Tuesday, January 31, 2006

state of the union preview

This guy has a smuggled out of the White House a good summarized preview of the State of the Union, which I won't watch for (mental) health reasons.

hell on earth

Any town that gives 96% of its vote to de facto President George Bush is my idea of hell on earth.

This sums up the kind of town that supports Bush with 96% of the vote: '"Dijon mustard," Louderman says as the woman drives away. "I don't know what Dijon mustard is. Don't care to find out, either."'

Not about Dijon mustard specifically, but more about the attitude that if we don't know it now, we don't need to know it. Remind me never to go to Randolph, Utah. Hell on earth.

Monday, January 30, 2006

questions for medical pros

I have some questions about the wisdom of passing laws to allow health care providers to refuse to give patients medical care based on moral or religious grounds.

Where does a patient's right to be treated end and a provider's right to refuse treatment for moral reasons begin? What happens when a conservative Christian doctor refuses to treat ANYBODY who is gay, period? What happens (to mix things up a little) when a strongly pro-environment -- maybe even Wiccan -- doctor refuses to treat a kid badly injured in a snowmobile accident because the doctor finds snowmobiling morally repugnant because it destroys nature?

What will you do when a doctor refuses to tell you your kid should get a shot against chicken pox because the vaccine was made using fetal cell cultures?

How many insurers will decide that they have a religious reason for refusing to cover a particularly EXPENSIVE medical condition? (THAT is a loophole that I could drive a school bus through.)

What if the doctors at GW Hospital had refused to treat Reagan's wounds because they WERE all Democrats?!?!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

screw the workers

Ben Stein today rips United Airline management. After imposing huge pay and pension cuts on UAL employees, they are ready to bring United out of bankruptcy and to sell stock expected to raise $6 billion or so. And management asked the bankruptcy court to let them keep $900 million of that $6 billion for themselves. CEO Glenn Tilton himself would get $80 million. The bankruptcy court "only" approved half of that gift that management proposed to give itself.

Stein is rightly outraged. UAL employees were the OWNERS of United. Tilton & Company were suppost to manage the company for THEM. So the OWNERS/EMPLOYEES get wiped out and Tilton's crew has hundreds of millions of dollars rained down upon them?

Stein notes this is not the only case of such corporate looting. "Management is using competition, higher fuel costs and every other cost complaint to cut the pay and pensions of its own employees while enriching itself."

Meanwhile, remember that CEOs are in enviable positions -- they get to choose the people who will decide how much they will be paid. And when they claim it is all performance-related, don't buy it. As one researcher points out, CEO pay went up 30% last year. Did you see a 30% improvement overall in corporate management? Of course not.

The rich get richer ever more rapidly, and the poor just wish we could get the minimum wage up to $8 or so... Some radical-free-market types bitch that a minimum wage constitutes a "tax" on labor that will cause less labor to be used. Bad parallel -- yes, if the price of wood goes up, companies will lose less. But "labor" doesn't just take in money, it also SPENDS it -- in other words, minimum wage people are also consumers. And even the CEO of WAL-MART (the nation's biggest employer of minimum-wage folks) thinks Congress should raise the minimum wage:
"The U.S. minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has not been raised in nearly a decade and we believe it is out of date with the times. We can see first-hand at Wal-Mart how many of our customers are struggling to get by. Our customers simply don't have the money to buy basic necessities between pay checks."
Growing income inequality and the looting of corporations at the expense of employees and even stockholders. Another step on the road to being a true banana republic. Bush's America.

climate tipping?

Concern by scientists that we are approaching the point of no return on climate change makes the front page of the Post today. It is the usual depressing read, not just on how bad climate change could be, but on the utterly irresponsible, head-in-the-sand delayed reaction of the de facto Big Oil Bush Administration.

For example, Bush's science adviser John Marburger helpfully notes that "There's no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change. We know things like this are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."

"Things like this" could include 20-foot rises in sea level that would submerge entire island nations and, closer to home, lower Manhattan and 1/3 of the state of Florida. "Things like this" could include the shut-down of the Gulf Stream, which could perversely make northern Europe much colder even as the planet warms up overall. "Things like this" could include the collapse of the Amazonian rain forest and the melting of the Russian tundra, both of which will contribute to HIGHER levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. "Things like this" includes hurricanes of increasing number and power hitting the US, as we saw in 2005.

Even scarier than events like Katrina becoming routine is the idea that "things like this" could include rapid changes in weather patterns that could severely disrupt agriculture -- which means it could severely disrupt the ability of all of us to eat regularly.

So, when Dr. James Hansen, NASA's director of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies wants to talk to the press about climate change and how 2005 was the warmest year ever, the Administration's knee-jerk reaction is to try to shut him up. I've heard stories about senior Administration science professionals being banned by politicos from attending (just sitting in the audience!) conferences on climate change. This Administration's response to what is likely to be the biggest news on the planet Earth EVER is to try to shut people up.

Marburger and others are promoting technological innovation to reduce emissions. That's fine -- innovation can play a role. But at the same time we need to take IMMEDIATE steps to cut back on emissions. Hiking the taxes on gas and coal for example will immediately reinforce public and private research into alternative energy sources.

Yes it could be a pain economically -- but the alternative is worse.

It's so ironic that we have the worst man in the worst position at this critical time. A man who was ready to go to war in Iraq based on unsubstantiated claims that Saddam posed some level of threat to the US is not ready to go to war against climate change despite the very real signs that such change is already happening, and despite the clear evidence that such climate change poses a huge risk to the US -- a bigger risk than an Iraqi or Iranian nuclear bomb would pose.

How long do we wait until we decide we have enough information? Until we have the climatological equivalent of a mushroom cloud over us?

(addendum) The Times also covers efforts to shut Hansen up...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

coulter advocates assassination

Scrawny conservative bottle-blond shock-bimbo Ann Coulter suggested to a college crowd that poisoning Justice John Paul Stevens would be useful in banning abortion. She hurried to say she was joking.

It's a pretty sick joke. Especially when the topic is abortion, since anti-choice lunatics have been known to resort to violence, including bombing abortion clinics and assassinating abortion providers.

If Al Franken or Paul Begala had suggested that assassinating Clarence Thomas might help keep abortion legal, the Fox News/RNC crowd would be deploying its talking points and its paid conservative minions on a massive shock campaign to discredit them and smear everybody in the Democratic Party with their thought-crime. But Republican commentators can say whatever they want and it just gets treated as a little funny news story.

What liberal media?

Friday, January 27, 2006

back off, eh?

Newly-elected Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the US to back off on claims that Arctic waters including the Northwest Passage are international waters. Harper re-asserted Canadian sovereignty over those waters in his first press conference since being elected Monday.

And to think the opposing Liberal Party ran attack ads accusing Harper of being a pro-American, Bush-loving toadie. So much for being a pro-American PM, eh?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

gore and global warming

This could have been, should have been,
would have been our President. Instead, we
have this...

Can you imagine de facto President Bush doing anything on a scale like Gore's campaign on the risks of climate change and the need for action, without being sponsored by big business, just because he feels deeply about it?

Nope. First, he's not smart enough to understand anything like this. And second, the Bushes never do anything for free.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

health care and taxes

The de facto President's idea for increasing tax breaks for medical expenses for individuals looks like a marginal help at best. It would do little for the uninsured poor, who don't pay much in taxes anyway and can't even AFFORD to pay for health care.

Key Bush economic adviser Allan Hubbard said "... Americans are not as careful consumers of health care as they are in shopping for other services, because insurance masks from them much of the cost. He said the price and quality of health care would improve if consumers were given greater financial incentives and had to decide for themselves how much care they really need."

That's because health care is fundamentally different than buying a car or house or loaf of bread. Hardly any of us are remotely qualified to make informed decisions about medical care; we have to rely on experts to tell us what the problem is and what should be done. Also health care is rarely by choice optional. If the price is too high or money is tight, you can forego buying a new car or home theater system or going out for dinner without great hardship. Can't say the same for getting that broken leg fixed or having that tumor looked at. We need to admit that health care is NOT and cannot be a "normal market" and that some level of government regulation and intervention is necessary.

We should also should recognize that the current US practice of providing insurance through employers discriminates against the unemployed and those who don't get much insurance through their job, but also works against EMPLOYERS themselves.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

more distortion and lies from el jefe

A couple of things to remind us all of the sheer mendacity of the de facto President...

It appears that the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (part of the Department of Homeland Defense) made an excellent prediction of the effects of Katrina. NISAC specifically anticipated extensive coastal damage, levee breaks, floods in New Orleans, impaired initial response by fire/police, etc. Their report was sent to the White House Situation Room hours before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. But afterwards, Bush said "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." Wrong, again. Lie or stupidity? I think this one was a lie.

Turning to the warrantless domestic spying scandal, Bush told a crowd at Kansas State "It's amazing that people say to me, 'Well, he's just breaking the law.' If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?"

Distortion. Bush and the Administration didn't "brief Congress". Four members out of 535 were told about it in extremely vague terms, and were told that they weren't allowed to tell anybody else under pain of prosecution, not even members of their professional staffs who might have been able to analyze the implications. Lie or stupidity? A lie again, I think.

climate change and chaos

In this article, the writer asks:
"What if the secret behind civilization is that we've had really good weather? Humankind has prospered and multiplied during one of the most benign climate eras in the history of the planet. And the past two centuries - which witnessed the great expansion of the Industrial Revolution, a sixfold increase in human population, the triumph of the consumer society, and the rise of the integrated global economy - have been particularly stable. One would have to go back 115,000 years to find a time as tranquil and warm as the present."
The author calls for massive governmental intervention -- including an international agreement to cut carbon emissions -- to try to prevent rapid climate change from taking place. He questions whether we are ready to deal with even moderate climate change, and finishes by saying "By not taking action on greenhouse emissions, we are betting our well-being that climate change poses little threat. If we are wrong, we will meet our fate."

What miserable self-defeating anticapitalist rag would run such left-wing, paranoid environmentalist tree-hugging Al-Gore style hysteria?


Yep, Fortune Magazine. Businesses are starting to pay attention to climate change, finally twigging to the fact that massive climate change may not be good for them. Insurers and reinsurers in particular are concerned -- they've already seen the increase in payments due to hurricanes; researchers estimate hurricanes have doubled in intensity over the past 30 years, and the events of 2005 -- Katrina, Rita, and Wilma ALL rapidly expanding to Category 5 status in short order, the first-ever hurrican in the Southern Hemisphere, etc. -- doesn't reassure them.

Bush won't listen to treehuggers. Maybe he'll listen to big business. Even BP (an oil company) CEO John Browne is converted, and worried - he's advocating nuclear and solar power on a massive scale to try to fend off (maybe) climate change.

Hope it's not too late. Change now may make no difference -- but shouldn't we at least try?

Monday, January 23, 2006

abramoff and bush

Time has seen five photographs of de facto President George W. Bush together with former superlobbyist/current pariah Jack "College Republican" Abramoff.

Meanwhile, blogger extraordinaire Billmon has a great collection of quotes by and about Jack Abramoff here. Yes, this is a REPUBLICAN scandal. The fact that some Indian tribes gave money to Democrats like Harry Reid and Byron Dorgan (Dorgan is vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee) doesn't make them Abramoff's tools -- they have been supportive of Indian issues for many years and have long been recipients of campaign contributions. Their donations to Reid or Dorgan or others didn't have ANYTHING to do with Abramoff directing that money.

This is a REPUBLICAN scandal. No Democrats got personal Abramoff money, or the fancy golf trips etc.

A quote (from Billmon's site), to close:

"If you look around Washington, D.C., today, and you look around College Republicans 20 years ago . . . if you look at who's running the town . . . they're all from College Republicans."

Jack Abramoff, quoted in: "College Republicans raring to go in 2004", from Gannett News Service, July 25, 2003

I knew College Republicans when I was at school. They were a big reason I'm not a Republican.

on abramoff and congress and corruption

I came across a recent statement from a person knowledgeable about the Washington political scene. A few excerpts:

"The Abramoff scandal has been described as the biggest Washington scandal ever: bigger than Watergate; bigger than Abscam; bigger than Koreagate; bigger than the House banking scandal; bigger than Teapot Dome. Possibly so. It’s certainly serious and significant."

"Believe me, if everybody benefited equally there would be scant outcry over a little bribery and influence peddling. As our country grows poorer and more indebted, fewer people benefit. The beneficiaries are not the hard working, honest people who pay the taxes. The groups that master the system of lobbying and special interest legislation are the ones who truly benefit."

"Finally, why not try something novel, like having Congress act as an independent and equal branch of government? Restore the principle of the separation of powers, so that we can perform our duty to provide checks and balances on an executive branch (and an accommodating judiciary) that spies on Americans, glorifies the welfare state, fights undeclared wars, and enormously increases the national debt. Congress was not meant to be a rubber stamp. It’s time for a new direction."

Some complaining Democrat, mad about the Bush ascendancy and still not over the election? Not quite. The statement is from Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul, and he isn't happy. I can't agree with everything he writes here -- he's too libertarian for my tastes. But I admire his willingness to speak about abuses by members of his parties instead of marching in lockstep with the de facto Bush Administration and the DeLay/Hastert regime. That last paragraph in particular -- pretty damn straight talking.

halliburton shows true attitude to our troops

Glad to see Halliburton has the well-being of our men and women in Iraq foremost in mind. See, they didn't tell anybody about the contaminated water at Camp Junction City in Ramadi -- water with twice the level of contaminants as the untreated water from the Euphrates River -- because they didn't want the poor soldiers to worry themselves sick over it.

No-bid contracts, no-tell dirty water. Good work if you can get it.

gop election tactics start at justice

The GOP, which has over the past decade transformed lobbying from a sleazy, amoral, largely nonpartisan exercise in seeking favor for corporations into a sleazy, amoral, largely partisan-Republican exercise in seeking favor for corporations and extending Republican power, is now transforming the office at the Justice Department that oversees voting issues.

This is as surprising as hearing that Tom DeLay is corrupt. Professional members of Justice's Civil Rights Division note that over the past five years, Justice has consistently ruled in favor of the GOP in various voting disputes; often political levels have overturned judgements of the nonpartisan professional lawyers and analysts in doing so. Justice defends itself, saying it has approved thousands of redistricting plans including those from Democrats -- but it ALWAYS does that, there are routinely thousands of plans submitted. It is the controversial ones where they overturn professional judgement that make it clear it is being politicized for partisan gain.

Specifically, the Tom DeLay-engineered Texas mid-term redistricting plot comes to mind. That decision to redistrict was unprecedented in the post-WW2 US. I suspect if a state legislature had come up with that plan to deny the Republicans a half-dozen seats in the House that Justice would not have been so accommodating -- as was the case in Mississippi in 2002, when Justice "political appointees rejected a recommendation from career lawyers to approve a redistricting plan favorable to Democrats. While Justice delayed issuing a final decision, a panel of three GOP federal judges approved a plan favorable to a Republican congressman."

Not to mention their support for a Jim Crow style law in Georgia that would overwhelming applied to poor blacks in requiring them to get a voter ID in order to vote, if they have no drivers license.

The Republican Party -- committed to fair elections, as long as the results are Right.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

election plans on track for gop

A local Florida election official has conducted systematic tests showing how easy it is to hack Diebold's electronic voting machines.

Another key element of the GOP's electoral strategy -- one they've used before -- is shaping up nicely. Who needs a paper trail to verify results when the suspicious results all break your way after all? I'm sure the fact that Diebold's chairman in 2004 said he was committed to making sure de facto President Bush was re-elected has nothing to do with the suspicious pattern in 2004. Bush supporter Christopher Hitchens details his own doubts in Vanity Fair, here.

The de facto Bush Administration refuses to mandate steps to assure votes are counted accurately ... one more step to becoming a true banana republic.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

reagan-appointed judge suggests bush is a criminal

Ok, I admit the headline here is mildly misleading; I was indulging my inner Karl Rove. But in sentencing the Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin to prison for handing over secrets to lobbyists working for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Reagan-appointed US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III said that, regardless of Franklin's motives, "It doesn't matter that you think you were really helping. That arrogates to yourself the decision whether to adhere to a statute passed by Congress, and we can't have that in this country."

Well said, Judge Ellis. Signing statements and alleged warpowers notwithstanding, no individual has the right to decide whether or not a law duly passed by Congress applies to him or her. And that includes de facto President Bush and the entire executive branch.

alf/elf aren't terrorists

The feds have indicted 11 for "eco-terrorism" incidents -- arson and sabotage of new developments and in one case, a Hummer dealership, in the west. Pro-torture de facto attorney general Alberto Gonzales took to the airwaves to proclaim this victory over the forces of terrorism.

We should grovel before the knees of the Bush Department of Justice for this huge advancement in the war against terrorism -- after all, the 17 heinous attacks perpetrated by the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, from 1996 to 2001, caused $23 million in damage and killed ... uh, well, actually they killed nobody, and nobody was injured, except for the wallets of some developers, lumber companies, meat plants, and SUV dealerships (or more accurately, the INSURERS of these folks).

Look, I won't defend the actions of ELF and ALF. Agree with them or not on the wisdom of expanding the human footprint into wilderness areas, or whether it is ever right to eat meat, or the stupidity of Hummers, fact is that arson and other acts of vandalism are illegal, even if you believe in the cause.

But Gonzales said "Today's indictment proves that we will not tolerate any group that terrorizes the American people, no matter its intentions or objectives." That's absurd. ELF and ALF terrorized nobody -- they are a pain in the ass for many people, yes, but they are not terrorizing the American people. Using "terrorism" to describe their activities grossly overstates their threat AND cheapens the word. Call them "criminals" and that is factually accurate in that they've committed criminal acts, whether you are sympathetic to their aims or not.

I have to wonder whether, if these groups had conducted similar acts of vandalism against say abortion clinics or the ACLU, they would have been labelled "terrorists" or not.

Friday, January 20, 2006

a rare correct decision

Some accuse me of disagreeing with everything the de facto Bush Administration does. Well that's simply not true. For example, I approve of the Treasury Department decision to let the Cuban baseball team to compete in the World Baseball Classic! First, it's right to let Cuba, a legitimate baseball power, compete in this competition. The quality will be better, and international sporting federations like the International Baseball Federation try to avoid mixing politics with sports.

But even better is anything that pisses off Florida GOP Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart ... In any case, as I've said before, the embargo on Cuba is stupid. Open up to Cuba and watch the Castro regime totter.


Plankton isn't just an evil restaurant owner on Spongebob Squarepants, it is the basis for the entire marine foodchain. And it too could be threatened by global warming. If plankton disappears, not only will a lot of fish go hungry and die, but plankton's role in converting carbon dioxide to oxygen will end, and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be reinforce just that little bit more. And that would really suck.

Meanwhile, former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency ex-EPA chiefs say the de facto Bush Administration isn't doing enough about this whole climate change thing. Christie Todd Whitman, W's first EPA administrator, said "You'd need to be in a hole somewhere to think that the amount of change that we have imposed on land, and the way we've handled deforestation, farming practices, development, and what we're putting into the air, isn't exacerbating what is probably a natural trend. But this is worse, and it's getting worse."

Even the CURRENT EPA guy (Stephen Johnson, like any of us knew that) agreed at this event that global warming is a real problem. The Bush Administration solution: fire up that air conditioning and buy more pumps to keep the ocean out of Florida while waiting for magic to save us from a swampy fate.

Now, this Aussie scientist thinks global warming is here BUT that we have some time to keep us from reaching a tipping point -- in other words, time to save the world as we know it. Who the hell really knows? It's not like this is an experiment we can conduct and then return to starting conditions. But to continue blithely on our current path -- firing up the barbecue, driving Canyoneero SUVs, airconditioning everything to 65 degrees, etc -- is clearly in-fucking-sane. We can't be sure whether doing something now will work or not, but shouldn't we at least TRY? Because trust me, if you think the economic disruption from cutting emissions by 50% (say) would be bad, just wait till you see what it's like when the Gulf Stream stops and the icecaps melt and Florida sinks under the sea and crops can't grow in our grainbelts anymore because of too-rapid climate change.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

feds demand google info

Google is refusing to comply with a friendly request from the de facto Bush Administration to provide scads of data on web sites and search queries. So Advocate for Torturers Alberto Gonzales has asked a federal judge for an order to force Google to hand over what the feds want to see.

The feds aren't asking for much. They merely want Google to cough up a list of all search requests made in a week (any week, apparently, the feds aren't too picky); that would be millions of queries. And they want one million (such a nice round number) randomly-selected websites from Google's databases.

The reason? The feds say they need this information to build a case for getting reinstated a law struck down by the Supreme Court, a law that was supposed to protect children on-line. In a separate case in Pennsylvania, the feds are trying to prove that internet filters don't adequately protect our children from seeing porn and other "objectionable material" (not further defined, probably includes democrats.org or aclu.org).

Wow, this is such a nifty idea on so many levels. First is the specter of censorship. That is clearly one aim of the Bushies. Hey, I agree completely that there are sites that children shouldn't go to. But it's ironic that a White House which bullshits us about keeping the government out of our lives, trusting the free markets, and espousing personal responsibility will when the mood strikes them, instantly strike a nanny-state pose to protect us (and our kids) from things because we simply don't know well enough to protect ourselves. You know, the way the de facto Administration is trying to protect terminally ill, pain-wracked, mentally competent adults in Oregon from getting drugs to end their lives of suffering a little bit earlier.

Butt out -- it is a PARENT'S responsibility to know what their kids are doing on-line, exactly as they should know where their kids are at 11:00, or who their kids hang out with on the weekend or after school. Or maybe the Administration would like to appoint personal nannies to every American child to make sure they aren't exposed to offensive materials in other parts of the life - you know, to make sure they don't watch Fox News or other obscene material.

It's an absurd fishing expedition. Google shouldn't have to help the Administration develop its case -- it's up to the Administration to prove its point about the allegedly unsafe internet environment for our poor little youngsters. This whole exercise is on one level clear pandering to the theocratic wing of the Republican Party, easily offended by sites like this and almost anything else that doesn't comport with their narrow worldview.

But on another level it is part and parcel of this regime's growing assertion of authoritarian powers. They are demanding this information -- and apparently Yahoo! and MSN have already handed over data to the feds. They say it is to protect kids, but once they have this mass of data in their hot and sweaty little hands, what is to stop them from looking for OTHER non-related things????

This is an Administration that has lied to us for over four years about its illegal, unwarranted domestic surveillance program. This is an Administration that refuses to admit it condones and encourages torture, while reserving the right to practice torture even as the Torturer-in-Chief signs the McCain Bill banning such practices. This is an Administration that was overtly setting up the Total Information Awareness project before publicity got too bad. This is an Administration that has already asserted essentially unlimited powers for its Commander-in-Chief based on the idea that we are at war, and during wartime anything the President says, goes.

With all this information available to them, do you think they will resist the temptation to heavily mine this data to see what else they can turn up? If you do, your naivety is touching.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

getting hot

The whole climate change issue is very depressing. Sometimes I think we are driving the planet -- and ourselves -- off the edge of a cliff, and that future generations (if they exist) will curse the industrial era and the name of the United States as the biggest contributor to the problem and the biggest obstacle to trying to curb it.

As for this quote, "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing" -- well, read "Collapse" by Jared Diamond. It isn't unknown.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Credit industry types scoffed and said most bankrupt cases were a bunch of freespending, living-large never-do-wells who entered lightly into bankruptcy to fund their carefree spending sprees. Well, thirteen weeks after the new law went into effect making bankruptcy more difficult and mandating credit counseling sessions, this credit counseling agency has gathered some data.

We see that in fact, most people who come to them have little choice but to file for bankruptcy, and have not gotten to this point by buying expensive cars and the latest fashions and vacationing in Vegas and Paris, but have had medical emergencies, lost jobs, been defrauded, etc. In other words, they have encountered legitimate emergencies and only then have they been driven to considering bankruptcy. Of the people who came for credit counseling, only 4.5% even qualified so far for debt management plans, and 0.1% have signed up for one.

Corporate America seems surprised. Really, most Americans aren't deadbeats, which makes the draconian tightening of the bankruptcy laws for individuals unnecessary and unfair.

Monday, January 16, 2006

gore unhappy about spying

Winner of the 2000 election Al Gore today slammed the de facto Administration for its unwarranted domestic spying. He said Bush broke the law repeatedly, and that these actions are “a threat to the very structure of our government.”

So was the Supreme Court's unwarranted intrusion into Florida's electoral process in 2000. Sigh.

The GOP responded in it's usual, thoughtful, nuanced way to a policy critique from an opponent, thru one of its interchangeable mouthpieces: "Al Gore’s incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day is almost as glaring as his lack of understanding of the threats facing America. While the president works to protect Americans from terrorists, Democrats deliver no solutions of their own, only diatribes laden with inaccuracies and anger.”

When accused of crimes, respond by accusing your critics of grandstanding and ignorance. It's much, much easier than defending the facts. Al Gore should be careful, I'm sure the GOP would be glad to give him a tour of Gitmo. Nothing stopping them from calling Gore an enemy combatant, right? And torture, which the Administration doesn't engage in, is legal anyway, the right reserved to the Administration in Bush's signing statement regardless of McCain's law, and unitary executive absolute monarchist Alito will be sure to back up the de facto Administration of the case gets to the courts.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

a lying general

Good editorial today in the Washington Post about General Geoffry Miller refusing to be cross-examined about the abuses of Abu Ghraib for fear of self-incrimination. That would certainly seem to indicate he was lying about Abu Ghraib and Gitmo in his earlier statements -- statements made under oath.
Money quote from the editorial:
But anyone who still accepts the Abu Ghraib cover story peddled by the White House and the Pentagon -- that the abuses portrayed in now-infamous photographs were invented by rogue guards on the night shift -- ought to be asking what this two-star general is afraid of.
Charge Miller -- and charge the policymakers who have settled on the inhumane, self-defeating, and ineffective policy of torture.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

pakistan peeved

Surprisingly, the Pakistani government isn't happy that the US Air Force bombed a village in its territory in an effort to kill Al Qaida #2 al-Zawahri. Some of the residents are protesting too. And, the cherry on top is that old al-Zawarhi apparently wasn't even present.

So, the neocon campaign to win friends and influence people continues nicely. All going to plan, I'm sure.

Friday, January 13, 2006

so, who'd we kill?

Pardon me if I contain my enthusiasm about reports that we might have -- MIGHT HAVE -- killed Al Qaida #2 al-Zawahri in northern Pakistan with an airstrike.

First, seems to me we've heard this one before. And we've killed or captured about a bazillion #3's too. I guess Al Qaida is an organizational pancake -- Bin Laden at top, then al-Zawahri, then everybody else tied for #3. I'd say that's a rather socialistic organization, but Muslim fundamentalists wouldn't like being compared to socialists.

In any case, even if the Air Force got their man, does it help us? I mean, al-Zawahri would become a martyr, somebody else for the ideologues to extoll in recruiting young men (and the occasional young woman) to the cause of blowing themselves up to blow up some Americans or Britons or Spaniards or Australians, in part at least for the fact that Americans blew up al-Zawarhi.

Even more so, because we also blew up a bunch of other people in the village in northern Pakistan, including women and children.

I don't mind killing terrorists, really. Our Air Force guys nailed some baddies in a car on a highway in Yemen a few years back. THAT one was without killing others; no women and children. Bombing a compound like this... I dunno. I just dunno.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

goose is peeved

The Baseball Writers of America have picked reliever Bruce Sutter for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In doing so, they bypassed reliever Goose Gossage. You can make a case for Sutter -- but a case for Gossage would be even stronger.

And Goose is peeved. Not at Sutter, but at the bizarre way a player can get more and fewer votes from year to year.

Can't blame him -- it must be frustrating. As Dave Sheinin pointed out in the Post today, Sutter did nothing over the past twelve months, and was somehow deemed Hall-worthy this year, on his thirteenth chance. And guys like Gossage and Jim Rice now have to face people like Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, and Mark McGwire coming onto the ballot. Somehow, that will make them less Hall-worthy? Probably. 'Tis an odd system.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

year of the police?

Senior US officials have said 2006 in Iraq is supposed to be the "year of the police," when our guys will help Iraqi cops become professional and all that. Too bad so many Iraqi cops are being blown up, this time by two guys who got into the Interior Ministry headquarters, a secure area rendered extra secure because of the presence of many VIPs, including the American ambassador. They had badges and some sort of permission to enter, but fortunately for the VIPs were stopped well short. Not so fortunate for the 29 Iraqis who died.

It struck me how in this article various Iraqi police who were present and survived the bombing asked not to be identified -- they don't want to be targetted by the insurgents. Anonymity -- yet another reason if you're an Iraqi cop to remember the old Timbuk3, "the future's so bright, I gotta wear shades." Keep those shades on, your hat pulled low, and tell the wife you're delivering pizza or something, but don't let anybody know you're a cop, or you're future will be bright -- briefly, in the flash of an explosion or gunshot.

Can't wait for the final victory in Iraq, sure it'll be here reeeeeallll sooooon. The future is so, so very bright.

Monday, January 09, 2006

dead cats, dead birds, dead people, and not-dead-yet people

It's So Easy to Keep Your Cat Alive
It must be very sad to have your cat killed by a dog. But I offer a foolproof plan to keep your cat from suffering the fate this one did. It's quite simple.


There are several reasons. First, it is better for your beloved Tabby. Cats that live indoors full-time aren't exposed to disease from other cats and other animals, don't get hit by cars, don't get tortured by cruel kids, don't breed (I assume somebody stupid enough to let their pet cats roam free is probably stupid enough not to have them spayed/neutered) and don't get killed by dogs or other dangerous animals. Then you wouldn't have to waste your time on some expensive vendetta against the dog that probably killed your cat...

Second, it's better for the birds. House cats (tame and feral) are wreaking havoc on songbird populations in the US, and kill lots of other critters.

And finally, cats that are kept indoors won't crap in my backyard.

Leave That Bird Alone
Five simple words: Don't Play With Dead Birds. In Turkey or anywhere else. It is disturbing to see the incidence of avian influenza in other places in Turkey -- not just the village where the three children died, but also Ankara in central Turkey, and Van, a large city in eastern Turkey. Looks like all these cases involve people around sick birds, but every human who gets the bug increases the opportunities for the H5N1 virus to acquire the ability to jump from person to person.

He's Not Dead Yet
I have to keep telling myself, it is not nice to wish for somebody to die. It is not nice, it is not nice...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

leery about friends

I know that antisemitism has had a long history, and if you're Jewish, it mus be nice to know that antisemitism in North America is less (at least, less overt) than it used to be. But I can't blame Jews for worrying sometimes about their friends in the Christian evangelical world... given that it is those same sorts of people who are leading the effort to Christianize the United States, to make our governmental institutions explicitly Christian. In other words, coming close to establishment of a state-sanctioned religion, in which by definition all other religions are inferior, even if tolerated.

What's even scarier is the idea that some Christians (like Pat Robertson) are pro-Israel (if not quite pro-Jewish) because they see the Jewish state as being the first step on the road to the Apocolypse and then eternal salvation for those of us who have guessed right from the thousands of religions available to us...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

turkey has bird flu

When I told a colleague about Turkey having bird flu, she thought I was making a pun. Unfortunately, I wasn't -- Turkey really DOES have human cases of bird flu. Three children from the same family have died in a northeastern Turkish village. Turkish authorities have quarantined the village, and twenty people -- mostly in the same part of Turkey -- are hospitalized with what they suspect is A/H5N1 bird flu.

Now, the three children were reportedly exposed to dead chickens. I don't know about the other twenty patients. But it's a little disconcerting, since previously the A/H5N1 influenza hadn't been reported among birds in that part of Turkey. And every human who gets the bird flu -- especially during the "regular" flu season -- increases the odds of the A/H5N1 getting a chance to mix it up with some other flu strain that is better adapted to human-to-human contact...

memo to the white house: your spying IS illegal

The Congressional Research Service has come to the conclusion that the de facto administration's domestic surveillance program -- you know, the warrantless variety now practiced by the NSA -- is in fact illegal. Specifically, they said that the program conflicts with existing law, and that the justifications the White House lawyers have used, that such eavesdropping was covered by the Congressional authorization to go into Afghanistan, and that they fall under the Commander-in-Chief powers, are feeble.

Gosh, what does CRS have in the way of legal analytical power that the White House and Department of Justice don't? CRS takes to hear what Berkely professor and former Justice legal whore John Yoo, said: "It would be inappropriate for a lawyer to say, 'The law means A, but I'm going to say B because to interpret it as A would violate American values. A lawyer's job is if the law says A, the law says A."

CRS lawyers get it. CRS lawyers read the laws and said that A means A. John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, and the others don't get it. Or specifically, they probably DO understand it but choose to ignore Yoo's simple (and for him, hypocritical) principle in the name of political expediency, in coming up with justifications to try to paint a thin veneer of respectability and legality over the illegal and unconstitutional actions of their political bosses.

Friday, January 06, 2006

robertson, robertson, and norquist

Robertson on Sharon
Really, it's almost too easy to make fun of Pat Robertson for saying stupid stuff. He's done it again, suggesting that Israel PM Sharon's stroke was divine intervention because God didn't like it that Sharon was going to divide "God's land."

When Pat Robertson dies, as he surely must, how shall we assess his death? Whatever it is, I'll say it's God judgement against Robertson for being so quick to judge others...

Robertson on Alito
Meanwhile, Robertson says God told him Samuel Alito would be confirmed, and a liberal justice would retire this year. What's with that moron who will "consecrate Room 216 Hart" where the Alito hearings will take place? Will Jews or atheists go up in smoke when they enter the room? I guess the Senate has exempted itself from any restrictions on the separation of church and state.

Norquist on Abramoff
Back in 1995, Reagan worshipper Grover "Drown the Government in a Bathtub" Norquist (about whom I can't say enough unpleasant things) said to the National Journal about his former partner in crime with the Young Republicans: "What the Republicans need is 50 Jack Abramoffs. Then this becomes a different town." As E.J. Dionne wrote, "Norquist got his different town. It's why the place so badly needs cleaning up."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

another bloody day in iraq

Even by the sad standards of American-Occupied Iraq, today was a terrible day.

Gosh, can't wait for those glorious democratic days of wine and roses that Bush, Cheney, and other fablists keep promising are waiting just around the corner for Iraq. The suspense is killing Iraqis. As are the bombs.

the contemptuous white house

So the de facto Administration reserves the right to ignore the recently-passed anti-torture law at its own convenience. As Elisa Massimino, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, said, "Congress is trying to flex its muscle to provide those checks [on detainee abuse], and it's being told through the signing statement that it's impotent. It's quite a radical view." It's John Yoo's view, Samuel Alito's view, the view of ideologues who want statements giving the President's interpretation of laws equal weight with Congressional intent and even the letter of said laws.

Folks, our Constitution is quite clear. Congress passes laws, the Executive enforces them. And the judiciary interprets them -- not the White House or the Justice Department.

So, we have a clear statement of intent to ignore the anti-torture law when convenient. They're already ignoring the law on domestic surveillance, based on some crackpot theory that grotesquely overstretches the "commander in chief" powers and based on an ambitious reading of the powers Congress delegated in authorizing our war in Afghanistan. What other laws and constitutional provisions can we expect these guys to ignore?

One thing they continue to flout is Congressional power of advise and consent for appointees -- Bush made a slew of recess appointments yesterday. Let's look at some of them, shall we? Julie Myers is tapped to head up Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security. Her main qualification? Her uncle is Air Force General and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dick Myers -- AND her husband is DHS Secretary Chertoff's chief of staff. She has NO immigration enforcement experience, nor experience managing a large organization. So the only way to explain her selection is one word: Cronyism.

Ellen Sauerbrey is now the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. Sauerbrey is an opponent of abortion rights. Unlike previous people appointed to this job (by Democrats and Republicans), Sauerbrey, a political hack from Maryland who several times failed to win Maryland's governorship or a Senate seat, has absolutely no experience with refugee issues. She is simply unqualified, and her anti-abortion extremism will further undermine global efforts on population issues by inserting that domestic US controversy into the international arena.

From the Post: "For the Federal Election Commission, Bush picked Justice Department employee and former Fulton County, Ga., Republican chairman Hans von Spakovsky for one of three openings. Von Spakovsky is widely viewed as a key player in two disputed Justice Department decisions to overrule career staff in voting rights cases." So a guy who plays a leading role in ignoring expert opinions (like this one) that run counter to the White House's partisan wishes gets a job on the FEC. I'm so glad to see elections will continue to be administered fairly.

Recess appointments are a power that is grossly outdated, granted in an era when Congress was in recess for several months at a time. To use this power just a few days before Congress returns from recess abuses the intent and shows the contempt this WH holds for other branches of the government. The Bolton recess appointment as UN ambassador is a piece of the pattern. White House to Congress -- screw you very much, we'll do what we want. AND it was done after the Congress had a pro forma opening for the 2006 session, so now the WH claims these appointments are valid till the end of 2007!

Can anybody imagine the reaction of the Republican Congress if Clinton had so consistently resorted to recess appointments for controversial and unqualified nominees? Why, I bet they'd have impeached him.

This White House has nothing but contempt, for Congress, for anybody who disagrees with it, who asks questions of it, who dares think that people outside of the Office of the Vice President (oh yeah, and the Oval Office) enjoy any power at all.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

again with the lies, dick?

Once more, de facto Vice President Dick Cheney is speaking publicly. Once more, Dick Cheney is lying. This time, he claims that the (judicially unauthorized, illegal, unconstitutional, and probably ineffective) domestic eavesdropping that NSA has been indulging in since September 11, 2001 could have prevented the terror attacks of that day. Naturally, Cheney offers no proof for his statement. Because no proof is needed, he just wants to plant the seeds of doubt and give the yellow-dog Republicans a talking point to live by.

This is even by Dick Cheney's standards an utterly cynical and frankly unconvincing argument. It fits nicely with the Cheney Doctrine, which holds that unchecked power in the hands of the Executive Branch can only be good for the American Volk, I mean People. And for Big Business.

I'm dubious that phone calls would reveal much anyway. For years, terrorists have realized that phone calls and email messages are risky -- they find other ways to communicate.

Besides, there was PLENTY of evidence and warning from the intelligence community before September 11. Remember the intelligence and counterterror community were already running around with their hair on fire trying to penetrate the disinterested Administration in the threat of an impending terror attack. Would any eavesdropping-derived evidence have been treated any differently? Assuming the plotters didn't say things like, "OK, Ali I'll meet you on Tuesday September 11 so we can hijack flight XYZ from Boston to LA and fly it in the World Trade Center just like we planned. Give my regards to your wife."

Our Vice President. What a guy.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

abramoff confesses

Jack Abramoff confesses, and agrees to testify as part of his plea. Let the squealing and fingerpointing begin.

De facto White House press spokesman Scott McClellan helpfully notes that Abramoff donated to both Democrats and Repubublicans. Like most things he says from the podium, that has some truth to it. Some -- but not much. Let the record show that the overwhelming bulk of payoffs and campaign donations were to Republicans, so they can take 95% of the blame. Abramoff wasn't just some apolitical businessman -- his ability to charge Choctaws and owners of Marianas sweatshops huge lobbying fees was based on his personal access to Republicans in power. Remember, Abramoff was with that Reagan-worshipping maggot Grover Norquist a major power in the College Republican takeover.

Abramoff is a a Republican, McClellan, a Republican through and through. One of yours. As Republican as Tom DeLay, Conrad Burns, and Bob Ney. So let's watch where Abramoff's self-serving squeals take us...

russia says, never mind

Russia's Gazprom says "oops, never mind," suddenly realizing that its short-term goal of getting the Ukrainians to cough up nearly five times more for its natural gas was at odds with its long-term goal of getting Western Europe hooked on said gas so Tsar Putin's Russia can threaten THEM with cutoffs further down the road.

I mean, so Russia can solidify its reputation as a reliable provider of cheap energy products for the mutual benefit of the people of the European Union and profit-, freedom- and democracy-loving Mother Russia.

Monday, January 02, 2006

russia making friends, influencing people

Russia wants Ukraine to pay nearly five times more for natural gas, effective immediately. Ukraine says it's willing to pay the higher price, but wants to phase it in. Not good enough says Russia, so it shuts off the pipelines on New Years Day.

Bad for Ukraine -- and unfortunately bad for the rest of chilly Europe since the supplies to places like Germany and Italy go thru Ukraine.

One of the evening news broadcasts yesterday noted this happened on the day Russia assumed the chairmanship of the G-8, the group of "major industrial democracies." Russian membership in this group is a joke, since it is no more democratic than places like Pakistan or Egypt. But hey, a few years ago somebody had the bright of inviting Yeltsin as an observer to the G-7 Summit and it slowly evolved into a permanent spot at the table, giving Bush, Blair and the rest an annual chance to share the dais with good old Vladimir Putin, former KGB hack, who has smothered Russia's never-strong democracy in its infancy.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

here's hoping for a better 2006

Happy New Year. Here's hoping that an asteroid does NOT hit our poor planet in August 2006, as one psychic is predicting. In the same article are predictions of Schwarzenegger's re-election, a Brazil win at the World Cup, the re-establishment of a draft in the US, and a stumble for Google.

Any of those could happen. But let's look at this set of particularly hapless predictions for 2005. Investment guru James Cramer predicted that in 2005:
1. Wal-Mart would stumble. Didn't happen, although they got bad PR. On the other hand, they took advantage of their response to Katrina to generate some positive PR and goodwill
2. There would be a new oil rush in North America. Not aware of it.
3. Fresh water would become the next great growth commodity. This could be true, but does not appear to have begun in 2005.
4. Housing would stay hot. Nope -- getting soft in hot areas like California, the DC area.
5. Merck would be transformed into a victims trust. Didn't happen.
6. After a series of suicide bombings here in the US, a national ID card would be instituted. Neither happened.
7. Every airline except JetBlue and Southwest would go out of business. Gosh, I just flew United a few weeks ago. Obviously didn't happen.
8. De facto President Bush would succeed in forcing reform of Social Security. Didn't happen.
9. The market’s love affair with the Internet and profitable growth would take a new form. You might be able to make a case for this.
10. The Chicago Merc would buy the New York Stock Exchange and merge it with the NASDAQ. Didn't happen.

Pretty unimpressive record there, Cramer. Better get a new magic eight ball. Remind me to buy an investment book by you and do the opposite of whatever you suggest.

Anyway, I'm already on record with one prediction for 2006 -- the Cleveland Indians will win the World Series. I think I'll stick with just that one.