Kentucky Blog

Because Kentucky Is Not Called the "REDgrass State"

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Pro-Life Versus Anti-Death

Amy Sullivan, guest blogging for the Political Animal (a/k/a Kevin Drum), has an excellent post on the notion that the Schiavo protesters (and I infer her larger control group to be the fringe religious extremists) are not so much "pro-life" as they are "anti-death."

This is an important distinction in terminology I think, because it implies a level of uncertainty in one's faith - as Amy articulates succinctly in her piece. But it also raises some metaphysical and theological questions in my mind as well. For one, is the artificial prolonging of life an usurpation of God's divine will and wisdom? In other words, is man-made life (i.e. life support) defying God's will that a person succumb to death? Is it playing God rather than trusting God to do the heavy lifting or trusting in His/Her wisdom? And does this equate to a denial of God's infinite wisdom? I am not a biblical scholar, and the only one I've known well enough to ask is dead, but I seem to remember that denying God is a bit like standing squarely behind a bull and sticking your fist in his ass - it's something only a fool should do. Or someone with little appreciation for where they'll land when punishment for the act is handed down.

The second, and more fundamental, question is derived from what I assume will be a negative answer to the preceding (as in "no, man's forced sustaining of basic living bodily functions is not antithetical to God's divine power to take life or create it at His/Her pleasure or leisure"). If defying the natural processes of life is okay, then why would it not be okay to harvest stem cells from unimplanted embryos that exist at this very moment in IVF clinics across America? If we are all about "erring on the side of life" (ignoring for the moment Bush's execution rate while Governor of Texas) then should we not do everything in our power to cure life ending disease or injury?

And would the money blown in Iraq be better spent on curing cancer, childhood diabetes, or AIDS?

The Vultures Circle

Sleep with dogs, wake up with fleas:

Efforts in Congress and the courts to prolong Terri Schiavo's life failed because of political miscalculations, missed deadlines and misguided legal strategy, according to legal experts and some of the conservative activists who made the case a national issue.

That harsh assessment is causing recriminations and finger-pointing among social conservatives and Republican staffers on Capitol Hill, who say there's plenty of blame to go around for why efforts to reverse state court rulings fell short.

Ken Connor, the former head of the conservative Family Research Council who gave legal advice to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as the case was moving through the courts there two years ago, said Congress' inability to agree on a bill to keep Schiavo alive before her feeding tube was removed March 18 "severely prejudiced Terri's case."...

But he said social conservatives still chafed at how Congress didn't act in time "to save Terri.""If this were a tax cut or malpractice issue, something important to the bluebloods, Congress would have gotten it done," Connor said.


It was the religious conservatives that pushed this debacle thus revealing their agenda of wanting to control every aspect of your life, whether against your will or in accordance with it. Given that the vast majority of Americans thought this whole farce was a gross overreaching of the government's powers, it seems that the true nature of American "values" is revealed.

Americans are religious, but no, they don't all subscribe to the extremist point of view that your life is not your own and because you are too fallible to manage it yourself, "they" must manage it for you. Just as all Muslims are not terrorists, in fact the vast majority are not, not all religious Americans are religious extremists either. Of course, the ones that claim the moral superiority to control your lives are the same ones that do so by fear mongering and festering hate. A very gestappo-esque tactic for a group that thinks the peaceful and benevolent Jesus actually condones their crap.

Religious conservatives ought to be waking up, much as Connor appears to be in this article. This administration has exploited them like teen prostitutes shipped from Asia to America in the cargo hold of an oil tanker. These bozos don't care about your religion or Terri Schiavo, they only care about cementing power and marginalizing democratic processes to insure that their power is forever inshrined. So Mr. Connor is correct, were this a tax cut or regulatory modifications in favor of big business, this administration would in fact have seen it done.

But instead their political opportunistic mentality is revealed, and their true colors allowed to shine. These people are destroying democracy, and it's time people quit enabling them.

Why Do Conservative Judges Hate America?

From conservative judge Stanley F. Birch, Jr. of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia:

Birch went out of his way to castigate Bush and congressional Republicans for acting "in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for governance of a free people -- our Constitution."

Birch said he couldn't countenance Congress' attempt to "rob" federal courts of the discretion they're given in the Constitution. Noting that it had become popular among "some members of society, including some members of Congress," to denounce "activist judges," or those who substitute their personal opinions for constitutional imperatives, Birch said lawmakers embarked on their own form of unconstitutional activism....

In his opinion, Birch-didn't discuss the merits of Schiavo's parents' arguments because he said he felt compelled to address the larger constitutional question of whether Congress had a right to force any reconsideration of the case.

Birch cited precedents at the core of the American government's structure, including the Federalist papers, published to urge ratification of the Constitution, and Marbury vs. Madison, the 1803 Supreme Court decision that established the judiciary as the highest authority on the law.

Birch said Congress stepped into territory reserved for the judiciary when it passed the law directing federal courts to hear Schiavo's case without considering its state court history or traditional barriers to federal review.

The law "robs federal courts of judicial doctrines long-established for the conduct of prudential decision-making," Birch wrote. "Congress chose to overstep constitutional boundaries into the province of the judiciary. Such an Act cannot be countenanced."


This is the same judge that ruled in favor of banning gay adoptions and restricting the sales of sex toys in Alabama. A Scalia/Thomas judge in other words.

Politics Make Strange Bedfellows

Oliver Willis points us towards a compare and contrast sort of chart that shows the uncanny similarities between the neoconservative ideology of this administration and the ideology of its sworn enemy.

One and the same? Perhaps we've all been snookered.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Exporting Democracy One Freedom at a Time

Freedom is on the march - straight out of America. The incessant message control mindset of this administration is reaching all time lows. From state sponsored propoganda reminiscent of the Nazi party in the 30's and 40's, to under the table payments to journalists for pushing a point of view, and now to skipping the pretext and simply removing people from public events that may have a different opinion.

By "public event" I mean one that we paid for, Democrat and Republican and Independent alike, with our tax dollars:


In Denver, three people say they were booted out of a presidential event last week even though they never uttered a peep, apparently because their car bore a bumper sticker denouncing the war in Iraq.In Fargo, N.D., last month, local Republicans developed a blacklist of more than three dozen residents, including a city commissioner, who were to be banned from Bush's visit.... "

We welcome a diversity of views at the events," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday, although in fact participants at the events are carefully screened and dissenting voices are rare.

Young and his friends, Karen Bauer and Leslie Weise, had barely gotten in the door before they were unceremoniously shown the exit by a man who refused to explain his actions. They thought he was a Secret Service agent because he had an earpiece and an official-looking lapel pin.

Young said he was later told by Secret Service officials that he and his friends had been ejected by a local Republican volunteer who'd been spurred to action by the bumper sticker on their car: "No More Blood for Oil."

To be certain, Young indicates it was the Secret Service that ejected him from the event, yet the Secret Service seems to be indicating none of their agents actually did the ejecting. So either the Secret Service, an arm of the government, is being used to violate the First Amendment, or someone (or someones) in the Republican party are impersonating the Secret Service. One is a desecration of our Constitution and grounds for removal from office whereas the other is criminal.

Fighting Waste, Fraud and Abuse with Cronyism

This really does not merit comment, so I'll just let it speak for itself:

Fletcher has appointed more than 65 people who are paid at least $100,000 a year, three times the average state worker salary. In particular, Fletcher pays his inner circle more -- sometimes far more -- than previous Gov. Paul Patton paid his when he left office in late 2003.

For example, most Fletcher cabinet secretaries are paid about $127,000, up $20,000 from the Patton cabinet. That's a 19 percent raise. By contrast, raises for all state workers averaged 3 percent last year.....

Fletcher's aides get some of the largest checks, such as his general counsel ($127,146, up 19 percent from Patton's general counsel), press secretary ($121,957, up 17 percent from Patton's press secretary) and assorted senior advisers and executive assistants, who average $120,740....

Those remaining -- police, prison guards, social workers, engineers, clerks and the like -- no longer see raises of 5 percent a year, as they once did. Instead, due to budget cuts, raises tend to be 3 percent or less. Salaries for all executive branch employees have averaged about $36,000 for two consecutive years.

Lindy Casebier, a former Republican state senator who lost his seat in the 2002 redistricting, had been paid $77,000 as an assistant to the Oldham County
school superintendent. Fletcher hired him in January for $104,000 as executive director of arts and humanities in the Commerce Cabinet.

Casebier said he-didn't need or demand the 35 percent increase. But he didn't reject it once it was presented.


Screw that, I have to comment. These jackasses are cutting health care benefits for state workers that make $36,000 per year while fattening their own pockets. They are cutting child care assistance benefits to benefit their political cronies. They are looking to cut Medicaid while they reward people that have no experience in government other than political loyalty. How else can they explain Keith Hall getting the Homeland Security position when his past experience is as a lobbyist for Insight Communications?

This is your modern Republican government. They have abandoned the ideals of conservatism (parts of which I happen to subscribe to) and exploited religious fervor for the sole purpose of putting themselves in power and living fat off the public tax tit.

It pisses me off because I have relatives that work under this administration and I see first hand what a 3% raise (actually less for most state employees at universities and in public education) gets you when your wages are already at the bottom - absolutely nothing. The modern Republican movement is an abomination and true, old school Republicans should feel ashamed that they've bought into this cynical crap about "big government" while enabling their elected officials milk the tits of the cow otherwise known as the taxpayer's money.

Here's a tip - they don't give a damn about you and they only care about themselves. Why is that so hard to understand or admit?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Unintended Consequences

Banning gay marriage apparently provides a safe harbor for those that commit domestic violence against non-marital partners. At least so says a Judge (damned activist judges at it again) in Cleveland, Ohio:

His public defender, David Magee, had asked the judge to throw out the charge because of the new wording in Ohio's constitution that prohibits any state or local law that would "create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals."

Before the amendment, courts applied the domestic violence law by defining a family as including an unmarried couple living together as would a husband and wife, the judge said. The gay marriage amendment no longer allows that. ...

Because Burk had a prior domestic violence conviction, the latest charge was a felony that could have resulted in an 18-month jail term; a misdemeanor assault carries a maximum sentence of six months.


To be certain, a mere change to the Ohio penal code will correct this obvious defect in the law. In the short term though a man that beats women is back out on the street. While curable, it does serve to highlight the short sightedness of those that would rush to defend the "tradition of marriage" by writing discrimination into a state constitution - in a country that is ravaged by a 50% divorce rate among heterosexual couples.

It is simply disingenuous to suggest that gay marriage has anything to do with the decline in the "institution of marriage." Since money issues are most often the dagger through the heart of a marriage, one would think that this administration's economic policies would be more of an affront to marriage than would some gay people.

But that's just the logical, loony liberal in me I suppose.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Why Is George Bush a Liar?

Link:

A commander for Osama bin Laden during Afghanistan's war with the Soviet Union who helped the al-Qaida leader escape American forces at Tora Bora is being held by U.S. authorities, a government document says.

The document represents the first definitive statement from the Pentagon that bin Laden, the mastermind of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was at Tora Bora and evaded his pursuers.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney asserted during the presidential election that commanders did not know whether bin Laden was at Tora Bora when U.S. and allied Afghan forces attacked there in December 2001. They dismissed assertions by Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, that the military had missed a chance to capture or kill bin Laden while al-Qaida made a last stand in the mountainous area along the Pakistan border. The document, provided to The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information request, says the detainee held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "assisted in the escape of Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora." ...

While campaigning for president last fall, Kerry said Bush had erred in relying on Afghan warlords to hunt down bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora in December 2001, contending on Oct. 22 that the president had "outsourced" the job.

Cheney said Oct. 26 that Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had "stated repeatedly it was not at all certain that bin Laden was in Tora Bora. He might have been there or in Pakistan or even Kashmir," the Indian-controlled Himalayan region.
Franks, now retired, wrote in an opinion column in The New York Times on Oct. 19, "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001." He added that intelligence assessments of his location varied, but bin Laden was "never within our grasp."

On several occasions Bush cited the column as evidence that bin Laden could have been in any of several countries in December 2001. "That's what Tommy Franks, who knew what he's talking about, said," Bush said on Oct. 27.....

The document does not elaborate on the detainee's U.S. connection but says he arrived in Afghanistan via Bahrain and Iran. He was "present at Tora Bora," crossed the Afghan border into Pakistan in December 2001, and surrendered to Pakistani authorities, the document says....


And Tommy Franks you are the biggest liar of them all because it was your lie that enabled Cheney and Bush during the whole campaign. Your lies enabled the poor planners of this foray into the black abyss of imperialism.

Why Not Just Try Something Different?

From the MoJo Blog (from those that bring us Mother Jones, an excellent magazine with true "journalism"):

Unlike the average driver of the average automobile, the oil industry has just come off a bumper year. Profits have reached all-time highs, with, for example, Exxon-Mobil reporting quarterly income of $8.42 billion, the highest quarterly income ever reported by an American firm.But, as Michael Klare, author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency, notes, this can't last.

[C]heering as the recent announcements may have been for many on Wall Street, they also contained a less auspicious sign. Despite having spent billions of dollars on exploration, the major energy firms are reporting few new discoveries and so have been digging ever deeper into existing reserves. If this trend continues -- and there is every reason to assume it will -- the world is headed for a severe and prolonged energy crunch in the not-too-distant future.

We can soften the landing by conserving energy today funding R&D for alternative technologies tomorrow, but "at current rates of development, none of these alternatives will be available on a large enough scale when petroleum products become scarce," a point also made by Paul Roberts in a recent Mother Jones article.


Is it really responsible to think that killing off 45 species of animals in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge is going to solve this pending "energy crunch"? I am an environmentally concious person, but I also like having heat in the winter and A/C in the summer. Moreover, I believe society has an obligation to take care of the less fortunate - in other words those that will be most affected by an "energy crunch" in the form of higher prices and less means to pay them. The current trend is to shave money from programs that protect the elderly and the poor. What will our society do when this "energy crunch" drives prices even higher, and instead of choosing food or medicine people are choosing food or medicine or air conditioning? Will we let them die in their beds from heat stroke? Or will the Republican Congress step in, one by one, Terri Schiavo style, and save these people?

We know the answers to those questions, so before we have a land full of corpses I think it's time we started looking to renewable energy sources. Those dinosaurs that lived a mere 10,000 years ago (don't bring your evolution crap in here) are about tapped out.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Liberal Inactive Justices - A Follow Up

Having been taken to task for suggesting a Clinton appointee is conservative, I thus rip straight from Talk Left:

He is a former federal defender, former Circuit Court Judge for Hillsboro County and Clinton appointee to the federal bench. Like all federal judges, his appointment is for life. A review of his published opinions and news articles on his decisions do not show political partisanship, or even liberal tendencies. Here's a good size sampling, all sources are listed and available on Lexis.com.

In a high-profile case in Tampa, he ruled a "county can regulate nudity in private clubs to protect residents from an increase in crime and prostitution as well as the degradation of women." Sarasota Herald-Tribune, January 15, 2003.

He "denied an adult business owner's attempt to bar the State Attorney's Office from prosecuting him under a state racketeering law if he sets up shop in Polk County." Lakeland Ledger, February 5, 2003.

He refused to find Polk County's use of antiracketeering laws and high bail unconstitutional. Tampa Tribune, March 2, 2003.

He ruled that "Manatee County nudity ordinances do not infringe on exotic dancers' constitutional rights of expression." Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 3, 2002 .

He "dismissed a lawsuit filed against the Polk school board by parents and students who said the mandate to wear uniforms violated their civil rights." Tampa Tribune, November 20, 2002,

He sent a former publicist for the National Baptist Convention USA back to prison for nine months for violating the terms of her probation. The reason: she had forged the signature of a church minister and made a false statement on a lease application for an apartment. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 29, 2002

In a religious investment scam case, he sentenced Greater Ministries Founder Gerald Payne to 27 years in prison and called him him a "wolf in sheep's clothing." St. Petersburg Times, August 13, 2001.

He upheld Florida's law prohibiting interstate shipment of wine from out of state to Florida consumers. The state had argued the law, which is a felony, is "justified because they address a "threat to the public health, safety, and welfare; to state revenue collections; and to the economy of the state." Broward Daily Business Review, July 30, 2001.

See the link above for more, including some of his "liberal" highlights.

What Is The Meaning of "Life Support"?

I honestly don't know. Is it a medical terminology with specific meaning? Or is it a common usage term? Does "life support" refer to a particular type of medical equipment?

For example, when a politician says "[Schiavo's] not on life support, she just gets nutrition through a tube," what are they really saying? It seems that Mrs. Schiavo can't eat, thus the need for a feeding tube. Obviously, from what we've seen on television - and indeed the crux of the debate - is that removing the feeding tube would result in imminent death.

If the feeding tube is necessary to sustain life, would it not then be "life support"?

And if that's the case, then why are these people lying about it?

Inactivist Judges, The New Scourge

Judge Whittemore refused to order the feeding tube be reinserted into Terri Schiavo despite heartfelt pleas from the 90% of politicians that represent the 30% of people that wanted the US Congress to intervene.

First it was activist judges ruining the moral fabric of America, now it's inactivist judges. And a conservative judge at that.

I'm beginning to wonder if this is "democracy" in action rather than some radical plot by the judiciary to execute a coup against the altruistic Republican Congress. If this is democracy then why does Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, George Bush, the radical Right and the rest of Republicans hate it so much?

The Rude Pundit Makes My Job Easy

The Rude One speaks where I was at a loss for words on the Terri Schiavo matter. Beware the bluntness of his speech, but heed his message [Ed. note - this has been edited for television]:

And there's everything you need to know about contemporary conservatism and its evangelical remoras. Nothing matters - not medicine, not courts, not even the word of a spouse. All that matters is what DeLay says. Or Bush. Or Frist. The Congress and the President said fuck you to the husband; said f- you to the following courts: the Pinellas County Circuit Court, the Second District Court of Appeal, the Florida Supreme Court, the Second District Court of Appeal (again), the Florida Supreme Court (again), the Pinellas Country Circuit Court (again and repeatedly), the Second District Court of Appeal (yet again and repeatedly), the Florida Supreme Court (yet again and repeatedly), and the U.S. Supreme Court; said f- you to doctors; and said f- you to any notions of the liberty of the living. Will they do something to say "f- you" to the federal court that's considering the case now if it rules against the Republicans (and Schiavo's parents)? They have no idea. They're making it up on the fly, the Republicans. They pretend to a belief system and a plan, but ultimately they are merely tools, beholden to their polls, their politics, their re-election pocketbooks.

This entire debacle is about nothing more than changing the national argument, from Social Security, Iraq, and Tom DeLay, to their b.s. "culture of life." But as it sinks in, as it becomes apparent that all that's going on is pandering to the evangelical right, as the rest of us are galled by the actions of a destructive legislative branch, this will
backfire.

The right wants to control your behavior and your interaction with others. In the bedroom, the classroom, the doctor's office, the hospital room. Now we know what the enemy believes - that they and only they know what is medically sound. Now we know why the enemy so absurdly "protects" the "rights" of those "who have no voice": the brain-damaged, the fetuses: because those can't tell the enemy that they're just f-ing wrong.

Right Wing Bracketology

As only The Poor Man can. I can't believe Pat Buchanan got a 2 seed. He's the Wake Forest of the tournament. And Bill O'Reilly got screwed as a 6 seed - I guess that makes him the Louisville equivalent.

Posting Hiatus

Our little blog doesn't get many hits a day, and I didn't really think anyone would notice us on vacation. Come to find out some of the readers (at least the ones that will send email) disagree with everything we say. Thus the email I received congratulating us on finally stopping our madness and thanking the stars that we were no longer here to annoy them.

March Madness took hold, and this time of year I don't work on anything other than my brackets. Three days of braket preperation followed by four days of wall to wall basketball, busted brackets, and gloating phone calls takes a toll. I have a three day reprieve, lost one (Monday) to catch up work and now am trying to catch up on posting.

Regularly annoying posts will resume next week for certain. For now I will just say to Cat fans that I'm sorry I picked Cincy over you in the second round.

Terry Shiavo and Right Wing Nuttiness

I really have no comment on this, other than to say that it seems just plain selfish to keep a person alive by artificial means for the sole purpose of not having "to say goodbye." When my childhood pet dog went lame and arthritis took over his joints, it was obvious he was miserable. Sure, he still wagged his tail and stuck out his tongue in that dopey sort of grin that all dogs seem to have, but was he really happy? Mercy dictated we forego the surgeries (such as they were at the time - this was many years ago), but in doing so we were condemning him to live out his days in pain. No one wanted to let him go, but that was selfish - he deserved a dignified death and reprieve from the suffering.

So it is with Terry Shiavo. It is sad to see a person in that state, but doctors have indicated she feels nothing, and that portions of her brain have turned to jelly. I'm no brain surgeon or brain expert, but it seems that having your brain turn to jelly is a fairly irreversible thing. Her quality of life is zero - she doesn't even know she's alive. Isn't it merciful to let whatever soul she may have move on?

So the nutty right to lifers jump on board (and I don't mean to lump in non-nutty right to lifers with that crowd). Screaming about Nazis, barbarism, and murder on all the talk shows - and incidentally these are the same people that oppose stem cell research which might conceivably lead to some form of remedy for Shiavo.

Then we find out that Bush signed a law allowing this in Texas, and discover the right wing nuttiness is pure show - where's the outrage that Bush would pass hospital sponsored legislation allowing the removal of life sustaining treatment? It's non-existent because these people don't really care about the life, they only care about the power. Fake moralists make me pray that there's a purgatory and that there's a special room just for them to sit in and crow at each until the end of days.

And it's beautiful to see the fact of Republican politicization of the Shiavo case coming straight from the horse's mouth.

Abramoff, Scanlon, Reed, and DeLay

The incomparably conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks seems to have fallen off his meds. If he keeps this up Karl Rove is going to have him "reassigned" to covering the pig competition at the state fair next year.

I can't stand Brooks and his puritanical approach to the world's problems, but his piece is a nice little synopsis of the scam that Abramoff, Scanlon and Reed ran on the Indian tribes and how it's all tied into K Street - Tom DeLay's stomping ground.

And storm clouds gather....

Monday, March 14, 2005

All DeLay, All The Time

Long before I came on the scene here at Kentucky Blog, there were posts dealing with Tom DeLay, House Majority Leader, and his trail of tears - or rather his trail of scandal and corruption. Recently Tom DeLay has been plagued by the revelation of several uncomfortable facts (at which point I cut and paste from the Center for American Progress...why reinvent the wheel, right?):

An Indian tribe and a gambling services company each paid $25,000 to finance an "educational" trip to Britain for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, his wife, two aides and two lobbyists in mid-2000. The trip reportedly included a stay worth more than $13,000 at the Four Seasons in London and a visit to Scotland's legendary St. Andrews golf course. Two months later, in July 2000, DeLay helped kill the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which "would have made it a federal crime to place certain bets over the Internet and was opposed by eLottery and the Choctaws." DeLay's European vacation is just the latest of the House leader's activities to draw scrutiny – DeLay faces accusations concerning his travel, his fundraising practices and his connections to lobbyists. The Washington Post reports, "At least six Republicans expressed concern over the weekend about DeLay's situation ... they said that the volume of the revelations about his operation is becoming alarming and that they do not see how it will abate."

DELAY'S CORPORATE DEFENSE FUND: Since the indictment last fall of two his closest political operatives in Texas, DeLay has raised $250,000 for his legal defense fund, upping the total to nearly $1 million since 2000. But the New York Times reports the fund itself has become an object of scrutiny. The list of recent donors includes two lawmakers who were placed on the House Ethics Committee this year (they replaced conservatives who were purged for being critical of DeLay). Among the corporate donors to the defense fund are Bacardi U.S.A., the rum maker which has also been indicted in the Texas investigation, and Reliant Energy, "another
major contributor to a Texas political action committee
formed by Mr. DeLay that is the focus of the criminal inquiry." In December, DeLay was forced to return funds from registered lobbyists because those contributions violated House ethics rules.

UNETHICAL CONNECTIONS: In a particularly blatant example of conflict of interest, one of the Ethics Committee's new appointees, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), was "co-host of a 2002 fundraising breakfast to benefit the DeLay-founded political action committee that is now the subject of a grand jury investigation in Texas. The grand jury is looking into whether the PAC improperly used corporate funds to influence the outcome of state legislative races." Smith also donated $10,000
to DeLay's legal defense fund. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) also gave the fund $5,000 before winning a seat on the Ethics Committee. The deck is apparently now well stacked.

VACATIONS FROM HOUSE RULES: DeLay "could face new legal bills over a swirl of allegations" made against him and other House members that they "accepted foreign trips from lobbyists and registered foreign agents." In addition to his European vacation, DeLay accepted an expense-paid trip to South Korea which, in direct violation of House rules, was paid for by a South Korean lobbying group. The cost to send DeLay, his wife and three of his lawmaker friends to Seoul for three days was $106,921. The group that funded the trip, Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, shares
a Georgetown address
with former DeLay aide and current lobbyist Ed Buckham.

NO ETHICS IN HOUSE: Don't expect an investigation into DeLay's transgressions any time soon. Rather than coming clean about his various ethical violations, DeLay and his allies in the House have sought to cripple the House Ethics Committee. The committee, which rebuked DeLay three times last year, was purged of its most "responsible" members last month and is currently "paralyzed" by a proposed rule change that "would prevent the committee from launching any investigation without the support of at least one Republican—a restriction designed to protect the majority leader." House leaders proposed the change only after abandoning their proposal to repeal a rule forcing the House Majority leader to retire from his post if indicted. The measure was dropped after rank-and-file lawmakers complained "the party was sending the wrong message.


The Texas mess is related to TRMPAC, a PAC designed to push the Texas redistricting (read: gerrymandering) scheme down the throats of Democrats and Texans, which resulted in a 5 seat pickup for the Texas Republicans.

DeLay's other PAC, ARMPAC, is being run by an indicted Jim Ellis and is giving out money to politicians. This money is greedily accepted by everyone despite the fact that DeLay affiliates and donors are under investigation and even indictment - specifically Jim Ellis. Since campaign finances are public record, I did a little digging (actually very "little" since the information is all right here), and found the following Kentucky Republicans took these sums from ARMPAC in the 2004 election cycle:
  • Jim Bunning - $10,000
  • Geoff Davis - $10,000
  • Anne Northup - $10,000
  • Alice Forgy Kerr - $10,000 (money well spent)

Kentucky's own Hal Rogers is deep in the DeLay pocket as well, having spent time and resources raising money for DeLay's legal defense fund, even before such a thing was en vogue. Of course, now even DeLay's defense fund is looking suspect since it's been bankrolled heavily by companies also under indictment in the Texas gerrymandering scheme. Having already seen that Anne Northup supported changing the House ethics rules to protect Tom DeLay in the event of indictment, I thought it would be worth it to pose a follow up.

Does anyone have any information on Anne's position? What about Rogers' position? Does Davis believe money from a tainted source is worthy of a Kentuckian? Will these three still go to bat for The Bug Man if he's indicted? Innocent until proven guilty is great, but at some point it might be nice to face facts and speak out against the conduct even if not the man. Innocent until proven guilty didn't stop Clinton's impeachment, and it appears that the "rule of law" party only believes in the rule of law when they don't control all levers of government.

If anyone takes the initiative to call, arm yourself with this excellent bit of information from Sam Rosenfeld and this summary from the good folks at DailyKos. Drop us a line to let us know.

Moral values alive in well in DC - exemplified by the Republican DC establishment.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Looking Past Tort Reform

A group of Kentucky doctors and public health experts have formed a "think tank" to address health care issues in Kentucky such as lack of health insurance, Medicaid funding, and medical liability. Obviously this is something that is approaching a "crisis" in this state, and looks to be about to get worse since the Republican leadership rejected the Bankruptcy Deform amendment that would have allowed greater protections for debtors that file bankruptcy for medical reasons (roughly one-half of all bankruptcy debtors).

Of course doctors rarely see themselves as being a part of the growing costs of health care, and they are partially correct, although not for the reasons they surmise. While most doctors believe in their own infallability, they too (by the AMA's admission) are negligent on occasion. Their costs are manipulated by insurance companies and their advice is dictated by drug companies. Given the accepted and empirically proven fact that medical malpractice lawsuits have negligible impact on health care costs I hope that this new "think tank" can actually "think" for themselves rather than simply becoming another lobby for the drug and insurance industry.

Doctors should get paid a lot and I won't argue they shouldn't. But before they gripe about lawyers they really ought to clean up their own house and realize they've been used, largely through the hackery of the AMA, as pawns in the tug of war between the finite boundaries of consumer finances and the unchecked quest for limitless profits by big pharmaceuticals and the insurance crooks.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

John Yarmuth is a Cool Guy

I like John Yarmuth a lot. Those in the Louisville Metro area have undoubtedly read his columns in LEO on a weekly basis, and as partisan liberals go, I think Mr. Yarmuth is usually straight on the money. I rarely watch his appearances on Hot Button on WAVE3 with Scott Reynolds (a poorly done local equivalent of Crossfire) - mostly because it makes me want to grab Jim Milliman, Yarmuth's right wing opposition on the program, by his toupee and shake him violently.

Milliman epitomizes everything that's wrong with the right wing political machine - not only are his policies bad, but he can't support them without bashing someone, yelling, or castigating anyone who might have an alternative viewpoint. To thinking Americans like me, I'd rather go with a well-supported bad idea than a poorly-supported good idea - in other words I don't pick and choose my sides based on who yells the loudest and says the nastiest things to the other. And he's also the yap that represents the indisputably unqualified Dana Stephenson in the 37th District lawsuit against Virginia Woodward. I don't like being yelled at and I don't like idiots trampling on the Constitution of Kentucky for no better reason than partisanship. Milliman makes a habit of representing out-of-towners that want to stick a hand in Kentucky politics - he represented Hunter Bates back in 2003 before Bates did the honorable thing and bowed out of the Lt. Governor race. Bates' candor didn't rub off apparently.

Anyway, I like Yarmuth, especially as a writer, but his column in the LEO a week or so ago (also appearing here on the Kentucky Progress site if you don't mind scrolling down to the "March 1" posting) leaves out an important fact that bears mentioning. Mr. Yarmuth's post pertains to the quaint little $20 million tax incentive plan given to UPS to induce them to expand operations in Louisville. On its face, this seems like corporate welfare:

"UPS is not only Louisville’s largest private employer, but one of its most generous corporate citizens. We are fortunate it’s here.

That being said, a look at the numbers, coupled with a concurrent announcement about Louisville’s employment picture, should cause some serious reflection. UPS said the new facility will immediately create 600 part-time and 120 full-time positions, with a total payroll of $12 million. The math says that equates to average earnings of $16,666 per new employee. At that rate, the new payroll will generate little new state income tax — since the new state tax structure eliminates anyone at this level from the state tax rolls — and less than $300,000 in annual local tax revenue."


From there Mr. Yarmuth dazzles us with statistical comparisons of various comparable economies, and the point he makes is valid - UPS' tax break is disproportionate to its realistic impact on the local economy when indexed against wages to be paid initiallly. This certainly has all the appearances of corporate welfare, and I'll rarely be seen or caught on tape defending corporate welfare. But get your tape recorders out, because here I go.

The expansion will cost UPS $82.5 million and much of the construction labor will necessarily come from Louisville contractors - given UPS' already massive presence in the city, there is no question that local contractors already have bids on the project. That's a four-fold injection of revenue into the city's economy over the tax incentive. And the tax incentive is not guaranteed, and even if fully realized takes 10 years to accumulate. The tax credits are indeed tied to the jobs created (initially 120 full time/600 part time) and in order to receive all the available tax credits UPS must have created 400 full time jobs within the 10 year period. That's over a 300% increase in the full time jobs from the initial operation - and well over what salary projections were for purposes of indexing the effect on the local economy.

And UPS' contributions to the local community cannot be measured in dollars just as Mr. Yarmuth says in his opening sentence.

So the point Big John makes is worth debating - unfortunately the full scope of the tax plan wasn't covered in the media until several days after the fact. Again, I'm not into corporate welfare. But at the same time the reality is that in order to attract businesses you have to give them something, and tax credits are that "something." This is easily counter-balanced by stricter federal oversight - if the feds have a universally applied system of checks on businesses (worker safety, environmental impact, and the like) then that takes those issues out of play at the state level. Instead of competing for businesses by offering up a community's water resource or air quality for unfettered, full scale pollution, the states only compete with tax incentives.

However, as Bush's corporatocracy continues to take over American democracy, stripping power from citizens in favor of corporate governance, states will increasingly compete for businesses on that level. Thus Big John's point becomes ever more important. I'm just saying that UPS is probably not the appropriate company to demonize.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Great Minds

Ogma's out for a while to work on other projects, but I'll give him props anyway. Way back on February 22 he blogged about Social InSecurity, and the effects of creditor's rights vis-a-vis "private accounts." This was of course nearly 3 weeks prior to the Bankruptcy Deform Bill's ham-handed bitch slap to the lower and middle class, but now the two pieces of legislation - when taken in their totality - make his point ever more cogent.

To wit, he wrote:
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 doubt that they got it from our little blog, but it's nice to see that others are asking these questions too: Matt Yglesias, Max Speak, Brad DeLong, but see Dead Parrot (who disagrees with the assessment but makes the obvious point that we've all missed, which is that Bush wants the account to "be passed on to your children" which makes it a part of a deceased's estate - thus subject to creditor claims through probate).

My point in clapping Ogma on the back is twofold. One is to spur him back into action and blogging - he's much more informed than I am on these issues and, at least in my opinion, he better articulates them. My second point is to put on display for all the world to see that people at the grassroots level, both right and left, have the ability to think for themselves. Our elected officials oftentimes want us to sheltered and to keep us thinking linearly. Much of the realistic impact of legislation is not good for right over left or vice versa. Often it is simply not good for either side, it just seems that one side is always willing to buy the crap being sold so long as it comes from a familiar face.

And here's a quote for all you would-be McConnell fans out there:

“It's quite exciting,” said Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “It's been a very good day.”

And don't ever forget that there is absolutely nothing in this bill for you (unless your name starts and ends with "MBNA" or "Citicorp"), and is universally opposed by right and left pundits alike. Does anyone still think McConnell represents Kentuckians? What about when farmers start getting squeezed...you know, with all the cuts coming in farm subsidies and such. Even the Freepers are against this (with a few qualifying for the "nutball" exception).

Again people, it is possible for us to agree - and in this case we should.

Gut Check Time

The Bankruptcy Reform Bill has been little debated but much championed - unscrupulous recipients of campaign contributions from both sides of the aisle have pushed this thing through Congress. And much to my (pleasant) surprise, both sides of the blogosphere are up in arms about it.

We've blogged here enough on the bill, and I'll let Glenn Reynolds and Kevin Drum (both via DailyKos)have at it for a while. They represent opposite ideological spectrums, and Reynolds is considered by many to be the father of right wing blog-dom. I'm not a regular reader, but after having read his post have committed myself to change that bad habit of sending all right wing commentary to the trash bin.

Conservative friends would do well to read the Reynolds post and get more informed. There is simply nothing in the bill that is pro-ordinary citizen, whether they're bankrupt because of hookers and blackjack or an inoperable brain tumor. Fortunately for the upper crust plenty of loopholes have been built in to protect their assets and homes while ma and pa with 20% equity in their homes but insurmountable medical bills stand to lose it all. Amendments to protect the elderly, the sick, the military, and to reduce the exemptions for the rich all failed.

This bill is a product of a legislature without morality or soul - in other words a legislature without belief that it answers to its citizens. This is a non-partisan affront to the middle class written by credit card lobbyists, and has absolutely no basis in any study or biblical provocation. Americans of all political stripes need to remember that blind faith in elected leaders is a failing of our obligations to democracy. It's perfectly okay to disagree with them on one issue - and this has to be that issue. It's simply corporatocracy gone too far.

I for one believe that since we as Americans have the right to vote and a credit card company does not, that our interests should govern.

The End of Coal As We Know It

If Howard Cornett is correct, and assuming he's not an alarmist that was simply pushing a bill in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, then Kentucky's coal industry is about to become nonexistent. By "thousands of dollars" I mean:
....Leonard Lawson, one of the state's dominant road builders, whose family has given $76,000 to state legislative candidates in recent years, plus $96,000 combined to the state Democratic and Republican parties and $13,000 to Fletcher.

The Senate attached amendments to Senate Bill 8 (regarding weight exemptions for gravel haulers - all to protect coal of course) that would exempt Louisville and Lexington from the exemptions.

And Ernie Fletcher makes it harder for me to dislike him:
Yesterday, Fletcher reiterated his earlier doubts about the bill and told reporters that even the modified version didn't satisfy his concerns about traffic safety and road damage.

The other thing he did was express contempt for the legislature's pork barrel approach to our budget, which is nothing more than a spendfest that's going to make next year's budget crisis make this year's look like a bump in the road. Truth be told, I like Fletcher. I just wish he'd get over the whole love fest with Grover Norquist and get on with governing our commonwealth.

Sorry guv-nah, but sometimes taxes have to be raised if you want to pay for your initiatives. Education and healthcare should be our state's top priorities, followed closely behind by the War on Meth and job creation and alternative land use initiatives for rural farmers. But that's just the "loony liberal" in me coming out...you know, just wanting to help people and such.

Update: The Last Sane Man chimes in with some Lexington specific info useful for voters in the future. He's thrown down the gauntlet, Clint Eastwood style, and I'll have to match him with the Louisville equivalent in a later post.

The State of a Nation

According to a study conducted by civil engineers, our nation's infrastructure is failing, and without significant funding will ultimately deteriorate. It seems the primary concern is transportation with just a dash of education thrown on top. These are real problems that face our nation and affect liberals and conservatives alike. Truth be told the problem will disporportionately affect conservatives, and I'll explain why.

"Conservatives" (by that I mean those that voted more on "morality" rather than party affiliation) occupy a wider swath of land through the middle of America (really cool maps explain this here). "Liberals" live more densely, i.e. in cities. Thus a concentration of "liberal" tax dollars is more efficiently spent on things that actually help more liberals. Think of it like this: if you have 20 conservatives spread over a 20 square mile area, but only one umbrella in a rain storm, somebody's getting soaked; but if you have 20 liberals occupying a multi-level dwelling in a city during a rain storm, one umbrella's going to keep them dry.

In those terms, it makes perfect sense that a densely populated area will get a better return on it's local tax dollars - such as real property taxes which fund schools and local construction projects. This goes along, too, with the fact that "red" states receive a larger pro rata share of the federal tax dollars than do "blue" states - "blue" states in effect get punished for being "blue", although the more realistic view is that they cover a smaller area of land, thus (at least from a transportation perspective) require less funds to maintain their infrastructure. [Ed. Note: I intentionally linked to a rightwinger site with lots of comments so you can see for yourself the inability of some to see the point I'm making in this post - not to mention the lack of appreciation at our apparent "stupidity" for promoting equality].

One other aspect that is rarely discussed without getting the smackdown from politicians heavily funded by the oil and auto industries is the idea of interstate transportation alternatives. For example, those that have been to Europe have no doubt ridden an electric powered train that connects all major cities and most small towns. That's why Europe's oil usage is so much less than ours, not to mention they're more environmentally friendly. It is expensive, but oil is a non-renewable resource and it will run out some day.

But why let environmentally conscious cost effectiveness get in the way of progress?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

On Being Insignificant

Ed Kilgore reminds us that in the blogosphere we are not as important as we would like to think ourselves in the grand scheme of things. I guess my follow up to Ed would be: How do we change our importance with the 74 percent that don't read blogs? And how do we reach them before they-who-shall-not-be-named do?

The Trouble with Superficial Morality

...is that it's superficial. It strikes me as just a tad irresponsible to report that the fact that Boeing fired it's CEO over an "immoral" tryst with a subordinate is somehow a reflection of growing morality in the corporate world. In fact it's a lot like that soothing nitrous that the dentist gives you just before drilling holes in some of the most sensitive areas on your entire body. The "there is no pain you are receiving...I have become comfortably numb" sort of Wizard of Oz approach.

Such as "look what good citizens corporations are" but "don't consider the anti-consumer tort reform we are shoving down your throats" or the "pro-corporation class action reforms" or the corporate whore "bankruptcy reform bill."

We heard this crap when the savings and loan scandals broke not so long ago.

And it seems especially irresponsible to support the unfounded mantra that a termination over a sex scandal is indicative of a newfound corporate morality without also point out that prosecutions in the Enron and Worldcom cases have resulted in merely superficial convictions with very little restitution to those that lost their pensions, the states who had their power supplies manipulated thus raiding the state's coffers, or the innocent citizens whose energy needs were at the mercy of idiots with a light switch. Nor have any of the CEOs responsible served any significant time and have emerged with their personal assets largely intact.

Trouble at the 49th Parallel

If we get any more of this talk from our Cannuck neighbors there's apt to be a full scale invasion. I'm not sure of the significance coming from a "former" Prime Minister, but it certainly puts in perspective what others see in us. Rather than getting up in arms about it, I would challenge our friends from the other side of the dial to explain - without "freedom fries" or threats of bombing - why we shouldn't consider what the esteemed Lord Axworthy is saying.

It's the Hate, Stupid

There's so much hate from the right side of the political dial, and it is often masqueraded as "debate" or "discussion." Whatever it is called, it usually involves a label - a label from the right to the left, such as "Left Coast liberal" "un-American" "traitor" "military-hater" "elitist liberals" and so on. The label is always levied in such a manner as to make the labelee appear somewhat less "human" and thus less entitled to civility in discourse. Ultimately this serves to de-humanize the subject. When a person is stripped of their human characteristics, i.e. what makes them entitled to human rights and equality, it becomes all too easy to justify the continued unjustified segregation and marginalization of that person. When "that person" is actually a large group...as in 49% or more...of the country's population...well you can imagine the comparisons that can be drawn from the systematic dehumanization and calls for abolition of that group.

I'm not accusing the right of being Nazis because I think it's an overly used comparison, and the facts are that the right hasn't tried to kill all the liberals just yet (just the ones that perform abortions, but that's another animal altogether). But hate is hate, and it is equally dispicable if it comes from a ruthless dictator on a mad quest for world domination, or if it comes from a so-called Christian conservative or from a radio talk show host whose audience doesn't bother to get any other news sources or from some idiot that rights a book (or books) about why "liberals hate America."

It's all hate. And it's all wrong. And it makes me sick that after seeing what hate will do to a race of men, we allow it here. On our soil. On our turf. In our country.

I don't hate Republicans and I don't hate conservatives. And while I support the notion that the Democrats are an opposition party, I do not support the belief that we should define the opposing party's humanity downwards - call it "not stooping to their level" or "taking the high road" or whatever. It is possible to fight insanity without becoming insane.

And I don't think we should ever refer to them as "the enemy." America has enough enemies thanks to the last four years without making enemies of ourselves.

More Weightlessness From Cumbersome Coal Trucks

Apropos to our prior discussions on Senate Bill 8 as relates to exending coal's weight limit exemptions to gravel haulers (and an excellent series at The Last Sane Man found here, here, and here), I suspect we'd see a lot more of this if the bill passes:
Charles Wiley, 27, of Blacklog was driving a tractor-trailer hauling coal in the westbound lane, state police said. In an attempt to avoid stopped traffic, Wiley steered the rig into the eastbound lane, where it crashed into a GMC Sierra operated by Lonnie Preece, 55, of Inez. Preece was pronounced dead at the scene by Martin County Coroner Mike Crum. Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement agents cited Wiley for hauling an overweight load, among other charges.

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

Social Security Semantics

I'm not one for bobblehead shows such as Meet the Press because I'm just not interested in seeing a couple of people rap each other over the head with talking points. I used to watch them religiously, then get all pissed off that things were being said that were obviously false - and then get even madder that if I, sitting in my pajamas with a cup of lukewarm coffee and week old donuts, knew is was false then surely the nitwit "moderating" the shouting match should know.

Then I got older and wiser and gave up the hope that bobblehead narrators would monitor a debate for factual accuracy. Thus I gave up the bobblehead watching...but I got sucked into MTP on Sunday with Mitch McConnell and Dick Durbin debating Social Security.

One thing that gets me is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding in the debate - and one that I think is intentional from phase out proponents and one that has been entirely overlooked by Social Security champions. Social Security is not an investment. It was never intended to be an investment. It should never be look at as an investment.

Social Security is an insurance program. And yes, it's an insurance program that you pay into over your lifetime, and one that you may very well never need use of if, let's say, you supplement your insurance with retirement investments such as 401(k)s or IRAs. If you hit the jackpot then no, you won't need Social Security and you won't get it. But that's the hazards of buying any insurance - you don't buy homeowners' insurance hoping that your house will burn to the ground. You don't buy health insurance with the hope that you will get cancer and be hospitalized just so you can take advantage of the low deductible. You don't buy auto insurance because you hope your car gets smashed into little pieces by a tractor trailer that jack-knifes in Spaghetti Junction in downtown Louisville.

Social Security is insurance. When you don't get "use" of your homeowner's or auto insurance policies you don't get your premiums back. That's the price you pay to shift the risk of loss from yourself to the insurance company. And that's the insurance company's reward for accepting the risk of loss. Just like at the end of the year, you look back at your tax statement from the mortgage company and think "whew, glad my house didn't burn this year" OR if your house burned down you think "whew, too bad the wedding pictures are gone but at least we have insurance" - at the end of your life if you get Social Security then you think "whew, glad I can afford to pay my mortgage/rent/condo fees since my 401(k) was raided by Enron execs that largely went unpunished" or if you don't need Social Security because your IRA grew as hoped over a 30 year period you think "whew, glad I can pay all my bills and not have to rely on Social Security."

The point is that Social Security is the insurance that assures you that no matter how foolish you are with your money - whether it's bad investments in the market or booze, hookers, and gambling in Vegas - you will be able to retire with dignity when the Congressionally approved age is attained. The point is also that Social Security is the insurance that assures you that no matter how unfortunate you are were you to suffer at age 25 - after incurring student loans but before having the chance to divert dollar one to any retirement vehicle - you suffer a debilitating injury that leaves you fortunately alive but unfortunately without the capacity to work.

Some of us have Disability Insurance for that sort of thing, but those of us that can't afford "supplemental" insurance like that - or "supplemental retirement funds" like IRAs - have Social Security. It's an insurance policy that spreads the risk across all participants, which theoretically means all Americans. Each American is another's keeper - under what other program can a neighbor look at another and say "I hope neither of us ever needs it, but I'll put in just in case you do, and I know you're doing the same for me."

Social Security is insurance. It is not an investment. When the risk of loss is spread between fewer people the cost to each goes up proportionately - thus reduced premiums for large group plans for health insurance. With an investment the risk of loss is borne by one person - the investor. Thus it's an all or nothing game.

And Josh Marshall is dead on when he says:
That is what the push for private accounts is all about. It means the end of Social Security by stages.

9/11 Changed Everything

That's the mantra. It changed how we viewed national security, isolationism, torture, the economy, free trade, drug cartels, and innocent Arabs that have the misfortune of sharing a peaceful religion with those who would pervert the Islamic faith into a religious justification for an immoral course of conduct aimed at achieving political ends.

9/11 caused budget deficits, not $11 trillion in tax cuts. 9/11 caused the ballooning of our defense budget, not an $8 billion waste on a missile defense system that doesn't work, and even if it did work as intended would have no effect against a suicide bomber in downtown Manhattan. 9/11 caused our economy to falter and jobs to be lost, not our trade policies and our "turn the other cheek" mentality towards heavy campaign donors that regularly relocated jobs over seas.

So it came to pass that any criticism of the Bush administration was deflected with "9/11 made me do it" or the dictatorial response that to question our leaders was either un-American and traitorous or un-Christian. Rarely, if ever, can a person point to hard core, verifiable evidence that this refrain - that critics were trampling on the graves of 3,000 Americans - was in fact nothing more than a political ploy, and thus a grave trampling of it's own. So often, liberals and conservatives debate facts, and no matter how much circumstantial evidence mounts against the Bush administration (who have essentially hijacked "conservatism" and perverted it's true meaning into a corporate welfare program) "true believers" just can't fathom that someone who believes in Jesus would exploit the worst act of terrorism against the United States for partisan political gains.

Although it is the smoking gun, I have no doubt that Frank Luntz's political playbook (via DailyKos) will convince no true believer that not only was 9/11 exploited for political gains but the mere occurrence of 9/11 has been a cause for rejoicing within those that set the Bush administration's political agenda. Luntz, whose soulless drivel can also be found here, gives us rock solid proof that he and the other players at the top of the Bush food chain can hardly contain their excitement at the political "gift" that bin Laden gave them on 9/11 and his writings reeks of his callous disregard for the humanity our country lost on 9/11 and every day since:

“This is the context that explains and justifies why we have $500 billion deficits, why the stock market tanked, why unemployment climbed to 6%....Without the context of 9-11, you will be blamed for the deficit....[S]upporters are inherently turned off to the idea of fiscal irresponsibility....The trick then is to contextualize the deficit inside of 9/11.”

Because budget deficits have nothing to do with off the books spending on the folly in Iraq ($300 billion), the vulgar Medicare bill that prohibits the government from negotiating drug prices (unlike every other country in the free world), or the $11 trillion tax cut that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest Americans.

In other words, "3,000 Americans died so we can do whatever the hell we want, and if you say we can't then you're dishonoring their memories, and you hate America."

Seems pretty heartless for a guy whose co-pilot is allegedly Jesus. Or on the other hand, it says something about a God that would pick Bush to be our President - I am assuming a God that could coordinate elections in all 50 states would have the providence to know that Karl Rove and his posse are drunk on the power wrought from the blood of 3,000 dead Americans.

Does that sound like the God of the Christian Right?

Sickness

It's a hell of a thing to be sick - and I don't mean a head cold. I'm talking that kind of sickness where you stare at a computer screen and your eyes slowly drift in different directions, and five minutes later you realize you've just passed out with your eyes open.

The suffering continues but is abating. Those of you visiting and hoping that finally I had rewarded your patronage with a quality post, I am sorry that this is the best I can do. For the past two days I've been speaking in tongues - something our conservative friends we regularly converse with at the progressive Bluegrass Roots would suggest I do all the time and not just on occasion. Anyway, I hope to have something intelligent to say soon.

Friday, March 04, 2005

We Don't Need No Stinking Bi-Partisanship

It has been clear, and overtly stated, that the current rulers of the Republican party have every intention of choking out the Democratic party. This is met with a sigh of relief from "true believers" who give not one thought to what life in America would be like under autocratic rule - but I'll just chalk that up to a lack of interest in world history. Most disturbing about the tactics of the Republican leadership has been their ability to get Democrats to assist in this through "bipartisan" legislation - Tort Reform, Class Action Reform, McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform, and so on. To be certain, the Republicans see tort reform more as a way of cutting off funding to Democrats than as a means of helping those poor, pitiful doctors that only make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Among the most damaging has been ATR and Tom DeLay's "K Street Project" wherein companies and donors were rewarded with access to the halls of Congress if they hired former Republican staffers to fill lucrative positions. The DC lobby is basically a cess pool of former Reganites, Bushanistas from Bush I and II, and assorted other Republican staffers and such. If you doubt that Republicans rule the mean streets of DC, read Confessore's article and then try and figure out how it is that Republicans can still get away with claiming to be the non-establishment party.

So it is with no great surprise that speculation has turned to Campaign Finance Reform, Part II. And once again, Democrats are wielding part of the ax that will be used to chop off their own heads. There's nothing wrong with smart campaign finance reform - just like there's nothing wrong with adjustments to Social Security or Medicare or revisions to the tax code. After all, progress is the effect of progressiveness.

But it's just plain stupid to think that anything remotely resembling party-neutral legislation will come out of this Congress or this administration. Sure, Dems and Repubs may agree on mutually acceptable reforms, but we all know that Dems get shut out of meetings to reconcile the House and Senate versions of bills. In closed door sessions all pro-Democratic provisions get stripped out, and both houses rush a late vote without any time for review of the "new and improved" legislation.

It happened on Medicare and it will happen on CFR. Until the Dems control at least one House they are just morons to go along with any law that would choke out their own funding sources. They'll just lose more funding and Republicans will tout their financial superiority as evidence that they represent "mainstream" values, when in fact they are nothing more than plutocratic theocrats.

Is it "obstructionist"? Maybe, but it seems they'd rather be "obstructionist" and live to fight another day than to be an extinct animal altogether.

Protecting Credit Card Companies

I'd love to blog in depth about the Bankruptcy Deform Bill in Congress, but there's just too much to get into in one post. I'll try to break it up and hit different aspects, but there's simply no cohesive way to address just how misguided this bill is in this format. This is a pure corporate bill, and it is the result of a decade long assault on an individual's rights under the federal Bankruptcy Code by the credit industry.

This despite logging record profits year after year, and the fact that they have found ways to make money through fees and interest rates despite insolvency of certain debtors.
But in the early 1990s, companies such as AT&T and General Motors began issuing cards with variable rates and no fees, increasing competition. And by the middle of the decade, card companies were finding their traditional middle-class markets saturated. Their response: lend to riskier customers and make up for the danger of more defaults by charging higher rates and then new fees. McKinley, the industry analyst, said the firms were helped by a 1996 Supreme Court case that gave card companies new protections against state regulation of fees.

And let's not forget they also charge the businesses that accept the credit cards as payments. Most discouraging is that this administration has overseen the largest burden relief on corporate responsibility in all facets of American life. From protecting workers' safety, to environmental responsibility, to rewarding bad citizenship with tax breaks while jobs are shipped overseas, to deregulation that allows consumer prices on natural resources to soar while companies log record profits, this administration has basically handed over our country to corporate interests.

It doesn't take a genius to know that credit card companies invite much of the trouble they complain of. How many credit card solicitations do college students get? As a college student I was offered - and like the moron that I was at age 18 accepted - credit from multiple credit card companies. This despite having a part time job that paid $150 a week. I didn't lie on the credit application, yet they deemed me creditworthy enough to give me a four figure limit. When that was maxed I got more solicitations - balance transfers and revolving credit became a part of my everyday life before I had completed one year in college.

Student loan money paid them off, and now I'm unsecured debt free. Sure, they were hedging their bets that I'd be able to pay in the future. But poor people get offered credit like Easter candy - Citifinancial loves to give out "secured" loans to poor people with interest rates in the double digits. The loan is secured by a television or some other asset that has a value grossly lower than the actual amount loaned out. The borrower can't afford a pot to pee in, but gets loans and credit card solicitations for thousands of dollars of credit. The heartless will say "they should show restraint" and I say "yes they should." Except I'm talking about the credit companies - responsibility for one's actions is a two way street.

Offering up money to a person that's never had it is like offering a cheeseburger to an Ethiopian. It's time our government started protecting us - it's time corporations were held accountable for their own actions as well. This bill represents yet another shift of the financial burden of America onto the backs of the poor and middle class - I mean, honestly, do you think Bill Gates uses a credit card?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Larry O'Bannon

This is a politically themed blog, and I don't want to get away from that. But there's something about a guy like Larry O'Bannon - a guy that no one ever counted on to be a big time player after his first two years at UL - putting up 26 points in the first half with Pat Reilly sitting courtside that demands a comment.

That's half the team's first half points. That's 5-6 from three point range, 9-10 from the field, and 3-3 from the line. That's from a guy that went through college playing for a Division I basketball team, that will graduate in 4 years (something this non-athlete took 5 years to do - and even then it was a close call), and will get a degree in Accounting. And he did it all while staying on the Dean's List honor roll with a GPA of 3.0 or better in both the Fall and Spring semesters of 2004.

Sorry Wildcat fans, but tonight is O'Bannon's night.

War Against Internets Update

This guy says Bradley Smith is full of crap about the blogger crackdown.

Greenspan the Goat

Okay, he's not a goat, but I originally wanted to call this post "I Really Hate Greenspan" or "Greenspan Should Rot in ..." - well you get the picture. In 1982-83 Greenspan was involved in "saving" Social Security under Regan, and the plan was to raise the salary cap subject to SS tax nominally. The limitations put in place are the ones referred to today as the "$90,000 cap" and it increases each year incrementally.

Now of course Greenspan is testifying that Social Security is again in "crisis" (a bit antithetical to his testimony before Congress in '82) and that cuts in benefits are necessary. This gives credence to the incredulous notion that privatizing Social Security is the way to go. Yesterday Greenspan concedes budget deficits are also a problem - yet he was the strongest advocate of the tax cuts so that Congress wouldn't spend the Bill Clinton surplus.

So let's recap:
  • Greenspan agrees taxes should be cut on the richest Americans
  • Greenspan suggests SS benefits should be cut rather than raising the salary level subject to FICA tax (serving two purposes - one is to make the poor even poorer because the rich don't need Social Security, and the other is to avoid having those making over $90,000 contribute to the retirement of those who served them over the years as their caddies, maids, cab drivers, etc.)
  • Greenspan suggest spending cuts are needed to compensate for the deficits created by the tax cuts (spending cuts, as Bush has shown, will only affect those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder)

Now Greenspan is promoting a national sales tax (i.e. "consumption tax") where you're taxed on what you consume. If you don't spend money you're not paying taxes. Sounds good in theory, right? Of course it does - but then again, so did the String Theory of particle physics when it first came out. No real economist supports this and with Google you'll find libertarians, conservatives, and liberals all oppose it on a variety of ideological and reality-based grounds. Which makes me wonder if Greenspan is just a dumbass (albeit a lucky one)? Or has his brains been replaced with Jell-O?

The point being that lower income group and much of the middle class spend most, if not all, of their income each month. Rich people don't. Thus the marginal tax rate for the poor (i.e., the percentage of income spent on taxes) is grossly disproportionate to that of the rich. But don't rich people deserve it? Yes and no. If there was a corresponding tax on "wealth" (such as the amassing of money on investments that have been handed down from one generation to another with no work being performed by the beneficiary - does anyone think Paris Hilton should live her life without paying taxes on the money she's going to be given?) a "hybrid" system may be doable (but for the other problems noted below). Does anyone really think Bush is going to tax wealth?

And let's all screw the old people in the process. A retired dude earns $100,000 let's say. After taxes he takes home $75,000, and saves every penny. Now he retires and there's a 25% sales tax. Boom! His $100,000 earnings have now been taxed down to $56,250! Hee hee hee hee. Screw you old people, that's what you get for getting old. Hee hee hee. You should have worked harder and got a better education and thus a higher paying job. Hee hee hee.

Now assume the $75,000 is what the guy that cleaned the urinals in your office building for 25 years was able to save in that time on his $6.00/hour salary. He worked 7 p.m. - 3 a.m. every night so you could crap and pee in a clean bathroom the next morning. A national sales tax has just reduced his retirement nest egg by almost half of its original, pre-tax worth, and he's wondering why he didn't just rob you one night, sell your kids crack, or blackmail you with photos of you doing your secretary. In other words a guy that played by the rules (you know, the kind that politicians like to point to at State of the Union or campaign stop speeches) just got screwed.

Finally, it is a violation of federalism - the notion that the federal government and the governments of the various states are separate. [In other words "states' rights"...the favorite straw man of the Republicans in regards to environmental regulation relaxation, but the boogey man when it comes to gay marriage.] Taxation is a concurrent power between them, but in keeping with the notion originally espoused in the Articles of Confederation, the federal government only taxed income (and even then only with a Constitutional Amendment). Even states that don't charge an income tax - usually on the basis of federalism originally (note they're primarily in the South where federalism was more espoused), but now on the basis of politics - charge a sales tax. A federal sales tax arguably deprives states of a vital revenue source. Simply stated adding 26% to the existing sales tax (the amount necessary to sustain current tax levels - some estimates go as high as 50%) would cause consumers to pay a third or more of a product's price in tax.

Oh, one more thing. The 26% estimate includes taxing new housing purchases. Buy yourself a $100,000 shoebox in the city with no money down and you're starting out with -$26K equity.

Sweet.

The War on Meth

I oppose methamphetamine producers and support any effort to put them out of business. But then again, everybody except the meth makers are going to say that. It's a bit like saying "I'm against child porn" and expecting a pat on the back for your principled stand. So a bill that tightens control over the purchase of meth-making products is a good thing. But....

And there's always a "but." I watched some of the floor discussion yesterday, particularly that involving the proposed amendments to the bill that were shot down, most particularly that amendment proposed by Frank Rasche (D-Paducah). Rasche withdrew his amendments, but his points are valid - and their impact is far from "gutting the bill" as was accused.

The bill as written:
...will require pharmacies to keep cold and allergy medication with pseudoephedrine behind the counter or in a locked cabinet. Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient for making meth.Customers will be limited to buying medications containing 9 grams of pseudoephedrine per month, or about 300 Sudafed tablets, and will be required to show an ID and sign a log.

Now for sure, putting it behind a counter and signing a log, while inconvenient and potentially obtrusive into one's privacy, I can live with. Unfortunately the bill creates a monopoly on pseudoephedrine-containing drug sales in favor of pharmacists. Therefore, those that shop at Sam's Club, let's say, and purchase generic "cold medication" that contains pseudoephedrine in bulk for legitimate reasons can no longer do so. That is, unless you go to Sam's when there's a pharmacist on duty. Same goes for any retailer that doesn't have a pharmacist on staff or whose pharmacist works odd hours - especially in rural towns (but I'll concede the rural areas are predominantly the locations in need of restrictions).

And speaking of bulk, Rasche brought up the legitimate notion that families with chronic allergy sufferers - of which Kentucky is full of - will de facto run afoul of the law. Either that or they'll be making regular trips to the store. Again this goes to the inconvenience factor - but the inconvenience for the regular consumer is abated somewhat by allowing sales at non-pharmacy retailers. The other checks, such as identification and record keeping, serve the purpose of limiting access even absent the 9 gram limitation. Not to sound like I'm backing the pharmaceutical companies, but the makers of Claritin D are in for a hurtin'.

As someone that relies heavily on sinus medicines throughout the year, not being able to purchase a small supply is a pain. A pain I can live with, but not being able to purchase it in the most cost effective manner is the bigger hassle. It seems that quantity restrictions and record keeping are duplicitous.

And one other thing Rasche mentioned though I don't have any science to back it up is that in certain forms, such as gelcaps, pseudoephedrine cannot be used for meth production. Again, I'm taking his word on it but it seems overly restrictive to ban all products when not all are used for illicit purposes.

Finally, this proposed law is based, almost word for word, on a bill from Oklahoma. According to OK their bill worked - the problem is that no one has been able to determine exactly which portion of the bill worked and which were overkill. Thus KY is adopting all portions of it rather than tinkering with the provisions that appear overly restrictive.

It's good to see the legislature trying, and short term inconvenience is okay - but there needs to be some studies done after implementation to make sure that the extra costs consumers will pay, that pharmacists will incur (and pass on to us of course), and the concurrent loss of revenue for retailers that can no longer sell the products are all nominal in comparison with the effectiveness of the bill.

Down with the Internets

The internets are atwitter this morning due to this interview with Bradley Smith of the FEC in which he talks about regulation of the blogs and the internets in general under McCain-Feingold. The intrepid Armando at DailyKos and blogfather Atrios have already put up posts, and even the Wing King, Glenn Reynolds, has devoted time to it.

This snippet has taken the wind out of everyone's sails apparently:

It's going to be a battle, and if nobody in Congress is willing to stand up and say, "Keep your hands off of this, and we'll change the statute to make it clear," then I think grassroots Internet activity is in danger. The impact would affect e-mail lists, especially if there's any sense that they're done in coordination with the campaign. If I forward something from the campaign to my personal list of several hundred people, which is a great grassroots activity, that's what we're talking about having to look at. Senators McCain and Feingold have argued that we have to regulate the Internet, that we have to regulate e-mail. They sued us in court over this and they won. ....

We're talking about any decision by an individual to put a link (to a political candidate) on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet. ....

In fact, the regulations are very specific that reproducing a campaign's material is a reproduction for purpose of triggering the law. That'll count as an expenditure that counts against campaign finance law.


Without delving into the free speech issues under the Supremes' decision in Buckley v. Valeo, let's just consider the possibility for mischief, both by proponents and opponents of any given candidate - let's call him Candidate X.

Candidate X's supporters run off the book blogs in support of Candidate X - in which the bloggers (which are oftentimes merely anonymous anyway) promote Candidate X without using campaign literature on X's website or in his mailers. Rather the bloggers' info is prepared by X's campaign, but prepared just for the bloggers - there's no connection and with off the ranch bloggers blogging anonymously, this is a regulatory nightmare.

That is, unless Typepad, Blogspot, and all the other blogging services are forced to "out" their anonymous bloggers. Thus bloggers that blog anonymously because their livelihoods are in jeopardy if they're caught commenting on the whos and whats of government goings on - the kind of stuff that doesn't hit the mainstream media and wouldn't otherwise be public knowledge without a "Deep Throat" type character - are gone. Further, how would the blogging services verify identity? For that matter, how would GoDaddy or other web hosting and domain registration service authenticate identity of the actual blogger? You could have Jeff Gannon set up your website since that's his job, but then you blog it. Does Jeff Gannon, and all other similarly situated people (I mean web developers not male whores) have to turn over all information related to their clientele just on the off chance that a web site purchaser might blog at some time about Candidate X. Privacy violations, anyone?

And what about offshore web hosting? Can the US government regulate what is hosted and blogged outside of US soil, assuming there's no treaty to that effect? Consider the porn industry - most hard core porn sites are hosted off shore to avoid potential regulatory hassles from the US. They're simply hosted in countries that appreciate the wooden nickels, and because their economy is so bad they don't care a lick about porn eminating from their country.

Speaking of offshore hosting, what's to stop opponents of Candidate X from setting up a faux Candidate X site that reprints verbatim all X materials? Presumably this constitutes violations of McCain-Feingold - is there an exception for manufactured violations, meaning those violations created by the opposition for purposes of damaging X's candidacy?

There's simply too many problems with regulating the internets and campaign speech. Yes, corporations should not link to X from their corporate home page. Yes, X should not be allowed to have Donor, who has maxed out contributions, fund a website supporting X's candidacy. Outside of that there is simply too much gray - so much gray in fact that encroaching on that territory simply runs too far afoul of the First Amendment. I support the right wingers' rights under the Constitution as much as I value my own, and the internets give us all a voice if we choose to use it.

I choose to use it. And if I back a candidate on Kentucky Blog that's no different than putting a sign in my yard. If I raise money for a candidate using private resources that's no different than being a Bush Pioneer/Ranger. This is not a right or left issue. It's a Constitutional issue. One on which both right and left can agree upon.