Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Stuff

The last I read, Al was trailing Coleman 50-43 percent, so let's try to help the guy out if was can...



...and in case we need a reminder (Coleman voted for the act this week, though it failed to pass; however, since he supported Alito, his original wrong remains uncorrected)...



...I've had this on my mind for a little while now, so I thought I'd finally put it up here; want to know how loudly he'd be protesting the war? I refuse to believe he would have actually supported it, but of course, we'll never know...



...and here's something else we can ponder over the weekend if we choose.

Friday Mashup (4/25/08)

  • Greg Mitchell of E&P has probably devoted more coverage to the mental and emotional problems faced by too many of our returning troops from Iraq, and this is his most recent post on the grossly underreported issue of “soldier suicides.”

    I thought of his work on this after I read this McClatchy story (some repetition between Mitchell and McClatchy here, but lots of good background) about how Dem Sen. Patty Murray (pictured) has contacted VA secretary Dr. James Peake and told him to fire Dr. Ira Katz, the man in charge of the department's mental health programs, primarily because Dr. Katz appears to be more concerned with bad P.R. for the agency than properly providing the treatment our returning heroes need.

    (Yep, Katz is Bushco through and through all right, with Katz writing to Ev Chasen, the agency’s communications director, and asking how to handle the fact that the agency’s suicide prevention coordinators are seeing about 1,000 cases per month; actually, they came up with the interesting lie that the agency saw about 790 cases all year in 2007).

    This is despicable for so many reasons that I’m not sure it’s necessary to list them all.


  • This Guest Opinion from the Bucks County Courier Times appeared a few days ago from Harris Martin, running for the PA legislature against incumbent Repug Rep. Gene DiGirolamo; Martin rightly takes DiGirolamo to task for opposing the latest gun bill introduced into Harrisburg and promptly defeated (here).

    The odds will probably remain long on this far into the future, but this is a battle that must be continually fought.


  • This tells us that Dubya’s final White House Press Club Dinner will be emceed by TV talk show host Craig Ferguson; apparently, the one hosted by Rich Little last year was a snoozerama for the ages (“Gipper” jokes, references to Bob Hope…spare me; of course, as we know, Little was dragged out of mothballs in response to this guy’s bravura turn in 2006).

    And kudos to the New York Times for deciding not to attend. I only wish more news organizations would follow that example and kill this cozy, incestuous Beltway bash once and for all. We as a country will be much better for it.

    Update: And by the way, here's Stephen Colbert's moment one more time.
  • Where The Rubber Meets The Road (4/25/08)

    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.

    House

    Privatized tax collection. The House repealed, 238-179, a 2004 law used by the Internal Revenue Service to hire private firms for collecting delinquent taxes. These firms have taken in far less than they have cost the government, although backers say their performance will improve. Now before the Senate, the bill (HR 5719) also requires that withdrawals from Health Savings Accounts be accompanied by documentation that the money will be spent on health care.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).

    Voting no: Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.) and H. James Saxton (R., N.J.).
    The ’04 bill became law in 2004 as noted here and was praised by former IRS commissioner Mark Everson, which means immediately that it was a mistake (haven't heard much from him since he resigned from the Red Cross for having a pre-Spitzer "personal relationship with a female subordinate" while married here; at least he had the decency to step down, unlike a certain Louisiana senator).

    Good job by Congress to tighten this up (and kudos in particular to Repugs Smith and LoBiondo for doing the right thing – definitely a “no-brainer” vote for a Dem).

    Global debt relief. The House voted, 285-132, to nearly double the number of poor nations eligible to receive international debt forgiveness if they use the freed-up funds for purposes such as improving living conditions, democratizing their governments, and combating terrorism. The bill (HR 2634) is a first step toward qualifying up to 25 countries for the 12-year-old Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, which is run by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: Andrews, Castle, Gerlach, Holden, Murphy, Schwartz, Sestak, Smith.

    Voting no: Dent, LoBiondo, Pitts and Saxton.
    As the AFL-CIO tells us here…

    Some of the world’s most impoverished nations are paying so much in debt service to wealthy nations and institutions such as the World Bank that their governments cannot provide access to clean water, adequate housing or basic health care.

    In fact, these nations already have paid back their debts time and again. But skyrocketing interest rates and compound interest make repayment impossible. For example, in 1970–2002, Africa received some $540 billion in loans and paid back $550 billion in principal and interest. Yet today, Africa remains burdened by a debt of $295 billion.



    The United Nations estimated in 2003 that 30,000 children die each day due to preventable diseases. Debt service payments take resources that impoverished countries could use to cure these illnesses.

    The legislation, which the AFL-CIO strongly supports, would cancel impoverished country debt; remove harmful economic policy conditions from the cancellation process; mandate transparency and accountability from both governments and international financial institutions; and establish a framework for more responsible and transparent lending practices in the future.
    I know John Edwards, among others, has talked about restoring our moral credibility in the world, and signing this bill into law will be a step along that looong journey (though I’m sure George W. Milhous Bush won’t lend his signature to it...269 days to go, people).

    And votes like this make me really wish that Chris Smith weren’t such an anti-choice zealot, since he truly “stands up” on a host of other issues (and as soon as LoBiondo does something good with 5719, he does something bad here; and do you really have to wonder about Pancake Joe Pitts on this, Mr. “Human Rights” – to help Bruce Slater, click here).

    Student loan expansion. Voting 383-27, the House passed a bill (HR 5713) increasing by $2,000 per year the ceiling on the so-called Stafford Loans that students obtain from private lenders. At present, the ceiling on such loans ranges from $3,500 per year to $10,500 per year for undergraduates and higher for graduate students.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: Andrews, Brady, Castle, Dent, Fattah, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Murphy, Pitts, Saxton, Schwartz, Sestak and Smith.

    Senate

    Highway, transit spending. Voting 88-2, the Senate passed a bill (HR 1195) that would speed the release of billions of dollars of previously authorized funds for highway and transit projects. Now headed to a House-Senate conference, the bill gives a green light to hundreds of earmarked projects and makes technical changes to expedite spending on other projects.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

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

    Not voting: Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.).
    And by the way, for the record, Repugs Judd Gregg and Jim DeMint voted no; guess our crumbling infrastructure isn’t important to those guys.

    This week, the House debated the Coast Guard budget and a bill on contractor fraud, while the Senate considered a bill on veterans' benefits in areas such as housing, insurance and pensions (I believe it passed - we'll find out).

    Wank Away, Joke Line!

    I know this is repetitive, especially since Atrios/Paul Krugman already nailed him today, but here’s the latest...

    ... John McCain is having a terrific week. Not only are his opponents killing themselves, but he lambasted Bush on Hurricane Katrina and demonstrated how one should slap down a religious supporter who says stupid things. Credit where credit is due.
    And again, we have John W. McBush decrying the words, but not the person who spoke the words (not that Obama could hope to get away with that, of course).

    Meanwhile, we also have this.

    And this.

    And this (h/t Atrios).

    You may now return to your regularly scheduled propaganda.

    Update 1: As Atrios said, I’m counting the minutes (seconds?) until our corporate media starts hectoring Obama on Wesley Snipes’ sentencing the same way they are now on the Bell case (gee, why doesn’t somebody ask McCain whether or not he thinks this guy is guilty, then? After all, they’re both white, and Obama, Bell and Snipes are all black – fair is fair).

    My God, I’m afraid this is going to be one stupid general election.

    Update 2: Just remember that EVERYTHING is good news for McCain!

    Update 3: And wankery from "across the pond" even! Cheerio, Pip-Pip, "What's All This, Then?" and all that (by the way, my posting is off for today because I'm trying to find good stories and turning over nothing but crap instead - sorry).

    Bushco's "Hill" Of A Fix For One Of Its Own (updt.)

    (The reason for this pic will be apparent later in the post.)

    I thought this story of North Korea’s alleged involvement with the suspected Syrian nuclear reactor (gee, could I qualify this any more?) that the Israelis destroyed last September written by New York Times reporter David E. Sanger was really interesting.

    I mean, the suspected reactor is now gone and the Syrians have built over it and refused to allow nuclear inspectors to visit the location, as the story tells us.

    So what’s the point of releasing this information now alleging that North Korea may have been involved? Shouldn’t we be targeting them while they assist other states you could call questionable when it comes to nukes before the fact other than after?

    As the story tells us…

    The timing of the administration’s decision to declassify information about the Syrian project has raised widespread suspicions, especially in the State Department, that Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration hawks were hoping that releasing the information might undermine a potential deal with North Korea that would take it off an American list of state sponsors of terrorism.

    “Making public the pictures is likely to inflame the North Koreans,” said one senior administration official who would not speak on the record because the White House and the State Department have declared there would be no public comment until the evidence is released. “And that’s just what opponents of this whole arrangement want, because they think the North Koreans will stalk off.”

    But another senior official said it was possible that the revelations would force the North Koreans to describe their actions in Syria more fully when they issued a long delayed declaration of their nuclear activities.
    Anyone who seriously believes that, after all this time, North Korea will respond to our coercion is truly delusional.

    And the story tells us that the deal in question is one in which North Korea would tell us more about how much plutonium it has, which is what really matters when it comes to that backwards nation, something acknowledged by Christopher R. Hill, the person at State responsible for the deal. However…

    Mr. Hill was put in charge of the talks more than three years ago in the hope of finding a new way to deal with the North Koreans. But support for him has wavered, and President Bush has repeatedly warned aides not to agree to anything that “makes me look weak,” according to former officials who sat in on meetings with him on North Korea.
    At least Dubya didn’t tell Hill not to come up with an agreement that would make Dubya look stupid (or lazy), because that would be impossible. Further…

    It is not clear what has changed, apart from the politics of the moment. Mr. Hill’s boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has not voiced strong support for Mr. Hill’s effort to coax the North Koreans along, granting them rewards for steps along the way to compliance with a deal that calls, ultimately, for the country to give up its weapons.

    Ms. Rice has been a strong critic of the 1994 agreement between North Korea and the Clinton administration, complaining that it was “front loaded” with rewards for the North.

    That is exactly what critics say she and Mr. Hill have done in the most recent agreement. But Mr. Hill has argued in private that the Syrian episode and the uranium enrichment are side shows, and that the critical issue is stopping North Korea from producing more plutonium and giving up what it has. But his State Department colleagues say that he has been told not to defend the deal, or even explain it.
    This tells me that Hill’s deal may not be so hot after all (in which case Rice should have told Hill to “go back to the drawing board” – this story is another example of her ineffectiveness and/or incompetence and/or spinelessness for not standing up to Cheney, whose fingerprints are all over this…actually, if Rice truly had any fortitude, she would have bailed long ago over stuff like this), or, more likely, too much like what Clinton’s people came up with to be palatable to Bushco, as the story says.

    However, it also shows that this administration has treated our State Department as a doormat once again, disregarding anything approximating diplomacy and subtlety for bluster and force (this mentality is all over the place in “State of Denial,” for example, with Rummy and the Pentagon rolling roughshod over State and Colin Powell/Richard Armitage at every opportunity).

    So North Korea allegedly buys uranium enrichment equipment from Pakistan and provides this to the Syrians to help them build what appeared to be a reactor, which is eventually destroyed by the Israelis.

    This is what happens when a president ignores diplomacy until his administration is almost three-quarters finished (even more dangerous since we're talking about nukes, of course).

    In the Times story, one of Hill’s unnamed colleagues states that “he’s feeling pretty abandoned by Rice and Bush.” That goes for the rest of this country as well.

    Update 1: I should have read this follow-up today from Sanger and added the following…

    …inside the administration, the battle over whether to try to strike a deal with North Korea or keep it under sanctions in hopes of setting off the collapse of its government continues into the last months of Mr. Bush’s term. Representative Peter Hoekstra, a Republican from Michigan, expressed annoyance on Thursday that the administration waited seven months to brief Congress.

    “I think many people believe that we were used today by the administration,” he said.
    Yep, you know all about using people, don’t you, Pete? Also…

    At the C.I.A., Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the agency’s director, told employees on Thursday that they should “take heart because our team effort on the Al Kibar reactor is a case study in rigorous analytic tradecraft, skillful human and technical collection, and close collaboration.”
    BUT YOU DIDN’T DO ANYTHING! What the hell are you talking about??!! The Israelis were the ones who blew up the “reactor,” acting totally independent of our government as the story tells us (and though the story doesn't say so explicitly, they probably took the photos too).

    Moreover, even some senior officials of the administration acknowledge that they are likely to leave Mr. Bush’s successor with a North Korea with roughly 10 nuclear weapons or fuel for weapons, up from the one or two weapons it had when Mr. Bush took office in 2001.

    “I’d say the score is Kim Jong-il eight, and Bush zero,” said Graham Allison, a Harvard professor and author of “Nuclear Terrorism,” who was in Washington on Thursday to testify about Iran’s nuclear program. “And if you can build a reactor in Syria without being detected for eight years, how hard can it be to sell a little plutonium to Osama bin Laden?”
    And the story today also tells us that “two senior intelligence officials” say there was “no sign that Syria had built an operation to convert the spent fuel from the plant into weapons-grade plutonium,” and “it would have been years before it could have produced weapons fuel.”

    I’ll admit that that’s not an excuse to do nothing, but it IS an excuse to press for U.N. inspections at the very least (of course, that would have been the path to follow had the "reactor" not been destroyed).

    Update 2: And I'm sure "no one could have predicted" this either.

    A Lesson For Us All In This Election

    Before we read too much more from the Beltway gasbags and other self-styled know-it-alls about how much we Democrats are tearing each other to pieces in this primary and how we’re proving ourselves to be blinkered narcissists incapable of governing ourselves or anyone else over the Clinton vs. Obama smackdown (as noted here by one of the most infamous practitioners in our corporate media, Joke Line by name), take a look at this…

    RICHBORO - Pucker up.

    Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama supporters put their differences aside and put their efforts together to fight against the Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain come November.

    About 100 Bucks County Democrats met at Patagonia Restaurant in Richboro Thursday night to “kiss and make up.”

    At the casual meeting, they recapped Tuesday's Pennsylvania primaries results and even started preliminary brainstorming on how to unite the rest of county Democrats and reel in Republicans and Independent voters to support the Democratic candidate in the fall.

    “The Republicans want to get rid of the middle class,” said Paul Lang, deputy chairman of the Democratic Party in Bucks County. “We are the party of the middle class. We have been and always will.” Locally, Lang campaigned for Clinton.

    “Well said brother,” said Neil Samuels, deputy chairman of the Bucks County Democratic Committee, as he shook Lang's hand. Samuels helped organized the Obama campaign in Bucks.

    Shortly after, the two kissed on the cheek and hugged.

    “There, we kissed and made up,” Lang joked.

    The two men plan to use the county's Democratic unity and spread it to the other 66 counties in Pennsylvania.

    “I don't believe in the premise that the Democratic Party is split,” Samuels said. “Together we made Bucks County a blue county because we worked together, hand-in-hand to register people Democrat. There are few differences between [Clinton and Obama] and that's what people are concentrating on. We really are not split.”

    Just two steps away, Diane Gatley and Irene Boyle sat at the bar sipping drinks discussing their political differences.

    “We're still trying to convince each other,” said Gatley, who is an Obama supporter.

    The Warminister resident was first a Sen. John Edwards supporter and it took her months before she made up her mind between Clinton and Obama. Gatley said her mind was made up when Clinton clapped with other Democrats when President George W. Bush said “We have al-Qaida running” during his State of the Union speech. She said Obama didn't.

    Boyle didn't need any convincing. From the start, she has been a Clinton supporter.

    “I believe in her leadership, experience and her ability,” Boyle said, adding that if Obama had more experience her decision would have been harder.

    Boyle has read both of Obama's books and when rumors spread that he was Muslim, the Middletown resident defended him.

    “It's a matter of getting the facts right,” she said. “He didn't deserve that. I knew what the truth was.”

    The two women agree in universal health care and that President Bill Clinton's administration was well run.

    “We agree that it's either Clinton or Obama,” Boyle said. “The country needs change and direction.”

    “We know there won't be a dream ticket,” Gatley said. “And we don't want a McBush administration running our country.”
    Great work everyone (but as always, don’t forget the “ic,” Neil).

    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    Thursday PM Stuff

    (Just a note that posting should pick up again tomorrow, but it will probably drop off again for a week or so starting on about Monday...)

    "Senator Honor And Virtue" stars in "Pop-Up Double Talk" live today from NoLA...



    ...and I know "the show" has left our state, but I thought this was still worth a look from "Russia Today"; "the worst Democrat is better than the best Republican" indeed (and dontcha love The Big Dog practicing "safe sax")...



    ...here is also some follow up on David Barstow's amazing report in the New York Times on Sunday about the scandal (and it is truly that; stick a "-gate" at the end if you want) of the military analysts echoing Pentagon talking points on TV, radio and print while Iraq continued to deteriorate; how Paul Vallely for one sleeps at night is truly a mystery to me...



    Update 4/25/08: Ari Melber has more here.

    ...and let's all do what we can to see that Repug Tony Be-Zirkle of Indiana gets that nice, comfy rubber room he so clearly needs based on this clip (even though you have to wonder how in God's name this lunatic managed to get elected at all, at least the Repugs have realized the error of their ways for a change and slapped this guy down).

    Mullane Breaks "Wind" On Obama

    (Never pass up a shot to try for that lowest common denominator, I always say.)

    I had to take a minute or two and comment on the column today by J.D. Mullane of the Bucks County Courier Times on Barack Obama’s recent loss in the PA primary.

    Now I should point out that, for a little while now, Mullane has written about subjects pertaining more to Bucks County and kept his rancid political opinions to himself, choosing to vent on his blog instead (a sensible move, though Mullane’s blog is something I don’t wish to discuss on a full stomach).

    However, he has provided his “expertise” on the election and, like every other pundit in this country with a pulse, he chimed in on the Obama San Francisco speech, saying that Obama called white voters clinging to guns or whatever “racist,” which is typically stupid.

    I’ll just make one final statement on that fiasco, and it is this; Obama’s sentiments have been uttered by many other people, but he is an African American who was speaking correctly about a segment of white voters, and that is why people went nuts (Markos Moulitsas at The Daily Kos has said that economic class is the true “third rail” of American politics in the video below, and I think he’s right).

    But for today, J.D. tells us the following concerning Obama's loss (I’ll tackle his three arguments in reverse order)…

    1) The “regular guy” factor, meaning that Obama doesn’t do well with “Reagan Democrats,” came into play (re., bowling, ordering orange juice without coffee, flag lapel pins, in addition to all the quote nonsense – “a working person does not read policy papers, analyze Web sites, or monitor several cable news networks to decide who they like, and who they don't,” etc.).
    This Daily Kos post tells you about the gains Obama made among voters 60 and older, white men and women voters, those earning less than $50K, and Protestants between Ohio and PA (repeating myself a bit from yesterday, I know).

    Also, some of the more ridiculous Clinton spin out there is that Obama can’t win the so-called “battleground” states. Well, based on this, what do you call Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Maine?

    Note: Including Oregon there may be incorrect; I'll double check (update: Oregon's primary is May 20th).

    And once more, here is Jeremy Scahill’s report on PA that ran on “Real Time” last week; sounds to me like Obama reached these working class white voters.



    Finally on this, here’s another Kos post where he provides the main reasons why Clinton won and Obama lost (and again, Clinton once had a 20-point polling lead in this state but only ended up beating Obama by about 9-10 points).

    2) “Operation Chaos,” which is Flush Limbore’s effort to get Repugs to change their registration to Democratic so they can vote for Hillary in the primary, then switch back to Repug for the general election so they can vote for John W. McBush.
    Mullane tells us…

    At Republican headquarters Tuesday night, I asked GOP Chairman Harry Fawkes if he thought the defections were part of “Operation Chaos.” He chuckled and said, “A lot of people registered on the other side so they could vote for either Clinton or Obama. But trust me. We'll get most of those people back.”
    Oh yeah, that’s funny, Harry. Lucky for you this isn’t Ohio, because Limbore’s stunt constitutes a fifth-degree felony in that state (don’t worry; no one will be prosecuted – law enforcement there has more important stuff to do).

    I think Flush’s impact here has been typically overrated, but this column does tell you that Bucks County Commissioner Diane Marseglia, to her great credit, has called him on it…

    “Besides being unethical, Limbaugh's tactics only point out what a hypocrite he is,” said Marseglia. “We had to pay overtime for people to handle the extra registrations, which is fair and proper. But if one voter re-registered on Limbaugh's agenda-driven behalf, then he caused undo taxpayer cost.”

    How well he has accomplished what he wanted so far is debatable, but while Limbaugh's political drag show drags on, people like Marseglia seem satisfied with just being themselves.

    “I'll leave pretend politics to Rush,” says Marseglia. “He seems much more comfortable with being a fraud.”
    You go, Diane!

    3) Race
    Of the reasons listed here by Mullane, this is the one that actually concerns me. However, David Sirota provides a theory here on what’s going on in this election that thus far is proving to be accurate; namely, that states with fewer than 7 percent and greater than 17 percent of an African American vote are trending for Obama, but states in that 7-17 percent range (such as Pennsylvania) have been tougher for Obama (I’m not going to try and paraphrase Sirota here; I would only suggest that you read his interesting post).

    Mullane’s wankery here is typical of the provincialism I expect to see while Hillary’s does her happy dance over the delay of her eventual exit (though it is true that Obama got creamed in Bucks, sadly). And when she goes, we won’t be treated to any more nonsense from her surrogates, such as this courtesy of Terry McAuliffe (h/t The Daily Kos).



    As I watched this, it occurred to me that she could end up back in this election after all when Obama finishes her off, and that would be as St. McCain’s VP nominee.

    Update 4/25/08: Oh, and here's more about Obama supposedly not reaching the "regular guy."

    Wednesday, April 23, 2008

    Wednesday PM Stuff

    The "Roadblock Republicans" strike again, this time killing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Bill - all it took was four more of those bastards to switch over for the infamous "60 votes needed for passage," but they couldn't do it, and "Straight Talk" McCain skipped the vote - again - along with Chuck Hagel, and will now go to the Ninth Ward to pretend to care about poor working women...and Harry Reid voted no also; un-freaking-believable!

    (And by the way, even though Coleman voted for it this time, as the ad below tells us, he supported confirming Alito to the Supreme Court who "helped" in the ruling against Ledbetter in '07 that made the bill voted down today necessary to begin with.)



    ..."The Pap Attack" takes on Bush over China (and the other three also, just so you know)...



    ...and believe it or not, we STILL have some last-minute election results (have to do this)...



    ...and switching completely, here's "Show And Tell" by Al Wilson who left us today, another great YouTube fan video, this time from djthalie.

    The Inky Says "Yes" To College Student Debt

    (And are you really surprised; by the way, posting is questionable for tomorrow.)

    This column appeared over the weekend in The Philadelphia Inquirer, and it was written by Kiley Austin-Young, a sophomore at Penn majoring in English and economics according to the bio.

    This individual tells us that his (her?) tuition…

    …will eclipse $200,000. This estimate includes full tuition, summer classes, textbooks, housing, food, kegs of Natural Light, and spring break vacations to Aruba.
    I assume this person is serious.

    Due to my selection of an expensive school, and my overindulgence in certain extracurricular activities, I will enter the labor market saddled in debt. None of my tuition will have been reduced or subsidized by the federal government, nor does it need to be, because the shocking price tag of my privately financed bachelor's degree will some day be worth every penny and more.



    The numbers are clear. An average bachelor's degree worker will earn almost $1 million more over the course of a lifetime than a worker with only a high school diploma. An average professional degree holder will realize an additional $2.3 million in income. Even those graduates who earn far less will overcome their educational costs with the added income. Because of these dramatic added gains, students can finance a college education by borrowing against future income.
    Now I will be careful in my responses to this individual because this column represents free speech, after all, and this person is not a typical blathering pundit. However (true to what passes for editorial standards at the Inky), there are no citations sourcing the statistics in the column, and no dissenting point of view is acknowledged of course. Also, we really don’t learn anything about this person’s circumstances, mainly how much of the education will be funded by his or her parents or through part-time employment.

    So in place of the generalities noted, I’d like to provide this information…

    For those who do graduate, the average loan debt was $17,600 in 2004 - $22,581 in the case of private colleges, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. (Anya) Kamenetz (an author who has written on this subject) says those averages are too close to the $23,000 maximum that undergraduates may borrow from the federal Stafford loan program over four years.

    "If students need to go over that maximum, it means they need to take out private loans with higher interest rates," she says. "That means they'll likely be paying more over a longer period of time, which slows down life even more."

    Of the three major variables affecting student debt - tuition costs, the job market, and interest rates - the latter has the gloomiest forecast, says Jacqueline King, director of the American Council on Education's Center for Policy Analysis.
    Please note that the Christian Science Monitor article was written in 2006; this is an update with much of the same information, though the job market has declined further over the past two years and credit has worsened because of the subprime mortgage meltdown.

    And by the way, here’s something else for the Inquirer author to consider…

    Income for teachers is simply too low for many graduates, according to a report released last month by the State Public Interest Research Group. The study found that more than a third of borrowers who graduate from private, four-year colleges would face "unmanageable" debt on a starting teacher's salary, meaning they would need to set aside more than 8 percent of their pay to cover student loans.

    More than half of black and Latino graduates would fall into this level of "unmanageable" debt, set by the lending industry.

    Accumulating loan debt even pushes back many of life's milestones, according to a survey that (college board analyst Sandy) Baum conducted in 2002 for Nellie Mae, a major student lender, which is now a subsidiary of Sallie Mae. The report found that 38 percent of graduates held off buying their first house because of student loans, 14 percent put off marriage, and 21 percent delayed having children.

    "We are the first society in history to take our brightest and start them out in debt," says Allan Carlson, president of the socially conservative Howard Center in Rockford, Ill. "That's just stupid public policy. We should encourage them to grow, not hold them back."
    So that means that graduates will be saddled with debt and looking for employment in science or business professions to the exclusion of all else (nothing wrong with that, but we need teachers too, as well as people in communications and other “liberal arts” professions) in an economy which, for the most part, doesn’t generate good jobs any more (is it necessary to link to Paul Craig Roberts again?), particularly now that we are in a recession.

    Well, at least this tells you how you can protect student loan funds from garnishment in the event that you have to file for bankruptcy (important if you ever hope to complete your education under these circumstances, of course).

    But in spite of all of this, Austin-Young tells us…

    If the many benefits of a college education continue to outpace the costs, subsidies are not needed. Precious public funds are better spent increasing opportunities for the disadvantaged, those who - from a flaw in the educational system or a broken family life - will not even finish high school.
    Actually, after reading this elitist drivel (blaming the Inquirer more for allowing it to see the light of day than the author for expressing his or her point of view), I can see where Austin-Young should feel secure in his (her?) job prospects. This person has the makings of a first-class Inky columnist (and if that isn’t a tongue-in-cheek remark, I don’t know what is).

    Christie Todd And The Judge's "Smog" Of Fraud

    This Washington Post story tells the following about former EPA admin- istrator Christine Todd Whitman; namely, that she…

    ..cannot be held liable for assuring residents near the burning detritus of the World Trade Center after the 2001 attacks that the air was safe to breathe, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

    Because Whitman did not intend to cause harm, a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit said, her message did not "shock the conscience" to the degree necessary to waive her immunity as a federal official.
    (The phrase “shocked the conscience” was used by U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts, who allowed the lawsuit against Whitman to proceed in February 2006, hence the wording of the 2nd Circuit Court, as the Post tells us.)

    Three days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Whitman told reporters, "The good news continues to be that air samples we have taken have all been at levels that cause us no concern."

    And on Sept. 18, 2001, she reassured residents that their air "is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink." Whitman later testified in congressional hearings that she was talking about the air of Lower Manhattan generally, not Ground Zero specifically.
    That’s disgusting, of course, and a total copout (a prior related post is here).

    "She caused thousands of residents, workers and first responders to suffer injury and, in some cases, death, due to unnecessary exposure to toxins released by the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who held hearings on the federal government's management of the crisis at which Whitman testified.
    And by the way, I thought you’d be interested to learn more about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which basically thumbed its collective nose at the plaintiffs suffering because of Whitman’s negligence; this tells us that the chief judge of the court is Dennis G. Jacobs, who was nominated to serve on the second circuit by Poppy Bush in 1992 and became Chief Judge on October 1, 2006.

    And why exactly am I mentioning this? Well, according to the Sun...

    Widely recognized as one of the more conservative jurists on the 2nd Circuit, Judge Jacobs, 63, became chief judge when his predecessor, Judge John Walker, took senior status (in September 2006).
    And boy, let me tell you what a swell guy Judge Jacobs is, people.

    This New York Times story from 1998 reports that Jacobs ruled that Connecticut, New York and Vermont could deny some Medicaid funds to severely disabled poor people…

    The judge conceded that these rulings could have dire effects. Early discharge from a hospital, he said, ''would be a death sentence for some patients.''

    But Judge Jacobs added that those people who could not get Medicaid to cover their needs could ''seek other resources in the community.''
    No word from the judge on what those “other resources in the community” could be, of course.

    And this tells us not only that Judge Jacobs thinks the free speech claims of a student newspaper are “silly,” but that he doesn’t read judicial opinions (huh?).

    In other words, given Bushco’s lunatic logic, Judge Jacobs is the perfect person to absolve Whitman of her criminal Ground Zero negligence (an individual with perhaps only a passing familiarity with fair administration of the law).

    Considering all of this, I believe, Your Honor, that in addition to the WTC site, ample “detritus” can be found in your legal opinions as well.

    Obama-Rama Carries On To Indy

    (Well, Guam is technically the next place to vote in the primary - on May 3rd to be accurate.)

    I just happened to come across this analysis of the vote last night in the PA primary won by Hillary Clinton, and I have some thoughts (this will end up being a bit repetitive if my comment at the Times blog is approved).

    Though the stats cited by Dick Polman of the Inquirer in the Times post are significant, I don’t believe they are that surprising. It was understood that Obama would have had to achieve an astronomical result in Philadelphia to offset Clinton’s wins elsewhere, and of course that didn’t happen. Also, Polman cites that Obama lost among “late-deciding voters,” which again is not surprising given his lack of experience on the national stage versus Hillary Clinton, which I actually think is a plus (though it does concern me – disgusts me, really, to tell you the truth – that 13 percent of the voters in the primary thought race was a deciding issue).

    On the whole, I think Obama did well in that he denied Clinton the overwhelming victory she would have needed to alter the delegate and super-delegate math (to say nothing of increasing her campaign contributions). Now, she continues her “must-win” campaign in Indiana (where the numbers here look better for her) and North Carolina (where they don’t…part of me wants to see an endorsement from John Edwards that would help seal it and, in the words on T-shirts circulating throughout Philadelphia yesterday, “End The Drama, (with a) Vote For Obama!”).

    Update: If not Edwards himself, then this is the next best thing, I guess.

    Also, kos here tells us that Obama made progress in PA relative to the Ohio campaign six weeks ago. When you look at that set of results, you find that Obama actually gained among white voters, voters 68 and older, and those making less than $50K, though he slipped slightly under the “college/no college” voter category and among Catholic voters. And given the firestorm of media nonsense that is not likely to be replicated again (at least, I hope not), I think it’s pretty amazing that Obama was still able to whittle down what was once a 20-point Clinton polling lead to single digits when all was said and done (and this was instructive also).

    (And by the way, I think this was a good catch by DHinMI over at The Daily Kos concerning the "other" PA primary; McCain is the all-but-declared nominee and he only gets 72 percent of the vote? And Dr. Paul gets 16 percent?).

    “Respectful” McCain’s Rust Belt Ruse

    I actually have to give “Straight Talk” McCain a bit of credit here (just a bit, though); this story tells us…

    ABC News' Tahman Bradley Reports: A number of Democratic strategists have said Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., would be the best presidential candidate to help down-ballot Democrats in the fall, but a new ad set to be released by the North Carolina Republican Party could make a few candidates weary of latching onto Obama's coattails.

    The North Carolina Republican Party is trying to use the controversy surrounding Sen. Obama's former Pastor Jeremiah Wright against Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the state.
    And do you want to know something? I actually hope they do, because it will boomerang on them. The “attack politics” of the ‘90s and the early part of this decade (the “oughts”?) simply aren’t going to get you elected (that hasn’t dawned on Hillary yet, but I’m sure it will in a couple of weeks, to say nothing of the Repugs who, apparently, will be the last to learn that lesson also).

    But given all of this, we read the following statement from the McCain campaign…

    Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, moved quickly on Wednesday to reject the ad (involving Wright and Obama, yet again – this is a recording). In a statement, spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said, "From the beginning of this process McCain has expressed his intent to run a respectful campaign based on the issues, and we have repeatedly called for all parties to follow his lead."
    That’s commendable, and that’s why I’m sure McCain will disavow this also.

    And this tells us of McCain’s recent stop at Youngstown, Ohio, preaching the free-trade mantra to a whole bunch of former factory workers now without jobs (I’ve give him points for doing it in front of them as opposed to the chamber of the U.S. Senate, but that’s about it)…

    Continuing a weeklong tour of what he calls the "forgotten America," McCain called for the increased use of community colleges to retrain workers and investment in alternative energy technologies to replace the manufacturing jobs that have gone overseas as free-trade agreements made it easier for companies to move to where production is cheaper.
    Oh yeah, McCain and alternative energy technologies; want to know how he “supported” such technologies in Congress (from here)?

    - McCain Skipped Vote on Green Tax Credits in Stimulus Package.
    - McCain Skipped Vote on Renewable Energy.
    - McCain Skipped Vote to Establish $32.1B of Tax Incentives for Renewable Energy and Efficiency.
    - McCain Opposes Renewable Electricity
    .
    (By the way, I suppose our dear corporate media cousins are going to make an issue of McCain’s abysmal record of missing votes, to say nothing of how he voted when he actually showed up for work, the same day they hold him to account for John Hagee and Rod Parsley…in other words, get used to hearing the sound of crickets.)

    And another version of the story by the AP’s Matt Stearns tells us that McCain told the people of Youngstown that “we are in an information-technology revolution.”

    Uh, yeah, that’s nice, but I wonder if “Senator Honor And Virtue” is aware of the following (from last May here)…

    A new report from the Brookings Institution puts some fresh numbers on the rate of corporate job exporting. According to today’s Bureau of National Affairs Daily Labor Report (subscription required):

    Growth in the offshoring of information technology, business office, and other service-providing occupations will cause the loss of an estimated 2.4 million jobs in some 250 U.S. cities between 2004 and 2015, according to a report by the Brookings Institution.

    The offshoring of service jobs, including ones held by college-educated professionals who previously thought their jobs were immune to foreign competition, has “created a new source of job insecurity,” and the movement of work to other countries is expected to grow over the coming decade, especially in information services and “back-office” services, the study said.


    The Implications of Service Offshoring for Metropolitan Economies finds that metropolitan areas with large concentrations of information technology service jobs or back-office jobs are generally more vulnerable to service offshoring than other metropolitan areas.

    Further, 28 metropolitan areas, with 13.5 percent of the nation’s population, are likely to lose between 2.6 and 4.3 percent of their jobs to service offshoring, higher than the average loss among the metropolitan areas studied.

    Between 2004 and 2015, service offshoring is likely to cause the loss of 2.6 percent of jobs in metropolitan areas that specialize in information technology services and 2.4 percent of jobs in metropolitan areas that specialize in back-office services but only 1.9 percent of jobs in other metropolitan areas.
    And by the way, this tells you just how widespread this insidious practice is (and isn't it a comfort, by the way, to read how CFOs are concerned about "currency risks" and "business climates" but care absolutely zilch about the destruction wrought on individuals, families, and communities by their actions?).

    The AFL-CIO story also emphasizes that Bushco has tried to privatize as many government jobs as it can, of course, thus making those jobs subject to offshoring also.

    So basically, if you live in a big city and work in IT (and with all due respect to the good people of Youngstown, it’s a stretch to consider many of them stepping into that field from factory work without serious retraining), rest assured that the specter of offshoring will be hanging over your head well into the next decade, at least. And though we expect the Dems to fight against that, we have to be realistic (and I expect nothing from McCain and the Repugs except more of the name, and so should you).

    Update: "War On Poverty"? Visiting NoLA's Ninth Ward? McCain's acting like another "John" who was once in this race here, though that "straight-talking maverick" is going to have to convince me these are more than photo-ops, which he can't, of course.

    Wednesday AM Stuff

    Dubya sets a record; can he go lower still? Unfortunately, we'll find out...



    Update: And I would assume that this has a lot to do with it...

    To the Editor:

    Thank you for calling for greater inquiry into the Bush administration’s violations of the War Crimes Act, the Anti-Torture Act, the Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Conventions and other domestic and international laws.

    It is not “backward looking” to seek answers and ultimately take legal action where the laws have been violated. We don’t hear prosecutors in this country refuse to investigate and prosecute a criminal suspect because that would be too “backward looking.”

    Yet when mounting evidence suggests criminality at the highest level of government, the politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) quickly protect each other with rhetoric about “looking forward, not backward.”

    Imagine if every other criminal suspect in this country were given such solicitude!

    Daniel Schramm
    South Royalton, Vt.

    April 20, 2008
    ...and here's a neat campaign ad for Joe Garcia in Florida's 25th congressional district (h/t Matt Stoller at Open Left).

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    Tuesday Stuff

    The night is yours, Jack, though all you and Hil are doing is prolonging the inevitable...



    ...and in the matter of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, I think this is some kickass reporting by Dan Abrams...



    ...and here's "Pennsylvania Stars" from Paul Hipp (h/t HuffPo) which, as he said, is based on far too many true stories...



    ...and consider this story from "The Onion" as a public service announcement, any members of the "Hillary Youth" in PA; if you decide to party tonight, don't end up like anyone in this report (or if you do, have the courtesy to keep it to yourself, and maybe a few friends).


    Study: Nearly 80 Percent Of Roommates Got So Drunk Last Night

    Not Worthy Of The Uniform

    I have a feeling I’ll be coming back over and over to the landmark story by New York Times reporter David Barstow in that paper’s Sunday edition about the military analysts appearing on TV and in print and other broadcast media selling the Iraq war to feather their own nests under the pretense of objectivity (here and here are two Daily Kos backgrounder posts). And though I am naturally reluctant to criticize anyone in our military, it is impossible not to do that after reading the story.

    Simply put, if Bushco had put a fraction of the time into the actual planning and preparation for the aftermath of the ground war as they did into the selling and packaging of it, then I have a feeling we’d be winding down for real by now with much less of a loss of life suffered by our troops and innocent Iraqis (though I don’t mean to actually confer legitimacy on this epochal blunder by saying so).

    The article lists many, many generals who allowed themselves to be used and abused by Don (“The Defense Secretary We Had”) Rumsfeld so they could gain access to him and other Pentagon “players” in the name of turning a buck (with Ret. Gen. William L. Nash the only one who walked away, according to the article).

    And just to remind us of the type of person Rummy is (as if we could actually forget), Barstow provides the following…

    The full dimensions of this mutual embrace were perhaps never clearer than in April 2006, after several of Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals — none of them network military analysts — went public with devastating critiques of his wartime performance. Some called for his resignation.

    On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the “Generals’ Revolt” dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records show. When an aide urged a short delay to “give our big guys on the West Coast a little more time to buy a ticket and get here,” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office insisted that “the boss” wanted the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.”

    That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General (Thomas G.) McInerney and General (Paul E.) Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.

    “Starting to write it now,” General Vallely wrote to the Pentagon that afternoon. “Any input for the article,” he added a little later, “will be much appreciated.” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwarded talking points and statistics to rebut the notion of a spreading revolt.

    “Vallely is going to use the numbers,” a Pentagon official reported that afternoon.

    The standard secrecy notwithstanding, plans for this session leaked, producing a front-page story in The Times that Sunday. In damage-control mode, Pentagon officials scrambled to present the meeting as routine and directed that communications with analysts be kept “very formal,” records show. “This is very, very sensitive now,” a Pentagon official warned subordinates.

    On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

    A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.

    “I’m an old intel guy,” said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) “And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, ‘Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.’ ”

    “What are you, some kind of a nut?” Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. “You don’t believe in the Constitution?”
    Grrrr…..

    Even as they assured Mr. Rumsfeld that they stood ready to help in this public relations offensive, the analysts sought guidance on what they should cite as the next “milestone” that would, as one analyst put it, “keep the American people focused on the idea that we’re moving forward to a positive end.” They placed particular emphasis on the growing confrontation with Iran.

    “When you said ‘long war,’ you changed the psyche of the American people to expect this to be a generational event,” an analyst said. “And again, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job...”

    “Get in line,” Mr. Rumsfeld interjected.

    The meeting ended and Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing pleased and relaxed, took the entire group into a small study and showed off treasured keepsakes from his life, several analysts recalled.
    When Rumsfeld eventually passes from this earth, I hope he is cremated and his ashes are scattered (preferably all over Iraq). I feel this way because I’m concerned about actually burying his body and contaminating the soil in the process.

    Also, it should be noted that Vallely was particularly enthusiastic in doing Rummy’s bidding (and as sort of a freeper litmus test, Vallely involved himself in the Valerie Plame mess here, though his credibility was called into question then as now). He and some of his pals held firm to the belief that the Vietnam War was lost by our media, so they intended to practice some of Bushco’s legendary “message discipline” to make sure that, as far as they were concerned, that “mistake” never occurred again.

    However, of all of the generals listed in the story, the one name that stood out for me was that of Retired General James A. “Spider” Marks, employed as a CNN analyst as well as a “rainmaker” of sorts for McNeil Technologies (this also tells us that he went on to work with the now-happily-ended presidential campaign of Willard Mitt Romney).

    The reason it stood out for me is because, as noted here by Walter C. Uhler, Marks had firsthand knowledge of the blundering that ultimately led to the catastrophe in Iraq…

    According to Bob Woodward, General Marks had been tasked with locating, neutralizing and securing each WMD site, once the invasion of Iraq commenced. And when he asked the "(Defense Intelligence Agency) smart guys" [Ibid] whether site number one was more important than site 946, one of the people…said dismissively: "Of course, General. Why wouldn't it be?" [Ibid, p. 94]

    But when Marks asked whether the sites had been prioritized by the certainty of their existence or their importance, "nobody had a real answer." [Ibid, p. 95] And their answers were no more specific, when Marks asked: "Was the first site listed first because they thought it had the most WMD? Or was it because of the type of WMD - chemical, biological, nuclear or missile-related activity or another category? Was it related to the overall threat of the site? Or was it a matter of how quickly or easily Saddam could use the WMD? 'How are these things racked and stacked?' Marks asked." [Ibid]

    Marks subsequently told General (David) McKiernan, "I can't get DIA to move. You need to fire me." [Ibid, p. 101] When that didn't work, Marks told McKiernan, "Sir, I can't confirm what's inside any of these sites." [Ibid] And he made that admission during the very period, when President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, (Rumsfeld), Secretary of State, Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice were bamboozling Americans into believing that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

    Moreover, unlike our idiotic and malevolent Vice President -- who requires just one percent of supporting evidence to act upon his preconceived biases and who once childishly gushed over a satellite photo purporting to show (but unable to prove) WMD activity -- Marks looked at similar photos only to conclude that, when doing so, "You're a pig looking at a watch." [Ibid, p. 99] Such is the huge uncertainty involved in the process.
    And in spite of all of that, General Marks went on TV and sold the war to us anyway once he retired his commission.

    I really don’t know what else to say in light of that, General, only that I may add that its denigrating to livestock for you to compare yourself in that manner. And I can’t imagine you actually looking at that metaphorical timepiece unless the numbers had dollar signs next to them (a shame it can’t count to 4,045, isn’t it?).

    Update 5/6/08: God, he would have made a good president...

    A Lesson In Faith For Our Times

    I know the headline of this column must have really excited the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer when it appeared last Saturday, and had the column been written by one of its typical corporate apologists or neocon naysayers, I would heap volumes of scorn and ridicule on it before it disappeared from cached Internet memory forever.

    However, “The left has lost its nerve and its direction” was written by Chris Hedges (pictured), who has practiced what he has preached by reporting on some of the worst conflicts on earth for decades.

    For that reason, I will take issue with some of what he has to say, but not in the usual manner…

    "The mistake of the former left-wingers, from Tom Hayden to Todd Gitlin, is that they want to be players in the Democratic Party and academia," said John R. MacArthur, the publisher of Harper's magazine, speaking of two prominent 1960s activists. "This is not what the left is supposed to be. The left is supposed to be outside the system. The attempt by the left to take control of the Democratic Party failed with [Eugene] McCarthy and George McGovern. The left, at that point, should have gone back to organizing, street protests, building labor unions, and the mobilization of grassroots activists. Instead, it went for respectability."
    As important as it is to “build labor unions and organize street protests,” how much good is that going to do “the left” remains, for the most part, outside of political and economic power?

    And as far as backing third-party candidates is concerned, again, that is a worthy goal when these individuals truly represent a progressive constituency. But you can only effect so much social change when shouting through a bullhorn at the corporate suites where boards of directors are in session or state and federal legislatures where bills are being debated and/or considered. You have a much better chance of getting the result you want when someone with a similar ideology is actually participating in those locations.

    And yes, it is a devil’s bargain, but I believe that is preferable to rendering yourself a human sacrifice before those who would merely step on you anyway versus giving you a second thought for your courage and resolve.

    The working class has every right to be, to steal a line from Obama, bitter with liberal elites. I am bitter. I have seen what the loss of manufacturing jobs and the death of the labor movement did to my relatives in the former mill towns in Maine. Their story is the story of tens of millions of Americans who can no longer find a job that supports a family and provides basic benefits. Human beings are not, despite what the well-heeled Democratic and Republican apologists for the free market tell you, commodities. They are not goods. They grieve, and suffer and feel despair. They raise children and struggle to maintain communities. The growing class divide is not understood, despite the glibness of many in the media, by complicated sets of statistics or the absurd, utopian faith in unregulated globalization and complicated trade deals. It is understood in the eyes of a man or woman who is no longer making enough money to live with dignity and hope.
    Yes, but then why is that the fault of “the left” that attempts to make inroads through politics and business (and by the way, Hedges should be careful with invoking Eugene McCarthy, who took a political right turn before the end of his Senate career in 1970). Is it Hedges’ wish that we remain ensconced in a ‘60s mindset, chanting for peace, economic opportunity and social justice while wearing our sandals, bell bottoms and tie-dye and reeking of incense and patchouli?

    The failure of the left is the failure of well-meaning people who kept compromising and compromising in the name of effectiveness and a few scraps of influence until they had neither. The condemnations progressives utter - about the abuse of working men and women, the rapacious cannibalization of the country by an unchecked arms industry, our disastrous foreign wars, and the collapse of basic services from education to welfare - are not backed by action. The left has been transformed into anguished apologists for corporate greed. They have become hypocrites.
    Perhaps in part, I’ll admit, though we all participate as our means allow. But to say that “our condemnations are not backed by action” is a blanket indictment that is neither appropriate nor correct; also, I cannot think of anyone I interact with online or in-person who would consider himself or herself “an apologist for corporate greed.” Just because we’re not fighting the battle to the same degree Hedges is does not mean that we’re not fighting the battle at all.

    "The loss of nerve by the left comes down to this lack of faith," (the Rev. Susan B.) Thistlethwaite (president of Chicago Theological Seminary) said. "Having a soul means there is coherence between our actions and our values. The left can no longer claim this coherence. It has no moral compass. It does not know right from wrong. It has, in its confusion, lost the capacity to make moral judgments."

    Hope, St. Augustine wrote, has two beautiful daughters. They are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are and the courage to see they do not remain the way they are. We stand at the verge of a massive economic dislocation, one forcing millions of families from their homes and into severe financial distress, one that threatens to rend the fabric of our society. If we do not become angry, if we do not muster within us the courage to challenge the corporate state that is destroying our nation, we will have squandered our credibility and integrity at the moment we need it most.
    I get the distinct sense that Hedges believes the battle is already lost, and that’s not true. Those who wish to advocate for the causes he states, such as yours truly in my own humble way, do so through a variety of means in the public arena (including exercising our franchise today in PA).

    Hedges quoted St. Augustine earlier to a wonderful effect, and with that in mind, I’d like to quote St. Paul, who said that “faith is the evidence of things not seen.”

    Anger and courage, when utilized properly, can achieve everlasting results. But without faith in the success of the cause (a shade of difference from hope, I’d argue), we become slaves of a sort regardless, I feel, to a mindset of protest-and-all-else-be-damned that was only slightly more successful in the ’60s than it ever could be again today.

    And just because it’s not seen doesn’t mean that it’s not there.

    Yes, when you get “on the inside” you can be corrupted. Or you can stand tall also. But it takes faith to believe the latter is possible.

    And I have faith. And somehow I have a feeling that, if you’re reading this, you do too.

    By The Way, Any Takers For The Blimp?

    (You know, the thing I posted about here…)

    This article tells us that Dr. Ron Paul appeared at the University of Montana’s UC Ballroom in Missoula yesterday, spouting lines like “the opposite of liberty is big government,” as well as preaching once more that he wants to abolish the personal income tax.

    And he’ll get the opportunity to do that when I lead the first manned space mission to the planet Venus.

    Further, this tells us that some of the “Paulistas” have further cemented their support for the only Republican presidential candidate to oppose the Iraq war by casting their lot with a certain presidential nominee named John Sidney McCain III.

    Uh…wasn’t the entire point of Paul’s candidacy to oppose Washington insiders like “Senator Honor And Virtue”?

    And D-Mac at Philadelphia Will Do tells us here that, despite the fact that Dr. Paul was, at one time, the candidate with the most military donations among either party (here), a mock election was held at the Robert K. Shafer Middle School in Bensalem, PA. and Paul did not receive a single vote.

    Who knew that those kids don’t want to abolish OSHA or the Federal Reserve and opposed guns in our schools (all noted here)?

    Sadly, I think this is a trend that will not be reversed by a massive “Google-bomb” campaign (though I’m still waiting to find out what will happen to Paul’s massive war chest considering that it’s only going to be used to tilt at the proverbial windmills from now on).

    Patrick Goes “Green” On PA’s Voting Day

    (The weather outside is hardly frightful, people, so there’s no excuse to go to the polls and vote for Obama, as well as other Dems like Steve Santarsiero, and remember to vote for Obama's delegates also – sorry I didn’t mention that earlier...just a handful at my polling place, but turnout appears to be heavier elsewhere for now.)

    This Letter to the Editor appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times today…

    Congressman Patrick Murphy has co-sponsored HB1590, the Safe Climate Act.

    There are several other bills pending, but this particular bill would do far more to improve the condition of the environment and slow global warming. It calls for a minimum of 20 percent of the electricity produced to originate from renewable sources by 2020, and for a reduction of emissions that contribute to global warming by 80 percent by the year 2050. These are both attainable and necessary goals, endorsed by several environmental organizations. The science supports these goals, and the technology exists to achieve them.

    Congressman Murphy and the other sponsors must now follow up to see that Congress takes action on this bill as soon as possible.

    Nancy Bilheimer
    Middletown
    Here are links to other Earth Day events and festivities, and as always, to help Patrick, click here.

    Tuesday AM Stuff

    Who would know better about who to vote for today than this guy, though his words end up unintentionally supporting Obama (h/t The Daily Kos)...



    ...and one more time, here's the video that got the ball rolling, as they say.

    Monday, April 21, 2008

    Monday PM Stuff

    Some music to help all of us PA folk get into the mood to do our duty tomorrow ("Elected," by Alice Cooper; ends kind of suddenly)...



    ...and before I forget, let's all welcome Tony Snow Job back to corporate media, in this case CNN (though they're all pretty much indistinguishable at this point- sorry, Keith); he'll be a "conservative commentator," of course, because, after all, they simply cannot have enough conservative commentators, can they now?

    Shining A Light On A Great Gipper Gaffe

    Right now, Jimmy Carter is getting pilloried by our media over meeting with Hamas (as I’ve said before, Bushco’s policy of thumbing its nose at people they don’t like has worked so well, hasn’t it?), as Prof. Marcus noted here earlier, but I happened to come across the following note from somewhere in yesterday’s New York Times (the source escapes me at the moment).

    In an effort to improve energy efficiency (as noted here)…

    Carter even had solar collectors installed on the White House grounds to heat the executive residence's water.

    Then Carter lost re-election to Ronald Reagan in 1980. The solar panels at the White House eventually came down - and Reagan and his aides gutted the solar research program.

    "In June or July of 1981, on the bleakest day of my professional life, they descended on the Solar Energy Research Institute, fired about half of our staff and all of our contractors, including two people who went on to win Nobel prizes in other fields, and reduced our $130 million budget by $100 million," recalls Denis Hayes, the founder of Earth Day, who had been hired by Carter to spearhead the solar initiative.

    Reagan and Congress stopped aggressively pushing new auto efficiency standards, acceding to Detroit's desire to leave them at Carter-era levels. They let the solar tax benefit expire, and the nascent solar industry went belly- up.

    It was time to let the markets work their magic and stop all this government tinkering, Reagan and conservatives said.

    Bad stuff? A recipe for the fix we're in today?

    A number of environmentalists and conservationists say so.

    Although the corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards already were saving 3 million barrels a day, "they could be saving us a further 3 million or 4 million barrels a day" if they had been ramped up, says Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global-warming project.
    And that was noted in October 2005, by the way (and as noted here from May of that year)…

    Today, despite the best efforts of the Bushies, the bin Ladens, and the rest of the oil industry, Carter's few surviving initiatives have borne fruit.

    It is now more economical to build power generating stations using wind than using coal, oil, gas, or nuclear. When amortized over the life of a typical mortgage, installing solar power in a house in most parts of the US is cheaper than drawing power from the grid. (Shell and British Petroleum are among the world's largest manufacturers of solar photovoltaic panels, which can now even be used as roofing shingles.) And hybrid cars that get 50-70 miles to the gallon are increasingly commonplace on our nation's highways. Instead of taking a strong stand to make America energy independent, Bush kisses a Saudi crown prince, then holds hands with him as they walk into Bush's hobby ranch in Texas. Our young men and women are daily dying in Iraq - a country with the world's second largest store of underground oil. And we live in fear that another 15 Saudis may hijack more planes to fly into our nation's capitol or into nuclear power plants.

    Meanwhile, Bush brings us an energy bill that includes eight billion dollars in welfare payments to the oil business, just as the nation's oil companies report the highest profits in the entire history of the industry. Americans struggle to pay for gasoline, while the Bush administration refuses to increase fleet efficiency standards, stop the $100,000 tax break for buying Hummers, or maintain and build Amtrak. George Bush Jr. is arguably right that gas prices are spiking because we don't have an energy policy. But instead of blaming Clinton, he should be pointing to the Reagan/Bush administration, and to his own abysmal failures…
    I believe the Hummer exemption was recently removed, though standards were relaxed for lighter vehicles. And please don’t remind me again that Obama voted for the energy bill – not a bright move, but it helped his state.

    And by the way, oil is now at $117 a barrel.

    273 days and counting, people…

    Swimming In A Sea Of Medicare Fraud

    (The post title relates to a quote from Dem U.S. House member Jim Cooper of Tennessee below.)

    This Parade Magazine article tells us…

    A whopping $70 billion out of the estimated $400 billion budgeted for Medicare in 2008 may disappear this year due to fraud and mismanagement. The taxpayer-funded system to cover health care for Americans aged 65 or older is projected to lose that amount, which is equivalent to $233 for every American.

    “Defrauding Medicare is easy and safe,” says (Harvard University’s Malcolm) Sparrow (who studies Medicare fraud). “The spending is huge. The spending on controls is minimal. Bills are paid and processed by computers, and no human sees them.” In a recently reported case, one firm billed Medicare $170 million for fake HIV drug infusions. Dozens of companies charged a total of $142 million for unnecessary medical supplies, such as prosthetic limbs. Because of repeat invoicing, $5 million was spent on a single wheelchair.
    And what does Bushco say in response?

    “We process 1.2 billion claims each year,” says Kimberly Brandt of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We can’t look at all of them.”
    Maybe, but you can ensure better controls on the companies that process claims as Sparrow says, can’t you (as opposed to going after Medicare subscribers).

    Here’s a link to testimony by Brandt’s boss Mike Leavitt, head of Health and Human Services, to Congress last July in which he asked for more money to fight fraud, and as the story tells us…

    Committee member Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) said, "One group you've left completely off the hook" in efforts to address fraud is the private companies that process Medicare claims. A requirement that such companies increase efforts to detect fraud and inform HHS officials when fraud occurs could save Medicare billions of dollars, Cooper said, adding, "Today you're talking about small fish, minnows."
    As opposed to “sharks” like PRG-Schultz International who, as noted here…

    ...will end up (receiving) millions of dollars in commissions…even though the firm’s wholesale rejections of Medicare claims from California rehabilitation hospitals are being reversed on appeal.

    The rulings by administrative-law judges for the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals will restore money withdrawn from California hospitals, some of which trimmed services to Medicare patients as a result of the reviews.

    But PRG-Schultz International, which is paid up to 25 to 30 cents for each dollar of Medicare spending it identifies as wrongly paid, can keep its bounty as long as its findings are sustained through the first two levels of administrative review.



    One case involved a 77-year-old woman admitted to the rehabilitation unit at Glendale Adventist Medical Hospital in 2002 after knee-replacement surgery. She had heart problems and lived alone.

    When transferred to the rehabilitation unit, she could not stand without help, antibiotics were being given to her intravenously and she was in extreme pain. After eight days in the undergoing therapy, she returned home.

    Even though Medicare had paid the claim in November 2002, PRG-Schultz sent a letter in June 2006 saying it was reopening the case “due to a recent review and discovery of potential overpayment.”
    Nice...

    I don’t see this situation improving any time soon, unfortunately, despite the fact that this takes you to information on S 2845, the Medicare Fraud Reduction Act of 2008.

    The problem I have with the bill, aside from the fact that it was introduced by Repug Mel Martinez of Florida about a week ago (makes sense given that state’s elderly population; I know PA is second or third in the nation in that category, but FLA is number one) is that it doesn’t appear to contain the needed cost controls for companies processing claims. It appears that funding would be left to the states for anti-fraud enforcement and some streamlining for subscriber bill payment.

    Were I in Congress (a scary thought, I’ll admit), I’d get this into a subcommittee and beef it up a bit so it could address the costliest issue here (regulation of claims processors and altering this payment structure whereby they’re compensated the same whether they honor or deny claims).

    And I would say this is an issue for the next president as well; based on this, I’m sure Captain Clueless will continue to ignore it on porpoise…

    (Get it, the whole “sea” thing – never mind…).