Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Why we went to Iraq
On this side of the aisle we take a great deal of bitter amusement keeping track of all of the official reasons and “real” reasons we invaded Iraq. It was to disarm Saddam. No, it was to keep him from giving away his WMDs. No, it was to keep him from getting WMDs in the first place. No, it was to avenge 9/11. No, it was to get their oil. No, it was to demonstrate our resolve in carrying out the Bush Doctrine. No, it was to annoy the French. No, was to avenge the Kurds and Shiites he massacred over ten years ago. No, it was to avenge Bush’s daddy. No, it was to show up Bush’s daddy. No, it was to close down the torture and rape rooms. No, it was to spread democracy. No, it was to get rid of a bad person. No, it was to stabilize the region. No, it was to protect Israel. No, it was to rebuild Babylon and hurry up the apocalypse. No, it was to give lucrative contracts to Cheney’s business buddies. Okay, maybe those last few weren’t put forward as official reasons.

But the real “real” reason has been right in front of us all along. It’s mentioned in every dispatch measuring our success. Whenever conservatives chastise us for our negativity they mention the real reason.

We invaded Iraq so we could paint their schools.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The beginning of the era of the campaign movie
I think it’s safe to say we won this round.

Michael Moore’sFahrenheit 9/11 opened to sold out theaters last week and by the end of the weekend was already the top moneymaking documentary of all time. It took only three days to beat the entire American theatrical run of the previous record holder, Moore’s previous film Bowling for Columbine. Fahrenheit 9/11 was not only the top moneymaking documentary, it was the top moneymaking movie of any type last weekend. In beating out the entertainment movies it became the first documentary to debut at number one, and it did this during the most competitive season of the year. Halfway through the weekend the film had taken in enough to pay off its production and marketing costs and was generating pure profit.

This was all accomplished in the face of efforts by right-wingers to silence the movie. The best organized of these was by the faux grassroots group called "Move America Forward." MAF is the creation of the public relations firm Russo, Marsh & Rogers, the firm behind the “Recall Gray Davis Committee” and longtime veterans of California Republican politics. By complaining to theaters, MAF was able to make sure Fahrenheit 9/11 “only” opened in 868 theaters, the most for any documentary in history. Other right-wingers tried hate mail, death threats, and pickets to stop the movie from being seen. They failed.

While some right-wingers are content to gnash their teeth and blog about how oppressed they are by the thought that people might be allowed to hear words they disagree with, others are moving forward with plans C, D, E, and F.
Michael Moore may be prevented from advertising his controversial new movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” on television or radio after July 30 if the Federal Election Commission (FEC) today accepts the legal advice of its general counsel.

At the same time [Citizens United], a Republican-allied 527 soft-money group is preparing to file a complaint against Moore’s film with the FEC for violating campaign-finance law.

In a draft advisory opinion placed on the FEC’s agenda for today’s meeting, the agency’s general counsel states that political documentary filmmakers may not air television or radio ads referring to federal candidates within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election.

The opinion is generated under the new McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, which prohibits corporate-funded ads that identify a federal candidate before a primary or general election.

The proscription is broadly defined. Section 100.29 of the federal election regulations defines restricted corporate-funded ads as those that identify a candidate by his “name, nickname, photograph or drawing” or make it “otherwise apparent through an unambiguous reference.”

By then millions will have seen the movie and most Americans will be aware of it and its message. Citizens United’s victory will be more symbolic than real. Moore will still be able to advertise and show the film, he just won’t be allowed to show Bush in the ads.

The next strategy is my favorite because it so reeks of grade school. It’s the “we don’t need your stupid movie; we have our own movie and it’s better” strategy.
The day after Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was released in American cinemas, it was announced yesterday that a festival devoted to films debunking Moore's own work will be staged later this year in Texas.

The American Film Renaissance has the backing of 'some big-time conservative donors', according to its organizers, and will feature up to 10 films, among them Michael Moore Hates America - a so-called exposé of the director's working methods, by filmmaker Michael Wilson.

This strategy is also great because everyone can join in.
In Sacramento the conservative group Move America Forward, whose Web site criticizes "Fahrenheit 9/11," organized an advance screening of the Disney documentary "America's Heart and Soul," due in theaters on July 2. That film, directed by Louis Schwartzberg, celebrates ordinary Americans and, Disney says, their extraordinary stories. "Disney brought the movie, rented the theater and even paid for the popcorn," Howard Kaloogian, the chairman of Move America Forward, said. "It's a very patriotic film," he continued. "It's in the finest tradition of inspiring Disney movies."

Notice that this movie is not meant to be pro-Bush or anti-Moore or anything political at all. The right wing needed something to adopt as “their” movie and America's Heart and Soul will be the unwitting, and no doubt grateful, beneficiary (and I say good for them). While Schwartzberg might have reservations about being thrown into someone else’s fight, other films have far fewer scruples about taking advantage of the controversy to sell a tickets or videos. Richard Bartholomew of Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion received this announcement from the Christian Bookseller’s Association:
George W. Bush: Faith in the White House, which premiered at CBA Convention, will air on network television in September and may release in theaters later this summer as a contrast to the negative Fahrenheit 9/11.

This is the start of something big. Moore caught the Right off guard this year, but that won’t happen again. In the next election cycle we can expect to see pro-Conservative and anti-Liberal documentaries paid for by Scaife, Ahmanson, Olin, Coors, and Bradley foundation money. These will not be shabby Vince Foster murder exposes on grainy video. These will be slick and well produced. After all, this is America; we make the best propaganda on the planet. Period.

It’s interesting to consider that the two biggest advances in campaigning—harnessing the internet and the feature documentary—were both to the benefit of Democrats and the Left. For over twenty years we have played catch-up with the conservative media machine. Suddenly we lapped them twice. I don’t think this was just a couple of lucky breaks. We finally have our act together. It could be temporary, but it feels good and a lot of people will be working to preserve that feeling.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Sperm in the news
Most of the mainstream news sites I went to this morning had these two stories on the same page, yet none of the sites thought to link them. How often do a problem and a solution appear together like this?

First, the problem:
LONDON (Reuters) - Mobile phones may damage men's sperm, Hungarian scientists say, in a study that fertility experts dismissed Monday as inconclusive.

Carrying a mobile in hip pockets or a holster on the waist could cut sperm count by nearly 30 percent, according to the research.

"The prolonged use of cell phones may have a negative effect on (sperm production) and male fertility," Dr. Imre Fejes, of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Szeged said in a summary of the study.

So we are looking at a future in which there will only be Luddites, curmudgeons, and Raelians (oh yeah, and a few billion people too poor to afford cell phones). Well, that could be a bummer. But wait, here’s the solution:
BERLIN (Reuters) - Men trying to boost their fertility may soon receive help from an unusual source--a plant grown for centuries in East Africa and the Middle East.

The leaves of the khat plant, which is also known as qat, are chewed for the feeling of euphoria they produce. But scientists at King's College London have discovered that they also contain chemicals that help sperm mature and fertilize an egg.

If you are a male who uses a cell phone and wants to have children, you must stay stoned all the time. If you are a woman--well, neither article said you couldn’t stay stoned, too.

Free Tommy Chong.
Vice President Albatross
This is from Joe Klein's column in the current Time Magazine:
There is also some rustling among the brass about General Tommy Franks' memoir, to be published in August. Bob Woodward reported that Franks once called Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, who was charged with postwar planning, "the [Cheney expletive] stupidest guy on the face of the earth," and some defense experts are wondering if Franks, who has a reputation for candor, will elaborate on that.

Another embarrassing book is good, but look at the Cheney joke. ItÂ?s not a good sign when the mainstream press is that open in their contempt for you. Cheney is fast becoming a big fat liability. Rumsfeld is looking more like a thug with every torture memo. Powell has looked gelded for some time. Internalsquabblingg and interdepartmental fights are becoming open. The whole gang is looking sordid, ineffective, and silly (not to mention Sleepy, Dopey, and Grumpy). None of this will change the minds of the true believers or the true haters, but this will erode the coveted swing voters.

Has anyone seen any recent polling numbers on members of the administration other than Bush?

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Corporate HR fads
Alert reader and fellow Don Marquis fan, Dum Luks sent me this op-ed piece from the English edition of the Japanese paperAsahi Shimbun:
`There is no clear evidence that downsizing actually does any good, at least not in the United States.'

In recent years, Japan's kinder and gentler managers borrowed a critical lesson from their more ruthless American counterparts: They learned to downsize. They got serious about trimming their work forces, that in turn boosted profits, and that finally brought the fragile recovery Japan is now experiencing.

It's a nice story, but there is a big problem with it: There is no clear evidence that downsizing actually does any good, at least not in the United States. What? How could that be? Everyone knows that downsizing reduces costs, and cutting costs raises profits. But that is precisely the point.
Everyone is so convinced that downsizing enhances corporate performance that no one bothers to check the evidence, ...

I have been doing some research on the topic recently, and I discovered to my astonishment that the evidence from the United States suggests that downsizing has not improved corporate performance-whether defined in terms of profits, productivity, or stock price-and many studies indicate that it impairs performance.

After all, downsizing may save a company on labor costs, but it also entails substantial costs: The immediate cost of paying off downsized workers, for example, plus the longer-term cost of losing valuable personnel and undermining employee morale.

In one of the most authoritative studies, prominent economists William Baumol, Alan Blinder and Edward Wolff [in the book Downsizing in America] find that downsizing does not improve productivity, lowers stock performance and raises profits-but only by depressing wages. Other studies contend that downsizing does not even increase profits, and one study suggests that layoffs actually decrease profits in subsequent periods.

So if downsizing doesn't help, then why have so many American companies rushed to do it? Several scholars have taken up this puzzle, and they conclude that American managers are so beholden to the myth that downsizing is effective that they do not even bother to check whether it happens to be true. They also contend that managers view downsizing as a social norm, so they do it to preserve or enhance their firm's reputation.

The rest of the piece speaks about the specifically Japanese case and is worth reading. For my part, I find that last statement the most interesting. Most corporations do not downsize because of the results of an honest cost/benefit analysis, they do it because all of the other corporations are doing it. Peer pressure. Management through fads. Even to give them the most credit possible, they do it to appease the investors, who themselves are acting in herd-like response to fads.

To make up for understaffing, companies have run through a whole sequence of supporting fads with self-complementary rationales. First, it was filling in with temp labor. The rhetoric to support this fad was that we just get the help we need when we need it. We’re responding lightning fast to changes in the market. As this was dying out we got the tech boom. Start-ups made everyone a salaried employee and demanded they demonstrate their dedication by working hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime each year (for both of the years they lasted before burning out). Now off-shore out-sourcing and Wal-Mart style return to nineteenth century labor conditions are the magic solutions.

All of these fads were morale killers. Employees have no reason to be loyal to a company that’s not loyal to them. Even where it’s possible to stay, no one expects to stay. In the past, the answer to “what do you do for a living” was some variation of “I am this.” Today you more often hear some variation of “right now I’m doing this.”

All of these companies reduce continuity and institutional memory. Rapid turnover and short-term help are always on the low end of the learning curve. We congratulate ourselves on increases in productivity, but how much more productive would a stable and experienced work force be?

My gut feeling is that these human resources fads are as bad as management fads and as damaging to the corporations as they are for the work force. I’m encouraged to see that people like the anonymous author of this op-ed piece are finally asking the right questions and gathering the data that could prove this.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Smart ass kids
The cherub-faced beardless-youth Jesse Taylor lays his finger on exactly what is wrong with politics, not just today, but most of the time.
But think about this - how many debates do we have in this country that start off under patently false pretenses? Tort reform, the estate tax, Social Security, the war in Iraq, and many more. It's not even different interpretations of the facts, different glosses on the same basic ideas. The partisan divide comes from the fact that we're having totally different debates on the same issues, to the point where we simply are talking about disparate ideas and problems.

How can a policy apparatus produce good results when it's geared towards solving problems that don't exist?

Our political debates are not between sincere people who disagree on the solutions to agreed upon problems or even sincere people who disagree on the definition of the problems. Our debates are too often between people who want to define the problem is such a way that their desired program is the only possible solution.

I am not resentful that Jesse figured this out a decade or so younger than I did; I’m annoyed that I figured it out a decade or so older than Jesse did. Damn kid.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Jack Ryan, R.I.P.
Jack Ryan has decided to hang up his quest to become a senator from Illinois. No doubt, that’s the best decision for him. He was a longshot before this and with the revelations from his divorce proceedings he would have been utterly doomed. I can only think of a few aspects of the story that are worth commenting on at this point.

The top question now is: what will the political fallout be? The Illinois Republican Party was not in very good shape before this. Had Ryan continued his race, he would have practically killed the Party. Bush is writing Illinois off, so the Senate candidate is the banner carrier for the Illinois GOP. Ryan is not merely “scandal plagued” in the typical media usage of that term. He is plagued by a singularly embarrassing scandal, the stuff of the lowest locker room humor. His humiliation would have rubbed off on the down-ticket candidates, hurting their chances. That, of course, would have been good for the Democrats. Now the GOP has to find a better candidate to run for the Senate and represent the Party at the top of the ballot (I’m sure they already have someone picked and vetted). They also need to decide what to do with that candidate; will they be content to have the candidate represent the Party with dignity and restore their name or will they actually try to win the race. The latter course will require a large infusion of campaign cash that might otherwise have gone to other races that the GOP has a better chance of winning. That, of course, will also be good for the Democrats.

The next question is the inevitable round of amateur psychology about how someone could be as monumentally stupid as Jack Ryan. I’m not talking about his sexual proclivities or him throwing away his marriage to Jeri Ryan to pursue them (though, to many men that last one qualifies him to a Stupid Male Hall of Fame). I’m still on the politics here. At the beginning of his candidacy, Ryan met with powerful Republicans, looked them in the eye, and told them there was nothing embarrassing in his divorce papers. It was more than a bold lie; it was a bold lie that was bound to be exposed. What caused him to do that: Monumental hubris? Compulsive lying? Multiple personalities? Was that the bad Jack Ryan from the bearded Spock universe? Or did he think he had some kind of deal to keep his divorce records closed?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, will he go away quietly and settle into a bitter seclusion or will he take to the talk show circuit and inflict us with pleas that we understand his tragic addiction? The future of our television viewing depends on the answer to that question.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

A non-scientific survey
Today's news provided me with an opportunity to conduct a non-scientific survey on the idea that white, Christian conservatives are not defined as terrorists.

Eric Rudolph is accused of four bombings in Alabama and Georgia in the late nineties that killed two people and blinded one other. The most famous was the Olympic Park bombing duing the Atlanta Olympics. This bomb was set off in a crowded public plaza and killed one person. The other three bombs were at a gay night club and two abortion clinics. One of the clinic bombs was a nail bomb that killed a policeman and blinded a nurse. All in all, these bombings appear to be aimed at people more than property and calculated to push a political agenda. In my book, that's enough to call them terrorist bombings and Randolph a terrorist.

This week, Randolph was in the news as the court delivered decisions on his attorneys' requests for a venue change and delay of trial date. So how do various national media outlets refer to Mr. Rudolph?
  • Reuters - "Accused Abortion Clinic Bomber." The word terror does not appear in their story in any form.
  • CNN - "accused bomber Eric Rudolph." The word terror does not appear in their story in any form.
  • AP - "serial bombing suspect Eric Rudolph." The word terror does not appear in their story in any form.
  • UPI/Washington Times - "Trial of Eric Rudolph in the bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic." The word terror does not appear in their story in any form.
  • New York Times - "Eric Rudolph, who is accused of being a serial bomber." The word terror does not appear in their story in any form.
  • ABC - "serial bombing suspect Eric Rudolph." The word terror does not appear in their story in any form.

Local news outlets, which were closest to the crimes, follow the lead of the national news in never using the word terror. In fact, Google news search of "'Eric Rudolph' terrorist" and "'Eric Rudolph' terror" did not reveal a single recent news story anywhere that used terror or terrorist in relation to Rudolph. You'd have to go back to last summer when the news had a brief discussion of the concept of Christian terrorism following his capture. This discussion appears to have had no long term affect on their reporting.

There you have it. Rudolph, a white, Christian conservative, is not a terrorist, or alleged terrorist, or accused terrorist, or terrorism suspect according to our news media, even though the crimes he is accused of are, by any objective standard, terrorism.

To be fair, I haven't proven the second part of my earlier contention that this is somehow John Ashcroft's fault. I'll get to work on that.
Good news
Simply electing Kerry will not be enough to end the long national nightmare of Bush's reign of error. The division of power in both houses of congress will likely remain close, with a very good possibility that the Republicans will still control both. Naturally, it would be easier to roll back the damage of the last four years if we controlled one or both houses. So every seat counts. One of the ironies of this race is that Massachutsetts has a Republican Governor, Mitt Rommney, and he will be appointing Kerry's replacement—no doubt a fellow Republican. Or would have been.
If John Kerry is elected president, his seat in the U.S. Senate would be filled by the winner of a special election rather than a successor hand-picked by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, under a bill approved Wednesday by the Massachusetts Senate.

The Senate voted along party lines, 32-8, after a sometimes testy debate pitting the badly outnumbered Republicans, who opposed the change, against Democrats.

This is clearly a case of a legislature passing a law for the special benefit of one person, something that is usually considered unethical. For the record, I am usually opposed to that sort of behavior.

The main mitigating circumstance I can suggest is that there has been a national movement building for a while to change the form of replacement from governors’ appointments to special elections. There have been enough abuses of this gubernatorial power in the—appointments from the other party seen as defying the will of the people and nepotism—that many states would rather hold immediate special elections. Appointments made sense when communication was slow and it would have taken some time to organize an election, especially in some of the larger states. That is no longer the case. Thus a law passed primarily to benefit Kerry will have wider positive effects in the future. The second, and more petty, mitigating circumstance is that the Republicans have doing a lot of special legislation lately for the benefit of their party and candidate—think Texas re-redistricting and all the states that moved their filing deadlines so Bush could exploit 9/11 at his nomination. Turnabout is fair play.

Whether or not it makes me a hypocrite, I’m celebrating this gain for our side.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

When city people visit the country
A fat house cat has been terrorizing southern France. If I was a conservative, I would be cackling with glee and making cowardly French jokes. But because I am a liberal I must pass it on with a painfully sincere call to fight this tragic epidemic of pet obesity. I will never forgive the Bush administration for taking the joy out of France bashing.
MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) -- The southern French city of Marseille called off a three-week hunt for a black panther on Tuesday after the animal sighted by several residents turned out to be a large house cat.

"The 'panther' is just a black house cat -- a very big one though," said a spokeswoman for the local prefecture, adding the animal was about 24 inches long and weighed some 22 pounds.

Police deployed dozens of searchers this month after reports that a black panther was roaming around the nearby Calanques area, popular with tourists for its creeks, rocks and beaches.

Searchers finally caught up with the animal and identified it as a cat but were still unable to catch it, the spokeswoman added.

My Mehitabel, a svelte ten-pound black cat, is feeling very proud of her kin.
A twofer
There are at least two posts that any leftie blogger should be able to write in his or her sleep. One is the "Paul Krugamn had a good column" post. We may as well have a little plug-in program for our blogging software that every Tuesday and Friday writes "Paul Krugamn had a good column," inserts the correct link, and posts it on our site before we even get out of bed. The second generic post is the "Ashcroft thinks white, Christian conservatives can't be terrorists" post. Most of us have pointed this out at one time or another (none more consistently or in as much depth as my old friend David Neiwert, whose second book on the subject of hate groups is coming out in about a week). What could be better than Krugman dedicating his column to writing about how Ashcroft thinks white, Christian conservatives can't be terrorists? Answer: Krugman writing a longer column about how Ashcroft thinks white, Christian conservatives can't be terrorists. We'll have to wait for that; today we got a normal sized column on Ashcroft.

Krugman has been bashing Ashcroft pretty hard lately, but ,in my opinion, it's not possible to bash Ashcroft too hard. The man is one of the most dangerous people on the Bush team. His direct abuses are bad enough--holding people without trial, stirring up panic, and misdirecting resources--but these can be reversed fairly quickly once he is gone. The real measure of his harm will be those more insidious actions of creating precedents for unconstitutional action, skewing the institutional culture of law enforcement, and lowering the prestige of American jurisprudence. These will take years to reverse and might cause some damages that we will never undo.

Krugman’s column today, hits on one of Ashcroft’s institutional corruptions, his blinkered view of what constitutes “terrorism.” When the Ashcroft Justice Department mentions terrorism, ninety percent of the time they mean foreign terrorism, easily caricatured as swarthy, non-Christian men who hate our freedoms. If the Ashcroft Justice Department was merely focusing on foreign terrorism to the neglect of domestic terrorism, it would be bad, but understandable. What most corrosive is that they do admit to domestic terrorism, but they define it in such a way that they create a false impression of the danger. For Ashcroft, militias, anti-abortion extremists, and white supremacists are not terrorists; ecological and animal rights extremists are. This is despite the fact that the former target people and have killed about a hundred in the last dozen years while the latter target property and, to my knowledge, haven’t killed anybody. John Ashcroft’s political constituency is made up of white, Christian conservatives and they are therefore not capable of terror. Misguided individuals might commit crimes, even horrible ones, but these never rise to the organizational level of terror. This point of view has completely penetrated our law enforcement and news media. Look how easily the term “ecoterrorist” rolls out to describe an individual who sets fire to some lumber and how well publicized the crime is. Yet how much attention did a group armed to the teeth and building poison gas bombs get? And where was the T word?

Krugman's last Ashcroft bash called him the worst Attorney General ever. My old history geek instinct was to see if I could name a worse one. Sadly, I can't name that many AGs at all. Krugman mentions Nixon's co-conspirator John Mitchell, but Mitchell was run-of-the-mill corrupt. He didn't come near Ashcroft's fanatic danger. I can name one AG who, if not worse, is at least in the same class as Ashcroft, A. Mitchell Palmer.

Palmer was a Democrat, with good progressive credentials and presidential ambitions, who was made AG by Woodrow Wilson just before his stroke. In office, reports of the excesses of the revolutions in Europe and a failed assassination attempt against his person, turned Palmer into a completely different man. Palmer recruited J. Edgar Hoover as his special assistant and launched an aggressive campaign against radicals and leftists in general. In a series of raids on the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution he had over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists arrested. Two months later he had another 6000 arrested. Many were held for months without charges or trial. Eventually 250 were deported to Russia (including Emma Goldman) and the rest released without charge. He came down particularly hard on labor organizations like the IWW. Palmer issued several warnings of incipient Red revolutions. The first warnings created near panic, but eventually people got tired of his hysteria and civil rights abuses. Is this starting to sound familiar?

Palmer was gone after a year and a half, but his legacy lived on in the person of J. Edgar Hoover and the institutional culture of Hoover's office, the Bureau of Investigation. The first Red Scare made it easier to have the second one, because people had become accustomed to seeing the world in Palmer's way. The IWW and the American Socialist Party may have been doomed even without Palmer and Hoover, but their help hastened their demise. Ashcroft has created the same sort of corrosive legacy. Will it take us another half century to undo his damage?

Monday, June 21, 2004

Things that make life worth living
Ben & Jerry's has introduced sugarless New York Super Fudge Chunk® ice cream.
Update on al-Muqrin
Today, the BBC is starting to ask questions. In a story with the title "Doubts over Saudi al-Qaeda blow" they get right to the point.
The original story was simple - Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula - was killed in a shootout after trying to dump the body of the American hostage Paul Johnson.

Johnson had had just been beheaded by Muqrin's group after a deadline expired for the release of prisoners in Saudi jails.

But by Saturday the picture had begun to muddy.

It turns out that Paul Johnson's body had not been discovered after all and the search was still going on for it around Riyadh.

So how was it that Muqrin was found?

The story makes the suggestion that the Saudi police simply lucked out and al-Muqrin ran into a police patrol and started shooting. This is a perfectly plausible story, however, it is speculation. The Saudi police have not suggested anything like this. If this is the case why would the Saudi police lie? The BBC correspondent again makes a perfectly plausible suggestion: they are trying to appear more competent than they really are. The Saudi security forces are involved in propaganda war; they want to discourage the terrorists and convince the Saudi public and foreign community that they are on the ball. Admitting that they tripped over al-Muqrin and killed him without even knowing who he was doesn’t accomplish either of these. Again, this is just a guess.

Until they tell us what really happened we may as well believe it was Elvis on the Grassy Knoll. Lies and secrecy inevitably lead to rumors, distrust, and conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, much to the pain of his family, Johnson’s body is still unrecovered.
Some arguments don't deserve to live
Mick over at From the Trenches has discovered a rather unpleasant stealth candidate in the person of Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
"How can a free nation survive when a majority of its citizens, now dependent on government services, no longer have the incentive to restrain the growth of government?" he asked during a Heritage Foundation lecture in 2001. His prescription? "We must have a new tax code that allows all voters to see and feel the cost of government," he counseled. "Using the tax code to help low-income workers only disconnects them from the responsibilities of freedom."

...He has suggested replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax that all consumers would feel, then refunding part of the sales tax payments to help those in poverty. At least the poor "would still see the cost of government," he said.

But under such a plan, those just above the poverty line likely would see a substantial tax increase. That might not go over well in South Carolina, where nearly a third of the population lives on incomes twice the poverty level or less.

What a load of crap. The only thing new in this argument is the boldness to say it out loud, but even DeMint won't say such a thing directly to the voters, just to his moneyed supporters. For decades, anyone in the mainstream who believed stuff like this at least had the good taste to be embarrassed (or afraid) to say it out loud. Only fringe nuts like World Net columnist Vox Day would openly make such an argument. Then last year, our friends on the Wall Street Journal editorial page revived this old argument in their infamous "lucky ducky" editorial, once again making it socially acceptable to .

How old is this argument? This is one of the original arguments against democracy from the days of the constitutional convention. Only (white) men of property should be allowed to vote because only they have a stake in society. Allowing unpropertied men to vote would lead to mob rule. The "mobocracy" would vote subsidies to itself and society would collapse. For the sake of order and stability, only the (self-proclaimed) better classes should be allowed to vote. European ennobled ruling elites continued to make the mobocracy argument against every expansion of the franchise right up until they were swept away in World War One. After that Europe had the painful Fascist experiment in crudely manipulating the masses for the benefit of a group of murderous psychopaths.*

Reconnecting low-income workers with "the responsibilities of freedom" by taking away a larger portion of their already small paychecks is not likely to make them feel more empowered. It's likely to make them angry. WSJ's "lucky ducky" argument increasing the hostility of the working poor toward the government by taxing them more and reducing services would make them vote for conservative candidates who promise to lower their taxes and eliminate services altogether. I suppose that's possible, but its more likely to increase their hostility toward the wealthier classes who contribute little to the government while reaping many benefits (such as police protection from the resentful poor).

This is not speculation on my part, this is the historical record of the good old days of the nineteenth century that the extremists supporting Bush so dearly want to return. Social security, both as a program and as a phrase, originated in Bismarck's Prussia, a thoroughly reactionary state. The phrase as he used it did not mean security within society for the poor. It meant security of society against the poor. By providing, what we now call, a safety net for the working poor, Bismarck hoped to prevent them joining leftist political parties or more directly creating unrest. There was nothing soft or altruistic in his plan. He knew that if the poor were not given the basic necessities of life, either through fair pay or outright grants, they would take them by force. That the programs were good for the poor was incidental; Bismarck's real goal was to protect the propertied classes from revolution.

When Roosevelt pushed through programs like the minimum wage and legalized unions, he most likely prevented a violent revolution in this country. It's tragic that today's reactionaries do not understand this.

Demint's ideas should not sell to the voters, but for the most part the voters don't know about his views. That and the fact that he's well funded make him very dangerous.
... hardly any [South Carolinians] know of DeMint's unorthodox views, said Neal D. Thigpen, a political scientist at Francis Marion University, in Florence, S.C. "He comes across as competent and steady, but he's no maverick," said Thigpen, a longtime watcher of South Carolina politics, who had no idea of DeMint's views on taxes and Social Security. "That's not what he's selling, and it's certainly not the way he's perceived."

The conservative Club for Growth has pumped $500,000 into DeMint's quest for the nomination, and has pledged to make him a national figure if he prevails.

When the Religious Right tried the stealth candidate strategy in the early nineties they had some success at first in placing their people on school boards. However, as soon as these people revealed the true extent of their agendas they were usually voted right back off the school boards. When the anti-immegration crowd tried to take over the Sierra Club this spring they were exposed and defeated.

I suppose it's a good news/bad news situation. The good news is, stealth candidates are usually defeated when their agendas are exposed. The bad news is that this is for a six year senate seat. If he's not exposed till after the election, he'll have a lot of time to do damage. Plus, there are enough radical rightists in congress now that even increasing their numbers by one is a very bad idea. This guy needs to be stopped.

* I know. I know. In any democracy the masses are, to an extent, manipulated by some elite. The manipulation itself wasn't as significant in Fascism as were the methods of manipulation (crude hate mongering) and the goals of that manipulation (destruction of the democracy among others). It's also significant that the manipulators were not part of the elite; they used the mobilized masses to threaten and subdue the traditional elites, and eventually replace them (this is one of the elements that makes it possible to talk of Fascism as a revolutionary ideology).

Sunday, June 20, 2004

More on the Johnson murder
Yesterday I said that I thought the official Saudi version of the death of Paul Johnson’s murderer, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, lacked credibility. My question is simple, how did Saudi security forces find al-Muqrin so quickly after Johnson’s death? They still have not given a clear explanation.

Early Friday, al-Muqrin’s group, al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, announced on a website that they used to deliver their communiqués that they had killed their American hostage, Paul Johnson. They showed grisly pictures of the beheaded body as proof. A few hours later, the Saudi interior ministry announced that al-Muqrin and two associates had been killed in a clash with Saudi security forces at a gas station.

One of the first official reports of al-Muqrin’s death was made in Washington, DC.
Adel Al-Jubeir, the foreign affairs adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, told reporters in Washington that Saudi security forces discovered terrorist suspects fleeing in cars, gave chase and then battled them in central Riyadh.

"A number of terrorists have been killed," he said. "We believe they are part of the al Qaeda network in the kingdom. We don't know how related they are to the murder of Mr. Johnson."

This was followed by announcements on Saudi news and picked up by international news agencies. BBC’s earliest report said this:
AFP news agency quoted security personnel as saying the shootout occurred in Riyadh's al-Malaz district following discoveries at the house where Johnson's body was found.

There are two important and linked points in this statement. First, the statement that Johnson’s body had been found and, second, the implication that unnamed “discoveries” let them from the body to al-Muqrin.

Following this announcement, al-Qaeda issued a statement calling reports of al-Muqrin’s death a ruse "aimed at dissuading the holy warriors and crushing their spirits." Saudi officials replied by broadcasting pictures of the bodies of al-Muqrin and his three companions.

When BBC covered the broadcast of the terrorists' bodies story, the story of their death read this way:
Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin and three other militants died in a shootout in Riyadh after dumping American Paul Johnson's body, Saudi officials said....

Saudi officials say the militants were cornered at a petrol station in Riyadh, after witnesses spotted them throwing Mr Johnson's body from their car.

A fierce gun battle broke out, in which the four militants and at least one security officer died.

Notice the differences from the previous version. First the body was in a house, second it was dumped outside. First there were three dead terrorists, second there were four. These are the types of errors that are natural in coverage of a fast breaking story, and by themselves are not suspicious. One consistent element in both stories is the implication that al-Muqrin was followed directly from the body to the shootout. No suggestion is ever made that he was identified in any other way (say, recognized from his newspaper picture).

The second BBC article includes this passage: “The Saudi authorities were still searching for Johnson's body, [Mr Jubeir] added.” Two days later, Saudi security forces are still looking for Johnson’s body. CNN and other news sources tell essentially the same story.

The second BBC article also quotes Saudi officials gloating over the weakness of al-Qaeda:
Saudi government spokesman Jamal Khashoggi told the BBC World Service's Newshour programme that Muqrin's death showed that al-Qaeda was "running out of recruits and staff, as you can see when their leader is involved in basic planning, in dumping a body".

Of course if al-Muqrin was not involved in dumping the body, then we have no idea at all how strong they are or how significant losing al-Muqrin was to them.

No one is suggesting that Johnson’s body was taken. That means the Saudis never knew where it was. If Saudi security did not track al-Muqrin from Johnson’s body, how did they find him so quickly? This story from today’s New York Times gives some possible lines of investigation.
The searches around the area where the four were gunned down were particularly intense. The security forces arrested 12 suspects on Friday, and diplomats said those forces were likely using tips from the arrests to track down more extremists.


The group that claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, posted its monthly magazine on the web today, vowing to continue the struggle despite the death of its leader and providing new details about Mr. Johnson's kidnapping.

The Qaeda offshoot claimed, somewhat implausibly, that police sympathetic to its cause had provided the uniforms and vehicles needed to set up a phony checkpoint on June 12 not far from the industrial park at King Khalid International Airport where Mr. Johnson worked.

"A number of those cooperating, who are sincere to their religion, in the security apparatus donated those clothes and the police cars," the article said. "We ask God to reward them and ask that they use their energy to serve Islam and the mujahedeen."

I have been unable to find out when the twelve other suspects were arrested on Friday. If it was before the shootout with al-Muqrin, I suppose it is possible that one of them talked and gave away the location of their leader. However, I find it highly unlikely that they could have been found, arrested, interrogated, spilled the beans, and still have given the security forces time to act on their information in the few short hours between Johnson’s death and the shootout. Wouldn’t even the wimpiest terrorist have resisted interrogation for at least a couple minutes? I have no doubt that the Saudis could torture a confession out of a brick given enough time, but there just wasn’t enough time.

The twelve also have the same problem as al-Muqrin himself. If the security forces couldn’t locate them all week, why were they able to suddenly find them right after it was too late to save Johnson? It’s more likely that the same intelligence that led the security forces to al-Muqrin also led them to the twelve. This brings us back to the same old question: what was that intelligence?

Al-Qaeda claims to have sympathizers among the police aiding them with supplies. The Saudi government quite reasonably point out that uniforms and cars are not that hard to come by. Such a denial is to be expected. Has al-Qaeda infiltrated the Saudi security forces, making the confused stories about al-Muqrin’s death part of a police effort to cover up their culpability in Johnson’s death? Have the police infiltrated al-Qaeda, making the confused stories part of a cover up to protect their sources? Is someone playing both sides?

The normal conspiracy mongers are already saying Johnson had to die because he knew too much. Of course, by that logic, so did al-Muqrin. In the shadowy world of security forces fighting international terrorists, Johnson didn’t need to know anything; it’s possible the police could have let him die just to protect their sources of information.

Many things are possible. Until the Saudis give us a plausible story for al-Muqrin’s death, all we can do is pick our favorite conspiracy and assume the worst.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

O'Reilly explains tough love
FOX News Channel host and important conservative opinion-maker Bill O'Reilly explains how to relate to the people we are giving the gift of democracy:
I don't have any respect by and large for the Iraqi people at all. I have no respect for them. I think that they're a prehistoric group… this teaches us a big lesson, that we cannot intervene in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do is bomb the living daylights out of them…They're just people who are primitive.

It’s a good thing he’s not one of those hateful Leftists, because then he might want us to do something counter-productive.
It’s a joke, right?
Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has identified what is perhaps the stupidest sentence in the entire Blogosphere. A group calling themselves have come up with a Traitor ListTM, which begins with this statement:
If you do not support our President's decisions you are a traitor.

How long before these silly children start demanding that we rename cities in honor of the genius of the people: Bushgrad, Dubyagrad...
What’s wrong with this picture?
Does anyone else think the Saudi official story of Johnson’s death and the gun battle with Abdulaziz al-Moqrin stinks?

The initial story was that after killing Johnson and posting pictures of the crime online, al-Moqrin went along with the al Qaida members who were to dispose of the body. They were seen dumping the body on the outskirts of Riyadh by someone who wrote down the car’s license plate number and called the police. A few minutes later, the police spotted the car at a gas station. A gunfight ensued and al-Moqrin was killed.

Today they say Johnson’s body is still missing. But seeing the body dumped was the key to finding al-Moqrin and killing him. What’s going on here?

UpdateTalkLeft and Left Coaster don’t like the official story either.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Not sure how I missed this
Two weeks ago billionaire financier philanthropist George Soros spoke at the Campaign for America's Future "Take Back America" conference. The right-wing media machine sprang into action smearing Soros. Most called him crazy (the Right’s favorite epithet that week); some, with no intended irony, called the holocaust survivor and escapee from Soviet Hungary a Nazi and a Communist; and few degenerated into the usual anti-Semitic slurs that they assure us are the property of the Left (again, with no intended irony). Predictably some of the worse slurs came from “the most hateful man in show business” Michael Savage.

Throughout his three hour show, Savage repeatedly called Soros “George Gobels.”
I couldn't believe what I heard when I turned on C-SPAN today, and heard Billionaire George Gobels Soros attacking Bush… Billionaire George Gobels Soros, if you tell a big lie often enough it will become the truth -- how dare you come to my fair country, and infect it with these foreign, sick ideas George? You're not fooling anybody. You know you're part of a left-wing fringe that will destroy the Democrat party even further than it's been destroyed. Keep on talking George, because it doesn't play outside, an organization of rat-bastard Communists. How's that George?

It’s clear in context that Savage had pornographic novelist, diarist, and Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, in mind during his spittle-flecked rant and not beloved early television comedian and Hollywood Squares regular George Gobel. You’d have to be a complete idiot to think comparing someone to “Lonesome” George was an insult, yet “George Gobels” is what he said. Now I’m going to have this image stuck in my mind of gentle and slightly bewildered Midwesterners as a threat to democracy.

George Gobel

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

This is great, but…
It looks like TalkLeft was the first to have the news that the Durbin Anti-Torture Amendment passed the Senate (Jeralyn even beat the AP). The amendment to a Defense Authorization bill “reaffirm[s] US commitment to the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and [affirms] unequivocally the prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” The Amendment had good bipartisan sponsorship (Durbin, McCain, Specter, Levin, Feinstein, Leahy, and Kennedy) and passed on a unanimous voice vote.
"The world is watching us," said the legislation's sponsor, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill. "They are asking whether the United States will stand behind its treaty obligations in the age of terrorism."

The measure says the United States "shall not engage in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment ... a standard that is embodied in the U.S. Constitution and in numerous international agreements which the United States has ratified."

The amendment also would require the secretary of defense to issue guidelines to ensure troops comply with the standards and report to Congress on any suspected violations. There is no equivalent legislation in the House defense authorization bill and the two chambers would have to decide whether to include it in the final version.

This is a great first step toward undoing some of the damage that this administration has done to America’s moral standing in the world. Still, it makes me sick that we have been brought to a point where we have to pass a resolution that directs the military and the administration to obey the laws already on the books and not commit any war crimes. Was it so much to expect that they would obey our laws without being having congress pass a bill pointing out which laws we want obeyed? Are there any other laws that we should be making a special effort to point out to them? Should we add a line to the Durbin Amendment to the effect that in singling out these laws we are not implying that these are the only laws we expect the administration to obey?

I hate what these people have done to my country.
Another helping of vegetables, please
For those who doubt the Bush administration's credentials as the spiritual successor to the Reagan administration, one of the Kossacs has unearthed this item.
WASHINGTON - Anyone trying to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet may have just gotten an unlikely assist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Based on a little-noticed change to obscure federal rules, the USDA defines frozen french fries as "fresh vegetables."


The Frozen Potato Products Institute appealed to the USDA in 2000 to change its definition of fresh produce under PACA to include batter-coated, frozen french fries, arguing that rolling potato slices in a starch coating, frying them and freezing them is the equivalent of waxing a cucumber or sweetening a strawberry.

One order of chili cheese fries covers most of the basic food groups. All these years I've been eating much more healthily than my mother ever thought.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Unemployment numbers
According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics the official seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for May 2004 was 5.6 percent. We all know that the unemployment rate is not based on an actual count of not working people; it’s based on a formula that approximates the number of people that fit in a category called “unemployed.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website, “Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work.”

The Bureau tweaks the formula from time to time, but at no point does it ever measure the number of people who actually want work. No one knows what the real number is, except to say that it is bigger than the official unemployment rate. So far this is all old news. What’s new to me is the fact that the Bureau does attempt to produce a more accurate number. The May 2004 report includes something at the back called “Table A-12. Alternative measures of labor underutilization.” In this table they show six different ways of calculating unemployment.

The official count is number three on the table—5.6 percent last month. Methods one and two give a rosier picture. Method four adds the “permanently discouraged” and raises the total to 5.9. Method five adds the “permanently discouraged” and the “other marginally attached” (persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past). This raises the rate to 6.6. Method six adds in people who want full-time work but have had to settle for part-time, which brings us up to 9.7 percent of the labor force. How they calculate what qualifies as “the labor force” is a question for another time.

I don’t have a profound point to make out of all of this. This is just me discovering something I didn’t know. I’ve never actually read a US unemployment report (oddly, I have read Serbian ones), but I will be going back each month to check out table 12 and get a better idea of how things are.

Cross posted at From the Trenches.

Monday, June 14, 2004

He needs more attention
Reagan got this really cool funeral and everybody said nice things about him. Then Bushdaddy invited everybody to his house and threw himself out of an airplane. I think it's cry for help. Sibling rivalry among ex-presidents.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

We used to like Tony Blair
Tony Blair’s stock has moved from merely falling to plunging with no bottom in sight.
A controversial chain of schools teaching Biblical "creationism" has been given Tony Blair's personal support despite serious doubts raised by parents and teachers, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Mr Blair, said to be the most religious Prime Minister since Gladstone, has backed the millionaire car dealer Sir Peter Vardy in his attempt to take over seven comprehensives and turn them into Christian Academies promoting Old Testament views of the world's creation. This includes the claim that it was made in six days, 10,000 years ago. Two of Sir Peter's schools are open already, in Gateshead and Middlesbrough, and a third is under construction in Doncaster.

Young Earth Creationism?!? From a Labour government? I can't even think of a bad joke to make about this. What is going on here?

Link from The Independent on Sunday via Atrocities via Pharangula (got that?).
Bracing for a strike
My part of the country is bracing for a contract confrontation between the same antagonists that led to the California grocery strike last winter. Since that strike the three national grocery chains, Safeway, Albertson’s, and Kroger’s, have negotiated a number of contracts with local grocery unions. In each case the chains have offered essentially the same deal that was offered in California. In Western Washington the contracts expired at the end of April, and negotiations have carried on while the workers continue to work under the old contract.
Negotiators have extended talks for a new labor contract at the Puget Sound region's four largest grocery chains into early July, delaying the prospect of a possible strike or lockout.

The current contract, which had been set to expire in early May, has been extended twice in the past month as the two sides bargain over health benefits and wages for more than 16,000 workers at Safeway, Albertsons, QFC and Fred Meyer.

QFC and Fred Meyer grocery stores are owned by Kroger, The third national chain involved in the California strike.
Late last week, representatives of the grocery chains and the United Food and Commercial Workers extended the contract for three more weeks and agreed to meet six more times, with talks resuming Monday and scheduled to continue through July 7.


As in California, the key issue is health-care costs, which the group of employers says have jumped more than 73 percent since the last contract was negotiated in 2001. The companies pay 100 percent of workers' health-care premiums. Employees cover co-pays and deductibles.

The grocers' initial proposal for the new contract called for employees to pay a share of their health-care premiums.

It also proposed a two-tier salary system in which new employees would be paid less than veterans. Union officials said the proposal amounted to $500 million in cuts over the three-year contract.

On Friday, the UFCW submitted a counterproposal that it said would save companies $120 million by, among other things, increasing employees' co-pays and assigning new hires to an HMO for their first year of coverage.

"It's a start — and a good start," said Melinda Merrill, a spokeswoman for the grocery chains. "Their proposal acknowledges that there needs to be changes, and that really is encouraging. The employers still want to explore ways to lower the cost of health benefits, but this is a good step."

Sharon McCann, president of UFCW Local 1105, said she is disappointed that the grocery chains haven't embraced the union's latest offer or amended their initial proposal.

Merrill, the spokeswoman for the grocery chains, makes it sound like they are thoughtfully considering the union’s offer, but I notice they have turned up the pressure on the employees in the stores. For about two weeks the chains have been advertising to hire scab workers. Seattle has higher than average unemployment so they probably have no trouble finding takers. Today I went to my neighborhood QFC to pick up a few things and saw a sign, prominently placed in the aisle where it was visible from the checkstands advertising for hire scab workers to apply with the store manager.

My first though was that this is a pretty crude intimidation tactic. I still think it is, but there is an uglier, more subtle element. Most of the management in the stores (as opposed to at the corporate offices) is made up of people promoted from the ranks. These people have far stronger ties to the union employees than to the owners and corporate staff who they hardly ever see. Having the store managers interview scabs where the union employees can see them, serves to separate the two groups of store workers even before the strike.
Fortunately, the union is not without its own resources.
The strike and the picket line are labor's best-known tools for exerting pressure on employers in a contract negotiation. But the strike (or, from an employers' point of view, the lockout) is a high-risk proposition; once workers walk out (or are locked out) the dispute takes on an unpredictable momentum beyond the control of either party, with the potential for disaster for both. In such cases strikes aren't ended by negotiation so much as they're ended by exhaustion on both sides, who are left to convince themselves and the public that they didn't lose as much as the other guy.

The picket line is meant to convey a message to the public of the workers' cause and to deter the public from patronizing the business. But a good portion of the public these days, not belonging to a union or not having grown up in the tradition, is indifferent to the picket line; another segment is openly hostile toward unions and their cause.


The me-too agreement isn't a cure-all for these problems. But it does have some attractions that make it intriguing to labor unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents grocery store employees.
Me-too agreements work like this: In situations where there are contracts covering multiple employers in the same industry expiring at roughly the same time, the union and some of those employers will negotiate a sort of contract in advance. That contract says that the union won't strike those employers should there be a walkout. In turn, those employers agree to offer to their workers whatever is the industrywide or regionwide settlement agreed to by the largest employers.

UFCW locals in the Puget Sound region have been announcing me-too agreements with such smaller chains and independents as Town & Country Markets (Ballard, Greenwood and Shoreline Central markets), Metropolitan Markets, Market Place, Thriftway, Red Apple and Market Place stores.

For unions, me-toos have the attraction of preserving whatever benefits there are to multiemployer bargaining (keeping everyone at roughly the same wage scale) with whatever leverage can be extracted from a divide-and-conquer approach. In negotiations such as the grocery industry, local and regional labor unions are going up against national operations (Kroger, Safeway, Albertsons). The notion that their competitors will be operating unfettered while they're being struck may be a counterbalance to that disparity of size.

For the smaller grocery operations who agree to me-toos, the benefits include being able to operate without the cost and hassle of a strike should one occur, and maybe even pick up some new customers.

Two of the smaller chains have branches close to my home. My normal shopping habit is to spread the wealth around, so I know these stores well and will have no problem transferring the portion of my business that QFC gets to the others. The only question is, if it comes to a strike would I ever transfer my business back to QFC afterwards.

Cross posted at From the Trenches.
How are Haley Barbour’s parents doing
Here’s an ethical question. When a member of a political party does something repulsive, how fair is it to tar the party with their slime? Answer: depends who they are. The more local a politician, the less fair it is to call their actions representative of the party as a whole. Are we all agreed on this? A city council member in Pocatello, Idaho is not a spokesman for the Republican Party of the United States. How about the former Chairman of the Republican Party of the United States now the governor of a state? I think it’s fair to hold the whole party responsible for his most disgusting actions.

Which brings us to Haley Barbour.
How's this for compassion? Mississippi has approved the deepest cut in Medicaid eligibility for senior citizens and the disabled that has ever been approved anywhere in the U.S.

The cut in eligibility for seniors and the disabled was the most dramatic component of a stunning rollback of services in Mississippi's Medicaid program. The rollback was initiated by the Republican-controlled State Senate and Mississippi's new governor, Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the national Republican Party. When he signed the new law on May 26, Mr. Barbour complained about taxpayers having to "pay for free health care for people who can work and take care of themselves and just choose not to."


The 65,000 seniors and disabled individuals who will lose their Medicaid eligibility have incomes so low they effectively have no money to pay for their health care. The new law coldly reduces the maximum income allowed for an individual to receive Medicaid in Mississippi from an impecunious $12,569 per year to a beggarly $6,768.

To make this clear, the former head of the Republican Party thinks $564 is enough for senior citizens and invalids to live on and pay medical bills each month. I’d like to see him, as a middle-aged man in good health, live on that amount for three months without help. I would pony up the money for him to do that, just to hear him explain at the end of that three months how that is enough for—say—my 80 year old mother to live on and pay for her cancer medication. I have the first $564 right here. Let him find place to live.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Great minds
Tbogg’s words, Kos’s art.
…when they ring the bells at 1:15, let's just pretend it's for Ray Charles.

You wanna put someone new on the ten dollar bill? He's your man...

Reagan gone; Bush still here
It looks like they finally got Reagan into the ground. It was pretty suspenseful there for a while. Bush’s handlers have been so frantic this week about trying to tie their candidate as closely as possible to the dear, departed Gipper that I half expected them to shove their boy into the coffin—for the lying in state at least, if not for the actual burial. Not that it would have been a bad idea.

Note to trolls and Secret Service agents: the above was a tasteless joke. I do not advocate the actual burial alive of sitting presidents. That would be wrong.
The other side gets clever
I'm taking this right out of Kos:
Currently the google results for the Democratic National Convention brings up a fake republican site pretending to be the official convention site at the top of the results. In effect, an actual, practical, use of the googlebomb to screw with your political opponents (so a tip of the hat to the wingnuts who pulled this off).

This post is merely an effort to get the real Democratic National Convention site back up to the top of the search rankings. I encourage other bloggers to join in this counter googlebomb. Unlike "flip flopper" and the other fun googlebombs, this one actually matters.

The only thing I can add is Democratic National Convention, Democratic National Convention, Democratic National Convention.
Historical ignorance, part 1
It was inescapable that Reagan's death and funeral would be accompanied by exaggeration of his good features and successes coupled with amnesia about his bad features and failures. This sort of sentimental nonsense was to be expected; it's just how we do death in this country. Opinions of a big person are never higher than at the moment they breathe their last. It's just good manners to let their family and friends have a moment filled with kind words and happy memories. There will be time to correct the historical record later. Those of us on the left that want to figuaratively stand at the funeral shouting "remember Iran-Contra" are just being jerks. The key word in all of that was "opinion." Out of good manners, let the opinions be inflated for the moment.

Out and out historical misrepresentation is another matter. Amid the expected haigiography, we have seen a bizzare tendency in the last week to credit Reagan with things that never happened or that other people accomplished. Atrios caught Tim Russert claiming, "Republicans achieved control of the United States Congress for the first time in 70 years, of both houses, under Ronald Reagan." Under Reagan, Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in 50 years; they never controlled the House under Reagan.

Atrios takes a bigger shot at correcting the record:
Look, I'm fine with the Peggy Noonan footworshipping. I'm fine with all the "Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union singlehandedly" nonsense. I'm fine with all of these types of things because they're opinions. Some are silly opinions, and there should be some balance to them, but they are still opinions.

What I'm not fine with is all the factual errors that creep into the coverage by supposedly "unbiased" reporters.

The House and Senate did not both come under Republican rule during Reagan's time.

The Berlin Wall did not come down when Reagan was in office.

Reagan is not the president who left office with the highest approval rating in modern times.

Reagan was not "the most popular president ever."

Reagan did not preside over the longest economic expansion in history.

Reagan did not shrink the size of government.

Reagan did preside over what was at the time the "biggest tax cut in history" but it was almost instantly followed up by the "biggest tax increase in history."

Reagan was not "beloved by all." He was loved by some, liked by some, and hated by some with good reason.

What's going on here? Is this nothing more than another example of Americans' famous lack of historical knowledge and perspective or is there something more disturbing going on?

I'm not ready to say this is a sign of the totalitarianization of the right an polarization of our political discourse, but I am ready to ask the question. Are we moving from mere ignorance of the past to a willful rewriting of it? Ignorance leads to silly college essays about George Washington charging up San Juan Hill to free the slaves (real historians know the slaves were on a different hill altogether). Willful rewriting leads to careful airbrushing away of disgraced comrades and crediting the beloved leader with the accomplishments of others.

We have many of the prerequisites of the more sinister version. The secrecy of the Bush administration makes it harder and harder to find out the truth about the inner workings of the government. The mainstream media are concentrated into fewer hands and those hands are closer to our rulers than at any time in our history. The ruling party has at its disposal thugs who are willing to threaten violence to shut down critics. How long will they remain in the realm of just threats? A large part of the electorate has become radicalized, while a larger part looks on, if not favorably, at least passively.

Over the next few days, I’ll expand on this.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ray Charles
Ray Charles died this morning. To me, this is a far greater loss than Ronald Reagan. It's hard to overestimate the importance of a figure as iconic as Brother Ray. He influenced all of the Rock, R&B, and Soul that has happened since he first emerged as a star in the fifties. He recorded Jazz, Gospel, and Country. He won twelve Grammys. His "Sixty Minutes" interview is one of their most frequently repeated pieces. When Georgia changed their state anthem to a fifty year old song, "Georgia on My Mind," it was his version they had on their mind. He will be very sorely missed.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Pity the creationists
According to the usual description of evolution, speciation is the emergence of a new species from an old species through gradual mutations from one generation to the next. Though biologists may point out changes in domestic animals and lab animals as examples of change over time, creationists point out that these are changes directed by a superior being (debatably, us) and that, anyway, selective breeding only produces varieties of species, never a new species. Speciation has never been observed in nature. Till now.
Scientists at the University of Arizona may have witnessed the birth of a new species for the first time.

Biologists Laura Reed [a grad student] and Prof Therese Markow made the discovery by observing breeding patterns of fruit flies that live on rotting cacti in deserts.

The work could help scientists identify the genetic changes that lead one species to evolve into two species.

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Whether the two closely related fruit fly populations the scientists studied - Drosophila mojavensis and Drosophila arizonae - represent one species or two is still debated by biologists.

However, the University of Arizona researchers believe the insects are in the early stages of diverging into separate species.

That gnashing sound I hear keeping me from going to bed, is the angry teeth of the gang at the Discovery Institute, about eight miles south of my house. Evolution has been observed happening in the wild without human help. These are not lab animals. These are not farm animals. These are wild flies in the deserts of the American Southwest evolving without help from anyone.

I’m sure we can expect press releases from the Discovery Institute over the next few days either explaining why this does not count as speciation or moving the goalposts for proof of evolution from species change to genus change or higher: “sure, a fly can turn into a different kind of fly, but can it turn into a moose or a guava?”
Is it time to be scared yet?
This is from an all anonymous sources article, so there is no way to judge its credibility. If there is an ounce of truth in it, we should be very afraid of the silly little frat boy the supreme court appointed to the oval office.
In meetings with top aides and administration officials, the President goes from quoting the Bible in one breath to obscene tantrums against the media, Democrats and others that he classifies as “enemies of the state.”

Worried White House aides paint a portrait of a man on the edge, increasingly wary of those who disagree with him and paranoid of a public that no longer trusts his policies in Iraq or at home.

“It reminds me of the Nixon days,” says a longtime GOP political consultant with contacts in the White House. “Everybody is an enemy; everybody is out to get him. That’s the mood over there.”


The President's abrupt dismissal of CIA Directory George Tenet Wednesday night is, aides say, an example of how he works.

"Tenet wanted to quit last year but the President got his back up and wouldn't hear of it," says an aide. "That would have been the opportune time to make a change, not in the middle of an election campaign but when the director challenged the President during the meeting Wednesday, the President cut him off by saying 'that's it George. I cannot abide disloyalty. I want your resignation and I want it now."

Tenet was allowed to resign "voluntarily" and Bush informed his shocked staff of the decision Thursday morning. One aide says the President actually described the decision as "God's will."

With Nixon, we were lucky enough to have Al Haig at the Pentagon. When Nixon started talking to the dead presidents in the portrait gallery, Haig hid the football (the nuclear launch codes). Can we trust Rumsfeld to do the same?

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Pop the champagne
Sometime just before lunch, someone clicked over from Mustang Bobby’s place and became my ten thousandth visitor since I installed a counter. It’s taken me almost a year to get here. I realize some of blogging betters get that many hits in a couple days, but I won’t let the insane envy that I feel ruin the moment. All in all, it’s pretty cool. Thanks, whoever you were.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Let him rot
This kind of thing infuriates me more than it probably should.
The sister of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols testified Monday that her brother has found God in prison as Nichols' lawyers began trying to persuade a jury to spare his life in the 1995 bombing.

I can think of a lot of reasons not to kill Terry Nichols, finding God is not one of them. I am completely against the death penalty. It's not that there aren't people who I'd rather were dead, I just don't happen to belive we have the right to kill them. If it's wrong for me to kill as an individual, I don't see that it becomes right for me to kill as part of a collective entity--the people. Terry Nichols should be given a life sentence because it is wrong for us to act like him. But, if other people are being given death sentences, it is wrong to spare him because he found the Lord. It stinks of special privileges for Christians and it's an awfully convenient way to escape the consequences of your actions.

For those who want to punish, consider this, if Nichols has really found religion, thinks he has been forgiven, and is heaven bound, then the meanest thing we can do is refuse to send him there.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Ronald Reagan is dead
NBC is announcing that Ronald Reagan just died. Bush is on right now saying something that I don’t care to listen to. I know a lot of people see Reagan as some sort of icon. Even people from the far end of the political spectrum often felt required to say he was a nice guy. Maybe he was. I think that’s a pretty low standard for judging presidents. In the long run, I do not think he will be judged a great president, but I also do not think he will be judged a horrible president. I think he will land somewhere around Eisenhower. We have certainly had and have worse.

It’s not my style to get maudlin about people I didn’t like and say nice things that I would never have said of them in life. I didn’t like Reagan. On the other hand, it is informative to compare the worst and best we could say about him with the present inhabitant of the oval office. While we hated his policies and advisors, we usually had to grant him some credit for his manners and dignity. Compart his visits with Queen Elizabeth with Bush’s. The joke was that Reagan would have made great king, but a crappy prime minister. Reagan charmed foreign heads of state; Bush annoys them. Reagan looked great on a horse; Bush, the “rancher,” can’t ride.

It might be tacky of me to take this moment to wonder how his death will affect the current presidential race. I can in a way justify my thoughts by saying that I’m sure the other side is making the same calculations. How much will they try to wrap Bush in the mantle of the fallen great man? Expect the demands to put Reagan on the dime and Mt. Rushmore to rise to a deafening volume and for the administration to try to associate themselves with it. I feel sorry for his family and the pain they are feeling. I feel worse for them considering the circus of exploitation that is about to descend on them.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Some interesting numbers
I try not to be one of those people who obsesses over every little tremor in the polls searching for significant foreshadowing of things to come. I don't always succeed. At least I manage to avoid inflicting too much poll watching on you. All this is obviously a prelude to making you look at a poll I find interesting.

The newest Gallup poll has results that are very similar to the previous one (three weeks ago), but they've managed to put an interesting historical spin on their analysis.
An analysis of Gallup Poll data reveals extreme and unprecedented levels of polarization in George W. Bush's job approval ratings. Currently, Democrats and Republicans evaluate the president very differently, with Republicans overwhelmingly positive and Democrats decidedly negative. Views among both groups are quite strong, which means they are probably unlikely to change much between now and the election. Never before has Gallup data shown such a high proportion of partisans with such strongly opposing views of a president.

In the most recent Gallup Poll, conducted May 21-23, 47% of Americans approve and 49% disapprove of the job Bush is doing as president. That rating is characterized by a wide gulf in the views of Republicans and Democrats -- 89% of Republicans approve of Bush, but just 12% of Democrats do. That 77 percentage-point gap is the highest of Bush's presidency, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has been 70 points or higher since mid-February.

The impressiveness of this gap is underscored by looking at historical approval ratings for other presidents who were similarly gearing up for a re-election bid. Aside from Bush, Bill Clinton had the largest partisan gap in approval ratings at a comparable point in his presidency, but his 60-point gap from May 1996 is nearly 25% smaller than Bush's. Ronald Reagan is the only other president to have a partisan gap in excess of 50 percentage points in May of his re-election year.

Bush's 70+-point gap is not only unprecedented for May of a re-election year, but it is unprecedented for any point in a re-election year. No president, dating back to Harry Truman, has had a partisan gap above 70 points in any Gallup Poll in a re-election year.

The numbers are at the Gallup site, but the key point is this: in all of their years of polling, Gallup has never seen an electorate as polarized along party lines as the current one. This is worse than the Vietnam War, Watergate, Carter's last days, Iran-Contra, or the Monica Impeachment. We'd probably have to go back to the election of 1860 to find a situation as bad.

As far as history goes, this means that all analogies are out the window. As far as predicting the election goes, this means that there will be very little poaching across party lines; the independents are in the driver's seat and turnout is more important than ever. If the Bush team has a shed of decency or respect for truth, it should also mean that we have seen the last of the "uniter, not a divider" slogan. But we all know they have neither, so I'm not going out on a limb with that prediction.

Update: Some much needed copy editing.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

It’s good to be the king
George Bush’s life has been one of privilege and special favors. Rules are for other people. The coming election is no change.

When the Republican Party announced that it would be holding the latest nominating convention in history so that Bush could capitalize on the deaths of 3000 people, they inadvertently put themselves beyond the filing deadline for eight states. None of those states could legally grant Bush (or the Republican Party) a place on the ballot if they haven’t nominated a candidate by that date. No problem, all eight states rushed to change their laws for George Bush’s convenience.

Except Illinois. They too tried to change their laws for George Bush’s convenience, but they didn’t rush. Now the legislature has convened without passing the necessary change to their election law. Still no problem. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, says, "President Bush has to be on the ballot." Blagojevich will call the Democratic majority legislature into special session—at a cost of how many million dollars—just so they can pass a special law for Bush.

Okay maybe I’m out of line saying they are making an improper special case for George Bush. I’m sure they’d make the same effort if it were the Libertarian candidate needing an extension of the filing deadline in order to stage a tasteless campaign stunt. Or the Green candidate. Or the Socialist Workers’ Party candidate.
Sometimes things work
As part of a weeklong series on Las Vegas, The New York Times has this sidebar article on a union that is strong, growing and able to deliver the goods for its members.
Ask people here why Las Vegas is the nation's fastest-growing city, and they point to the thriving casino industry and to its ever-growing appetite for workers.

But there is another, little understood force contributing to the allure of Las Vegas, a force often viewed as the casino industry's archnemesis. It is Culinary Local 226, also called the Culinary, the city's largest labor union, an unusual - and unusually successful - union that has done a spectacular job catapulting thousands of dishwashers, hotel maids and other unskilled workers into the middle class.

In most other cities, these workers live near the poverty line. But thanks in large part to the Culinary, in Las Vegas these workers often own homes and have Rolls-Royce health coverage, a solid pension plan and three weeks of vacation a year.

The Culinary's extraordinary success at delivering for its 48,000 members beckons newcomers from far and wide. By many measures, the Culinary is the nation's most successful union local; its membership has nearly tripled from 18,000 in the late 1980's, even as the rest of the labor movement has shrunk. The Culinary is such a force that one in 10 people here is covered by its health plan, and more than 90 percent of the hotel workers on the Strip belong to the union. The union is also unusual because it is a rainbow coalition, 65 percent nonwhite and 70 percent female. It includes immigrants from Central America, refugees from the Balkan wars and blacks from the Deep South.
Read the rest here.

It is my belief that one of the key battles for the progressive movement over the next generation will be reinventing the workers’ movement. I don’t know what form the next workers’ movement will take. It might be through revitalized unions or something entirely new.

One of the primary reasons for the decline of unions over the last generation has been that workers have largely viewed unions as irrelevant. Perhaps many of the current unions are. Most current unions were created to protect workers in an industrial economy. They did not foresee an economy based on service workers or information workers.

One of the problems of the information economy is that the workers see themselves as professionals and not laborers. Professions don’t organize for reasons that have little to do their practical economic life. They will be one of the main fronts in the war for the next workers’ movement.

For now, I’m looking for things that work in the new world. In time, I hope the outlines of the next workers’ movement will take shape.

Crossposted at From the Trenches.
Why does this man still have a job
Trent Lott continues to be an embarrassment to the people of Mississippi, but I doubt as if the will do anything about it.
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) proved he has not lost his knack for inflammatory rhetoric when he defended "really rough" treatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, including the use of dogs against a prisoner "unless the dog ate him."


"Hey, nothing wrong with holding a dog up there, unless the dog ate him, scared him with a dog," Lott said. When WAPT news anchorman Brad McMullan noted that a prisoner died at Abu Ghraib, apparently after a beating, Lott responded, "This is not Sunday school; this is interrogation; this is rough stuff."

Some of the prisoners "should not have been prisoners in the first place, probably should have been killed," he added.

Where do you even begin with something like this? Beating a prisoner to death is not Sunday school; it’s murder. In the last sentence he seems to be advocating summary executions. Through it all is the good old boy attitude toward lawlessness in the name of law enforcement: if someone is arrested they probably did something to deserve it, so it doesn’t matter if you beat them, frame them, or kill them. They probably had it coming. The whole thing also stinks of chickenhawk, posturing macho. Lott, we will recall, spent his able-bodied youth as a cheer-leader at Ol’ Miss.
Some time ago, I mentioned that it was the policy here at archy to avoid vulgar invective and abusive language when discussing anyone not named Limbaugh or DeLay. That statement should have read "who is not a sitting member of the Alaskan congressional delegation or named Limbaugh or DeLay." The management apologizes for any pain or confusion this omission may have caused our readers.
Managing expectations
It wasn’t long ago that the Republicans were talking about an era of unchallenged one-party domination. Their narrative for the next few decades began with this election. The popular wartime president would sweep back into office in a historical landslide with strong coattails in both houses. Their majority would be large enough to end Democratic filibusters. The Democrats would fade into insignificance for a generation along with the moderate wing of the Republican Party. The social revolution would advance with increasing speed and its gains would be irreversible.

But in a healthy democracy, these kinds of revolutions have a way of failing right on the verge of success. For them, it is always brightest just before the dusk. It’s almost bedtime for our revolutionary friends.

As a happy illustration, I present the Republican house campaign bracing the faithful for a net gain of no seats at all.
After Texas redrew its political boundaries last year, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives was buzzing with talk of big increases in their majority. But when Representative Tom Reynolds of New York, the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, offered his outlook for 2004 on Wednesday, it did not include such expansive predictions.

"My goal," Mr. Reynolds said, "is to bring back 228 members of House Republicans next year."

That, as it happens, was the same number of Republicans in the House until Tuesday, when Stephanie Herseth, a Democrat, squeaked to victory in a special election in South Dakota, bringing it down to 227. When reporters expressed surprise that Mr. Reynolds was not predicting an even bigger majority, given the redistricting in Texas, he simply reiterated his stance. "My goal is to bring back 228," he said, adding, "I don't predict seats."

Over the last two years, I’ve worried a lot about the health of our democracy. When people in a democracy are insecure or angry enough, they do stupid things, like sign away their rights for the illusion of security (and it is almost always an illusion). Pulling back from one-party rule and a social revolution desired by a minority is a sign that we are still healthy. Woo hoo, go Democracy.