Kentucky Blog

Because Kentucky Is Not Called the "REDgrass State"

Monday, February 28, 2005

Okay, Let's Be Reasonable

I'm not a smoking advocate and I fully support resolutions by locally elected officials that ban smoking in certain public businesses. But not allowing lighters on commercial flights just seems a little like overkill - especially since the basis is that the ban "was necessary to reduce the chance that someone could ignite a bomb or incendiary device on a commercial flight."

Umm, instead of spending all the effort on catching someone with a little plastic cylinder filled with a nominal amount of flammable material (most of which don't light all that well anyway) why don't they...uhhh....I don't know...maybe focus on finding the bomb that this person is going to light? I'm just offering suggestions, that's all.

Putting those efforts into screening the cargo holds would be a good start. A bill was put forth to screen these areas for bad stuff (a separate screening process for shipped goods as opposed to passenger luggage which is screened in the terminal). Anne Northup, Ron Lewis, and Hal Rogers all voted against it. Bennie Chandler was running for Governor so the September 23, 2003 vote was before his time, and then Representative Ken Lucas (D) out of the 4th District voted for the measure. As you guessed, the whole thing came down on party lines.

Republicans - protectors of the homeland and defenders of Glasgow.

BREAKING NEWS: Federal Court Upholds Constitution!

Absolutely amazing. Yet another federal judge poked a hole in Bush's unfounded belief that in 2000 and 2004 people were voting for him to be King George of the Monarchistic Theocracy rather than President of the United States. In giving aid and comfort to those of us that still believe the Constitution means something in this country (i.e., the "enemy") a federal judge in South Carolina:

ruled on Monday that President Bush has no authority to order an American citizen jailed indefinitely as an enemy combatant, and ordered terrorism suspect Jose Padilla be released within 45 days. ...

Bush had designated Padilla an "enemy combatant" but U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd ruled that the president had no authority to hold Padilla or to suspend his right to due legal process. "The court finds that the president has no power, neither express nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold Petitioner as an enemy combatant," Floyd ruled in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The irony? Judge Henry Floyd was appointed to the bench in 2003 - post-9/11 for those of you keeping score on that sort of thing. And for you Presidential scholars out there, King George was President (a/k/a "el Conquistador") in 2003, thus Floyd is a Bush appointee. He's also just joined the ranks of "activist judges." Before doing so, however, Lindsay Graham (R-SC) may have to scrub his Congressional website:
“I have known Henry Floyd for well over twenty years and have had the privilege to appear before him as a practicing attorney,” said Graham. “I am extremely confident in his abilities for this most important job. He will be a conservative judge who understands that his role is to interpret the law and not make the law. President Bush could not have selected a more qualified candidate or a better person.”

“He has an exceptional legal mind, impeccable character, and a legacy of fair application of the law,” said Graham. [Emphasis added]

Oops. The Republicans should have figured it out when Floyd was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. Apparently they should screen for more than just gay hating, pro-business, anti-environmental ideologues.

Of course the government will vigorously appeal, and with any luck Bush will get to appoint one more conservative Justice to the US Supreme Court before the case gets there. Then our conversion to the dark side will be complete.

Tom DeLay - Model for Corruption

I think it's safe to say that Tom DeLay and his chronies have mastered the corruption angle. The article is worth the read, and rather than repeat its contents I'll wait for you to read it then add my two cents......

Okay, now that you're back...the article doesn't include Ralph Reed, right wing operative and former head of the Christian Coalition. Ralph Reed was involved in the Indian casino scam that has caught Abramoff and Scanlon in a sticky situation (because American Indians haven't been screwed enough over the past 200 years). Of course, the hypocrisy of Reed's "family values" agenda while with the Christian Coalition (and the opposition to gambling) is apropos to his under the table work for Indian tribes to protect their gambling interests. Or maybe it's entirely inappropriate.

The scam worked like this - Reed was paid to mobilize anti-gambling forces by Scanlon's company to help shut down a potential competitor from moving in on Scanlon's clients' territory. The competitor was another Indian tribe - but with a smaller payroll. Reed's money was "off the books" for the tribe paying Scanlon - all money was laundered through Scanlon's company and then on to Reed. In another scam, Scanlon and Abramoff used Reed to organize conservatives to shut down a casino, then charged the tribe/owner $4.2 million in lobbying fees to try and get the casino reopened.

Reed's money came by way of an intricate money laundering scheme to keep his involvement secret. And for good reason - Christian purists can be a vicious bunch when riled up.

And now Reed wants to run for Lt. Governor of Georgia. The "family values" train keeps right on rolling through the fairy tale land of hypocrisy, where moral values are defined by the size of your bank account.

And did I mention that all three of these crooks are tied to Tom DeLay in a very tight knot?

Poor, poor Christian conservatives. Used like a cheap hooker in every election cycle. All they want to do is protect children from the evil gay lifestyle, and at every turn they just turn into pawns in the wicked web of corruption. They better hope God doesn't consider them accomplices for willfuly embracing the happy "moral values" talk that belies the reality of this group's morally reprehensible corrupt agenda. An agenda of self promotion from the mouths of false prophets.

March on ye Christian soldiers.

80 Tons of Pure Safety

The KY House passed a bill last week to remove the 40 ton weight limit for trucks hauling gravel, sand, oil, and natural gas in Kentucky. The weight limit is waived for coal trucks by way of a 20 year old exemption. A lawsuit was filed in Pike County by a gravel trucker whose case is funded by Leonard Lawson, a wealthy and politically connected road developer, seeking to do away with the exemption for coal trucks.

Lawson is also pushing the bill filed by Rep. Howard Cornett (R-Whitesburg) passed last week to expand the exemption.

Sound inconsistent? Of course it is, but tho' this be madness, there is method to it. The coal industry won't tolerate a weight limit reduction, and given that our state representatives don't care to hold the coal industry liable for their environmentally disasterous conduct such as slurry spills, ground water pollution, or mining safety it doesn't appear they're willing to allow the courts to remove the weight limit exemption. How do you override the courts before the courts make a decision?

You pass a law that makes the court ruling moot, and the court dismisses the case.

By increasing the weight load for gravel, Leonard Lawson saves 50% on hauling costs and labor. Lawson's given $10,000 to Cornett as was noted in the article. But that's not all. Lawson has given a truckload of money, and his recipient list reads like a "Who's Who" of current and past political leadership in Kentucky. Among the biggest recipients are none other than Greg Stumbo, Big Ern Fletcher, and our buddy James "Ed" Worley (of making milk the KY official drink fame). And that fishy smell gets even more pungent.

Lawson's hauling company, DRT Trucking, that brought suit in Pike County is represented by Terry McBrayer's law firm out of Lexington. McBrayer is a heavy hitter in the lobbying field and is former Democratic party chairman for Kentucky. McBrayer is a Democrat in name only. He follows the money, and the firm's representative client list is proof positive. From September, 2004 - December, 2004, McBrayer alone received $36,252 (another $17,735 in 01-2005) for lobbying, while Sean Cutter received $53,316 (and $27,771 in 01-2005), Chris Nolan took in $48,755 (and $25,944 in 01-2005), Mary Horner got $33,928.32 (and $19,057 in 01-2005).

And his firm was hired to lobby the House for the bill proposed by Cornett.

Ostensibly, this whole affair is to "save the coal industry" from the financially debilitating effects of the 40 ton weight limit. And credit goes to Rob Wilkey (D-Scottsville) for calling a spade a spade:
Lawmakers who think they're aiding the coal and trucking industries by voting for this bill are being suckered, said Rep. Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville. The Pike County suit is something of a ruse, Wilkey said. The actual motivation for the bill was last year's state crackdown on illegally overweight trucks, particularly in Eastern Kentucky. The state collected $55,000 in fines, compared to $2,729 in 2003 under the leadership of Patton, who made his fortune as a coal operator.

Which might also explain why Paul Patton has come off the retirement bench to make a pitch for the bill too.

And our esteemed Representatives, being simply too busy to review the legislation, voted for it on the exact pretexts Wilkey warned of:
The next day, many of those who voted "aye" said they hadn't studied the bill at length, but they understood that coal and trucking jobs would be lost without it.

In a short legislative session in which finally passing a budget should have taken top billing, our Representatives wasted an entire day to protecting a heavy campaign contributor who stands to profit from a law which is entirely contrary to the public safety.

"If they pass this law, I'm going to have to quit. I won't drive my truck if I'm not confident I can do it safely," said Roy Bruner, a second-generation trucker in London. "Putting an 'overweight' decal in your windshield won't help you brake any faster with that kind of load."

Because there's no reason to let safety and prudence stand in the way of making a buck.

Cat Fight

This is indicative of larger issues within the Kentucky Democratic party, and I trust new party czar Lundergan is on the case:
Seemingly out of nowhere, according to those who were there, Democratic Reps. Harry Moberly of Richmond and Joe Barrows of Versailles began shouting at each other. That quickly escalated to shoving, until Democratic Rep. John Will Stacy stepped in front of Barrows, forcing him back.

Sweet. I'm not advocating violence, and I would expect our elected officials to conduct themselves with a bit more decorum, but certainly these internal struggles (scuffles) should be taken care of behind closed doors - there's never a place for that in the people's chambers. These two kids need to remember that's our house they're hanging out in, and that being the case I'm requesting each of them serve 5 minutes in "time out."

Friday, February 25, 2005

When a Nation Loses its Soul

There's been much hand-wringing over Alberto Gonzalez being confirmed as the 21st century's first outwardly pro-torture Attorney General, and the talk has always been in generalities. Notwithstanding the Abu Ghraib photos, the worst of which the American public was not allowed to see, Americans have been largely sheltered in the descriptions and discussions of "torture" and it's been relegated to primarily an abstract concept.

We, on the whole, agree that "torture" is bad, but some conservatives, in the effort to prohibit any poo from sticking to this administration, have been left with the daunting task of asking the rhetorical - "what constitutes torture?" There are obvious answers, and giving specific examples only lends credence to the notion that somehow "torture" may not be "torture" unless there's a modicum of personal injury. If you follow the Gonzalez school of thought, then personal injury that gives rise to "torture" is injury such that death is caused or failure of a vital organ. I'd submit that there's other forms of "torture" and it need not be confined to the physical.

There's likewise been a blind eye turned to the Bush administration policy of "rendition" through which the US won't torture a suspect, but will turn the suspect over to a country that will. All in the name of fighting the faceless tactic known as "terror." I'm not a terrorist, and I don't sympathize with people like bin Laden or Zarqawi. I consider myself educated and rationally religious, but cannot understand how these individuals can believe killing innocent people should be considered okay.

I am also a Jeffersonian patriot. I believe that the greatness of our country is not founded on tangible financial wealth or the strength of our military might. Students of history will recall that there was a period in our country's life when we had neither. What we did have was a document that put into words, as best as great thinkers of the time were capable, the ideals of what a great country should be - not what we were, but what we should strive to be. These ideals give us strength and make us mighty. These ideals alone are the source of our strength and our national pride - American ideals have saved societies, civilizations, and countries. Our American ideals have saved a world.

But we have abandoned our ideals when faced with an enemy we do not understand. Our leaders have abandoned our creed that:
We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

For those that do not know, "Justice" is defined as "the principle of moral rightness; equity; conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; the upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law."

That is the source of our might, or at least it was until a small group of men changed the character of our country with the implicit complicity of a nation wrought by human sufferance, infallible trust, and an unquenched thirst for vengance. On 9/11 we were confronted with an enemy we did not understand, and our response was complete and utter surrender of our ideals and principles that gave us strength - in the blink of an eye a small group of neoconservatives with an innocent vision of a perfect world but a perverse and myopic plan of achieving it cast aside our highest ideals, changing us from a nation of idealism to a nation of barbaric militarism.

I do not mean the war in Iraq, although it is certainly a byproduct. That is a debate that will rage ad infinitum. No, I am talking about a surrender of our ideals to ideological militarism. I mean our war on humanity, our war on compassion...our war on Justice. Doubters, cast your eyes to this:

. . . In the fall of 2002 Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, suddenly found himself caught up in the cruel mockery of justice that the Bush administration has substituted for the rule of law in the post-Sept. 11 world. While attempting to change planes at Kennedy Airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything, but his life would be ruined. Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit, underground,
rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was tortured. He wept. He begged not to be beaten anymore. He signed whatever confessions he was told to sign. He prayed.
Among the worst moments, he said, were the times he could hear babies crying in a nearby cell where women were imprisoned. He recalled hearing one woman pleading with a guard for several days for milk for her child. He could hear other prisoners screaming as they were tortured. . . .
The Justice Department has alleged, without disclosing any evidence whatsoever, that Mr. Arar is a member of, or somehow linked to, Al Qaeda. If that's so, how can the administration possibly allow him to roam free? The Syrians, who tortured him, have concluded that Mr. Arar is not linked in any way to terrorism.
. . . Official documents in Canada suggest that Mr. Arar was never the target of a terror investigation there. .... Mr. Arar was deliberately dispatched by U.S. officials to Syria, a country that - as they knew - practices torture. And if Canadian officials hadn't intervened, he most likely would not have been heard from again.

In a lawsuit filed on Mr. Arar's behalf, the US government argues the court cannot adjudicate it - to do so would reveal state secrets. A government that answers to no one. The use of militarism that is unchecked and unstoppable by any branch of the federal government save one - the Executive. Others in our world's history have ruled through theocratic dictatorship operating by martial law. We used to fight them.

Mr. Arar is why we do not render suspects to countries with the intention that they be tortured. Mr. Arar is why our founding fathers placed "Justice" first after establishing the "more perfect Union" in our Constitution. Mr. Arar is why we obey the rule of law, even when faced with an enemy so treacherous that they comply with no laws, whether God's or man's. Mr. Arar is why in the face of such treachery our greatest weapon is the re-commitment to our foundational ideals - the ideology of Justice for all. Because while "terrorists" are cold and inhumane, the United States will always stand as a beacon of Justice, and we will never surrender our commitment to Justice and grant these despicable, loathsome hell mongers the victory they so mercilessly seek. Such surrender is a dishonor to the innocents that have perished for no other reason than that they chose to live in the country that was the beacon of Justice.

I hate what has happened to Mr. Arar because he is innocent. I hate what happened to Mr. Arar because our country was at one time above this conduct. I hate what happened to Mr. Arar because it means our country is forever tarred with this - as Dan Rather wept after 9/11 knowing the third verse of "America the Beautiful" was forever tainted, I weep because we can never sing the last verse of "America" with any truth:

Grand birthright of our sires,
Our altars and our fires
Keep we still pure!
Our starry flag unfurled,
The hope of all the world,
In peace and light impearled,
God hold secure!

Most of all, I hate what they have done to my country. This is why I fight. This is why I will always fight. This is America. This is my home. This is my country.

And they will never take away the ideals on which my patriotism is based.

Hunter S. Thompson Transcends Politics

I've read a lot of eulogies and send offs to HS Thompson - many of which came from friends and associates, and all of which were written by professional writers/journalists or the like. But nothing gives me hope that America will indeed live to fight another day - side by side and without party affiliation - than to read this:

I liked Nixon. I like Bush. I like voting Republican, most of the time. On occasion, I enjoy going to church. I also enjoy Wild Turkey bourbon, good cigars and good music, occasionally played louder than my wife and neighbors prefer. And I have certainly enjoyed every book Hunter S. Thompson ever wrote.

In our current political climate of unbridled polarity, I suppose it's unreasonable to expect the right-wingers to allow Thompson to pass away without a stiffly thrust finger of admonishment for sins, excesses and too much reckless fun for anyone's own good. Well, it's been thrust all right. What puzzles me is an awkward silence from the left-wingers. There seems an unwillingness, outside of bars and coffee houses, to acknowledge the influence Thompson had in shaping the way a lot of young liberal Democrats think and, on occasion, vote.

I always vote, probably not like Thompson. But for me, his writing has always been beyond the politics, the chaotic and the out-of-control hysteria. Many will say he walked the razor's edge for too long. I would say he was something more akin to a guy on a pogo-stick going through a minefield, with a bourbon in one hand, who somehow gets out, and then has the audacity to complain that his ice has melted.

Rest in peace, Hunter S. Thompson.

Scott Henderson, of Louisville, Kentucky. Mr. Henderson is proof positive that politics need not be a zero sum game.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Dan Seum, a Panoply of Enigmas

Alright, I want someone to explain to me how Dan Seum proposing a bill to allow unchecked air pollution is not diametrically in opposition to his sponsorship of a bill to require the preservation of previously designated green spaces within a new development.

I want to give the guy credit, but can't help but think there's more than meets the eye. Maybe I've just become too cynical about the old guy.

Because We're All Too Stupid to Know Better

Denise Bentley, Democratic member of the Louisville Metro Council (and formerly of the Board of Alderman pre-merger), has spent a lot of her days championing for Republican causes. Of course her positions didn't really help the members of her district which included Rubber Town - that den of seedy prosti-pollution. But she skated by because her constituents were generally poor, black, and well....simply too busy living at the poverty level to take time to educate themselves on Bentley's treachery.

Well harken fair dwellers of the den of prosti-pollution, for your days of misery and sufferance have come to an end. As a reward for her loyal servancy to the Republicans, this Benedict Arnold has been rewarded with a new job in Fletcher's office. Yes, she is now the liason between the governor and the Louisville Metro Council and Mayor - the same group of people she used to piss off on a regular basis. I don't think Fletcher really intended it to be the "stick in the eye" that it is - I really don't think he thought that much into it. The impression is that Bentley's popularity was waning and she was getting "the fear" the she was in jeopardy.

Both sides flatly deny Bentley's promotion, and $33,000 raise, was a political reward. Right. And what was Bentley's first announcement in her new position as special liaison to the city of Louisville?

To announce she was moving to Lexington. Tell us it wasn't a political reward...after all, like the title of this post says....

All while the state is trying to break its contract with 30,000 retired Kentucky teachers by cutting their health insurance benefits.

Republican moral values hard at work.

More Ramblings of a Mad Man

Ogma is right from a "strategery" perspective of course - there can be no reasonable alternative (i.e. beneficial to the middle and lower class, in addition to the high rollers) to Bush' Social Security plan under this Congress. Sadly, this group of Republicans in charge are simply dishonest and have so little moral terpitude that they cannot be trusted to uphold any "compromise" plan, no matter how logical it may be.

However, one bone of contention I have with the notion that Dems "should not propose alternatives" is just that - we should be proposing alternatives. That's the biggest complaint of conservatives fed up with the direction of their party. It certainly doesn't mean that our Dems in Congress have to actually enter into a "compromise" that they know will be stripped of all components which would constitute the "compromise" portion of the bill.

My belief is that right here is where we need to talk about it. Not just Kentucky Blog or Bluegrass Roots or at Kos and Eschaton. It needs to be talked about by everyone, right or left, at the ground level, in our neighborhoods, churches, or over beers during a Cats or Cards game. Many people don't read these blogs - look at the Sitemeter and you'll see. Even Kos getting a couple hundred thousand hits a day constitutes a mere fraction of a fraction of people with opinions. My bipartisan proposal was hashed out and agreed on by a far right conservative and an ultra-left liberal (that's me if you hadn't guessed). We can't disagree more on most things, but by talking honestly we agreed on a solution. Will it work? Probably not - my buddy's a science type (that doesn't believe in evolution if you can get your mind around that one) and I'm a political junkie. In other words no specific educational background to support our hypothesis. But the point is that we talked civil - he didn't call me un-American and I didn't accuse him of wanting to put seniors out on the street.

The problem in this country is that conservatives and liberals work hand in hand in business and within our neighborhoodds every day. Yet we've allowed nationally syndicated hate mongers to define our relationships with our neighbors, and in some cases with our friends. We cannot rely on our politicians to have an honest debate or to reach a compromise they will have the integrity to uphold. Yes, I paint with a broad brush, but so long as the dishonest outnumber the honest in Congress the dishonest will always rule the day.

Social Security is important, and it's too important to be left to politicians to deal with. We should engage this discussion and we should engage it on our terms. There is a place for alternatives - it's not in the halls of Congress, it's in our own backyards. And by "our" I mean every American of all political persuasions.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bizarro World

"Laws must be passed and enforced, the group argues, that will bring organized prayer back to the public schools, outlaw abortion, prevent gays from achieving full civil rights and fund private religious schools with tax funds. "

Sounds like something out of the Middle East? No. Try America. And they're in charge. This is too much to repeat, and the dude putting it out there ought to get credit. Go read, follow the links, and join La Resistance!

Women in Politics

Update: Some portions have been edited out at the request of people providing information previously present in the post.

I don't really have an opinion on whether Larry Summers is being properly castigated or improperly misunderstood for his remarks that implied to some that women were inferior to men in certain respects. To be truthful I don't really care if he's a sexist or not, but do support the notion that college campuses are the places for such debates. If anything, I'm amused that conservatives are having such a great time defending the president of the "liberal elitist Harvard University" because by all common sense reactionary-ism they should use it as an opportunity to recruit more conservatives - simply continue to pontificate that his words were somehow a microcosm of traditional liberal thought or something equally as silly.

What it did cause me to consider is how women in general are treated in Kentucky politics. And it's not pretty. There's about ten prominent women lobbyists that are in Frankfort on a regular basis - by prominent I mean they're always there working (the list is enormous and changes daily, so I don't have a working total of women as compared to total lobbyists). Only 5 of 36 Senators are women, and a mere 10 out of 100 Representatives are women. Strangely (or perhaps not to some) only half of the 10 come from areas I would consider "metropolitan." Thinking in terms of generalization I would have assumed most came from urban, more progressive areas.

[Ed. note: Text deleted]

And female Senators like Elizabeth Tori that have broken through the glass ceiling but then run off their mouths for partisanship without regard to the practical implications of what they are saying don't help. Tori, in bashing Mongiardo in the 2004 race against Bunning was quoted by the Lexington Herald-Leader as saying "that to many people, being a "man" means 'being in control, being a leader.'"

Play into stereotypes much, Senator? Anyway, Summers may really believe that women have built in deficiencies to men and vice versa, and that is why each sex excels over the other in various respects. I'm not arguing it's not an interesting debate, although it really doesn't affect my world view. My point is merely that there's no way of ever knowing with any scientific accuracy, at least in Kentucky - there's simply no way to obtain a control group when sexist attitudes are so pervasive in this state.

Yes, my conclusions are anecdotal however this leads to the broader statement. Whether women are inferior to men is simply irrelevant if women are subjectively and systematically discriminated against for no other reason than that they're women. There's simply no way for a woman to prove she is engineered equal to a man if men constantly tilt the playing field in their own favor.

And people like Elizabeth Tori should know better.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Josh Marshall Speaks

Pete posted earlier about his "bipartisan Social Security plan" which sounds a whole lot like the Josh Marshall defined "Lindsay Graham hypothetical" posted at Talking Points Memo. I like Pete and all, but Josh has a point - why propose alternatives before the phase out talk is dead?

Two points:

No, I don't think Josh Marshall reads the Kentucky Blog and suppose that both posts appearing within 3 hours of one another is pure coincidence.

Second, Marshall is right in terms of strategy, but for purposes of discussion I think Pete's "plan" (to the extent the ramblings of a mad man can be termed a "plan") has some merit.

Taking "Security" out of the Equation

In reading some more articles on various reactions to the push for privatization in these townhall meetings, I've noticed two things. One is that no publication seems capable of putting out a description of the "plan" and has resorted only to the supposed effects of any given "plan."

The second is that no one has addressed creditors' rights vis-a-vis private accounts and disbursements from them. In Kentucky a "qualified retirement plan" is an exempt asset in bankruptcy and generally cannot be attached by creditors. However, disbursements, once made to a beneficiary/recipient, are subject to attachment. Federal law provides significant protections from creditors for attachment to SSI and SSD (the two components of Social Security payouts), and in most cases they are not subject to attachment - even for child support payments.

Will any private accounts plan offer the same protection for private account disbursements? The components of the "plan" so far call for a reduction in SSI benefits based on private account disbursements - essentially they will have to equal out. Therefore, if all goes according to Bush's plans a sizeable amount of retirement income will be subject to creditor claims. Presumably this will also qualify as "income" under the means test that Republicans want to impose on bankruptcy debtors. Coupled with the fact that nearly half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical expenses, this poses a significant risk to retirees - taking the "security" out of the name of the program in effect.

I've never seen the answer to this very important consideration, and given that Bush won't reveal his "plan" I don't have any way of finding out the answer. Maybe I'll ask for one of those easily obtainable "day passes" to the White House press pool and ask my question....

Fixing Social Security

The Kentucky legislature is in budget talks so there's not much action here in Frankfort today, so I want to post something on Social Security just to get my two cents worth out there. I don't buy into the "crisis" rhetoric, but neither do I believe we ought to let it get to that point. I fully agree with the strategists that suggest Bush should have to show his hand (i.e., his plan) before the Dems move on their own plan. That makes sense - if Bush wasn't pushing it, no one would be talking about it.

Let's start with a couple pre-suppositions:
  • First, Social Security takes in a surplus each year (current cumulative is $1.4 trillion).
  • Second, that surplus goes to bonds and like investments that get redeemed later to cover future benefits.
  • Conservative (not in the political sense, but rather financial) estimates say that through 2018 Social Security receipts are greater than disbursements (assuming no change in the payroll tax rate).
  • A larger portion is "borrowed" by the shlubs in DC to bring home some bacon - so newspaper editors can say "so and so brought such and such dollars to Louisville, so let's keep him/her" (then the same editors go on to blast deficit spending but I'll leave that for someone else to jump on)
  • The benefits collected constitute "real money," which is to say that Al Gore's "lock box" could be more than a figurative statement - the government gets cold hard cash (or the bank draft equivalent thereof).

Now that's a basic overview, and others with more time can flesh out the ins and outs of bonds, borrowing, and benefit indexing. I understand it, but don't really care to bore everyone to tears, and backing it up with links would take the rest of my day. But I think we can all agree that the foregoing basic tenets are true.

Okay - background. I'm sitting in an airport with a group of friends heading to Vegas. One guy is a conservative and he and I like nothing better than to piss each other off. So we commence. He uses the typical anecdotal method of debate ("well this one guy blew a million dollars because he was irresponsible, and now he's living off the government tit") as his basis for "fixing" Social Security. After a couple beers he admits that there's no "crisis" in the short term but we both agree it is headed for trouble later - and after all, everything can be improved upon. Then he says something that was absolutely stunning (although not as stunning as when Bush said it) - he supported raising the payroll tax to "fix" Social Security. It's stunning because this guy saved $300 on his tax return after Bush's tax cuts and you'd thought he just hit the lottery.

Anyway, our flight's delayed so we continue with creating our bi-partisan solution to Social Security. I agree with raising the payroll tax ceiling (instead of lopping it off at $90,000 - the median household income in America is around $53,000, so those making $90K a year can pitch in their fair share). But that creates too much temptation for greasy handed politicians - I also happen to agree with the Republican mantra that you can't trust the government with your money (I just don't think this current group practices what it preaches).

So now we will have an even bigger surplus to borrow against - so let's do what Al Gore suggested in 2000 and what Bush suggests now. Take the surplus and invest it in indexed funds that are managed by the government. Let the government take bids from fund managers - and I mean real bids, not bids from political chronies - for the benefit of managing this rather large mutual fund. Or better yet, create a revolving management system to prevent any one fund manager from monopolizing and potentially tanking the fund. I happen to subscribe to the belief that over the long term the market does turn a profit - anyone that disagrees is beyond help.

Now I know what you're saying - "how can we possibly manage so many small individual accounts" and Wall Street is saying that very thing (thus the $9 billion figure skeptics assigned to Wall Street as profits). My response is that it's one fund, not millions, and it doesn't belong to one person it belongs to millions. Eventually, with the miracle of interest capitalization Social Security becomes self funding. Had this been done for the past 60 years we wouldn't be having a debate. Of course it still has to be guaranteed by the government, but federal student loans are guaranteed by the government yet private companies are the ones that collect the interest payments. The point is that raising the payroll tax ceiling potentially raises the surplus by as much as $234 billion per year. Consider that in 2002 the surplus was about $160 billion just based on receipts less disbursements.

This is of course opposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation. According to them taxing individuals making over $90K is somehow "unfair" and hurts the "middle class." That's the dumbest crap I've ever heard. The real middle class has very few individuals making $90K, and it's just nothing more than class warfare to suggest that when you reach upper crust status you've "paid your dues" or have somehow become too good to pay the same proportional tax rate as those of us in the underbelly of society. I'll concede the employer contribution should be modified over that amount, but should be tied to other savings incentives such as employer funded 401(k) plans or health insurance or something similar.

But this is a bi-partisan approach that was hashed out between a liberal and a conservative who agreed to address a problem on its realistic terms - not terms founded in ideology or preconceived notions of fact. This debate is an important one, and it deserves us taking the time to think outside the two dimensional box that the DC boys and girls have constructed. And it certainly deserves more than baseless political attacks.

Is this plan perfect? No of course not - it's bound to drive businesses and the wealthy absolutely nuts. But like Lindsay Graham says, Bush has the "courage" to touch the third rail of politics. If he is truly "courageous" and truly committed to "saving" Social Security, then let's see him back a plan that has a basis in reality and one that doesn't ring up another $2 trillion in debt (just over 10 years, and not counting future costs). In this case ideology, no matter which side's, is going to do more harm than good.

"USANext" - Grassroots in Action

If by "grassroots" you mean pharmaceutical company funded, soft money contributions to the Republican party to defend Congress members for their support of the Medicare bill, then USANext, as a "project" of United Seniors Assoc. fits the bill. Josh Marshall has the details, including the little nugget that Charlie Jarvis (head of USANext) is a former hatchet man for James "Spongebob" Dodson.

Rove really doesn't like going outside the circle it appears. Marshall traces the money - United Seniors supported drilling in ANWR after getting a nice donation from an oil company, and the aforementioned expenditures on Medicare ads to the tune of $14 million.

If we know who was funding those "grassroots" activities, then who's funding the anti-Social Security movement? An interesting question indeed, especially since Wall Street has remained quiet on privatization since they see no money in it. Could it really be that no one stands to benefit from privatization?

Monday, February 21, 2005

What Would Hunter Thompson Say?

In honoring the late, great Hunter Thompson, and by way of follow up to my previous post, gonzo Thompson reveals his thoughts on the politics of fear in the 2004 election (from a 2004 Rolling Stone article).

It's like reading a story you already know the end to, but Thompson's no-holds barred take on Fear and Loathing, Campaign 2004 is still worth the read. If only he were as prophetic as he was prolific.

What Will Northup Do?

Northup has made her support of privatization clear, even though 113,000 of her constituents that currently receive social security (including disability) may have something to say about it. Of course, in today's Courier Journal Northup lies by omission by implying anonymous calls to seniors that state she supports "privatization" are

" filled with misinformation," Northup said of the message. "The claims in it were so outlandish that I honestly feel that people do more damage to their position than they do help it."

Northup supports privatization and it's just dishonest for her to say otherwise - unless she's willing to go on record opposing Bush's plan (which hasn't really been fully fleshed out). She can take a cue from Constitutional scholar (or more properly, "Separation of Powers Hater") Ron Lewis (KY-2):
"It's going to be a pretty heated debate, but the debate needs to be honest," Lewis said. "I don't mind criticism based on fact. But when they're pulling stuff out of thin air and making accusations, that's totally unfair."

Lewis wants an honest debate. Perhaps he'll tell Karl Rove to call off the attack dogs that brought us the Swift Boat Crackheads (you know, the same groups that Bush criticized when politically expedient):

Taking its cues from the success of last year's Swift boat veterans' campaign in the presidential race, a conservative lobbying organization has hired some of the same consultants to orchestrate attacks on one of President Bush's toughest opponents in the battle to overhaul Social Security.The lobbying group, USA Next, which has poured millions of dollars into Republican policy battles, now says it plans to spend as much as $10 million on commercials and other tactics assailing AARP, the powerhouse lobby opposing the private investment accounts at the center of Mr. Bush's plan. "They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts," said Charlie Jarvis, president of USA Next and former deputy under secretary of the interior in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. "We will be the dynamite that removes them."

To help set USA Next's strategy, the group has hired Chris LaCivita, an enthusiastic former marine who advised Swift Vets and P.O.W.'s for Truth, formerly known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, on its media campaign and helped write its potent commercials. He earned more than $30,000 for his work, campaign finance filings show. Officials said the group is also seeking to hire Rick Reed, a partner at Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, a firm that was hired by Swift Vets and was paid more than $276,000 to do media production, records show. For public relations, USA Next has turned to Creative Response Concepts, a Virginia firm that represented both Swift Vets...and Regnery Publishing, the publisher of "Unfit for Command," .... [Ed. Note: The Bullmoose has the inside scoop that the new book will be called "Unfit to Age"]

The omniscient Josh Marshall has the run down on LaCivita and his sordid ties to criminal enterprises perpetrated for the Republican party. Mr. Lewis can be reached as follows:

  • Republic Bank Building, 1690 Ring Rd. Suite 260, E-town, KY 42701 Phone:270-765-4360
  • Warren County Justice Center, 1001 Center Street, Suite 300, Bowling Green, KY 42101 Phone: 270-842-9896
  • 1100 Walnut Street, Suite P15B, Owensboro, KY 42301 Phone: 270-688-8858
  • (Toll Free in KY: 1-800-367-6676)

And this is choice from the NY Times article:

USA Next has been portraying AARP as a liberal organization out of step with Republican values....
Ummm, aren't we talking about Social Security? Does that mean they believe only Republicans should get Social Security? I'm sure that's not far from the mark, but my God, can't they at least lie about it?!?! The worst part is the media is still pretending to debate whether Karl Rove has a hand in the actions of USANext, just as they focused on that "question" during the 2004 campaign. It's safe to say nothing's going on without Rove's involvement now that he's the most powerful man in the world.

And the "I don't like politics of fear when it's not my party doing it" award goes to Hal Rogers (KY-5):
"I can't think of anything lower than trying to advance a political agenda by preying on the fears of seniors."
I'm sure we can count on Hal Rogers to demand that USANext take down this ad which has been appearing on right wing websites (you have to see it to believe it).

So give ol' Hal a call and see if he comes out against the ad:

SOMERSET Office: 551 Clifty StreetSomerset, KY 42501(606) 679-8346
HAZARD Office: 601 Main StreetHazard, KY 41701(606) 439-0794
PIKEVILLE Office: 119 College St.Suite 2/Rm. 212Pikeville, KY 41501(606) 432-4388

Or, put your taxpayer dollars to work and call him toll free at (800) 632-8588.

You could also ask him why his party routinely engages in the politics of fear and if his statement is confined to politics of fear that prey on "seniors."

Losing My Religion

Reuters has the story:

The World Council of Churches (WCC), the main global body uniting non-Catholic Christians, accused the United States on Monday of violating international law in its treatment of detainees at its Guantanamo naval base.

The Council, which includes many U.S. churches in its 342-church membership, also called on the administration of President Bush to grant full legal rights to the some 600 foreign nationals detained at a camp on the base in Cuba.

In a clear criticism of Bush and his leading ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, it said "Leaders who used the false pretexts of terrorist connections and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to bolster their case for war will be judged by history."

I'm wondering exactly what the American members of this group thought they were getting when they voted on November 2. And if they were wanting "moral values" yet ignored this pre-election, then this seems to lend credence to the notion that their definition of "moral values" means "anti-gay" and "anti-woman's rights." It's sad that many of religious faith failed to see that there is more to "moral values" than discriminating against "sinners" and that "moral values" are more properly founded on compassion, justice, and equality.

I'm no religious expert so am interested to know if this is a shift in pervasive religious thought (obviously excluding "non-Catholics" as noted in the article), or if the majority of religions in the WCC are not represented in America.

A Quick Note on Propaganda

The GAO comes out today bristling at the use of taxpayer dollars for government propaganda. They note that it is irrelevant whether the government's message is innocent and for noble puropses. Propaganda is still propaganda.

Understandably, many people just don't get this fact, and seek the eternal distinction between what is "good"propaganda and what is "bad" propaganda (much like the age old debate of what constitutes "porn"). Surely there must be some propaganda that is okay - I mean, especially if it's for the good of the nation, right? Propaganda, when used innocently, is a tool of national unity and pride - it convinces a people they can stand up for something and they can accomplish anything.

But propaganda is a self-perpetuating tool. As noted:

The goal of propaganda is this: to persuade the masses. .... We are on the attack, on the march. There is no turning back, no wavering. The propagandists must think subjectively. Absolutely subjectively, one-sidedly! .... He need not weigh right and wrong, he does not need to worry if there might be some slight truth on the enemy's side. Propaganda is concerned only with its goal, with its justice, its truth. All else is half truth. The more consistently, the more uniformly propaganda is applied, the greater will be its success — and the sooner success will come.....

An effective government has to be sure that public opinion, and in particular political opinion, supports its policies and actions. Public opinion "depends to a large degree on a sometimes unbelievably tough and thorough belaboring of mind and feelings, and only to a small degree on personal experience or knowledge." Public opinion can be organized, or must be made capable of organization by propaganda, for the foundation on which opinion rests is of great significance for the fate of the community.

Where did this come from? You guessed it, Germany. But before accusing me of comparing Bush to Hitler, consider the context. Germany had just lost a war - and in a bad way. Marxist Communism was sweeping (had in fact swept) across the Soviet Republic and was continuing to move west towards Germany - it was in fact in Berlin. The government recognized this threat and wanted to combat it. Yet, in their need to move forward to protect their nation - their people - from this looming threat, the citizens of Germany were complacent. They were whipped. They were spent. They were humiliated by their defeat in World War I. There was no pride and no national unity.

National pride isn't created because someone says you have to have it. And the Germans weren't going to get their unity back overnight - not without a nudge. Propaganda served the catalyst. And what happened next? A perverse distortion (in fact unilateral modification) of the message and a gross abuse of the trust and will of the people. But before this was all realized the German people were in a frenzy, and up to the bombing of Berlin most had no idea how wrong things had gone.

This is not a compare/contrast of Karl Rove and Joseph Goebbels. This is not an indication that I think Bushco is using Nazi-style propaganda. My point is merely that government propaganda always starts innocently. There can be no "good" propaganda because of the possibility that "bad" propaganda can follow. Once we start down the slippery slope of permissive propaganda we can truly never trust our government. Whatever agenda you support, imagine the use of government sponsored propaganda by the other side to support an agenda opposite of your own. This is not a partisan issue - it's a democracy issue.

If propagandists want fascism then say so - and don't call it by some other name, because government sponsored propaganda to promote an ideological agenda that suppresses and oppresses opposing viewpoints is fascism. I doubt anyone will step forward to claim this mantle, and I hope it's something we can all agree on regardless of party affiliation. No matter what we believe ideologically there are some constants in our commitments, and one of those is to preservation of our Republic.

Hunter S. Thompson, RIP

Thompson's work defies conventional description, and one of Louisville's most (in)famous sons will be missed. Those that know him only as Johnny Depp should take the time to get to know the real HS Thompson by reading his works. Both those on the right and left alike would all do well to step back and view our American society through the eyes of a skeptical critic just as Thompson did.

To some he was a hero, to others a thorn. But to all who have followed his life, the end really should come as no surprise. He lived life hard, daring it to intefere with his plans. And like those that have kept up with him, I too believed that Thompson would never die - in fact couldn't die. If he was capable of death then he would have died years ago.

One can't help but wonder if suicide was his way of testing the hypothesis.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Chris Bowers Has Mojo

To cut and paste would be to deprive the man his due. Just go's short, sweet, and to the point.

These people in power have put America in a precarious position - and you Dems in Congress that voted for this damned thing are equally to blame. And if any right wing dude wants to impugn my patriotism for calling a spade a spade, well you sir have so little respect for our military and our national security that you would leave both out to whither in the wind than admit your dear leader has truly screwed the pooch. If he was Democrat, Independent, Maoist, Marxist, or Whig I'd still call for his resignation for his incompetence.

If you can't admit that then you have already lost the debate.

Be Gone Ye Blasphemer!

The Poor Man finds disturbing poll results from the right side of the aisle and has an epiphany in the process:

Via The Washington Note, a new poll by the C.V. Starr Center for the American Experience shows that while, in a head-to-head matchup, George Washington would beat George W. Bush easily, among Republicans, Dubya wins 62% to 28%.I think I'm starting to see where this obsessive Michael Moore hatred comes from. He's not a critic, he's not a opponent, he's not even a nemesis - he is a blasphemer, and he is The Enemy.

I really can't offer anything that would come close to a pithy response. This is so cult-like that I advise people at the next RNC meeting DO NOT drink the Kool-aid.

The GOP Really Hates Old People And the Military

Don't have much time to get into the whole Bankruptcy Bill debate - it would really take a long time to point out all the problems with the proposed bill - but just caught an article that talks about it getting out of the Judiciary Committee and to the Senate for a full debate. The bill is backed by the credit card companies, and there's no surprise that the pro-business, anti-consumer Republican leadership is in full support. After all, the poor credit card companies send out millions of solicitations a week, how are they supposed to take responsibility for the negligent extension of credit?

Anyway, this paragraph floored me:
A dozen amendments were offered, however. Most were defeated, largely along party lines, including a Feingold proposal to provide higher protection of elderly peoples' home equity and another by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) that would have given military personnel added bankruptcy protections. But the committee did adopt few provisions, including a Kennedy provision to give bankruptcy courts more authority to limit the amount of money executives and other corporate insiders can take in bonuses and severance pay from companies filing for bankruptcy.

An excellent article from The Nation discusses the real life impact of medical expenditures on Americans:

Medical debtors, as the Health Affairs study shows, are suffering real hardship, which makes it hard to believe they are simply shirking their obligations and freeloading off the system, as Republican rhetoric suggests. In the two years before filing, 22 percent of families in the study went without food, 30 percent had a utility shut off, 61 percent went without important medical care and half failed to fill a doctor's prescription. ...

The only real cure for the medical bankruptcy epidemic, according to Physicians for a National Health Program, is national health insurance--a system where coverage isn't linked to employment and medically necessary care is accessible to all without deductibles or copayments.

The problems with the bill are that it doesn't take this into account. The elderly are most susceptible to overwhelming medical costs because they are increasinbly squeezed out of the workforce, the increasing costs of Medicare, the dwindling allocations to Medicaid (and the push for privatization), and now the proposed phase out of Social Security which will cost near future retirees as much as one-third of their benefits.

Yet the Republican leadership, in faithful service to their corporate backbone, refuses to accept protections for the homes owned by elderly debtors. Yet in the same session they will also accept a budget that cuts benefits to social programs that would help house these same elderly that would lose their homes in bankruptcy.

The refusal to protect the military speaks for itself. While National Guardsman lose jobs, careers, and families serving excessive terms in Iraq, the Republican Congress wants to permit unscrupulous creditors to pick their bones clean.

When will this group go so far that the people on the right will even say it's too far?

It seems clear which group in DC really cares about the elderly and the military. We welcome conservatives to join us on this point - all conservatives I know can agree when we share a common ideal. Surely protecting our seniors and military is such a common ideal.

Personal Loss Makes for Personal Law

It is a rare occasion that politicians should use the death of someone as capital to build support for a bill. I say rare because personal loss is the general exception - if a politician is willing to exploit the death of a loved one, then surely they have more to answer for than the crassness of their actions. Believing that, I can honestly say that I've never seen a politician at their most honest than when supporting a bill that means something personal to them because of their personal loss.

Thus it came to be that Rep. Tom Burch (D-Louisville) introduced smart legislation to protect teen drivers in the Commonwealth. I'm no so far removed from my teen years that I have forgotten the angst of obtaining my driver's license - and having to wait those long agonizing years until I was 16, at which time all I had to do was parallel park and I was licensed to drive (it took more than one visit to take the test). I also remember the joys of driving my parent's car with my friends loading the front and back seats and generally acting like idiots. I also remember losing more than one classmate, and almost a sibling, to teenage stupidity behind the wheel. The bill would:
double the probationary period for teen drivers that would include time restrictions and limit the number of young passengers riding with them.

It is truly sad that Rep. Burch had to lose a child, but there is good that should become of it. The Senate votes next, and has had a history of blocking these types of bills. Will the Senate continue the race to the bottom? We know Senator Seum enjoys the prospect that adults should ride motorcycles without helmets, but will his ilk be so bold as to protect the children? How many more teens have to die on Kentucky's roadways before our legislators get serious about protecting them, however painfully they may be treated by their own chagrined teenage sons and daughters?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Dan Seum - "Three Time Loser"

Ha. The Courier Journal piles it on Danny boy and dovetails nicely with the piece I posted last night.

The choicest quotes though have to be:

Just as he wants to toss aside the constitution to get his unqualified daughter seated in the state Senate, he's proposing to toss aside home rule, by the government that's closest to the people, regarding the air we breathe.

He's simply focused on serving, by any means necessary, his party's anti-regulatory faction, which resists any and all health and safety rules. ...

Sen. Seum has mastered the politics of finding the lowest common denominator among them all. Few are as skilled at appealing to base instincts. ...

Back then, you'll remember, their argument was that dirty industries, not motorists, were the real problem.

Now Sen. Seum is at it again, trying to gut local pollution control entirely on behalf of those same industries.

Indeed. With people like Dan Seum promoting air pollution and Dan Kelly promoting tort reform, the constant assault on coal mining regulations that puts miners in danger, destroys swaths of land, decimates communities, and endangers the lives of the towns lining the rivers inundated with slurry spills, and Fletcher's inane refusal to raise additional revenues for education, this Republican led Senate and Governor are truly in a race for the bottom.

And we're all along for the ride whether we want to or not.

Anne Northup in Danger?

The GOP thinks so (by way of DailyKos).
But Republicans clearly want to boost their vulnerable members’ first-quarter campaign-finance reporting numbers before those figures are due March 31. [Ed. Note - Playing the Perception Game that more money equals more support] To that end, DeLay will host the cycle’s inaugural ROMP fundraiser March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. There could be as many as four ROMPs this year, with those later in the cycle focusing more on promising challengers.This year’s first batch has seven repeats from last cycle and includes three newcomers: Fitzpatrick, Reichert and Sodrel. Sodrel defeated Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), the only Frontline Democrat outside of Texas who lost in November.“If incumbents are seen as safe, it will free up more offensive opportunities later in the election year,” said Jim Ellis, director of DeLay’s ARMPAC.

The best way to combat this is to show that no seat is "safe." To that end, I would suggest Deomcrats not make statements like this:
“Our top goal remains to reelect every single one of incumbents in 2006,” he added.

Your "top goal" should be regaining a majority. Is it likely? No. But don't set the bar on the floor. Raise it to the ceiling, then you won't get complacent and give up seats - that's been the whole problem these past two decades.

Death Squad Johnny

Bush nominates John Negroponte to be the "intelligence czar" who will coordinate our nation's intelligence. His history of supporting death squads in Honduras, coupled with Rumsfeld's propensity to permit death squads in Iraq, should have them working hand in hand nicely. But then again, Rumsfeld has already shown that he doesn't care to share DOD intel with the rest of the kids.

Did I mention he was a key player in the Iran/Contra affair? And this all stems from the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, that trained Latin American mercenaries in the way of torture and guerilla warfare:

The NSA says a decade of training between 1966 and 1976 was halted by the Carter administration for fear it would contribute to human rights violations in other countries, but it was restored by the Reagan administration in 1982. And despite toned-down manuals appearing in the mid-1980s, hundreds of unaltered manuals
were used in Latin America for at least another decade - notably by the US and Argentine-trained Honduran Battalion 316 during the tenure of US ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte, who is now the US envoy to Baghdad.
What is this "manual," you ask? Well, read them for yourself here and here, after getting this background:

The two CIA manuals, "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual-1983" and "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation-July 1963," were originally obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Baltimore Sun in 1997. The language of the 1983 "Exploitation" manual drew heavily on the language of the earlier KUBARK manual, as well as on Army Intelligence field manuals from the mid 1960s generated by "Project X"--a military effort to create training guides drawn from counterinsurgency experience in Vietnam. Recommendations on prisoner interrogation included the threat of violence and deprivation and noted that no threat should be made unless the questioner "has approval to carry out the threat." The interrogator "is able to manipulate the subject's environment," the 1983 manual states, "to create unpleasant or intolerable situations, to disrupt patterns of time, space, and sensory perception.
The manuals taught torture. Many of the grads from the School of the Americas went on to distinguished careers in thuggery, dictatorship, and drug running. But no grads were more notorious than the ones that went around Honduras and El Salvador in the 80's killing innocent women and children, all under the watchful eye of John Negroponte:

John Negroponte, the current U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, is no stranger to death squads. In the 1980s, Negroponte served as the U.S. ambassador to Honduras. At the time, he was cozy with the chief of the Honduran national police force, Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who also ran the infamous Battalion 316 death squad. Battalion 316 "kidnapped, tortured and murdered more than 100 people between
1981 and 1984." According to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, "Negroponte publicly adopted a see-no-evil attitude to this army death squad."
And Negroponte goes back a long way with the Bushes - let us not forget that Bush I was once Bush I the VP - the VP to Ronald know, the guy that had no idea the CIA was backing the contras in their fight against the Nicaraguans:

Negroponte told the Washington Post recently he was proud of his service in Honduras. "It was certainly my job to be concerned with the Honduran march toward democracy'' -- from being a ''military government to a civilian government.'' Sound familiar?

Iraq's new prime minister, like Negroponte, is well connected to the CIA, and Allawi's new policies are following a script Negroponte could have written. Iraq isn't a small country in Central America, but our role in Iraq and our presence there is duplicating our policies in Central America. And if you think Central America is an American success story, you can have hopes for Iraq.

Negroponte is yet another member of the Bush administration with a long history with the Bush family and -- like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld -- Negroponte's familiarity is more with the father than the son. Negroponte became the U.S. representative to the United Nations a week after 9/11, which muted the criticism to his appointment. The Bushes do not like to go very far afield when they do their most sensitive business -- be it arms for hostages in the Iran-contra case, or overseeing Iraq's transition from a military government headed now by Allawi to its ''march toward democracy.''

And since we're talking about the right's new folk hero, Ronald Reagan, let's be clear about what his support of the Contras really meant (by way of Steve Gilliard):
The funding of arms for the Contras, as members of the Nicaraguan Resistance had come to be known, was cut off by the United States Congress in 1984, contributing to a decline in Contra fortunes. The Contras were reduced to hit-and- run raids targeting civilian installations and sabotaging infrastructure. Subsequently revitalized as arms purchased with private funds reached them, the Contras were able to carry out numerous attacks on isolated military units and occupied the northeast border region with Honduras and some rural mountainous areas. Yet they failed to establish a liberated zone where they could set up a provisional government. The Contras' brutal practices of attacks on rural cooperatives, villages, and clinics, often involving the deaths of civilians and the torture and killing of Sandinista officials and soldiers, brought accusations that the Contras were conducting a deliberate campaign of terrorism.

There you have it. The legacy of Ronald Reagan, Bush I, and John Negroponte summed up in one sentence. For all the nobility of the contentions they were "fighting communism" the reality is that their policy of supporting the Contras by training them at the School of the Americas and funding them and their death squads was nothing more than the American subsidization of pre-al Qaeda terrorism. That's not to say they intended it that way, but there's no doubt that terrorism was employed, Negroponte knew about it, and no one stopped it until Congress acted in 1984. Even then, we could only apologize for the 75,000 deaths in El Salvador and the 50,000 in Nicaragua. These three regional countries were all part of the same policy, and their wars were interconnected, despite the "revisionist history" of those on the right.

There's too much bad baggage with this guy. We've already got a pro-torture (read: pro-human rights violator) in the AG's office, the Pentagon, at Homeland Security, and sitting in the White House. Do we really need another one to round out a fivesome?

I would suggest we contact Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning to urge them to not give yet another stamp of approval to America's new legacy for perpetuating and condoning human rights violations.

I would...but we all know it won't do any good. McConnell and Bunning have long ago put politics over the good of the country.

[See here for more articles on Negroponte and the School of Americas and here for a collection of research (with links) on Negroponte and the Honduras affair; the exemplary case of Archbiship Romero's assasination is investigated with supporting documents here]

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bush to Raise Payroll Taxes...

as a means of selling his Social Security phase out plan? If that's the case (which is in line with the AARP's proposal), then why not just raise payroll taxes to shore up Social Security for when it goes insolvent* 2042?

Will that alone fix it? Read the research and judge for yourself. Given the dishonesty of this administration, and the clearly excessive costs of privatization (along with the cuts in benefits), I remain skeptical. Josh Marshall is too, and has some goodies worth reading. And keep an eye on Kevin Drum, he's on top of his game daily (I'm partial to him catching right wingers admitting there's no crisis).

*(by "insolvent" I mean only paying 73% of guaranteed benefits)

The Jeff Gannon Scandal Gets Personal

And John at Americablog is not pulling punches. I don't know John, but he's as good a blogger as I've seen - and he's passionate about this thing. Not because Gannon appears to be a homosexual prostitute, but because he appears to be a homosexual prostitute who got special access to the White House and classified CIA documents to out an undercover CIA operative. And the right's response? Defend his right to privacy...The family values crowd that put gay marriage amendments on the ballot to turn out the religious vote protecting the homosexual male prostitutes of the world.

But John's not taking it. Read the whole post because it will give you a reason to keep fighting the hate:

Where was the high-and-mighty [Conservative website] Hotline when George Bush, with the help of buddies like Guckert, tried to write me and 20 million of my friends out of the Constitution last year? Where was Accuracy in Media, the conservative bloggers, and everyone else who is defending Guckert's "private life" when my private life was going to singled out and savaged in our nation's most sacred document simply to get a few votes?...

The GOP is the one that rose gay-bashing and gay-baiting and sex-baiting to an art, and JeffJimGuckertGannon willingly joined the family values parade in print and in passion. They're trying to ban condoms, pornography, AIDS education. They take children away from gays, and want to make our very lives a crime. GOP Senators compare us to kleptomaniacs, alcoholics, and man-dog sex. And they can't even handle a bronze breast on a statue. ...

Oh, gee, the Hotline warns, this might establish a precedent. Really? You mean the GOP might respond by using our sex lives against us as a weapon to destroy us and curry votes with bigots?

Rules to live by. Like crime, hypocrisy doesn't pay. Whether you agree or are willing to accept the gay lifestyle, they are human beings. And they deserve the same basic rights as anyone else. And they don't deserve to be used as bait for homophobic bigots.

Dan Seum, Boy Genius

Having lived in Louisville for a while, I have the distinct pleasure of remembering Dan Seum switching to the Republican party in 1999. I didn't feel any sense of loss then, and don't now. Especially now.

Seum has proposed a bill that would essentially usurp (i.e., kill) local government's ability to control its air pollution through agencies similar to Jefferson County's Air Pollution Control

Louisville, being in the top five cities...I should say worst five cities for asthma sufferers, and having been in constant trouble with the EPA, even post-George Bush, for air pollution, hardly needs more relaxation in air pollution emission standards (a nice report was done on WAVE3, but there's no video link up yet). Don't forget, Louisville was required to have the VET program to monitor vehicle emissions, and Dan Seum proudly dubbed himself the "VET Slayer" when he proposed legislation that did away with the VET.

Sadly, Seum and his Frankfort posse were warned that doing away with the VET would result in EPA sanctions. And it did. Seum thought then that it was wrong for the federal government to enact laws that affected the states - the whole "hands off" approach to government worked just fine. Now Seum has a change of heart - local controls are bad. Hmmm....Genius at work. His VETscapade cost the state $100,000 in fines, money he should have to pay back since he was well aware that federal law (the Clean Air Act) would pre-empt the state's actions in this respect.

Now he wants to do away with local pollution control districts. This from a guy that makes his money in rental property (there's more to come on that later - our crack team of investigators are looking into more details of Seum's dealings), and wants to be able to discriminate against gays in the process. He helped kicked the mandatory motorcycle helmet law and wants to pass state legislation that prohibits cities from passing smoking bans in public (aimed directly at Lexington, as Louisville debates it). But back to the point, which is how are Seum's constituents served by relaxed air pollution emissions - or rather the wholesale permissibility of unfettered air pollution in Southern Jefferson County?

Consider this:
A study completed in 2003 for the West Jefferson County Community Task Force identified health risks from toxic air that were higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had previously estimated for anywhere in the country. The findings of that study, which involved the support of businesses, have not been disputed.

And in 2002 the EPA's Atlanta office ranked Jefferson County first in the Southeast for health risks from air pollution.

Despite those findings, Seum said he doesn't believe air quality is any worse in Louisville than in other cities of similar size in the region.

This is not the first study, another was made public in 2004. Is that the bar we're setting, when Rubber Town in Western Jefferson County has been shown to have cancer clusters directly related to hazardous air emissions? Not "any worse" than other cities?

Seum's district (hit the Adobe zoom feature to get a good look at Jefferson County) is one away from Rubber Town. Are his constituents really benefiting from this bill? Obviously not.

So who is?

We'll keep digging, there has to be some answers somewhere.

Winning the War on Sponge Bob

I previously had a "right wing moment" wherein I portrayed myself as a right wing religious conservative confronted by Sponge Bob at the YMCA. I'm happy to report that the YMCA remembered that the "C" stands for Christian, that Sponge Bob stands for "gay," and have subsequently taken Sponge Bob off the bulletin board. Now little boys can sign up for sports on a bulletin board containing a pink background and a Strawberry Shortcake type character.

Score one for the home team.

I See Your Bet, And Raise You...

Ogma posted on odd legislation, and staying in that vein I propose the following:

AN ACT relating to official designations.

Amend KRS 2.091 to designate coal, rather than Kentucky agate, as the official state rock; amend KRS 2.094 to designate Kentucky agate, rather than coal, as the official
state mineral.

This gem passed 36-0 in the Senate and hit the House yesterday. Should we really designate the state rock as a substance that's brought so much heartache to so many in the Appalachian region?

Good Law, But Here's the Better Alternative

House Bill 61 would create a certification process for residential contractors by creating (another) board under the Office of Housing, Building and Constructions. There would be criteria for certifications, exemptions, hearings, administrative appeals, and create a form agreement for contracts over $2500, etc.

This is a good thought, but if the idea is to protect consumers there's a much better remedy: require that any builder or construction contractor be bonded and/or insured and that the information must be provided to the consumer. A certification that a contractor, or his/her proxy, attended a "training seminar" put on by the state doesn't offer any solace to the consumer whose home is wrecked when the contractor bails town, certification in hand, but no insurance coverage.

This bill is a decent effort, unless it's just political cover without any intention of holding contractors' feet to the fire. It also poses a burden on sole proprietor contractors and saddles the state with more expenses. Put the burden on the contractor to have insurance - a requirement that most reputable contractors already satisfy. Let the market dictate who is insurable and thus able to conduct business in this arena. This is a situation where capitalism will correct the problem with minimal input from the government.

Bad contractors are a problem, moreso than people may understand. A framework in which the consumer can be compensated for damage is more useful than a bureaucratic red tape fest.

Odd Legislation

Senate Bill 93 sponsored by Mongiardo, Pendleton, Boswell, Caroll, Harper Angel, Leeper, Neal, Palmer, Rhoads, Scorsone, Turner and Worley:

AN ACT relating to state emblems.
Create a new section of KRS Chapter 2 to designate milk as the official drink of Kentucky.

Perpetual War...Rumsfeld Running For Office?

In true Bush fashion, Rumsfeld issues an unfounded terror alert in testimony today:
"The extremists continue to plot to attack again. They are at this moment recalibrating and reorganizing. And so are we," the Pentagon chief told members of the House Armed Services Committee in prepared testimony.

Can someone tell him that the elections are over? Thanks.

This is all becoming quite circular, and it seems like a bit of political jujitsu - Iraq's elections are a victory in the war on terror...but:
"The future of this conflict is not predictable. So additional funds will have to be requested as required," Rumsfeld said Wednesday.

What the hell are we doing? They are using an unseen "threat" as an excuse to consolidate power and keep us on constant war footing - the US now spends half its budget on "defense." This money is going to a failed missile defense system - one that can't fire much less pick off a suicide bomber on the East Coast. This money is going (follow links from that page) to Halliburton, KBR, and a panoply of "consulting" companies set up by dudes from Bush I.

This is our money. This is money that can be spent to provide healthcare for the poor, fund AIDS and cancer research, repair schools, build a better public transportation infrastructure to help combat pollution, and so on. How did 290 million people allow the future of our country to be vested in the hands of so few whose only vision for our prosperity is one in which we are always poised on the brink of war? This is fear used to control the will of a population.

Some might call it terrorism.

David Williams, The Big Teddy Bear

It's nice to know that David Williams doesn't let his (irrational) fear that Dan Mongiardo is "gay" get in the way of supporting good legislation to create a computerized medical records bank. I have a hard time figuring out why it took three years for this bill to even make it to the Senate floor for a vote. Did David Williams believe computers were a "passing fad" or something equally assinine?

Or was it just politics as usual?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Four Corners Legislating

In basketball, at least before the shot clock, there was the "four corners offense" in which a team with the lead could run out the clock using the four corners of their half of the court. This short session seems a little like the four corners legislative game. A bill has been introduced that prohibits any state or local government agency from:
imposing or implementing a land use or public health regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden is in furtherance of a compelling government interest.
This odd year session lasts only 30 days, and we're halfway into it. In 1993 Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (42 USC 2000bb) in response to a Supreme Court case permitting restrictions on religion (specifically that you can't smoke peyote on the job even though you may use it in your religious practices). The law must apply to all persons and be religion neutral. Arguably not smoking hallucinogens when operating heavy machinery would be one of those "neutral" and applicable to "all persons" types of laws.

So our US Congress, in their never-ending zeal to show religious voters that they're more religious than the US Supreme Court passed the RFRA as a thumb in the eye of the US Supremes. Support was on both sides of the aisle with Ted Kennedy leading the Democratic charge.

The Supremes, being of a generally even temperment and not prone to the whims of politics (tossing aside that whole Bush v. Gore thing...and anything that Scalia writes), called the RFRA unconstitutional in City of Boerne v. Flores. Their basis? It exceeded the government's powers to enforce the Constitution's protections under the 14th Amendment (applying the Bill of Rights to the States):

Legislation which alters the Free Exercise Clause’s meaning cannot be said to be enforcing the Clause. Congress does not enforce a constitutional right by changing what the right is. While the line between measures that remedy or prevent unconstitutional actions and measures that make a substantive change in the governing law is not easy to discern, and Congress must have wide latitude in determining where it lies, the distinction exists and must be observed. There must be a congruence and proportionality between the injury to be prevented or remedied and the means adopted to that end. Lacking such a connection, legislation may become substantive in operation and effect. The need to distinguish between remedy and substance is supported by the Fourteenth Amendment’s history and this Court’s case law...

RFRA’s most serious shortcoming, however, lies in the fact that it is so out of proportion to a supposed remedial or preventive object that it cannot be understood as responsive to, or designed to prevent, unconstitutional behavior. It appears, instead, to attempt a substantive change in constitutional protections, proscribing state conduct that the Fourteenth Amendment itself does not prohibit. Its sweeping coverage ensures its intrusion at every level of government, displacing laws and prohibiting official actions of almost every description and regardless of subject matter. Its restrictions apply to every government agency and official, §2000bb+2(1), and to all statutory or other law, whether adopted before or after its enactment, §2000bb+3(a). It has no termination date or termination mechanism. Any law is subject to challenge at any time by any individual who claims a substantial burden on his or her free exercise of religion.

The Supremes are telling its fans that the law is unnecessary. Which means this proposed state law is unnecessary. The States cannot enact any law or take any action which would be in violation of the US Constitution and the First Amendment, and thus by logical extension there can never be a State action that can restrict religious practice any more than can the federal government. As such this law is of no effect and will likely be stricken down as unconstitutional itself.

Much like its kin folk. As fun as it is to shamelessly exploit your fundamental Christian base with bills like this, it would be much more honest to just tell them that they don't have anything to worry about. They can still be Christians tomorrow and no liberal can ever take that right away.
And you'd be serving your constituents by passing a budget instead of unconstitutional bills.

Random Thoughts on Drugs

The legal drugs that is. With it looking as if some 30,000 retired Kentucky teachers stand to lose a substantial portion of their health insurance, I got to thinking about this in the larger context of global health care - the dreaded Hillary Clinton proposal that launched a thousand mid-term losses in the Clinton era.

It is starting to seem obvious, and was in fact stated succinctly in The Nation (subscription required and worth it), that:
Any discussion of the [Social Security] crisis appropriately starts with medical care. Medicare and its less popular stepsister, Medicaid, for the poor, both face impending financial shortfalls, driven mainly by relentless healthcare inflation. A rational analysis would observe that the two important aspects of healthcare financing--for the poor and the elderly--are now managed by government. It's time to take a deep breath and advocate a universal healthcare system that can confront the rising costs and wasted resources embedded in the entire system. The insurance industry was given its chance to do this in the 1990s and failed utterly, despite its intrusive regulation of doctors and patients. Symbolic half-measures by government will fail too. Americans at large are ready for real answers.

Insurance companies control doctors' level of medical care and hospitals' treatment of patients. Hospitals compensate for this by levying higher charges on non-insured (and non-government subsidized patients) and pursuing them to the ends of the earth. Doctors compensate for reduced fees by seeing more patients - often times not even seeing a patient for more than a couple minutes, and taking the time only to prescribe drugs for an ailment they don't fully take the time to diagnose - and by billing insurance for more (unnecessary in many instances) items. Yes, some of this is "preventative" - but only "preventative" in terms of lawsuits, not health care.

The consumer/patient suffers while the doctors, hospitals, and insurers play this merry-go-round caucophony of cost shifting. Health insurers post record profits and their CEOs take home $40 million dollar bonuses, all the while reducing the health care options in their policies yet raising premiums. For example, my family of three pays $6000 a year in insurance premiums with $30 co-pays and a $1500 deductible. With the exception of our child, neither my spouse or I have been to the doctor more than four times combined in the past year. Each visit was for something I could have diagnosed myself - for me a recurring allergic reaction to some lawncare products and my spouse an habitual respiratory infection that requires antibiotics at the major seasonal changes.

All the crap about "tort reform" and reimportation of drugs misses the larger point, and that is that large corporations are driving the costs of health care up at a rate the far exceeds income growth. Doctors are forming groups that limit the number of their patients for those that can afford to pay the sizeable annual fee. The middle class is having to choose whether to pay the premiums or take the risk that a catastrophic injury - such as an unforeseen heart attack - may drive them into bankruptcy. And now we see that Congress is trying to change the Bankruptcy Code to make it more difficult for people to file for Chapter 7 even though over 50% of filings are because of excess medical bills.

And medical bills are excessive. An insurance company gets billed $75 for a doctor to walk in the room, say "yep, you've got a respiratory infection," scribble something about something on a piece of paper, and then walk out - all in the span of less than 5 minutes (never mind you had to sit there for an hour after your scheduled appointment)? And the hospital can charge the insurance company a couple grand for an MRI?

The cycle is out of control. Tort reform ignores the real costs of health care - health insurance premiums which have nothing to do with excessive jury awards. Think about it - the health insurance company negotiates rates with doctors using market share power. And reimporting drugs from Canada ignores the root problem that makes reimportation necessary in the first place - the excessive costs of drugs. If our neighbor to the north is smart enough to negotiate drug price control then why aren't we?

Why can't we fix any of these problems?

Is it the $100,000,000 from pharmaceuticals given to politicians in the last decade? Is it the $36,000,000 given to politicians from the insurance lobby over the past 10 years? What about the $257,000,000 from health care professionals (perhaps that's the cause of their destitution rather than excessive jury awards) or $65,000,000 from hospital lobbyists in a 10 year span?

This is not a Republican or Democrat problem - both sides take this dirty money. Both sides are responsible for the scourge that the health care system in the most scientifically advanced country has become. It's time Americans got what they paid for - both in health care and in politicians' salaries. Every time a child or a senior citizen suffers for lack of health care - that is on your head irrespective of whether you're a "good, conservative Christian" or not. There is nothing moral or of value about any person being denied health care because the health care industry has priced it out of reach.

And yes, Ogma, I am no longer silent. So you better fasten your seatbelts because I've got more on my mind than just health care....