Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rendezvous With Oblivion

By Thomas Frank
The New York Times
Over the last month I have tried to describe conservative power in Washington, but with a small change of emphasis I could just as well have been describing the failure of liberalism: the center-left’s inability to comprehend the current political situation or to draw upon what is most vital in its own history.

What we have watched unfold for a few decades, I have argued, is a broad reversion to 19th-century political form, with free-market economics understood as the state of nature, plutocracy as the default social condition, and, enthroned as the nation’s necessary vice, an institutionalized corruption surpassing anything we have seen for 80 years. All that is missing is a return to the gold standard and a war to Christianize the Philippines.

Historically, liberalism was a fighting response to precisely these conditions. Look through the foundational texts of American liberalism and you can find everything you need to derail the conservative juggernaut. But don’t expect liberal leaders in Washington to use those things. They are “New Democrats” now, enlightened and entrepreneurial and barely able to get out of bed in the morning, let alone muster the strength to deliver some Rooseveltian stemwinder against “economic royalists.”

Mounting a campaign against plutocracy makes as much sense to the typical Washington liberal as would circulating a petition against gravity. What our modernized liberal leaders offer — that is, when they’re not gushing about the glory of it all at Davos — is not confrontation but a kind of therapy for those flattened by the free-market hurricane: they counsel us to accept the inevitability of the situation and to try to understand how we might retrain or re-educate ourselves so we will fit in better next time.

This last point was a priority for the Clinton administration. But in “The Disposable American,” a disturbing history of job security, Louis Uchitelle points out that the New Democrats’ emphasis on retraining (as opposed to broader solutions that Old Democrats used to favor) is merely a kinder version of the 19th-century view of unemployment, in which economic dislocation always boils down to the fitness of the unemployed person himself.

Or take the “inevitability” of recent economic changes, a word that the centrist liberals of the Washington school like to pair with “globalization.” We are told to regard the “free-trade” deals that have hammered the working class almost as acts of nature. As the economist Dean Baker points out, however, we could just as easily have crafted “free-trade” agreements that protected manufacturing while exposing professions like law, journalism and even medicine to ruinous foreign competition, losing nothing in quality but saving consumers far more than Nafta did.

When you view the world from the satisfied environs of Washington — a place where lawyers outnumber machinists 27 to 1 and where five suburban counties rank among the seven wealthiest in the nation — the fantasies of postindustrial liberalism make perfect sense. The reign of the “knowledge workers” seems noble.

Seen from almost anywhere else, however, these are lousy times. The latest data confirms that as the productivity of workers has increased, the ones reaping the benefits are stockholders. Census data tells us that the only reason family income is keeping up with inflation is that more family members are working.

Everything I have written about in this space points to the same conclusion: Democratic leaders must learn to talk about class issues again. But they won’t on their own. So pressure must come from traditional liberal constituencies and the grass roots, like the much-vilified bloggers. Liberalism also needs strong, well-funded institutions fighting the rhetorical battle. Laying out policy objectives is all well and good, but the reason the right has prevailed is its army of journalists and public intellectuals. Moving the economic debate to the right are dozens if not hundreds of well-funded Washington think tanks, lobbying outfits and news media outlets. Pushing the other way are perhaps 10.

The more comfortable option for Democrats is to maintain their present course, gaming out each election with political science and a little triangulation magic, their relevance slowly ebbing as memories of the middle-class republic fade.

Thomas Frank, a guest columnist, is the author, most recently, of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?’’

Photo credit: Thomas Frank. (The New York Times)

The Big Disconnect

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
There are still some pundits out there lecturing people about how great the economy is. But most analysts seem to finally realize that Americans have good reasons to be unhappy with the state of the economy: although G.D.P. growth has been pretty good for the last few years, most workers have seen their wages lag behind inflation and their benefits deteriorate.

The disconnect between overall economic growth and the growing squeeze on many working Americans will probably play a big role this November, partly because President Bush seems so out of touch: the more he insists that it’s a great economy, the angrier voters seem to get. But the disconnect didn’t begin with Mr. Bush, and it won’t end with him, unless we have a major change in policies.

The stagnation of real wages — wages adjusted for inflation — actually goes back more than 30 years. The real wage of nonsupervisory workers reached a peak in the early 1970’s, at the end of the postwar boom. Since then workers have sometimes gained ground, sometimes lost it, but they have never earned as much per hour as they did in 1973.

Meanwhile, the decline of employer benefits began in the Reagan years, although there was a temporary improvement during the Clinton-era boom. The most crucial benefit, employment-based health insurance, has been in rapid decline since 2000.

Ordinary American workers seem to understand the long-term disconnect between economic growth and their own fortunes better than most political analysts. Consider, for example, the results of a new poll of American workers by the Pew Research Center.

The center finds that workers perceive a long-term downward trend in their economic status. A majority say that it’s harder to earn a decent living than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and a plurality say that job benefits are worse too.

Are workers simply viewing the past through rose-colored glasses? The report seems to imply that they are: a section pointing out that workers surveyed in 1997 also said that it had gotten harder to make a decent living is titled, “As usual, people say things were better in the good old days.”

But as we’ve seen, real wages have been declining since the 1970’s, so it makes sense that workers have consistently said that it’s harder to make a living today than it was a generation ago.

On the other side, workers’ concern about worsening benefits is new. In 1997, a plurality of workers said that employment benefits were better than they used to be. That made sense: in 1997, the health care crisis, which had been a big political issue a few years earlier, seemed to have gone into remission. Medical costs were relatively stable, and in a tight labor market, employers were competing to offer improved benefits. Workers felt, rightly, that benefits were pretty good by historical standards.

But now the health care crisis is back, both because medical costs are rising rapidly and because we’re living in an increasingly Wal-Martized economy, in which even big, highly profitable employers offer minimal benefits. Employment-based insurance began a steep decline with the 2001 recession, and the decline has continued in spite of economic recovery.

The latest Census report on incomes, poverty and health insurance, released this week, shows that in 2005, four years into the economic expansion, the percentage of Americans with private insurance of any kind reached its lowest level since 1987. And Americans feel, again correctly, that benefits are worse than they used to be.

Why have workers done so badly in a rich nation that keeps getting richer? That’s a matter of dispute, although I believe there’s a large political component: what we see today is the result of a quarter-century of policies that have systematically reduced workers’ bargaining power.

The important question now, however, is whether we’re finally going to try to do something about the big disconnect. Wages may be difficult to raise, but we won’t know until we try. And as for declining benefits — well, every other advanced country manages to provide everyone with health insurance, while spending less on health care than we do.

The big disconnect, in other words, provides as good an argument as you could possibly want for a smart, bold populism. All we need now are some smart, bold populist politicians.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

Depeche Mode: "John The Revelator"

Depeche Mode: "John The Revelator"
"Unofficial animated music video for Depeche Mode's latest single from their album 'Playing The Angel.'

This video was created only for artistic (non-commercial) purposes and without the consent of the band or the label.

The visual interpretations of the song's lyrics and the views expressed in this music video are solely those of the director, a Depeche Mode fan / outraged American.

Please support the impeachment movement at and also support the band by buying their single (available in iTunes).
Hat Tip to Open You Minds Eye.



Watch and Listen to the Entire Speech (Delivered at a Huge Anti-Bush Protest) HERE.

Specter: More Wiretap Power to Bush

Brian Beutler for RAW STORY reports:
A bill that expands President Bush's ability to wiretap American phones and conduct other forms of domestic surveillance will likely appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Thursday, RAW STORY has learned.

The bill, which was written by judiciary chairman Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), and which has been widely and publicly excoriated by Democratic members of the committee, contains provisions—such as the institution of program-wide warrants, and warrants that do not expire for a year—that would weaken the strict limits that currently govern the FISA courts.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was written nearly 20 years ago and offers guidelines about the legal use of wiretaps on phones inside the United States. It includes provisions for the use of courts to issue warrants if the government’s case against a suspect meets legal scrutiny.

The judiciary committee originally sought to bring the NSA wiretapping program into compliance with FISA, but in practice, critics claim, Specter’s FISA amendments actually give the president freedom to expand his wiretapping activities.

A statement released by the office of Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) states that Specter’s bill “gives him even more power than he has asserted under his illegal NSA wiretapping program.”
Read more.

Photo credit: Sen. Arlen Specter. (Raw Story)

Also see:

  • - Wiretapping Unbound
    Aziz Huq writes that the Specter bill is no compromise - it actually locks in the president's authority to act without oversight. "From the Iraq conflict to the handling of captured terrorists, the present administration has demonstrated a remarkable knack for barging in with excessive force in ways that fail to respond to threats. Secrecy is then used to cover up the resulting mess. Boundless license and the renunciation of oversight will only be a recipe for even worse disasters."

Lie By Lie

Thanks to Mother Jones for putting together this interactive timeline of Bush Administration lies:

Chronicle of a War Foretold: August 1990 to March 2003
"The first drafts of history are fragmentary. Important revelations arrive late, and out of order. In this timeline, we’ve assembled the history of the Iraq War to create a resource we hope will help resolve open questions of the Bush era. What did our leaders know and when did they know it? And, perhaps just as important, what red flags did we miss, and how could we have missed them? This is the first installment in our Iraq War timeline project."
Click Here for the Lie By Lie Timeline.

Related Articles:

The Real Catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina

StraightTalk Live:
Campaign For America's Future
"August 29, 2006 marks the one-year anniversary of the worst natural disaster in our nation's history … the day Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. The catastrophic conservatism of the Bush administration and leading Republican lawmakers amplified the impacts of the natural disaster, and continues to promote tragedy for hundreds of thousands in the region today." (emphasis mine)

Also See:

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Olbermann KO's Rummy

Edward R. Murrow Lives!

You've all heard Rummy's "fascism" speech by now.

Well, Keith Olbermann, in one of his finest moments (and there have been many) defended the majority of Americans, who rightfully oppose Rummy's continuing Iraq adventure, against Rummy's verbal rampage.

Watch the video and read a transcript of Keith's comments at Crooks and Liars.

Then ...


Also see:

JonBenét Died - And Bush Lied?

If you thought the Bush cabal was diabolical, well, m' friends, you ain't heard nothing yet. The following article is a MUST READ.

Thom Hartmann for Common Dreams reports:
"I was on the air doing my radio program two weeks ago when the story came down the wire that the killer of JonBenét Ramsey had been captured in Thailand just hours earlier. I opened the microphone and said words to the effect of, 'Today there must be something really awful going down for the Republicans. Maybe Rove really will be indicted. Maybe Cheney. Maybe some terrible revelation about Bush. And if there isn't, today will be the day they'll toss out the unsavory stories - like gutting an environmental law or wiping out pension plans - that they don't want covered.'

Apparently it was worse than I'd imagined.

That same morning - just hours after the JonBenét information hit the press and just after I got off the air - it was revealed that US District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor had ruled that George W. Bush and now-CIA Director Michael Hayden had committed multiple High Crimes, Misdemeanors, and felonies, both criminal and constitutional. If her ruling stands, Bush and Hayden could go to prison...."

Read more.
Hat Tip -- once again --to E.L.

Also see:

Bamboozled Brooks

Perhaps, Dear David, it is you who are most perplexed. Or maybe just disingenuous.

Perhaps you have forgotten (or are ignorant of?) the rather complicated details of the CIA leak case, since your op ed completely ignores the facts of the case, and most importantly, the fact that this case is still open.

Perhaps you should refrain from "foaming so uncontrollably at the thought" that all the President's leakers are out of hot water "that you look like [a] little Chia Pet of glee," and, instead, educate yourself before you write any more of this inaccurate and worthless drivel.

(Try reading this for starters, Brooksie. Or this. You just might learn something about how a journalist is supposed to do his job.)

A Guide for the Perplexed
By David Brooks
The New York Times
Perhaps, dear reader, you are perplexed. Perhaps you remember the scandal surrounding the outing of the C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame, a crime so heinous that her husband was forced to endure repeated magazine photo-shoots. Perhaps you remember Karl Rove’s face on the covers of magazines and newspapers, along with hundreds of stories and driveway stakeouts.

Perhaps you remember the left-wing bloggers foaming so uncontrollably at the thought of Rove’s coming imprisonment that they looked like little Chia Pets of glee. Perhaps you remember a city of TV bookers periodically canceling their lunch plans because of rumors that the Rove indictment was imminent, thus leaving behind a dangerous oversupply of salad entrees.

Perhaps you remember how much this all mattered.

And yet now it has been revealed that the primary leaker was not Rove at all, but Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state. And this news produces no outrage at all. Nothing. A piffle. Perhaps you are wondering how this could happen.

Well, dear reader, there are four things you must remember about your political class. First, there is a big difference between politically useful wrongdoing and politically useless wrongdoing, the core of which is that politically useless wrongdoing is not really wrongdoing at all.

Back in its glory days, the Plame affair was a way to expose the black heart of the Bush administration. It was used to support accusations by John Kerry, Barbara Boxer and other truth-seekers that the Bushies were so vicious they would use classified information to discredit anyone who dared to criticize them.

Senator Frank Lautenberg accused Rove of treason. Howard Dean and a cast of thousands called for his firing. But now it turns out that the leaker cannot be used to discredit the president, that he was a critic of the Iraq war. And with the political usefulness of the scandal dissolving, a sweet cloud of indifference has settled upon the metropolis.

Second, you must remember that a scandal is like a shipboard romance, and once it is gone, the magic can never return. Back at the height of the frenzy, big-time TV personalities were wondering if it was worse than Watergate (of sacred memory). They were spinning impenetrable data points into conspiracy theories of calculus-level complexity. Of anonymous sources and wild allegations there was no shortage. Alleged felons were lined up and rhetorically shot.

The capital rode for a time on the delirious rapids of speculation. Everybody was wrapped in the Christmas Eve anticipation that comes over those who suspect that somebody more powerful than themselves is about to be brought low. But once the crack-buzz of scandal wears off, once the details are forgotten, the excitement can never be brought back. New information, even vital information, just seems like pointless residue from an embarrassing binge.

Third, character matters. Richard Armitage, as is often made clear, is the very emblem of martial virtue. Unlike the pencil-necked chicken hawks that used to bedevil him, he had his character forged in the heat of battle, amid the whir of bullets. And what he apparently learned is that if you keep quiet while your comrades are being put through the ringer, then you will come out fine in the end. Armitage did keep quiet as the frenzy boiled, and he will come out fine.

Finally, you must always remember that it’s better to be One of Us than One of Them. Washington attracts a community of smart public-service-oriented people. This permanent community has its own set of mores. It’s important to be politically temperate. It’s important, even though you supported the Iraq war in 2003, to act as if you opposed it all along. Above all one must engage in the off-the-record gossip and background leaking that important people use to spin each other while pretending they are not spinning.

Members of the Washington community, like members of all decent communities, protect one another. Richard Armitage is a member of this community. Karl Rove is not. When a scandal hits One of Us, it is like Pepto-Bismol on an upset stomach. When a scandal hits One of Them, it’s like a match on gasoline.

I hope, dear reader, I have explained some of the rituals of our political culture. And I hope you will not judge us harshly. We only destroy those who are unfashionable.

Photo credit: David Brooks. (The New York Times)

Man's Best Friend ... Knows Best

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Sop, A Fop, Another Photo Op

Begat, Bothered, Bewildered
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
New Orleans

Doing his stations of the Katrina cross, President Bush went for breakfast with Mayor Ray Nagin at Betsy’s Pancake House.

As Mr. Bush tried to squeeze past some tightly placed tables, a waitress, Joyce Labruzzo, teased him, saying, “Mr. President, are you going to turn your back on me?’’

“No ma’am,’’ he replied, with a laugh and a pause for effect. “Not again.”

It was a rare unguarded moment — showing that his towering Katrina failure is lodged somewhere in the front of his cerebral cortex — in a trip of staged, studiously happy settings, steering away from the wreckage of buildings and people so searing for anyone who loved the saucy and sauce-laden New Orleans of old.

W.’s anniversary contrition for the cameras was a more elaborate version of his famous Air Force One flyover a year ago, when he had to be shown a DVD of angry news coverage of apartheid suffering here before he belatedly and grudgingly broke off his five-week Crawford vacation.

In an interview on the Upper Ninth Ward’s desolate North Dorgenois Street, the president told NBC’s Brian Williams that, besides Camus, he had recently read a book on the Battle of New Orleans and “three Shakespeares.” A White House aide said one of them was “Hamlet.”

What could be more fitting? A prince who dithers instead of acting and then acts precipitously at the wrong moment, not paying attention when someone vulnerable drowns.

Asked by the anchor whether he was asking people in the country to sacrifice enough, he replied briskly, “Americans are sacrificing — we pay a lot of taxes.”

The last two days in Mississippi and New Orleans were W.’s play within the play. He took the role of the empathetic and engaged chief executive, rallying resources to save the Gulf Coast, even as the larger lens showed a sad picture of American communities that are still decrepit and hurting, while the Bush administration’s billions flow to reconstructing — or rather not reconstructing — Iraq.

You longed for this Crawford Hamlet to just go out there and say, “This just isn’t good enough.”

Instead, he gritted his teeth and put on his blandly optimistic cheerleader-in-chief role and talked about restoring “the soul’’ of New Orleans. It always makes me nervous when W. does soul talk.

He was brazen enough to pose as the man of action even in a city ruined by his initial and continuing inaction. “I’ve been on the levees,’’ he told a crowd at a high school here yesterday. “I’ve seen these good folks working.’’

He spoke to a small number of residents in the boiling sun before the one house that had been tidily restored in a blighted working-class neighborhood in Biloxi. Outside the TV frame, there was a toilet on its side in the yard of a gutted house full of dangling wires, iron scraps and other sad detritus. On one fence spoke there was a child’s abandoned stuffed toy.

At a stop at a building company in Gulfport, Miss., he chirped biblically: “There will be a momentum, momentum will be gathered. Houses will begat jobs, jobs will begat houses.”

Douglas Brinkley, the New Orleans writer who recounted the history of the trellis of failure, Republican and Democratic, federal, state and local, in “The Great Deluge,’’ noted that Mr. Bush was merely “sweating bullets trying to get the visit over with.”

“In the Republican playbook, Katrina’s a loser,’’ he said.

Mr. Bush tells journalists he has been reading prodigiously, 53 books so far this year, with three bios of George Washington, two of Lincoln and one of Mao. He seems more attuned to his place in history and yet he doesn’t really seem to get that his presidency will be defined by rushing into one place too fast and not rushing into another fast enough.

He has let Dick Cheney and Rummy launch Cat-5 attacks on critics of the war. Darth Vader reiterated his nutty pre-emption policy, and Rummy compared critics of Iraq to Chamberlains who appeased Hitler, noting that “once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.”

Somebody needs to corner the defense chief and explain that it’s not that we don’t want to fight terrorism, it’s that we want to do it efficiently and effectively. Why is it necessary to scare the country, make false connections between an ill-conceived war and fighting terror, and demonize critics with outrageously careless historical references to Hitler and fascism?

W. needs to restore the soul, not merely of the Big Easy, but of the White House.

Photo credit: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

"Waging a Living" reports:
A new documentary, "Waging a Living," airing on PBS puts a human face on the growing economic squeeze that is forcing millions of workers into the ranks of the poor.
The Center for American Progress reports:
This morning, the Census Bureau released new poverty, income, and health insurance figures for 2005. Through 2004, the poverty rate had increased each year of George W. Bush's presidency -- from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 12.7 percent in 2004. New 2005 data released this morning shows the problem didn't get any better. The numbers "mark the worst performance in recent decades for poverty and median income during an economic recovery." The Bush administration "dropped the ball entirely" on poverty since the issue "forced its way to the top of President Bush's agenda in the confusing days after Hurricane Katrina." ("Does [President Bush] often talk about poverty? No," Tony Snow admitted recently.) But in a "sign that the income inequality may rise higher on the US policy agenda," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson admitted this month that "many Americans simply aren't feeling the benefits" of economic expansion. Now it's time for Bush to take action.

WAGES DOWN AND INCOME INEQUALITY UP: The inflation-adjusted median hourly wage for American workers has declined two percent since 2003, the New York Times reported yesterday, and "wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947." Unlike late 20th-century trends, wages have not kept pace with increasing productivity. "Worker productivity rose 16.6 percent from 2000 to 2005, while total compensation for the median worker rose 7.2 percent," with benefits -- not wages -- accounting for most of the increase. Meanwhile, the top one percent of earners "received 11.2 percent of all wage income" in 2004, "up from 8.7 percent a decade earlier and less than 6 percent three decades ago." America's growing income inequality led economist and columnist Paul Krugman to label the past 25 years the "The New Gilded Age." From 1980 to 2004, "real wages in manufacturing fell 1 percent, while the real income of the richest 1 percent -- people with incomes of more than $277,000 in 2004 -- rose 135 percent." Administration policies are only widening the gap. Aug. 20 marked the 10-year anniversary of the last federal minimum wage increase to $5.15 an hour. The minimum wage is now at its lowest level in 51 years, but conservatives played politics with the proposed increase by tying it to estate tax cuts for multimillionaires.

HEALTH CARE CRISIS WORSENS POVERTY: Our broken health care system has made surviving in today's economy more difficult. The new Census data for 2005 shows 46.6 million Americans do not have health insurance, up from 45.3 million in 2004. Since 2000, the Bush administration has created three times as many uninsured Americans as new jobs: six million uninsured versus 1.9 million new jobs between 2000 and 2005. The cost of employer-based insurance increased 9.2 percent in 2005 as hourly earnings climbed by only 3.2 percent. The average costs of providing medical care for a family of four rose 9.6 percent. The Commonwealth Fund found 50 percent of families earning less than $35,000 a year reported having trouble paying medical bills. (The percentages are similar for families earning $35,000 to $49,000, making it more likely medical costs could drive them into poverty.) Ninety-five percent of companies polled by benefits consultants Watson Wyatt expect to restrict health benefits for retirees in the next five years. And recently, the administration angered governors by announcing plans to "cut Medicaid payments to hospitals and nursing homes that care for millions of low-income people." The administration's focus has been on health savings accounts (HSAs) and Association Health Plans (AHPs), proposals that "will not begin to solve the problems of the 46 million Americans without health insurance" and "will cause new dilemmas for those fortunate enough to have health care coverage." "We've had absolutely no federal effort or interest in insuring the uninsured since 2000," Emory University's Ken Thorpe said. "This has not been a priority of the Bush administration." To fill the void, states are working to provide comprehensive health care coverage.

HOUSING SQUEEZE: Housing costs are also eating into the budgets of low-income Americans as "the scarcity of affordable housing" becomes a "deepening national crisis." Roughly 15.8 million households spend more than half their incomes on housing, a 14 percent increase between 2001 and 2004. Low-income Americans have been hit the hardest. "Neighborhood decline is fueling the loss of affordable housing and exposing residents to poor neighborhood conditions," Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies found. "From 1993-2003 the supply of rentals affordable on a $16,000 income fell by 1.2 million, while in 2001 12 percent of such rentals were operated at a loss." The report concluded: "Unless governments step up to these challenges, spending on housing will increasingly crowd out spending on pensions and savings among those with low and moderate incomes." The federal government is taking a step back. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced a $600 million public housing funding shortfall, which means "public-housing agencies now must deal with an unexpected 14.5 percent cutback in federal funding."

SINGLE MOTHERS AND CHILDREN STRUGGLING AFTER WELFARE REFORM: Ten years after welfare reform passed, many single mothers and their children have been unable to escape poverty; "social workers and researchers are raising concerns about families that have not made the transition and often lead extraordinarily precarious lives." "With some one million single mothers -- with some 2 million children -- in an average month being both jobless and without income assistance from TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), other cash aid programs, or other household members, it is clear that much work remains to be done." The Economic Policy Institute found the poverty rate for low-income single mothers increased three percentage points from 2000 to 2004, but annual hours of work fell from 1,170 to 1,068. Over the same period, child poverty rose from 15.9 percent to 17.5 percent and the "number of children with cash incomes below one-half of the poverty line increased by 758,000." Despite the increasing poverty, the number of children receiving TANF assistance or related state benefits declined. New welfare rules from Congress and the Bush administration create a strong incentive for states to cut their caseloads, whether or not families find jobs. For states whose caseloads don't fall, the new rules will "require states to focus intensely on making more poor people work, while discouraging other activities that might help untangle their lives." "[U]nder new federal rules, studying for a bachelor's degree no longer counts by itself as an acceptable way for people on welfare to spend their time." "I feel nauseous," one welfare recipient and incoming college senior said about the change. "This is my ticket...out of poverty."

Bush White House said subpoenaed by wiretap lawyers

Michael Roston and Brian Beutler report for RAW STORY:
Two attorneys representing claimants in a lawsuit over wiretapping by the National Security Agency claim that they have sent subpoenas to the White House today, RAW STORY has learned.

Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, who say they represent hundreds of plaintiffs in lawsuits against Verizon, AT&T, and the US Government, will announnce today that they are serving both the Bush administration and Verizon with subpoenas.


Mayer tells RAW STORY that the subpoenaes, directed to President George Bush, the Office of Legal Counsel, the Department of Justice, and the Chief Legal Counsel for Verizon, have already been sent, and should reach their targets tomorrow.

The subpoenas come on the heels of two federal court decisions that were seen as blows to the Bush Administration warrantless spying program.

Earlier this month, federal judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled the entire program unconstitutional and illegal; another federal judge in San Francisco rejected the Bush Administration's attempt to dismiss these lawsuits by claiming they breach national security.

Mayer explained that the subpoena seeks to learn "whether the Bush administration has unlawfully targeted journalists, peace activists, libertarians, members of congress or generated an 'enemies list.'"

Afran, a Green Party candidate for New Jersey Senate, told RAW STORY he expected the White House to again claim that the state secrets doctrine forbade it from answering the subpoena, but called the claim "absolute nonsense."

"That's an invitation for presidents to write their own rules and we've had judges multiple times say that state secrets is not a defense," he explained, adding, "We hope the White House will realize the need to cooperate."

Photo credit: George W. Bush. (THE RAW STORY)

Now This Would Be 'Must See TV"

Iran's leader �calls for� TV debate with Bush
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on U.S. President George W. Bush to participate in a "direct television debate with us," so Iran can voice its point of view on how to end problems in the world.

"But the condition is that there can be no censorship, especially for the American nation," he said Tuesday.

The White House called the offer to debate Bush a "diversion" from international concerns over Iran's nuclear program, Reuters reported.
Read more.

"Is Bush an Idiot -- Part II"

Following yesterday’s Washington Post article about Scarborough’s segment "Is Bush an Idiot?", Joe decided to revisit that question Monday night and defend his segment. The funny thing is, Terry Holt -- if he actually believes half of what he says in Bush's defense -- come's off as an 'idiot' himself.

Enjoy: The Backlash of Scarborough's "Is Bush an 'Idiot'?"

Also see:

Déjà Vu

Republican Report Hypes Iran Threat
By Jim Lobe
In what some critics describe as a replay of the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives has released a report suggesting Iran may acquire nuclear weapons much more quickly than U.S. intelligence agencies believe....
Read more.

Photo credit: Jim Lobe. (

VIDEO: CNN Anchor's Bathroom Conversation Goes Live Over Bush Speech

Read more about Kira Phillip's little mic snafu on Wonkette.


Picture of the Day

Thanks to my good friend E.L. for sending this. Don't know who the photo-shop genius who created this scenario is, but whoever you are, thank you.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Defunders of Liberty

By Thomas Frank
The New York Times
Before he became K Street’s most enterprising racketeer, Jack Abramoff was best known as a sort of young Robespierre of the Reagan Revolution. In 1983, as chairman of the College Republicans, he declared that he and his minions did not “seek peaceful coexistence with the left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently.”

By all accounts, Abramoff carried out this mission with a Ramboesque single-mindedness. A ferocious latter-day red-baiter, he seems to have encountered Communists everywhere he went in early-80’s America, fighting them (literally, with his fists) on campus, detecting their influence in the nuclear freeze movement, scheming to checkmate students worried about El Salvador by calling attention to the crimes of “their beloved Soviet Union.” As a reward he got his handsome mug on the cover of the John Birch Society’s Review of the News.

Abramoff’s remark about liquidating the left was not just the intemperate raving of a hot-blooded youth. It also expressed the essence of the emerging conservative project: You don’t just argue with liberals, you damage them. You use the power of the state to afflict their social movements, to wreck their proudest government agencies, and to divert their funding streams. “Defund the left” was a rallying cry all across the New Right in those heady days; Richard Viguerie even devoted a special issue of Conservative Digest to the subject in 1983.

Abramoff and his clean-cut campus radicals pushed their own “defund the left” campaign with characteristic élan, declaring war on Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRG, environmental and consumer activist outfits that were funded by student activity fees on some campuses. The young conservatives were always careful to cast the issue as a matter of “student rights” versus political coercion, but Abramoff clearly saw it as an avenue to ideological victory. “When we win this one,” he boasted in 1983, “we’ll have done more to neutralize Ralph Nader than anyone else, ever.”

What the young conservatives of those days understood was that slogans are cheap, but institutions are not. Once broken or bankrupted, they do not snap back to fight another day. Cut off PIRG’s supply lines and the groups must dedicate their resources to justifying their existence, making it that much harder for them to agitate against nuclear power. It’s the political equivalent of strategic bombing, in which you systematically blast the rail junctions and ball-bearing factories of the other side.

Examples of such B-52 politics are all around us today. There are “paycheck protection” and school voucher campaigns, which are sold as rights issues but which are actually megaton devices to vaporize the flow of funds from labor unions to Democratic candidates. Social Security privatization, promoted as a way to make our retirements cushier, will also divert billions of dollars away from the welfare state and into the coffers of the G.O.P.’s allies on Wall Street.

Then there is the K Street Project. Almost as soon as they took control of Congress in 1995, Republican leaders began leveraging their newfound power to transform the corporate lobbying industry into a patronage fiefdom of the G.O.P. Lobbying firms were urged to hire true-believing Republicans or lose their “access”; once the personnel were Republican, the money followed. The result for the other side was also predictable: less money flowing to Democrats and a severe devaluation of a career in progressive politics. If Democrats have no place in Washington’s private sector, then the attractiveness of being a liberal is diminished by just that much more.

What is most ingenious about all this is not so much its destructiveness but the way it appeals to mainstream notions of fairness. Consider another of Jack Abramoff’s remarks from back in the days when he raged against PIRG. The groups, he said, should “compete in the free marketplace of ideas” just like the College Republicans did, where attracting private funding was what proved an idea to be “truly good and truly worthwhile.”

In Washington today, where each bad idea to rattle through the nation’s billionaire class seems to have a dedicated think tank to push it along, we are living out Abramoff’s dictum: that an idea is not worth hearing unless a large amount of somebody’s money is behind it.

Thomas Frank is the author, most recently, of “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.’’ He is a guest columnist during August.

Photo credit: Thomas Frank. (The New York Times)

South Park Refugees

By John Tierney
The New York Times
I have bad news for the G.O.P. regarding that promising new bloc of voters, the South Park Republicans. It turns out they’re not Republicans, at least not anymore.

According to Wikipedia, which would definitely be these voters’ encyclopedia of choice, South Park Republicans are young Americans who “hold political beliefs that are, in general, aligned with those that seem to underpin gags and storylines in the popular television cartoon.” The encyclopedia summarizes these beliefs with a quotation from one of the show’s creators, Matt Stone, which includes a crucial expletive I must elide: “I hate conservatives, but I really ... hate liberals.”

The term was coined after Stone and his co-creator, Trey Parker, accepted an award in 2001 from People for the American Way at a dinner in Beverly Hills. The audience, warmed up by an evening of lefty rhetoric, was startled to hear Stone and Parker announce they were Republicans.

To those dreaming of a permanent G.O.P. majority, this new bloc was evidence that it was indeed a big-tent party: you could vote with the Christian Coalition while watching a show that set records for profanity. Republicans could embrace two guys who got their break with a video of a martial-arts duel between Santa Claus and Jesus.

Some Republicans were offended by the show’s gibes at organized religion, but it seemed like a great recruiting tool because of its merciless mocking of Democrats like Al Gore, who appeared as a monster frightening the schoolchildren of South Park. In Brian Anderson’s book last year, “South Park Conservatives,” he hailed Stone and Parker for challenging Hollywood’s liberal hegemony.

Democrats had “The West Wing,” but Republicans had a hip show with a younger audience. Michael Moore could churn out propaganda, but Stone and Parker could counter with “Team America,” their movie in which Moore appears as a suicide bomber who can’t stop eating hot dogs.

Stone and Parker were never thrilled to be G.O.P. poster boys and said they weren’t sure what a South Park Republican was. They were generally reluctant to be pigeonholed ideologically, but last week they clarified it by headlining at a Reason magazine conference in Amsterdam, the libertarian version of Davos. Stone and Parker said that if you had to put a label on them, they were libertarian — and that didn’t mean Republican to this crowd.

The G.O.P. used to have a sizable libertarian bloc, but I couldn’t see any sign of it at the conference. Stone and Parker said they were rooting for Hillary Clinton in 2008 simply because it would be weird to have her as president. The prevailing sentiment among the rest of the libertarians was that the best outcome this November would be a Democratic majority in the House, because then at least there’d be gridlock.

“We’re the long-suffering, battered spouse in a dysfunctional political marriage of convenience,” said Nick Gillespie, the editor in chief of Reason. “Most of the libertarians I know have given up on the G.O.P. The odds that we’ll stick around for the midterm election are about as good as the odds that Rick Santorum will join the Village People.”

Andrew Sullivan, the blogger who coined “South Park Republican,” was at the conference with a preview of “The Conservative Soul,” his new book on the spiritual corruption of Republicans. He said he now prefers to call himself a South Park conservative, not Republican.

“The Republicans have got to be punished for destroying conservatism,” he said, explaining why he’s rooting against the party this November. “If it requires an idiotic Democratic House to stop these people from doing what they’re doing, then good.”

Stone and Parker told me they’d previously seen the G.O.P. as a relief from the big-government liberals, particularly the ones preaching to America from Hollywood. “We see these people lying, cheating, whoring,” Stone said. “They’re our friends, but seriously, they’re not people you want to listen to.”

The religious right used to be a better alternative, Parker said. “The Republicans didn’t want the government to run your life, because Jesus should. That was really part of their thing: less government, more Jesus. Now it’s like, how about more government and Jesus?”

That may sound like a winning ticket to the religious right, and to Republic strategists who’ve assumed that libertarians have nowhere else to go. But some are ready to switch parties. The rest can always stay home and find something better on TV.

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Blogger Posting Problems

Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been experiencing sundry problems with outages, uploading, etc. More posts as soon as Blogger clears things up. Thanks for your patience.

And the Mystery Leaker Is ...

Richard Armitage. (Hardly a surprise to those of us following this story.)

Kevin Drum reports for the Washington Monthly:
PLAME AND ARMITAGE.... Catching up with the weekend news, I see that David Corn and Michael Isikoff have definitively named former State Department #2 Richard Armitage as the guy who leaked Valerie Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak three years ago. Apparently it happened on July 8, 2003, two days after Joe Wilson published an op-ed in the New York Times about his prewar trip to Niger to investigate the "uranium from Africa" story.

This opens up a can of worms, no? In one sense, it's no surprise, since Armitage has been on the short list of suspected leakers for quite a long time (see this from November 2005, for example, though suspicions about Armitage go back well before that). And it certainly doesn't bolster the argument that the leak was part of a White House conspiracy to punish Joe Wilson, since Armitage was relatively dovish on the war and has never been considered a hardnosed, Rovian political player. As Isikoff and Corn put it, he was just a "terrible gossip."

And yet, there are still some pretty crucial questions remaining:
  • Who gave Novak the name "Valerie Plame"? This has always been at the heart of the mystery, and it still is. You see, Armitage apparently learned about Joe Wilson's trip to Niger on July 7 from a State Department memo that (incorrectly) suggested he had gotten the assignment because his wife, a CIA analyst, had recommended him. But that memo referred to Wilson's wife as "Valerie Wilson," not Valerie Plame.

    So why did Novak call her by her maiden name, despite the fact that she used her married name routinely? Did Armitage give it to him? That seems unlikely if he had only learned of her existence from a memo the day before. Was it Karl Rove, Novak's second source? The evidence suggests not.

    So it's somebody else. But who? Judith Miller wrote Plame's name in her notebook weeks before Novak's column appeared, but says she can't remember who gave it to her. Novak isn't talking either. But it's a key part of the mystery. Whoever gave up Plame's name not only knew about the Niger trip, but also knew that she used her maiden name when she was engaged on CIA business and deliberately leaked that name. There was malice of some kind involved in that.

  • When did Armitage realize he had screwed up? Isikoff reports that Armitage realized he was Novak's source after Novak wrote a second column on October 1 claiming that his original source was "not a partisan gunslinger." Isikoff says that after Armitage read this second column, "he knew immediately who the leaker was.....'I'm sure he's talking about me.'"

    Give me a break. Armitage talked to Novak on July 8 about Plame, a week later Novak's original column hit the street, and Armitage didn't realize then that he was probably Novak's source? That hardly seems likely.

  • Why didn't Armitage fess up earlier? Even taking Armitage's claim at face value, why didn't he go public in October about his role in the Plame case? The Justice Department had only barely started its investigation and a special prosecutor was still months in the future. Armitage could easily have spun his role as innocent, and it might have spared the White House its past few years of turmoil. Why the silence?

    The obvious answer is that Armitage is hardly the end of the story. Whether his gossiping was innocent or not — about which I remain agnostic — the fact remains that several other people were also aggressively talking to multiple reporters about Plame's role at the same time. If Armitage really didn't have any malicious intent, it's a helluva coincidence that he happened to be gossiping about the exact same thing as a bunch of other people who did have malicious intent.

  • When did Corn and Isikoff learn all this? Hey, we all have to make a living, but Armitage's name was swirling around the rumor circuits just a couple of months ago. Being magazine reporters and all, shouldn't they have written about this at the time instead of saving it up to help promote their book? Just asking.
That's it for now. I'll probably think of more questions later. But the bottom line is that this case is far from closed.

Photo credit: According to a new book, the State Department has known for years that Armitage (left) outed Plame (right). Katsumi Kasahara/AP (l); Lawrence Jackson/AP (r.)

Also See:

  • Robert Novak and the Perfect Stranger
    Jason Leopold reports, "Recent news reports have fingered former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage as the official who first leaked Plame's employment at the CIA to Novak on July 8, 2003. However, White House political adviser Karl Rove also spoke with Novak that day and told him that Plame was employed by the CIA, according to published reports. What's left unclear, however, by the latest media reports is who was the first administration official to tell Novak about Plame? Armitage or Rove? July 8, 2003, as it turns out, was quite a busy day for some senior White House officials."
  • Plame Leak(s) by Jason Leopold:
    "Richard Armitage, the former deputy Secretary of State, may be syndicated columnist Robert Novak's primary source who told him on July 8, 2003, that Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA. But that doesn't change the fact that Karl Rove told former Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper the same thing three days later - and then subsequently failed to tell federal investigators about it for a year." Read more.
  • Plamegate timeline,updated daily / TransparencyPlanet

  • Wot Is It Good 4: better versed in Plamegate

  • Larry C. Johnson | Smearing the Wilsons and Sliming America

Sunday, August 27, 2006


For your end-of-the-week viewing pleasure ...

Broken Promises

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Last September President Bush stood in New Orleans, where the lights had just come on for the first time since Katrina struck, and promised “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.” Then he left, and the lights went out again.

What happened next was a replay of what happened after Mr. Bush asked Congress to allocate $18 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. In the months that followed, congressmen who visited Iraq returned with glowing accounts of all the wonderful things we were doing there, like repainting schools and, um, repainting schools.

But when the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was running Iraq, closed up shop nine months later, it turned out that only 2 percent of the $18 billion had been spent, and only a handful of the projects that were supposed to have been financed with that money had even been started. In the end, America failed to deliver even the most basic repair of Iraq’s infrastructure; today, Baghdad gets less than seven hours of electricity a day.

And so it is along our own Gulf Coast. The Bush administration likes to talk about all the money it has allocated to the region, and it plans a public relations blitz to persuade America that it’s doing a heck of a job aiding Katrina’s victims. But as the Iraqis learned, allocating money and actually using it for reconstruction are two different things, and so far the administration has done almost nothing to make good on last year’s promises.

It’s true that tens of billions have been spent on emergency relief and cleanup. But even the cleanup remains incomplete: almost a third of the hurricane debris in New Orleans has yet to be removed. And the process of going beyond cleanup to actual reconstruction has barely begun.

For example, although Congress allocated $17 billion to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Katrina relief, primarily to provide cash assistance to homeowners, as of last week the department had spent only $100 million. The first Louisiana homeowners finally received checks under a federally financed program just three days ago. Mississippi, which has a similar program, has sent out only about two dozen checks so far.

Local governments, which were promised aid in rebuilding facilities such as fire stations and sewer systems, have fared little better in actually getting that aid. A recent article in The National Journal describes a Kafkaesque situation in which devastated towns and parishes seeking federal funds have been told to jump through complex hoops, spending time and money they don’t have on things like proving that felled trees were actually knocked down by Katrina, only to face demands for even more paperwork.

Apologists for the administration will doubtless claim that blame for the lack of progress rests not with Mr. Bush, but with the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracies. That’s the great thing about being an antigovernment conservative: even when you fail at the task of governing, you can claim vindication for your ideology.

But bureaucracies don’t have to be this inefficient. The failure to get moving on reconstruction reflects lack of leadership at the top.

Mr. Bush could have moved quickly to turn his promises of reconstruction into reality. But he didn’t. As months dragged by with little sign of White House action, all urgency about developing a plan for reconstruction ebbed away.

Mr. Bush could have appointed someone visible and energetic to oversee the Gulf Coast’s recovery, someone who could act as an advocate for families and local governments in need of help. But he didn’t. How many people can even name the supposed reconstruction “czar”?

Mr. Bush could have tried to fix FEMA, the agency whose effectiveness he destroyed through cronyism and privatization. But he didn’t. FEMA remains a demoralized organization, unable to replenish its ranks: it currently has fewer than 84 percent of its authorized personnel.

Maybe the aid promised to the gulf region will actually arrive some day. But by then it will probably be too late. Many former residents and small-business owners, tired of waiting for help that never comes, will have permanently relocated elsewhere; those businesses that stayed open, or reopened after the storm, will have gone under for lack of customers. In America as in Iraq, reconstruction delayed is reconstruction denied — and Mr. Bush has, once again, broken a promise.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

9/11: Demand the Truth

Paul Craig Roberts writes:
"...A group of scientists, engineers, and university professors are trying to start a debate about the collapse of the three World Trade Center buildings. I reported one of their findings: There is an inconsistency between the speed with which the buildings collapsed and the 'pancaking theory' used to explain the collapse. Another way of putting the problem is that there seems to be a massive energy deficit in the explanation that the buildings fell as a result of gravitational energy. There simply was not sufficient gravitational energy to produce the results.

For reporting a scientific finding, I was called a 'conspiracy theorist.' Only in America is scientific analysis seen as conspiracy theory and government lies as truth.


If deception is sensed, there is a receptive audience when experts or film makers speak. Denouncing inconvenient facts as “conspiracy theories” is a way of suppressing debate and investigation.

This itself is telling. If the official explanations are safe, their proponents should welcome the opportunity to show again and again that the explanations can stand all challenges. Instead, the second a challenge shows its head, it is branded a “conspiracy theory.” That tells me that the official explanations can stand no challenge.


Readers ask me what can we do? We can do very little as we have lost control over our government. Elections, even if not stolen, change very little. Government got free of our control when we forgot the teaching of our Founding Fathers that government is always the greatest threat to our liberty."

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.
TUC Note: I am unwilling to concede that that all is lost -- yet. But we need to act, and we need to act in large numbers. We need to call, write, visit, badger, and demand that representatives and those running for office conduct a full and open investigation into the government's role in events of 9/11 -- not another 9/11 Commission whitewash -- or they will lose our vote. (We also must demand immediate impeachment proceedings against the criminals in the Bush Cabal -- with a "no vote" threat to anyone lacking the courage or will to commit to such proceedings.)

Photo credit: The explosion resulting from the crashing of United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower. A huge plume of smoke and fire can be seen emerging from the North Tower to the left. (Wikipedia)

172nd Stryker Brigade Tour of Duty in Iraq Extended; Family Members Speak Out Against the War

Military Families Speak Out -- Press Release:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade were returning home, and Jennifer Davis, a member of Military Families Speak Out from Anchorage, Alaska, was preparing for her husband's homecoming. He had served almost one year in Iraq. She just received a call she never expected. "My husband called to let me know in the best way that he knew how, that the Army was extending his deployment four more months, mere hours before he was to board a flight home," said Ms. Davis. "I am totally frustrated, disappointed and heart broken. Just when I thought we were going to be able to resume a 'normal' life. Just when I thought the nightmare was over, it was extended..... This war should never have started, and now I'm left wondering if it will ever end. My husband and all of the troops should be brought home now."

Kathy Knowles, a member of Military Families Speak Out from Shorewood, Illinois was preparing to celebrate her son's 25th birthday next week with him after his deployment in Iraq with the 172nd Stryker Brigade -- and she too received the call that he would not be coming home. "I am devastated -- I was so excited that he was returning to our soil and we could celebrate the victory that he had survived the hell of this war," said Ms. Knowles. "The President and Congress have truly let us down -- returning my son and so many others to combat in a war that should never have happened."

The 172nd Stryker Brigade is one of the units scheduled to return to the United States, but is instead being extended and kept in Iraq for several more months under orders from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Despite numerous promises of progress being made and milestones being accomplished, the war in Iraq is once again about "taking Baghdad."� As the violence continues to escalate, fueled by the on-going U.S. military occupation, the burden of the failures of this Administration is again falling on the troops who have given so much and the families back home who love them.

Ms. Davis and Ms. Knowles are available for interview, to speak about the damage to families and to the troops that is being done by the war in Iraq and by the unscheduled extensions of service.
Photo credit: U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is seen after his meeting with Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi at the Pentagon in Washington August 25, 2006. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Also See:


War Widow Confronts Bush

War Widow To Bush: "You're Here To Serve The People. And The People Are Not Being Served With This War."

Photo credit: Huffington Post

Kidnapped Journalists Freed in Gaza Strip

The New York Times reports via the AP:
"GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Militants freed two Fox News journalists on Sunday, ending a nearly two week hostage drama. One of the former captives said they were sometimes held face down in a dark garage, tied up in painful positions and forced at gunpoint to make videos and say they had converted to Islam...."
Read more.

Photo credit: Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni, left, and cameraman Olaf Wiig, center left, met with the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Ismail Haniya, after their release. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)