Sunday, November 30, 2003

I was away from this blog when Bush was doling out side dishes at the Baghdad airport. I see now that The Washington Post referred to the event as "an indelible moment in a war and presidency." My response to that is: Say what? I was in Boston for Thanksgiving; the story made front pages on Friday, but then it was over. On local news Friday night and in Saturday's papers, it was eclipsed not only by the Red Sox' acquisition of Curt Schilling but by the usual run of drunk-driving accidents and house fires, and, in the hard-news category, by ongoing violence in Iraq involving people who can't choose to limit themselves to the airport. Even a local angle to the story (the soldier in those front-page photos was from New Hampshire) didn't get prominent play in the local press. Hey, it was a nice photo op, and I'm sure the troops appreciated it, but -- except to the members of the White House press corps, who will probably never stop talking about the utter manliness of it all -- it's over. Next?
I've never read Fast Company; I think I assumed it was one of those magazines that had died in the dot-com bust. I certainly wouldn't have thought of it as a place to look for an article on some of the damage Wal-Mart does to this country. But there it is.

Wal-Mart is the biggest company, of any kind, in the world; among retailers, it's bigger than Target, Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Safeway, and Kroger combined. If you sell to Wal-Mart, you cut costs, and you keep them cut. You'll sell a product on which you don't make money, if it makes money for Wal-Mart -- and you'll keep selling that product, possibly undermining sales of more profitable products you make, otherwise Wal-Mart won't take any of your product line. Soon, maybe, your profits will disappear. Maybe you'll close down U.S. factories and move manufacturing to China.

It's ugly. Read the article.
Have we really hada huge productivity spurt in this country recently -- or are people just being worked a lot harder. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley makes a good case for the latter interpretation:

...productivity measurement is more art than science — especially in America's vast services sector, which employs fully 80 percent of the nation's private work force, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Productivity is calculated as the ratio of output per unit of work time. How do we measure value added in the amorphous services sector?

Very poorly, is the answer. The numerator of the productivity equation, output, is hopelessly vague for services. For many years, government statisticians have used worker compensation to approximate output in many service industries, which makes little or no intuitive sense. The denominator of the productivity equation — units of work time — is even more spurious. Government data on work schedules are woefully out of touch with reality — especially in America's largest occupational group, the professional and managerial segments, which together account for 35 percent of the total work force.

For example, in financial services, the Labor Department tells us that the average workweek has been unchanged, at 35.5 hours, since 1988. That's patently absurd. Courtesy of a profusion of portable information appliances (laptops, cell phones, personal digital assistants, etc.), along with near ubiquitous connectivity (hard-wired and now increasingly wireless), most information workers can toil around the clock. The official data don't come close to capturing this cultural shift.

As a result, we are woefully underestimating the time actually spent on the job. It follows, therefore, that we are equally guilty of overestimating white-collar productivity. Productivity is not about working longer. It's about getting more value from each unit of work time. The official productivity numbers are, in effect, mistaking work time for leisure time.

Sounds right to me.
The Week in Review section of The New York Times gave Charles Murray a front-page story? Why? Because he has a new book out? David Duke writes a lot of books; why not give him part of the Week in Review front page? And Murray's article has nothing to do with the week under review; it's just a silly thought exercise taken much too seriously, the sort of thing you might expect to run on the Times op-ed page during an extraordinarily slow period for news. Why is Murray still welcome in decent company?
The rapidly shrinking case against Guantanamo chaplain Yousef Yee is getting bad press, so another soldier is arrested, apparently on utterly trivial charges:

...Army Col. Jack Farr was charged Saturday with "wrongfully transporting classified material without the proper security container on or around Oct. 11," and lying to investigators, said a statement from the U.S. Southern Command.

Spokesman Lt. Commander Chris Loundermon, speaking from the command's headquarters in Miami, said he did not know if Farr had direct contact with detainees. He declined to describe the classified material.

...Farr is not under arrest and has not been suspended, Loundermon said: "He didn't present a flight risk and he was not likely to engage in any further serious misconduct."

Farr's charges have been forwarded to the base commander, who could dismiss them, refer them to a court-martial or direct a pretrial investigation....

Do they really expect this to make us take the Great Gitmo Espionage Scare more seriously?
I took the Delta shuttle to Boston over the weekend. This gave me the opportunity to pick over Delta's rack of complimentary Beltway-wonk magazines as if I were a mover or shaker; alas, wonk magazines are awfully dull for the most part, and these were somewhat dated.

But I did grab a November American Spectator, just for the horror of it. It didn't let me down. There, on pages 42 and 43, was a column by Tom Bethell, a senior Spec editor. I'm sorry the Spec doesn't put Bethell's columns on the Web, because this one's kind of a jaw-dropper: Basically, Bethell thinks the world has too much damn democracy and lets too many people vote -- women, for instance, and poor people. Horrible things happen as a result:

The trouble with so many women (not all I hasten to add, but probably a majority) is that they think the function of government is to “help” whole classes of people. They tend to lack the civic virtue of impartiality -- the key quality required of a good judge. They resemble nothing so much as umpires who have decided that a better role for umpires would be to help the losing team. (How many women umpires do we see in football or baseball?) Let’s face it, votes for women means votes for liberals. If women were disenfranchised, America would become politically much more conservative overnight.

It’s probably true that both England and the United States were best governed in the early stages of democracy when the franchise was restricted. With the masses admitted into the polling booths, government immediately began to undertake tasks inappropriate to its mission -- providing for health-care and education, for example.

I did find one Bethell column online with a similar point of view, from 1997. The arguments haven't changed much:

The recipient classes--yes, including farmers and businesspeople who receive subsidies--should be disenfranchised, and the vote restricted to taxpayers. To register, voters must produce a Social Security card, a picture ID, and a copy of last year's tax returns. We must restore the old understanding that voters are officeholders. Voting is not a right but an official act. No representation without taxation.

Remember, folks, The American Spectator isn't that far out on the fringe. Not that long ago, it was instrumental in nearly bringing down a president. Emmett Tyrrell's still there; ex-Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Bob Bartley is a "senior editorial advisor"; among Bethell's fellow senior editors are the quite mainstream John Fund, Michael Ledeen, and Ben Stein. The lead story in the November issue is by Laurie Mylroie, who shares office space at the American Enterprise Institute with Richard Perle and David Frum and all manner of respectable folk. The magazine is published by Alfred Regnery, who also publishes lots of best-selling books. If what Bethell is saying is beyond the pale, then the pale is only a few baby steps to the left of it.


I also picked up an issue of Blueprint, the magazine of the Democrat Leadership Council. Yeah, yeah, those people -- I know. But wait -- read this; it's not bad. I agree with just about every world of the Bush critique, and I think you would, too. Unfortunately, a few pages later the DLCers feel the need to bash Howard Dean in a simple-minded way ("Howard Dean's protest campaign has found a niche online. Could it be the next dot-com bust?"). It's too bad, because I don't think there's much in the first link that Howard Dean would disagree with.

Oh, well -- I'll give the DLCers credit for pointing me to the chart on page 2 of this PDF report from Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. No, the DLCers don't like Grover. They just find it amusing -- as do I -- that Grover's "Cost of Government Day" (as Grover's group puts it, "the date of the calendar year on which the average American worker has earned enough gross income to pay off his or her share of spending and regulatory burdens imposed by all levels of government") has come later and later in the year in every year of George W.'s administration, after coming earlier and earlier in the year throughout the Clinton era. Also note that the date got a lot later throughout Poppy Bush's administration, and, before declining quite a bit in Reagan's later years, was rather high in 1982 and 1983. The GOP -- the party of big government?

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

That's going to be it for me until Sunday night or Monday. Thanks to all of you who've been reading the blog. See you soon.
This morning, NPR broadcast a story in which Juan Williams went to Crawford, Texas, to ask voters what they think of President Bush. This is such a creaky, cliched story format, and Williams's choice of venue was particularly absurd -- asking people in Crawford what they think of Bush is about as informative as asking people in the Bronx which team they're rooting for in a World Series involving the Yankees (although Williams did find a few people willing to utter one or two negative words about Bush).

But I bring this up because of the gender skew in Williams's interviews. I made a mental note as I listened, and now I can't remember (and NPR audio doesn't work on the computer I'm using), but Williams interviewed one woman and either five or six men. (Go here and scroll down if you want to listen for yourself.)

I hate stories like this. Invariably they begin with a trip to a coffee shop, where men -- always men -- sit around over endless coffee refills and free-associate about whatever issue is on the mind of the reporter from the big city. Reporters who do stories like this inevitably find a group of men who are willing to chew the fat -- but how representative are such groups of the general population? How many people do you know who can linger endlessly in an old-fashioned coffee shop on a typical morning? How many people do you know who want to?

You hear stories like this on NPR; you read them in The New York Times; they probably appear in your local paper as well. Next time you run across one, count the women and count the men. I guarantee the male-female ratio will be at least two-to-one. And I guarantee a lot of those men will have been found hanging out at the coffee shop.
Congress has adjourned for the holidays, but here's something three senators thought just couldn't wait until the next session: yesterday they introduced legislation calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. (Members of the House introduced their bill last Friday.)

A lot of outraged right-wingers think permitting gay marriage will lead to the legalization of a lot of other forms of marriage. I say we should throw them a bone. Our side should draft a constitutional amendment specifically banning all the odd types of marriage right-wingers fear: polygamy, incestuous marriage, pedophile marriage, marriage between humans and animals, between living humans and corpses, between people and inanimate objects -- whatever right-wingers think could follow if gay marriage is allowed.

We should actively fight for such an amendment. Doing so would take the "slippery slope" argument away from the right; the contested ground would be gay marriage and only gay marriage.

Of course, the right would never go along with such an amendment. The right needs to spread the fear that allowing gay marriage will lead to men marrying their household pets. That's why we should draft this amendment and make it part of the agenda.

(UPDATE: Here's a story on the anti-gay-marriage amendment from the right-wing/Moonie Washington Times. I can't help noticing that the WashTimes doesn't call it gay marriage, but rather gay "marriage," with scare quotes around the latter word. Given the fact that other right-wing publications and Web sites always put quotes around "gay," shouldn't the WashTimes, if it wants to be really right-wing PC, refer to "gay" "marriage"?)

Here's the description of a forthcoming book from Sentinel, Penguin's new right-wing imprint, as described in Penguin's press release:

Home-Alone America: The Danger to Children Without a Stay-at-Home Parent

by Mary Eberstadt (December 2004)

A research fellow at the Hoover Institution explores recent trends in two-career couples, divorce, and the breakdown of the extended family, and the impact of these trends on childhood obesity, learning disabilities, sexually transmitted diseases, and other problems. 

I know conservatives blame us nasty nontraditionalists for just about everything under the sun, but now they're blaming us for the fact that kids are fat?
The grown-ups, in charge:

Reporters knew they were in for a treat when arriving at the Senate GOP end-of-year press conference and being greeted by a backdrop of footballs on blue ground.

Sure enough, Republican leaders brought a football and a penalty flag to the event, to show they had scored for the American people but also been subject to Democratic fouls.

A theme is a good thing, until, as almost inevitably happens, it is overdone.

When Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) handed off the ball to his “quarterback,” Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Frist first remarked that a QB would not actually receive a handoff.

Santorum is not to blame. After all, as a Pennsylvanian, he will remember Kordell “Slash” Stewart doing it all for the Steelers. Anyway, the theme was off to a bad start.

To the rescue came a chart that detailed Democratic obstructionism. Calling it witty and creative would be an understatement. It was very clever. “Illegal procedure” on judicial nominees, Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) topped this later by calling it “intentional grounding,” “holding” on liability reform and “pass interference” on blocking the energy legislation.

Despite scoring a touchdown for creativity and surging in the lead, the senators did not sit on the football to get the win. They said Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) should have “called a play in the huddle” on the energy legislation.


In the end, the GOP still came out ahead, when former University of Virginia quarterback George Allen (R-Va.) hit Santorum for a five-yard pass across the Mansfield room and Santorum threw his makeshift penalty flags. Nothing like props to pull out a late victory.

--The Hill

Yeah, I'm sure this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
So the prescription-drug bill has incentives that are going to prevent employers from dropping their own drug coverage for retirees, right? Er, maybe not, says The New York Times:

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 23 percent of employees — or 2.7 million people — who are now receiving drug benefits from their employers will lose those benefits after the Medicare drug program is instituted in 2006.

Richard Evans, an analyst with Bernstein Research, said that most employers would view the Medicare legislation as a heaven-sent opportunity to reduce expenses. The legislation offers employers tax incentives to continue paying for retiree health expenses that amount to 28 percent of drug costs, from $250 to $5,000 a retiree a year. But Mr. Evans estimated that employers would save, on average, $1,000 a retiree if they refused the tax incentives and dropped coverage.

"So the companies are going to put them into the Medicare program," Mr. Evans said. "That means a lot of retirees with great drug coverage now will get worse coverage in the future."

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

OK, so the third quarter was even better than previously thought -- 8.2% growth, corporate profits up, consumer confidence up, etc., etc. But tonight on ABC's World News Tonight (story not online), Betsy Stark made note of the skunk at the garden party:

The economy created just 186,000 jobs while it was growing at this amazing rate, a very poor showing. It will need to add more than 250,000 jobs a month for nearly a year just to make up for the jobs it lost during the recession.

Remember, 186,000 jobs over three months is 62,000 a month. That's a long way from 250,000.

And elsewhere on the ABC broadcast, Peter Jennings noted this about the members of Congress, who are about to adjourn for the holidays (text also not online):

They did not ... extend unemployment benefits for 2.2 million Americans, nor did they take action on expanding child tax credits for low-income families, some of whom are in the military.

Happy holidays, have-nots.

Will millions of happy seniors stream to the polls next year to vote for Bush, grateful for that compassionate-conservative prescription-drug largesse? Er, maybe not. AP reports:

Analysts: Medicare Drug Costs Will Rise

Seniors will face annual increases in premiums and deductibles — and a growing gap in coverage — for the prescription drugs they buy under the new Medicare law, budget analysts say.

For example, the $250 annual deductible at the start of the program in 2006 is projected to rise to $445 by 2013.

...after just one year, the Congressional Budget Office projects that seniors would see their $250 deductible and the $2,850 gap for which there is no coverage both jump 10 percent.

By 2013, the eighth year of the program, the deductible and the coverage gap are both projected to grow by 78 percent.

In other words, seniors would pay a $445 deductible and those with the largest drug bills would be entirely responsible for more than $5,000 in drug costs.

"I think these numbers will come as a shock to consumers and they are pretty optimistic projections based on what drug costs are going to do," said Gail Shearer, a health policy analyst at Consumers Union and an opponent of the legislation. She noted the focus has been on 2006, the year the prescription drug benefit begins.

...Insurance premiums, which are not set in the bill even for 2006, are projected to increase 65 percent to $58 a month by 2013.

And why did this happen?

The projections reflect the lawmakers' decision to tie the cost of the program to increases in drug costs from inflation, new costly drugs coming on the market and expected increases in drug purchases....

...David Certner, an official of AARP, said: "One of our complaints has been that this benefit would become more unaffordable over time if pegged to drug costs. This bill does not do enough to hold down drug costs."

The AARP tried but failed to get Congress to include measures to slow the rise of drug prices — including allowing cheaper drugs from Canada and giving Medicare authority to negotiate drug prices. Still, the 35-million-member seniors organization endorsed the bill.

Thanks, schmucks.

Oh, and this is good:

CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin said there is not even an assurance that the initial monthly premium for the drug benefit will be $35. That number could change by 2006 depending on the many "moving pieces" on which the formula is based, he said.
During the campaign, Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't want to tell us what he'd try to do to balance Kulli-fornia's budget. Now we know why:

Welfare-to-work grants, therapy for developmentally disabled people and projects to relieve traffic congestion would all take cuts under a proposal that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to submit to the Legislature today.

...It would impose a 10 percent reduction on the rates paid to physicians and others who treat Medi-Cal patients, the state's version of Medicaid. That's on top of a 5 percent cut in this year's budget….

(The article goes on to note that “California already has the lowest [Medicaid] provider rates in the nation, which has made it difficult for some recipients to find doctors.”)

...Schwarzenegger also would cut state payments to long-term care facilities that increased the salaries and benefits of caregivers.

…In what's likely to be one of the more controversial proposals, the governor would put a cap on caseloads in various health and social service programs and establish waiting lists. Healthy Families, a fast-growing health care program for children in low-income families, drug assistance for AIDS patients, the regional centers and several other programs would be subject to the caseload limit....

Schwarzenegger proposes a 5 percent reduction in grants to people in CalWORKS, the state's welfare-to-work program….

The proposal cuts outreach programs at the state's university systems, as well as making unspecified cuts of $18.4 million to the University of California and $13.4 million to California State University, as well as bigger reductions in the 2004-05 fiscal year.

(As Atrios notes, this means Schwarzenegger's campaign promise not to make education cuts was a lie.)

…Schwarzenegger would call a halt to projects to relieve traffic congestion….

Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, the chair of the state assembly budget committee, said this:

"I don't see a lot of new stuff in here. It's ugly stuff. ... I sure don't see the waste, fraud and abuse they said they'd root out."

Yeah, this isn't fresh thinking from a political outsider -- it’s GOP business as usual. A Republican with a normal-size neck probably would have produced exactly the same laundry list.

COLORADO SPRINGS - Before the press was herded into the giant hangar in advance of George W. Bush's pep rally/photo op with the Fort Carson troops, we were given the rules.

No talking to the troops before the rally.

No talking to the troops during the rally.

No talking to the troops after the rally.

In other words, if I've done the math right, that means no conversation at all - at least, while on base - with any soldiers. After all, who knows where that kind of thing could lead?...

--Rocky Mountain News columnist Mike Luttwin, clarifying how much George W. Bush loves freedom
So we don't have enough troops in Iraq to medevac sick soldiers out, and the brass are lying about the number of afflicted soldiers? Juan Gonzalez writes this today in the New York Daily News:

Iraqis call it the Baghdad Boil or Black Fever - and it's attacking American soldiers.

In its most virulent form, the rare parasitic disease, known officially as Visceral Leishmaniasis, or VL, infects the kidneys and spleen and is usually fatal if left untreated.

A milder form leaves ugly lesions on the skin that can lead to permanent scarring.

Last month the Pentagon announced that 22 U.S. soldiers from the Middle East have come down with the milder form of the disease during the past year - 18 of them in Iraq, mostly around Baghdad and Nassiriya in the south. The others got sick in Afghanistan or Kuwait.

But the number infected could be much higher than military brass is admitting, two Army medics recently returned from Iraq told the Daily News last week.

"A lot of people are being medivacked for Leishmaniasis," said one medic, an Army sergeant back in the states on leave who asked not to be identified. "In briefing sessions several months ago, we were told the number of in-country cases was almost 800," he said.

And the most dangerous time for catching the disease is during the month of November.

According to the second medic, who also is a sergeant, some commanders are so strapped for manpower, they've started to resist shipping out all but the sickest soldiers....

Thanks, Rummy.
President Bush signed a huge new defense bill that includes millions of dollars for a small nuclear bomb designed to destroy deep, hardened underground bunkers.

Among the many items tucked away in the $401 billion defense authorization act was a $15 million three-year research project by the Energy and Defense departments to create the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator.

--New York Post

So it's official -- we've crossed that line; we're researching a new, "thinkable" battlefield nuclear weapon. Several times since I started this blog I've linked this Popular Mechanics story about the proposed weapons. It's worth reading:

Rob Nelson, a physicist with the Princeton University Program on Science and Global Security, and an expert on nuclear weapons design, has looked carefully at the relationship between the depth of a primary-powered explosion and geological damage. He argues that the sort of deep penetrator proposed by Younger would, in fact, release rather than contain radioactive fallout. While it is true that most material would remain within the blast area, a radioactive cloud seeping from the crater would release a plume of gases that would irradiate anyone in its path.

He has calculated that a weapon with a yield of about 0.1 kiloton--about one two-hundredth the energy of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima--would have to penetrate to a depth of 230 ft. to fully contain the explosion in the manner that Younger has described. Nelson cautions that if it were used to root out terrorists near a major Third World city such as Baghdad, the casualties could be in the hundreds of thousands....

Monday, November 24, 2003

Theft of Cobalt in Iraq Prompts Security Inquiry

AMIRIYA, Iraq — A seeming lapse in surveillance by American forces has led to the looting of dangerously radioactive capsules from Saddam Hussein's main battlefield testing site in the desert outside Baghdad and the identification of at least one 30-year-old Iraqi villager, and possibly a village boy, as suffering from radiation sickness.

The two capsules, taken from a site once used by Mr. Hussein's government to test the effects of radiation on animals and perhaps humans, have since been recovered after an American sweep through the area.

But American officers fear that more cases of the sickness may follow, and that they will be powerless to help unless people in the villages of Amiriya and Shamiya break their silence and identify men who looted the desert site in early September.

...Some defense officials who discussed the incident on the basis of anonymity said events at the desert site showed the Bush administration's error in sending too few troops to Iraq, a decision that high-ranking American officers in Baghdad shortly after the city's capture said had curbed their powers to crack down on the looting that ransacked the city and set off a wave of anti-American feeling that has not abated....

--New York Times
I guess people are starting to get it: yes, he is out of touch.
Look who's sniping at Rumsfeld: of all people, the folks from the Project for the New American Century -- you know, the neocons who plotted out the Iraq war years before George W. Bush became president. PNAC's executive director and a senior fellow don't like Rummy's CEO-style lean 'n' mean operation:

...even as the headlines daily report the realities of counterinsurgency in Iraq and terrorism around the world, there comes news that the U.S. military is revising its war plans for Korea, the Middle East, and elsewhere “based on assumptions that conflicts could be fought more quickly and with fewer American troops than previously thought.”

...Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thinks he can wring greater “efficiencies” from the force. [General Peter] Pace’s study, according to the
[Washington] Post, has presented Rumsfeld with more than 60 ideas for such improvements, including a centrally directed system of force allocation--presumably to measure out units in times of crisis “just in time,” as in the march to Baghdad.

...In Iraq as in the larger war on terrorism and the political struggle to liberalize the Middle East, sustaining American military power for years is as crucial as applying it instantly; it does matter how quickly we get there, but it also matters how long we stay. Yes, changing this region demands more than just military strength, but as the situation in Iraq makes painfully obvious, establishing security is the first order of business.

It is also painfully obvious that the civilian and uniformed leadership of the U.S. military remain resolutely fixated on battle and, it seems, willfully ignorant about war--the use of armed force for a political purpose.

...The United States cannot remain the principal guarantor of a global liberal order simply by flitting about the planet like Peter Pan designating targets for B-2 bombers....

The PNACers are some of the people who got us into this mess with their hubris and megalomania, but they're right -- if we're actually going to try to fulfill their cockeyed fantasy of overthrowing Iraq's government and reconstructing the country from scratch, and if at the same time we want to keep on top of other threats, Rumsfeld's notion that we can do it with bare-bones troop strength is utter lunacy.
If elections were held today, according to a new poll, Roy Moore, the Ten Commandments judge, would beat a sitting Republican governor, might squeak past a sitting Republican senator -- and would not do badly against the president of the United States. The Mobile Register reports:

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Tuscaloosa who has served three terms, is up for re-election next year....

The poll found the two men in a dead heat, with Moore garnering 42 percent and Shelby receiving 40 percent....

Moore would beat Republican Gov. Bob Riley in the 2006 race, according to a previous Register-USA poll conducted in the second week of November.

But state residents apparently don't feel as strongly about putting the former chief justice in the White House, particularly if it means replacing President Bush. Poll respondents last week gave Bush a 24-point lead over Moore in a head-to-head presidential matchup....

I'd like to see the numbers on that poll regarding the presidency, but think about it: If they're say, 58% - 34% in favor of Bush, with 8% undecided, that means a third of the Alabama electorate would be willing, right now, to dump the Bible-waving Scourge of Evildoers in favor of Moore. And if the numbers are, say, 40% - 16%, with 44% undecided, that means a majority of Alabamans either would dump Bush or don't know for sure that they wouldn't.

If Moore does that well even with Bush in the race, how would he do in '08 without Bush?

The Register story notes that "78 percent of those surveyed last week in Alabama identified themselves as 'born-again Christians'"; probably not at all coincidentally, 78% of those surveyed approve of Moore's installation of the big commandments rock, as an AP story on the poll notes:

Asked if they approved or disapproved of Moore's installation of the monument in the rotunda of the state courthouse, 35 percent said they approved strongly, 43 percent approved, 9 percent disapproved, 9 percent disapproved strongly and 4 percent didnt know or had no answer.

The Register notes that poll respondents disapprove of his removal from office, and a majority don't mind at all that he willfully defied the law:

More than 60 percent of those responding to last week's Mobile Register-University of South Alabama poll said they disapproved of Moore's ouster....

His support dropped, however, when respondents were asked whether they believed he should have obeyed the federal judge. Fifty-one percent supported Moore's defiance of the order.

Incidentally, for 89 bucks you can buy your own Roy Moore rock (this one is much smaller, though it is granite). Note the disclaimer: "75% of profits donated to religious institutions that defend the ten commandments." That means $22.25 from each rock goes straight into someone's pocket. Hey, it beats working.
Two U.S. soldiers were mutilated and killed in Iraq, five U.S. soldiers died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan -- yet Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, which usually wants you to think it bleeds red, white and blue, mentions neither of these incidents anywhere on its front page today. Yeah, sure -- it's not all that surprising that the Post would want to give Michael Jackson the big splash headline. But not even a mention of the deaths anywhere on the front page? "$30 Dress Designers Thought Was $250" is more important?

Is this the Post's version of the White House policy of hiding the caskets?

(The Daily News, by contrast, gives the Iraq killings its cover, with words of outrage.)

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Thomas Friedman has some damn nerve. Years ago he was a George Marshall scholar in England; Colin Powell recently canceled a scheduled appearance at a Marshall scholars' reunion in London, citing "security concerns," and Friedman, the puffed-up, self-satisfied solipsist, has now written an entire column claiming that the spoiling of his reunion by the secretary of state means that "we" -- meaning, apparently, all Americans -- are displaying insufficient backbone in the post-9/11 world:

I wouldn't want the responsibility of deciding when the president or secretary of state should appear in public.

These are tough calls. It's always hard to know where the line should be. But I fear we're starting to cross it in ways that could actually be dangerous for us all. Whether we're talking about our public officials or your family deciding whether to vacation in Istanbul, we all have to learn to live with more insecurity. Because terrorists are in the fear business, and every time we visibly imprison ourselves, they win another small victory and become more emboldened.

I don't even know if I believe the official explanation for Powell's absence, which Friedman assumes was accurate. I think it's just as likely that the president and Karl Rove ordered Powell to stay away, unwilling to tolerate any news footage of a key member of the administration being confronted by protesters. (Friedman notes that some banner-wavers did show up at the ceremony.)

And if Powell did stay away out of genuine concern for safety, what does that have to do with the rest of America? Hey, Tom, I live in Manhattan. I was here for 9/11. I didn't skip town. The streets are still crowded here. So are the tunnels and bridges, which we know terrorists have targeted. So, I'm told, is the Golden Gate Bridge on the other coast. People fly and attend theme parks and visit skyscrapers around the country. We're living pretty much the way we did 27 months ago.

No, I haven't planned a trip to Istanbul. You know what, Tom? Most Americans aren't like you. We haven't been to Istanbul. We haven't been to a lot of places. Most of us dream of so many trips we've never taken that we could spend the rest of our paltry two or so weeks of vacation per year traveling just to pleasant or remarkable places that haven't been subject to terrorist attack. Hell, Tom, I've never even been to New Orleans, or Alaska, or Yellowstone, or Mount Rushmore, or the Caribbean, or Italy, or France. If I'm not planning a lovely holiday in Istanbul right now, cut me a frigging break.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

David Kirkpatrick makes a really dumb error in the Week in Review section of tomorrow's New York Times. Discussing the lurid U.K. cover of Paul Krugman's The Great Unraveling (which is very different from the staid U.S. cover), Kirkpatrick writes:

the British book jacket bears caricatures of President Bush as Frankenstein-like and Vice President Dick Cheney with a Hitler mustache. A dark scrawl on the vice president's forehead reads, "Got Oil?"

Hitler mustache? That's ridiculous. The mustache is much too wide to be a Hitler mustache. And note the slogan -- "Got Oil?" That makes it obvious what the mustache is supposed to be: a "Got Milk?" mustache made of oil.

But wait -- does the "Got Milk?" ad campaign even appear in Britain? Well, it doesn't really matter. Kirkpatrick explains:

The cover images of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney were borrowed from puppets carried by protesters outside the World Economic Forum in New York in 2002.

So the Cheney image is American. Therefore, it's an oil mustache -- case closed.
I'm shocked -- shocked:

2 Bills Would Benefit Top Bush Fundraisers

Executives' Companies Could Get Billions

More than three dozen of President Bush's major fundraisers are affiliated with companies that stand to benefit from the passage of two central pieces of the administration's legislative agenda: the energy and Medicare bills.

The energy bill provides billions of dollars in benefits to companies run by at least 22 executives and their spouses who have qualified as either "Pioneers" or "Rangers," as well as to the clients of at least 15 lobbyists and their spouses who have achieved similar status as fundraisers. At least 24 Rangers and Pioneers could benefit from the Medicare bill as executives of companies or lobbyists working for them, including eight who have clients affected by both bills.

By its latest count, Bush's reelection campaign has designated more than 300 supporters as Pioneers or Rangers. The Pioneers were created by the Bush campaign in 2000 to reward supporters who brought in at least $100,000 in contributions. For his reelection campaign, Bush has set a goal of raising as much as $200 million, almost twice what he raised three years ago, and established the designation of Ranger for those who raise at least $200,000....

At least five Bush Pioneers serve as a Southern Co. executive or as its lobbyists: Southern Executive Vice President Dwight H. Evans; Roger Windham Wallace of the lobbying firm Public Strategies; Rob Leebern of the firm Troutman Sanders; Lanny Griffith of the firm Barbour Griffith and Rogers; and Ray Cole, of the firm Van Scoyoc Associates.

The railroad industry also has a vital interest in the energy bill. For years, it has been fighting for the elimination of a 4.3 cent-a-gallon tax on diesel fuel, and, at a cost to the Treasury of $1.7 billion over 10 years, the measure repeals the tax. Richard Davidson, chairman and CEO of Union Pacific, is a Ranger, and Matthew K. Rose, CEO of Burlington Northern, is a Pioneer....

--Washington Post

Even more beneficiaries are named in the link.
Letter to Newsweek:

When someone like Barbra Streisand and her liberal, anti-Republican friends get their way, it’s all about artistic freedom and the First Amendment. When they do not get their way, it’s considered censorship and an evil plot by Republicans and conservative zealots determined to trample free speech. No major network nor any members of the Hollywood crowd have come up with “The Clintons.” Considering the track record of Bill and Hillary, the titillation factors would be astronomical. Instead, CBS came up with a fictionalized smear of one of our most popular presidents. Pitiful indeed.

Don Potts

Ft. Mill, S.C.

No one in Hollywood has come up with The Clintons? Er, Don, remember a little flick called Primary Colors? Do you think that was made by samizdat right-wingers shooting on the cheap on digital video, always looking over their shoulders in anticipation of arrest by jackbooted thugs from the DNC Political Correctness Police?

Friday, November 21, 2003

It's your money, the president regularly says, and you should keep more of it ... except when he wants you to keep less of it:

Foes of the Bush administration's proposed rules changing which workers would qualify for overtime pay abandoned their fight Friday in the face of unrelenting pressure from the White House and the House.

...Critics of the new rules said they could lead to 8 million Americans losing eligibility for overtime pay, largely white-collar workers earning more than $65,000 a year. Administration officials say more than 644,000 such employees would lose the time-and-a-half pay now required when they work more than 40 hours in a week....

The end of the overtime battle spelled a legislative and political victory for President Bush, whose aides had repeatedly threatened a veto for any legislation attempting to kill the proposed regulations....


Yeah, lower-wage workers who were formerly not eligible for overtime will now get it. But why does this require higher-wage (but not at all rich) workers to take a permanent, government-mandated pay cut?
Two U.S. Army pilots charged with ferrying American military brass around Iraq decided to speak out about the vulnerability of their aircraft. Their reward: criminal charges.

Chief Warrant Officers William Lovett and Robert Jones have 53 years of service between them in the active duty and Army Reserves. Jones has flown in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and Bosnia.

But their current mission in central Iraq may be their last. Long before U.S. helicopters were being shot down, the reserve pilots told
National Defense Magazine their planes were not properly equipped to fly in a war zone. That interview, which appeared in the September 2003 issue of the magazine, has now led to the charges of dereliction of duty against the pilots for disclosing "vulnerabilities" of the "mission, procedures, and aircraft."

"These are planes that fly around generals, they fly around VIPs," said attorney Eugene Fidell, who is representing Lovett. "He and the other people involved should not be facing a court-martial; they should be getting decorations for this."

The reserve pilots fly the VIPs around in C-12 and UC -35 aircraft — the military equivalent of a Beechcraft King Air and a Cessna Citation.

But there aren't many differences between the military and the civilian aircraft. Both are defenseless.

They are the only Army aircraft operating in Iraq without any equipment to warn or defend against surface-to-air missiles....

--ABC News

Look, I don't know -- is it just a flat-out violation for a member of the armed services to say something like this, something that's presumably not in any way a military secret? And does it really make sense to fly these planes in a war zone? Do we really have no alternative?

In a red state, there's some not-at-all liberal resistance to Bushism:

Geuda Springs is a little town in southern Kansas, not too far from the Oklahoma border. About 200 decent, proud and sometimes kind of ornery people live there, and, precisely because they’re so independent-minded there’s a whiff of outlaw about the reputation of the place. Earlier this month, just to raise some eyebrows, the Geuda Springs town council passed an ordinance requiring every head of family to own a gun, and ammunition, and be ready to use it.  
...If the administration believes folks like these are buying the official line from Washington, it had better take another look. They’re thinking long and hard about the way this war is being waged and what it means to their own ferocious sense of freedom.

...“I was in the military for five years,” said Cook, who works now at the GE plant over in Arkansas City, Kans. He enlisted in the Army when he was 18, he said, and served as a medic on rescue helicopters. His wife stood by listening in the driveway and his kids peered at us from the back seat of his pickup. Cook took the dark lenses off the front of his glasses, so we’d make eye contact, I figured. “This war sucks,” he said, and looked over at his family. “If I were running the country I’d be taking care of my
own people.”

What should have been done in Iraq? “Our technology is so far superior to anyone else in the world,” said Cook, “I don’t see why we couldn’t have made that place a parking lot and started from scratch.” If we weren’t going to do that, he said, he wasn’t sure what we were doing there. “It really does upset me to see anybody lose their life over this. Hell, we’re still chasing ghosts in Afghanistan! We are spread so thin. We may have a problem protecting our own home town some day if we get so spread out.”

...a heavyset man with white hair pulled back in a ponytail and a devilishly well-trimmed beard came through the door. Brewer, 53, a retired railroad worker, said there were lots of reasons to have an ordinance like that in a town like this, not least the fact there’s no police force because the city can’t afford one, and the sheriff’s office is on the other side of the county. But, yeah, he said, the ordinance was supposed to make a point. “It’s one more stumbling block for people who’d like to take our guns away,” he said. “The Patriot Act, as far as I can see, is violating just about every right we got,” said Brewer. “You know, about the only right we’ve got left is firearms.”...

--Christopher Dickey* in Newsweek

I think Howard Dean could get some votes here.


*Son of James Dickey, who wrote Deliverance.
Atrios, TBOGG -- I love you guys, you have great blogs, you post links to my blog (for which I'm undyingly grateful) ... but I have to disagree with you (and with several people quoted in this Washington Post article) about the November 10 "B.C." comic strip: No, I don't think it's meant as an attack on Islam.

Yes, "B.C." cartoonist Johnny Hart produced this my-God-is-bigger-than-yours strip about Judaism and Christianity. But the recent strip in question is a classic (if not at all funny) outhouse joke. The moon on the door is a crescent moon not because the crescent moon symbolizes Islam, but because the outhouse door with a crescent moon carved into it is a cartoon cliche. The moon outside is a crescent because, well, otherwise how would you know it's night? That's a less common cliche -- going to the outhouse in the middle of the night. The word SLAM appears not, I think, as a reference to Islam, but because otherwise you wouldn't know where the guy in the first panel went. (Trust me on this. Years ago I tried doing some collaborative cartooning -- I devised the gags, artists drew them -- and we'd frequently show the works-in-progress to people. We couldn't believe the way people misread what we produced -- they'd get stuck on the most bizarre misreadings, unless we made what was going on utterly unambiguous by idiot-proofing the cartoons with cliched visual cues.) And the joke, such as it is, is just a play on "Is it hot in here or is it me?"

It's odd that this is happening at a time when movie theaters are screening The Human Stain, which turns on an innocuous remark misinterpreted as a racial slur. It's also happening at a time when right-wingers, led by Rush Limbaugh and his brother, are trying to stir up trouble by insisting that Ted Kennedy's statement about ultra-right Bush judicial nominees ("Democrats will 'continue to resist any Neanderthal that is nominated by this president' for the federal courts, said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) was a racial slur. The Limbaugh situation and this one aren't at all comparable, obviously -- Atrios and TBOGG are bloggers, while Rush has a massive radio audience and his brother is a New York Times bestselling writer and (in this case) a Washington Times op-ed writer; more important, Atrios and TBOGG are sincere, while the Limbaughs are, I think, being deeply cynical (they know perfectly well that Kennedy was referring to several white nominees as well as the black Janice Rodgers Brown and Hispanic Miguel Estrada; they also know that "Neanderthal" is a well-established ideological slur used against right-wingers, although someone younger than the aging Senator Kennedy would probably say "paleoconservative" instead). But there's a lot of parsing going around that, I think, leads nowhere. I think we should move on.
The New York Times reports that the Republican Party is about to start running a new TV ad:

It shows Mr. Bush, during the last State of the Union address, warning of continued threats to the nation: "Our war against terror is a contest of will, in which perseverance is power," he says after the screen flashes the words, "Some are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists."

Stop right there. Why is it still possible for Bush and the Republicans to speak of "the terrorists," meaning "anyone we decide is an appropriate enemy"? Democrats still haven't hammered home the message that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 were not the enemy we were fighting in the Iraq War.

...With somber strings playing in the background, the commercial flashes the words "Strong and Principled Leadership" before cutting to Mr. Bush standing before members of Congress. Intended to call out the Democrats for their opposition to Mr. Bush's military strategy of pre-emptively striking those who pose threats to the nation, the screen flashes "Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others," then urges viewers to tell Congress "to support the president's policy of pre-emptive self defense."

"Those who pose threats to the nation" -- since when is it an established fact that Iraq was a threat to the nation? Isn't it now pretty much established that it wasn't? And wasn't that largely because of sanctions, bombing raids, and inspections conducted for years while a Democrat was president?

But this is the perception: that Democrats oppose the entire war on terrorism. It's a perception that has to be reversed, right now.

I want to hear an ad like this from a Democratic presidential candidate:

"I supported the president when he went to war in Afghanistan against the al-Qaeda terrorists who were responsible for September 11. But then the president got distracted. Instead of continuing to focus on al-Qaeda, he declared war on Iraq -- a country that had nothing to do with September 11, wasn't allied with al-Qaeda, and didn't have the capacity to attack America. I believe this was a critical mistake. Al-Qaeda and its real terrorist allies have now had the opportunity to regroup, and to stage further attacks around the world.

"As president, I'll pursue the war on terror with focus and resolve -- but I won't use it as an excuse to pursue additional wars and try to remake the world."
Defining maleness as essentially "toxic": If you're liberal and a feminist, it's bad:

This book tells the story of how it has become fashionable to attribute pathology to millions of healthy male children. It is a story of how we are turning against boys and forgetting a simple truth: that the energy, competitiveness, and corporal daring of normal, decent males is responsible for much of what is right in the world. No one denies that boys' aggressive tendencies must be checked and channeled in constructive ways. Boys need discipline, respect, and moral guidance. Boys need love and tolerant understanding. They do not need to be pathologized.

--Christina Hoff Sommers, The War Against Boys

If you're a Christian conservative, it's just fine:

Marriage domesticates men. Men who are not attached permanently to a woman are men that will practice and engage in socially unhealthy behaviors at a much higher level.

But why can't we say that gay "marriage" will socialize men?

Because men don't socialize other men. Women socialize men. And we find that not just in contemporary society, but in all human civilizations, that women as women demand certain things of men, require certain things of men, and that shapes them and molds them in some very important pro-social ways.

--Focus on the Family gay-marriage Q&A

(Actually, those two quotes are consistent with each other if you accept that when Ms. Sommers says that "boys' aggressive tendencies must be checked and channeled in constructive ways," the way it's done is by making sure they're never allowed to be single when they grow up. So I guess the answer is not only a ban on gay marriage but compulsory heterosexual marriage.)
You know who else tried to occupy a country without enough troops? The Soviets in Afghanistan. They also underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate resisters, and, domestically, they suppressed bad news about casualties. The Christian Science Monitor looks at that Soviet occupation and assesses the similarities to the current Iraq situation -- and the differences, not all of which work to America's advantage.

(Thanks to Rational Enquirer for the link.)
There are a lot of good links at Rational Enquirer, but I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of these two stories from a couple of days ago:

Attacks will continue until day the Americans leave, says report

US exit may lead to Iraqi civil war

There it is -- a rock and a hard place. Scylla and Charybdis.

Thursday, November 20, 2003


Sylvia Allegretto of the Economic Policy Institute has charted the amount of help-wanted advertising in 51 major metropolitan newspapers over the past couple of decades. If we're in a Bush boom, why does the right side of the chart look so droopy?

(Link via MaxSpeak.)
A few days ago I cited a Houston Chronicle article about the federal tax deduction for the purchase of huge, gas-guzzling SUVs. The last line of that story was

Warning of "a move afoot in Congress," Bob Trinz, a senior tax analyst at RIA, advises in a news release, "Now may be the time to act if you're interested in the convenience, versatility and tax breaks that heavy SUVs offer."

An ABC story I saw at roughly the same time also ended on that note: Yes, this absurd loophole is in the tax code now but, well, gosh, surely reason will prevail and the damnfool thing will be repealed any day now.

Er, no.

This is from Reuters/FindLaw:

Republican leaders on Monday killed a Senate plan to close a loophole allowing small-business owners to deduct up to $100,000 from their taxable income for buying a luxury sport utility vehicle.

Language eliminating the SUV loophole was inserted into the Senate's version of a broad energy bill, which also has $23.4 billion in tax breaks for oil, natural gas, coal and other energy sources.

But the provision was dropped after House negotiators rejected the Senate's change.

Republican leaders swiftly moved to ensure no mention of the loophole was included in the final version of the energy bill, which is expected to go to the full House and Senate for votes later this week.

I love that "swiftly moved" part: "Quick! Restore that wasteful, embarrassing tax break that does absolutely no social good! No, not five minutes from now! Right now, before someone develops a conscience!"

(Thanks to Skimble for spotting this. Go here if you'd like an explanation of the loophole and the reason it came into being.)
Sometimes a first-strike missile is just a first-strike missile.

(UPDATE: Damn, they keep changing the URL for this one. The link above works as I type this. I'll try to find a permanent one.)

(UPDATE: OK, I think I have it now.)
Here's a fun fact about Iraq, from a UPI story printed in, of all places, The Washington Times. The figures come from our own Coalition Provisional Authority:

Violence is clearly spiking in Iraq, according to CPA data. In Baghdad alone, violent deaths jumped from 16 per month before the war to 40 and 50 times that, with more than half of them from firearms. In August 2003 there were 872 violent deaths, with 498 of them from firearms. In September there were 667 violent deaths with 372 of them from firearms, according to the Baghdad morgue.

AARP’s decision this week to endorse Medicare prescription drug legislation, a step that caught Democrats by surprise, was the product of years of cultivation by the Bush administration and top Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The dialogue that led to AARP’s seal of approval for the $400 billion measure, providing the first prescription drug benefit to seniors while opening the Medicare system to private insurance competition, included intense discussions in recent weeks with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) and a private conversation between President Bush and AARP President James Parkel.

The AARP endorsement “didn’t happen overnight,” said Thomas A. Scully, administrator of the agency that runs Medicare. “We spent a lot of time working with them over the last three years.” ...

--Washington Post/MSNBC

I heard National Review Online's Stanley Kurtz talking about the evils of gay marriage on NPR this morning and I thought: Is this the best the Right can do? Here was his smoking gun: Scandinavian countries that have embraced gay unions for the past ten years have high illegitimacy rates now -- so one has to be related to the other. Any college freshman studying logic knows this as a logical fallacy -- post hoc, ergo propter hoc, B followed A, therefore B must have been caused by A.

I'd have to dig a lot deeper to find the numbers that properly refute this nonsense, but here's an academic paper (PDF here; HTML here) that gives rates of out-of-wedlock births in 1973 and 1996 for various European countries (the second Swedish number is for 1995). Here are the numbers (from Table 1 on page 25 of the paper):


1973: 8%

1996: 39%


1973: 3%

1996: 18%


1973: 2%

1996: 17%

W. Germany:

1973: 6%

1996: 14%


1973: 3%

1996: 8%


1973: 17%

1996: 46%


1973: 3%

1996: 25%


1973: 8%

1996: 36%


1973: 29%

1995: 53%

You don't need a Ph.D. in statistics to recognize that (with the exception of Italy) all these countries saw comparable significant increases in illegitimacy over the period in question. So what's so special about the Scandinavian countries that legitimized gay unions?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Hey -- how many CBS boycotters do you think are going to decide they just have to break their boycott later tonight?
OK, this is complicated:

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Web site for the Religious Right radio show Issues in Education has accused Judge Sam Kent of, to put it succinctly, being responsible for September 11.

How is he responsible? You see, he was hearing a school prayer case back in the 1990s and he said that if he issued an injunction preventing certain prayers at school, he would make sure it was understood that there'd be no defiance of his order. But that was just Judge Kent being a judge. As it turned out, he didn't issue such an order -- he allowed at least some of the prayers.

But the praying folk wanted even more prayer in schools, so they appealed -- and lost. The appeals court said that even the prayers Judge Kent had allowed were not permitted.

But the Issues in Education people don't seem to understand that. They blamed Judge Kent -- and not just for the ruling. They blamed him for September 11.

The Chronicle quotes this page on their Web site:

So when people ask where was God when this tragedy was happening? The answer is, He doesn't come in when He's KICKED OUT! In May of 1995, U.S. District Judge Sam Kent of Texas ruled that any student mentioning the name of Jesus in a graduation prayer would be sentenced to a 6 month jail term. The judge then said, "Anyone who violates this order, no kidding, is going to wish that he or she had died as a child when this Court gets through with them."

This misleading passage was picked up by this guy, a Houston radio host whose primary qualification for broadcasting seems to be that he used to coach college football.

And now people are making angry phone calls to Sam Kent.

Kent, as it turns out, is a Godly Republican. He was picked for the federal bench by former right-wing GOP senator Phil Gramm.

But people who frequently invoke the name of Jesus say he's responsible for three thousand 9/11 deaths, so it must be true, right?
Earlier today I cited BuzzFlash's story about the ties between Newt Gingrich and William Novelli, head of AARP. Well, now, following up on Novelli's endorsement of the Medicare bill, here's Newt:

Gingrich Rallies Support for House Medicare Vote

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to drum up support for a Medicare reform bill and calm the fiscal fears of conservatives in the U.S. House before a vote on the measure.

Gingrich made Medicare reform a key plank of his so-called Republican revolution in the mid-1990s, igniting a debate that continues to this day about the future of the popular but expensive health program for America's elderly.

...Gingrich spoke to House Republicans behind closed doors, but lawmakers said he pointed out the bill's "historic significance" and attempted to put a conservative seal of approval on the deal....

The only thing that's startling about this is that people are startled:

Size of Proposed Tax Breaks in Energy Bill Startles Experts

Policy analysts across the political spectrum yesterday denounced the energy bill that Republicans in Congress hope to push to approval this week, saying it represented micromanagement of the economy and would open vast new opportunities for tax cheating.

Many experts said they were taken aback by the size of the proposed breaks, estimated by Capitol Hill staff members at $25.7 billion over 10 years. That is more than three times the $8 billion in tax incentives that the Bush administration said last year in a letter to Congress that it wanted for energy producers....

Energy companies would receive three-fourths of the incentives, or $17 billion, with provisions intended to encourage developing oil, gas, coal and nuclear power....

--New York Times

OK, maybe this rises to the level of "startling": Some of the tax breaks are, basically, on the honor system.

In most instances, utilities could simply declare their eligibility for breaks, and the Internal Revenue Service, which is battling a growing tide of corporate tax cheating, would have at most three years to identify scofflaws. No money for additional enforcement would be provided.

Oh, and (not startling) the bill gives businesses a tax break you could get -- but won't:

The measure would also grant substantial relief from the corporate alternative minimum tax, which seeks to assure that all profitable companies pay taxes and which companies widely denounce as unfair. Congress has for years resisted taking similar steps on individuals' alternative minimum tax, which as middle-class taxpayers' incomes increase can deny them the standard deduction and personal exemptions for themselves and their children.

Liberal groups, naturally, find all this sleazy and irresponsible, the article says. The libertarians at the Cato Institute find it an affront to laissez-faire free-market principles. And plain old conservatives? Here's what apparently offends them most:

...Charli Coon, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group in Washington, said, "Congress should not be determining the energy winners and losers nor the appliance winners and losers."

"If people want to pay extra for an energy efficient appliance," Ms. Coon said, "they should," without tax credits' influencing their decisions.

Yup -- the bill throws a bone to ordinary citizens (you get a tax break if you buy an energy-saving fridge) and that's what Heritage's spokesperson singles out.
Alas, a Blog excerpts ten paragraphs from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling on gay marriage that eloquently rebut "traditionalist" arguments. Read them, please. If bastards and the in-vitro-fertilized have full legal rights, how can we say that traditional conception = marriage?

From John Derbyshire, National Review Online's most monomaniacal homophobe. Remember, William F. Buckley's magazine pays him to write things like this:


1. If "gay marriage" is legalized, will prisoners be able to marry their cell mates? If not, why not?

2. In many jurisdictions, a marriage can be annulled if it has not been consummated. What, exactly, constitutes "consummation" of a gay marriage?

(Thanks to Kevin at Calpundit for spotting this.)
Newt's ideas are influencing how we at AARP are thinking about our national role in health promotion and disease prevention and in our advocating for system change.

--William D. Novelli, executive director and CEO of AARP, from his preface to Newt Gingrich's book Saving Lives & Saving Money: Transforming Health and Healthcare

Yes, the head of AARP is in bed with Gingrich -- so fond of Newt that he wrote a preface to his latest book. BuzzFlash has the story.

(UPDATE: Nathan Newman makes the case that Novelli knows the prescription drug bill isn't great and is supporting the best he thinks he can get. Well, OK, maybe. These criticisms of Novelli's AARP aren't easily dismissed, however.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Twenty-one photos of caskets of the dead returning from Iraq.

These, of course, are dead Italians. The pictures are from La Repubblica.

Twenty-one pictures. That's twenty-one more pictures than you'll ever be allowed to see of caskets containing Americans killed in Iraq.
So we're getting tougher in Iraq -- "Iron Hammer" and all that. As Swopa at Needlenose points out, back in August our generals were saying that was exactly the wrong idea:

U.S. alters raid strategy after Iraqi complaints

Michael R. Gordon NYT

Friday, August 8, 2003
BAGHDAD The U.S. military, in a major revision of strategy, has decided to limit the scope of its raids in Iraq after receiving warnings from Iraqi leaders that they were alienating the public, according to the top allied commander.

In its search for Baath Party operatives and other foes, the U.S. military has carried out large sweeps, some of which have rounded up hundreds of Iraqis.

But Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the chief commander of allied forces in Iraq, said in an interview Wednesday that the military had virtually exhausted the gains from this approach and that continuing it could be counterproductive.

"It was a fact that I started to get multiple indicators that maybe our iron-fisted approach to the conduct of ops was beginning to alienate Iraqis," Sanchez said, referring to military operations. "I started to get those sensings from multiple sources, all the way from the Governing Council down to average people."...

We screwed this up at the beginning. Carrots, sticks -- I don't know if anything's going to get the country on an even keel now.
How bad are things in the mutual fund industry? Bad now, but they "may get much worse," says Fortune.

The Fortune article quotes Edward Siedle, "the man who may be the most plugged-in independent investigator of mutual funds."

His conclusion: "Illegal trading is pervasive, and it's longstanding. It's been going on for the last 20 years, and it costs investors billions." Note the language: Not "trading abuses" or "questionable practices," but "illegal trading"—flat violations of law. He's talking mostly about behavior that hasn't been in the news much so far, personal trading by top fund executives, things like front-running, which is putting in a personal buy or sell order just before placing a mammoth order on behalf of the fund, which is sure to move the price up or down.

No one would be shocked to discover such behavior at a few of the hundreds of fund firms. But Siedle says that far from being rare and scattered, such behavior is endemic—a fact of life at "most firms."

This is serious, and it gets worse. Siedle told me, "There's no question in my mind that the senior management of many of the leading fund companies have participated in wrongdoing, have been involved in criminal activity amounting to obstruction of justice." Again, note the language: "senior management," not middle managers, at "leading firms," not the two-bit operations that so often break the rules on Wall Street. And then the sledgehammer charge: "criminal activity," not just unethical behavior or violating internal codes of conduct, but real go-to-jail stuff.

Siedle speaks in quiet, matter-of-fact tones, so the full implications of his words take a few moments to sink in. When he said the above, I paused, then replied, "What you're saying suggests that the survival of some of these funds could be in jeopardy." His response: "We strongly believe that. We believe that the wrongdoing is so longstanding, involving such significant amounts of money, that it could very well cause some of these firms to crumble, or survive in much reduced fashion."


Oh, and for good measure, the article quotes a mutual fund CEO -- reportedly one of the clean ones -- who thinks stocks are overpriced and there's way too much optimism in the markets now.

Boom boom boom!
Hey, is it unfair of me to snicker when I read that Mitt Romney, the Mormon governor of Massachusetts, wants to add an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman?

(Yeah, I know, it's a cheap shot -- even though Mitt is the son of former Michigan governor George Romney, whose grandfather, according to The Washington Post, "emigrated to Mexico in 1886 with his three wives and children after Congress outlawed polygamy.")

In any event, the Massachusetts ruling today seems like a good victory, but I wonder if it changes much. The court gave the legislature six months to write a law that jibes with the state's ban on gender discrimination; the result could be a straights-only "marriage protection" amendment to the state constitution -- or, conversely, perhaps a law allowing civil unions that aren't quite marriages, in which case Massachusetts will be another Vermont, but not another Canada. Full equality will still not have been achieved in even a single state.

On the other hand, I bet Karl Rove was praying for a ruling extending full marriage rights to gay people in the Bay State, in time for the '04 elections. I bet he's deeply, deeply disappointed.

The U.S. military's code name for a crackdown on resistance in Iraq was also used by the Nazis for an aborted operation to damage the Soviet power grid during World War II.

"Operation Iron Hammer" this week launched the 1st Armored Division's 3rd Brigade into the roughest parts of Baghdad to ferret out the attackers who have killed scores of U.S. troops since Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was ousted in April....

"Eisenhammer," the German for "iron hammer," was a Luftwaffe code name for a plan to destroy Soviet generating plants in the Moscow and Gorky areas in 1943, according to Universal Lexikon on the Web site.

A researcher at Britain's Imperial War Museum confirmed the existence of Eisenhammer....


A poll of Britons finds that a majority are pro-American and a plurality (alas) now think the Iraq war was justified, The Guardian reports. A smaller plurality welcomes the Bush visit.

For what it's worth, the full poll results (warning: PDF file) show a very large gender gap -- men welcome the Bush visit by a 51%-30% margin, while women would prefer no visit, 42%-35%. Men think the war was justified, 53%-37%, while women say no, 45%-42%.

But the biggest gap is an age gap. Overall, 43% of Britons welcome the Bush visit and 36% wish he'd stay away -- but people over 65 oppose the visit, 50%-28%. And they think the war was unjustified, 47%-41%, an exact reversal of the figures for Britain overall.

Keep in mind that these are people who were born in 1938 or earlier. They actually lived through a war.
Social Security privatization -- it's back. And the AARP is in the bag again, as it is on the GOP's prescription-drugs bill:

With the stock market climbing and a re-election campaign approaching, the Bush administration is renewing its push to overhaul Social Security with personal investment accounts.

The Social Security Administration, with AARP and the National Association of Manufacturers, is organizing town hall meetings across the country to help build public support for changes.

Supporters of personal accounts say President Bush's political advisers have been urging them to increase their efforts in battleground states with debates, speeches and fund-raisers.

...Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is introducing a bill Tuesday in an effort to revive the debate about whether younger workers should be allowed to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in the stock market. His plan, many activists think, could serve as a foundation for legislation in 2005, should Bush get re-elected.

Bush, who campaigned on the idea in 2000, has identified Social Security reform as a key legislative issue for his second term and intends to run on it again in next year's campaign, said Graham, who spoke with the president about the issue and his own plan last week at a South Carolina fund-raiser.

''He says this is a winning issue people will embrace this idea if we're bold enough to lead on it,'' Graham said. ''I'm very proud of the president. He's the key to this because to get the public behind something new, you're going to need presidential support.''...

--Boston Globe

Oh, by the way, who's going to manage these accounts? The same folks who are currently mismanaging mutual funds?

(Thanks to BuzzFlash for the Globe link.)

Monday, November 17, 2003

The Miami Herald reports that a failing right-wing snake-oil peddler -- a guy who emerged in the early nineties and told us he was smarter than us stupid liberals -- is cashing in on his failure:

Edison Schools, a company created to run public schools like private businesses, accepted a $182 million buyout from Florida's pension fund Wednesday in a deal that follows years of losses but promises millions of dollars for the CEO.

The deal, engineered by Edison founder Chris Whittle and a few politically connected firms, will allow the New York-based entrepreneur to earn up to $28.6 million over five years in share options and pay. In that time, he'll be paid a maximum $600,000 yearly salary plus a 275 percent bonus if the company does well.

Stockholders, however, will receive $1.76 per share for a company that traded for as much as $36 in early 2001 and as little as 14 cents in late 2002....

The deal took place in Florida, where Jeb Bush is governor:

The major players in the Edison deal all have strong GOP ties.

On Oct. 29, Edison sponsored a school-choice banquet where Bush received an award.

To find a buyer, Edison hired the investment firm of Bear Stearns & Co., which is headed by James E. Cayne, who has raised more than $137,000 for President Bush's reelection campaign.

Florida's investment firm, Liberty Partners, was represented in the deal by the law firm of Blank Rome, led by David Girard-diCarlo, who raised more than $100,000 for the president in 2000 and plans to double that for next year's campaign. He also sat on the gubernatorial transition team of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Ridge had planned to turn over most of the Philadelphia school system to Edison in 2001. But the deal fell through, sending Edison's stock prices tumbling.

When Edison Schools came into being, it wasn't just a startup business. It had a higher calling: It was intended to humiliate liberals, Democrats, and anyone who believed that government should provide social services. It set out to prove that a for-profit company could educate children better than public schools, and for less money. The company was founded in 1992; by now, public, not-for-profit schools were supposed to seem as passe as the horse and buggy.

Things didn't quite work out that way. Pedagogical results have been mixed. Financial results have been dreadful. Gee, do you think that means it really does cost money -- perhaps more than we'd like to spend -- to educate kids?

(Thanks to Eric Alterman for the link.)

More from the Bush boom:

Verizon Communications Inc. said on Monday about 21,600 employees -- almost 10 percent of its work force -- accepted an early-retirement buyout offer as it cuts costs to offset weak local phone sales.

...The company had said in late October it expected more than 12,000 employees to accept the buyout, but a spokesman said the actual number was not a surprise.

..."They're cutting deeply into their work force," said John Challenger, of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "It's a sign they feel they really have to cut out a lot of costs."

"It's kind of a surprise because it looks as though the job market is beginning to turn around," Challenger said. "This would suggest we're still in choppy waters."

A Verizon spokesman said ... no more than one-fourth of the workers leaving will be replaced through promotion or additional hiring....

Afghanistan -- the other Iraq?

The United Nations suspended operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan on Monday after the killing of a French U.N. worker and a series of terrorist attacks.

U.N. associate spokeswoman Marie Okabe announced the suspension of the operations, which deal mainly with humanitarian relief, health care and refugees.

She said U.N. international staff from the southern provincial capital of Ghazni, where Bettina Goislard was killed on Sunday, had been relocated to Kabul. Afghan staff in the city were confined to their compounds and homes, she said....

More on the "Bush boom," from The New York Times:

Oregon — where the unemployment rate in September was 8 percent, the highest in the nation, according to the latest federal data — is, like dozens of other states, heavily reliant on manufacturing, a sector of the economy that has suffered huge losses in the last year.

But Oregon is not the only state unlikely to see economic recovery soon, experts say. California, with severe budget problems and continuing economic fallout from the high-tech bust, as well as a slew of states from Mississippi to Michigan whose economies have strong ties to manufacturing, are also likely to experience a slower recovery than the East Coast states, said Michael J. Donnelly, a senior economist at Global Insight, a national consulting firm.

Here in Linn County, which calls itself "the grass seed capital of the world" but where cash-poor farmers now find themselves with an overproduction of hard-to-sell grass seed, everything that could have gone wrong on the economic front did.

The situation is so bad in Albany, the county seat with a population of 41,000, that the state-financed local employment help center had to lay off three specialists in July because of Oregon's severe state budget problems. The people who were assisting others in their search for work suddenly found themselves thrust into an unforgiving job market, where one opening can draw as many as 300 desperate applicants.

Timber, the high-tech industry, manufacturing, food processing, prefabricated homes, frozen peas and corn, canned hamburger for the military and customer service for credit card companies — virtually every economic sector that supplies jobs to this county of 105,000 people in the Willamette Valley went sour at some point over the last decade. And economists say things still look grim.

"I don't think there are any great prospects for Linn County," Mr. Donnelly said. "It's going to take a while for Linn and Oregon in particular to get going."...

And even in Atlanta, where the recovery seems as if it might be taking hold, the Times reports:

"If you look back over the last couple years, this is the first time we've made it to October or November without seeing the economy turn down again," said James H. Reese, president of Randstad North America, which runs 28 temporary-help offices in the area. "But we're not ready to scream victory or wave the flag by any stretch of the imagination."

In this way, the city seems typical of much of the country, where economic growth is finally fast enough to create jobs but many people worry that the good news will be fleeting.

There are reasons for the caution. Many of the new jobs here are only temporary, and even many of the permanent ones pay less than those in the shrunken manufacturing and technology sectors did.

Personal income growth continues to trail inflation in Atlanta, according to, a research company that follows regional trends. The bankruptcy rate has remained almost 35 percent higher this year than it was in 2000.

Maria Del Conte says she is thrilled with her temporary job as an administrative assistant at an engineering company north of the city, having lost two other jobs in the last two years. But Ms. Del Conte is still making about 25 percent less than she did before 2001, when she worked as a meeting planner for pharmaceutical companies.

"Because of the economy, there is no chance of becoming a permanent employee" in her new job, said Ms. Del Conte, who lives in Kennesaw, an Atlanta suburb, with her teenage daughter....

Little of the new hiring here is happening at the city's biggest employers. Executives at Delta Air Lines continue to discuss the possibility of more pay cuts, for example. United Parcel Service has become more efficient over the last year, allowing it to handle more business without adding workers....

"If George W. Bush runs for reelection in 2004, do you think you will probably vote for George W. Bush or probably vote for the Democratic candidate?"

Bush: 41%

Democrat: 43%

Can't Say Until Chosen (vol.): 12%

None/Won't Vote (vol.): 1%

Don't Know: 3%

--CBS News poll conducted November 10-13, 2003, via Polling Report


Last week, after Roy Moore, the Huge Granite Ten Commandments judge, was removed from office, AP reported that

Moore said he had consulted with his attorneys and with political and religious leaders and would make an announcement next week which he said "could alter the course of this country." He did not elaborate.

An article in Church & State, the newsletter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, explains what might be afoot. (The article isn't online yet, unfortunately.) Last September, Moore went to Washington and met with Tom DeLay and several other Republican members of Congress. Church & State reports,

Perhaps interested in provoking another showdown, Moore proposed shortly after the meeting that his monument be transported to Washington and set up in the Capitol Building.

That wouldn't surprise me.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Bush boom my ass. Some dispatches, courtesy of The New York Times, that don't exactly point to a rosy future:


Kevin Thornton ..., 41, left a stable job with good health coverage in 1998 for a higher salary at a dot-com company that went bust a few months later. Since then, he has worked on contract for various companies, including one that provided insurance until the project ended in 2000. "I failed to keep up the payments that would have been required to maintain my coverage," he said. "It was just too much money."

Mr. Thornton is one of more than 43 million people in the United States who lack health insurance, and their numbers are rapidly increasing because of ever soaring cost and job losses. Many states, including Texas, are also cutting back on subsidies for health care, further increasing the number of people with no coverage.

The majority of the uninsured are neither poor by official standards nor unemployed. They are accountants like Mr. Thornton, employees of small businesses, civil servants, single working mothers and those working part time or on contract.

"Now it's hitting people who look like you and me, dress like you and me, drive nice cars and live in nice houses but can't afford $1,000 a month for health insurance for their families," said R. King Hillier, director of legislative relations for Harris County, which includes Houston....

The insurance crisis is especially visible in Texas, which has the highest proportion of uninsured in the country — almost one in every four residents. The state has a large population of immigrants; its labor market is dominated by low-wage service sector jobs, and it has a higher than average number of small businesses, which are less likely to provide health benefits because they pay higher insurance costs than large companies.

State cuts to subsidies for health insurance to help close a $10 billion budget gap will cost the state $500 million in federal matching money and are expected to further spur the rise in uninsured. In September, for example, more than half a million children enrolled in a state- and federal-subsidized insurance program lost dental, vision and most mental care coverage, and some 169,000 children will lose all insurance by 2005....


You probably already pay a monthly fee for access to cable TV and cellphone service. Someday soon, you may also have to come up with $20 to $30 a month for access to your doctor's services, on top of any co-payments, premiums and deductibles you're already paying for health insurance.

It may sound far-fetched, but it has already happened in at least three states - Washington, Ohio and Illinois - and health experts say it's probably starting in other places as well. And it's not the health plans or employers that are responsible. It's the doctors themselves.

Jim Simpkins said he received a letter in January from his doctor at the Polyclinic in Seattle, a multiple-specialty practice with 97 physicians, notifying him that he would have to start paying a $25 monthly retainer fee if he wanted to continue as a patient. The extra money, the letter said, would permit his doctor, Bradley Harris, to limit the size of his practice, allowing for same-day (and longer) appointments. In addition, the letter promised health seminars, a newsletter and eventual e-mail access to the doctor....


Rob McIntosh feels like he's been jilted - 10 times in a row. Over the past year, Mr. McIntosh, a graphic designer and creative director, has come close to snagging a job that many times, only to be told "no thanks" in the 11th hour. One company promised him a job that later vanished. Another asked him to complete hundreds of dollars of freelance work as a "tryout," then balked at payment. Still another invited him to interviews on four occasions for a position that he is now convinced never existed.

Mr. McIntosh, who had never waited more than three weeks for a job offer, couldn't conceive that employment was so elusive - or employers so demanding....

Every hiring process Mr. McIntosh has gone through since losing his job at Scient has lasted at least two months and frequently longer....

..."In a boom economy employers are reluctant to put up hoops," said Matt Ferguson, president of "But now they're saying there's eight things an employee has to do to be considered."...


The attitudes of buyers at an office furniture show in Baltimore a few weeks ago probably won't appear in any forecaster's spreadsheet or on a Wall Street analyst's Bloomberg machine. But as economists struggle to make sense of the current recovery, the show may be among the best indicators around....

So what was the verdict at the National Exhibition of Contract Furnishings East, or NeoCon East, one of the largest office furniture shows in the country? ...

...while there was plenty of interest, manufacturers at the show complained that there was too much browsing and not enough placing of orders. "They want the literature; they want the pricing," said Lynn Dean, operations manager for the Michela Group, a company that represents several furniture companies. But, she said, when it comes to actual purchases, "It's not as good as it could be."

....Based on anecdotal information, said Mr. Reardon, the trade group executive director, "it's the Fortune 500, the larger companies that are not as aggressive in buying right now."

Herman Miller and Steelcase Inc., traditionally the companies that have sold to the largest clients, finished the quarter that ended Aug. 30 with sales declines; Herman Miller was down 6.5 percent, and Steelcase by 7.2 percent, both in contrast to the year-earlier period.

...The problem for the economy is that major corporations account for roughly half of all business spending. If they are not yet confident enough to spend on office furniture, it is unlikely that they're spending at a very healthy clip over all....