Friday, July 26, 2002

Vacation Time. I might do some blogging tomorrow, but this is basically it oughta me until Tuesday or Wednesday. Tonight, I'm going to see Weezer at the Tweeter Center in Camden, NJ. Tomorrow, I'm going to Hershey, Pennsylvania for a long weekend, and seeing The Who there on Monday. I'll be back at some point on Tuesday. Everybody have a good weekend.
Again, Sully Doesn't Get It. Andrew Sullivan, one of today's elite bloggers, had some choice words for Al Gore today. He doesn't have permalinks (the bastard), so you'll just have to find the item titled "Gore's Gambit".

[I hate the use of the word "gambit", by the way. In chess, a gambit is when you sacrifice a piece to try to gain some compensating, or more than compensating, advantage. It's often used as a synonym for "gamble" or "risk" in non-chess contexts, and that annoys me. If you mean "risk", say "risk". Don't say "gambit" unless you mean "gambit". When George H. W. Bush raised taxes, breaking his pledge, that was a gambit.]

Anyway, Sully really doesn't seem to understand GOre's point at all. Surprise, surprise. When Gore says "first things first", he means that it might be a good idea if we a) finished of al Qaeda, and b) secure the stability of Afghanistan before we go gallivanting off to effect "regime change" (aka, "targetted killing", aka, "political assassination") in Iraq. The current problems in Afghanistan, caused mainly by the US being bafflingly unwilling to allow anyone, America or not, to do any kind of serious nation-building to secure the new government, could well be a prologue to life after Saddam. Afghanistan shows that we're not good at regime change. Let's get it right in the test case before we go for the big one. What's wrong with that, Sully?

According to Sully, Gore is flip-flopping on the issue of whether or not to take on Iraq at all. Not true. I'm flip-flopping (I still waiting to see some compelling justification), but Gore is solidly in favor. He just thinks that we might want to handle other things first (as I've said), and for the love of crap, we shouldn't be talking about it so much!!

Sully accuses Gore of not having the balls to oppose the war outright. Did it occur to Sully that Gore doesn't oppose the war?

Look at what happened after September 11. That should be the model. Americans were angry, and they wanted something done. But Bush didn't just press the button. He collected evidence establishing the involvement of al Qaeda (which, as we've discovered since, he already had), and he showed it to the heads of other nations and solicited their support. True, the American people had nothing to go on accept Bush's word that bin Laden was behind it all, but that was enough (especially when we saw the willingness of other nations to lend support). Security was kept, and legitimacy was assured.

What we have now is absolutely different. We don't have international support. If we do have compelling evidence, why don't we spread it around to other world leaders to build that international support? I'm not asking the White House to sit down with me and prove to me that Iraq is a clear and present danger to my life, to my country. But if were able to convince a few of our European allies, I'd feel a little better about it.
The Powerful Beat the People Again. Thanks again to Tapped for bringing this to my attention, but maybe I shouldn't thank them, because they've ruined my whole day. Basically, the government fellates the credit card companies, and people get screwed. There's a lot wrong with the way that credit cards work, and it's an underappreciated problem. It's a problem that cuts very close to my heart, because I got myself in a lot of financial trouble not too long ago. I was advised by a couple of attorneys I was talking to that I should declare bankruptcy to eliminate the debt (I was also, at the time, looking at a potentially massive judgement against me in a car-accident lawsuit, but that suit was dropped, presumably when the plaintiffs finally figured out that I have no money).

Anyway, that recourse will be closed. Apparently, those poor credit card companies were being ripped off by the evil machinations of college students, the working poor, and young, middle-class families financially in over their heads. Whereas Enron and Worldcom can declare bankruptcy, those absolving them of any obligation to provide severance pay or pensions to the thousands of loyal employees they've laid off, you and I will still be on the hook to the credit card companies. They complain that the incidence of bankruptcy is going up, so they need to protect themselves.

Ok. But why is the incidence of bankruptcy going up? Because credit card companies love debt. If you're in debt, they'll send you more cards with higher limits (and higher interest rates). You'll be inundated with pre-approved "platinum" cards, completely unsolicited. They set up tables on college campuses and give away free T-shirts to try to get kids, who (like me) often don't have a friggin' clue how to use a credit card without anally raping their finances for years to come.

And this will make it much, much worse. Now that credit cards are guaranteed to get their money back, eventually, even if the cardholder declares bankruptcy, they will be willing to make much "riskier" offers of credit. Their risk has been nearly eliminated, the risk to the cardholder has been increased. So credit card companies will offer even better cards, with higher limits, to even less credit-worthy people. What does this mean? For credit card companies: more debt, more money. For cardholders: more debt, more misery.

This is a bipartisan outrage. The Democratic Party has sold out, again, to corporate interests, and they've let go of a brilliant campaign strategy. The leading advocate of this bill, according to the article, is MBNA Corporation, which was the single largest corporate contributor to Bush's 2000 campaign.

Gore would do himself a lot of good to get in front of a camera and start railing against this. A lot of his future primary opponents will probably vote for this (and when the roll calls are available on line, you bet I'll be checking to see which ones), and he can use this issue to attack Bush and the spineless pro-corporate Democrats who have sold us all out. Credit card debt is a huge problem for millions of people, especially young people who don't have much ability to earn. Something has to be done to address this problem. Only now it's so much worse.
Bush to Future DHS Employees: F*ck You! Josh Marshall over at TPM has the definitive take down of the White House's ideological hijacking of the Department of Homeland Security legislation. It's exactly because of crap like this that I say that this administration has been shockingly bad. I expected the Bush administration to be a disaster, but never in my darkest nightmares did I expect it to be half as bad as it actually is.
Krugman's Back. Is it me, or it the first we've seen of him in a while? Anyway, he's puzzled by Bush's continued fealty to the idea of privatizing social security. I'm inclined to believe Krugman's assessment of the true reasons behind Bush's continued support, but I'm still shocked that Rove would let him discuss the matter at all. If you want reassure your donor buddies that you still put their interests first, do it through backchannel, private communications. If you want to avoid admitting Bush was wrong, have Ari claim, imperially, that there has been [no] change in policy, and that Bush has never supported privatization.

But I don't mind. The more he talks about it, the more people see how truly dangerous the man's permanent vacation from reality really is.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Who Will Be the First to Go? Wow. I'm frankly amazed at the amount of resignation speculation going on within and around the Bush Administration. From various sources too numerous to list, I've heard rumors about the potential resignations of Thomas E. White, Christine Todd Whitman, Harvey Pitt, Paul O'Neill, Colin Powell, and Dick Cheney. Rumors have it that Cheney won't be on the ticket in '04 (but I've believed that since he was put on the ticket in '00), that O'Neill will be out after the midterms, and that Wittman is a "short-termer". [Full disclosure: I have a special loathing for Whitman on account of how she completely buggered the budget of my home state of New Jersey.]

I can't wait to see how it all develops. Of course, there have been resignation rumors, particularly about White, for the better part of a year. So who knows?
Bush's Approval Ratings Still High. Boy, when's the last time that headline wasn't appropriate? Nevermind.

Salon has an article by Eric Boehlert, who's slowly becoming a favorite of mine, about Bush's continuing high marks in the "approval rating" category. His article includes also a lot of much lower marks in more specific areas, like his handling of the economic crisis, and whether or not he really runs the White House.

But I wanted to comment on one minor point at the end of the piece. Look at this: "According to [Matthew] Dowd, [polling co-ordinator for the RNC,] no president in the last 20 years with a rating of 50 percent or higher in the summer has lost reelection in November." The last twenty years! That's not much time at all. And given that we're only discussion presidential re-elections in those twenty years, that gives us a whopping three data points to consider. Presumably (though, even this is potentially a logical reach), Reagan in '84 and Clinton in '96 had 50 percent or higher in the summer of those years, and George H. W. Bush did not have that much approval in the summer '92. From that, Dowd is implying some massive significance, and Boehlert finds it interesting enough to repeat. Good grief!

Seriously, that is one of the dumbest things I've read in a really long time.
Conservative Media Bias Caused the Bubble. Such is the premise of article from TomPaine.com. The article tries to draw a connection between corporate media's coverage of economic and business issues throughout the 90s, with a heavy pro-CEO, pro-corporate, pro-conservative bias, with the "irrational exuberance" that inflated stock prices far above their actual values. The connection, at least as presented in the article, is a tenuous one, but it's an interesting these that makes sense (far more sense, for instance, than the Clinton Blow Job theory).

What worries me is that I don't think there's any reason to see a change. Sure, right now the big story happens to be an anti-corporate story, so that's what's playing. But, especially after yesterday's tremendous stock surge, I think the corporate media is chomping at the bit to get back on the corporate bandwagon as soon as they can. Once all of this corporate stuff blows over (and it will, it's all a matter of when), expect to see a wholesale return to the pro-corporate bias of the 90s.
Is Anybody There? Apparently, someone can get into the site this morning, but it ain't me. As a matter of fact, I can't get into any Blogspot sites at all. I keep getting this "Internal Server Error". This happened both at home, and now at work. Nevertheless, someone popped by in the last hour, according to my counter. I wonder how many people are affected.

I'm more put out by my inability to see my friends' postings than I am about everyone else's potential inability to see mine. But I still have Tapped, and Salon.com, and many other fine non-Blogspot resources to keep me entertained, so don't cry for me.
EU Provides Aid Funding US Denies. This is a sign of the times, my friends. We are seeing the beginning of American Global descendency. It may take a long time to come to fruition, and it may be reversed by future administrations, but the trend right now is toward the emergence of the EU as a world power, to take America's place.

Here's the skinny. Apparently, the EU is cleaning up out messes now, treating us like backward children. Well, thank goodness they are. The important thing here is that funding.

I probably sound like a lunatic, but I truly believe that unless things change drastically, people my age (mid-twenties) will live to see the end of America as a worldpower. That's where we're heading.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Is There a Special Prosecutor in the House? Tapped seems very pleased to be linking to this article by Alexander Bolton on The Hill. I'm pleased as well, and grateful (as always) to Tapped for drawing it to my attention. Apparently, Senate Democrats, including Lieberman and Carl Levin of Michigan, are finally getting around convening hearings on Halliburton and Harken. Hear hear!

But, as indicated by the heading of this passage, I think we need more than a Government Affairs Committee hearing. We need a Special Prosecutor. Why? Because both Bush and Cheney have established a clear pattern of stonewalling. They stonewall the press, and they stonewall the Congress. We've got to up the ante.

Now, I'm not looking for a partisan witch hunt, Whitewater style. Really, I'm not. But there are questions, legitimate questions, which have been raised by the press, which have not been adequately answered. These issues should be thoroughly explored. Of course, on the Harken matter, Bush could totally eliminate the need for hearings by having the SEC release the files from their previous investigation. If, as he claims, they do exonerate him, I'll be satisfied. But, I think it's more likely that they would reveal a white wash. Where's my evidence? Well, nothing you don't already know. I'm concerned, as many people are, about the numerous links between the SEC under George H. W. Bush, and the business background of George W. Bush. I have no confidence in the thoroughness of the investigation, and I have deep suspicions that it may have been a white wash. I have no proof, obviously.

Whether there's anything to the Harken story or not (and I mean the insider trading story as well as the phony earnings report story), the truth will out, but only under Congressional pressure.
Gore Up, Bush Down. Josh Marshall says that Gore's political stock is clearly on the rise. This is heart-warming to me. I'm a big Gore supporter, and I want to see him run in 2004 (I'm not losing much sleep over it... I'd be less surprised if W. didn't run than I would be if Gore didn't). But, to be honest, I never really imagined that he had much chance of winning. But then, when I thought about it before, I was thinking about it in the climate of 9/11. Now, I'm thinking about it in the climate of these corporate scandals, increased criticism of the White House from the press and from Congressional Democrats, and the prospect of big Democratic gains in the midterms in just three-and-a-half months.

I'm not saying it's a shoe-in for Gore. Nothing of the kind. I'm still a little tentative about the midterms (right now, it looks good for the Dems, but things happen, and the climate can change rapidly).

For those of you who aren't big Gore fans, well... don't fret. There's plenty of time for another Democratic candidate to sweep in and steal Gore's opportunity, and a weak Bush helps all Democratic contenders. But I agree with Mr. Marshall that this helps Gore more than it does the others, and since everyone will have to go through Gore first.
A Prayer For Owen, Mainly. Thus is my description of today's Wahington Post editorial on the confirmation prospects of far-right conservative Priscilla Owen to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Personally, I consider the complaints ranging against her to be more than ample reason to reject her nomination. The Post disagrees, and that's fine. Some good points are made, and there is clear room for honest disagreement on that question.

What I find baffling, however, is the editorial's conclusion: "She is still a conservative. And that is still not a good reason to vote her down." Why not? First of all, it isn't so much that she's a conservative, it's that she is so much a conservative. Her opposition to abortion rights is something that troubles me personally, but her willingness to subvert the clear intent of the law in order to effectively amend it on those grounds should trouble us all.

Besides, these nominations are made are purely political grounds (this is nothing new... see John Dean's "The Rehnquist Choice"). Why shouldn't they be evaluated on the same terms? There is a clear difference between the way in which Republican and Democratic presidents nominate judges. Republicans nominate arch-conservative ideologues to try to use the courts to shift the political landscape to the right (and it's worked). Senate Democrats have a clear interest in opposing this move, and I see no reason why they should not be able to vote down a nomination on these grounds.

Also, it should be noted that plenty of Bush's conservative nominations have been confirmed already. The Democrats in the Judiciary Committee are clearly only objecting to the controversial ones, which is appropriate. Compare this to the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee chaired by Orrin Hatch, who objected on principle to any nomination made by Bill Clinton, for no other reason than that Bill Clinton had made it.

At best, the Post editorial is guilty of a kind of naivete, wishing breathlessly for a process that is more dignified and less political. And, in fairness, there are valid arguments for preferring such a process over the one we have now. But we already know that the Republicans won't reciprocate such highminded attitudes in the realm of judicial nominations. If the Democrats unilaterally decide to rise above the fray and comport themselves in a dignified and apolitical manner, the inevitable result would be a continuous drive toward an increasingly conservative judiciary, at every level. This price is far, far too high.

Senate Democrats need to be every bit as ruthless as their Republican counterparts. "But Terminus, if that happens, doesn't that make us just as bad as they are?" Perhaps, but the future of the country is very much at stake.

Confirm Owen, don't confirm Owen, whatever. I have an opinion, obviously, but that's not the issue here. The issue is that is not only legitimate but essential for Senate Democrats, especially in the Judiciary Committee, to oppose Bush's ultra-conservative nominees.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Hypocrisy Abounds.... But Not Here. William Saletan has an interesting column in Slate arguing that Democrats are being hypocritcal on crime. You see, they're usually against the war-on-crime mentality of the right, but they're salivating over these corporate CEOs. Saletan makes a good point, in a sense, but he misses a much bigger one. Right now, criminals like drug peddlers, users, muggers, what have you, really get the shaft from our criminal justice system, at least when compared to corporate CEOs. Arguing that CEOs should be treated more harshly is a reflection of how easily their treated now.

The only way you could call that hypocrisy is if the two groups were currently treated similarly, and Dems wanted to hang one and free the other. There's not a thing hypocritical about saying that one group is treated too softly and the other too harshly, when it's quite clear that the prior group is treated so much less harshly than the latter. It's the status quo that's hypocritcal.
No Drugs For You! Partisanship reigns on Capitol Hill (though, to be honest, I've never quite understood why that's meant to be a bad thing) as two competing prescription drug benefit plans go down in flames today. The Democrat plan, which pumps more money into Medicare to pay reduce costs to seniors, got 52 votes, but that's still eight short to get it over the 60 vote hurdle the Senate often uses on such controversial issues. The Republican plan, which subsidizes insurance companies, and provides much less help to seniors (admittedly, at much lower cost to taxpayers), got fewer than 50 votes. Get the details here.

I know what you're thinking: if the Democrat plan can get votes from a majority of Senators and the Republican plan can't, shouldn't it be passed? Apparently not. I don't pretend to understand this stuff, but I'm sure there's a reason for it somewhere.

In any event, it's a clear indication that we've got to get more Democrats in the Senate, and you can bet that Democrats all over the country will be making that case. And remember, as I've mentioned before, even the "expensive" plan costs significantly less than the permanent repeal of the Estate Tax that the Republicans tried to push through a while back. So don't buy that bullshit about fiscal responsibility.
You're Either With Us or Against Us. The Bush Administration is against us. So says this savage editorial from The American Prospect. These corporate scandals are all pretty different, but they've all got a lot in common: the guys at the top are ruthless, and totally without conscience. Those words describe the CEO Administration pretty well, I think.
How to be a Conservative in the White House. Ok, let's say that you're President of the United States, and you are a very conservative Republican. You soon discover that this country spends money on all sorts foreign-aid programs that you (and more importantly, your "core supporters") don't much like. But there's not really all that much you can do. A trim here, a cut there, but that's about it.

But then, some of those core supporters tell you that some of the money is going toward the killing of babies and the forced sterilization of women, under the auspices of "family planning". Well, that's a bit more serious. So, what do you do? Wisely, you decide not to just cut the funding on their say so. I mean, this little nugget of fact is coming from a very fringe group, and there are a lot of people who would get upset by this. The best thing to do would be to corroborate the information. That way, you could prove that the allegations were true, and rescind the money under a torrent of self-righteous anger. That plays well all over. In the mean time, just freeze the money pending an investigation.

But what do you do when the investigation shows, conclusively, that the charges were utter bunk? What do you do then? Well, it's obvious. You repudiate your own administration's investigation, and go ahead and cancel the funding, despite the total and public disconnect between your reasons for cancelling the funding and the true situation out in the world.

Just like you did with global warming.

Salon.com has the story.
Heart-Warming Optimism. Take a look at yesterday's Bull Moose column. This guy has a fantastic ability to see just what's wrong with both parties (but, of course, I think he's too tough on the Dems and too soft on the Reps). Moreover, he can see an easy strategy for the Republican party to remake itself in a way which would excite a lot of people, and be a good thing for this country. What's so charming about his take is that he really seems to believe that his reforms could happen (although I'm sure he's not entertaining any fantasies that they will any time soon). I don't see how the Republican party could possibly get out from under the corporate thumb. I mean, he's right... now is the perfect time to do it, as it would totally erase any political advantage the Dems could get from these corporate scandals. But they won't, because they can't.

So, given that, the Dems have got to attack and attack hard. Take back the House. Pick up a few seats in the Senate. And suddenly, as this excellent column in The American Prospect shows, 2004 might not be such a lost cause after all.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Cal Thomas is Putting on a Clinic. I've always been fascinated by tactics in the politcal realm, and I've just found a column by Cal Thomas that serves as a wonderful illustration of a tactic we've seen an awful lot lately. The way it works is this: when somebody on your side has been accused of doing a wide-range of shifty things, ranging from the illegal, to the unethical, to the unseemly, start out on defense. But, rather than defend the charges head on, focus only on the least significant of the charges (and if you can twist the facts a little to make it even cleaner, go for it). Then, demonstrate how many of the other side's guys do the same thing.

This strategy has a number of flaws. 1) It's clearly an invalid argument. Let's imagine that the Clintons really did have Vince Foster killed to silence him. Imagine now that some loyal Democrat said, "Well, look, Nixon did it, so what's the big deal?" Imagine also that Nixon had done it. Would that be a suitable defense in any way shape or form? Now, I know that murder and these corporate scandals are as different as apples and particle acceleration, but the general principle still holds. It's either wrong or not. Arguing that other people did the same wrong thing doesn't morally absolve your guy. 2) Anyone who has a strong command of the facts will notice that you've focused on the most innocuous charges, and they will also notice that the other guys haven't been doing the more serious charges.

But it works because we're not dealing with a court of law or a debating society, we're dealing with the court of public opinion. The public has a very short attention span (and so does the media, and which was responsible for the other is a fascinating question for another time), and isn't interested enough to keep the facts straight unless they are quite simple (and it helps if they're sexy, like blowjobs).

So, the real goal in this tactic is not convince your reasonable opponents, but to confuse your opponents' audience to the point where they won't be convinced by the other side either. Just one more reason to pay attention.
Bush Sucks. Honestly, I don't know if this means much of anything, but it's a fun little pre-spun statistic to have anyhow. Apparently, Bush is off to the worst start in 75 years, based on the performance of the S & P 500 over his first eighteen monhts. It lost, over that period, 36.9% of its value. Runners up in the worst start competition include Nixon and Hoover. Yeah, Georgie-boy's in good company.
But the Real News Here.... I love this. The headline on this story in the Nando Times is "Gore Says Bush Administration Lied About Economy". I love that. The real news here is not that Bush lied about the economy. We've known that for ever (and when he spent two years on the campaign trail lying about his tax cut plan, and conventiently altering its rationale without altering its substance to adapt it for changing circumstances, we knew what to expect). The news is that Gore is saying it.

And good for him, too.