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friday, june 10, 2005

Losing Our Country
 
Whenever I blog about the economy and the challenged middle class I feel like an old woman warning the tribe that the bison supply isn't what it used to be. Looking back on what "middle class" meant in the 1960s, and comparing that to what "middle class" is now, makes me want to throw up my arms and wail that soon, children, the bison will be no more, and we will be reduced to eating berries and tree bark.
 
The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists.

Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.

Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.

The professor says that the middle class America us old folks remember ...

... was created by what has been called the Great Compression of incomes that took place during World War II, and sustained for a generation by social norms that favored equality, strong labor unions and progressive taxation. Since the 1970's, all of those sustaining forces have lost their power.

Krugman takes on Bush economic apologists, whom we might also call economic disassemblers, as they are disassembling the middle class. The extraordinarily clever Brad de Long had already written a post that backs up what Krugman says with numbers and graphs. Be sure to read both Krugman and DeLong.
 
Botton line: The Bushies lie, and we're screwed.
 
Update: Jonathan Chait writes about the same stuff in the LA Times.
  
10:17 am | link

Like I Care What Ben Nelson Thinks
 
Just four months into his tenure as chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean has found himself on unforgiving - if familiar - terrain. As he visited Capitol Hill on Thursday, he faced a growing number of critics and received a private scolding from leading members of his party for several derogatory remarks he has made about Republicans in recent weeks.
 
Republicans have attacked him with glee for those remarks, which they have described as "below the belt," while Democrats have struggled to defend him yet have quietly acknowledged that Dr. Dean was showing signs of being as polarizing as they once feared.

"I've always been very cautious and careful to deal with my Democratic friends, my independent friends, my enlightened Republican friends, so I'm very concerned about anything that is unnecessarily divisive," said Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a Democrat in a red state, after attending a closed-door lunch with Dr. Dean in a conference room near the Senate floor.

Let's pretend the Dems are on a sinking raft, and somebody has to be tossed off the raft. Who would you toss? Ben Nelson or Howard Dean? Hmmm...
 
Ben Nelson is a DINO who votes with the Republicans but who gets catered to because he's keeping a Red State Senate seat for the Dem party. I'm not saying the guy should be handed his hat and told to go home. He deserves respect as an elected representative of the state of Nebraska. He is entitled to input on legislative and other matters being considered by the Senate. But as far as Democratic Party matters are concerned, Nelson should (politely) be told that if anyone cares what he thinks, they'll let him know. And don't bother to wait by the phone.
 
The Dems may have a polarization problem, but IMO it's not the problem they think they have, or the problem Bill O'Reilly thinks they have. What the party leaders should be worried about is not the polarization between Democratic and Republican voters, but the polarization between Democratic voters and the Democratic Party.
 
This polarization is exemplified by the "conventional wisdom" that Hillary Clinton has the 2008 presidential nomination in the bag. Bob the Lizard wrote earlier this week: 

Party insiders in Washington and New York, including many who ran the last two losing Democratic presidential campaigns, say they have never before seen anything like the way Clinton has sewn up the nomination. In particular, they say, she has cornered Eastern money in a way nobody else ever has done at such an early date.

Eastern money. Eastern money talks louder than the rank and file. At the very time progressives all around America are longing for Dems to show some populist fire as in days of yore, we get a party that is being run by and for eastern money.

In the column linked above, the Reptile was shocked to find "resistance" to Clinton among party faithful in California. But we know it ain't just California. Here on the Left Blogosphere, sentiment for a Clinton candidacy ranges from I guess I'll vote for her if that's the only choice I have to ohmygawd no. 

And this isn't just because she couldn't win the election. Nor is it because if she did win, her very presence in the White House would fire up the VRWC to new heights of hysteria and obstructionism. I think it's because many of us are beyond weary of "smart" Democratic candidates who are packaged and focus-grouped to death to appeal to "swing" voters, taking progressives for granted. And we are tired of Democrats in Congress whose votes on issues are based on politics and not on what's right for America.

And yes, I realize there are polls saying that some whopping big majority of Democratic voters say they'd vote for her, but I believe this is because of the name recognition factor, not because some whopping big majority actually cares. In my long weary life, many times I've seen front runners with formidible leads fade and drop back once the real campaigning starts, and voters get a chance to see the other choices. Today's polls don't mean nothin'.   

(And remember back in 2003 when the "smart" candidate for president was either Lieberman or Gephardt?)

I'm not sure what outside-the-beltway Dems can do to get the inside-the-beltway and "eastern money" establishment to notice us. The 2x4 upside the head approach is tempting, but probably felonious. Maybe it's time for something big and splashy, like a Progressives' March on Washington. But money seems to be the only thing the insiders respond to. Hmm.

Update: See E.J. Dionne, "Kerried Away."

Democrats have to end their addiction to the Kerry alibi.

They may be publicly castigating their national chairman, Howard Dean. But wherever two or more Democrats are gathered privately, their instinct is to blame John Kerry first. I am fed up (to borrow Bill Safire's coinage) with the nattering nabobs of negativism who make themselves feel good by trashing Kerry.

This habit is dangerous because dissing Kerry is an easy way for Democrats to evade discussion of what the party needs to do to right itself. By focusing on the past, the Kerry alibi allows Democrats to avoid engaging the future. In 2008, the Democrats could nominate a candidate who combines Harry Truman's toughness, JFK's charm and FDR's gifts of leadership -- and still face many of the problems Kerry confronted. Blaming everything on Kerry as a supposedly elitist, stiff and indecisive Massachusetts liberal is the Democrats' version of cheap grace.

It may be that the party insiders and "eastern money" people are looking for the Magic Candidate who will make everything all better, instead of facing the systemic problems in the Democratic party, not to mention the pathologies of our political system. They must be telling themselves that Hillary is the Magic Candidate. Clearly, this is wishful thinking.

Update update: Robert Kuttner, "The Early Lead":  

This does not mean, however, that Hillary is a lefty. On the contrary, she is consciously positioned in the political center, deftly fine-tuning her rhetoric on abortion, casting some pro-business votes, and sounding tough on defense. Like Bill. ...

...But Senator Clinton's own complex political identity may be a problem. Many Democratic progressives, female and male, just don't trust her because she has trimmed on too many issues too many times. And they're not at all sure she can be elected.

5:40 am | link

thursday, june 9, 2005

The Hijacking of Ground Zero
The Right has its knickers in a knot over the International Freedom Center to be built at Ground Zero. This is because of a sour grapes editorial by Debra Burlingham, a member of the board of directors of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and the sister of a pilot who crashed into the towers.
 
Clearly, the other committee members and Debra didn't see eye to eye about the memorial. The majority of the committee chose a plan Debra didn't like.
 
Did I say sour grapes? Burlingham's op ed is oozing with 'em.
 
In a nutshell: The majority chose to build an International Freedom Center  (IFC) to complement the memorial and serve as a buffer "between the sacred Memorial and the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city," in the words of Richard Toffel, president of the IFC. 
 
The memorial plans as I understand them provide for waterfalls and trees in the "footprints" of the towers, and among the trees and waterfalls will be a Memorial Center, "which will tell the stories of the day--of heroism and sacrifice, of rescue and service, of courage and resolution, of memory and loss," says Toffel. "It is the Memorial Center that will contain the iconic artifacts of September 11."
 
The IFC, a separate structure, will have exhibits on freedom and will also host lectures, symposia, films, etc. that will "nurture a global conservation about freedom in our world today," according to this IFC fact sheet.
 
Sounds good to me. But Burlingham and others on the Right don't want the IFC to be built, because liberals are involved. According to Burlingham,
Rather than a respectful tribute to our individual and collective loss, they will get a slanted history lesson, a didactic lecture on the meaning of liberty in a post-9/11 world. They will be served up a heaping foreign policy discussion over the greater meaning of Abu Ghraib and what it portends for the country and the rest of the world. ...
 
To the IFC's organizers, it is not only history's triumphs that illuminate, but also its failures. The public will have come to see 9/11 but will be given a high-tech, multimedia tutorial about man's inhumanity to man, from Native American genocide to the lynchings and cross-burnings of the Jim Crow South, from the Third Reich's Final Solution to the Soviet gulags and beyond. This is a history all should know and learn, but dispensing it over the ashes of Ground Zero is like creating a Museum of Tolerance over the sunken graves of the USS Arizona.
Or like the Peace Memorial the Japanese built at Hiroshima? Oh, 'scuse me, most Japanese aren't Christians. They don't know they are supposed to nurture and cultivate hate.
 
Burlingham continues,
The driving force behind the IFC is Tom Bernstein, the dynamic co-founder of the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex who made a fortune financing Hollywood movies. But his capital ventures appear to have funded his true calling, the pro bono work he has done his entire adult life--as an activist lawyer in the human rights movement. He has been a proud member of Human Rights First since it was founded--as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights--27 years ago, and has served as its president for the last 12.

The public has a right to know that it was Mr. Bernstein's organization, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, that filed a lawsuit three months ago against Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was Human Rights First that filed an amicus brief on behalf of alleged "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla, an American citizen who the Justice Department believes is an al Qaeda recruit. It was Human Rights First that has called for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the alleged torture of detainees, complete with budget authority, subpoena power and the ability to demand that witnesses testify under oath.

Mr. Bernstein sounds like a great American to me, but what do I know? I'm a liberal. I believe in radical stuff, like the Sixth Amendment, which says that Jose Padilla has a right to a speedy and public trial, and has a right to know what crime he's charged with, and has a right to legal repesentation. Or the Fifth Amendment, which says that Jose Padilla cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. And I happen to think it is the duty of an American citizen to call his government to account if he/she believes the government is doing something wrong, like operating torture camps.
 
This is called "freedom." Righties like to use the word, but they don't believe in what it stands for. The only "freedom" they believe in is the "freedom" to bully and shun anyone who dares disagree with them and their precious martinet of a president.
 
Burlingham's opinion piece reveals her to be a narrow,  limited, bitter person who wants to glorify war and violence and nurture her hatreds instead of working through the pain to find something positive, to give a higher purpose to the deaths, as the rest of the memorial committee chose to do. She even takes a swipe at a planned photograph of Martin Luther King; apparently, Burlingham wanted a mural of an Iraqi voter.
What does it mean that the "story of humankind's quest for freedom" doesn't include the kind that is fought for with the blood and tears of patriots? It means, I fear, that this is a freedom center which will not use the word "patriot" the way our Founding Fathers did.  
Yes, when our Founding Fathers used the word "patriot," they used it as a synonym for "sycophant" or "knee-jerk supporter of King and Empire." I bet you didn't know that. And, of course, no one in the Civil Rights movement ever shed any blood or tears for freedom. 
 
WSJ gave Richard Toffel equal space to present his point of view (link above), but naturally the Right was not impressed. Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs (I provide no links to LGF) wrote,
Tofel doesn’t even mention the involvement of the ACLU and Human Rights First, or radical leftists like Columbia professor Eric Foner and ubermoonbat George Soros; let’s just ignore the America-haters behind the curtain, shall we?
Eric Foner is one of the most respected historians of American history alive today. I bet he could do a job filling Debra Burlingham in on all the stuff she doesn't know about the Civil Rights movement. But everyone who doesn't think like Charles Johnson is an "America-hater," which of course is in keeping with the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Loyalty, in which he wrote that everyone who didn't love King George deserved to be flogged.
 
But what really gets me is the way the Righties think they own Ground Zero. Like James Wolcott says,
Lance Mannion knocks it out of the Polo Grounds with this post about lily-livered, passive-aggressive, John-Lithgow-in-Raising Cain-obsessively-doting-dad James Lileks and the other warbloggers who keep clutching 9/11 as if it were their personal awakening and blogging Call to Arms. I'm amused, amazed, and annoyed that bloggers thousands of miles away from the actual death and destruction chide the rest of us for "not getting it" and wanting to bury our heads in the sandtrap when, as Sir Lancelot notes, New Yorkers themselves have a saner, wider, calmer perspective as the years pass. And unlike so many of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders, New Yorkers don't have the luxury of or inclination to demonize Arabs and Muslims and hat-tip Michelle Malkin or run sceered every time a couple of Them materialize in our visual field. Every time we step into a cab or enter a store, there's a good chance that the driver or manager may be Pakistani or Iranian or Iraqi or Palestinian and they don't represent the Other, they're fellow New Yorkers ...
Be sure to read Lance Mannion's post, especially down to the last line. The Right, it is nailed.
 
My daughter observed once that the people who seem most hysterical about terrorism are the ones who live furthest away from anyplace terrorists might actually strike. I think there's some truth in this, and I believe I know why. Wolcott touched on this as well. 
 
New Yorkers had to get over their fear pretty quickly just to function. They had to face getting in the subways and crossing the bridges and riding the commuter trains and passing through world-famous landmarks as part of their daily routine. And New Yorkers interact with Muslims every day, which means New Yorkers appreciate that Muslims are human beings.
 
But people who don't live here have the luxury of indulging their fear and hatreds and bigotry, because it doesn't get in the way of their daily lives. And people who never meet Muslims face to face are, IMO, more likely to be prejudied against them.
 
This is not to say that everyone outside New York City is raging with hate and bigotry because of 9/11; just that it seems to be more common outside New York City. Pretty remarkable, when you realize that just about everybody in the city knew someone who was in the towers.  Debra Burlingham may be the sister of one of the pilots, but I doubt the enormous majority of the victims' families think the way she does.
 
Anyway, just wanted to give you a heads' up that the Righties are trying to claim Ground Zero as their private property. It isn't
 
Also: Magnificent essay by Hilzoy at Obsidan Wings, via Pharyngula.
 
Update, Friday: More crapola about how "the Left" is trying to "hijack" Ground Zero. Jacob Laskin is saying, in essence, that Ground Zero® and September 11™ are the property of the Right. This eliminates most of the New Yorkers WHO WERE THERE, but never mind. Anyone who dares hold an opinion that deviates from Rightie Orthodoxy is not a real American and forfeits his First Amendment rights of free speech. And, of course, such people must not be allowed to have any input into how that terrible day is memorialized, even though it's mostly New Yorkers who suffered.
 
God, I hate these people.
 
1:43 pm | link

To Dean, or Not to Dean?
 
You may have noticed that whenever DNC chair Dr. Howard Dean says anything the least bit flip, the righties get all huffy and the Vichycrats crawl forward to apologize.
 
The question is, are Dr. Dean's mots mauvais hurting the Dems? Or do we let Dean be Dean?
 
In today's Boston Globe, Joan Vennochi writes,

Democrats are running against Howard Dean instead of George W. Bush and the GOP -- or, better yet, running for principles that matter to the country.

It makes little sense, unless the intent is to destroy what's left of their shell of a political party.

Dean, the head of the Democratic National Committee, is under attack by fellow Democrats who are allegedly upset at his partisan rhetoric. Critics such as Senators Joseph Biden of Delaware and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina are taking their shots at Dean, just as if they were sitting next to him during a debate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Manchester, N.H. They sound like they are positioning themselves for a future presidential campaign rather than working together to rebuild a party with a message for the future....

The Dems are snakebit, as we say back home. They're so afraid of the big, bad Right that they tiptoe oh, so carefully around it so that it doesn't get riled up and attack. See, Mr. Beast, we're the good Democrats. Don't eat us, please, Mr. Beast. Eat Howard Dean. He's the one who said bad things about you. If you like, we'll tie him up and present him to you on a platter. 

Democrats never cared what McAuliffe said; all that mattered was the money he raised, compliments of his vaunted schmoozing skills. Now a few hot-shot donors are upset that Dean isn't stroking them as constantly as McAuliffe, and suddenly he's a failure. According to a recent report in ''The Hill," during the first three months of this year, the DNC raised $14.1 million, ahead of the pace McAuliffe set in 2001. Dean is focusing on fund-raising in small increments through the Internet, as he did during his 2004 presidential bid, which revolutionized presidential campaign fund-raising. That's the big picture Democrats should focus on. Broadening the donor base from the bottom up is good for the Democratic Party.

I wonder if the Washington Dems even know they have a base.

If Democrats want to get outraged, why not get outraged over daily efforts by the Republican National Committee to marginalize Democratic opposition? The RNC dubbed Democrats ''the Party of No." The RNC is constantly spewing out press releases accusing Democrats of ''hypocritical and obstructionist" comments and ''baseless attacks." When liberal Democrats stand up to conservatives in Congress, they are derided as ''the Michael Moore branch of the Democratic Party."

Nice Beast. Here, have another bite of Dr. Dean. 

On the other hand, I want the Dems to be perceived as the party of live-action politicos serious about governing, as opposed to the GOP, the party of cartoon bullies who delight in dropping anvils on their unwary opponents.

Billmon writes,

As much as I hate to say it, unless Dean can settle down and get off his gaffe-a-day treadmill, maybe it would be best if he hit the showers. ...

 I'd say Dean is about one more gaffe away from being "Gringrichized" -- if he isn't there already. And yes, the conservative hyena pack and the vultures in the corporate media have certainly blown things out of proportion. But really, if you want to pitch in the majors, you've got to be able to put the ball in the catcher's mitt every once and awhile. And right now it's just not clear that Howard Dean can do that.

Gingrichized? Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog writes,

I want to compare Dean now and the public face of the "out" party in 1994:

Describing for a group of lobbyists the Republican strategy for the midterm elections, Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said last week that Clinton Democrats should be portrayed as "the enemy of normal Americans."...

Do you remember anyone in his party denouncing that remark at the time?

 Right-wing pundit Jeff Jacoby has said that "Gingrich deserved the drubbing he received" for the remark, but check the date on the Gingrich article, which appeared in The Washington Post: October 14, 1994. The "drubbing" Gingrich received a few weeks later was a gain for his party of more than 50 seats in the House, enough to give him the Speakership. The multi-million-dollar book deal followed shortly afterward. Yeah, harsh rhetoric made him a real pariah, didn't it?

As I remember, it wasn't Newt's loose lips that got him bounced from the House. In fact, Newt's mouth made him the fair-haired darling of the Right for quite some time. In 1997 Newt was  reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee for campaign finance violations. He resigned as speaker in 1998 and chose not to return to the House for another term. I suspect the House reprimand had little to do with his resignation, however. I think the GOP powers that be withdrew support from Newt because Bill Clinton got the better of him a few too many times. I wouldn't be surprised if the party pressured him to leave the House. 

On the other hand ... Stirling Newberry is one of the smartest guys on the Web, along with Billmon, and Stirling thinks Dean needs to be leashed.

Dean's shoot from the lip style often creates trouble. His Republican quote was one of those instances. Check the numbers people, you aren't going to win without convincing Republicans that it is safe to vote for Democrats.

Attack the Republican leadership: Delay, First, Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Brown, Condie and the rest will be doing stupid things enough to keep us all busy. But attacking "Republicans" in general helps the Lieberman types of this world claim they are "moderate" and protecting everyone.

Again, Republicans play by different rules, and get away with it. They can hurl all the outrageous, broad-brush smears of Dems they like. But they have enough mass media sewn up to be able to get their talking points repeated, day after day, hour after hour, in the ears of a big portion of the U.S. population. The Dems are lucky to speak a whole unfiltered sentence once a week on Meet the Press. Dems have reason to be more careful.

Here's an outrageous idea--why don't the Dems actually get together and agree on a plan of attack, and who's going to say what, and then back each other up instead of picking each other off? Maybe if Dean goes overboard, it's because he's carrying the burden of attack by himself.

"If Democrats in Congress did their job," Venocchi writes, "Dean would be the chorus. Now he's the whole act."

Considering the GOP's sagging poll numbers, this is the time for a coordinated attack.  A smart, well-thought-out coordinated attack. I 'spect the Dems might find out the Beast has lost some teeth.

Update: "Democratic Leaders Stand Up for Dean." Did they read my mind?

Update update: Via Steve M., David Kirkpatrick writes in the New York Times, "Latest Confirmed Nominee Sees Slavery in Liberalism.

Janice Rogers Brown, the African-American daughter of Alabama sharecroppers who was confirmed Wednesday to the federal appeals court here, often invokes slavery in describing what she sees as the perils of liberalism.

"In the heyday of liberal democracy, all roads lead to slavery," she has warned in speeches. Society and the courts have turned away from the founders' emphasis on personal responsibility, she has argued, toward a culture of government regulation and dependency that threatens fundamental freedoms.

First off, can we all agree that when the Dems take back Congress, one of the first items on the agenda will be impeaching Judge Brown and sending her back to whatever asylum she escaped from? Given her record, sooner rather than later there will be grounds. Impeaching Brown would just be a warmup, of course.

Steve M. says,

You say you support Social Security? Unemployment insurance? Federally backed student loans? You may as well be saying you support the bullwhipping of slaves.

The problem for Howard Dean is that decades of conservative rhetoric have conditioned Americans to believe that Democrats and liberals are dangerously far from the mainstream, while Republican right-wingers are solidly in the American grain -- so it's inevitable that he's going to be attacked when he seems to cross a line. But when a right-winger crosses the line in a way that's self-evidently outrageous, the mainstream press simply has learned to suppress that fact. Ann Coulter is portrayed as a mere jokester and satirist rather than a hatemonger; Janice Rogers Brown's vilest group slanders are kept out of the press until she's safely on her way to the federal bench.

So Howard can give 'em hell -- but if we want it to be effective, our side first has to lay a lot of groundwork to condition the press and public to accept the self-evident but now apparently unacceptable notion that a number of Republicans are far out of the mainstream.
  

Update update update: Who's afraid of the big bad Beast?

Update x 4: Via Liberal Oasis and Atrios, Donate to the DNC and help Howard Dean do his job. Nancy suggests you print out the form and mail it in with the message that the donation is an expression of support for Howard Dean.

8:42 am | link

Yesterday's Corruption News!
 
This item belongs with yesterday's corruption news, but I missed it yesterday. By John Vidal, in yesterday's Guardian:
President's George Bush's decision not to sign the United States up to the Kyoto global warming treaty was partly a result of pressure from ExxonMobil, the world's most powerful oil company, and other industries, according to US State Department papers seen by the Guardian.
Here's a little tidbit from OpenSecrets:
When it comes to campaign contributions, the Republican Party’s ties to the oil and gas industry have been well documented to say the least. No longer is it a surprise to note that 78 cents out of every dollar the industry has contributed to federal parties and candidates over the last decade has gone to the GOP or that President Bush was the No. 1 recipient of the industry’s money during the last election. But here’s something you might not know: Bush, with more than $1.8 million in contributions, got more money from the industry during 1999-2000 than any other federal candidate over the last decade, barely eclipsing two fellow Texans in the process. Sen. Phil Gramm (R) is the No. 2 recipient of oil money since 1989, with $1.6 million from industry PACs and individuals, while his oil patch colleague Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) ranks second with $1.3 million. Texas-based companies dominate the industry’s giving. The most generous: the Houston-based Enron, the industry’s No. 1 contributor during 1999-2000 with more than $2.3 million in contributions, about $1 million more than No. 2 ranked Exxon-Mobil.
The Bushies aren't just selling Washington; they're selling the whole bleeping planet.
 
 
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7:34 am | link

wednesday, june 8, 2005

Today's Corruption News!
 
THE quote du jour, courtesy of eRobin at American Street:
 
"Nobody wants to give money to a country that’s corrupt," the president said, "where leaders take money and put it in their pockets."
 
Yeah, that's "our" "president" the BBC is quoting. Kinda gives you a buzz between the ears, huh? If you want a bigger buzz, check out the links eRobin provides under the quote.
 
Let's see, what else is in the news  today? Carol Leonnig writes in WaPo,
After eight months of courtroom argument, Justice Department lawyers abruptly upset a landmark civil racketeering case against the tobacco industry yesterday by asking for less than 8 percent of the expected penalty.

As he concluded closing arguments in the six-year-old lawsuit, Justice Department lawyer Stephen D. Brody shocked tobacco company representatives and anti-tobacco activists by announcing that the government will not seek the $130 billion that a government expert had testified was necessary to fund smoking-cessation programs. Instead, Brody said, the Justice Department will ask tobacco companies to pay $10 billion over five years to help millions of Americans quit smoking.

Gracious, why would the Justice Department suddenly cut Big Tobacco a $120 billion deal? Steve Soto at The Left Coaster provides a clue:
Well, all those campaign contributions taken by Bush/Cheney (nearly $260,000 in 2000 and 2004) and the GOP from the tobacco industry over the years finally bought a $120 billion payday for Big Tobacco when the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department shocked the industry and anti-smoking advocates alike today by scuttling the government’s own litigation.
No corruption here, folks. Nosirreebob.
 
Buried in the 700-plus page energy bill currently under debate in the U.S. Senate is a provision that provides hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal loan guarantees for a power project apparently to be built by four former Enron executives. One of the former executives is Thomas White, former head of Enron’s retail and energy trading in California during the energy crisis who later served as President Bush’s Secretary of the Army.
Well, at least they're keeping busy. Idle hands are the devil's tools, and all that.
 
Here's another item from today's WaPo, by Mike Allen:
Senators urged the Pentagon's inspector general yesterday to release more information about the involvement of White House officials and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in an aborted $30 billion air-tanker deal that exposed gaping holes in the government's controls on large purchases.

The inspector general, Joseph E. Schmitz, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to present a 257-page report that concluded that Pentagon officials broke laws and regulations as they worked with Boeing Co. to complete a lease deal for 100 refueling planes. The deal was later canceled by Congress.

The report, released with 45 deletions of references to White House officials, called the existing controls inadequate and said the Defense Department "must change the cultural environment" of its purchasing bureaucracy. It shows in unprecedented detail how Pentagon officials worked with Boeing to tailor an expensive lease for the aircraft, which outside experts had said were not urgently needed.

According to OpenSecrets.org, during the 2004 election cycle Boeing didn't contribute as much to the GOP as Lockheed Martin, but there are other avenues for quid pro quo.
Former Air Force secretary James G. Roche said in a January letter to Schmitz, included in the report, that the tanker talks had included "senior White House staff" and President Bush's budget office.

Committee members said they may subpoena testimony from Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge Jr., who approved the deal when he was the Pentagon's top weapons buyer. Aldridge, who has since joined the board of directors of defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., did not respond to inquiries from the inspector general.

Your military-industrial complex at work.
 
In today's New York Times, we learn from Andrew Revkin:

A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports....

...Mr. Cooney is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the office that helps devise and promote administration policies on environmental issues.

Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the "climate team leader" and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry.

There are some who say that when people with ties, if not vested interests, in an industry are appointed to regulate that industry, they "regulate" in favor of the industry and against the interests of consumers and citizens and America as a whole. To which the Bushies say, yeah. So?
 
This wasn't published today, but if you haven't seen "Selling Washington" by Elizabeth Drew in the New York Review of Books, then go there, now. Sample:
Corruption has always been present in Washington, but in recent years it has become more sophisticated, pervasive, and blatant than ever. A friend of mine who works closely with lobbyists says, "There are no restraints now; business groups and lobbyists are going crazy—they're in every room on Capitol Hill writing the legislation. You can't move on the Hill without giving money."
Believe me, Teapot Dome was an exercise in civic responsibility compared to what's going on now.
 
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9:53 am | link

Quack Quack Quack
 
Somehow, I don't think Daryl Worley will be writing a song about what Dana Milbank and Claudia Deane write in today's WaPo:
For the first time since the war in Iraq began, more than half of the American public believes the fight there has not made the United States safer, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll....
 
Nearly three-quarters of Americans say the number of casualties in Iraq is unacceptable, while two-thirds say the U.S. military there is bogged down and nearly six in 10 say the war was not worth fighting -- in all three cases matching or exceeding the highest levels of pessimism yet recorded. More than four in 10 believe the U.S. presence in Iraq is becoming analogous to the experience in Vietnam.

Perhaps most ominous for President Bush, 52 percent said war in Iraq has not contributed to the long-term security of the United States, while 47 percent said it has. It was the first time a majority of Americans disagreed with the central notion Bush has offered to build support for war: that the fight there will make Americans safer from terrorists at home. In late 2003, 62 percent thought the Iraq war aided U.S. security, and three months ago 52 percent thought so.

Here is the graph I 'spect the righties will emphasize, if they take note of this story at all:

Overall, more than half -- 52 percent -- disapprove of how Bush is handling his job, the highest of his presidency. A somewhat larger majority -- 56 percent -- disapproved of Republicans in Congress, and an identical proportion disapproved of Democrats.

The same poll had a 51 percent disapproval for Bush in June 2004, from which he bounced back in September to 52 percent approve, 42 percent disapprove. Thus, the righties will say, Bush will bounce back again. This is just a temporary setback. And look, Dems in Congress are taking hits, too. But,

There were signs, however, that Bush and Republicans in Congress were receiving more of the blame for the recent standoffs over such issues as Bush's judicial nominees and Social Security. Six in 10 respondents said Bush and GOP leaders are not making good progress on the nation's problems; of those, 67 percent blamed the president and Republicans while 13 percent blamed congressional Democrats. For the first time, a majority, 55 percent, also said Bush has done more to divide the country than to unite it.

2006 could be sweet.

The one part of his job in which Bush still claims a slim majority approval--50 to 49, which in truth is a tie--is in his handling of the "war on terror." But check out the graphics. There has been steady erosion of Bush's support in this area as well.

Milbank and Deane write that support is dissipating fastest among independents. Three out of four Republicans still believe the war in Iraq has boosted national security. I'm sure you realize that most Republicans will continue to believe this no matter what, because they've got too much trust invested in Bush and too much faith invested in their ideologies, and if their cognitive dissonance ever fails them, their heads will explode. 

However, "six in 10 [of all persons polled] were confident that the United States was not violating the rights of detainees at the military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," which means we bloggers still have some work to do to get the independents and DINOs to face reality.

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tuesday, june 7, 2005

Soylent Green Is People
 
An article on the new bankruptcy law in the May issue of the AARP Bulletin by Carole Fleck ended this way: 

Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who took part in the medical bankruptcy study, says middle-income families are vulnerable because it’s nearly impossible for them to survive financially in our health care system. Insurance policies have so many gaps in coverage, she says, that patients’ out-of-pocket medical expenses often skyrocket.

"It doesn’t take a catastrophic illness to have a catastrophic financial effect," says Warren, co-author of The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke. "Today it’s possible to run up a $10,000 medical bill before you’re dismissed from the ER."

Joyce Johnson knows just how fast medical expenses add up. She chose to file under Chapter 13, which allowed her to keep her home and car. Some of her debt was forgiven, but she’s not out of the woods yet. She has given up her cell phone, her newspaper subscription and, now, her car.

"It’s hard enough fighting a life-threatening disease day to day," says Johnson, tired from an afternoon dialysis treatment. "Then you have to worry about it financially. The stress of the bills just gets to you."

Barbara Summers of Lexington, SC, responds in the current issue (letter not online):
My ex-husband was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. I took him in to care for him because he had no one. It took two years for it to kill him, but it did more than that.
 
There were the expenses for travel to cancer centers and specialists.The cost of medicine not covered by insurance rose. Our credit cards were maxed out. I borrowed against my house.
 
After he died, I had to sell our business, which we had not been able to supervise, at a loss. I had to sell my home to pay off the first and second mortages. I used most of my $75,000 in retirement savings to pay off my credit card debt.
A compassionate society must promote opportunity for all of us including the independence and dignity that come from ownership. This administration will constantly strive to promote an ownership society in America. See, we want more people owning their own home. We have a minority home ownership gap in America. I proposed a plan to the Congress, starting with helping with the poorest of poor make a downpayment for a home, to close that gap. It's in the national interest that more people own their own home.

We want people owning and managing their own healthcare accounts and their own retirement accounts. We want more people owning their own small business. This is an administration that understands when someone owns something, he or she has a vital stake in the future of our country.

Too bad Barbara Summers of Lexington, SC, wasn't there to respond to that.
 
A few months ago the Bushies shoved through a repeal of the federal estate tax, in part by spreading phony stories about ordinary, hard-working folks losing small businesses and farms. A look at the actual provisions of the now defunct tax reveals that, in fact, the estate tax rarely impacted small businesses and farms at all, and it would have been a simple matter to tweak the law to eliminate small businesses and family-owned farms entirely.
 
But, of course, the Bushies don't give a bleep about small businesses and farms. The repeal was a windfall for the wealthy, as intended.
 
And then there are the "private" Social Security accounts that Bush wants. One of his selling points is that people would be able to pass money in the accounts on to their heirs. In Bush's words,  “In addition, you'll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children and -- or grandchildren.'' But only if you die before or soon after retirement. And if you leave your "children and--or grandchildren" a pile of medical debt, they'll never see a dime of what's left in your "personal account."
 
By "managing their own healthcare accounts" Bush was referring to health savings accounts (HSAs), which are tax-free investments that can be used for health expenses. The plan is for employers to offer a combination of HSAs and high-deductible "catastrophic" insurance policies as an alternative to the standard PPO or HMO plans. As I understand the high-deductible plans, every year the insured person is responsible for the first $1,000 or $2,000 of medical expenses, and the insurance would begin to pick up the bills after that.
 
Well, better than nothin', maybe. It's likely lower-income families will be unable to keep enough money in the HSAs to cover basic office visits and preventative care, which means such care will be postponed if not skipped, which in the long run drives up cost. The righties seem to think that "health consumers" will make "better choices," like choosing generic drugs (like most prescription drug plans don't already refuse to pay for a non-generic drug if a generic is available?) or maybe skipping all those frivolous tests patients with full insurance demand all the time.
 
Yeah, I know I just love to cruise over to the local hospital and demand an MRI for the hell of it.
 
According to this article from the Los Angeles Times, once someone has burned through his deductible he's back in a regular health plan. This means  the people who need the most care will stay in standard health care plans. But if only the sickest employees are in these plans, the cost for those will go through the roof.
 
The Bush plan is just cost-shifting, in other words, and stupid cost-shifting at that.
 
And what about retirees?
 
Bush and other Republicans are looking to limit government's financial exposure and shift more of the risk for ensuring pension and healthcare security to workers and retirees in the name of increasing choice.  ... 
That's the scam, folks. And here's the choice--die young, or leave your kids a pile of debt.
Just 13% of companies still provide health benefits for retirees. And more of those that do are capping the amount they pay for premiums, leaving retirees liable if the cost is greater, the benefit research institute has found.
I think a lot of righties were either orphaned as children or still have healthy parents. My parents, both deceased, required an enormous amount of health care in their final years--my father had heart disease and my mother Alzheimer's. This is how most of us are going to end our days, if the terrorists don't get us first, and assuming the Bushies don't start up a Soylent Green factory.
 
However, thanks to my Dad's union benefits, my parents had good insurance to the end of their days. Medical bills didn't eat their estate, nor did the estate tax, still in force at the time.
 
Oh, and they didn't need "private" Social Security accounts to accumulate an estate. What they needed was disposable income, which they had, thanks to my dad's union wages and benefits, my mom's income as a nurse and later a teacher, and the fact that they lived in the Ozarks, where the cost of living is, um, low. My dad made his own choices about how to invest his money, and proved to be pretty shrewd at it. He didn't need a government program to enable him to invest. What he did need was regulation of securities so that small investers like him weren't ripped off by the sharks. And, in the end, he needed good health insurance.
 
If the Bushies get their way, we'll have none of that. No regulatory protection; inadequate if any health insurance (especially when we really need it). No protection from losing our homes and savings because of medical bills. We'll be on our own. Some choice. Some "ownership society."
 
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3:45 pm | link

Pizza Versus New Jersey
 
One can find many gross things on the Web, but Sadly, No turned up a pizza recipe that is beyond the pale. Only the strong should click.
 
Sadly artfully deconstructs the recipe and what will happen to you if you attempt to make it--"Skeletons will be burrowing upward from graves, bodies snapping erect at Dangler, Dangler, and Kohl Funeral Home, etc., and piling onto many New Jersey Transit buses, commandeering them to your house, where they will break down all your doors and windows through force of weight and take this pan away from you and throw it in the garbage." Yes, very likely. But I want to comment on another part of Sadly's post-- 

Now, I knew something was up with James Lileks, aesthetician, after a peculiar rant in which he sneered at New York pizza and talked up his usual Friday treat of a cracker-crusted Minnesota ketchup pie.

(I'm from New Jersey. Only we are allowed to deride New York pizza -- and not only that, only those of us in a particular radius from around here. You can say that we eat a slice with considerable alacrity and philosophic engagement.)

I lived in New Jersey for fifteen years, and in all that time found only one NJ establishment that could make decent pizza. This was a place in Mahwah I can't remember the name of. And since I found that place toward the end of my stay in New Jersey, it's possible my standards had been lowered.
 
My introduction to New Jersey pizza was one of the biggest culture shocks of my life. I ordered pizza at a restaurant highly regarded by the locals. But instead of pizza I was served a limp, pale, tasteless object that possibly was not meant to be eaten, but rather draped over a clock in a Salvadore Dali painting.
 
In fact, the thing was so limp it defied being picked up and eaten by hand. I glanced around the restaurant and saw how the natives had solved this problem--they folded the slices in half and ate them sandwich-style. I had never seen such a thing in my life, yet the natives munched away happily, unaware there was anything the least bit odd about pizza crust with the consistency of spongecake.
 
But the biggest shock was that this place didn't serve beer. (Nor did any other pizza joint in New Jersey, save the one in Mahwah I can't remember the name of. Liquor licenses are enormously expensive, turns out, so low-price resturants that serve pizza don't bother. Even some fancy digs are byob. Odd state.) This was a massive blow to my midwestern sensibilities, since the reason for pizza--hot, crunchy, cheesy, spicy pizza--is cold, frosted pitchers of beer. Why even bother about pizza if you can't order beer?
 
New York City pizza is a whole 'nother issue, though. The dish served in the greater metropolitan area as "pizza" is not pizza by, say, Chicago standards. Still, it can be pretty durn good. At the carry-out place in my neighborhood, for example, you can get a pie topped with broccoli rabe that's been sauteed with garlic in olive oil and sprinkled with pignoli nuts. My personal favorite is the gorgonzola and eggplant pie--yum. Or sometimes I get sauteed spinach, broccoli, or portobello mushrooms. Strictly speaking it's not pizza because it doesn't require being consumed with cold beer, but it's still good.
 
(Sometimes you have to get over what things are called and just enjoy them for what they are. Like Cincinnati chile, which is made by spooning a mole-type sauce over spaghetti and topping it with shredded cheese, beans, and chopped onions. It's delicious, especially with beer.)
 
On the other hand, if you are in Manhattan and require something to go with your beer, get a Bayou Beast from Two Boots (several locations). The Beast is topped with barbeque shrimp, crawfish andouille and jalapenos. One pitcher is not enough.
 
Now, I can't speak for Lileks and his Minnesota ketchup pie. In parts of this country people consume unspeakably vile things, such as chicken-fried steak, or fruit-flavored jello molded with mini-marshmallows. Once in the aptly named Effingham, Illinois, I found a menu item called "fried salad." The dish turned out to be a basket of breaded and fried organic material, some of which may have been cheese, and some of which resembled vegetative matter.
 
On the other hand, you don't go to Manhattan for the barbecue. Or for the fried chicken either; the one place I found that made good fried chicken is no longer in business. Manhattan chefs go a bit overboard with arugula and goat cheese, although they seem to have gotten over roasted beets. A Manhattanite's idea of ham is prosciutto, which is nowhere near as good as the sugar-cured hams from back home, IMO. And there's a dish that turns up at family reunions involving tomatoes, okra and corn meal that's just heavenly but cannot be replicated outside the Ozarks.
 
'Scuse me, I'm getting hungry. Gotta go.
 
Update:
 
New Jersyites Please Read
 
I'm only going to go through this once, so pay attention.
 
I lived in New Jersey for FIFTEEN YEARS, ten of which in southern Bergen County, the remainder near Morristown and briefly in Sparta, and during those FIFTEEN YEARS I ate pizza all over the blasted state, including Essex, Hudson, and Mercer counties, and with one exception the pizza was uniformly soggy and tasteless.
 
And as I ate that soggy, tasteless pizza, inevitably there were New Jersey natives hovering about expounding on how great that pizza was.
 
This suggests to me that New Jerseyites just don't know any better. I always pitied them privately but tried to be polite.
 
Anyway, it has been suggested that because, after consuming a few hundred pizzas all over the blasted state over a period of FIFTEEN YEARS, I haven't given New Jersey pizza a proper chance. Right.
 
It may be that, somewhere, there is a little mystical pizza parlor that arises from the mist and/or industrial smog, like Brigadoon, which serves really superb pizza. I have not been fortunate enough to find this place. However, if the pizza served elsewhere throughout the state is soggy and tasteless, which it is, then seems to me that New Jersey pizza is soggy and tasteless, and the pizza served up at the Brigadoon Pizza Parlor is what we call an exception.
 
So get off my site with your defenses of New Jersey pizza. And as for warm beer--yes, warm beer can be good. But on a hot summer night you don't go out with your buds for warm beer. And hot summer nights are what beer is for, IMO.
 
Clearly, you New Jerseyites have had limited life experiences. I'm sorry about that, but I can't help you.
 
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9:46 am | link

monday, june 6, 2005

Win Some, Lose Some
 
SCOTUS nixies medicinal marijuana (6-3, O'Connor, Rehnquist and Thomas dissenting on states' rights grounds) but supports Title IX (case rejected without comment). Also, by a 5-4 decision the court expanded the scope of a federal disabilities law.
 
Speaking of medicinal marijuana ...some of you may remember that in March I adopted a new companion cat, Miss Lucy. About three weeks ago she underwent a mastectomy to remove a lump that turned out to be malignant. Today she is at the vet for her first chemotherapy treatment. The tumor was very small, and X-rays showed no cancer lesions elsewhere in her body. The cancer is of a very malignant form, however, so the vet couldn't provide an encouraging prognosis. But since the cancer was caught early we hope that aggressive treatment can buy her some significant time. I am not sure what side effects to expect, but I guess marijuana is out of the question. I think I'll get her a new catnip toy instead.
 
Update: Digby on judicial reefer madness.
 
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11:42 am | link

Why Democrats?
 
What is the relationship between liberals and the Democratic Party? If any?
 
I direct your attention to this pro-Big Tent,  "rally 'round the Dems" post by Armando at Daily Kos and the comments thereafter. Here is the dilemma, as I see it.
 
On the one hand, us old folks remember well how single-issue, "identity" politics just about killed the Democratic Party in the 1970s. The idealism of the 1960s devolved into self-centered demands for “us,” as defined by race, ethnicity, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or physical disability.  The Democratic Party found itself hostage to myriad squabbling factions with no appreciation for compromise and no interest in each others’ causes. During the televised 1972 Democratic national convention the squabbling went public, and viewers who tuned in expecting to see George McGovern's acceptance speech instead saw hours of floor fights and spontaneous demonstrations by the "identity politics" crowd. White blue-collar Democrats in particular began to see the Democrats as the party of radical fringe minority groups and the Republicans as the party for regular white folks. These voters became the "Reagan Democrats" of 1980. Even though Reagan (and now Bush) economic policies screwed blue-collar workers royally, the Dem party never fully regained the blue-collar votes it used to be able to count on.
 
It's also true that the discontented conventioners of 1972 had legitimate grievances that had long been ignored. And the Dems couldn't very well be the party of civil rights for minorities and appeal to racism at the same time. So, the migration of white voters to the race-baiting Republicans probably was inevitable.
 
But as I said, the Dems never really recovered. The demonization of liberalism--the "L" word--also stems from the 1970s. The Republican Noise Machine sees to it that voters maintain that picture of 1970s-era single-issue politics as the face of liberalism. Even though the Dems learned to behave in public--the 2004 convention was a near-flawless love-in, for example--that image from the 1970s of angry, demanding, single-issue ideological purists continues to be imposed over who Democrats and liberals are now. And it's still hurting us.
 
On the other hand, the Democrats work so hard at being "moderate" and appealing to "swing voters" that progressivism is abandoned. I wrote in the comments to Armando's post--
It's true that single-issue politics has been killing liberalism for many years. However, I am sick to death of supporting a party that acts as if it's ashamed to be seen with me in public.

I'm a LIBERAL, dammit. I want to vote for candidates I can trust to advocate liberal policies. I'm not an ideological purist; I can appreciate the importance of compromise and consensus in government. But Dems in Washington do little more than nibble at the edges of the almighty conservative agenda, while anything resembling a progressive agenda fades into an ever more distant future.

I am sick to death of politicians like Hillary Clinton who are all calculation and packaging, marketing herself like toothpaste to "swing" voters. I'm sick of a party that takes my vote for granted because I've got no where else to go.

Between sucking up to big corporate donors and running like hell from the "L" word to appeal to moderates, the Dems ceased being a party that liberals could count on to represent their values. The Dems have gone from being hamstrung by dogma to being a shapeless, spineless mess that doesn't stand for much of anything. Surely, there's a middle way.

Further, the Dick Morris strategy of moving right to pick off swing voters from Republicans may have been smart in the 1990s, or not. IMO it is not smart now. The times, they are a-changin'. The pendulum swings. If you spend time perusing pollingreport.com, you see that Americans are not happy campers. Approval numbers for Bush and his policies continue to slide. Polls still give Bush strong numbers for his handling of the "war on terror," but who the hell knows what the "war on terror" is any more?

There have been times throughout American history that the electorate was pulled in extreme directions, but sooner or later it has always snapped back to the center. I think a rejection of the extreme Right is inevitable.

Now is the time for the Dems to stop being fuzzy and shapeless and find an edge. Now is the time for the party to present itself as a clear alternative to the right wing. No more Vichycrats, Republican Lite, me-tooism. 

This doesn't mean rejecting people who are not 100 percent ideologically pure. Republican (small 'r') government is all about compromise, after all. But it's one thing to agree to, say, some restrictions to elective, late-term abortion and another thing entirely to be a supporter of Operation Rescue.

At the same time, I think liberals should stop being the bridesmaids.

Because of the way our elections are run, third parties are losers. That's another issue that calls out for reform. But for all practical purposes, in 2006 and 2008, there are two parties. So, for now, hope continues to rest in the Dems. But ... well, we can't go on as we have. Something's got to change. 

Update: The discussion continues ...

Atrios, "The Grand Narrative"

Digby, "Whose Party Is It, Anyway?"

Rick Perlstein, "The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo"

James Wolcott, "Monday Is Funday"

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sunday, june 5, 2005

Believe It ... or Not
 
Random bits from today's papers ...
When the nonprofit Broward Art Guild in Florida called its annual exhibit "Controversy," it didn't know the half of it. According to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, Broward County's director of cultural affairs called the guild's director at home to register her disapproval of a painting called "Yahoo!" that showed President Bush being sodomized alongside images of a man in Muslim headdress and an oil barrel.

The guild is a private group but gets nearly a quarter of its funding from the county, and the pressure from the county official did the job: The painting was relocated to a corner and marked with a warning about its content. The newspaper reported that the county's complaint was provoked by a protest from another artist in the exhibit, Michael Friedman, who found the painting offensive; Friedman's artwork showed Pope Benedict XVI on a background of swastikas. -- Dana Milbank, WaPo

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"If we can shake up management, we're going to be more productive in this country. Our companies, by and large, are run abysmally. And the earnings of C.E.O.'s are outrageous. They're getting 400 to 500 times what the average worker gets." -- Carl Icahn, a.k.a. "The bleeping bloodsucking grub who killed TWA."
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
"[A]lmost no one is focusing on stories that are simply ignored." -- John Leo channeling Yogi Berra
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Entering the world of the Higher Shamelessness, they begin networking like mad, cultivating the fine art of false modesty and calculated friendships. The most nakedly ambitious - the blogging Junior Lippmanns - rarely win in the long run, but that doesn't mean you can't mass e-mail your essays for obscure online sites with little "Thought you might be interested" notes.

They create informal mutual promotion societies, weighing who will be the crucial members of their cohort, engaging in the dangerous game of lateral kissing up, hunting for the spouse who will look handsomely supportive during some future confirmation hearing, nurturing a dislike for the person who will be the chief rival when the New Yorker editing job opens up in 2027.

And of course they are always mentor-hunting, looking for that wise old Moses who will lead them through the wilderness and end their uncertainty. They discover that it's socially acceptable to flatter your bosses by day so long as you are blasphemously derisive about them while drinking with your buddies at night.

-- David Brooks, explaining how even a vegetable can get a job with the New York Times

Believe it ... or not.

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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Sister Numchuku of Reasoned Discussion.

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Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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