Saturday, May 09, 2009

Saturday Stuff

Posting is questionable for the early part of next week, by the way - lots of stuff "up in the air" at the moment.

In the meantime, Fix Noise is BUSTED by Media Matters here...

...and in the immortal words of Frank Sinatra, "Happy Mother's Day to all you muthas out there."

Update 1: Oh, and by the way, that stupid White House Press Club dinner is tonight, which means that this is an opportunity to view how Stephen Colbert made his mark three years ago (here).

Update 2 5/11/09: What kos sez here...

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday Stuff

K.O. talks with Jonathan Landay of McClatchy over this whole non-story of what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew, or didn't know, about Bushco torture based on a September 2002 briefing (Pelosi told Rachel Maddow that she wasn't told that waterboarding was going on, but apparently it was being considered, and there was a supposed legal rationale for it from Bybee, Yoo, Addington and the other "usual suspects" of our formerly ruling cabal...I think Landay does a good job here zeroing in on what really matters)...

..and yes, "Still Bushed" is still with us (more on the sham of Dubya's "Office Of Faith-Based Initiatives"...the only "bone" tossed to the Dubya "values voter" dead-enders out there was that idiotic conscience rule, supposedly allowing medical providers not to provide abortion counseling, and even THAT didn't happen until he was just about out of office...kudos to Keith for saying straight up about how these automatons are "duped on issues of substance"; and if you thought before now that President Obama was going to be praised for eliminating 121 programs and saving $17 bil from the budget by Tom Coburn, of all people, then maybe you should be running this blog instead of me...I never would've figured it, even though I know Obama worked with Coburn in the Senate; and finally, just remember that, close to eight years after the 9/11 attacks, it took a Democratic president to get Pakistan to declare war on the Taliban, at looooong last)...

...and I keep thinking that I should leave "Worst Persons" alone, but Keith keeps finding good stuff ("good" as in "bad," truth be told - first up is Bill Donahue of the Catholic League comparing Obama receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame to David Duke receiving an honorary degree from Howard University...yep, Bill, you're sure practicing His values, claiming to act in His name - you don't speak for me, and never will; The Alan Keyes Experience ends up getting arrested for protesting that selfsame speech - how many points did Obama beat you by in the Illinois Senate Election way back when, by the way; but David Feherty of CBS Sports (for now) takes it for imagining the murders of Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (yes, I've heard a few variations on that stupid joke also)...saw this earlier today at Eschaton - way to kiss your career goodbye, asshat...see you in jail)...

...and the weekend is here again - maybe more sun than rain? Dare I hope?

Where The Rubber Meets The Road (5/8/09)

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.


2010-14 federal budget. Voting 233-193, the House adopted the conference report on a five-year Democratic budget (S Con Res 13) that for 2010 projects $3.4 trillion in spending, a $1.2 trillion deficit, $284 billion in interest payments on federal debt, and $130 billion for war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A yes vote was to adopt the budget plan.

Voting yes: John Adler (D., N.J.), Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).

Voting no: Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).
The party of “No” strikes again (and these numbers may be skewed left a bit, but not by much, and they’ve barely changed since Obama was inaugurated...still "food for thought" - of course, that's assuming Repugs think at all any more).

Hate-crimes prosecutions. Members voted, 249-175, to expand the federal law against hate crimes to include offenses based on sexual orientation, gender, or disability, as well as the existing categories of race, color, religion and national origin. The bill (HR 1913), which awaits Senate action, authorizes federal grants and law enforcement resources to help state and local officials combat hate crimes. The law targets crimes of violence but not free speech.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

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

Voting no: Pitts and Smith.
This is a truly hideous vote by Chris Smith, typical for a life form who (as noted here), would deny gays and lesbians the right to work as teachers, doctors, nurses, first responders, federal contractors, or state and federal workers, (maybe even) deny basic rights like student loans to gay college students. And did I mention the New Jersey rep’s ties to right wing hate groups?

And as noted here, Pancake Joe is all in favor of human rights…as long as you’re straight.

Credit-card rules. Voting 357-70, the House sent the Senate a bill (HR 627) imposing pro-consumer rules on credit cards. The bill bans due-date gimmickry; allows cardholders to set personal credit limits above which transactions cannot be processed; sets 18 as the minimum age for obtaining a card in most circumstances; prohibits changes in contract terms until renewal; and requires 45 days' notice of rate increases while allowing existing balances to be paid at the previous rate.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

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

Voting no: Pitts.
The PA-16 rep continues to embarrass his constituents and the democratic process itself with votes such as this one.


2010-14 budget. Voting 53-43, the Senate gave final approval to a five-year Democratic budget (S Con Res 13) that accommodates most of President Obama's requests, including his proposals for revamping health care, student loans, and energy policies. The budget projects $3.4 trillion in spending and a $1.2 trillion deficit for 2010. The plan did not require a presidential signature and took effect immediately.

A yes vote was to adopt the budget plan.

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

Voting no: Arlen Specter (D., Pa.).
Oh, and by the way, get a load of this fundraising gimmick from our brand new “Democratic” senator (doesn’t really have anything to do with the budget, I’ll admit, but man, is this low – and he actually uses the phrase “real change” in an effort to trick people who think they’re donating to a charity…I swear, I may gag).

Update 5/9/10: Snarlin' Arlen is nothing if not slick, people (here).

Kathleen Sebelius confirmation. The Senate confirmed, 65-31, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, 60, as the 21st secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius, a Democrat, was backed by all 56 Democrats and independents who voted and by nine Republicans.

A yes vote was to confirm Sebelius.

Voting yes: Carper, Casey, Kaufman, Lautenberg, Menendez, and Specter.
I should note that the Inquirer published this editorial almost a week ago giving Casey credit for this vote (Sebelius is pro-choice, see), even though Scranton, PA Bishop Joseph Martino now wonders aloud whether or not Casey, a Catholic, should receive communion because of it.

Get a load of this, Bishop Martino…

The People-Press poll also shows that the balance of Catholic opinion leans in support of both abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, even though recent polling suggests that, as with the public overall, Catholics' views on abortion have moved in a more conservative direction over the past year. However, the Catholic community remains deeply divided on these issues depending on frequency of Mass attendance.
So you have a choice, Bishop Martino – keep beating this “values voter” dead horse and drive away more congregants, or leave it alone and let the coffers fill up a little bit more as more people come back for Mass (at what point does the economy finally trump the Church’s intrusiveness on this issue?).

Besides, Bishop Martino, do you really mean to deny communion to every pro-choice Catholic? You’ll barely have anyone left attending services if you do.

Financial crimes. Voting 92-4, the Senate passed a bill (S 386) toughening federal laws against financial crimes such as mortgage and securities fraud. The bill also broadens the False Claims Act, under which private citizens can file fraud suits on behalf of the government and receive a large share of any recovered funds. The bill awaits House action.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Carper, Casey, Kaufman, Lautenberg, Menendez, and Specter.
And by the way (as noted here), the four knuckleheads who voted against this were Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint and Jon Kyl (surprised?).

This week, the House considered a bill to rein in predatory home lending, while the Senate debated bills on saving troubled mortgages and changing credit-card practices.

Another Flowers Fraud On Obama’s High Court Choice

I have to believe that the Philadelphia Daily News give column space to Christine Flowers on Friday because it will make our weekends more enjoyable to know that her dreck won’t appear again for seven days afterwards.

She wastes more of our time here today on the question of who President Obama will choose as his Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice David Souter; after telling us that Obama “still” hasn’t made his choice (is he supposed to be governed by sands running from an hourglass on this?), she implies that he’s busy making sure the demographics of his choice are satisfactory to the voters who elected him.

And then she tells us this…

This is the first time in more than a decade and a half that a Democratic president will be asking a majority Democratic Congress to approve his high court pick. The last was Bill Clinton, whose choice of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was graciously handled by both sides of the aisle: She was confirmed by a 96-3 vote.

Don't expect to see those numbers this time around. With a polarized Capitol Hill, it's unlikely Obama's choice will skate by Republican senators who still remember the tactics of Leahy, Kennedy and Biden at the Roberts and Alito confirmation hearings, not to mention the "high-tech lynching" that greeted Clarence Thomas in 1991, in which only 11 out of 57 Dems voted to confirm.
That’s some intentionally clumsy spin by Flowers; that phrase didn’t characterize the vote on Thomas, but (as far as Thomas was concerned) the testimony that preceded it, notably that of Anita Hill, who had worked with Thomas at the EEOC, as noted here.

Flowers then tells us this…

I SUPPOSE, IN some ways, it's payback time. Of course, everyone's going to pretend to play nice and give the president's nominee a fair hearing. But you can't erase years of bitterness and partisanship simply because the power has shifted.

When Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said last week, "I would hope Republicans give the president the opportunity to put his person on the court with some civility," you had to smile and say, "Amy, Amy, Amy - where have you been for the last two decades!" Democrats routinely threatened filibusters when they didn't like the smell of a GOP nominee, and now they have the audacity to talk about "civility" as if the last few confirmation hearings were tea dances.
I’ll tell you what, Christine; here is some reading material for you to refresh your memory on what has transpired over the prior two presidential administrations on the matter of judicial appointments:

  • This tells us that, as far as the Repugs were concerned, they believed the only course of action for the Senate was to confirm or deny judicial appointments without a filibuster, though now that they’re the minority, they consider the filibuster to be back “in play.”

  • This tells us that this thinking was perhaps more in evidence that at any other time during the confirmation hearing of “Strip Search Sammy” Alito, with the Repugs cowing just enough Dems against the filibuster so that the vote was close enough to confirm him (yes, it’s true that Dubya would have just nominated one wingnut after another until he got what he wanted, but principles are supposed to mean something).

  • This tells us that former Senate Majority Leader Bill (“Cat Killer”) Frist led the effort to block one of Bill Clinton's judicial nominees via filibuster (Judge Richard Paez of the 9th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals), then lied about it.

  • This tells us that the Republican-controlled Senate prevented approximately 60 Clinton nominees from even receiving a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, much less a vote on the Senate floor.

  • This tells us that Dubya, on the other hand, “(had) a better record of having his judicial nominees approved than any President in the past twenty-five years. Only ten of 215 nominations (were) turned down.”
  • Oh, and Flowers concludes her column with some typically dismissive shorthand concerning three prospective Obama nominees, as follows:

  • Elena Kagan – Flowers tells us that she, “as dean of Harvard law school, barred the military from recruiting on campus because of its ‘don't ask, don't tell’ policy” (this also tells us that Kagan was nominated by President Clinton to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1999 to replace James L. Buckley, who had taken senior status in 1996. The Senate Judiciary Committee's Republican chairman Orrin Hatch scheduled no hearing, thus killing her nomination, as the Repugs did with the other previously noted Clinton nominees).

  • Diane Wood – Flowers tells us that Wood, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, used the RICO statute against hard-line antiabortion activist Randall Terry; more on Terry is noted here (hardly fitting Flowers’ characterization of “peaceful anti-abortion protesters” and “rosary-toting grannies”).

  • Sonia Sotomayor – As Ben Smith of The Politico notes here, the wingnutosphere has launched a campaign against all three of the prospective nominees vilified here by Flowers, but the campaign against Sotomayor has been the worst, as Media Matters notes here.
  • But again, this is typical of the type of legal “analysis” generated by Flowers, also on display here in her assault on common sense in the Boumediene v. Bush ruling by the High Court.

    As a courtesy to the readers of her column, I believe the Daily News should require that Flowers tell us exactly what type of law she supposedly practices. I believe, based on her foul body of work as a columnist, she would have been perfect in the Office of Legal Counsel for Dubya’s ruling cabal.

    Perhaps her columns are her means of venting over the fact that she was denied such a particularly notorious assignment.

    Update 1: Concerning Sotomayor (based on this and this - the latter includes a dig at Wood also), I'd say it's long past the point where Jeffrey Rosen should be apologizing (haven't seen it yet).

    Update 2 5/11/09: The Inky should be reminded that, aside from presenting a progressive or Democratic response to Flowers' arguments (such as they are) out of basic fairness, it's really bad for business to ignore other points of view on this and other issues (symptomatic of our corporate media in general as noted here - and how much money did you all lose last week?).

    Thursday, May 07, 2009

    Thursday Stuff

    "Worst Persons" (Sean Inanity yammers on about a liberty apple tree or something and then criticizes Obama for a condiment choice on his burger - yeah, the right-wing nutsosphere is in their usual shorts-tightened frenzy over that, all right...wonder how the people who are really suffering in this country feel about so many calories being wasted on such utter nonsense by our media...; Billo talks about how hate-crime legislation takes us down the "slippery slope" towards legalizing pedophelia - kind of makes me recall this talking point from Pat Robertson here about gay marriage, with this being another result of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" idiocy (taking this "into the barracks" I know)...let the gays and LGBT people serve without restrictions for God's sake - Patrick Murphy said that it's insulting to our military to assume that they couldn't work with these folks..."unit cohesion" my ass; and Glenn Beck spouts the same lie of ACORN supposedly receiving funds from the stim...again...and was called out for it, and then talks trash about the guy who "served" him behind his back)...

    ...and after a bit of a break for the last couple of nights, back to some "indie" fun.

    More "Bad Blogger" BS And Fourth Estate Fiction

    (I also posted here.)

    I guess I should be a bit sympathetic to Lindsay Graham, but I really don’t feel like it.

    You see, the Repug senator from South Carolina found out here that Tom Ridge won’t run in a PA primary against Pat Toomey after all (would have been tough sledding for the former PA gov, but who knows), so he must’ve been feeling bad about that. Also, he incorrectly stated here that all GITMO detainees could be held indefinitely (wrong again – as Think Progress tells us, 17 Chinese Muslim prisoners, among others, were no longer to be regarded as such).

    But I guess what really got me stoked about Graham today was when he said the following from here…

    “If we’re going to let the bloggers run the country, then the country’s best days are behind us.”
    (I should note that those “bad bloggers” had the effrontery to actually hold Graham’s little Repug Senate play mate Jeff Sessions, who took Snarlin’ Arlen’s seat on the Judiciary Committee as ranking Repug, accountable for his past racial insensitivity, which kept him off the Federal bench in 1986 – Specter ended up casting the key “No” vote to make that happen, strangely enough.)

    But believe it or not, that wasn’t the worst commentary that I read about your humble narrator and others of my political orientation; this Washington Post story by Dana Milbank reports on the funereal atmosphere of a Senate hearing on the future of newspapers chaired by John Kerry yesterday, including the following…

    It was getting very morose. Fortunately, Kerry livened up the proceedings by inviting two accused newspaper industry killers -- Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post and Marissa Mayer of Google -- to share their views.

    "The future of quality journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers," announced Huffington, whose Web site relies on free newspaper reporting. She scolded newspapers for having the nerve to want to charge money for their products.

    Mayer, who oversees Google News, explained how "Google is doing its part" to preserve journalism -- by keeping the lion's share of ad revenue before directing readers to newspaper sites. "Google News and Google search provide a valuable service to online newspapers specifically by sending interested readers to their sites," she said.

    Oh? Let's plug in "Senate Commerce Committee 'Future of Journalism' hearing" into Google News and see what comes up. After a link to a wire story, the second headline is "Google's Mayer to Dispense Advice to Newspapers At Senate Hearing."
    You know, this is the typical big-media grousing that has, in part, led to our current sorry state.

    So it’s Google’s fault that they’re not kicking back some more dough to the WaPo as well as some of the news organizations lamented in the story? And it’s supposedly their fault also that readers may want to use their search engine to find other accounts of the Senate hearing besides the one in Milbank’s paper?

    And as we know, Milbank has never been guilty of journalistic malfeasance himself (uh, right).

    But it gets better…

    In the real world, Google and the Huffington Post are triumphing over traditional news-gathering organizations. But before the senators, Huffington and Mayer were decidedly in the minority. Newspapers, said Cardin, are "essential to a free and democratic society" and provide "much of our news that we see echoed in blogs and on the Internet."

    "The words of Joseph Pulitzer are still true -- our republic and its press will rise or fall together," Kerry concurred.

    But it was (David) Simon, (creator of the HBO series The Wire and) once a Baltimore Sun reporter, who struck the strongest blow for newspapers. Though scolding publishers for their "martyrology" and mismanagement, he spoke of how "aggregating Web sites and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary and froth" and added: "The parasite is slowly killing the host."
    Memo to self – never watch The Wire (a shame, because I've heard it's good).

    Gosh, what a charming metaphor...“the parasite is slowly killing the host.”

    I’ll tell you what I’ll do, dear reader. I’ll merely link back to this prior post if you want to read yet another rant from yours truly in defense of bloggers in general and opposing the “martyrology” (Simon is at least right about that) of our corporate media.

    Yes, there is a particular type of reporting that is more often performed by seasoned news professionals than bloggers, and that should be respected and encouraged; there are many examples, but one that comes immediately to mind is that of David Barstow of The New York Times about the conflict of interest of the military consultants used for commentary on the Iraq war (and it’s instructive that Barstow himself has said more or less that bloggers paid more attention to it that his media peers with initials for names, as noted here - Update 5/13: Hat tip to HuffPo for this, which tells us that the Pentagon withdrew its exoneration of the whole "generals as TV war analysts" program). That is something that I, for one, quite simply cannot do by virtue of ability and experience (or, at the very least, if I were to try, I would have to devote myself to it exclusively for months at the expense of all else).

    But instead of reading another one of my hissy fits in response to another unjustified slam against online miscreants such as myself, I’ll merely link to this incredibly thorough analysis of how we got to this point by Walter Pincus (h/t Atrios). He provides some illuminating reminders of what the news business once was, what it became, and what it could yet be again.

    And by the way, I should point out that, though my current blogging circumstances are fairly comfortable (if that changes, I’ll let you know), there are many, many other bloggers around the world who face imminent danger and even death threats for trying to communicate what is truly going on in countries where free speech is quashed at every opportunity.

    This Moonie Times editorial tells us what bloggers in Iran face, including Mojtaba Saminejad, who was arrested, tortured, and spent three months in solitary confinement. This story tells us how bloggers in Egypt are trying to reconcile Islamists and that country’s Democrats in uniform opposition to president Hosni Mubarak. And finally, this tells us how the Chinese blogger “Zola” is considered a “potential threat to state security” for encouraging citizen journalism and, among other things, investigating China’s “black jails.”

    There is a wealth of interesting information and viewpoints in Pincus’ CJR article, but I’ll include this excerpt since I think it’s particularly relevant (concerning what the craft of journalism is supposed to be about and why it motivates people to do good work)…

    Newspapers across the U.S. were often begun by pamphleteers, political parties, or businessmen who wanted to get involved in local, state, or even national affairs. The founding editors of The New York Times started that newspaper as supporters of the Whig party and later switched to the Republican party. Adolph Ochs, who bought the Times in 1896, was helped in his negotiations by a letter from President Grover Cleveland, who wrote that Ochs’s management of The Chattanooga Times had “demonstrated such a faithful adherence to Democratic principles that I would be glad to see you in a larger sphere of usefulness.” The Washington Post’s publisher Phil Graham helped put Lyndon Johnson on the ticket with John F. Kennedy.

    They used their presses to influence government, but that is what the founding fathers contemplated when they wrote the First Amendment. The idea was that citizens in a democracy were to read more than one paper or pamphlet, weigh all opinions and facts as presented, and make up their own minds.

    Today, mainstream print and electronic media want to be neutral, presenting both or all sides as if they were refereeing a game in which only the players—the government and its opponents—can participate. They have increasingly become common carriers, transmitters of other people’s ideas and thoughts, irrespective of import, relevance, and at times even accuracy.
    In whatever form, advocacy of an issue, cause, or political opinion will exist in this country for as long as there is a means to freely communicate (I cannot imagine that we wouldn’t be able to do so – I don’t want to imagine what kind of country this would be if we couldn’t). People like Graham (an admitted partisan), Milbank, Simon and others surely know that this will take place with or without their help.

    Even if it’s accomplished by a bunch of “parasites.”

    Update 5/11/09: Yet again, what kos sez (he's been spot-on with his recent comments on "dead-tree media"...and yes, Howie Kurtz really is an idiot).

    Wednesday, May 06, 2009

    Wednesday Stuff

    "Worst Persons" (that supposed political genius Karl Rove, whose party has had its proverbial clock cleaned in the last two elections, lectures Obama on naming the "right" Supreme Court nominee, forgetting completely the fiasco with Harriet Miers, dubbed by Bill Maher as Hazel The Cleaning Lady; Bill Orally tries to use the excuse of Bruce Springsteen paying homage to Pete Seeger as another moment of supposed America-hating by "the radical left," or whatever Fix Noise is calling us this week; but the winner (speaking of the Faux TV Nutwork) is Rupert Murdoch, whose media holdings in News Corp are sinking like the proverbial stone...aaaarrgghh, avast ye maties - swab the poopdeck lest ye all walk the plank!!)...

    ...and speaking also of The Boss, this song was always a "fave" of mine; I only saw it on a five-disc live album in the '80s, though it sadly is every bit as topical today as it was then.

    This Little Piggy Pundit Went A-Wanking…

    (I also posted here.)

    Leave it to Bret Stephens of the Murdoch Street Journal here to poke fun over the fact that some public figures, as well as entire countries, went more than a little bonkers over the recent swine flu outbreak…

    In the matter of swine flu -- and the single dumbest response to it yet -- first prize was about to go to the government of Egypt, which last week ordered a cull of the country's estimated 400,000 pigs, never mind that the disease, name notwithstanding, is mainly transmitted human-to-human.

    So that leaves the runners-up: protectionist Russia, which used the flu panic to ban pork imports from Spain and Canada; U.S. immigration restrictionists, who see in the "Mexican flu" a fresh reason to argue for a wall along the border; and panicky Joe Biden, who unwittingly made the case against Amtrak ("I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now") until his handlers interceded. Who knew Mr. Biden was talking about himself when he warned last year that Barack Obama would be tested by crisis early in his presidency?
    Just for that, I hope someone feeling poorly coughs his or her germs all over Stephens, just enough to make him violently ill for a day or so, and then maybe it will occur to him not to be such a smartass next time when it comes to trying to avoid one of the easiest ways to get sick.

    And I’m a little surprised that Stephens forgot to note in his screed yesterday that China showed its typical hysteria in the face of near-calamity by detaining 70 Mexicans who showed no sign of the virus, and were only “guilty” of being nationals from the country where the outbreak originated. That information is captured in this CBS News story, which also tells us…

    It's certainly safe to say that the media have not shown much restraint in covering a flu that reporters have been all-too-happy to characterize as "deadly." Yet the press did not create the story out of thin air: The World Health Organization and Centers For Disease Control have been offering stark warnings about the disease from the outset. When the WHO suggests that a "pandemic is imminent," as it did last week, headlines are going to follow.

    And despite the fact that the story has gotten less play this week, the world is not exactly in the clear. The biggest problem with media coverage of the flu, in fact, may be that reporters haven't always informed news consumers that the danger isn't necessarily only in the short term. The 1918 Spanish flu outbreak killed millions around the globe, but it didn't look so bad when it first emerged in the spring. By August, however, it had mutated to a far deadlier form.
    (And by the way, the CBS story had the number of destroyed Egyptian pigs at 300,000, for what it’s worth.)

    I believe this is just another case where we must remain vigilant and use common sense in the event that the flu does mutate; there’s really not much else we can do at this point (and this extract of a Journal story tells us that “testing for flu in pigs less stringent than for mad cow or bird flu”).

    And speaking of mad cow, I just want to return to Stephens’ column for a minute and highlight the following…

    You might also have a vague memory of the "mad cow" panic that gripped the world in the 1990s. In his 1997 book "Deadly Feasts," Richard Rhodes warned that the human variant of mad cow, known as vCJD, might kill as many as 500,000 people a year in Britain alone. So far, total confirmed cases world-wide run to around 150.
    I don’t know where on earth Stephens obtained that 150 number, but this January 2008 article tells us, among other things, that 160 people have died from “mad cow” in the U.K. alone.

    To be more precise, the danger from “mad cow” is that it will mutate into Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which, as Wikipedia tells us here, is marked by a buildup of abnormal prion proteins in the brain that kill the nerve cells (truly hideous stuff, people), and it is always fatal. It currently afflicts one in a million people worldwide.

    And as we contemplate this, let us also applaud the call from President Obama for noting the following from here, in which he speaks about the appointment of Dr. Margaret Hamburg as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration…

    …in recent years, we've seen a number of problems with the food making its way to our kitchen tables. In 2006, it was contaminated spinach. In 2008, it was salmonella in peppers and possibly tomatoes. And just this year, bad peanut products led to hundreds of illnesses and cost nine people their lives - a painful reminder of how tragic the consequences can be when food producers act irresponsibly and government is unable to do its job. Worse, these incidents reflect a troubling trend that's seen the average number of outbreaks from contaminated produce and other foods grow to nearly 350 a year - up from 100 a year in the early 1990s.

    Part of the reason is that many of the laws and regulations governing food safety in America have not been updated since they were written in the time of Teddy Roosevelt. It's also because our system of inspection and enforcement is spread out so widely among so many people that it's difficult for different parts of our government to share information, work together, and solve problems. And it's also because the FDA has been underfunded and understaffed in recent years, leaving the agency with the resources to inspect just 7,000 of our 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses each year. That means roughly 95% of them go uninspected.
    And as we ponder how we got this sorry state (wow, glad to hear that everything is going swimmingly at 5 PERCENT of these operations!!!), here is some reading material from Greg Anrig at The American Prospect who lays the blame at the feet of the usual right-wing suspects for the FDA's decline (think of The Sainted Ronnie R and his “son,” as Will Bunch calls him)…

    Charting the phases of the FDA's decline lays bare the responsibility borne by movement conservatism. The first phase was the two terms of the Reagan presidency, when the FDA's staff declined by 30 percent. After a reprieve from 1988 to 1994, when more moderate presidents and a Democratic Congress provided ample boosts in the agency's budget and staffing, the FDA's garroting resumed with a vengeance in the wake of the 1994 Republican landslide that catapulted Gingrich to the House Speaker's chair. He led a highly effective jihad against the agency, pushing to privatize many of its activities. The onslaught continued under George W. Bush and the Republican Congress. From 1994 to 2007, according to former FDA chief counsel (Peter Barton) Hutt, the agency's appropriated personnel declined from 9,167 to 7,856, while its funding increased by only two-thirds of the amount that would have been needed to keep up with inflation.

    As with virtually every other regulatory agency under Bush, the FDA henhouse has been guarded by foxes. That is, for top leadership positions the administration chose political appointees with close ties to the industries they regulate. That strategy of stifling nonpolitical career civil servants, not incidentally, conforms with recommendations the Heritage Foundation made to Bush at the outset of his term. One example at the FDA was chief counsel Dan Troy, a longtime opponent of FDA regulation who had previously represented Pfizer.
    So let us now applaud and support the Obama Administration as it does all it can to enable the FDA to work proactively once more for the sake of not just human health in this country, but worldwide by ensuring the safety of our drugs and our food products.

    And I’ll make sure I check back with Bret Stephens in August to make sure he’s still feeling OK enough to throw stones at people who are actually trying to do good work.

    Update 5/11/09: By the way, I didn't mean to imply that the "swine flu" is spread through food - it isn't (sorry about that).

    Tuesday, May 05, 2009

    Tuesday Stuff

    I thought this was an appropriate item from the Onion News Network, in light of some recent wacky rulings by The Supremes on "indecency" that I commented on here (and I don't think there's that much satire about the pundits here; might as well be a documentary for some of them)...

    Study: Children Exposed To Pornography May Expect Sex To Be Enjoyable

    ...and if you're looking for wackiness, then it's time for "Worst Persons" (first up is President Obama, shockingly enough - yes, I'm a liberal and I can still criticize him - for screwing up the whole "cinco de mayo" thing...but for real, dude, this is bad news; and it wouldn't be "Worst Persons" with a nightly visit with Michele Bachmann, would it now...sounds like she should've been a panelist in the previous Onion spoof with this one; but Laura Ingraham takes it as she fills in for Billo and whines about why poor, put-upon Carrie Prejean with her pageant-pre-paid boob job isn't being befriended by the feminists while she shills for the National Organization of Marriage With Our Nice-Sounding Title Even Though It's Trying To Hide That We're All About Hating Teh Gay, OK?...uh, still waiting for that apology to The Dixie Chicks from you and that nematode Toby Keith - Meghan McCain can fend for herself here)...

    ...and on the occasion of the 90th birthday of Pete Seeger, he tells us a tale of northern racism in 1949 here...

    ...and by the way, speaking of you-know-who...

    J.D. The "Money Scold" Chides Us Again

    Much like he did in two highly misinformed columns on what he considers to be a supposed lack of suffering in “the Great Recession” here, J.D. Mullane of the Bucks County Courier Times has spent his last two columns conducting some truly threadbare “research” into another root cause of our economic difficulty, and that is consumer credit card debt.

    See, J.D. claims here and here (with the help of some individuals who, in a con-vee-nient circumstance, turn out to be highly sympathetic to his point of view) that those carrying excessive card balances have only themselves to blame for “(spending) way over their means” (the quote comes from a Mullane interviewee who manages a collection agency – uh, can someone please explain to me why he would have a different point of view from Bucks County’s resident big mouth? And "Middle America"? Could we be more jingoistic?)

    I’m sure there are individuals who fall into the category Mullane describes, but as usual in columns like these where a clueless pundit tries to weave his ideological dross into gold, the most interesting remarks are in the comments (in this case, buried beneath some other truly hideous ramblings), and here is a noteworthy one…

    If I took the time to do some homework, I could find plenty of examples of waste under Reagan (J.D.’s hero – ed.). Waste doesn't respect political boundaries. Never has. Never will.

    As for JD's premise, methinks he's focusing on the exceptions rather than the rule. The Credit Card Bill of Rights isn't intended to protect deadbeats (although certainly they may benefit). I don't know anyone who has much sympathy for those in trouble because they spent much more than they are able to repay. But double cycle billing is a sham, pure and simple. My credit card company pulled that garbage on me once, simply because one month right after Christmas I didn't pay my balance in full, which I usually do, and instead paid about 75% of the full amount due, but still much more than the minimum.

    Also, a year or so ago Citi tried to raise my interest rate without notifying me. Huh? I've never once been late with a payment in 22 years. My FICO score is over 800. Yet they slipped that little tidbit in my bill without any type of heads-up. That's duplicitous at best. If I hadn't read some fine print, I never would have noticed. All it took to get my prior interest rate restored was a phone call threatening to cancel my account. But I shouldn't have had to do that. How many people don't read the fine print on their bills?

    I would advise anyone who really thinks the Credit Card Bill of Rights is a problem to read Bob Sullivan's Red Tape consumer advocate columns on
    I reject Mullane’s argument here for the same reason that I reject the arguments of those who opposed the recent “cramdown” legislation that died in the Senate, despite Dick Durbin’s heroic efforts; yes, there are people out there who bought houses to “flip” them only or those who walked away from homes for which they had no business even qualifying for a mortgage (and how exactly does the lender get punished in a situation like that?), just like there are those who abused their plastic beyond all reason.

    But the housing “bubble” was purposely inflated by bad financial and government actors who took many consumers down with them who sought nothing except the benefit of home ownership that they expected to support through their hard work. And then they lost their jobs, so they had to borrow against their cards to pay for it (or for their health insurance, which is a whole other story).

    Or, as note here (in an October 2008 post concerning the infamous 2005 Bankruptcy Law)…

    As the law moves into its fourth year of implementation, critics are clamoring louder than ever for a do-over on bankruptcy laws -- or at least a patch to fix problems that have come to light in the three years since its inception.

    "There's a fair amount of pent up anger over the impact of the bankruptcy law on consumer debtors," says Sam Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute, a nonpartisan bankruptcy information and education group.

    "Three years later, the law did nothing to fix the underlying problem. There's still the same amount of distress in the American middle class," says Bob Lawless, a bankruptcy expert and University of Illinois law professor. Lawless has analyzed bankruptcy filing data and predicts, at the current pace of nearly 4,500 filings per business day in September 2008, the total number of filings will reach 1.2 million in 2009 (See chart). "That doesn't account for the economic conditions we're having and we all know we're in bad shape."

    Key reasons for concern about rising bankruptcy trends include:

  • The economy. Rising job loss as the economy spirals into what economists currently call a "mild recession" will almost certainly nudge bankruptcies upward.

  • Declining home values. For many years, consumers relied on home equity lines of credit (or HELOCs) to pay down credit card debt. But declining home values have nearly wiped out equity in millions of homes and closed the door on a key alternative to bankruptcy.

  • The credit crunch. Wall Street's financial woes and bank failures have already started to trickle down to Main Street as bankers have tightened credit standards for all forms of borrowing, including credit cards. Banks typically charge off unpaid credit card debts after 180 days of nonpayment. However, they must write off the debts much sooner (after only 60 days) when borrowers file for bankruptcy. Because bankruptcies are trending upward, Innovest, a New York-based investment research firm, is projecting higher than normal charge-off rates (as much as 10 percent compared to 5 percent or 6 percent) come the first quarter of 2009. In addition, the banking industry has said credit card regulation expected by year's end from the Federal Reserve may lead to higher interest rates and less credit available for credit card users.

  • Credit cards as family lifeline. Higher food, gas, health care and utility costs have forced many families and people on fixed incomes to put basic living expenses on credit cards that they aren't paying off each month. This trend, say financial planners and credit counselors, is a train wreck waiting to happen with bankruptcy as the most likely conclusion.

  • "A 'perfect storm' has occurred," notes Todd Ossenfort, chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling, a national credit counseling service based in Rapid City, S.D. "Now the house of cards is coming tumbling down."
    Hey, if Mullane can quote a collection agent on other people’s supposed financial irresponsibility, the least I can do in response is quote a credit counselor telling us that many people did the right thing, but got screwed over anyway.

    All of this ultimately has to do with the Credit Card “Bill of Rights,” as alluded to in the prior comment on the Mullane column, which, as noted here…

    ...would level the playing field between card issuers and cardholders by applying common-sense regulations to ban retroactive interest rate hikes on existing balances, double-cycle billing, and due-date gimmicks. It would also improve the advance notice of impending rate hikes, giving cardholders the information they need and rights to make decisions about their financial lives.

    According to a recent Pew study, 100 percent of the 400 types of credit cards reviewed contained in its terms at least one of the practices that have been found by the Federal Reserve to be unfair and deceptive. And 93 percent of the cards studied by Pew allowed for any-time, any-reason repricing, allowing an issuer to hike up the APR on a consumer's credit card even if they've never missed a payment.
    And just to tell you how much our supposed financial geniuses still call the shots on Capitol Hill despite their epochal blundering, someone trying to do the right thing in our name (Dick Durbin, again) can only try to get a ceiling of credit card interest rates at no less 36 percent.

    But I’m sure this is still too much for J.D.’s brand of penury. I can hardly wait for future columns in which he’ll call for a return to the stockade for “deadbeats” (and let’s not forget “hippie protestors” too, another fave Mullane target – wonder if he thinks thumbscrews are enough of a punishment?).

    Monday, May 04, 2009

    Monday Stuff

    I definitely like what Barney Frank has to say here, and I hope he can pull it off (might be tough with Bayh and his lackeys in the Senate); nice job by Fareed Zakaria to act like an adult and actually participate in the conversation also (he's capable of wankery to be sure, but on balance, he has more brains that most of his ideological brethren)...

    ...meanwhile, in "reality avoidance" land (here)...

    ...and I thought this was an interesting Rachel Maddow interview with Professor Jeffrey Rosen of George Washington University about retiring Supreme Court justice David Souter and his reactions to the Bush v. Gore travesty, as well as about what Obama may be looking for in a potential nominee to replace him...

    Update 5/5/09: Sounds like Rosen has some 'splainin' to do based on this (h/t Atrios)...

    ...and time to "rock between the rain drops."

    "Joke Line" Returns Lamenting "More Jack And Less Dick"

    (I also posted here.)

    I had a feeling that somehow, in the midst of the eulogies for Jack Kemp, the former football player, U.S. House rep, HUD secretary, and failed presidential and vice-presidential candidate, one of the members of our punditocracy was going to put his or her foot in it, so to speak. And sure enough, Joke Line did just that here (though he did manage to end his post with the phrase I used in the title, so he wins back points for cleverness, as in the Repugs need more Kemp and less Cheney, which I suppose is also debatable).

    First, though, I should be gracious and extend sympathies to Kemp’s family and friends. Now that that’s dispensed, let’s check out what the esteemed Time journo has to say…

    Kemp was, in a way, the John Edwards of the Republican Party--without Edwards' personal problems, of course.
    I have to admit that I’m a little fatigued with the knowledge that the media shorthand for John Edwards has pretty much been enshrined in stone by now ($400 haircut/fancy house/hedge fund/ambulance chaser/skirt chaser/cheated on cancer-stricken wife), and I could write a hundred well-researched posts and barely put a dent into that. And short of Edwards renouncing his hard-earned wealth and notoriety (which he still deserves in spite of everything) and living out of a box or a hovel in the Ninth Ward somewhere, I don’t know how he’s going to do that either.

    But Edwards highlighted poverty during his most recent (and, in all probability, final) presidential campaign, as noted here; he was also the first presidential candidate to repudiate his former support for the Iraq war and present a serious health care plan (here).

    And to compare him with a recently departed former NFL quarterback who, probably more than anyone else, enshrined the tax cut mantra into the Republican Party consciousness for all time (which they milked for maximum political effect, to the eternal detriment of this entire country for who knows how long) and, despite his professed claims to the contrary, really didn’t give a damn about minorities and others in difficult circumstances except to toss them an odd “block grant” or two which generated headlines but nothing else of substance (as noted here - NY Times content from '89), is particularly disingenuous.

    Kemp really never let anything get in the way of his tax cut mantra (as Will Bunch notes in his book, the first Reagan tax cut was authored by Kemp and former Delaware senator Bill Roth, and after it was signed into law, the recession gripping the economy then as now deepened and unemployment spiked) and I think it’s just another example of typical big media hagiography to act as if Kemp were truly a “compassionate conservative.”

    Indeed, as Media Matters captured here, Kemp criticized the Kerry/Edwards presidential campaign in 2004 for trying to roll back those idiotic estate tax cuts (gee, wonder how much better off we would’ve been if more people had listened to the two Dems?). Kemp got a pass from our corporate media cousins because he used to play football, and I think he used his formidable intellect to incorporate his experience with primarily African-American players to learn how to develop a language that “talked the talk” on housing and other “hot button” economic issues impacting the poor, though Kemp never “walked the walk” to back up his rosy rhetoric (being a tried and true Reaganite – and a movement conservative at heart, I would argue – he could never comprehend government by itself as an answer to anything).

    And if Kemp was bad on domestic policy, he was worse on foreign policy; as Think Progress tells us here, Kemp said Dems Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were “sad, hypocritical and pathetic” for supporting Ned Lamont in his successful Democratic senatorial primary bid in Connecticut in 2006.

    So Kemp criticized the Dems for supporting an anti-Iraq war candidate, even though Kemp escaped military service from a “knee problem” which still did not bar him from playing for eight years in the National Football League, as noted here. Is that about right?

    Oh, and Kemp (who was called “unmanageable” as a candidate because he ignored timers on his speeches, refused to call contributors, and refused to practice for debates, as noted here) once called for the firing of Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz who didn’t properly support the Strategic Defense Initiative as well as “freedom fighters” in Nicaragua and Afghanistan as far as Kemp was concerned (all of which represented stupendous wastes of resources by this country, to say nothing of sewing the seeds of our present misery, particularly in Afghanistan).

    Oh, and just for good measure, Kemp claimed here that Hillary Clinton and President Obama wanted to “halt trade with Mexico” (please).

    Strangely, though, he ended up being prescient on the plight of his party, stating as follows from here (though he had no answers that could be crafted into policy or legislation, of course)…

    “The party of Lincoln,” (Kemp) wrote after the 2008 election, “needs to rethink and revisit its historic roots as a party of emancipation, liberation, civil rights and equality of opportunity for all.”
    Spoken like a Repug who had long since shed the cloak of social moderation, fiscal conservatism and international isolation that formerly adorned his party in favor of the ideology that has poisoned their “brand” for the foreseeable future (blame “the usual suspects” once more, starting with Arthur Laffer, Ayn Rand, Buckley, etc.).

    To me, using gridiron parlance Kemp would know, his political career was an incomplete “Hail Mary” pass. And as is the case with most politicians, his audience knew the score of the metaphorical game better than he ever did.