Bending the Third Rail
Because We Should, We Can, We Do
Friday, June 30, 2006
The Velvet Revolution
Bonus Quote of the Day

"John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it."

-Andrew Jackson

What is most astounding about the entire Bush administration is to realize just how far we've fallen. The fact that few have confidence that Bush will actually respect the rule of law harkens back to the very beginnings of the Supreme Court. There won't be any "in your face" showdown with the Supremes. Rather, as I said below, Bush and the Rethugicans will quietly find a way to totally ignore the Hamdan ruling and do whatever they damned well please.

Some folks are expressing confidence and elation that the rule of law has been upheld. I don't hold such confidence. And worse, I have fears about the precedent of Bush's behavior on future Presidents, no matter what the party or ideological proclivities.
Quote of the Day
"Scientists and climatologists are looking at one another and we're just stunned because no one, even in the 1990s, projected the magnitude of the storms and degree of warming in the Arctic that we are seeing."—Paul Epstein, associate director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment
Link here.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Net, We Hardly Knew ya
The Senate Commerce Committee, splitting 11 to 11 and therefore rejecting compromise language, set the stage for a carrier-controlled Internet. If the bill passes the Senate and is signed by the President, you can kiss the Net you know "goodbye." Farewell, open networks and open standards. Soon every packet will be subject to inspection and surcharges based on what it carries and who sent it or where it is going.

Full article here.
Lots of trumpeting and such about the big Supreme Court smackdown of Bush. I'll encourage you to read the details above as Glenn does a superb job covering the details.

The decision is no surprise and is a follow up to the original GITMO smackdown awhile back. But the that's not the important question. The important question is what Bush will do. He ignored them the last time the Supremes waved their fingers, thus the current case. I suspect he'll ignore them again finding some fast and loose way to passive/aggressively defy the decision.

Balls in Congresses court. And we know what they'll do with it.
Data Mining
I have no idea how I got on a data mining company's email list but this came from ipdgroup today:

WASHINGTON, June 29 -- An odd thing seems to have happened to the mighty right-wing talking head media juggernaut. They are still talking, but fewer people seem to be listening---at least on the Internet., which is owned and operated by, tracks online usage for all web sites, large and small. At you can check a site's activity up to the minute, or follow its trail back for many years.

As President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress continue to hit sour notes in published polls, I wondered how their back up singers in the right-wing media might be faring with the same public. Not well, it turns out.

During the past 3 months, for instance, traffic ranking has declined 18%. He still huffs and puffs away daily on radio, but advertisers might want to double check the size of his audience. If the bottom has dropped out on him online, it likely has had a similar trend line with his radio show.

Even Fox News, that gold standard of right-wing media, is down 13%. Here are the numbers, see:

Ann Coulter is coining money by attacking widows and orphans---a new game for her since she's run out of Democrats, living and dead, to defame and verbally pillage. You would think all of the attention the promotion of her new book has given her would raise visitor numbers at her web site, Nope. Traffic there is down 10%.

The audience chart reversal seems to be common across the entire right-wing side of the Internet viewing board. has dropped 40% in the past 3 months., that once popular center for right-wing news and commentary, has fallen by 24%. is down by 27%. And how about Matt Drudge, once the hottest right-wing name in Internet sites? says is down 21%.

Could it be that Internet users are getting tired of political sites in general? Maybe so. But is up 13% in the same period.
Give this a listen.

It's a NY Times reporting discussing a farewell to a fallen soldier in Ramadi, the "peaceful" part of Iraq. Note the gunfire during the report.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Quote of the Day
Digby on Druggie Limbaugh and his "Oprah Moment":
Here's he is, an impotent, thrice divorced, ex-drug addict, conservative, parolee who went on a sex tour in the Caribbean and found himself rudely embarrassed for carrying recreational prescription drugs in his doctor's name. Who can't relate to that?

Barack "the pious" Obama is really starting to piss me off.

The fair haired golden boy of the Democratic party is sounding more like Joe Lieberman all the time. Now he's the religious conscience of the Democratic party:
Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats on Wednesday for failing to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people," and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.
Dear Mr. Obama. Are you still a member of the "Democratic Party" of which you criticize? Can you please cite for me the party officials, leaders, or even members in good standing who have publically and with any influence suggested that we should not "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people"?

Obama not only amplifies the false meme about Dems, he continues to demonstrate that ham-handed political skills seem to be part of learning politics in the Senate. I've said it before, the Senate will ruin Obama.

As Matt Stoller said of Obama's statement:
It's totally true. You can't swing a dead cat in this country without hitting a generic secularist who's all like 'Stop praying, weirdo', before handing out a Democratic voter registration card.

Thank you, Obama, for taking on this critical yet vulnerable stereotype, and reinforcing it with moral security measures.
No wonder Democrats keep losing.
Good Questions
If you've been reading this, and many other blogs, you are fully aware of Bush's "signing statements". These signings are his disagreements with legislation that he is signing, legislation passed by both houses of Congress. Signing statements are not new by any stretch. But Bush has had more of them by far than anyone else.

Given the influence of Edgar Bergen, and given Bush's behavioral history, there is much suspicion that the puppet President is using the statements to ignore the legislation (aka, a dictatorship). This is all old news that has apparently finally come to the attention of Two-Faced-Spectre and some in the media. In today's column, Dan Froomkin asks the key questions:
It's still not really clear what Bush's signing statements amount to. Are they just a bunch of harmless boilerplate inserted into the Federal Register, as the White House is increasingly arguing -- or are they a sign of a massive encroachment on the separation of powers, as critics increasingly fear?

I've put together a pretty extensive review of what we know -- and more significantly, what we don't know and should know -- about signing statements over at my other Web site,

Yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearing on the subject -- a wee glimmer of oversight from an otherwise submissive Congress -- shed a tiny bit of light on the topic.

But for all of Bush's talk of government transparency, the White House is keeping this issue intentionally murky.

That, and the media's coverage of the actual workings of the executive branch pretty much stinks. So much attention is focused on the White House and its nonstop media events and nonanswers -- or on the occasional executive-branch crisis -- that the actual mechanisms of government, and the effect that Bush's tenure has had on them, has gone dramatically undercovered.

Consider, for instance, how little you've read about the effect on the federal government of incompetent political appointees. See Princeton University Professor David Lewis on NiemanWatchdog.

Similarly, how the agencies actually execute -- or fail to execute -- the laws passed by Congress is a bit of a mystery these days.

Is Bush using signing statements simply to record his reservations about the constitutionality of certain provisions -- while enforcing them, nonetheless? Or is he in fact using them to unilaterally ignore laws he doesn't like?

This is discoverable -- through reporting.

But the only attempt I've seen thus far, by Brian Friel in the National Journal, was inconclusive.
Froomkin highlights a classic example of the vacuum left by the media. Through corporatization, layoffs and a bottom-line mentality, journalists simply don't do the kind of reporting that is necessary to maintain a democracy.

Yet, these same journalists become cheesed-off when citizens do it. I've not written of it, but the shit has been flying between "journalists" and various bloggers over their roles, with journalist claiming that accurate investigative reporting is their domain. One of the larger criticisms by bloggers is that the mainstream media has abandoned investigative reporting, so they'll do it.

So it's not surprising that, right right on cue, here's the beginnings of a real investigation on Bush's signing statements. And it's being done by Joyce Green of Oklahoma. From Eric Alterman's blog:
Patriot, Joyce Green of Oklahoma writes me:
Mr. Alterman:

I have been reading media and legal materials (including your piece, “Think Again: Signing the Constitution Away,” at the Center for American Progress), here, about the unitary executive and the Bush administration’s use of presidential signing statements. I think this is an important topic.

Therefore, I have collected all presidential signing statements from January 19, 2001, through June 12, 2006, and posted a temporary webpage that provides full text of all the bill signing statements issued by President George W. Bush. By setting out the full text of the signing statements, this Web page should remedy complaints that the statements are difficult to find. To help readers verify text, the Web site also provides links to the full text of the same documents at the White House and Government Printing Office (GPO) Web sites.

The Web site also provides links to the full text of the laws that are the subject of signing statements.

I am contacting law schools, scholars, attorneys, and commentators, hoping to find a permanent home for this Web page. Please feel free to pass the URLs to others who may be interested in either: (1) giving this information a permanent home on the Web, or (2) using the information (including stealing and distributing it).

The main URLS are:

* Full Annotated Text of all PSSs
* Full Unannotated Text of All PSSs
* Index to PSSs

I hope that the Web site will: (1) help scholars and commentators write intelligently and authoritatively about presidential signing statements and the unitary executive, and (2) save attorneys a great deal of time rooting these statements (and the laws to which they apply) out of the GPO and White House websites.

The site is not pretty, but it is useful.

In sum, I want to give this information to someone else. My offer is free to any taker.

Thank you for your time. I enjoyed your article and have linked to it on my site. I appreciate your writing well on such an important topic.

This, not from the WaPo or NY Times or even the Wall Street Journal, but from Joyce Green of Oklahoma. And given the megaphone of Eric Alterman, I suspect that bloggers will now be combing the information for clues.

Maybe nothing comes of it. That's the case with a whole lot of investigative reporting. But the fact that it's being done is crucial to the checks on government control. And it's high time that journalists get off their high horses and either a) do the work or b) get off the back of those who are doing the work.
You Piss Me Off So Pass The Spray
There are a few times in my life when I could have seriously used a dose of this:
TUESDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- A nasal spray containing a "love hormone" may actually help defuse marital squabbles, scientists reported Tuesday.

The hormone, oxytocin, which has been linked with the ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people, appears to cut stress during tense social situations or conflict, the researchers told a news conference.
I can remember any number of marital therapy sessions where a good misting of both clients would have been quite helpful.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I Got A Good Question For Ya
If the war is going so well, why are the costs accelerating?

In a new report, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service says the U.S. military is now spending about $9.7 billion a month on Iraq and Afghanistan -- about $2 billion a month more than in 2005 and about $4 billion a month more than in 2004. As the National Journal's subscription-only Congress Daily reports, the CRS analysts are "a bit mystified" as to why the costs are increasing so dramatically; operating and maintenance costs, higher gas prices, more body armor and training expenses are all factors, but the analysts say they're not enough to explain the size of the increases they're seeing.
Boner Man

Shamelessly copied from Jesus General.
Off The Hook

The Marine who sang "Hadji Girl" to a cheering crowd of military personnel is off the hook.

The song, which celebrated and made fun of the slaughter in Haditha, was widely distributed on the internet. I found it to be just another example of America's disdain for humanity and Muslim human's specifically. It was yet another bit of recruiting video for terrorists as well.
Interesting News
Hillary Clinton has pretty much ignored the blogosphere so far. Until now that is:
Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) re-election campaign has hired Peter Daou, "one of the most prominent political bloggers in the nation, to help disseminate her message in a forum that has not always been that hospitable to her," the New York Times reports. "The move underscores the degree to which bloggers... have begun to transform American politics."
Peter Daou is a fine writer and blogger and will be quite an addition to the Hillary team. But Hillary needs to realize that entering the blogosphere doesn't mean acceptance. She is widely disliked by many prominent liberal bloggers because of her Republican lite stands on many issues, particularly the Iraq war. The deeper issue is her long standing ties to the DLC and it's "centrists" (Republican lites). The battle within the Democratic party is in full swing with brush fires periodically breaking out (witness the recent dustup between Kos and The New Republic).

The upcoming primary season for 2008 is going to be bloody, probably in both parties. But all in all, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. Turmoil can lead to creativity and change. And there is no doubt that both are needed in the current political and governmental atmosphere.
Poll Stuff
I heard, in two distinct news reports yesterday, that Bush has had a "bump up" in the polls. Both reports gave a cautiously upbeat report on improvement in Bush numbers.

Of course, the reality is slightly different:
A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds President Bush's approval rating at 37%, dipping slighly from two weeks ago. However, the percentage of Americans who say the president has "a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq" has dropped to 31%, a new low.

Meanwhile, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Bush's approval rating at 38%. "But the survey offered some hopeful signs for Bush and the Republicans as they prepare for the midterm elections. The big advantage that Democrats held on virtually every major issue has narrowed or reversed."

However, in the generic congressional ballot, Democrats continue to hold an advantage with 52% saying they'll vote for a Democratic congressional candidate and 39% saying they'll vote Republican.
I don't know this for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that all the numbers cited above are within the margin of error since the previous poll. If so, nothing has really changed in the public perception. But it is summer, and the news flunkies have to try and find something. What they really need is a good "missing white woman story" to spice up the summer for the interns left covering the news desks.

As far as polls. I'm not taking any polling very seriously. Summertime polls are notoriously volatile and unrealiable as voters are on "summer vacation". Polling done after Labor Day should begin to get interesting in terms of the midterm elections. And god only knows what havoc Bush will have wrought by then.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Druggie Limbaugh UPDATED
Busted at Palm Beach International Airport with illegal perscription drugs?

Some guys will do anything to get it up. Sure hope they found some pain killers.

Updated: Too bad. Looks like he just took some hard-on drug with him to the Dominican Republic. Wonder what he'd need that for?
Did you know that the more older brothers you have, the more likely you are to be gay?
Researchers have known for years that a man's likelihood of being gay rises with the number of older biological brothers. But the new study found that the so-called "fraternal birth order effect" persists even if gay men were raised away from their biological families.

Study author Anthony F. Bogaert said the findings add to a growing body of evidence that links homosexuality to nature, not nurture.

"The research suggests that the development of sexual orientation is influenced before birth," said Bogaert, a professor of community health sciences at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.
Wonder how many times these boys need to take showers with their manly man daddy's to change that wiring?
This, my friends, is absolutely priceless and will be legendary if Lamont wins.

Click here.
It seems as if the main stories of the day are becoming quite repetitive. Whether it's another atrocity in Iraq, or the Mayor of Kabul under seige, more death in Iraq, or another Bush invasion of civil liberties, it gets increasingly difficult to see any of these stories as "interesting". I think trauma fatigue may be setting in.

I know it's very important to keep up the focus on these important stories. And I'll certainly work to do so. But I just noticed that as I read through the usual mess this morning it was hard to get the rant up.

One post did catch my eye. On Digby's site, Tristero quotes Bob Herbert as asking (paraphrasing), when will American's get tired of all the crap going on? I felt a certain dispair at reading this as I think it's like negative campaigning. Whenever the issue of negative campaign ads is polled, it comes up a loser. But campaigns turn to negative ads as soon as they are in trouble.


Because it works.

Appealling to emotions is always a political winner even if the emotions brought forth are negative. As the public adapts to the stimulation at one level, it's time to up the level of emotional stimulation. Thus, four years ago the idea of torture was appalling while today it's commonplace. Atrocities committed at Haditha that might have seemed terrible are becoming commonplace and back page news. This is how a "moral" public can become complicit in something like mass genocide, i.e. gassing Jews in concentration camps.

I pray that the mid-term elections actually make a change in course possible. I further hope that the leaders of the future don't choose to "build" on the precedents of the Bush administration. If Bush and Edgar Bergen never get held accountable in some fashion, that's a real danger and an unfortunate likelihood.

Here's to crossing your fingers as the very foundations of our society balance on the head of a pin.
Nation-Free Zone
More and more I see nations becoming irrelevent and governments in place simply to enforce the will of corporations.
A new uranium plant is to be built in New Mexico (emphasis mine):

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its first license for a major commercial nuclear facility in 30 years Friday, allowing an international consortium to build what would be the nation's first private fuel source for commercial nuclear power plants.

Back when I was growing up I used to believe that Americans ran this country. We were referred to as 'workers' not 'consumers'. We invested in our country with our toil and dollars. Now we are selling off pieces of our country one portion at a time. We are handing over control of our infrastructure, our government, our lives to people in other parts of the world. When others call the shots here, when others do the work we used to do and produce the goods we used to produce, what is it exactly that makes this "America"? Is it even still important to maintain a national identity?

Then there is the possibility of the threat to the people of New Mexico:

Critics argued that disposal costs could leave New Mexico stuck with the project's nuclear waste. But the board ruled May 31 that uncertainties over waste disposal costs are irrelevant; the agreement with New Mexico calls for hundreds of millions of dollars to be set aside for waste disposal.

The plant would generate a form of waste that no U.S. disposal site can handle, and no U.S. processing facility exists that can convert the waste into lower-level radioactive material. The plant could run at full capacity for eight to 10 years before running out of onsite space for the material. LES has an agreement with a French company to build such a plant in this country, but no site has been selected and no license has been issued.

Uncertainties over waste disposal costs are irrelevant? How about a tad more truth: uncertainties over waste disposal are irrelevant since the people who live in the area are irrelevant. The costs don't matter when the fact remains that this waste is not safe anywhere.

How about if we bury it in Crawford, Texas?

The article also underscores for me the death of education and opportunity here. We have not invested in technology ("The plant would generate a form of waste that no U.S. disposal site can handle....") and rely on foreigners to provide answers for us. How long before foreign interests have such a hold on our infrastructure and services that they will have the power to insert their own interests into our national policies? I suspect that time is already here, given the fact that oil corporations have established our national energy policy. Today it is American corporations calling the shots and setting the course of our lives. Tomorrow it will be corporate interests in China or India or Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, June 25, 2006
Copied in whole shamelessly from Billmon:
CNN has now picked up today's Times's story saying that the top commander of forces in Iraq projects troop drawdowns through 2007 -- in stark contrast to the GOP's stay-the-course position. And guess what? In the CNN story there is no mention whatsoever of the fact that the primary message of the Republican Party over the past week, delivered by party leaders and elected officials alike in every media forum imaginable, was that anyone calling for a timetable for withdrawal was embracing "retreat" and "surrender" . . . It will be striking if the media plays along with this one and fails to aggressively remind readers and viewers of just how relentlessly the GOP smeared anyone calling for a withdrawal timetable. Well, CNN has now reported on the story and not seen fit to mention it at all.

The American Prospect
The Horse's Mouth
June 25, 2006

The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried on to the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker's hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! . . . The thing that impressed Winston in looking back was that the speaker had switched from one line to the other actually in midsentence, not only without a pause, but without even breaking the syntax.

George Orwell
Right on Cue
Edgar Bergen's left hand puppet came out today and announced a plan for Iraqi reconciliation. The carefully crafted 24 point plan offers amnesty to insurgents, unless you've been an insurgent that is.

I suspect that this plan was the one devised by Edgar's right hand puppet during the Camp David retreat. It was likely delivered to al Maliki during the "surprise" green zone visit by Charlie McCarthy a couple of weeks ago. And it includes an implied draw down of American troops ..... (drum roll please) ...... by late summer or early fall!

I'm so surprised!

Billmon has a nice piece on how the GOP harpies will turn 180' on the whole "cut and run" bullshit to try and win the election. The short version of that post is that the 1970's will now begin with the Nixonian "secret plan" to win the war, and that "peace is at hand" while the war continues. According to Mark Shields on the "Brooks and Shields" discussion on "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, 57% of American deaths occurred in Vietnam after Nixon was elected on his promise to end the war.

Wonder if Americans will fall for it again?
New Dead Count
Via Slate, the latest estimate of Iraqis killed in Iraq:
"Proportionately," The LAT says of its death toll estimate, "it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years." The paper arrived at the 50,000 figure by obtaining data from Iraq's national health ministry and the Baghdad morgue, and "checking those numbers against a sampling of local health departments for possible undercounts." If anything, the story suggests, its estimate is probably low, because few records were kept in the anarchic first year after the invasion, and many deaths continue to go unreported in the more lawless provinces. The pace of killing also seems to be quickening—1,154 Iraqis were killed last month, triple the death toll in May 2004.
Please allow me to remind you of a post I put up some time back about the Lancet study (done in 2003) which showed that Iraqi civilian deaths had exceeded 100,000 (as of then). This study was carefully done, peer reviewed, ..... and ignored by the media.

If these deaths took place during any other occupation, our media would correctly label these deaths as genocide. But hey, a few thousand here ...... a few thousand there, pretty soon you're talking about real humans!
Friday, June 23, 2006
Here is a very interesting chart via The Big Picture (click to enlarge):

This chart shows the national savings rate over the past 100 years. Note that for the first time since the great depression, savings rates are negative. Put another way, we as a nation are consuming more than we are earning.

But another thing struck me. Look at WWII when savings spiked. Remember the "war effort", buying savings bonds, conserving for the boys? Seems to me that we are in another war right now, aren't we?

Of course a negative savings rate can't go on forever without some fairly drastic consequences. I wonder how long it will continue before we either get the picture or are forced to get the picture?
Cut n' Run
As usual, Digby summarizes it nicely:
It's ballsy and it's "bold," but what would you expect from a party that is looking at losing its majority in the fall? Of course they are going to try to run on some faux, patriotic, don't "cut n run" crapola. What else have they got? It's their tried and true playbook and the best they can hope for is to trash talk the Democrats into cowering into the corner.

But just because they are running their game again that doesn't mean that Democrats need to run theirs and get all flustered trying to find a way to appear to support whatever the Republicans say without actually supporting them so they don'tlook soft --- and end up looking soft. That is losing politics and never more than now when we have these bastards on the run for the first time in decades.

As U.S. Grant famously said "it's time to stop worrying about what Bobby Lee is going to do to us and start thinking about what we are going to do to him."
Right out of Karl Rove's playbook. If it looks like your biggest weakness is the war, come out strong attacking the anti-war folks, which in this case includes 70% of the country. It's worked in the past simply because the meta-message of being ballsy is so enticing to Amurikans. It's why so many people continue to vote against their best interests. It's also exactly why Dems must come out strong .... very strongly anti-war ... pugilistically anti-war. In fact, it's time to attack the neo-cons as want to kill our young men for profit. Personally I like to call the Republican Congress the "meat grinders".
Still not fully back in the saddle, but I'm workin' my way back up. I have noticed the heated Rovian rhetoric of "cut and run" is flooding the media. What a bunch of nonsense. If America falls for it this time during the election, we deserve to go down the tubes.

In the meantime, I thought you all might enjoy this quote (via Billmon):
"We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view. The enemy's hopes are bankrupt."

Lt. Gen. William Westmoreland
Commander, U.S. forces in Vietnam
Press Conference
November 21, 1967
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Hey Gang
I am still alive. Computer time and access has been limited so I haven't posted much. Hope to be back in the saddle in a few days.

In the meantime I've noticed that the war is worse, Bush is still an idiot, N. Korea is pissed that no one will pay attention to them, the Democrats are still afraid of their shadows regarding the war, and Joe Lieberman is still a wanker.

Oh well. Five months to elections where (big crossed fingers) something can be done about the situation.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Pay to Play
David Sirota has a must read article over at recently had a list of problems to address and one of the items was campaign finance reform. That was the one I put at number one, believing that everything else hinges on divorcing corporations from government. Sirota's article confirms this for me.
Money, of course, does not just buy favors -- it makes sure that the concept of corruption is only presented to the public by political leaders as anecdotes about a few bad apples, not a narrative about a broken system. Why? Because an indictment of the pay-to-play system that produced the bad apples could mean structural campaign finance reforms that challenge the power of the Big Money interests that underwrite our politicians. Thus, in the aftermath of recent congressional scandals, all we get is a pathetical discussion about weak lobbying "reform" proposals and even weaker sanctions against individual lawmakers.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Redundant Economic Post

Like this is any surprise.

But after 2000 something changed. The pace of productivity growth has been rising again, but now it seems to be lifting fewer boats. After you adjust for inflation, the wages of the typical American worker—the one at the very middle of the income distribution—have risen less than 1% since 2000. In the previous five years, they rose over 6%. If you take into account the value of employee benefits, such as health care, the contrast is a little less stark. But, whatever the measure, it seems clear that only the most skilled workers have seen their pay packets swell much in the current economic expansion. The fruits of productivity gains have been skewed towards the highest earners, and towards companies, whose profits have reached record levels as a share of GDP.

What happened in 2000? Bush moved in to the White House and along with him came the cadre of NeoCons bent on raiding everything they could while dismantling the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Note the sentence "In the previous five years, they rose over 6%." That was under Bill Clinton. That was also during a period of time when the administration balanced the budget and started to pay down the deficit.

America: where the gap between rich and poor is bigger than in any other advanced country.
America: where workers now produce over 30% more each hour they work than ten years ago.
America: where parental income is a better predictor of whether someone will be rich or poor in America than in Canada or much of Europe.
America: where over 70% of Americans support the abolition of the estate tax (inheritance tax), even though only one household in 100 pays it.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the halcyon days for America's middle class, productivity boomed and its benefits were broadly shared. The gap between the lowest and highest earners narrowed. After the 1973 oil shocks, productivity growth suddenly slowed. A few years later, at the start of the 1980s, the gap between rich and poor began to widen.

The 1950s and 60s were also the years of peak membership in labor unions.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Dependable Renegade
A Quick Note
To both of my loyal readers.

My blogging will be a bit spotty over the next week. Several irons in the fire that will keep me from a computer. I'll try to put something pithy up once in awhile so neither one of you goes through rant withdrawal.
A Good Question
William Arkin, in a follow-up to his great column of yesterday, asks a very interesting question about the Bush five hour "state" visit to Baghdad yesterday.

How did al Maliki feel about it?

Bush is incredibly unpopular in Iraq and among Maliki's constituents. Bush tells Maliki he's coming at the last minute. Bush is escorted by American military while American soldiers lock down Baghdad. Maliki and Bush meet in a former Sadaam palace in the American controlled green zone with an American agenda on the table. Likely as not, the message Bush likely delivered when he "looked Maliki in the eye" (didn't he do that to Putin or someone?) was that the U.S. is going to bug out very soon (I think he gave a deadline/ultimatum).

What a swell, respectful state visit from the typically ham handed Bush!

I stand by my previous prediction that Bush will turn over this mess to a Democratic President who will play the Nixon role from Vietnam of the 70's.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Media Ownership
From Common Cause:

Media ownership in America is already pretty concentrated. Did you know that since 1995, the number of companies owning commercial TV stations has declined by 40 percent?2 Did you know that Viacom owns CBS, General Electric owns NBC, Disney owns ABC and News Corp. owns Fox Broadcasting, which in turn runs Fox News Channel? News Corp. also owns the New York Post, the publisher HarperCollins, and the film production company Twentieth Century Fox. How much power and influence does that pack, and how much more of our major media should we allow any one corporation to control?

Even though the Internet has increased our ability to access diverse sources of news, major corporations - including AOL/Time Warner, the New York Times, CNN and USA Today (owned by Gannett) - dominate the top Internet news sites. To get an idea of how big these media companies already are, visit the Columbia School of Journalism's Who Owns What search tool.

Go to the Common Cause site and join in the effort to curtail this growing monopoly.
Swagger Down to Baghdad
The media is getting all atwitter over Bush's "surprise" visit to Iraq to talk to al Maliki. This visit occurs after the heralded "summit" on Iraq at Camp David this weekend.

I have two thoughts on the matter. First, this isn't news. Consider this:
After dinner with his cabinet at Camp David on Monday night, President George W. Bush said he was tired and wanted to read.

Instead, he sneaked off the heavily guarded grounds, boarded a nondescript helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base and then a secrecy-cloaked flight to Baghdad.

Bush had slipped away, pleading exhaustion by saying, "I'm losing altitude," and later seemed jubilant to have pulled off his presidential disappearing act.
Wooowsers. Bush was able to sneak out of Camp David to Iraq!

Big deal.

Now, had Bush announced a planned trip to Iraq to visit the new head of the government .... that would be news. But the very fact that Bush still has to slink around and keep an Iraqi trip secret even from administration officials is a sign that it's a status quo situation in Iraq.

The other thought I had was that the timing of this trip is interesting. I'm wondering if Bush is informing Maliki that we're on our way out. Perhaps after the Camp David get-together, a withdrawal plan has been developed (or at least a plan to withdraw to those non-existant permanent bases) and that Bush is passing on the bad news.

Frankly my dear, I don't give a damned. Iraq is so upside down at this point that any Bush plans are simply rearranging the proverbial deck chairs.
For any of you interested in the stock market, here's another great chart showing the relationship between "secular" (long term) market trends and P/E (stock price-earnings ratios):

(click to enlarge)

Bottom line, we're likely in a bear market right now with a brief (a couple of years) bull cycle.

On another note, the other big news today is the release of the core producers price index. It was up more than expected. This is yet another indicator, even within the lousy government measurements, that inflation is cooking right along. Conservatives claim it's because we have such a swell economy. I claim it's because we have an artificially high set of energy prices caused by Bush and peak oil.

I'm also (finally) starting to see the term "stagflation" in news stories.

Rove Walks?
Maybe, maybe not.

Here's one analysis (via FireDogLake) that makes sense and has been the position of Jeralyn at TalkLeft from the beginning:
The language used by Luskin strongly suggests that Rove got immunity in exchange for his cooperation (it is probably the same deal I have been suggesting was offered to Novak way back when. . . ) Otherwise he never would have testified in the Grand Jury to begin with.

“Does not anticipate seeking charges” means that if Rove testifies at Libby’s trial as expected, and as his agreement no doubt provides for him to testify, (lawyers call it providing “ongoing cooperation”), then all will be well for him. But if he “goes sideways” on Fitz and testifies differently from what is now expected, he could be charged–w/perjury certainly, and his deal to avoid criminal liability in the larger conspiracy could be “off” as he could face charges in that as well.

All told, a very standard deal and not unexpected. The more interesting issue and the reason for optimism now is that he couldn’t have gotten such a deal without having something important to offer Fitz. The “no prosecution” letter pretty much guarantees that he that he made a good deal. Either he offered up Cheney himself, or he offered up Libby to guarantee a conviction so Fitz can roll up Libby to Cheney. Either way, for me, I see Cheney going down and that’s something I can live with!
I'd take Cheney over Rove.

Let's hope this analysis is true.

Another thought that entered my mind is that Rove made a cooperation agreement knowing that Libby would be pardoned before the whole thing goes to trial.

That would suck.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Joke of the Day
Iranian official:
Another [Iranian official] joked that there was no need for the US to invade Iran. He said that the US had invaded Afghanistan and established an Islamic republic there. Then it had done the same thing in Iraq. Since Iran has had an Islamic republic for 27 years, he said, there really isn't a point in a US invasion.
Lots of rumors .... again .... of Bush declaring victory and withdrawing the troops from Iraq.

This certainly wouldn't be a surprise given the upcoming midterm elections. And Froomkin makes the point that there's now a "permanent government" and that we just got Zarqawi (although al Qaeda in Iraq has announced a new leader), so why not leave on a "high note"? Why not indeed.

A move like this would sure make sense politically. But I wonder if the U.S. could withdraw without having the chaos/civil war in Iraq get even worse? And how would the GOP spin the Dems accusing Bush of abandoning Iraq to chaos? Of course, the GOP can spin anything. That's what they do. But what about the neocon goal of establishing a beachhead in the middle east ... and now a counter to Iranian influence within Iraq?

Here's my best guess (which, along with $4.00 will get you a venti soy mocha at you know who), Bush will draw down the troops in Iraq between now and fall to somewhere between 50K and 75K. These troops will remain sequestered in isolated bases and will provide air support when called upon. American IED deaths will diminish, but there will be continued assaults on the American bases in addition to continued civil war within the country. The GOP will declare victory and the Iraqi puppet government will bounce along. Somewhere along the line (the not too distant future), the government will collapse and the U.S. will have another decision to make as Islamists begin to take over. And much like the Dems handed over Vietnam to the Republicans, the Republican will hand the war over to Democrats who will have to get us out "with honor" .... somehow.

Enter Hillary Clinton .......

God I wish I could be more optimistic about the international situation.
William Arkin has a must read column today on the state of al Qaeda:
Even before the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the experts and insiders I regularly talk to were describing an al Qaeda network and organization on the ropes and in control of nothing, with unaffiliated "home grown" terrorism as the next wave.

But over the weekend, I read Ahmed Rashid's sobering account -- "Afghanistan: On the Brink" in the New York Review of Books -- of the resurgence of al Qaeda in south Asia.

Similarly, Anthony Shadid writes from Lebanon in The Washington Post today about the spread of a common movement from Iraq to the Mediterranean.

So now it seems from Nigeria and Somalia to the Lebanon to the Persian Gulf to Pakistan and Bangladesh to Indonesia and the Philippines, even all the way to Toronto and Atlanta, Islamic foot soldiers unite under an Osama bin Laden banner.

Pronouncement's of the death of al Qaeda -- "the base" -- now strikes me as the worst of Washington wishful thinking and a flawed intellectual approach.
Arkin goes on to outline how terrorists organizations have been using Iraq as a training ground and recruiting poster for a very widespread terrorist effort.

Can you imagine that? Who would have thought that Iraq would be such a disaster that such a thing could happen? We never could have predicted it. Right?

To readers of this blog (and most of the liberal blogosphere) this is not news. But it's now gaining traction with policy thinkers in Washington. Funny how the "angry left" has called every turn since 2001.

Take the time to go read the article referenced by Arkin to get a real flavor of what's happening in south Asia. The poppy crop has been a bumper one this year and is funding an extensive summer Taliban offensive. We're not far from being right back where we started in Afghanistan and worse off in the world in terms of the spread of Islamic radical fundamentalism.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Chart of the Week
Here's a handy dandy historical chart, adjusted for inflation, of the stock market (S&P 500) from The Big Picture (click to enlarge):

The red periods are stretches of "bear" markets and the green are stretches of "bull" markets.

Why put this up you say?

To illustrate how the conventional "buy and hold" strategy of most financial advisors is stupid. Suppose you did your investing for retirement starting in, oh, say 1965. So the early 90's roll around and you want to retire. How have those stock investments done?

This chart also starkly shows just how inflated, by historical standards, stock prices really are. From what I read, I'm guessing we're in a brief (3-5 yr. cyclical bull market) market upswing that is a part of a longer term (5-20 yr secular bear market) market downturn that began in 2001. If so, this is a very poor time to remain invested in the stock market on a "buy and hold" basis. You can clearly identify the "cycles" that occur within a larger market trend. This is what is meant by "cyclical" vs. "secular".

Of course, I'm not a market professional. But I'm suggesting that if you are investing in the stock market, take the time to learn about the dynamics involved. Don't just rely on a brokerage house representative who has a big vested interest in perpetuating the "buy and hold" strategy.
Wandering Thoughts
I've been wondering if there are any lessons to be found in the recent primary contests. I'm particularly interested in the San Diego race featuring Francine Busby. Busby was a great hope of the Dems. It was hoped that she would win in the extremely conservative district that had been held by the corrupt Republican, Duke Cunningham.

She didn't win.

In fact, she got virtually the same percentage of the vote that John Kerry received in the district in 2004. Dems spin it that the GOP had to concentrate and spend lots of money to get a victory for Bilbray, and that turnout was pathetic due to GOP voter apathy. The GOP spins it that a win is a win.

I think it's a cautionary lesson and that the spin is correct on both sides. But I think it points out something even more important. Digby has been routinely posting about tribalism in politics. The San Diego race certainly showed that tribalism and party affiliation are still in full force despite obvious GOP screw-ups, and Bush's low popularity. And the dynamics of tribalism are at the very center of the battle in within the Democratic party.

The Democratic establishment as epitomized by the DLC and has staked out a position in moderation. It's their belief that Democrats need to position themselves, throught the reading of polls and tea leaves, in the moderate position to win election. Critics would say it's the "out-conservative the conservatives" position a la Joe Lieberman. They believe that if you simply triangulate positions, much like Bill Clinton did, you can win.

The so-called Democratic "netroots" and progressives disagree. They suggest that no matter what position a candidate takes, the GOP has created a tribalism affiliation that borders on cultism. This tribalism prevents voters from shifting voting patterns based on issues. Rather, in this formulation, voters will rationalize their votes to remain consistent with the tribe.

Personally, I think there is value in both arguments. However, given the recent "irrationality" of voters in choosing candidates regardless of how dumb they are, how ridiculous their position, no matter how corrupt they may be, and often voting against their own self interest, I have to believe more firmly in the tribalism theory. BTW, as an example of this tribalism. Anyone remember FDR? His establishment of a tribal identity for Democrats was so strong as to assure Democratic Congressional majorities for decades.

Which brings me to Busby.

Duke Cunningham was one of the most obviously corrupt individuals to have held office in recent memory and the best possible poster child for GOP corruption. Bilbray is a old-time lobbyist with very close affiliations to the GOP insiders. Approval for GOP candidates is in the toilet nation-wide. And Busby ran an anti-corruption campaign yet couldn't do any better in the district than Kerry. Clearly, the few voters who voted, went to their precincts and marked the tribal representative. I'm afraid that at it's most basic, most campaigns are really little more in sophistication than the campaign of a high school student running for class president.

Which finally brings me to Howard Dean. Dean's approach in running the Democratic National Committee is based on a tribal strategy. He believes, I think correctly, that in order for Democrats and progressives to win they must accomplish a couple of key goals. First, Dems must build from the grassroots. Put another way, Dems must establish a tribe with local individuals that can attract other tribial members. Dean has been beefing up (read, spending lots of $$$$) local party apparatus just for this purpose, much to the chagrin of many national Democratic party leaders. Second, Dean has been an advocate that the tribe must have something it worships and believes in. Tribal standards are the glue that hold the tribe together, particularly the core members who exude the passion to attract other tribal members. Without standards and passion, the party is little more than the sleeziest salesman trying to sell a terrible product.

I think that Howard Dean is right on the money in suggesting that his work is not about winning the next election, but in establishing the "base" with which to win many elections. And I think the Busby/Bilbray race is yet another example, and warning, of the need for the party to support Dean. And as I've said in previous posts, Dems should be careful not to get too cocky about the upcoming mid-term elections. Without an understanding of tribalism, it would be easy to think that things are soooo bad that Democrats should win handily.

But didn't we think that in 2000 and 2004?
Friday, June 09, 2006
On why the Bush administration must be held accountable .... at all costs (Digby):
I know it's fashionable to think that the Democratic party has been losing steadily for the last 35 years because they have been too liberal and the GOP has therefore been able to portray them as soft in all the manly virtues. I would suggest that the Democrats have been losing for the last 35 years because they have failed to beat the shit out of the Republicans when they pull this crap. The GOP smells weakness and the public loses their respect for us. We're long past the "fool me twice" phase.
Pardoning Nixon was a huge mistakes. All those who learned at Nixon's knee thought that you could become an elected dictator and get away with it. All the arguments for not impeaching Bush pale in comparison to another generation of young Republicans learning at these guys knees.
I Told Ya
Arlen Spectre.


You look up snake in the dictionary and Arlen's picture pops up.

Emmm ... Good
William Arkin drinks the kool-aid.

In his piece today, Arkin trumpets the success of intelligence operations in Iraq in the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as evidence of progress in stabilizing Iraq. Indeed, intelligence operations were at work in the operations and the job was completed.

What I think Arkin is missing is the information source and motivation. Given the recent history of strife between Zarqawi and the Sunni insurgents, it seems to me that he was likely "given up" by those who wanted him gone. In other words, as in the Chalabi situation, the United States military was once again used to settle scores in the civil war.

I submit that if I'm correct, the Zarqawi operation is proof of further deterioration in the situation, not improvement. No, I'm not just being the eternal pessimist and Bush hater. Rather I'm noting that an occupying force can never been a winner in an insurgency/civil war. The best we can hope for is that our interests coincide at some time with the interests of someone. But we also know that those narrow parallel interests will be fleeting when the goal is reached. Thus the Sunni's are still not our friends, although they likely used us to get rid of a thorn in their butts.
Estate Tax
The latest wedgie is estate taxes. It failed in the Senate yesterday.

I've been thinking about the repeal of the estate tax. Frankly, I don't have a problem repealing it. The argument by rich conservatives is that folks work hard all their lives to earn their estate, why should they be taxed on it when they die? Liberals have generally rooted the estate tax in less aristocratic thought of each generation earning their own.

The conservative argument, standing alone, is really nonsense. Estate accumulation is a result of many factors. Risk and hard work are key factors. But societal success and tax policies are also a big part. When the economy at-large is successful, asset accumulation is easier. When tax policies are favorable to the rich, asset accumulation is easier. So those with large estates have benefited all their lives from the common good. And for someone who is, say 80 years old and dies, they've had a more favorable tax status all their lives because of the estate taxes that have been paid by those who pre-deceased them.

Government cost money. Taxes have to be levied to pay for government services. So I don't have a problem with the estate tax being repealed IF the missing revenue is collected in taxes from those who accumulate assets throughout their lives. This levels the playing field for all and prevents the rich from "having their cake and eating it too".
Thursday, June 08, 2006
The Spectre of Dissent
Arlen Specter is at it again.

Everyone is abuzz about Specter's public rebuke of Cheney for fiddling in Congressional business. Indeed, Spectrer did make public his three page letter revealing the inside story on Cheney's fiddling in the Congressional non-intelligence non-oversight. Given recent poll results, this would be a pretty safe thing for a Republican Senator to do. Some are touting that this is yet another representation of the "split" in the Republican party.

I don't see it that way. This "confrontational" behavior by Specter is nothing new. For years he's been publically rebuking the Bush establishment. And very consistently when push comes to shove, he folds like a cheap tent. Who knows, maybe this time Specter will actually, like, do something. But I'm not holding my breath and I don't recommend you to either.
Numero Uno
We killed the 10th number one man in al Qaeda of Iraq?

So, the U.S. had "intelligence" about a meeting that Zarqawi was having with his advisors. They were "positive" that he would be in the particular location that they bombed.

I'm willing to bet you some big money that Zarqawi was set up by either al Qaeda rivals or Iraqi's who wanted him out of the equation. It certainly wouldn't be the first time the U.S. has been used to do the bidding of the warring factions in Iraq.

While it's a step towards the goal of eliminated al Qaeda, I don't expect Zarqawi's death to materially affect the outcome of the war. William Arkin, in his post today, sees Iraq as slowly but surely moving towards being more secure. I'm not sure what he's smoking, but I haven't seen any evidence of that. Southern Iraq, which used to be relatively peaceful, is now a mess with Shiites fighting Shiites. Didn't he see the story of the nine heads delivered to the Baghdad morgue?

Iran continues to be the big winner in the whole equation and the risks of a regional Shiite/Sunni war have significantly increased since Bush's adventure. There will be no good ending in Iraq, only a less bad ending.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Photo Op Bills
Well, the anti-gay marriage Senate bill went up in flames. On to that other burning issue, flags!
Iraq in a Nutshell ... ah ... Bombshell
I've not been writing about Iraq much. Writing about the war feels like groundhog day. I'm taking a break from it.

If you want to get a sense of the Iraq of today, go here, here and here. Read it and weep. Literally.
There were widespread elections last night. Many were looking to these contests for some indication of how the wind is blowing. Each side is spinning the results in their direction .... as usual. Personally, I'm not sure you can derive too much from the results. There were no big surprises although Francine Busby did have a good showing in a largely Republican district. But she did lose.

I think the main thing I've gotten out of the results was turnout. It was pathetic. This isn't all that unusual for an early summer, mid-term, primary election. I'm expecting the November election to be the same with low turn-out. This will inevitably favor Democrats because I think the voters who will stay home are primarily Republicans.

Finally. I think the Dems had better be very careful. The growing conventional wisdom that they will crush the Republicans in November is pre-mature. There's a lot of time between now and then. And despite Bush's propensity to shoot himself in the foot, much could happen to change the dynamics quickly.
Enron, Corruption, and Ivins

I always enjoy Molly Ivins' columns:

The interesting thing about Lay and Skilling is they weren't trying to evade the rules, they were rigging the rules in their favor. The fix was in -- much of it law passed by former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, whose wife, Wendy, served on the board of Enron.

Where does that sense of entitlement come from? What makes a Ken Lay think he can call the governor of Texas and ask him to soften up Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania on electricity deregulation? Not that being governor of Texas has ever been an office of much majesty, but a corporate robber wouldn't think of doing that if it were Brian Schweitzer of Montana or Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

The extent to which not just state legislatures but the Congress of the United States are now run by large corporate special interests is beyond mere recognition as fact. The takeover is complete. Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay put in place a system in which it's not a question of letting the head of the camel into the tent -- the camels run the place.

I've believed for quite some time that the concept of nations is becoming an idea as 'quaint' as the Geneva Conventions. Corporations run the world and governments are there to (1.) enforce the corporate dictates and (2.) placate the people into believing they have a voice. Unfortunately most Americans are still oblivious to the massive changes underway. They are content to sit in front of their American Idols and soak in the *soma.

*soma is a reference to the drug in Brave New World, a substance that everyone took to keep them happy and compliant. If you haven't read Brave New World, you should. It is increasingly relevent today.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Quote of the Day
"The secret to this game is you always want to be thinking politically, but you don't want to look political. This looks like desperation politics."
-- GOP strategist Ed Rollins, on CNN, discussing President Bush's proposal to ban gay marriage with a constitutional amendment.
Barry Ritholtz explains to Eric Alterman's readers exactly why the governments inflation numbers are full of shit.
Refined Market Strategy
Want to understand the economics of high gas prices?

A big part of it is the decline in refining capacity. Unlike any other business, refiners actually benefit from declining capacity and loss of refining capacity. The New Yorker has a very concise and brief explanation of how these economics work. It's well worth the read.

I would add that the fact that oil companies have not built a new refinery since 1976 is not just the result of environmentalist, NIMBY, and regulations. The oil companies, despite their public presenatation, are not stupid. They recognize that peak oil is upon us. To spend $2 Billion per refinery to increase refining capacity on a declining commodity is not a good business strategy. Why take that risk when maintaining a tight refining market results in such positive shareholder gains?
Grand Conspiracy
I've been really busy lately, not particularly having the time to study the usual blogs. The news I've received has been primarily headline type stories. The Toronto arrest of suspected terrorists sounded like Canadian officials had busted up a big al Qaeda ring. As usual, it turning out that the story is less than the sensational one being played up:
One report on Monday said that the ammonium nitrate had only been ordered but never delivered, as the security agencies had substituted it with some harmless material. The fact that the swoop spread over two years [and] was a sting operation is being underplayed or not even mentioned by the Canadian and American press and electronic media. There is no evidence that the 17 people arrested, five of them minors, had any link with Al Qaeda. Pen portraits appearing in the Canadian press show some of the young men to have become overly religious in the last couple of years. It is also now known that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and probably some other US agencies were also involved in the sting operation.
So this is a two year sting of mostly very young religious zealots with no apparent contact to al Qaeda? I'm not saying this isn't a story or even an important find for law enforcement. But listening to the media, I had the impression that officials had busted a cell group not unlike the 911 hijackers. These folks sound more like radicalized (thank you George Bush) young people engaging in the new chic' activity, becoming a terrorist. It also sounds like they were not too swift at it, allowing law enforcement folks into their midst over a two year period.

Let me repeat. It's a good thing that these people were found and stopped. But it would be nice if the media would report the whole story, putting the whole thing in a genuine context. This was apparently not an al Qaeda-big-bad-boogieman conspiracy, which is a whole different kettle of fish.
Second Class Country
The U.S. is rapidly sliding into a second class tier of countries. The BBC reports that the dollar falls to an all-time low against the Euro and foreigners are more reluctant to finance our deficit.
Last century was America's. This century will belong to China.
Monday, June 05, 2006
Pottis Inc.
If you haven't visited yet, you must go to Pottis Inc. In his latest adventure, Pottis takes on the Seattle DOT and is fighting the implementation of parking meters in his area. Warning to Pottis: never try the Cool Hand Luke solution to parking meters.

In other news, I'm up to my eyebrows in political stuff. My blogging will likely be sparse for a couple of days until after the primary. I'll just say that Bush giving the American public a wedgie with the whole Gay Marriage thing is just stupid. In good times, it might work. But when you have pictures of an Iraqi loading severed heads into a Dole pineapple box, it just makes the GOP look vacant (which they are). Dumbshits.

When are we going to get some good redmeat news .... like Rove being indicted?
Net Neutrality has a video featuring Moby to explain the importance of the net neutrality issue.
What a shock this is.

Recent data showing weak growth and high prices has triggered fears that the US could now be suffering from "stagflation" - low growth coupled with high inflation.

Greyhair, I know you are as surprised at this as I am.
Who Killed the Electric Car?
Find out here.
They're not for everyone. The will only meet the needs of 90% of the population.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
Noam Chomsky
A great interview with Noam Chomsky, author of the new book Failed States:
Nuclear war, which is probably the greatest threat to human survival and a serious and imminent one, and environmental disaster, which is the other major threat literally to survival—in both cases our government is accelerating the danger. And that's a good characteristic of a failed state or a rogue state: It acts in ways that show its concern for the welfare of its own population is a pretty low priority.
The Midas Touch... reverse. Everything Bush touches turns to crap.

I got a note from a friend today. An American who works in Baghdad and does not want his identity revealed. He says women are being kidnapped and killed for the clothes they wear. He says women are being hunted. The country is in chaos.
People are mourning the loss of Saddam Hussein, convinced things were better before.
It's an awful thing to think, that things might have been better under a murderous dictator. But it seems to be accepted wisdom among the diplomats.

Full article here.
Friday, June 02, 2006
Now I Get It
I've been wondering why a Wall St. heavy weight like Henry Paulson would agree to join a failing Bush administration as Treasury Secretary. He has much to lose in credibility and reputation. Reportedily, he was told he would have legitimate input over the economy and access to the President. The press has been tut-tuttin Bush's concessions to Paulson as the motivation behind Paulson being willing to risk taking a losing job. But, as usual, there's something else in the equation that the press doesn't seem to have mentioned:
Jessica Holzer writes for Forbes that Paulson, with his $700 million equity stake in Goldman Sachs, will "have the chance to diversify a good chunk of those holdings without paying a dime to the Internal Revenue Service.

"By accepting the Treasury post, Paulson is poised to take advantage of a tax loophole that allows government officials to defer capital gains taxes on assets they have to sell to avoid a conflict of interest, as long as the proceeds are reinvested in government securities or a broad array of mutual funds approved by the government within 60 days. . . .

"The tax break was designed to ensure that the wealthy are not deterred from taking posts in government because they fear a big tax hit. But it amounts to a significant perk of public office."
Having 700 million eggs in one basket is not a very good investing strategy. Paulson can now thoroughly divest and reallocate his money with no tax consequence. Given Paulson tax bracket, that's a very, very heavy incentive to take some shit from Bush, at least long enough to get reallocated. Then again, perhaps a few hundred million here or there doesn't matter to him.

A Blip?
Looks like the last reports of a booming job market may have been premature? Remember, takes somewhere around 150,000 new jobs per month to stay even with population growth. Last month was 75,000.

The good news for the market is that this is likely to be seen by the Fed as a sign of a slowing economy and lends fuel to the argument to stop raising interest rates.
Stick and the Stick
I really haven't written much about the U.S./Iran "negotiations". The media swallowed the kool aid all the way down when it reported that the Bush administration was offering something new. In fact what has been offerred was that we'll talk to Iran if they stop doing what we're all supposed to be negotiating. In other words, if they meet the conditions for beginning negotiations, we don't need negotiations.

Sounds just like a Bush administration proposal.

What is a bit surprising is that China has ostensibly agreed to sanctions* if Iran doesn't comply. I suspect that Russia and China are playing a bit of a shell game. To placate Bush they'll go along with the demand for negotiations. But what they'll do when it actually comes down to implementing sanctions is highly questionable. China, particularly, is highly depenedent on Iran for oil and is seeking increased influence in the region. I suspect that they'll not implement any real sanctions. For Iran, as long as petro-dough continues to roll in, there are no real sanctions. Remember, the U.S. has had sanctions in place since the Carter years, and we can see what that's gotten us.

In short. Despite the media's interpretation, it doesn't look to me like anything has really changed in terms of stopping Iran. What may have changed is that the Bush administrations gains a measure of credibility is moving to the next phase of pressure .... military. If sanctions are "authorized" and "fail", there will be a diplomatic fig leaf of sorts for Bush to pursue military options. And for a politician (and a narcissist) as unpopular as Bush, this could mean some real trouble.

*Update: The word "sanctions" was never used in the press release.

Disclaimer: The above picture is not meant to in anyway to represent the President. It's a metaphorical picture of a fig leaf. I apologize to anyone who may have been scarred by the literal interpretation of a nude picture of Bush on this blog. He doesn't look that good.

Quote of the Day
“Soldiers must know they will be held accountable for the improper use of force,” Stork said. “Right now, soldiers feel they can pull the trigger without coming under review.”—Joe Stork, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, in 2003.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
It's Over for America
Noam Chomsky has a thought provoking article on the United States as a failed nation.
An inability to protect its citizens. The belief that it is above the law. A lack of democracy. Three defining characteristics of the 'failed state'. And that, says Noam Chomsky, is exactly what the US is becoming. In an exclusive extract from his devastating new book, America's leading thinker explains how his country lost its way
It's Official
President Bush is the worst president in the last 61 years, according to a new national Quinnipiac poll. Bush is named by 34%, followed by Richard Nixon at 17% and Bill Clinton at 16%.

Meanwhile, Bush's approval rate is at 35%, with 58% disapproving of his job performance. Even in red states, where Bush's margin was more than 5% in 2004, voters disapprove 52% to 39%.

Said pollster Maurice Carroll: "Bush's job approval numbers remain in the cellar. But he might finally have hit bottom."
Ok, so the guy is most well known just now. But I suspect these results just might hold up through time.
Raymond's Legacy
Lee Raymond, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has bowed out from the oil giant with a $400m pay and retirement deal that has caused outrage. We all know that now. More tidbits about Raymond:
—Since becoming chief executive in 1993, Mr Raymond had become infamous for his dismissive response to environmental lobbyists at previous annual meetings. He has funnelled $19m of Exxon's money to groups that question the science of global warming. His package of pension and perks includes a bodyguard, a car and driver, and use of a company jet, plus a $1m-a-year deal to stay on as a consultant.
—Mr Raymond routinely accuses advocates of a link between global warming and carbon emissions of practising fuzzy science. His first action as a senior executive was to cut solar and other alternative energy programmes because they did not seem likely to make money for decades.
And his successor won't change things much. The company still argues that the link between emissions and global warming rests on the assertion of expert scientists rather than on robust scientific models. "The level of misinformation only makes it more important to discuss the massive scale of our industry and the meaningful alternatives available in the foreseeable future."
Full article here. Boycott Exxon.
Ethical War
Major Bob Bateman has been a regular feature on Eric Alterman's blogsite, blogging from Iraq. In yesterday's column, he took a moment to reflect on the Haditha massacre, offering up some experiences of his own with ethics training and troops. Here's a key graf:
Showing my troops the tape [of an ethical dilemma], and then discussing with them the same situations, was among the most educational things I had ever done. What I learned was that my men, a perfect mélange of middle Americana, (and absent their sergeants and lieutenants) were more than willing to use violence in completely inappropriate ways in order to accomplish what they saw as “the mission.” In short, what they told me they would do was (were they to actually do any of these things) a collection of violations of the laws of land warfare. It was a direct confirmation of something which I’d only suspected before, and something which drove me to spend a vast amount of time on these topics with the sergeants and lieutenants later.
Be sure and read the entire entry. It's very instructive as to the state of the military and the state of our young people. Is this attitude reflective on anything in our larger culture?

It seems to me that in my lifetime, American's have become more violent. When I was in elementary school, we discussed the notion of "the end justifies the means". The default balance in American society seems to have shifted in the direction of the end, without regard to means.

I don't know the exact cause or causes, and there are plenty of explanations. But I'm not really surprised at the increased level of atrocity perpetration in the current "GWOT". Certainly, our stellar leadership has led the way in perpetrating that the ends justify any means of action. And I really believe there are many more atrocities that have not been revealed. I would not be surprised to learn that a lack of ethics and moral compass among the general population is a symptom of a declining culture, and that our leadership is merely a symptom of that larger issue. I'm not predicting the apocolypse of America, but I think Mikevotes blog name "Born at the Crest of Empire" certainly summarizes the situation.

The fad-like resurgence of the "religious right" (at least in the media's opinion) may be a feeble attempt to regain some sort of ethical compass. Ironically, that sphere of influence offers rigidity that actually makes the situation worse. The "angry" left, meanwhile, is really all about ethics and yet is seen in some quarters as ... well ... angry.

It seems to me that the solution starts with families and childhood. Parents demonstrating a delay of self-gratification in service of ethics is the single most important part of the solution in my opinion. If you want to know the future, look around you and notice how parents perform this task. These children will be the trendline for future ethics. Perhaps some "hard times" might have a silver lining in forcing people to develop greater character. It's too bad that we humans seem to only react to crisis, but if that's what it takes .......

It seems to beat the alternative of a slothful culture which easily slides into the worst of atrocities based on self-indulgence rather than any sense of right or wrong.