post. I’ll have to follow up with their user support, so anything can happen....seems like they corrected it, though; I'll keep crossing my fingers).

Update 6/3/09: Justice in the case of Hassan anyway, as noted here...

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Farewell To A Hero

"The price of gas in Texas is now so high that women who want to run over their husbands have to carpool." - Molly Ivins, 7/3/03
If it weren't for Molly Ivins, I can tell you that this blog would not exist. And it's quite possible that if it weren't for Molly Ivins, I probably would never have given politics a second thought.

As I grew up, the journalists I watched and heard who embodied what I thought was important about the craft of journalism (and that is what it is, first and foremost) were named Cronkite, Brinkley, Rather, Chancellor, Wallace, Reasoner and a few others, and in college, I grew to understand the importance of Murrow and other broadcasting pioneers in reporting the news to help us better understand our own country and the world. These people of course were larger than life to me for a time, representing some higher ideal (which they achieved at times in their work). And I'll admit that the fact that they are and were men was part of the equation also - we eventually leave such childish ways behind, to paraphrase St. Paul.

But Molly Ivins was one of the very first journalists I ever encountered (possibly the first, now that I think of it) who blew away all of that pretense, reporting stories that mattered and making it plain that everything I had studied and heard about regarding politics and our government (namely, that we are the government and these individuals we elect work for us) was more true than I had ever realized. And the minute we abdicate that responsibility, then creatures like Tom DeLay, Rick Perry, Tom Craddick, and of course, Dubya and Turd Blossom ooze out of the muck and start taking over. And when they do, the favored few are extolled and everybody else is screwed (which Molly documented so well, working also with colleagues Lou Dubose on "Bushwhacked," which I read, as well as Jim Hightower).

And it is also important to note that, while people on the left such as Richard Cohen and Joe Klein (and even David Broder, who I thought was firmly in the middle ideologically) eventually co-opted themselves on behalf of the Repugs, Molly was eternally true to the populist, progressive cause.

Though she is gone now, her sterling work will stand as her most enduring testament, as well as her influence on many people interested in journalism, politics, and the past, present and future of this nation. And let the freepers and their acolytes feel self-satisfied now that she is gone, but they had best not enjoy their comfort for too long, for many others (including your humble narrator, in my own small way) have picked up the baton and will carry on (to say nothing of those yet-unknown souls who will do likewise).

I'll let her have the last word from the column I linked to above.

"A special salute to dog-lovers, cat-lovers, bird-lovers and animal-lovers generally. Bridge-players, golfers, people who have their palms read, Jenny Craig dieters, quilters, self-improvers everywhere, people who take salsa and line-dancing classes, home-tomato-growers, everybody whose garden produces too much zucchini (something to knit us together in this variegated nation) and those who are found at the Jiffy Mart at 2 a.m., buying stuff that is bad for their health. I love you all. It is, still, a great nation."
And here is a brief YouTube video of Molly and Hightower discussing Tom DeLay...

Thank you for everything, Molly, and may God grant you rest (and here is a tribute from John Nichols at The Nation).

Update 2/2: Here is a great remembrance from The Rude Pundit (h/t to Atrios) and here is an Eschaton link to Paul Krugman who observes that Molly pretty much called what was going to happen in Iraq before just about everyone else.

Update 1/31/10: More here.

In His Case, He Should Work For Free

So Dubya, in his “State Of The Economy” speech, emphasized that the economy is “strong” and that C.E.O. and other executive compensation should be tied to performance.

And no, I can't make this stuff up.

I know the economy is “strong” for he and his friends, but it’s not strong for me, and I suspect it isn’t for you either (here and here is some evidence).

And as far as rewarding C.E.O.s based on performance, let’s review some of our red-state president’s checkered history in his business dealings, shall we? As noted here (from the “Fahrenheit 9/11” movie web site)…

“Bush ran (Arbusto Energy, his first company upon graduation from Harvard Business School, later renamed to Spectrum 7…Arbusto is Spanish for Bush) nearly into the ground, as he did every other company he was involved in until finally one of his companies was bought by Harken Energy and they gave him a seat on their board.”

“Bush's name …was to help rescue him, just as it had attracted investors and helped revive his flagging fortunes throughout his years in the dusty plains city of Midland. A big Dallas-based firm, Harken Oil and Gas, was looking to buy up troubled oil companies. After finding Spectrum, Harken's executives saw a bonus in their target's CEO, despite his spotty track record. By the end of September 1986, the deal was done. Harken assumed $ 3.1 million in debts and swapped $ 2.2 million of its stock for a company that was hemorrhaging money, though it had oil and gas reserves projected to produce $ 4 million in future net revenue. Harken, a firm that liked to attach itself to stars, had also acquired Bush, whom it used not as an operating manager but as a high-profile board member.… It was one of the biggest breaks of Bush's life. Still, the Harken deal completed a disappointing reprise of what was becoming a familiar pattern. As an oilman, Bush always worked hard, winning a reputation as a straight-shooter and a good boss who was witty, warm and immensely likable. Even the investors who lost money in his ventures remained admirers, and some of them are now raising money for his presidential campaign. But the story of Bush's career in oil, which began following his graduation from Harvard Business School in the summer of 1975 and ended when he sold out to Harken and headed for Washington, is mostly about his failure to succeed, despite the sterling connections his lineage and Ivy League education brought him." George Lardner Jr. and Lois Romano, “Bush Name Helps Fuel Oil Dealings,” Washington Post, July 30, 1999.
Joe Conason has more on Bush’s sale of Harken’s shares before the company tanked here.

So, when it comes to lecturing others about both business dealings as well as statecraft, this president should just shut his mouth.

(Sigh...barring impeachment, this is how much longer we have to put up with this nitwit.)

Come On Baby, Don't Light This Fire

The BBC reports that a poem by Jim Morrison of The Doors entitled “Woman In The Window,” where an angel warns humanity about its actions, has been set to music and will be released as a single in April part of the Global Cool Campaign (the recording was produced by Perry Farrell of the group Jane’s Addiction). Morrison wrote and recorded the poem in 1971 soon before he died.

And of course, many people were hoping that Dubya would acknowledge global warming and embrace the Kyoto Protocols at long last in the State of the Union address, but that didn’t happen (why anyone would think that is totally beyond me, I must admit…after six years of dealing with this guy, why would anyone think he would change and acknowledge an issue he has derided all along?). I say this because I came across a lot of Google links to stories of people expressing these wishes, and as we know too well, they didn't come true.

Well, here is some more information to confirm the unpleasant reality of which we all know.

And, as “the lizard king” himself once said in a wholly other context, when it comes to dealing with global warming, the time to hesitate is through.

Hello And Goodbye, Joe

Memo to Joe Biden:

If you’re going to tell John Edwards that “he doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about” on Iraq, then guess what? You’ve just told John Murtha, John Kerry and Patrick Murphy, among many others including yours truly, that we don’t know what the heck we’re talking about either, along with the vast majority of the people of this country who, though not all Democratic of course, nonetheless support starting to bring our people home.

How is it the fault of John Edwards or any other Democratic candidate for president that Iraq is in chaos (if you want to blame Edwards and Hillary Clinton for their votes, go ahead, but Edwards has recanted and I believe Clinton did also recently). How is it their fault that our current administration has not the slightest inclination towards mediation in that region or anywhere else (quite the opposite of course; they’re planning for military action against Iran).

How many more “one last shots” is Iraq supposed to get as far as you’re concerned (not one of your better moments, among many others in that category)?

You’re quite rightly worried about regional violence as a result of the Iraq catastrophe. But diplomacy holds the answer to that horrifying problem, not tossing more of our fine service men and women into the slaughter in the name of an utterly futile cause.

I’m not even going to deal with your clueless remark about Barack Obama (I don’t support him for president, though he is a formidable force in the party and deserves tons of credit for his accomplishments) or your idiotic recollection that the state of my birth was once a “slave state” (as Will Bunch points out here – hat tip to Atrios).

Suffice to say that you’ve left enough of a paper trail to doom your prospects, and your latest pronouncements today about the other party nominees have downgraded you from a mildly interesting party alternative (catering to the Tom Carper-Joe Lieberman wannabes, who are definitely in the descent) to a laughable annoyance.

I hope you manage not to get the cotton candy stuck on your nicely-adorned suits and the confetti out of your hair as the parade passes you by.

Update: I forgot to add this about Biden's infamous role, along with Dianne Feinstein, in the quest to restrict users trying to record from satellite radio and tilt the playing field away from smaller players who would get into the game otherwise.

The Power Of Nothing

It was announced last Thursday that Unisys Corporation posted its first profit in two years.

Funny, but I thought it had been longer than that.

And you’ll simply never guess how they managed to achieve this momentous feat.

Did they do it through superior performance in the computer services industry? Did they do it through “utilizing value-added core efficiencies” and “implementing new paradigms to streamline operations,” or even “putting people in their silos to encourage bottom-up ownership of knowledge-based learning”?

(Yes, I once wrote for corporate marketing – have pity on me.)

Why no, of course not. They did it by offshoring as many jobs as they could to India (as noted in the Inquirer story).

And by the way, this is perfectly typical for how Unisys operates, and too many companies, I’ll admit; I don’t post on the economy as I once did partly because the truly awful behavior I and others once highlighted is now commonplace, and I can’t keep up with all of it.

Unisys, however, is particularly infamous for this and other reasons. It was the product of a merger that should have never taken place between Burroughs Corporation and Sperry (though it did produce the utterly brainless slogan “The Power Of Two,” as referenced in the title of this post).

The cultures of these two merging firms couldn't have been more different, and the merger has never really proven to be successful; employment dropped from 130,000 to about 30,000. Meanwhile, Michael Blumenthal (pictured), the Burroughs chairman who engineered the merger, left the company with a $2 million settlement and a pension of $500,000 a year, moving to France with his trophy wife (I got some of this from a message board, by the way).

Unisys has had a particularly difficult time retooling itself as a company, trying to become a player in the computer services and support industry as mainframes have been replaced by smaller networks, and the company has been trying to promote open systems development as well.

So what was left in Blumenthal’s wake?

Well, when it came to quarterly revenue, loss after loss after loss after loss (this notes the first quarter loss in ’05, this notes the second quarter loss in '05, and the follwing describes the fourth-quarter loss in ’05, because of…)

…a reversal of a projection only a month ago that it would be in the black on increased sales. The weaker-than-expected results stemmed from writeoffs related to a problematic contract as well as to changes in how it will account for a new contract. Unisys had earlier expected a profit of as much as 31 cents a share but it's now looking at a loss of between 7 and 10 cents a share. Revenue for the quarter declined 7%--to $1.5 billion. Unisys is gradually converting itself from a manufacturer of mainframe computers to a provider of computer services.
This describes the controversy that ensued when Unisys tried to force software developers to pay a royalty for use of the Graphical Interchange Format (GIF). Even though CompuServe created the format for free use, Unisys wanted a fee because the GIF files were used in certain categories of software created and supported by Unisys.

This complaint filed by the state of South Carolina against Unisys alleges fraud and unfair and deceptive acts in violation of that state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. This describes a Florida company called Armtec which apparently existed as a conduit for illegal payments from Unisys employees to federal officials involved in arms procurement. And this describes a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by a former Unisys employee in Minnesota who alleged that the company told him to lie to the Navy about the cost and technical challenges involved with replacing proprietary Unisys computers with commercial systems.

The real capper, though, is described in this Raw Story account of overbilling by about 117,000 hours on the part of Unisys for a Transportation Security Administration contract.

And the lobbyists who helped secure the contract for Unisys? A team from the Greenberg Traurig law firm led by Neil Volz, former chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) -- which included convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, reported by The Raw Story, which also notes…

…that Unisys acquired the contract, said riddled with fraud, in a process that included backroom dealings and almost no competitive bidding, and former Abramoff associates say his lobbyists had a hand in the deal. The investigation also found that the man who brokered the TSA deal, a company president, was later a buyer of Abramoff’s posh Washington restaurant.
To be fair, I’m sure that the company has had some success stories over the years. And the Wikipedia article notes that it has a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign for its policies regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered employees.

But believe me, there’s an awful lot of anecdotal stuff that I could have discussed about this company that I decided not to get into because I couldn’t officially corroborate it, and also because I know people would be hurt (I'll give you a hint, though; it has to do with people getting 30-year service awards and then booted out the door the next day).

So don’t be surprised if, one day, you find out that Unisys, a product of a merger meant to increase a stock price for a quick killing by a robber baron CEO (and it was rare back in 1986, but mergers and acquisitions is a growth industry these days) at the expense of two legitimate but divergent technology companies is itself bought out and gutted for that very reason, disappearing into history as has the two companies it once consumed.

And when that day mercifully comes, I will say good riddance.

Update 2/3: The beat goes on (registration required)...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tuesday Videos

I hope you don't think I'm too much of a corporate rock shill for extending birthday wishes to Phil Collins; I mean, I despise "In The Air Tonight" possibly as much as you do, to the point where if I hear that goddamn song one more time I'm going to jump out a window, but the fact is that he's a great drummer and vocalist and helped Genesis carry on pretty well without Peter Gabriel, so with that in mind, here's "I Don't Care Anymore" which I think was the B side for "In The Air Tonight" - ironic that the drumming on this is done by Chester Thompson, who is terrific also)...

..Happy Birthday also to Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane/Starship/Whatever ("Caroline" - I can never get enough of this song; lots of great photos along with album and magazine covers from "back in the day").

More (Non) Trouble With Harry

Oh dear, it looks like Senate House Majority Leader Harry Reid made too much money on a land deal again. Why, whatever shall we do?

I was tipped off to this when I stumbled across an editorial about it at Real Unclear Politics (and stumbling across it is the only way I would encounter anything at that freeper site) and decided to read more about the subject from a legitimate news source. I then found this editorial from the Chicago Tribune (calling Reid a “land shark” – sorry, had to replace the earlier photo...forgot about how anal SNL is about its intellectual property, if you can call it that), including this excerpt…

“…he (Reid) bought out a business partner in another land deal at a price that looks too good to be true and that he has sponsored legislation that would benefit that former partner.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in 2002, Reid paid $10,000 to a pension fund--controlled by an old friend, Clair Haycock--which owned a 37.5 percent share of a 160-acre parcel in Bullhead City, Ariz. That is one-ninth what Haycock paid when he and Reid bought the land 25 years ago. On a per-acre basis, it's also about one-fiftieth what it fetched in 1990 from buyers who later defaulted. The county assessor says it sounds like a "super deal" for Reid.

But the Times story raises the possibility that Haycock was getting more from his friend than $10,000. A few months later, the senator introduced a bill to prevent oil companies from suddenly canceling contracts with lubricants dealers--of which Haycock is one. The lawyer who represented Haycock in a dispute with Mobil Oil says, "The Haycocks provided access to Sen. Reid." In the end, the proposal went nowhere.
As the editorial noted a bit later, Reid originally introduced the legislation in question in 1994 and reintroduced it at the time of the transaction.

And by the way, there is nothing wrong with providing a politician with “access” to someone; it’s a matter of what the politician does with that access. It would be nice if we all had the same access to our elected representatives, but the fact that that is not the case does not happen to be illegal (it can be a problem, sure, but it’s not illegal).

The Tribune editorial also criticizes Reid for trying to sell the property to a developer instead of another type of buyer. Reid probably wanted to retain a partial percentage of the property’s worth in the event that the developer increased the value of the property. Again, this is not illegal.

I just have two questions (and as far as I know, the answers to each are no):

- Did Reid write an earmark into legislation without review to increase the value of the property (paging Dennis Hastert)?
- Were taxpayer funds misappropriated in any way in the sale or purchase of the property?
Sure, the whole damn thing probably was a sweetheart deal of one type or another. But I don’t care!

Show me an example of bona fide criminal conduct on the part of Harry Reid if you can (and I strongly suspect that you won’t be able to), or else get lost with this crap!

Happy Birthday To The Dick

In recognition of “Billion Dollar” Dick Cheney’s birthday today, I present these two sound and video files (here and here) recalling infamous moments from his part (so hard to select just two, I know).

And, since he became so perturbed in response to a question from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer the other day about his daughter’s pregnancy, here is an in-depth New York Times report on Mary Cheney (and I wonder if she and Ms. Poe will have to move from Virginia, since same-sex couples basically have no rights in that state).

And one more thing: I haven’t had much to say about the Libby trial since I’m still formulating an opinion on everything (and also because the “A” listers have been swarming all over it with great coverage), but apparently, the veep isn’t exactly coming out of it smelling like a rose (not that he actually cares anyway, I know – I’m also afraid that notions of his resignation from the White House is wishful thinking).

The Inky Fades In The Stretch

As opposed to more detailed reporting and analysis on such stories as the Davos summit, delays assisting the legions of victims of violence in Darfur called “unacceptable” by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (no, that Kofi guy is out of the picture now), restarting of nuclear talks with North Korea, the release of a new report on global climate change (not good news), or the issue of adoption by gays in Great Britain, the Philadelphia Inquirer opted this morning for five pages of coverage devoted to a dead horse.

Now I am not unsympathetic to the story of Barbaro the racehorse and how cruel it was for the animal to suffer its injury in the Preakness this year, but let’s face it, people; extraordinary measures were taken to keep him breathing that, if the sum had been allocated to humans, could have provided care for people who needed it more desperately, mainly kids.

And no, I don’t think it’s a contradiction to support doing whatever needed to be done to keep Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic in Philadelphia and the millions that that entailed versus stating that Barbaro should have been put down long ago, thus saving money and resources, to say nothing of pain and suffering on the part of the animal.

The whole episode with The Gross Clinic was corporate extortion pure and simple; Jefferson’s board could have set up a foundation to raise money and partnered with wealthy patrons in the arts to both find a new home for Eakins’ masterwork and obtain the funds they needed for renovation and expansion. This could have taken place in a much more realistic timeframe than the one in which the painting’s buyers had to work with due to Jefferson’s conditions of the painting’s original sale to the Walton family.

Barbaro’s tragedy, on the other hand, was cruel fate. Keeping this animal alive was partly an exercise in massaging our own hurt feelings over the vicissitudes of life.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly happy over the fact that, at the expense of people who have no health insurance in this country, we instead used our precious medical resources for the purpose of rescuing a thoroughbred race horse any way possible in the name of generating stud fees.

(I meant to link to this Adam Hanft post earlier, by the way.)

A Plunge Into Shallow Water

Looks like our buddy J.D. Mullane is in over his head again; it would seem so after reading today’s column in the Bucks County Courier Times (and what a class move to make fun of Joe Biden’s “hair enhancement” by the way, J.D. – I was always taught not to ridicule people based on their appearance, though catching them in the act of doing or saying something stupid is fair game).

J.D. is continuing to hang onto this notion that disapproval for Dubya “is wide, but not deep,” and if you can figure out the difference between the two in this context, then let me know, OK, because I can’t.

This is J.D.’s supposed evidence for this conclusion:

Though prima facie, the evidence comes from a poll conducted by CNN after the president delivered his State of the Union message last week, the one where he restated that he will send 20,000 more soldiers to Iraq.

The lead from the story: “More than three-quarters of Americans who watched President Bush State of the Union address had a positive reaction to it, although the reaction was muted from that in past years.”

The story reports 41 percent of those polled “said they had a "very positive' reaction to it. Another 37 percent said their response was "somewhat positive.' ”

Those polled included 32 percent Republicans, 31 percent Democrats and 36 percent Independents.
Putting aside the stupendously obvious observation that the poll results dealt with the State of the Union speech and not Bush’s nightmarish presidency as a whole, I would like to add the following reality-based perspective from my blogging “betters” as opposed to J.D. contextual delusions (starting with this from Eric Boehlert written last September, including these excerpts)…

Of course, we've seen this gentle treatment before. At the time of Bush's second inauguration the polite Beltway press corps was careful not to dwell on the fact that Bush stood as the least popular modern day president ever to be sworn into office. That's when the first, unmistakable signs of buyer's remorse were plain for everyone to see. But the press played dumb and turned away.

Rather than dwelling on Bush's downward spiral through 2005 and into 2006, the press seemed more anxious in tracking his possible comeback. Last January Time's Mike Allen got a quick jump on the Bush-is-back competition, announcing that the president had "found his voice" and that relieved White House aides "were smiling again" after a turbulent 2005. Of course, in the weeks following Allen's insight, Bush proceeded to plummet to new career lows in the polls.

In mid-June news came that terrorist chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been killed, Karl Rove had escaped criminal prosecution in connection with the CIA leak investigation, and Bush had sprinted over to Baghdad for a five-hour stop over. (Or, a "dramatic lightning visit," as UPI described it.) The spin surrounding Bush's resurgence grew so loud it was difficult to tell who was more energized, the White House or the reporters who cover it. ABC News went so far as to report, "This may have been the president's best week ever." [Emphasis added.]

In truth, the much-hyped June bounce was all but non-existent. From mid-June -- the time of Bush's "best week ever" -- to early July, the Fox News poll had Bush's job approval rating going from 40 down to 36, NBC/Wall Street Journal had it going from 40 down to 39, Hotline from 41 down to 38, CNN from 37 to 40, USA Today from 37 to 40, Time from 35 to 35, and Pew from 36 to 36.
And here’s some historical perspective on Dubya’s approval rating…

• According to Gallup, on the eve of President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination, he was suffering the worst job-approval ratings of his presidency -- 58 percent.

• In 1968, when the war in Vietnam was claiming hundreds of U.S. casualties each week, President Lyndon Johnson was considered so unpopular that he didn't even run for re-election. Johnson's average Gallup approval rating for that year was 43 percent.

• When Reagan's second term was rocked by the Iran-Contra scandal, his ratings plummeted, all the way down to 43 percent.

• This year (2006), according to the Gallup numbers, Bush has averaged an approval rating of 37 percent.
More historical context? Sure (such as this from Sean Wilentz)…

Historians do tend, as a group, to be far more liberal than the citizenry as a whole -- a fact the president's admirers have seized on to dismiss the poll results as transparently biased. One pro-Bush historian said the survey revealed more about "the current crop of history professors" than about Bush or about Bush's eventual standing. But if historians were simply motivated by a strong collective liberal bias, they might be expected to call Bush the worst president since his father, or Ronald Reagan, or Nixon. Instead, more than half of those polled -- and nearly three-fourths of those who gave Bush a negative rating -- reached back before Nixon to find a president they considered as miserable as Bush. The presidents most commonly linked with Bush included Hoover, Andrew Johnson and Buchanan. Twelve percent of the historians polled -- nearly as many as those who rated Bush a success -- flatly called Bush the worst president in American history. And these figures were gathered before the debacles over Hurricane Katrina, Bush's role in the Valerie Plame leak affair and the deterioration of the situation in Iraq. Were the historians polled today, that figure would certainly be higher.

Even worse for the president, the general public, having once given Bush the highest approval ratings ever recorded, now appears to be coming around to the dismal view held by most historians. To be sure, the president retains a considerable base of supporters who believe in and adore him, and who reject all criticism with a mixture of disbelief and fierce contempt -- about one-third of the electorate. (When the columnist Richard Reeves publicized the historians' poll last year and suggested it might have merit, he drew thousands of abusive replies that called him an idiot and that praised Bush as, in one writer's words, "a Christian who actually acts on his deeply held beliefs.") Yet the ranks of the true believers have thinned dramatically. A majority of voters in forty-three states now disapprove of Bush's handling of his job. Since the commencement of reliable polling in the 1940s, only one twice-elected president has seen his ratings fall as low as Bush's in his second term: Richard Nixon, during the months preceding his resignation in 1974. No two-term president since polling began has fallen from such a height of popularity as Bush's (in the neighborhood of ninety percent, during the patriotic upswell following the 2001 attacks) to such a low (now in the midthirties). No president, including Harry Truman (whose ratings sometimes dipped below Nixonian levels), has experienced such a virtually unrelieved decline as Bush has since his high point. Apart from sharp but temporary upticks that followed the commencement of the Iraq war and the capture of Saddam Hussein, and a recovery during the weeks just before and after his re-election, the Bush trend has been a profile in fairly steady disillusionment.
Of course, if J.D. had really intended to portray Bush’s poor ratings accurately, he would have mentioned some of what I mentioned here today in his own column (and to be fair, he does quote some people who attended the protests this weekend and provided quotes for his column).

But he didn’t, and I suppose this is to be expected. His skills, apparently, are wide.

But not deep.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Monday Videos

Happy Birthday to Jonny Lang, who has hit the ripe old age of 26 (youth AND talent? What a punk :-) - here's "Red Light")...

...Somehow I missed Richie Havens' birthday last week ("Here Comes The Sun," his great Beatles' cover of course from about '72-'73...I ate an Egg McMuffin while I watched it, for the benefit of anyone as old as I am who remembers that commercial).

“Chin Music” For “Top-Step Shill”

The Daily Kos reported the other day that the Repugs are planning to dump a lot of money into the race for John Kerry’s senate seat in Massachusetts when Kerry runs for re-election next year, which prompted Kos to utter a sentiment equivalent to “bring it on” (and I must admit that the possibility of watching Kerry “mop up the place” with a Repug challenger like Andrew Card has truly delicious possibilities).

It’s a bit of a concern, though, that Kerry’s approval rating sat at 48 percent as of last November, but I think he was still suffering the fallout from the non-joke at the time.

Now, though, comes news from Will Bunch at Attytood that current Red Sox pitcher and former Phillie ace Curt Schilling could be recruited to run against Kerry (I mean, it’s WAY too early to think seriously about this for now, but you never know).

Schilling pitched wonderfully for the Phillies particularly in 1993, the last time they went to the World Series. However, he was also a total egotist who, among other things, would sit with a towel on his head in the dugout to avoid watching closer Mitch Williams risk blowing games that Schilling left after the Phillies were leading (hey, watching Williams gave me indigestion also, but for what Schilling was getting paid, he could have toughed it out).

And in a sign that he truly knew when to use the spotlight to his advantage, he earned the nickname “Top-Step Shill” for managing to be the first player to greet another Phillie who would hit a home run (appearing on the top dugout step, as it were, timed for the very moment that he would be captured on T.V.).

Schilling eventually wore out his welcome, whining as the Phillies started to lose more and more, eventually forcing a trade to Arizona for four players, none of whom panned out (thereby granting former G.M. Ed Wade the eternal enmity of Phillies fans).

So given the fact that Schilling has thoroughly established himself as a “me” guy who enjoys the spotlight, and has ensconced his “winger” cred in the process (and part of that is some truly commendable work on behalf of ALS), I think he could present an interesting challenge for Kerry, though when it comes to dispatching athletes from the political arena, Kerry, a seasoned pol in his own right operating on what is basically friendly turf, could consult Ed Rendell for some pointers (I wonder what Lynn Swann is doing these days anyway?).

Support A Living Wage

The latest from John Edwards...

As I've traveled the country, I've talked to thousands of people who work one or more jobs and still struggle to keep food on their tables and make ends meet. Righting this inexcusable wrong is a core goal of our work together.

In less than 72 hours, the Senate will likely vote on a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. It's a long overdue change that will immediately help over 13 million people, many living at or below the edge of poverty. But it will only happen if you speak up.

Last week, the Senate Republicans filibustered a clean version of the proposal, and now they're trying to force Democrats to either pass billions of dollars more in corporate tax breaks or give up raising the minimum wage.

The only way to beat the special interests is to prove to every Senator that the American people are watching. It's time to tell the Senate that American workers deserve a raise - no strings attached:

here to sign our petition to the Senate, urging them to pass the minimum wage raise without delay.

Last year I worked with many of you and with our partners to help pass ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage in six states - so I know first hand how much support this has among working Americans. And I also know it's the right thing to do.

There's no doubt the minimum wage is too low: a full-time minimum wage worker brings in just $10,712 a year, less than half of the poverty level for a family of four.

There's no doubt it's been too long: in the ten years since the minimum wage was raised -- the longest delay in history -- the cost of living has gone up 25%.

And there's no doubt a higher minimum wage is good for the economy: studies show that cities and counties with higher minimum wages maintain or even increase employment levels.

The only doubt is whether the corporate lobbyists and their Republican allies will be able to dilute and delay the proposal at the expense of American workers.

If we raise our voice now, you and I can help make sure that doesn't happen.

Sign our petition to the Senate urging them to raise the minimum wage right away.

Creating the working society we believe in -- where every full-time job provides the dignity of a decent income and a springboard to future opportunity -- will require bold fixes for the ways our system treats workers. These include shifting the tax burden off the backs of wage earners, providing full child care benefits for working families, defending the basic rights of workers to organize -- and raising the minimum wage.

It can happen, but only if we seize the big moments and speak out for what is right.

Please make sure the Senate hears your voice today.

John Edwards
To support John Edwards for President, click here.

"Pro-Life" Isn't "Pro-War"

As I’ve read the numerous accounts of the antiwar marches this weekend (including an attempt to propagate what is quite likely a lie that an Iraq war veteran was spat upon after speaking to a group opposing the war), one question comes up over and over for me.

Where on earth is the Roman Catholic Church?

I came across this link to a post by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB (I am unfamiliar with her denomination), in which she eloquently makes the case against the war that we have all been making for longer than I care to remember. Also, the Rev. Dr. Elaine McCoy speaks out here; I am unsure of her denomination also, since, as everyone knows, the Catholic Church does not ordain women as priests or sanction women in that role (which I think is ludicrous, but that’s the subject of a whole other post). That was all I could find.

So I tried to find out if there was any official statement from the church on the war protests, I navigated online to the websites of The Holy See as well as the websites of the Archdioceses of Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. I looked at the News and Events sections of the sites and any other links related to current events.

And I found absolutely nothing.

I suppose the extent of the “protest” on the part of the Catholic Church concerning the immoral (among other things) war in Iraq are oblique, vaguely worded statements from the pulpit during the offertory petitions prior to the Liturgy of the Eucharist praying for all victims of violence and the safe return of our service people. That is laudable, but it isn’t nearly enough.

Does living a life of apostolic faith extend only as far as hot-button issues deemed permissible by church hierarchy?

As recalled by columnist Blanche Murtagh here, there has always been friction between the church and individuals within the church protesting against this country. However, concerning the Vietnam War…

The anti-war movement gathered some unexpected allies, among which was the Catholic Church. Some clerics were aroused by the civil rights movement. Others had been in South America witnessing the poverty and injustice in the countries that were supported by the United States. Daniel Berrigan (pictured), a Jesuit priest, set fire to draft records. At that time, he wrote: "We say killing is disorder. Life and gentleness and community is the only order we recognize. For the sake of that order, we risk our liberty, our good name. The time is past when good men can remain silent, when obedience can segregate men from public risk, when the poor can die without defense."
So there is a precedent for peaceful protest on the part of the Catholic Church, though I do not advocate destruction of anything as part of that protest.

And it would be really nice if some of the hierarchy of what is perceived to be a group of nodding-off, out-of-touch old men would understand that preventing the shedding the blood for the sake of someone else’s profit is at least as important a cause as ensuring the rights of the unborn.

And speaking of Catholic protest, we lost a leading figure yesterday (and how convenient for Rome to tell priests to get out of politics, as if political involvement is reserved for the hierarchy only).

In Praise Of A Prank

Today is truly a sad day in these parts; it turns out that the great Google bomb that allowed a user to type “miserable failure” into the text search box and end up at the White House web site was fixed.


From what I can determine, the “Google bomb” was concocted by creating a link from one page titled “miserable failure,” with the White House URL attached to the link text (Google would identify “miserable failure” as the search keyword text).

I’m a little bit of a “techie,” but not much. I hope I got that explanation right.

So this calls for a couple of steps – we have to set up links to Dubya's bio at the White House site all over again to reconstruct “the bomb,” and I’ll do that here in a few minutes (even though Google may have changed the search algorithm, I say we give it a shot anyway).

Also, while you’re at it, set up a link to this site if you don’t already have one with link text titled, “Greatest Blog Ever,” OK?

Hey, all I can do is take a shot, right?

A Lesson In Partisanship

I read this Fractured Fairy Tale from David Broder in the Washington Post a few days ago about how, as if by magic, our elected representatives in Congress are all making nice as a new legislative session has commenced (just getting around to it now - sorry).

Sens. Harry Reid (D) and Mitch McConnell (R) have “forged a personal relationship of unusual trust.” Sens. Olympia Snowe (R) and Mary Landrieu (D) have had breakfasts together to discuss “policy” (and I’ll bet they were served eggs “sunny side up,” of course), and Sens. Lamar Alexander (R) and Joe Lieberman (R) have also spent quality time together to wax nostalgic over the good old days of the 109th Congress, no doubt (and John Conyers has reached out from the House to Trent Lott and encouraged him to watch a “Boondocks” retrospective with him, explaining that Naomi Campbell is really a nice girl who is just “misunderstood” because she is unable to use the latest phone technology properly…OK, you got me on that one).

You, no doubt, can come of your own term to describe this column – “cow chips,” “horse dookey,” something more scatological if you prefer – but I’ll leave that to you. A four-year-old child knows that the minute one of these fine, upstanding, empathic public servants feels that their turf is being infringed upon in any way whatsoever, the long knives will immediately come out (indeed, as noted earlier, Lieberman has already dimed out Mary Landrieu over refusing to investigate Bushco's Katrina performance, which definitely throws a monkey wrench into Landrieu’s hope of reelection next year…and speaking of Lieberman, how pathetic is it that he has to be called on the Iraq war by a fellow Republican, and Sam Brownback no less?).

Fortunately, the day after this dreck appeared, Paul Krugman from the New York Times weighed in on this topic from the reality-based perspective (I can't find the Times link at the moment)...

American politics is ugly these days, and many people wish things were different. For example, Barack Obama recently lamented the fact that “politics has become so bitter and partisan” – which it certainly has.

But he then went on to say that partisanship is why “we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that’s what we have to change first.” Um, no. If history is any guide, what we need are political leaders willing to tackle the big problems despite bitter partisan opposition. If all goes well, we’ll eventually have a new era of bipartisanship – but that will be the end of the story, not the beginning.

Or to put it another way: what we need now is another F.D.R., not another Dwight Eisenhower.

You see, the nastiness of modern American politics isn’t the result of a random outbreak of bad manners. It’s a symptom of deeper factors – mainly the growing polarization of our economy. And history says that we’ll see a return to bipartisanship only if and when the economic polarization is reversed.

After all, American politics has been nasty in the past. Before the New Deal, America was a nation with a vast gap between the rich and everyone else, and this gap was reflected in a sharp political divide. The Republican Party, in effect, represented the interests of the economic elite, and the Democratic Party, in an often confused way, represented the populist alternative.

In that divided political system, the Democrats probably came much closer to representing the interests of the typical American. But the G.O.P.’s advantage in money, and the superior organization that money bought, usually allowed it to dominate national politics. “I am not a member of any organized party,” Will Rogers said. “I am a Democrat.”

Then came the New Deal. I urge Mr. Obama – and everyone else who thinks that good will alone is enough to change the tone of our politics – to read the speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the quintessential example of a president who tackled big problems that demanded solutions.

For the fact is that F.D.R. faced fierce opposition as he created the institutions – Social Security, unemployment insurance, more progressive taxation and beyond – that helped alleviate inequality. And he didn’t shy away from confrontation.

“We had to struggle” he declared in 1936, “with the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering…Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hatred of me – and I welcome that hatred.”

It was only after F.D.R. had created a more equal society, and the old class warriors of the G.O.P. were replaced by “modern Republicans” who accepted the New Deal, that bipartisanship began to prevail.

The history of the last few decades has basically been the story of the New Deal in reverse. Income inequality has returned to levels not seen since the pre-New Deal era, and so have political divisions in Congress as the Republicans have moved right, once again becoming the party of the economic elite. The signature domestic policy initiatives of the Bush administration have been attempts to undo F.D.R.’s legacy, from slashing taxes on the rich to privatizing Social Security. And a bitter partisan gap has opened up between the G.O.P. and Democrats, who have tried to defend that legacy.

What about the smear campaigns, like Karl Rove’s 2005 declaration that after 9/11 liberals wanted to “offer therapy and understanding to our attackers”? Well, they’re reminiscent of the vicious anti-Catholic propaganda used to defeat Al Smith in 1928: smear tactics are what a well-organized, well-financed party with a fundamentally unpopular domestic agenda uses to change the subject.

So am I calling for partisanship for its own sake? Certainly not. By all means pass legislation, if you can, with plenty of votes from the other party: the Social Security Act of 1935 received 77 Republican votes in the House, about the same as the number of Republicans who recently voted for a minimum wage increase.

But politicians who try to push forth the elements of a new New Deal, especially universal health care, are sure to face the hatred of a large bloc on the right – and they should welcome that hatred, not fear it.
And by the way, in Broder’s column, he notes that there’s apparently no similar lovey-dovey spirit in the House, where the now-in-the-minority Repugs are “complaining bitterly that dissenting views have been stifled” (and apparently, one of the chief complainers is former Majority Leader John Boehner, who, of course, got his job when Tom DeLay stepped down because DeLay ran into an teensy weensie bit of legal trouble from that Abramoff guy).


Gee, Boehner sure showed a lot of “bipartisanship” with this little gem awhile back, didn’t he?

Update: And I suppose, as far as Broder is concerned, Hillary Clinton is the only person guilty of "presidential posturing" (please)...