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Saturday, January 01, 2005

GOP Raising $100 mil for Social Security Piratization Ad Campaign

Hoping that you can fool enough of the people enough of the time, Republicans are pooling their pennies in an effort to convince the American public that a) there actually IS a Social Security crisis, b) that private accounts will fix things, and C) Bush has a "mandate" to do so. Or so says the WaPo today. This in the wake of AARP's announcement that they will spend $5 million trying to fight the plan.

The AARP effort (which includes an ad with a 40-ish couple saying "if we feel like gambling, we'll play the slots") is being joined by the AFL-CIO, the National Organization for Women (or "Witches," according to Falwell) and the NAACP. (I guess the NAACP isn't buying David Dreier's claim that "African-Americans would be the greatest beneficiaries of this...with a shortened life span.")

"Progress for America" has already raised $9 million in the effort; the conservative "Club for Growth" hopes to raise $15 million soon. These will be paltry sums next to the money being raised by the National Association of Manufacturers and the financial services and securities industries.

As alarming as all this is, the following from the WaPo article is even more troubling (emphasis mine):

The only point [Republicans and Democrats] agree on is that Social Security faces a long-term financial problem because the U.S. population is growing older, living longer and, sometime next decade, will be taking more out of the system in benefits than it is paying in taxes that fund it. Democrats are divided over how to fix the problem. Some want to raise taxes; others want to cut benefits or delay the retirement age.

As long as major media outlets like the Washington Post are unquestioningly spewing out propaganda like this, it's going to be a really tough fight.

As NOW states:

Social Security is NOT in trouble: The Social Security system will be able to pay full benefits for several more decades—until 2052 according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office....On the other hand, George Bush is in trouble. He's got a big debt to pay to his friends on Wall Street, and he wants to do it fast so that the next group can belly up to the taxpayer trough. The transition costs alone—an estimated $2 trillion—are enough to make Halliburton want to expand into yet another area of government "service." Some have called this the "biggest bonanza in mutual fund history," and the financial industry stands to gain as much as $75 billion a year.

It's going to be an ugly war -- as the WaPo notes, probably the ugliest major policy war since Clinton's health care reform went down in flames. I can see it now -- "Swift Vote Veterans for Saving Granny." Or some such gibberish. I know we all dug deep for the victims of the Tsunami, but it looks like we're going to have to start thinking about ponying up for what we believe in if we want to win this one.  A quick search didn't produce any web sites that are taking contributions, but I will post them when I find any.


So Now They're Worried?

Seems even right-wing Supremes are disturbed about the rampant spread of wingnuttery in the country. In his 19th year-end report, the Chief Justice is plenty pissed about Congressional attempts to usurp the powers of the judiciary to render decisions in challenges to the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, the display of the Ten Commandments on government property, and the Defense of Marriage Act, among other things.

But primarily Rehnquist is bristling about the dizzying stupidity of a resolution sponsored by Rep. Tom Feeny (R-FL) which threatens with impeachment any Supreme Court Justice who cites foreign law in a decision, as was done in striking down capital punishment for the mentally retarded and invalidating the Texas criminal sodomy statute. He notes that it is one of the country's founding principles that a judge should not be impeached on the basis of a decision. "Any other rule would destroy judicial independence," he says, since "judges would be concerned about inflaming any group that might be able to muster the votes in Congress to impeach and convict them."

Sandra Day O'Conner also called the resolution "very worrisome," and said that things between the Supremes and Congress are "more tense than at any time in my lifetime."

The steady erosion of checks and balances between the three branches of government is, indeed, a bitch. But it's hard not to look back at Election 2000 and say um, do you think maybe you guys had a hand in this?


Friday, December 31, 2004

Harold Ford Joins the Democrats

On December 22, I wrote about prominent Democrats Barak Obama and Harold Ford being touted by the Cato Institute, Fox News, Robert Novak and other right-wing powerhouses as examples of bipartisan support for Social Security privatization. In the post, I called for both Ford and Obama to distance themselves from these claims. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo picked up the piece and ran with it for days. Now Harold Ford has released this statement:

"I do not support changing the Social Security system as has been proposed by President Bush, nor do I support Social Security proposals advanced by the CATO Institute. In fact, both of these proposals have the potential to harm current beneficiaries by paying for the transition costs by issuing debt. Piling on more red ink to the existing federal budget deficit and the national debt will do both long and short term harm to our economy. I do believe that the system needs to be reformed but I do not support changing the Social Security system as President Bush has proposed."

It may seem like a small triumph for the blogosphere, but I'm really gratified. It puts an end to any back-room maneuvering that might have been going on out of the public eye, and it makes it that much harder for BushCo. to push its plan to let Wall Street do to Social Security what brother Neil Bush and others did to the Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corporation. (Remember that one? They thought you forgot...)

Props to Harold Ford for standing up and doing the right thing, and not allowing himself to be used as a political tool.

And to bloggers everywhere...


Thursday, December 30, 2004

Donate Airline Mileage to Help Tsunami Victims

Feeling a little cash strapped and still want to help? Got airline miles kicking around? You can donate airline mileage to The Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, OxFam, Unicef and others through links provided below.

C'mon. You know they're only going to expire.

Continental Airlines: Accepts donations for American Red Cross, AmeriCares, Careforce and Healing the Children. They make it really easy, you just log in and donate.

Delta: Accepts donations for The United Way and CARE. They have an automated telephone system you an call, at 1-800-325-3999. You can also email them here. You need to include your SkyMiles account number, the amount of mileage you wish to donate, and the name of the organization you want to receive your donation.

Northwest Airlines: You can donate your WorldPerks miles to the Red Cross, AmeriCares, Habitat for Humanity, OxFam and Unicef by contacting Northwest directly at 1-800-327-2881. Minimum donation is 5000 miles.

United Airlines accepts donations to the Red Cross. To donate, call Mileage Plus Customer Service at 1-800-421-4655.

Asia Miles Cathay Pacific will let you contribute your miles to Unicef. Click on the link and download a donation form. Minimum donation is 10,000 miles.

American Airlines allow you to donate AAdvantage miles to provide transportation for children who require medical treatment. You can donate online or call Customer Service at 1-800-421-0600.

Thai Air will let you donate Royal Orchid Plus miles to be used to provide travel and transportation of medical personnel, equipment and medicine for Tsunami victims through the Thai Red Cross and others organizations. You can donate by fax, letter, or email them here. Minimum donation is 10,000 miles.

America West lets you login on their web site and donate directly to the Red Cross for transportation of disaster relief workers. Minimum donation 5000 miles.

Capital One will allow you to donate a minimum of 10,000 miles to a variety of organizations, and I believe the Red Cross is one of them. You can login to their website as a member for more information.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines allows donations to the Red Cross and others. You can login on their site and donate easily online.

If you know of any other programs accepting mileage donations for tsunami victims, please email me and I will post them. MSNBC today said the death toll is likely to double from disease in the near future, so please spread the word -- this is a way to contribute that many people haven't thought of.

You can also check out The Mileage Workshop, a site that lists various programs that let you earn free airline mileage for everything from singing up at web sites to taking online surveys. I don't know how long it would take the mileage to post, but if you're a few miles shy of a minimum donation it might put you over the top.


On the Truly Terrifying Front...

People in the US have long turned a blind eye to the war on civil liberties waged by the Administration, the Attorney General, Congress and the courts, in large part because they felt that these rights were being taken away from so-called "terrorists," and that such draconian measures were necessary in fighting the War On Terror. Hence the great national shrug in the face of the Abu Ghraib photos, which Congress has ignored for the past four months.

However, now it seems that the definition of "terrorism" is proving quite elastic. A New York grand jury has returned the charge of second-degree murder as a terrorist act against Edgar Morales, a member of a Mexican-American street gang. It has sparked a controversy among lawmakers who voted for the legislation.

"It is not that I want to defend gangs," said state Rep. Jeffrey Dinowitz. "But it should never be justifiable to use laws with purposes other than their original intent. We already have the appropriate laws to prosecute gang members for their crimes."

This is how it starts, folks. It's a very, very slippery slope. Civil rights are nothing to screw around with, not even for the guiltiest among us. Because today it's THEM, tomorrow it might be YOU... (thanks to Atrios)


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Not Just Another Wacky Family Photo Album

From the New York Times:

Six members of the Navy Seals and two of their wives sued The Associated Press and one of its reporters yesterday for distributing photos of the Seals that apparently show them treating Iraqi prisoners harshly. One wife had put the photos on what she believed was a password-protected Web site, a lawyer for the group said.

The photos were evidently taken in May 2003, months before the ones that led to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. They show more of the same -- hooded, tortured prisoners with Navy Seal members as grinning onlookers. The reporter says he found the photos while surfing the internet, and the AP claims that the photos are newsworthy and therefore their use is protected by the First Amendment.

Maybe this wackjob Stepford wife wants to explain what perverse urge motivated her to post photos on the internet that were supposedly taken for administration and intelligence purposes in the first place?

Hmmm. We thought so. (Thanks to N2 for the tip)


Tsunami - Where to Give

There are any number of places you can give following the tsunami in Asia. I gave through Doctors Without Borders, but you can find a good list here to choose from.

Just because our Commander in Chief is a thoughtless, irresponsible cheapskate who completely blew the opportunity to reach out to the Muslim world on this one just so he could "clear some brush" doesn't mean the rest of us have to follow suit.

(According to MSNBC, what the US has pledged to help tsunami victims is equal to what we spend every 4 hours in Iraq. I guess it just depends on what your priorities are.)


Will Senate Weenie Out on Black Caucus...Again?

One of the most shame-filled moments of Michael Moore's Farenheit 911 came when no Senator stood up in support of the Congressional Black Caucas's challenge of the Electoral College vote in 2000. It looks like history is getting ready to repeat itself. According to the Detroit Free Press, "it is virtually certain numerous members of the Congressional Black Caucus will challenge that vote. But the assent of a Senator is required for the challenge to go forward, and thus far none has definitively confirmed."

What the hell??!! If the shoe was on the other foot, do you think for a minute the Republicans wouldn't trample each other just for the opportunity to embarass the President? They held the country hostage and brought the government to a grinding halt for months just so they could flash their mugs on TV and embarass Bill Clinton. Their morals are corrupt but their methods are sound. Will someone in the Democratic Party please grow a set?


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

CIA Ghost Plane

The Sunday Times of London recently reported that US intelligence agencies are making use of a Gulfstream 5 jet for interrogating detainees:

Bob Baer, a former CIA operative in the Middle East, said: “If you want a serious interrogation you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured you send them to Syria. If you want someone to send them to Egypt.”

Among the countries where prisoners have been sent by America is Uzbekistan, a close ally and a dictatorship whose secret police are notorious for their interrogation methods, including the alleged boiling of prisoners. The Gulfstream made at least seven trips to the Uzbek capital.

Now the Washington Post is running the story. They say that the CIA calls this activity "rendition," and note that the World Organization for Human Rights is working on legal challenges, because transferring captives to countries that use harsh interrogation methods that are outlawed in the US is prohibited by the U.N. Convention on Torture.

Culture of shamelessness indeed.


Rush Tortures US Troops

Anyone want to explain why that pill gobbling fathead Rush Limbaugh has the only long-form political talk show broadcast daily to US troops in Iraq on the Armed Forces Radio Network? Yes, the same Rush who called the Abu Ghraib prison scandal nothing more than a "fraternity prank," dubbing the prison humiliation a "brilliant maneuver?" Shouldn't he, like, be in jail or something, the way any African American Oxycontin abuser would be?

Your tax dollars at work.


Susan Sontag: 1933-2004

As an 18-year-old freshman at Mills College writing for the student paper, one of my first interviews was with Susan Sontag. The article is probably filed away in my mother's basement somewhere, and my strongest recollection of the event was getting whiplash when we were rear-ended on a San Francisco hill. I remember being completely in awe of her intellect, struggling (vainly) to come to grips with books like Against Interpretation and Styles of Radical Will in time to ask anything close to a coherent question.

I'm certain the interview was far less memorable or meaningful to her than it was to me. But it firmly implanted in my mind a model for how someone who lived a life of ideas could be so exciting, so provocative and so relevant. I think that my encounter with her really changed my notions of what it meant to be an adult woman in the world.

She blazed a trail in blurring the distinctions between high and low culture. She believed in applying her critical skills and her training in philosophy to the difficult issues that confront humanity; her most recent work, "Regarding the Torture of Others," on the subject of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, appeared in the New York Times in May of this year, and she did not shy away from condemning a culture that bred such barbarism:

Soldiers now pose, thumbs up, before the atrocities they commit, and send off the pictures to their buddies. Secrets of private life that, formerly, you would have given nearly anything to conceal, you now clamor to be invited on a television show to reveal. What is illustrated by these photographs is as much the culture of shamelessness as the reigning admiration for unapologetic brutality.

She became a punching bag for conservatives who did no like the way she spoke in moral absolutes, especially when she expressed her sentiments in such pithy, quotable aphorisms. Most of these people weren't intellectually fit to shine her shoes (I already bagged on Andrew Sullivan once in the past couple of weeks, so I'll refrain.) Anyway, if you've never read any of her work, you can check it out here.

Jack Kerouac said:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the star...

Susan Sontag burned.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Ohio Recount or Beer Bust?

While Kerry/Edwards took their own sweet time jumping into the Ohio recount bonanza, others did not. Thirty-seven people who voted in Ohio have challenged the election results with the Ohio Supreme Court -- citing long lines, a shortage of voting machines in minority precincts, and problems with computer equipment. Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell seems to think he should be above the law in this instance, and has requested a protective order to prevent him from being interviewed in the course of the challenge.

According to Attorney General Jim Petro, who is representing Blackwell, the plaintiffs are "not trying to actually contest the presidential election, but are merely using this litigation to cast public doubt on the voting system of the State of Ohio without a shred of evidence supporting their theories." (If you're inclined toward this point of view, check this out.)

Moreover, Blackwell is joining with other state lawmakers to restrict future challenges. He's miffed that people like the Libertarians and Greens -- who got only a small fraction of the vote -- should have the burning gall to ask for a recount. Treating their challenges with all the seriousness of a sorority house panty raid, Blackwell went on to say that "allowing them to trigger this enormously detailed process -- a process where they're only charged one-tenth of the cost -- it's too inviting for mischief."


Sunday, December 26, 2004

Rummy Has a Surreal Moment on CNN

On Friday, CNN broadcast a clip of Rumsfeld talking to the troops on his recent trip to Baghdad. As he indulged in his usual rambling hyperbole, he made the following gaffe:

And I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon, the people who cut off peoples' heads on television to intimidate, to frighten -- indeed the word "terrorized" is just that. Its purpose is to terrorize, to alter behavior, to make people be something other than that which they want to be. And that is exactly what we cannot allow to happen.

Now, we all remember the official Todd Beamer "let's roll" story that ostensibly led to the crash of United Flight 93 over Pennsylvania. Many have speculated that it was, in fact, US fighter planes that shot down the plane. While it doesn't prove anything one way or another about the crash, it is -- at the very least -- proof that the Secretary of Defense is no longer capable of speaking in complete sentences.

Tin foil hat, anyone?


Repeal of Presidential Term Limits?

Big Gay David Dreier (R-CA) was on CNN this morning with Wolf Blitzer:

DREIER: And I will tell you, one of the things that's interesting -- and I don't know that it will go into effect in 2008 -- but in the new year, I'm going to be working with a number of my colleagues to put together a package that would conceivably amend the U.S. Constitution. It would do two things. Number one, repeal the 22nd amendment to the Constitution, which limits the terms in the presidency. And number two, would allow a naturalized citizen, one who is not born here, to run for president of the United States.

Repeal of the 22nd Amendment? End term limits for the President? Noooooooooooo!!!!!!

Dreier went on to tell Charles Rangel (D-NY) (who will no doubt be counted among Dreier's "best friends" at some all-white cocktail party in the near future) that African-Americans would be the big winners from the privatization of Social Security:

DREIER: There would be options that would give a higher rate of return than today is received on Social Security. And, Charlie, I will tell you, African-Americans would be the greatest beneficiaries of this, as they would be able, with a shortened life span, they would be able to pass this on to future generations...

Oddly, Rangel was not moved. His response: "Give me a break."


My Blog Hits the Big Time!

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo picked up my story on Social Security, Obama and Ford this week, and has run with it for four days, now dubbing Harold Ford "The Dean of the Fainthearted Faction." (Thanks to Josh for the credit & link!) Now Atrios has picked up the story as well. I admire both of these guys tremendously & I'm pretty darned thrilled about the whole thing.