Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why Won't Bush Support The Troops?

Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

Betty B Support Troops

This is what President Bush had to say about the now vetoed funding bill passed by a Democratic Congress:

I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war. They sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need.

It appears that giving the troops what they need does not include little things like wages. As that same Democratically led Congress tries to get our troops a slightly higher wage increase, the response from the White House is a flat, "No."

The House was set to vote for a 3.5 percent basic pay increase for January 2008. That’s 0.5 percent higher than proposed by the Bush administration. The House would continue a string of annual raises set 0.5 percent higher than private sector wage growth through at least 2012.

A 3 percent raise next January would be enough to keep military pay competitive, said the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in a “Statement of Administration Policy” on the bill, HR 1585, released May 16.

...

“When combined with the overall military benefit package, the President’s proposal provides a good quality of life for servicemembers and their families,” said the OMB letter to committee leaders.

Oh, really! A "good quality of life." As of now, the base pay for an E1, the lowest pay grade, is $15, 616.80 a year. I'm not going to factor in the BAH (Basic Housing Allowance) because that figure varies tremendously. Many salary estimates include them, resulting in inflated estimates. BAH varies based on number of dependents, if any, and location. And BAH is only paid to those troops who maintain off-base housing. In other words, if you're deployed into a war zone, and have no dependents requiring housing, you receive no BAH.

Basic Allowances for Housing (BAH) can vary from as much as $3,464 monthly for married officers in an expensive location (such as San Francisco) to a low of $428 monthly for a single enlisted E-1 living in a less expensive location. Basic Allowance for Housing rates, or BAH rates, are determined by surveys of the civilian housing market in over 350 U.S. locations. In 2006, BAH rates increased by 4.4 percent, ranging from $1,429.20 monthly for a general to $285.30 for an E-1 without dependents.

Having lived with my Marine Corps Officer husband in one of those more expensive areas, I can tell you that the BAH is frequently inadequate to cover true housing costs.

There are other factors that add to the base pay, such as combat and hazardous duty pay, for those troops who are deployed into a war zone, but no matter how you slice it, our troops are paid less than the average teacher. And while I think teachers are hideously underpaid for their labors, they are not uprooted every couple of years -- which severely limits the earning potential of non-military spouses -- nor does their job involve taking enemy fire... generally speaking.

Congressional Democrats want to see our currently very strained troops receive fairer compensation.

Top Democratic leaders vowed to continue their efforts to enact a larger raise, arguing that members of the armed forces and their families deserve annual pay raises higher than the private sector due to the dangers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, in a move unsurprising to those of us who have been actively observing Bush Administration policy, the White House is endeavoring to put the kibosh on any thought of even this nominally higher pay increase.

As I have said many times, the lavish funding the Pentagon receives does not trickle down to the men and women who are actually putting their lives on the line. It goes to the care and feeding of the the military-industrial complex.

Congress often adds money to the annual White House spending request for military programs. Yet the newly elected Congress, which is controlled by Democrats, has placed more emphasis on increasing funding for military personnel than for weapons programs such as missile defense systems, according to MacKenzie Eaglen , a national security specialist at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning public policy think tank.

"This bill [passed by the House] promotes the softer spending -- such as healthcare, compensation, and readiness -- rather than equipment and weapons," she said.

She said she worries, like the White House, that too much spending on compensation and other personnel costs could unduly drain funding from vital weapons systems.

Worse. The companies making billions in Pentagon contracts are not necessarily those who build the better mouse trap. They're the ones with the best political connections. Which is why, for instance, the Osprey is still flying clumsily along and why Dragon Skin body armor loses out to Interceptor from Armor Holdings. (Hat-tip: occams hatchet) So while people like, say George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, line their pockets, our troops are making crap wages to take enemy fire in insufficient body armor.

In addition to its desire to keep military pay raises to a minimum, the Bush White House has expressed an interest in raising the Tri-Care (health insurance) fees and eliminating drug price controls for retired military. Because, you know, our veterans don't get fucked badly enough now.

None of these cynical maneuvers should come as a shock. This is the same Administration that cut its funding request in half for research on and treatment of the signature injury of our current conflict; brain damage. It's the same Administration that slashed impact aid funding, which pays for the education of children of military families, at the outset of the war in Iraq. It's the same Administration that turns a blind eye to Iraq Vets who return to the US to live on the streets. Here is but a partial list of funding cuts for both active duty and veterans advocated by the Bush Administration. Remember that next time Bush scolds his detractors for failing to support the troops.

Giuliani's Campaign Team

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gore is on his way.


Crossposted from Left Toon Lane & My Left Wing



click to enlarge

Yes, it's more of Al Gore and I can't get enough. I had a better job, healthcare, retirement and on and on when Gore was in the White House.

This week Time Magazine has an article on his book The Assault On Reason, that will be released May 22nd, is reported to be a powerful attack against those who would destroy democracy for personal interests.

But that is not all, the New York Times will publish an article this weekend on Gore wherein he comes closest to saying he will run than he has in the past.

When I asked Gore why he hasn’t dismissed all the speculation by issuing a Shermanesque refusal to stand, as he did in 2002, Gore said, "Having spent 30 years as part of the political dialogue, I don’t know why a 600-day campaign is taken as a given, and why people who aren’t in it 600 days out for the convenience of whatever brokers want to close the door and narrow the field and say, ‘This is it, now let’s place your bets’ — If they want to do that, fine. I don’t have to play that game."


So let's see. A great book, then concerts and more activism - sure does look like a campaign, for something at least.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Barbra




Amazing.

Barbra Streisand's luminescent ascension from a skinny Jewish kid from Brooklyn to a widely-admired and enduring cultural touchstone is quite amazing. Still, whenever a star's career lasts for decades, there's an unfortunate tendency to take them for granted. Oddly enough, there's also more than a few sneering idiots (Uh-huh, Matt and Trey, you guys) who loudly resent Streisand's success, and think she's a musical anachronism who should be exiled in Aunt Gertrude's attic.

Let's take a step back and review, shall we?

Streisand has won two Oscars, four Emmys, nine Golden Globes, eight Grammys, a Tony, and two Cable Ace awards. As of 2007, her CD sales rank her as one of the top-selling female artists in the United States. Last year, Streisand's "farewell" tour (yeah, sure) was so popular the Spartans from 300 couldn't have stopped her loyal fans from buying tickets.

Quite a has-been, huh?

Streisand's bravery shouldn't be discounted either. Remember, her career began during the time when Carl Reiner was originally going to be the star of The Dick Van Dyke Show before some schmuck at CBS decided that Reiner was "too ethnic". In an era that slavishly idealizes blond-haired, blue-eyed, Nordic goddesses, Streisand didn't get a nose job and was always proud of her Jewish identity. (Please don't get me started on how the Oscars shamefully ignored Yentl, O.K.?)

You know what? Streisand's a mensch. Although she left Brooklyn years ago, Brooklyn's never left her. Amazing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell (1933-2007)



"Even leaving out of account the remarkable arrogance that assumed that the ways and morals of others were inferior to those of Christians, and that they therefore had every right, and could use any means, to change them, the collision between cultures--and the schizophrenia in the mind of Christendom--had rendered the domain of morals as chartless as the sea once was, and as treacherous as the sea still is. It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being (and let us not ask whether or not this is possible; I think we must believe that it is possible) must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him."
--James Baldwin, from The Fire Next Time.

Children of a Lesser Blog

Hat tip to durrati, over in the My Left Wing version, for finding this picture for me



The title of this post is based on a comment by Madscientist in Maryscott O'Connor's essay A Lesser Blogger: Or, You Don't Count--he noted that personally, he didn't find it all that bad to be "children of a lesser blog". I liked the turn of a phrase, so I decided to use it--in a tongue in cheek way--as the title of this post. I certainly do not consider My Left Wing to be a "lesser" blog. And I'm proud of the dedication and independent spirit that is displayed by we, the many, who are not "top tier" bloggers.

Maryscott's essay was written in response to a Media Matters piece by Eric Boehlert, entitled Wash. Post still blind to liberal blogger successes. Mr. Boehlert does make some valid points--for example, comparing how often the Post quotes or mentions by name, liberal versus conservative bloggers. But things go downhill when he starts in on his hymn (How Great Thou Art) to Markos/Daily Kos...

To this day, the Washington Post has never profiled Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, founder of The Daily Kos, the most popular and influential political weblog in the world. The Post didn't even review last year's influential Crashing the Gate, the hardcover progressive manifesto that Kos co-wrote with fellow blogging pioneer Jerome Armstrong.
...and hit bottom with his sneeringly dismissive description of the Post's front page profile of Maryscott O'Connor. The piece certainly had its negative aspects, but I think Boehlert mischaracterizes it. And a big part of his point seems to be that the newspaper profiled a "lesser known" liberal blogger rather than the well known, but not at all liberal Markos Moulitsas.

You can contact Media Matters through this link. (Adapted from the Media Matters recommendations for contacting the media) Please be polite and professional. Express your specific concerns regarding Eric Boehlert's commentary, and be sure to indicate exactly what you would like Media Matters to do differently in the future.

I've been on Media Matters' mailing list for some time now. I believe they do good work, and I share their action items and alerts as time permits. Even if I'm a *much* lesser known blogger, I believe that doing whatever little bit we can do *matters*. Finding out that Duncan Black (aka Atrios, the founder of Blogroll Amnesty Day) was a Senior Fellow at Media Matters gave me pause, but I thought it was unfair to let that one thing bias me against the organization. But Boehlert's piece was another clue that this media watchdog organization endorses and upholds the unspoken (well, among the "cool kids" it's unspoken...) caste system among bloggers. And, I'm sorry, but that's just not cool. I'm not too excited about the notion of crowning *new* royalty to replace the high and mighty media people once they are de-throned. I'm much more interested in building *geniune* people power--that benefits *all* the people.

don't...stop...thinking about her morals

cross-posted at skippy and a veritable cornucopia of other community blogs.

hillary.com wants us to vote for hillary's theme song. they've provided a list of suggestions to choose from.

we think it's more appropriate to suggest our own nominations. some examples after the jump:

for instance, sammy davis, jr:


or some elton john:


or ace of base:


and you knew this one was coming...bruce springsteen doing some mitch ryder and the detroit wheels:


any other suggestions?

ed. addendum: the editors at skippy have decided to make this a contest! the winner who suggests the best song for hillary's campaign will receive a beautiful skippy the bush kangaroo tee shirt, size large, because that's the size we've got left in the warehouse!

so put on your thinking caps and get snarky! and, pls. leave the suggestions over at skippy!

Tough Guys In Cages



There are guys who play tough in the movies.

You know who they are. They’re the guys who think six months in the gym and a David Mamet screenplay makes them tough.

And then there are tough guys who happen to do movies for a living. One of the best of them was Burt Lancaster. He became a star in 1947's Brute Force, a nasty prison noir directed by Jules Dassin. Burt plays Joe Collins, the toughest inmate in the cell block, and he’s planning to get the hell out.

Burt was one of those actors who was just as rugged behind the camera as he was in front of it. Therefore, he’s able to invest his Joe Collins character with a solid bedrock of strength and integrity that a fraud like Tom Cruise can’t. Burt’s sweaty charisma is so strong, you can see why the other prisoners listen to Joe. In a scary, malignant tumor of a performance, Hume Cronyn is Captain Munsey, the head of the prison guards, a sadistic son of a bitch, and Joe’s nemesis.

The Granddaddy of the brutal men-behind-bars genre, Brute Force holds up impressively well. A defiant and outspoken survivor of the Hollywood Blacklist in the 1950s, Dassin directs this gripping drama with a barely-suppressed rage, and he leaves you no doubt as to where his sympathies lie. Most of the convicts are idealized Good Men Who Made A Bad (boo hoo) Mistake, while the prison guards are faceless thugs in uniform that get horny beating up people. Does it work? Hell, yeah.

On one level, Brute Force is a raw, in-your-face melodrama. On another, it’s a political metaphor of individuals fighting against an oppressive regime. Either way, you can’t lose.

Criterion's “Brand New & Improved!” DVD of Brute Force is beautiful. The print has been so well-scrubbed it gleams, the commentary features a fascinating conversation with film noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini, and there’s a booklet with an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson. It’s a first class, handsomely-designed edition, and Brute Force deserves it.

Brute Force is the tough old guy in jail the other inmates leave alone because even though he ain't got no teeth, he's ready to tear your throat out. Sure, Jules Dassin's classic film is over fifty years old, but it can still hurt you.

iraq hits home with a blogger

laura linger, who writes sack of monkeys in my pocket, posts her tragic journey with her family as she finds out that her brother was killed in iraq earlier this month.

our deepest sympathies, laura.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On Heaven and Hell



Since learning of Jerry Falwell's death earlier today, I've been thinking about heaven and hell. Maybe that doesn't surprise you. But, to clear up any misconceptions people might have--given that I am known to post from a somewhat religious perspective--I really don't devote a whole lot of my time to pondering the afterlife. I believe that it exists, but it's never been the "main thing" for me. And, much the way toddlers are incapable of fully understanding her parents and their world, I just don't think we can possibly know what it will be like until we get there.

Anyway, I found myself thinking of these words from the hymn Borning Cry.

When the evening gently closes in,
and you shut your weary eyes,
I'll be there as I have always been
with just one more surprise.

I think that, no matter who we are, when our time comes, we're bound to be surprised. Some of us, I imagine, will be more surprised than other. Some of us will be pleasantly surprised, and others...not so much. Maybe, just maybe, Rev. Falwell is, at this very moment, getting his bearings in an afterlife where he is surrounded by loving families headed by same-sex couples. People of all different religions and ethnicities being welcomed with open arms by our loving Mother Godde. Maybe for him, that would be "hell"...

Another thought... Once we are no longer limited by our usual first person singular perspective, it seems plausible to me that we could experience, as some have claimed, a life review in which we experience from the other person's perspective every encounter which we have ever had with another. If it were to turn out that is what's in store for us, how pleasant or unpleasant do you think that would be?

Jerry Falwell Is Dead (4 Strips!!!)




click to enlarge


When I heard the news, my head exploded with strip ideas. I couldn't decide which to do so I put them in a short series.

One of the most hateful men in America is now dead. What are politicians saying?

Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country." Sen. John McCain


How did he serve? Teaching hate and intolerance to Americans under the guise of "religion."

"An American who built and led a movement based on strong principles and strong faith has left us." Mitt Romney


We all have great respect for him." Rudy Giuliani.


Uh, Rudy, some of us don't. Do you also respect Pol Pot? David Duke? Fred Phelps maybe?

Falwell will only be missed by the worst of us and you must be one of them.

To see the all four strips in the series click HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

The Rule of the Lawless

Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

Head of God



I have been having tiffs with my daughter all morning. She's five. She doesn't understand why the rules are different for her than they are for me. Like why I'm allowed to have beverages in the living room (the coffee goes everywhere I do) and she isn't. This morning I even resorted to the dreaded, "Because I said so." I swore I'd never do that. Drove me nuts when I was a kid. But what can I say? Her hands are very small and she spills things. But she's at that age; testing limits like mad. And some things just can't be justified to her tiny, five-year-old brain. So I understand exactly how Paul Wolfowitz feels.

Everything about the Bush Administration makes perfect sense if you understand that they are the parents, while we -- and by "we" I mean the entire rest of the world -- are the children. So Paul explained to the World Bank investigating committee that he had to give Shaha everything she asked for because he's pussy-whipped. The committee just simply needs to understand that there are things that happen between a mommy and a daddy that are private and that the children really don't need to know about. That's what locks on bedroom doors are for. His mistake, if anything, was in not making sure the door was securely locked.

There are larger considerations here that have to do with the importance of the Bush Administration's unhampered ability to parent and protect the world.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said some board members hope a strong statement of dissatisfaction would persuade the Bush administration to withdraw support for Wolfowitz. But the White House views the stakes as larger than control of the World Bank, said a senior administration official, with U.S. resolve and power on the line -- in particular the longstanding right of the United States to name the head of the institution. [emphasis added]

In an interview with Fox News, Vice President Cheney called Wolfowitz "a very good president of the World Bank," adding, "I hope he will be able to continue."

See, Vice Daddy Cheney has faith in him. That's all we need to know.

It's like Daddy-hopeful Fred Thompson explained recently:

The principles you have been defending since 1981. For Americans, these are found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They include a recognition of God and the fact there are certain rights that come from Him and not the government.

Which is why it's so unfortunate that Scooter Libby was prosecuted for perjury:

The other man is in a less lofty position. After years of sacrifice and service to his country, he sits at home with his wife and two children awaiting a prison sentence. His name is Scooter Libby.

I didn't know Scooter Libby, but I did know something about this intersection of law, politics, special counsels and intelligence. And it was obvious to me that what was happening was not right. So I called him to see what I could do to help, and along the way we became friends. You know the rest of the story: a D.C. jury convicted him. . . . I have called for a pardon for Scooter Libby.

Now, yes, on the surface, this looks like a contradiction. That's why lesser minds like Glenn Greenwald are confused by Thompson's speech. But all we really need to know is that the law issues from God, and God said: "Honor thy father and mother." See? Simple. That's why Uncle Scooter's unfair prosecution has become a rallying cry for all those Daddy-hopefuls, and why he will never see the inside of a jail cell.

It's like with Alberto Gonzales:

At a hearing last week before the House Judiciary Committee, he evaded precise answers and professed a poor memory, while insisting that the decision to sack the prosecutors was utterly sound. The apparent administration hope is that by denying and stonewalling, Gonzales can not only save his job but eventually exhaust all interest in the matter.

I can't even tell you how many times I've tried that. Word to the wise, though, if Congress is anything like my daughter, they can wear you down. Mind like a steel trap, my daughter, and when she sets it on, let's say, ice cream... relentless. Let's hope for poor Alberto's sake that "object permanence" is not as thoroughly developed in John Conyers as it is in my daughter.

Think of Alberto as a teen-aged son; all be it an adopted one. He's a good son. He keeps the younger kiddies in line, and protects the family. That's how it's supposed to be... because... because I said so.

"Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do." -- Daddy-Hopeful Rudolph Guliani

BREAKING: Bush Bringing Troops Home




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In BushCo world, this is how Bush envisions bringing the troops home, in coffins.

There are three main reasons (four really) why Americans want the troops home...

1) The war is lost.

2) Bush doesn't have the intellectual capacity to run this war.

3) The war is illegal in the first place.

4) My (insert friend or loved one here) is in danger and I want them back.

Or it could be a mix of the above.

But let's look at the reasons to keep them there...

1) Bring democracy to Iraq.

2) Thwart terrorism.

3) Oil.

If it is 1, then what is the level of democracy and stability that we want? Gaza Strip? Brazil? Sweden? We might be able to get Iraq to the stability of the Gaza Strip with enough money and dead American soldiers, but if that is our goal, is all of this really worth it? If you are going for the stability of Brazil or Sweden forget it, that won't happen at all, so why die for it?

If we are thwarting terrorism, we are doing a bad job. We have been fighting terrorists in Iraq for four years now and the level of violence is not lessening. If we were making progress you would think we could see it, but we can't because we aren't - for a million reasons.

Hmmm.... I am going with C - oil. I drove by one station this morning that was selling gas for $3.38... I really do think that is the real reason.

Note: Today's strip was reqested by MLW user jdellaro.

The Losing Game



You’re a little bit bigger
you could be smaller
you could be thinner
if you could get taller
just a little less
make you a little more
give you that little look
they’re looking for
if you go out
where they say to go in
it’s a losing game
you don’t want to win

"The Losing Game"
, a song by Cosy Sheriden

Monday, May 14, 2007

This is the part where we "Do justice"

Also posted at Street Prophets, My Left Wing, and Booman Tribune



Many progressive people of faith cite Micah 6:8 as one of their favorite verses of scripture: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This is the part where we do justice...

Last Tuesday's Columbus Dispatch had an article about the B.R.E.A.D. Assembly I attended on Monday, May 7. It's a pretty decent overview of the meeting, attended by 2000 central Ohioans. My quibble is that the people representing the payday lending industry get the "last word" in the article, but I can counterbalance that by sharing the transcript of the part of the meeting where a B.R.E.A.D. representative answered those claims.

After sharing the story of one central Ohio resident who borrowed $500 to help her son in a time of financial hardship and ended up in a cycle of increasing debt, the article by Sherri Williams outlines what B.R.E.A.D. is trying to accomplish with this issue:

BREAD wants the state to cap the payday lending rate at an annual rate of 36 percent, the same limit a federal amendment passed last year used to cap interest rates on loans for military families.

The number of payday lenders in Ohio has increased from 107 in 1996 to 1,562 in 2006, and Franklin County has the most in the state with 183 such businesses, according to a Policy Matters report released in February. The nonprofit group is a policy-research organization designed to broaden the debate about economic policy in Ohio.

Tighter regulation of payday lenders is critical because the average 390 percent annual rate for the short-term loans is excessive, said Carol Roddy, chairwoman of BREAD's research committee on the working poor.

State Sen. Ray Miller, who previously introduced legislation to regulate the industry, said the paralyzing poverty of the payday lending cycle affects Ohioans across the state, including in rural areas and suburbs.

"We are trying to keep people from a position of financial ruin from going from one check casher to the next to try to pay for the first loan and eventually end up in a financial position" they can't get out of, said Miller, a Democrat from Columbus.

Miller, the only state senator at the meeting, proposes an interest-rate cap along with limiting the number of loans a person can have with payday lenders at one time, and developing a statewide database that would track the number of outstanding loans one has with payday lenders.
The Dispatch article includes information from their interview with Jamie Frauenberg, president of the Ohio Association of Financial Service Centers, but a lot of that was addressed in the mock interview with the "loan shark", so I'll conclude with my transcript of that. From the article:
There were no representatives from the payday-lending industry at the meeting last night. BREAD members had a man dressed in a shark costume with feet hanging from its mouth symbolizing a loan shark for a mock interview.
B.R.E.A.D. representative: Now, I don't speak shark, so, have you brought a translator? Good, good. By the way, I see that you're mouth's kind of full there. Working on another customer, eh? (Laughter)

Now, can you please tell us why you feel that your industry should *not* have these reasonable regulations in place?

Shark: Moneymoneymoneygreedygreedygreedymoneymoneymoney!

Interpreter Payday reform is unnecessary overregulation.

B.R.E.A.D. representative: This type of reform protects Ohio consumers from abusive practices, and levels the playing field between consumers and lenders. That's the traditional role of covernment, and this is how we expect our legislators to protect their constituents.

Shark: Powerpowerpowermoneymoneymoneygreedygreedy!

Interpreter Regulation is unnecessary because the industry is designed for occasional users in emergency situations.

B.R.E.A.D. representative: Really? The fact is that the industry *traps* borrowers in a cycle of debt. Ninety-nine percent of all users borrow more than once a year. The industry makes over 90% of their fees on people who borrow five times a year or more, and over half of their fees on people who borrow 13 times a year or more. If the industry is making over half of their money on individuals borrowing on an averge of more than once a month, how can you claim that your product is made to serve an occasional need, or pay for an emergency expense?

Shark: Moneymoneymoneygreedygreedygreedy--ME ME ME!

Interpreter Since the loans are only generally for two weeks, the Annual Percentage Rate, or the APR, is not a valid way to evaluate the cost of payday lending.

B.R.E.A.D. representative: Well, I think that the system you represent traps borrowers, by encouraging them to become frequent users. The majority of them use the service many times a year. APR is a fair way to compare the cost of payday loans with the other types of credit.

So listen to this example: If you borrow $500 using a credit card, you can pay it off in four months, and it will cost you about $550. To do the same with a payday loan, will cost the borrower up to $1200.

Shark: Gimmegimmegimme....!

Interpreter Payday lending is the only way for many of these people to get credit.

B.R.E.A.D. representative: Do you know that currently, twelve states have banned payday lending, (applause and cheers) and there are other options for these customers to get good credit. Also, we're proposing, like the federal government, to cap the rate at 36% APR. If these businesses are unable to operate at that interest rate, there is something wrong with the business!

Shark: Whinewhinewhinecomplaincomplaincomplain...NOOOO!

Interpreter If we regulate payday lending, people will go to illegal loan sharks.

B.R.E.A.D. representative: Payday lending IS legal loan-sharking. It's just a legalized form of usury. The majority of payday users are law-abiding citizens who would NEVER think of visiting an illegal loan shark. That argument is akin to saying that we shouldn't regulate illegal drugs, because that would send drug users to illegal drug dealers! Many banks, credit unions, faith-based organizations and military organizations offer products that are alternatives to payday lending. Regulating payday lending will level the playing field between this exploitative industry, and instead offer other options that are more beneficial to the customer.

So...did you have anything else to say?

Shark: Moneymoneymoney...greedygreedygreedy...me?

Interpreter I can't repeat that.
.................
If you live in Ohio, I hope you will write to your State Senator and let him or her know that you support the proposed legislation. But even if you don't live in Ohio, I encourage you to learn more about the issue of predatory payday lending, and find out what legislation your state has enacted or might be considering.

Fuzzy Baghdad Math




click to enlarge



Can we do the math anymore? Not if the administration and the Iraqi government has it's way. There are moves afoot to ban reporters from bomb attack sites, stop publication of morgue statistics and continue the policy of discluding civilians in the causality numbers. Daily Kos Diarist BarbinMD has an excellent front page story on this very issue.

But there is another problem with the body count that I really don't see being address in the mainstream media and that is the so-called surge. Are we really adding troops on the ground or is the real purpose of the surge is simply to replace the dead and the wounded? Yes, the death rate in Iraq is lower than Vietnam, but the number of critically wounded is historically high. So all those dead and wounded soldiers need to be replaced at some point. But do we really know?

With the BushCo propaganda machine in full swing against the Democrats, it is damn near impossible to find real data or troop exchanges. So I going on gut instinct here and say we are really just replacing troops lost in combat with just a tinge of new folks for the so-called surge.

This is a good time to review my "gut instinct" policy - under the Bush Administration, however bad things appear to be, in reality they are five times worse.

Your mileage may vary.

Heroes



If the word "hero" could sue for defamation of character, it would.

If it walked into a lawyer's office and said, "that's it, I've had enough!" I wouldn't blame it. Have you seen how people are defining heroism these days?

A trash-mouthed idiot in the NFL whose fame and skill in selling overpriced sneakers are the only things keeping him out of jail will be called a "hero" for scoring the winning touchdown. A has-been ex-actor selling his new sitcom will blubber to Oprah about his "heroism" in surviving three bad marriages, a drug overdose and a weekend spent in jail. Eat a big, steaming bowl of bugs on “Survivor” and your mother will call you "heroic". Hell, I heard the H-word more than once when President Bush borrowed Tom Cruise’s costume from Top Gun and smirked, “Mission Accomplished.”

With so much slander going on is it any wonder people are confused? It's a good thing there are people like Jessica Lynch to show us what real heroes are. Testifying during a congressional hearing investigating the death of Pat Tillman by “friendly fire”, Lynch became a real hero because she refused to go along with the bullshit.

“They made me out to be this little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting,” the former POW told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “It was just not true.” Joined by Pat Tillman’s mother and brother, she urged Congress to hold the government accountable for its “deliberate and calculated lies.”

That's what heroism is. In this celebrity-obsessed culture, singers, athletes and movie stars are elevated to the status of heroes for simply doing their jobs. But entertaining us doesn't mean they're making a difference in our lives. All they're doing is taking our minds away from the problems that are still there after the song or game or movie is over.

Jessica Lynch is a hero. A gutless punk like George Tenet getting rich pimping his book At the Center of the Storm isn’t. I remember seeing a poster that read, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

So, to paraphrase one of my favorite songs, Tenet’s bullshit is so bright, I got to wear shades.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Frankenstein's New Monster

Thomas Friedman: We're In Iraq For Oil

Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.



In an unusually lucid column, former Iraq War enthusiast Thomas Friedman makes a plea for a responsible policy for military disengagement from Iraq. I'll go straight to the punch line:

You can’t be serious about getting out of Iraq if you’re not serious about getting off oil.

In other words, it's the oil stupid.

Friedman has a long history of talking out of both sides of his mouth on Iraq. (On many things actually.) And this is not the first time he's let the well-oiled cat slip out of the bag.

In the face of the failure of the government/media campaign to build mass support for a US invasion of Iraq, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman has felt obliged to come to the aid of the Bush war cabal by proposing a shift in its propaganda. Hence Friedman’s January 5 column headlined “A War for Oil?”

In this thoroughly cynical piece, Friedman concedes what is obvious to anyone who has followed the US military buildup against Iraq with any objectivity: Bush’s plan to invade the country is driven, above all, by a determination to seize control of Iraqi oil....

He continues: “Let’s cut the nonsense. The primary reason the Bush team is more focused on Saddam [than on North Korea] is because if he were to acquire weapons of mass destruction, it might give him the leverage he has long sought—not to attack us, but to extend his influence over the world’s largest source of oil, the Persian Gulf.”

Thus, having acknowledged that the US government is lying to the American people and the world, Friedman seeks to fashion a new justification for war against Iraq. It is not a matter of self-defense, or even countering something Iraq has done. Rather, the country must be attacked and occupied because the regime might—in the future—extend its influence over the world’s largest oil reserves.

Yet, in his relentless cheer-leading for the war he has since soured on, he offered up gems like this one:

The war in Iraq is the most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy- building project since the Marshall Plan. It is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.

Friedman is one of those mind-meltingly wrong pundits who has managed to fail spectacularly upward. In "The Iraq Gamble," Jebediah Reed gets to the heart of his infuriating duplicity.

Re-reading Friedman's columns from the six months or so prior to the invasion of Iraq can induce vertigo. Unlike many of his hawkish colleagues, he grokked all the vital details of the situation....

So even a Webelo-grade logician knows where to go from here, right? You connect the dots and conclude that while it would be very nice to get rid of Saddam, it would also be stupid and dangerous.

But somehow he still managed to come out in favor of the war. And if the whole thing weren't so tragically misguided, his reasoning would be worth a chuckle. Says Friedman: "something in Mr. Bush's audacious shake of the dice appeals to me." A nice ballsy gamble of a war. Sure, it could throw the region into chaos, bankrupt this country, and dye the fertile crescent red with the blood of civilians; yet an audacious war is like a red lollipop—who isn't powerless to resist it?

Red lollipop's aside, Friedman's pitch was always a sucker's bet. The author of "The Lexus and the Olive Branch," has always known full well what this war was really about and why his imperialistic self supported it. He has known from the beginning that it comes down that unctuous substance which drives the economic engine of the world.

As Alien Abductee reported a few days ago, the Bush Administration's naked oil grab is reaching a crucial moment. As discussed here everything rides on getting the Iraqi Parliament to pass legislation which will open Iraq's oil reserves for exploitation by Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, BP/Amoco, and Royal Dutch/Shell. But the Iraqi's have been infuriating Bushco by dragging their heels on selling their souls. Their recalcitrance has been serious enough that Cheney was flown to the Mideast -- I'm assuming in some sort of portable hyperbaric chamber -- so that he could scold those shiftless Iraqis for threatening to take a summer break.

For all the wrangling and veto threats, our own congress looks to be safely on board with a bid to railroad the Iraqis into giving over the bulk of their oil wealth to the conglomerates.

The supplemental appropriation package requires the Iraqi government to meet a series of “benchmarks” President Bush established in his speech to the nation on January 10 (in which he made his case for the “surge”). Most of Mr. Bush’s benchmarks are designed to blame the victim, forcing the Iraqis to solve the problems George Bush himself created.

One of the President’s benchmarks, however, stands apart. This is how the President described it: “To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.” A seemingly decent, even noble concession. That’s all Mr. Bush said about that benchmark, but his brevity was gravely misleading, and it had to be intentional.

The Iraqi Parliament has before it today, in fact, a bill called the hydrocarbon law, and it does call for revenue sharing among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. For President Bush, this is a must-have law, and it is the only “benchmark” that truly matters to his Administration.

Yes, revenue sharing is there-essentially in fine print, essentially trivial. The bill is long and complex, it has been years in the making, and its primary purpose is transformational in scope: a radical and wholesale reconstruction-virtual privatization-of the currently nationalized Iraqi oil industry.

If passed, the law will make available to Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, BP/Amoco, and Royal Dutch/Shell about 4/5’s of the stupendous petroleum reserves in Iraq. That is the wretched goal of the Bush Administration, and in his speech setting the revenue-sharing “benchmark” Mr. Bush consciously avoided any hint of it.

"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist," (Keyser Soze) and the Bush Administration has as cleverly sustained the illusion that oil is not the underlying reason for pouring the American blood and treasure into the Iraqi sand. With prestidigitators like Thomas Friedman acting as front men, it wasn't too hard to pull off.

Can Rudolph Giuliani Inspire A Secular Awakening In the GOP?

The topic below was originally posted in my blog, the Intrepid Liberal Journal.

I don’t like Rudolph Giuliani. In 1993, I was 24 and living in the East Village when Giuliani defeated incumbent David Dinkins to become mayor of New York City. I vividly recall watching the police intimidate black voters that day and telling my roommate about it in horrified wonder. I didn’t like Dinkins either primarily because of how he handled racial tensions in Crown Heights. I thought New Yorkers were ill served with both men that year and cast my vote for a protest candidate instead.

In my opinion, Giuliani was the consummate charlatan as mayor. He ran a corrupt patronage mill, dismissed his first police commissioner, William Bratton because he received too much positive press and governed incompetently. Prior to 9/11, Giuliani’s fiscal mismanagement was exposed and New Yorkers were fed up with his volatile immaturity. And his last police commissioner, Bernie Kerik knowingly benefitted from a relationship with a mobbed up construction firm.

Giuliani received too much credit for crime reduction and exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to accumulate wealth. I think The Onion put it best when they noted Giuliani was running to be President of 9/11. As a Yankee fan it sickened me whenever Giuliani joined broadcasters John Sterling and Michael Kay in their radio booth while they heaped gratuitous praise upon him.

That said, I applaud these words from Giuliani’s recent speech at the Houston Baptist College:


"Here are the two strong beliefs that I have, here are the two pillars of my thinking, that always inform my judgments about this. One is, I believe abortion is wrong. I think it is morally wrong, and if I were asked my advice by someone who was considering abortion, I would tell them not to have the abortion, have the child. And if nothing else, the adoption option exists, and it’s one that I would hope personally, if I knew you, if you were a friend or relative. That’s pillar No. 1. That will always remain the same. I can’t imagine ever changing my mind about that. I’ve believed it since I can remember, I’m going to believe it until I die.

The second principle, the second pillar that guides my thinking on it is that in a country like ours, where people of good faith, people who are equally decent, equally moral and equally religious, when they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very very personal, I believe you have to respect their viewpoint. You give them a level of choice here. Because I think ultimately even if you disagree, you have to respect the fact that their conscience is as strong as yours is about this, and they’re the ones that are most affected by it. So therefore I would grant women the right to make that choice.

I’ve always believed both of those things. I will always believe them. And that will inform my decision-making about abortion. ...”
Yes, I know Giuliani’s speech is largely the result of political calculation. His dismissive mealy-mouthed views about abortion during the GOP presidential debate at Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Library were widely ridiculed. The Christian Right will never embrace him so Giuliani’s campaign has decided to stop pretending. He’s hoping to appear authentic and courageous while still appealing to Republican corporatists and security hawks. I get that.

Furthermore, I have no doubt Giuliani would embrace the Christian Right’s positions on abortion and other social issues if he could do so without appearing phony. This man would sell his soul to become president. And given the former mayor’s temperament, cronyism, incompetence and distorted worldview, if he’s the GOP nominee I’ll work my butt off to defeat him. For damn sure I don’t trust this man’s judgment about what civil liberties to compromise in the name of national security.

Putting my distaste for Giuliani aside however, I hope his candidacy awakens secular minded Republicans to take back their party for the good of the country. The scandal regarding the hiring and firing of Justice Department prosecutors powerfully illustrates that religious fanatics have infiltrated decision making in the corridors of power.

Former Justice Department official, Monica Goodling, was allegedly involved in the dismissal of as many as ten federal prosecutors. Ms. Goodling is a 1999 graduate of Regents University founded by Pat Robertson “to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world.” In 1988, when Pat Robertson finished second in the Iowa caucuses I considered him cartoonish. Ms. Goodling’s influence however, demonstrates how pervasive Robertson’s reach has become.

On May 12th, the New York Times reported that,

“Deeply religious and politically conservative, Ms. Goodling seemed to believe that part of her job was to bring people with similar values into the Justice Department, several former colleagues said.”
Ms. Goodling was inexperienced and thirty-one when she joined the Bush Administration’s Justice Department. During the 2000 election she worked as an opposition researcher at the Republican National Committee. Yet this young political operative was interviewing applicants for civil service positions at the Justice Department.

Ms. Goodling elevated her values above qualifications and professional competence when reviewing whom to hire or fire. The New York Times quotes one department official as saying Ms. Goodling even asked one applicant if he had ever cheated on his wife. Specifically, the New York Times also reported David C. Woll Jr., a young lawyer hired to a prestigious post in the Justice Department was asked this question. Mr. Woll had no comment for the New York Times.

I have no problem with people of faith or spiritually minded individuals entering public life. Many of us need to believe there is something bigger than ourselves. And people motivated to feed the hungry or promote social justice because of their faith are admirable. Martin Luther King and Ghandi were both people of faith for example.

Alarmingly however, virulent cadres of religious fanatics who believe their rigid interpretation of scriptures is above the civil laws and customs of American society are ascending. We see the repercussions in their ascent whenever a woman is denied her right to purchase morning after pills at a pharmacy or the half-baked theory of intelligent design is proclaimed legitimate science.

Whether one is liberal, conservative, libertarian, pro-business, pro-labor, hawk, dove, or everything in between, the imposition of religious values above our freedoms, science and recruiting the most qualified personnel in government is un-American. If Giuliani can mobilize a secular constituency within the Republican Party that becomes a counterweight to radical Christian evangelicals, I say halleluiah. We saw how timid Democrats were during the Terry Shiavo controversy. I don’t trust the Democratic Party to provide a counterweight to religious extremism by itself.

That doesn’t mean Giuliani can or will prevail with a candidacy that promotes tolerance for differing social viewpoints. The man is as flawed and imperfect a messenger as one can be. Someone with impeccable family values credentials without Giuliani’s personal baggage would make for a far better messenger. But he can have a positive impact in spite of himself that outlasts the 2008 campaign. Howard Dean didn’t win in 2004 but the Democratic Party has adopted more of Dean’s posture.

Next month Giuliani will address the Executive Series Luncheon at Regents University. Pat Robertson will be in the audience. I hope Giuliani stands tall and preaches the same message of social tolerance there that he did at Houston Baptist College. This country needs a strong secular counterweight in both major political parties. We’ll know progressives are getting somewhere when the center of political gravity pulls even the Republican Party in a more secular direction to remain competitive.

Giuliani was a poor mayor and would make a horrible president. Hopefully, his candidacy can at least awaken secular conservatives and restore a semblance of balance and sanity to our culture.

Boxed Out



Bill Simmons ( ESPN columnist and author of Now I Can Die In Piece) had a few words to say about the growing decline of boxing, and why more young African-American athletes don’t want to be prizefighters anymore:

“Sure, it’s a completely corrupt sport that lacks any semblance of organization, but that’s been the case since, well, forever. The bigger issue? Lack of star power. American kids don’t grow up hoping to become the next Ali or Sugar Ray anymore; they’re hoping to become the next LeBron, Griffey, Brady or Tiger. The thought of getting smacked in the head for 20 years, soaked by the Don Kings of the world, then ending up with slurred speech and a constant tremor doesn’t sound too enticing. Fifty years ago, before anyone knew better, Allen Iverson might have been the deadliest middleweight alive and ended up broke and incoherent. In 2007, he’s worth tens of millions and there’s a chance he’ll be able to hold an articulate conversation when he’s 70.

“Which scenario sounds more appealing to an inner-city kid with serious athletic chops? Take a guess. It’s ironic that Muhammad Ali–once upon a time our most popular athlete and a boxing ambassador–damaged the credibility of the sport more than anyone else by turning into a quivering mess. Maybe he is a great man, maybe he had a great career, maybe he was the warrior of warriors, but nobody wants to end up like him.”

Even as brutal as football is, at least the NFL doesn't make the players wear leather helmets anymore. Yeah, I used to be a fan, but I can't stand to see any more ex-boxers turned into zombies. Poor white and African-American men who want an athletic career can find easier--and more profitable--ways to make money. Oh, Bill? There ain't no "maybes". Ali did have a great career, and he is a great man. Now more than ever. It'd be easy for Ali to stay out of sight so he won't make people like you uncomfortable. If going out in public in spite of his debilitating condition isn't bravery, what is?