Sunday, April 30, 2006

I have recently written here many times about the "New Federalism" trend, with states increasingly forced to take it upon themselves to get things done thanks to the willful absence of leadership from a president who chooses instead to stay ignorant and regressive, who incessantly caters to special interests at the expense of the people.

More examples: Wisconsin and Florida regarding stem cell research.

Additionally, ten states have sued the EPA for its inaction when it comes to regulating emissions:
In the latest legal broadside against the Bush administration's policy on global warming, New York, California and eight other states sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday for refusing to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of New York, the lead plaintiff, said the agency's refusal "continues a sad course of conduct on the part of the Bush administration and reflects a disregard for science, statute and wise policy."
"This is more of the same — yet another attempt by some states and environmental groups to change U.S. climate policy through litigation," Dan Riedinger, a spokesman at the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group of power companies, said in a statement.
That's because whatever skeletal federal environmental policy that remains is one gutted by the likes of industry lobby groups such as the EEI, and states have no choice but to sue to get the government to act on behalf of citizens. A woefully sad state of affairs led by the Great Divider, not uniter.

Thomas Friedman recently wrote a column about how China's president, Hu Jintao, should've visited California and not our nation's capital. Friedman recognizes BushCo's refusal to take on anything unrelated to war, cutting taxes, aiding corporations, or pacifying the religious right:
It was surely no accident that President Hu made his first stop in the U.S. in Washington State — not Washington, D.C. — to dine with Bill Gates, who gave him the "state dinner" that the Bush White House refused to extend. Why the Bush team was unwilling to host the Chinese president for a state dinner is beyond me. If I owed someone $1 trillion, I'd give him a state dinner. I'd also give him breakfast, lunch and Chinese takeout.

But, more important than the meal, why the rush visit? Are there any two leaders in the world with more to talk about than Presidents Bush and Hu? How about hammering out a joint position on Iran, since the only way that Iran is likely to back down on its nuclear arms program is if China stands up to it? How about forging a joint Manhattan Project on alternative energy between the U.S. and China, or a real plan to get Chinese consumers to spend more and Americans to save more to help balance our trade?
China and California have a lot to talk about. California's air pollution is increasingly made in China, and China's environmental solutions are increasingly made in California.

Here's how: Lately scientists have tracked pollutants from fossil-fuel-burning cars and factories in China all the way over to California, where they are transported via winds. On any given day, particulates in the smog choking big California cities can be traced to dust storms in China, which have been exacerbated by rapid deforestation there. (China is making our cheap goods at a steep environmental price.)

But while the Bush team is in no position to lecture China on the environment, California is. Thanks to the energy efficiency standards that California has imposed on its own power industry, buildings and appliances over the last 30 years — and its increasing reliance on renewable energy sources — California today consumes a little more than half as many kilowatt-hours of energy per capita each year as the rest of America. This has helped California avoid having to build a whole slew of power plants.
We can't tell China not to use so much energy, especially given what energy gluttons Americans are. We can lead only by example. The Bush team, though, can't do that because it won't ask Americans to do anything hard on energy or the environment.

But California can. If China could be persuaded to follow California's model — strong energy standards and supportive government policies to nurture the widespread deployment of clean technologies — everyone could benefit, said Rob Watson, who heads the Natural Resources Defense Council's international energy programs. Imagine if China started making low-cost green appliances and cars the way it does cheap shoes and shirts?

So here's hoping that the next time China's president comes to America, he doesn't even bother to go to Washington, D.C. Why waste the gas? China's business is with America's West Coast foreign policy team, which can offer China's president inspiration, examples and dinner.
China started the trend, look for other national leaders to skip GW and instead meet first with state governors and/or corporate CEOs.
The former Reagan administration official, Bruce Bartlett, wrote the following on March 2nd in his terrific NY Times blog [my comments in brackets in italics]:
There has been much wailing in Republican circles about a recent CBS News poll showing President Bush with an approval rating of only 34 percent [the more recent Fox News poll: just 33%]. At this level, he is losing not only every Democrat and independent but a substantial number of Republicans as well.

One argument put forward by Rush Limbaugh and others is that the CBS poll is just biased [uh, as just mentioned, Fox News -- not quite a "liberal" bastion -- has Bush at just 33%; what say you now blowhard?] — an outlier, as statisticians might say. But even if the CBS poll is thrown out, Bush is still showing remarkably weak job approval. The Web site RealClear Politics maintains a useful compendium of national polls [also try this one]. Their poll averages show Mr. Bush hovering around 40 percent approval [Update: 35%], which means that he is getting the Republican base and no more.
46 percent of voters saying that they plan to vote for the Democratic candidate this fall, and 31 percent saying they plan to vote for the G.O.P. candidate....The most interesting part of the poll to me was confirmation that Mr. Bush’s support among Republicans is eroding badly. Less than half of Republicans now give the president strong approval ratings.

This being the case, it is not surprising to see Republicans in Congress starting to run away from Mr. Bush....He is becoming an albatross around their necks, endangering their re-elections. Unless the president does something to turn his polls around fairly quickly, he is going to find Congress in open revolt against every single thing he proposes, no matter how innocuous.
That is what really happened to the Democrats in 1994. It wasn’t that the Republicans got more votes than they had gotten previously; it was that the Democrats got a lot fewer because so many of their party lacked the enthusiasm to go out and vote.
The Kaine-Kilgore race is a good example of something that both parties tend to get wrong. They are both so driven by pollsters and consultants that they forget that the American people still admire a man of principle, even if those principles are contrary to theirs. An overwhelming number of voters in Virginia, as almost everywhere, support the death penalty and so Mr. Kilgore thought all he had to do was beat it to death. But, like former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, Mr. Kaine was able to convince voters that his opposition was sincere and deeply held, and so they gave him a pass. I believe that voters will almost always do this if politicians show some courage of conviction, instead of trying desperately to avoid offending anyone by saying almost nothing that hasn’t been polled and focus-grouped to death.
Has anyone noticed the interesting critiques coming from Newt Gingrich of late....? He recently had some harsh words about the lack of progress in New Orleans ("Today, if you look at the response after Katrina — and it's going to be really bad by September when we go back and have a one- year review and we realize how much of New Orleans is not fixed as of this coming September."). He's also stated that the Iraq occupation has been an "enormous mistake."

Hmm, sounds like a certain someone will be running in '08....

Oh, and for those rightwing nitwits who choose to ignore GW's recent poll numbers with the response, "nah, nah, but we won when it counted, last November," well keeping aside that times change, often dramatically, and it's typically not best to keep your head stuck in your ass, oops I mean sand, here's what Newt had to say:
I think they're [Republicans] in very serious danger of having a very bad election this fall. And I think that you have to respect — when you get poll after poll telling you basically the same thing, you have to respect the right of the American people to say they want change.
At least Newt has his head out of his ass on this topic -- too bad so many on the right are living in denial and clinging to past history.
Bush called for halting deposits to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). As with most "policy" with these guys, it's all smoke & mirrors, and lies & deception. What Bush didn't say was that the SPR has been experiencing net withdrawals over the last six months, so his big suggestion is actually old news. Also, the SPR is currently 94% full so even if reserves were to be added, there's not much room to do so (at near capacity). All in all, GW's talk regarding the SPR was just fodder for the less informed masses.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Oh what a surprise. The GOP-controlled Congress has decided to continue to spend up a storm and bury ethical reforms:
WASHINGTON - Just weeks after declaring themselves fiscal and ethical reformers, lawmakers are adding billions of dollars in special projects to a spending bill for the Iraq war while retreating from some of the lobbying restrictions they'd once touted as the antidote to a spate of scandals.
Government watchdog groups dismiss the House ethics proposals as cosmetic changes, but because some senior Republicans oppose even those as too binding, the outcome of the vote remained in doubt Wednesday.

In the Senate, lawmakers are working their way through a $106.5 billion bill that would pay for the war in Iraq and for hurricane-related costs. But the Senate version is $14.5 billion more than President Bush requested and could grow even bigger, larded with money for lawmakers' pet causes.
"My leadership doesn't think we have an ethics problem and doesn't believe in reform," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., one of the leading Republican advocates for tighter ethics rules. The pending legislation, Shays said, "has no redeeming feature."
An out-of-control Congress -- who soon may be just (voted) out.
From a recent Bob Herbert column:
The libertarian Cato Institute is about to release a study titled "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush." It says, "Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power." While I disagree with parts of the study, I certainly agree with that particular comment.

In the current issue of Rolling Stone, Sean Wilentz, a distinguished historian and the director of the American Studies program at Princeton University, takes a serious look at the possibility that Mr. Bush may be the worst president in the nation's history.

What in the world took so long? Some of us have known since the moment he hopped behind the wheel that this reckless president was driving the nation headlong toward a cliff.

The worst thing he did, of course, was to employ a massive campaign of deceit to lead the nation into a catastrophic war in Iraq — a war with no end in sight that has already claimed tens of thousands of lives and inflicted scores of thousands of crippling injuries.

When he was a young man, Mr. Bush used the Air National Guard to hide out from the draft in a time of war. Then, as president, he's suddenly G. I. George, strutting around in a flight suit, threatening to wage war on all and sundry, and taunting the insurgents in Iraq with a cry of "bring them on."

When the nation needed leadership on the critical problem of global warming, Mr. Bush took his cues from the honchos in the oil and gasoline industry, the very people who were setting the planet on fire. Now he talks about overcoming the nation's addiction to oil! This is amazing. Here's the president of the United States scaling the very heights of chutzpah. The Bush people and the oil people are indistinguishable. Condoleezza Rice, a former Chevron director, even had an oil tanker named after her.
The sins of the Bush administration are so extensive and so egregious, they could never be adequately addressed in a newspaper column. History will be the final judge. But I've no doubt about the ultimate verdict.

Remember the Clinton budget surplus?

It was the largest in American history. President Bush and his cronies went after it like vultures feasting in a field of carcasses. They didn't invest the surplus. They devoured it.

Remember how most of the world responded with an extraordinary outpouring of sympathy and support for America in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11?

Mr. Bush had no idea how to seize that golden opportunity to build new alliances and strengthen existing ones. Much of that solidarity with America has morphed into outright hostility.
  • Great to see Porter Goss has his priorities in order. His main goal at the CIA: "to re-emphasize the culture of secrecy." (Sounds like what's going on at the EPA, the big clampdown). Because that's our big problem, leaks from the agency about illegal wiretapping....

    Larry Johnson, former CIA officer, had this to say on MSNBC recently: "Porter Goss has politicized the CIA, there's no doubt. Several years ago, most of the people in the Public Affairs office were intelligence professionals. What you have there today, with the exception of one individual, most of the people up there now are political hacks."

    In short, allow the rot to remain and instead punish anyone who would dare reveal anything about said rot.

  • "Inspectors Find More Torture at Iraqi Jails" -- but show us the plentiful good news!

  • Is BushCo already showing signs of bungling the avian flu threat? (""What they're proposing is nonsensical," says Tara O'Toole, director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.)

  • More waste and failure by Halliburton -- when will the Cheney-led favoring and insanity end?
    A few weeks later, after the project had burned up all of the $75.7 million allocated to it, the work came to a halt.

    The project, called the Fatah pipeline crossing, had been a critical element of a $2.4 billion no-bid reconstruction contract that a Halliburton subsidiary had won from the Army in 2003. The spot where about 15 pipelines crossed the Tigris had been the main link between Iraq's rich northern oil fields and the export terminals and refineries that could generate much-needed gasoline, heating fuel and revenue for Iraqis.
  • Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    Yesterday, King GW was supposed to offer a four-point plan on how he proposed to help alleviate rising gas prices. What it turned out to be was first and foremost 15 minutes of War-on-Terror talk, followed by one main energy proposal: put a stop to the enforcement of environmental rules regarding gasoline.

    It figures, if in doubt and there's a problem to be resolved, the first reaction of this administration is to throw corporations a bone. Relaxing EPA regulations on gas is not going to put a dent in the price at the pump, but of course BushCo is not going to tell you this fact.

    Recall that every now and again we hear from OPEC and how they're not happy with the rising price of oil and they pledge to do something about it -- yet nothing happens. They can't provide anymore oil, they're tapped out. The supply/demand dynamic is to a point where supply is very tight and demand is high. We're using more oil than we're replacing in reserves. Get used to $3+ at the pump; below that is gone forever.

    But again, we won't get such straight talk from the King. He'll continue to posture as if he's trying to help us get off our "addiction," all the while doing really nothing but demand measures that help his energy buddies, and throw around rhetoric concerning renewable energy but then underfund such research behind closed doors. Never forget that this guy is an oil company representative first, and a horrible, incompetent leader second.
    Well, it's about time GW recognized Fox News as an official mouthpiece of this administration.... You thought you saw Scottie dance on the tightrope of lies, wait till you see the contortions Snow is forced to perform.

    Sunday, April 23, 2006

    Regarding Iran, Kevin Drum recently wrote:
    ....Quit letting Cheney's crackpots run foreign policy and talk to Iran....If the talks fail, then they fail. But what possible reason can there be to refuse to even discuss things with Iran — unless you're trying to leave no alternative to war?
    According to Michael Crowley, it's very likely all about GW's legacy:
    I don't pretend to know how to solve the Iran problem (although, as a practical matter, military action sounds fairly nightmarish to me). What worries me is that Bush's thinking here might be clouded by this legacy stuff. Right now Bush knows he's likely to be remembered primarily for a failed adventure in Iraq. (Yes, Iraq may yet turn around; but it doesn't seem too likely.) Yet he may feel that Iran promises him a fresh opportunity to get a Big Thing right and win redemption in the history books. In other words, attacking Iran--as opposed to pursuing a slower diplomatic route which could stretch into a successor's term--would be a way for Bush to double down, so to speak, on his legacy. I'd like to think such a simplistic psychological calculus wouldn't carry the day. But I can't say it's completely unbelievable.
    So let's reiterate, it's what's thought to be good for GW first, what's good policy for our country and the world a distant second.

    But also it begs the question, what are we to think when they say we're making a premature judgment about Iraq, that all such ventures take time before you see real results...? By attacking Iran to further bolster the legacy, isn't that an admission that this Iraq thing may not turn out so good over time? In fact, it could get much, much worse, so what the hey, let's take a shot (or "double down") and attack Iran and then see where the legacy chips fall...? Laugh, but BushCo has done more on less sane thinking.

    Saturday, April 22, 2006

    So Bush is down to just a 33% approval rating -- and this from a Fox News poll!

    Unfortunately, odds are that's about as low as it's going to go. At a time when that number should be single digits, the fact that it's not goes a long way towards displaying that bedrock core of know-nothings who will support this president no matter how bad things get. With religion, and namely abortion, as the driving issue for most of them, Bush could run through the streets naked on TV and he'd still get the votes of this 30%.

    It's an enormous advantage to have this 30% anchored, in-stone block of voters. If it were a Dem president currently in GW's shoes, you can be assured this 30% zombie-block would be unanimously against him/her and then perhaps another 30+% reasonable people who rightfully would want change = 60+%.

    And there's the problem: it's not a 100% electorate up for grabs, but rather given 30% on auto-pilot for the GOP, it leaves just 70% up for grabs. Now do the math: the Dems need to win 73% of that 70% (.73 x .70 = 51%), whereas the GOP only needs to win 30% of that up-for-grabs 70% (.30 + (.3 x .7) = 51%).

    Appreciating the math is crucial. And we haven't even factored in the paper-trail-less, blackbox voting machine shenanigans!
    You or I could get heavily fined and/or go to jail for doing the following (insider trading), but not a member of Congress: "It remains perfectly legal for a member of Congress to buy and sell stocks based on information that's not available to the public."
    Just the fact that Tony Snow is rumored to be the next WH press secretary, what does this say about Fox News as a supposed purveyor of objective, unbiased news? Can you imagine the uproar if a Dem president ever were to hire a Dan Rather or Tim Russert?
    As I've written numerous times about the growing federalism, for the good of we the people, the United States is fast becoming the Loose Union of States. Latest examples: here and here.

    "I'm a uniter not a divider" -- well GW, evidence argues to the contrary. Like "I'm a compassionate conservative," "I will restore honor and integrity to the White House," and that campaign pledge against nation-building, everything uttered from this guy's mouth is typically not just a bald-faced lie, but you'd do better to just reverse its meaning 180 degrees.

    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    Leaker in chief

    Given GW's pledge to find that dastardly leaker and then fire him/her, uh, shouldn't he have fired himself a few days ago?

    Wednesday, April 19, 2006

  • The GOP is having trouble making heads or tails of McCain's recent morphing into a non-maverick, go-along GW loyalist....

  • Surprise! The Wall Street Journal shilling for FOX News....

  • Next time you hear Steve Forbes blabber on about how we need a flat tax, tell him that we're nearly already there: "Without any fanfare or philosophical debate, millionaires and middle-class Americans now pay taxes at almost the same rates."

  • Some interesting tid-bits: There are 65 registered lobbyists for every member of Congress (and that's just the registered), starting salaries of lobbyists who have left Congress or administration duty is approx. $300,000, so-called special interests spend close to $200 million per month wining and dining our elected representatives.

  • From 2001 to 2004, if you were in the top 10% of income levels, your real net worth increased 6.5%, but if you were in the bottom 20% your real net worth dropped by -1.5%.
  • Monday, April 17, 2006

    In today's column, Paul Krugman writes about Exxon Mobil and global warming:
    Global warming emerged as a major public issue in the late 1980's. But at first there was considerable scientific uncertainty.

    Over time, the accumulation of evidence removed much of that uncertainty. Climate experts still aren't sure how much hotter the world will get, and how fast. But there's now an overwhelming scientific consensus that the world is getting warmer, and that human activity is the cause. In 2004, an article in the journal Science that surveyed 928 papers on climate change published in peer-reviewed scientific journals found that "none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position."

    To dismiss this consensus, you have to believe in a vast conspiracy to misinform the public that somehow embraces thousands of scientists around the world.
    Many a wingnut feels those of us in the fact-filled world are simply alarmists when it comes to global warming, that we've banded together to concoct some grand, internet-based conspiracy. The fact is to dismiss the prevailing peer-reviewed evidence is to indulge in the mother-of-all conspiracy lunacy.
    Regarding calls for Rummy to resign, Kevin Drum writes:
    I think it's wise to be uneasy about something that has a bit of a sense of a palace revolt against the current civilian leadership of the military. But has mismanagement of the war become so extreme that the usual rules simply don't apply anymore?
    In a word, yes.
    From Charles Gabriel, Jr. at Prudential Equity Group:
    The White House is once again staring at $3 per gallon gasoline, Bush approval ratings in the mid-to-high 30-percent range, and retired Army and Marine Corps generals mounting a cable-TV-amplified rebellion against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Administration officials seem so anxious to prove themselves, the Washington Post noted on April 16, that they're touting details of their preparation for a notional bird flu pandemic.

    It is because of this backdrop that one can't help but be intrigued by the incremental incentive the White House might have this summer and fall to rattle the sabers louder and more convincingly than expected toward Iran. Handling Iran and the Global War on Terror is one of only a few areas where the public still expresses confidence in Bush and the Republicans equal to or greater than that afforded the Democrats. And a shift back to public focus on an imminent security threat or test of American resolve might (for Bush and GOP lawmakers) prove a welcome diversion from non-security issues, which seem to be playing to Democrats' strength.
    In other words, look for a wag-the-dog, pre-November attack on Iran.

    Sunday, April 16, 2006

    The court in place to prosecute former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, offered a statement that "no matter how rich, powerful or feared people may be -- no one is above the law."

    This decree applies to all leaders of countries with laws -- including ours!

    Saturday, April 15, 2006

    GW took a time-out from another vacation to defend Rummy. The following letters to the editor in the NY Times pretty much say what needs to be said:
    Now that no fewer than five retired generals have weighed in on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's incompetence ("More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld's Resignation," front page, April 14), the failings of our administration can no longer be ignored.

    Although the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, has said that "the president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job," the opinions of these high-ranking military men must be taken seriously.

    The time is overdue for President Bush to remove Mr. Rumsfeld from his position. But for that to occur would require the president to display a willingness to swallow his pride and to admit to having made a mistake — not likely for Mr. Bush.

    When will our president surrender his arrogance and face reality? -- Lawrence J. Hahn

    When recalling the run-up to the war in Iraq, we should remember the attitude of supreme confidence displayed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Remember "shock and awe"?

    When Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then Army chief of staff, dared to tell Mr. Rumsfeld that the United States would need a lot more troops in Iraq than was planned, he was ignored and soon after retired.

    It is too bad that all those generals who are now speaking out did not have the spine at the outset. -- Robert M. Prowler

    What's with all this johnny-come-lately criticism of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the war by retired generals? Where were these guys when it could have made a difference — for example, to my friend's son, who was killed on his second tour of duty last year?

    As much as I have opposed this war from the start, I am disgusted by the recent outburst of criticism by these military men and the press reports that make it sound as if this is a brave thing to do.

    It would have been brave to speak up when they were actually in a position to do something. It's more than a little too late now. -- Lois Kallunki

    It is interesting that the formal criticism of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has come only from retired generals, who have their retirement rank and pension established. Surely they didn't come to that conclusion only after having retired. Do none of the generals on active duty have the courage to speak up? -- Andrew Linn

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    So the great Colin Powell was in fact just another go-along stooge, willing to allow such bogus intel ("It should never have been in the [SOTU] speech. I didn't need Wilson to tell me that there wasn't a Niger connection. He didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. I never believed it.") to be used to urge for war.

    Wash his hands as he now might, he's still a complicit guilty party in the whole travesty. Let's never forget.
    Jacob Weisberg believes McCain is (correctly) playing a sly game of political maneuvering out of necessity to obtain his goal: the GOP's choice to be the next president.

    Well, perhaps Weisberg is indeed correct -- or not. Frankly, I've grown weary of trying to figure it out (read several of my prior posts on this subject). That said, assuming Weisberg's take on this, what's truly sad is the lengths to which a fairly reasonable and non-BushCo-crazed candidate must go to succeed in the current version of the GOP. The party is riddled with strident, extremist factions serving as enormous hurdles for a more moderate and less inflammatory office seeker.

    McCain may have realized he's going to have to pander to the kooks if he has any shot of securing the nomination, only to then "come to his senses" and ignore them. It's both pathetic and yet hopeful.
    Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan employee and recent GW critic, has been writing a pretty damn good blog over at the NY Times web site. I certainly don't agree with all of his points, but go ahead and read the many segments below -- he certainly has spit up much of the Kool Aid:
    ....The proverbial elephant in the living room is the budgetary situation, which is going to make it very difficult for the next president to do much of anything that costs money.

    ....Both Republicans and Democrats have avoided dealing with this elephant because to seriously do so would require confronting a very unpleasant reality — that only massive spending cuts or tax increases can prevent a financial crisis.

    ....Both parties proceed with the delusion that relatively modest, and politically painless, fiscal adjustments can keep the government running. Democrats like to believe that the Bush tax cuts are all that is standing in the way of every policy they would like to see enacted. But even if all those tax cuts disappeared tomorrow, the money that would come in would provide only a drop in the bucket of what is needed to deal with looming fiscal problems.

    ....Republicans have their own delusions. To hear them talk, all we need to do to fix the budget is get rid of pork-barrel spending — perhaps by giving the president line-item veto power. But as a new report from Citizens Against Government Waste documents, this, too, would provide only a drop in the bucket. Getting rid of all pork-barrel projects in the federal budget would reduce spending by only $29 billion this year (a trivial amount in a $2.5 trillion budget). Moreover, as a recent Congressional Research Service report explains, the president doesn’t need a line-item veto to cut pork from the budget. He could, if he wanted, cancel 95 percent of earmarks today, because they are not actually line items in the budget. They are Congressional suggestions that he may ignore at will.

    ....We cannot avoid a future financial crisis just by raising taxes or by cutting spending. And we will get nowhere by avoiding the elephant of entitlements....I continue to believe that financial markets will one day wake up and notice the deficit. Like Claude Rains’s Capt. Renault in “Casablanca,” they will be “shocked, shocked” to discover this problem. But they could put irresistible pressure on both parties to act meaningfully. Whatever their public pronouncements today, Democrats and Republicans alike should be considering their bottom-line positions. When the markets finally react, whichever side is best prepared will have the greater chance of controlling the agenda and seeing its policies enacted.

    ....Most conservatives believe that the best way to downsize government is to take away its allowance, as Ronald Reagan once put it. In other words, tax cuts will lead to spending cuts. This is a theory I once subscribed to....Today, unfortunately, the evidence seems to point in exactly the opposite direction.

    ....In the 1980’s, there was some evidence that the starve-the-beast theory worked. Almost every year, budget deals cut spending a bit, although tax increases were always part of the mix. Ultimately, President Reagan supported tax increases that took back about half of his 1981 tax cut.

    Nevertheless, the idea that tax cuts would downsize government became Republican dogma. Today, most Republicans in Congress view tax cuts as the only thing needed to reduce the size of government—and the connection between deficits and spending seems forgotten. Now Republicans raise spending and cut taxes at the same time.

    As a consequence, the old starve-the-beast theory has been turned on its head. Economist Bill Niskanen of the Cato Institute has found that tax cuts now actually lead to spending increases. This suggests that higher taxes would reduce spending.

    I think that higher taxes are inevitable, as I have explained in previous posts. If conservatives recognize this reality, perhaps they can force meaningful spending cuts as their price for supporting them. In any case, the starve-the-beast theory is as dead as the dodo.

    ....Whenever things are not working, the economic advisors seem to take most of the blame, while even dramatic failures by other staff members cause no repercussions. No one was fired for the prewar intelligence failures in Iraq. The person most to blame, George Tenet, the former Director of Central Intelligence, was given a medal. Michael Chertoff is still Secretary of Homeland Security even though his agency was responsible for many of the screw-ups related to Hurricane Katrina.

    ....Mr. Bush’s managerial style has been manifestly unsuccessful — the imploding of his Social Security reform effort is one example — yet there is no indication that he will change his approach. Indeed, it seems that Mr. Bolten’s main job will be to enforce even greater discipline....I have no doubt that Mr. Bolten will do his job with ruthless efficiency, for he is the truest of Mr. Bush’s true believers. I know this because I have observed it firsthand.

    ....A couple of years into the current administration, I saw him at a reception. I had just started writing some mildly critical things about some of Mr. Bush’s policies, like the Medicare drug program, which I thought was unaffordable. Up until that time, I had been almost entirely positive in my writings about the administration.

    So I was taken aback when I went up to Mr. Bolten to say hello and he pointedly turned his back on me and walked away. I guess he thought he was punishing me for my criticism. All this did was confirm my growing belief that Mr. Bush would ultimately be a disaster for the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

    The funny thing is that I was treated far better by Bill Clinton’s people while he was in office, even though I almost never had a good word to say about their positions. To their credit, they really believed in what they were doing and were almost evangelical in their desire to explain why it was right, even to Republicans like me who were unlikely to ever embrace their message. I have no doubt that if I had come across Gene Sperling, one of Clinton’s closest economic advisers, at such a reception, he would have come straight at me with a laundry list of facts and arguments for why I was wrong to be critical. I would have been invited to the White House mess to carry on the conversation, and I would have left with an armful of studies and statistics explaining the virtues of whatever Clinton program I was attacking.

    By contrast, the Bush administration never provides its supporters with any ammunition to defend its positions, beyond the endless repetition of the day’s talking points. Even in Mr. Bush’s early days in the White House, when I was supporting the administration down the line and dealing with people I had known for years, I was never able to get anything substantive out them beyond the line of the day. I often had to do my own studies and crunch my own numbers to get evidence to support Mr. Bush’s policies.

    So I see no reason to believe that anything substantive will change in this White House, no matter how many staff changes are made. This administration is like a gambler who doubles up after every losing hand in the vain hope of covering his losses. That strategy doesn’t work in Las Vegas, and it doesn’t work in Washington either.

    ....That’s not to say I would never vote for a Democrat. I have said on the record that if there were an election today between Mr. Bush and Bill Clinton, I would vote for Mr. Clinton. As I explain in my book, at least on economics, he had much better policies.

    I believe that if Mr. Gore had simply run as if he would fulfill his predecessor’s third term, he would have won easily. That’s the strategy George H.W. Bush followed in 1988 and it worked brilliantly. Why Mr. Gore felt compelled to reinvent himself is a mystery to me.

    ....Some people now criticize me for not being more public with my criticism of Mr. Bush in 2004, when it might have done some good. But in fact, my columns at that time became much more critical and I was much less supportive of Mr. Bush in newspaper interviews and such. One interview in particular almost cost me my job.

    An important factor in my alienation from Mr. Bush — which didn’t happen all at once — was reading Ron Suskind’s book, “The Price of Loyalty,” published in early 2004. Based on extensive interviews with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, it painted a devastating portrait of a thoroughly dysfunctional administration.

    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    Nicholas Kristof recently dedicated a column to ripping the USA for being obese. Some choice lines:
    ....every year, the average American drinks 56 gallons of soda....Our fat is one of the most important public policy challenges we face....drives up insurance costs and erodes our economic competitiveness....we should ban sugary drinks from schools....we should curb advertising of sugary drinks....we should impose a tax on sugary drinks....An extra 100 calories a day....For America as a whole, that amounts to an extra 750,000 tons of fat per year — so maybe it isn't the seas that are rising, but America that is sinking.
    Oh, where to begin. OK, first, in that latter statement, don't you just love his trivializing one problem (global warming) by jokingly comparing to another. Sigh. Yes, it's all true, we're too fat and something(s) should be done about it -- if not for any other reason than to be fair to smokers. They're taxed up the wazoo due to their contribution to our health care tab, so why shouldn't the same hold true for the obese? Their added burden to our collective health woes is just as costly in actual dollar terms, if not more so.

    But the question must be asked: is this topic worthy of a NY Times columnist? Given the high-profile, valuable landscape afforded Times columnists, must it be wasted on scolding us for being too fat and consuming too much soda? I imagine somewhere in a small-town there's a columnist for a local paper who wished he/she wrote this column, and in that respect it would've been perfect. A light, somewhat whimsical piece that's mildly interesting but rings of the minor leagues, not majors.

    My guess is Kristof enjoyed the bout of fame and TV appearances stemming from his pulled stunt of challenging Bill O'Reilly to visit Darfur. It was similarly light and not very serious -- but the vacuous TV land ate it up, and Kristof likely got bit by the look-at-me-Mom-and-Dad bug.

    Watch for him to soon appear on same nightly "news" shows, blabbing on about fat America and how we must get up off our wide-load asses and demand change. Gads. Meanwhile, more serious and pressing problems go under-reported -- despite what BushCo claims.
    GW will eventually go down as one of the worst presidents ever. Is it too early to start rating Scalia as one of the worst Justices ever? (Well, then again he'll always have his stooge, Thomas, right there below him).
    Excellent recent column from Krugman; a sample:
    Now there are rumors of plans to attack Iran. Most strategic analysts think that a bombing campaign would be a disastrous mistake. But that doesn't mean it won't happen: Mr. Bush ignored similar warnings, including those of his own father, about the risks involved in invading Iraq.

    As Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently pointed out, the administration seems to be following exactly the same script on Iran that it used on Iraq: "The vice president of the United States gives a major speech focused on the threat from an oil-rich nation in the Middle East. The U.S. secretary of state tells Congress that the same nation is our most serious global challenge. The secretary of defense calls that nation the leading supporter of global terrorism. The president blames it for attacks on U.S. troops."

    Why might Mr. Bush want another war? For one thing, Mr. Bush, whose presidency is increasingly defined by the quagmire in Iraq, may believe that he can redeem himself with a new Mission Accomplished moment.

    And it's not just Mr. Bush's legacy that's at risk. Current polls suggest that the Democrats could take one or both houses of Congress this November, acquiring the ability to launch investigations backed by subpoena power. This could blow the lid off multiple Bush administration scandals. Political analysts openly suggest that an attack on Iran offers Mr. Bush a way to head off this danger, that an appropriately timed military strike could change the domestic political dynamics. [wag the dog]

    Does this sound far-fetched? It shouldn't. Given the combination of recklessness and dishonesty Mr. Bush displayed in launching the Iraq war, why should we assume that he wouldn't do it again?
    The last preemptive attack was against a non-WMD country, and this administration knew it (read the many DSMs and Waas articles). Now they're looking to pick a fight with a country that by all accounts is much farther along with real WMD (nuclear), as per good intel.

    Do you trust these clowns to execute a successful Iran offensive given their track record? Be very afraid.

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    The idea has been floated that BushCo is leaking to the public this plan of an attack on Iran (with tactical nuclear weapons, no less) as means to better enable and coax diplomatic alternatives. Yet, Kevin Drum brings up a valid point(s):'s the fairly obvious fact that the Bush administration is publicizing them as part of a very public PR campaign in favor of a strike against Iran. The problem is that even if this is a bluff, it's one that has a profound effect on both Iran and the American public. As James Fallows says:
    By giving public warnings, the United States and Israel “create ‘excess demand’ for military action,” as our war-game leader Sam Gardiner recently put it, and constrain their own negotiating choices.
    In other words, if the PR campaign is too successful, then Bush will have boxed himself in. Eventually he'll feel obligated to bomb Iran solely because he's now under pressure to make good on his threats and doesn't want to look like he's backing down. World Wars have started over less.

    Who knows? A subtle and well orchestrated game of chicken might be appropriate here. But please raise your hands if you trust this crew to play a subtle and well orchestrated game of anything.
    A headline in today's USA Today:
    "Public divided over how to treat illegals"
    Karl Rove, master of the manufactured wedge issue, will sleep like a (fat) baby tonight.

    Sunday, April 09, 2006

    In addition to serving as another example of the growing federalist movement in this country, the move towards universal healthcare coverage in Massachusetts was a shrewd move by 2008 presidential hopeful Gov. Mitt Romney:

    ....The plan emerged from a process of creative bipartisan collaboration between Republican Gov. Mitt Romney and an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature.

    At a time when Washington is locked in partisan warfare on almost every front and has done little to reverse the declining access to health insurance nationwide, it's difficult to say which of Massachusetts' achievements is more remarkable. Both should inspire not only other states but the federal government as well.
    Romney will certainly use this HC bill to play up his ability to work well with the Dems -- a quality that likely will be highly desired in a candidate by the time '08 rolls around.
    How shocking (!) to see Cheney serving as the ringleader:
    As he drew back the curtain this week on the evidence against Vice President Cheney's former top aide, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time described a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" -- using classified information -- to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq.

    Bluntly and repeatedly, Fitzgerald placed Cheney at the center of that campaign. Citing grand jury testimony from the vice president's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald fingered Cheney as the first to voice a line of attack that at least three White House officials would soon deploy against former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.
    As Gene Hackman's character in "Mississippi Burning" said, "Looks like the rattlesnakes are startin' to commit suicide." (Oh, and he also barked at Dafoe's character, "These people crawled out of a sewer!" -- also applicable here).

    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Peter Beinart in TNR a few weeks ago:
    Was Bush’s surveillance program illegal? Absolutely. (As George Washington University’s Jonathan Turley notes, “It’s not a close question. Federal law is clear.”) Did Bush lie about it? You betcha. (“When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so,” Bush declared on April 20, 2004, while doing exactly the opposite.)

    ....The Republican Congress tried to impeach Bill Clinton for lying in a civil suit about sex, Democrats can’t censure George W. Bush for lying—and breaking the law—on an issue of national security. It’s a little like telling someone who has just been punched in the face that they can’t hit back because that would perpetuate the cycle of violence. Or, put another way, if Republicans really still think they were right to impeach Clinton—if they’d do it again—then there’s no reason for Democrats to abandon censure in the name of civility. After all, if you don’t punch back, and the other side keeps hitting you, your efforts to stop the cycle of violence have failed.

    ....I don’t know of a single major Republican politician or conservative pundit who has admitted the obvious: that impeaching Clinton was a farce and a disgrace, the likes of which we should pray never to see again. The Republican strategy on Feingold’s censure effort is to keep calling it absurd without engaging it on the merits. But, on the merits, Feingold’s case is much stronger. As former Reagan-era Deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein has put it, Bush’s actions are “more dangerous than Clinton’s lying under oath, because it [Bush’s claim of nearly unlimited executive authority] jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages.” If Republicans want to keep suggesting that censure (let alone impeachment) is a singularly extreme act to be taken only when our constitutional system is in peril, then they need to apologize for what happened in 1999.
    To what extent are the lack of good jobs in this recovery due to an out-of-control escalating healthcare cost problem? Our healthcare system is so badly designed and wasteful at this point that it costs us in good-paying jobs. Companies balk at wanting to offer both decent salaries and expensive healthcare benefits, so instead they initiate work-around solutions (hire temps, outsource, etc.), or they simply go "lean" and expect existing over-worked employees to double-up on tasks.

    Worse yet, when the firms don't hire and the leanness cuts to the bone, it ultimately costs the company in future growth and productivity. It's one thing for a firm to be streamlined and without bloat, however it's quite another for a firm to simply lack the needed number of workers to grow, simply because of cost issues.

    Our flawed HC system is serving to halt employment expansion in good jobs and will adversely affect corporate output in the near future. Short-sighted stupidity with long-run ramifications.

    Thursday, April 06, 2006

    "Massachusetts is poised to become the first state to provide nearly universal health care coverage."

    More signs of federalism. Thanks to GW and the GOP-controlled Congress, an increasing number of national problems are being forced to be addressed by states. Whether it be healthcare, air pollution, marriage laws, or very likely next, abortion rights, has there ever been a time when so many states have had to step in and take charge on issues that are for the most part national in scope?

    What does it say about a president who either sits idly by and allows for this to happen or through his purposeful actions (and inactions) serves as the catalyst for such a trend? Where states seemingly have no choice but to act thanks to a lack of leadership at the top.

    Our United States is gradually fracturing into a land divided, appearing to resemble more so a union characterized by loosely-joined independent state-nations. Much like the former USSR is now.

    At a time when we're supposedly at war and you'd think if anything we should be coming together as a country, thanks to GW and this congress we're instead slowly going our separate ways. It's actually quite fitting when you think about who's in charge; they rule by creating cancerous division, mistrust, cynicism, and wedge issues.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    A terrific, must-read column in The New Yorker, by Steve Coll. Some segments:
    The study portrays the Iraqi President as a fading adversary who felt boxed in by sanctions and political pressure. Saddam’s former generals and civilian aides—such as his principal secretary, Lieutenant General Abed Hamid Mahmoud, and the former Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz—describe their old boss as a Lear-like figure, a confused despot in the enervating twilight of a ruthless career: unable to think straight, dependent upon his two lunatic and incompetent sons, and increasingly reliant on bluff and bluster to remain in power.

    ....Nor did this sham mask any plan to foil the invasion by launching a guerrilla war. There has long been speculation that the insurgency, which has so far taken more than twenty-three hundred American lives, might have been seeded in part by clandestine prewar cell formations or arms distributions. In fact, according to the study, there was no such preparation by Saddam or any of his generals, not even as the regime’s “world crumbled around it”; the insurgency was an unplanned, evolving response to the political failings and humiliations of the occupation.

    As for weapons of mass destruction, there were none, but Saddam could not bring himself to admit it, because he feared a loss of prestige and, in particular, that Iran might take advantage of his weakness—a conclusion also sketched earlier by the C.I.A.-supervised Iraq Survey Group. He did not tell even his most senior generals that he had no W.M.D. until just before the invasion. They were appalled....Saddam “found it impossible to abandon the illusion of having W.M.D."

    ....President [Bush] and the members of his war cabinet now routinely wave at the horizon and speak about the long arc of history’s judgment—many years or decades must pass, they suggest, before the overthrow of Saddam and its impact on the Middle East can be properly evaluated. This is not only an evasion; it is bad historiography. Particularly in free societies, botched or unnecessary military invasions are almost always recognized as mistakes by the public and the professional military soon after they happen, and are rarely vindicated by time. This was true of the Boer War, Suez, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and it will be true of Iraq. At best, when enough time has passed, and the human toll is not so palpable, we may come to think of the invasion, and its tragicomedy of missing weapons, as just another imperial folly, the way we now remember the Spanish-American War or the doomed British invasions of Afghanistan. But that will take a very long time, and it will never pass as vindication.
    A key point: the sanctions and diplomatic pressure were working. Much like the measures taken during the Cold War, which over time wore down the Soviet Union and resulted in change. We didn't invade or cook up intel to do so (partly because thousands of known nuclear missiles has a way of deterring invasions), but rather we kept the pressure on and time took its toll with the help of the Soviet people.

    In addition, even though Saddam's most senior generals were in the dark regarding Iraq not having WMD, the fact is we knew about it all along. Recall Richard Clarke's interviews, as he told of the constant "go back and get me the intel I want" when the CIA kept presenting WMD-free intel re Iraq. The recent Downing Street memos with GW admitting to Blair that we won't find any WMD but we still need to go to war. We invaded based on knowing lies.

    The fact is our intel has been, and is, very good. It's only when top leadership gets involved and distorts it for political purposes does it then become bad.
    From Paul Berman's review of neocon Francis Fukuyama's "America at the Crossroads":
    In 2002, Fukuyama came to the conclusion that invading Iraq was going to be a gamble with unacceptably long odds. Then he watched with dismay as the administration adopted one strange policy after another that was bound to make the odds still longer. The White House decided to ignore any useful lessons the Clinton administration might have learned in Bosnia and Kosovo, on the grounds that whatever Bill Clinton did — for example, conduct a successful intervention — George W. Bush wanted to do the opposite.
    So the debacle in Iraq is due in part to partisan spite? 2300+ dead U.S. soldiers because BushCo despised Clinton and refused to learn from his many successes. Sickening.
    Jimmy Carter recently penned an op/ed in the Washington Post, some segments:
    During the past five years the United States has abandoned many of the nuclear arms control agreements negotiated since the administration of Dwight Eisenhower. This change in policies has sent uncertain signals to other countries, including North Korea and Iran, and may encourage technologically capable nations to choose the nuclear option. The proposed nuclear deal with India is just one more step in opening a Pandora's box of nuclear proliferation.
    Knowing for more than three decades of Indian leaders' nuclear ambitions, I and all other presidents included them in a consistent policy: no sales of civilian nuclear technology or uncontrolled fuel to any country that refused to sign the NPT.

    There was some fanfare in announcing that India plans to import eight nuclear reactors by 2012, and that U.S. companies might win two of those reactor contracts, but this is a minuscule benefit compared with the potential costs. India may be a special case, but reasonable restraints are necessary. The five original nuclear powers have all stopped producing fissile material for weapons, and India should make the same pledge to cap its stockpile of nuclear bomb ingredients. Instead, the proposal for India would allow enough fissile material for as many as 50 weapons a year, far exceeding what is believed to be its current capacity.
    There is no doubt that condoning avoidance of the NPT encourages the spread of nuclear weaponry. Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Argentina and many other technologically advanced nations have chosen to abide by the NPT to gain access to foreign nuclear technology. Why should they adhere to self-restraint if India rejects the same terms? At the same time, Israel's uncontrolled and unmonitored weapons status entices neighboring leaders in Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other states to seek such armaments, for status or potential use. The world has observed that among the "axis of evil," nonnuclear Iraq was invaded and a perhaps more threatening North Korea has not been attacked.
    In short, if your packing heat via nukes, you won't get invaded. If you lack the threat of nukes, you're vulnerable to attack.

    Given the three "axis of evil" countries, two big reasons for invasion are 1) oil, and 2) no nukes. Iraq has both, oil and no nukes, thus invade. Iran has #1 but has nukes, thus too dangerous to invade. North Korea doesn't have #1 but does have nukes -- a no-brainer, absolutely don't invade.

    As Carter implies, other countries will learn that having nukes will keep them invasion-free and after all, if India is given the nodding OK to violate NPT, why should others abide?

    Way to go GW! Another idiotic decision to your credit.
    Arianna, don't be surprised. Most evil psychopaths, utterly detached from reality, and yet oh-so Christian, sound like this....

    A hilarious interview with Wolf Blitzer:
    BLITZER: Some of your critics already have come out, and you know this quite well, and they say there are other reasons in effect right now -- that the timing of your decision, coming on the heels of a couple of your former top aides pleading guilty and now cooperating with federal prosecutors in this expanding lobbying investigation involving Jack Abramoff -- that that may have had a role to play in your decision to step down. [You think Wolfie?]

    DELAY: I made this decision before I even knew that Tony Rudy was going to plead guilty. Those [critics] are people that believe in the politics of personal destruction. They've been trying to destroy my reputation for 10 years. [Mr. Clean and Innocence himself]
    And then he says this:
    DELAY: Well, I know I'm not a target because I know I haven't done anything wrong. I've paid lawyers. They spent four months investigating me as if they were prosecuting me -- looking through everything for the 20 years I've been in Congress, and they have found nothing that is even unethical, much less illegal.
    I guess we'll see about that prediction.

    Wolfie comes back:
    BLITZER: The suggestion by federal prosecutors, these former aides of yours -- Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon -- that there was, in their words, a far-reaching criminal operation being run out of your office when you were the House majority leader, that's a powerful accusation.

    DELAY: No, that's a powerful indictment of what they were doing.
    Oh, what a guy. He is 100% innocent (and righteous) and yet he throws his colleagues under the bus -- only they are guilty slime.
    BLITZER: What would you have done differently involving your relationship with the now-indicted Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist? Looking back on that relationship that you had with him, what would you have done differently given what you know right now?

    DELAY: I wouldn't have done anything differently.
    Spoken like a true psychopath.

    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    From Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker:
    In March, 2002, NASA and the Deutsches Zentrum für Luftund Raumfahrt, the German aerospace agency, launched a pair of satellites from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, a former intercontinental-ballistic-missile site in northern Russia, to map changes in the earth’s surface. The satellites, nicknamed Tom and Jerry, have been chasing each other around the globe ever since…. Now, almost four years to the day after they were launched, Tom and Jerry have yielded a scarily significant result: Antarctica is losing ice. The rate of loss, according to researchers at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, who analyzed changes in the continent’s gravitational pull, is around thirty-six cubic miles per year….If the loss continues, it will mean that predictions for the rise in the sea level for the coming century are seriously understated.
    In the face of such news, how does a country, i.e. the United States, justify further inaction? Certainly, there isn’t much tread left in the argument that global warming is, to use Senator James Inhofe’s famous formulation, a “hoax.” In January, six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, five of whom had served under Republican Administrations, met with the current administrator, Stephen Johnson, for a panel discussion in Washington. Panelists were asked to hold up their hands if they believed global warming to be a real problem, for which human activity was responsible. Every one of them, Johnson included, raised a hand.
    Carbon dioxide is a persistent gas—it lasts for about a century—and once released into the atmosphere it is, for all practical purposes, irrecoverable. Since every extra increment of CO2 leads to extra warming, addressing the effects of climate change without dealing with the cause is a bit like trying to treat diabetes with doughnuts. The climate isn’t going to change just once, and then settle down; unless CO2 concentrations are stabilized, it will keep on changing, producing, in addition to the “same old problems,” an ever-growing array of new ones. The head of the Goddard Institute, James Hansen, who first warned about the dangers of global warming back in the nineteen-seventies and recently made headlines by accusing the Bush Administration of censorship, has said that following the path of business-as-usual for the remainder of this century will lead to an earth so warm as to be “practically a different planet.”
    This last part I love, the author explaining in ABC-like simple terms what happens to CO2 (also applicable to many air pollutants) once it's released into the air. I've asked many an in-denial right-winger where do they believe CO2 goes once released from smoke stacks, tail pipes, etc. -- up, up, and away, floating into outerspace? To Neverland?? It's a very simple question and yet I just get blank stares. They got nothing but force-fed, corporate-backed propaganda.

    Sunday, April 02, 2006

    Another exchange with my childhood buddy – who when it comes to politics happens to be a true right-wing nut....

    He and I grew up in Springsteen country: central NJ, near the shore. I went ahead and emailed him this blurb:
    LOS ANGELES (AP) -- New Yorkers and Californians breathe the dirtiest air in the nation and face higher cancer risks than the rest of the nation, according to the latest data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. New Yorkers' risk of developing cancer from air toxins is estimated to be 68 residents per million. In California, the risk is 66 residents per million. The national average is 41.5 per million, according to the report, which was released in February and based on emissions of 177 chemicals in 1999, the most recent data available.

    Oregon, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey had the third, fourth and fifth worst air in the nation, respectively, the EPA said. Rural residents of Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana breathed the cleanest air.
    I part-in-jest pointed out that New Jersey had the 45th worst air of 50 states. He wrote back:
    If you want to solidly make your point, w/o any presumptions, you have to show me that these quoted air toxin rates PRESENT AN UNREASONABLE AND IMMINENT MEDICAL RISK TO ANYONE THAT BREATHES THEM. Putting it another way, okay, New Jersey's air is dirtier than most others, BUT in reality ---- how much of a danger is this to me? Granted, breathing the Wyoming air would be better, but what is the added measure of risk that I taking by breathing New Jersey air? And don't give me that you are "twice as likely to develop lung cancer". No, I don't want to hear that. For example, I could buy two lotto tickets as opposed to your one ticket --- but can it be said that I have any reasonable expectation of winning the lottery because i have double your chances? In either scenario, the odds of winning are astronomical.
    Gads, and then the inane emailing back and forth got started. Assuming that judging from the data in the news blurb, NJ likely came in somewhere around 60 vs. the national average of 41.5, which would put NJ's cancer rate at 50% higher than national average, my friend apparently didn't want to hear such numbers or calculations. His point is 40, 60, 80, 100 -- what's the difference when it comes to per million?! He believes it's all just sweating insignificant details.

    Here's my reply:

    Never mind. Having 45th out of 50th dirtiest air is not a concern, and what you're angling for is NJ air could just be slightly less pristine than Wyoming's, separated by milli-parts re pollutants (insignificant). Whatever.

    I simply sent a fact/report that NJ had the 5th worst air. You can quibble and make the case that it means nothing if it's not an UNREASONABLE AND IMMINENT MEDICAL RISK. Moronic. You don't get lung cancer from smoking one cigarette either (duh), it's a cumulative effect. Over many years. Same re air, the 5th dirtiest air vs. Wyoming's will have an effect over time. They already have such data on kids in cities re asthma vs. non-dirty-city-air kids (control group).

    Also, what would satisfy you as warranting a "medical risk", what figure? You have no clue, like most people have no clue when they say "just write it off" re taxes. It's a red herring. In our water, they have parts-per-billion for contaminants that are deemed acceptable, but many scientists point to these figures being too high as is. Same with RDA and vitamins, being too low. It's all very slippery -- but that's my point re inexact and red herring. Your stance should be 5th out of 50 is bad, now what we can do that's feasible to get it lower, vs. this apathetic "ahh, 5th ain't so bad, could be worse!!" It's similar to global warming where that scientist [Hansen] on 60 Minutes said we need to do things NOW to avert any tipping-point disaster (tipping point meaning if it's not done now than it will be too late to do something later -- when you've finally decided the science is overwhelming). Apathy and "don't worry be happy" is the true danger we face right now.
    Regarding the environment, I find the degree of urgency and believed need for swift change to be the big difference between the right and left. Many on the right sound like my buddy, as if all of this science stuff is being blown way out of proportion and we should just take a couple of deep breaths (of the polluted air) and just calm down. They accuse us of being chicken littles and nervous nellys, running around with hands in the air, attempting to discredit anything we have to say on the subject by portraying us as unreasonable, exaggerating wackos or slacker hippies who all belong to Greenpeace (their favorite target).

    Meanwhile, most of the American population believes the environment is a "top priority" issue, with the percentage growing from 39% to 57% in just the past three years. Frankly, let the right-wing continue to disparage and dismiss this issue as "loony"; it will, or should, allow more time for the dizzy Dems to get their act together and embrace this issue as one to put front-and-center and drive home that they care about clean air, clean water, less intense hurricanes, less addiction to oil, etc.

    Saturday, April 01, 2006

  • The following chart from Merrill Lynch speaks volumes about why the public may not agree that this economy is the best it could be. The problem is unlike past recoveries when the rising tide raised most boats, this one is lifting just a few enormous yachts.

  • 2006 is shaping up to be another election year riddled with voting-machine computer glitches, although in this case it will likely be more widespread than ever before given the number of states that decided to purchase such machines. You think they'll finally be just as widespread passion-filled protests and calls for investigations?

  • Got to just love the way Scalia gets away with hoisting the middle finger just after leaving church, no less. It's been several days since this news first made the rounds on the internet, of course with it nowhere to be seen on prime-time news (you know, they're too busy showing all that bad news from Iraq). Didn't we see something like this before from his duck hunting buddy, Dick Cheney? Recall, Cheney's "f*ck you" to Sen. Pat Leahy. Ahh, that compassionate conservatism, quite lovely. And where's the religious right to condemn any of this....?

  • DeLay's matchstick house continues to give way....

  • A few columns ago, Bob Herbert cited a study:
    Now comes a study by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University, and a colleague, Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, that estimates the "true costs" of the war at more than $1 trillion, and possibly more than $2 trillion.

    ....These costs, the study says, "include disability payments to veterans over the course of their lifetimes, the cost of replacing military equipment and munitions, which are being consumed at a faster-than-normal rate, the cost of medical treatment for returning Iraqi war veterans, particularly the more than 7,000 [service members] with brain, spinal, amputation and other serious injuries, and the cost of transporting returning troops back to their home bases."

    ...."Another cost to the government," the study says, "is the interest on the money that it has borrowed to finance the war."

    ....Ms. Bilmes said that the $1 trillion we're spending on Iraq amounts to about $10,000 for every household in the U.S.
    And these figures aren't included in the budget -- which is already running a big deficit. So this administration and the GOP-led Congress have been spending money hand over fist, not to mention for this war, and yet they've always been touted as the smaller-government-is-good crowd. Just more peddled horse crap that John Q. Ignorant believes because Rush, Hannity, Coulter et al say it's so. Lord help us all.