Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dems Plan To Push For No-Confidence Vote On Rumsfeld

This is a good idea and the timing couldn't be better, what with Rumsfeld comparing Iraq war critics to "Nazi appeasers" and all:

Under assault from Republicans on issues of national security, congressional Democrats are planning to push for a vote of no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this month as part of a broad effort to stay on the offensive ahead of the November midterm elections.

In Rumsfeld, Democrats believe they have found both a useful antagonist and a stand-in for President Bush and what they see as his blunders in Iraq. This week, Rumsfeld compared critics of the war in Iraq to appeasers of Adolf Hitler, a hyperbolic attack that Democrats hope will backfire.

But even before that attack, Democrats and some Republicans had maintained that Bush has never held anyone in his administration accountable for decisions in the Iraq war that many military analysts say went disastrously wrong. The decisions include not mobilizing enough troops to keep the peace, disbanding the entire Iraqi army and purging all members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party -- including teachers and low-level technocrats -- from the Iraqi government.


By demanding accountability, Democrats hope to blunt what has been an all-out assault on their positions on national security. The Republican National Committee yesterday blasted Democrats again as "Defeatocrats," and the attacks will continue when Congress returns next week from its month-long recess. Republican leaders plan to consider a full slate of security-related legislation before leaving on Sept. 29 for the campaigns.


Front and center of that campaign may be the attack on Rumsfeld. Some Democratic House candidates, such as Diane Farrell in Connecticut's 4th District, have been encouraging Democratic leaders to move formally for a vote of no confidence. And party leadership aides said they are canvassing Democratic members of Congress and exploring the parliamentary mechanism to do so. Before the move is set, the aides said, they want to hear from Democrats in tough races who may feel that the move would leave them vulnerable to Republican attacks.

But Emanuel said the move is set. And he hopes to stage the resolution with as many as 12 retired generals and other military officers who have called for Rumsfeld's resignation.

"We're going to go for a no-confidence vote on Rumsfeld," Emanuel said.

Senate Democrats are considering a similar move. Next week, Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) will offer a sense of the Senate resolution demanding Rumsfeld's resignation.

Cheney, Rummy and Bush have been firing on all cylinders at Iraq war critics this week in hopes that they can regain the initiative on the issue before the November midterm elections.

Democrats need to counter the offensive and reminding people how arrogant, mistake-ridden and clueless the Iraq war policymakers like Rummy have been is an excellent way to do it.

Stand down, Rummy, stand down please, stand down, Rummy.

Chaffee's Going Down

Senator Lincoln Chaffee, a moderate Republican from Rhode Island, would lose the primary to conservative challenger Steve Laffey 51%-34% if it were held today according to a poll released today by the Bureau of Government Research and Services at Rhode Island College. 15% of voters are undecided. The primary will be held on September 12, so Chaffee has less than 2 weeks to pick up major support.

Greg Sargent at TPMcafe
writes that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has thrown $536,420.41 into the primary in an effort to rescue Chafee's flagging campaign. Yet it seems the more money they throw in, the further Chafee falls behind.

And Republicans know Laffey cannot retain the Senate seat for the GOP. He currently runs 20 poins behind the Democratic candidate, former state attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse in the bluest state in the nation.

Go Laffey. Bye-bye Chafee.

Getting Rid Of The Electoral College

California starts the process:

SACRAMENTO — Lawmakers sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill Wednesday that would make California the first state to jump aboard a national movement to elect the president by popular vote.

Under the legislation, California would grant its electoral votes to the nominee who gets the most votes nationwide — not the most votes in California. Get enough other states to do the same, backers of the bill say, and soon presidential candidates will have to campaign across the nation, not just in a few key "battleground" states such as Ohio and Michigan that can sway the Electoral College vote.

"Frankly, the current system doesn't work," said Assemblyman Rick Keene (R-Chico), the only Republican to vote for the bill. "Presidential candidates don't bother to visit the largest state in the nation…. California is left out."

If Schwarzenegger signs the bill — AB 2948 by Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim) — California will be the first state to embrace the "national popular vote" movement, though legislation is pending in five other states: New York, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado and Louisiana.

The California legislation would not take effect until enough states passed such laws to make up a majority of the Electoral College votes — a minimum of 11 states, depending on population.

The governor's office said Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the bill.

Many Republicans spoke against the legislation, arguing that it was an "end run" around the U.S. Constitution and would drive presidential candidates to campaign in big cities and ignore rural areas.

"Those who are running for president," said Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), "are going to talk to Los Angeles and San Francisco."

It's an interesting idea. I haven't thought it all the way through yet. What do the rest of you think? Should we get rid of the archaic Electoral College and elect our presidents by national popular vote?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Olbermann Takes On Rumsfeld

It's good - very, very good. Crooks and Liars has the video:

The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald S. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarkable comments to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday demand the deep analysis - and the sober contemplation - of every American.

For they do not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence - indeed, the loyalty — of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land;
Worse, still, they credit those same transient occupants - our employees — with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administration’s track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve.

Dissent and disagreement with government is the life’s blood of human freedom; And not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as "his" troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq.

It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile… it is right — and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.

That says it all.

Bob Novak Predicts Dems Take 14 Seats In The Midterms

Robert Novak has his House of Representatives prognosis out today and he calls Republican chances for the midterms "pitiful." He thinks Dems will take at least 14 seats and maybe more if they can shore up their own vulnerable contests (which are few) and expand the contests where Republicans are vulnerable (already pretty large.) He says Dems also have to overcome turnout problems and the cash-poor Democratic National Committee which will be overwhelmingly outspent by the Republican counterpart. Novak does note that the DSCC run by Chuck Schumer and the DCCC run by Rahm Emanuel may have enough money to make up for the DNC shortfall.

Novak also passes along the story about the House committee chairman who said he forsees a 25 seat loss for Republicans this November. But as of today, Novak thinks Dems will fall just short of retaking the House (they need to win 15 or more seats to retake power from the GOP.)

White House Pisses Off Social Conservatives With Plan B Decision

I figured that when the Bush administration announced that the Plan B morning-after contraceptive pill would be sold over the counter to adults, social conservatives would be pissed off at the decision. But McClatchy Newspapers reports that social conservatives are not angry at the decision so much as at the way the administration has treated them when they have called to ask about the decision:

WASHINGTON - Just 10 weeks before the midterm elections, the White House has irked its base again.

This time it's social conservatives, who are disappointed that President Bush endorsed a decision to allow over-the-counter sales of the Plan B morning-after contraceptive pill to adults. Making matters much worse, the White House all but blew off those conservatives who called to ask about the decision.

It's part of a take-or-leave-it attitude that the White House has applied to friends and opponents alike ever since Bush took office. What's surprising is that he and his staff maintain the stance even with his popularity near five-year lows, his legislative agenda dead and prospects good that his party will lose control of the House of Representatives this fall.


Tom McClusky, the vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, said he wanted to give the president the benefit of the doubt when the FDA announced its expected ruling.

McClusky said he assumed that Bush went along with the decision only as a deal to get two Democratic senators - Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington state - to drop their objections and clear the way for the Senate to confirm the president's choice to head the FDA, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach.

So McClusky and other social conservatives were stunned, they said, when they heard Bush say, " I support Andy's decision."

At Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based group, bioethics analyst Carrie Gordon Earll said the president's comment "shocked and surprised" her.

At the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, McClusky dialed the White House, looking for some clarification. He expected to hear, for example, that Bush had to go along to get Eschenbach's nomination through.

What he got was the president's words read to him, nothing else.

"The people we got a hold of were not helpful at all. I called to get a clarification . . . all they sent me was a transcript," he said.

"I asked a number of people in the White House for clarification, and all of them simply sent me the president's remarks. And I haven't heard anything since."

Now the Family Research Council and other allies among social conservatives and in Congress are weighing a lawsuit to challenge the FDA's decision. News of such a confrontation just before this fall's elections could aggravate the White House's hopes of energizing conservatives to vote.

"This is not an issue that grabs people around the dinner table. It doesn't grab people like the war or taxes, or even marriage or the abortion decision in South Dakota," McClusky said.

"But people are going to wonder why all these pro-life, pro-family groups are suing this administration."

Sitting at their kitchen tables in districts with close House races or states with close Senate races, some social conservatives could react with anger and not vote at all. Or they might remain sufficiently afraid of the Democrats to vote but too apathetic to help get anyone else to vote.

Close contests - and Congress - could hang in the balance.

This administration and the current Grand Old Party leadership have leapt into action at social conservatives causes in the past (think Bush coming off vacation to sign the Teri Schiavo bill into law when he didn't even end his vacation for the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans; think Bush and Republicans pushing the gay marriage amendment earlier this year as a way to rally the social conservative base for the November midterms.)

But now, with less than 10 weeks to go before the November elections, they're blowing off social conservatives calling about the Plan B decision and pissing them off in the process.

You can see for yourself if you don't believe McClatchy Newspapers. Here's Tom McClusky, the vp for government affairs at the Family Research Council, writing about the decision on the Family Research Council website.

Much of the political strategy the RNC and the White House has employed so far going into the November midterms has been to try and rally the right-wing/social conservative base as much as possible. Polls show independents have soured on Republicans and Democrats are downright hostile to the GOP and the RNC/White House know that only a solid base turn-out can help them win close contests in House districts. Yet here they are alienating the very social conservative base they need by not trying to salve the concerns of social conservatives after the Plan B decision was announced. It sounds like all they had to do was put a high level official onto the phone with McClusky, Earll and other concerned callers and all would have been well with the base. Instead these social conservatives got a transcript of the preznit's words read to them over the phone and now they're thinking about suing over the decision.

It's almost like a replay of the Harriet Miers nomination last year. Once Bush settled on Miers to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, he wasn't going to change his decision no matter how much it pissed off the base. As it became clear just how much he had enraged the base, however, he eventually did cave and Miers was pulled back, but not until major damage was done to Bush's standing with conservatives. His poll numbers had already dropped into the high 30's after the Katrina debacle, but post-Miers his approval numbers plummeted to the low 30's. The administration has spent the last year trying to recover its standing with the base. The nominations of Roberts and Alito obviously helped. The push for the doomed gay marriage amendment was also meant to rally conservatives to the cause (though some social conservatives rolled their eyes at that and said "Too little, too late...why wasn't this done right after the election? Why do they always make these moves right BEFORE elections?")

But now, with the way they have handled the fall-out from the Plan B decision, they risk losing social conservative support at the exact time they need it. Sheer arrogance on their part, coupled with just a touch of incompetence. Rather than putting out a small brushfire before the election, they have inflamed the fire into a low-level burn. It's one more problem they have to deal with going into the midterms.

As a progressive, I am happy both about the Plan B decision and the way they have treated social conservatives looking for clarification about it. As a political junkie, I cannot understand why the Bushies pursue one policy for a long period of time for political reasons (i.e., block Plan B from over-the-counter sales), then reverse course and fail to handle the political fall-out from the decision. But I guess that goes to show that when you have an administration full of arrogant people, sometimes they can get tin-eared about a need for humility at the exact moment they need to show some.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Bush Boom,The Midterm Elections, and October Surprises

Gee, I can see why Republican politicians and strategists are worried about the American electorate taking out the shitty economy on the party in power:

The number of Americans without health insurance continues to rise at an alarming rate, men and women are earning less money and there are as many people living in poverty as there have ever been. Some key stats:

– In 2005, 46.6 million people were without health insurance coverage, up from 45.3 million people in 2004.

– The percentage of people without health insurance coverage increased from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 15.9 percent in 2005.

– The median earnings of men declined 1.8 percent to $41,386. The median earnings of women declined 1.3 percent to $31,858.

– In 2005, 37.0 million people were in poverty, not statistically different from 2004.

Of course, the Bush economy is not shitty for everybody:

In 2004, the top 1 percent of earners — a group that includes many chief executives — received 11.2 percent of all wage income, up from 8.7 percent a decade earlier and less than 6 percent three decades ago, according to Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, economists who analyzed the tax data.

Perhaps the economy, shitty for the overwhelming majority of Americans, coupled with the way the Iraq war is going, is spurring the kind of activity reported by Bob Novak in his Sunday column:

A political indicator of hard times ahead for Republicans is frantic activity during the current congressional recess by GOP staffers contemplating life under a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

Several Republican aides, including many working for House members from safe seats, are seeking employment elsewhere. Most of them have never worked under Democratic control and dread the prospect of minority status on Capitol Hill.

Other aides, working on House committee staffs, would lose those jobs in a Democratic House and want to transfer now to work for safe Republican members.

Lobbying firms hiring Democrats for the first time since the Delay era/K Street project got under way, political analysts like Stu Rothenberg, Thomas Mann, and Chris Bowers predicting a Democratic takeover of the House, now furious activity by Hill Republicans to seek employment elsewhere before Dems retake the House - it should be an interesting 70 days until the midterm elections.

So, how will Rove and Company try and change the political dynamic now that we are just 10 weeks away from the midterms, and there is little to no positive news for Republicans to tout going into November 7th other than "Hey, the number of people living in poverty didn't increase for the first time in five years?

Johnny Wendell at Down with Tyranny has a few ideas. He's not the first to suggest an attack on Iran right around Halloween is in the cards. I predicted the same thing over on a comment thread at Born at the Crest (sorry, too pressed for time to find the thread - trust me, it's there.)
Now that we're very close to October, what do the rest of you think? Will there be a Rovian Ocober Surprise and if so, what will it be (and when)?

UPDATE: More bad news on the economic front for the GOP going into November 7th:

Americans are more pessimistic than they have been all year about the state of the economy, according to a new report that reflects a widespread view that a period of brisk growth is coming to an end.

The Conference Board said today that in its monthly survey, American consumer confidence fell sharply in August to its lowest level since last November. The latest index reading of 99.6 was far below the 107.0 reported in July, and represented the steepest single-month decline since the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a year ago.

“Ouch,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief United States economist with High Frequency Economics, in a research report on the index today.

The pace of growth in the American economy has slowed by more than half since the first quarter, and many economists think the outlook will grow worse, not least because consumers sense the slowdown and are reining in their spending accordingly.


“Lead indicators suggest little prospect of a turnaround anytime soon,” James Knightley, an economist with ING, wrote today. “Confidence is likely to remain under downward pressure.”

Pessimistic consumer confidence rivaling last year's post-Katrina low is just one more reason why Rove's October Surprise has got to be really, really big. Cuz' they've got nothing else going into this election season.

Last night on the Lou Dobbs Show, Congressman Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was asked what the Republican Party plans to do to help middle class people who are being squeezed by the fall in real wages, higher energy prices, higher health costs, higher college tuition, record levels of debt, and rising interest rates/higher mortgage payments. But all he could come up with was making Preznit Bush's tax cuts permanent.

That's it. That's what they've got - tax cuts so that Steve Forbes has a lower tax bill (as my friend NYC Educator constantly reminds me, this is the primary function of government these days - to lower Steve Forbes' tax burden.) And that's the solution to all that plagues America.

Yeah, it's going be a long election night for Reynolds and Company if Rove doesn't come up with a really, really big October Surprise.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Atmosphere of Reconciliation: Day Two

From the Washington Post:
BAGHDAD, Aug. 28 -- The death toll mounted in Iraq Monday as clashes between Shiite militiamen and U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in a southern city killed at least 23 and injured 70 while a suicide bombing in the capital killed 15, including 8 policemen.

In Diwaniyah, about 80 miles south of Baghdad, clashes broke out between the Mahdi Army militia of radical, anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and U.S.-backed Iraqi army soldiers following a raid by Iraqi soldiers in three neighborhoods to root out extremists, news wires reported.


U.S. forces, meanwhile, have lost nine soldiers since Saturday, the military said in press releases, making it a lethal weekends for them as well. Eight of the soldiers were killed by roadside bomb attacks and one by gunfire, according to the brief military statements.

In all, it was one of the deadliest 24 hours in Iraq in recent weeks and comes amid assertions by the Iraqi government and U.S. military that they are prevailing over extremists fueling the sectarian violence that's gripping the capital . On Sunday, gunmen and bombers claimed at least 69 lives.

"The violence is in decrease and our security ability is increasing," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on CNN's "Late Edition" program Sunday. Multinational forces have created an atmosphere of "reconciliation" in the country, Maliki said, and "Iraq will never be in a civil war."

The LA Times says the United States military has been able to get a handle on some of the violence in Baghdad by pulling troops out of other hotspots in Iraq and sending them into some Baghdad neighborhoods in force. The problem is, while "similar sweeps in Baghdad and elsewhere since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 have reduced violence...the bloodshed would increase when U.S. forces moved on," and currently the United States does not have enough troops in Iraq to be able to continue the Baghdad security plan for any extended period of time. And the Times says that Iraqi security forces, rife with corruption and infiltrated by militiamen, make security matters worse in the country, not better.

The Bush administration has not provided enough troops for the military to complete this mission in Iraq. History shows that when they send extra troops into areas with high levels of violence, the violence decreases while the Americans are there. If the Bush administration truly wanted to get a handle on the worsening security, they would send in enough troops to do the job. The Bushies are very good at pointing fingers and calling war opponents "cut-and-runners" and "defeatists." They are very good at creating photo-ops for the preznit like the "Mission Accomplished" speech and the Thanksgiving Dinner the preznit enjoyed w/ troops in the Green Zone. But they aren't very good at providing the tools necessary for the military to get a handle on insurgent and sectarian violence in Iraq.

UPDATE: Take a look at this email that a marine in Baghdad sent David Weigel (sitting in for a vacation Andrew Sullivan) that underscores my point: more troop numbers in Baghdad helped the U.S. military get control of some neighborhoods. The marine writes:

I don't want to paint any overly rosy picture of things here as I never have indulged in that practice before, but we have control everywhere now (up to a point). They are still capable of launching small attacks against our forces, still able to blow up Iraqi Police in large numbers sometimes, and yes, they can still murder each other in Baghdad in sectarian violence. But, we are waging our war right now almost completely on our terms.
Obviously the wheels came off over the weekend as violence again surged and the U.S. military lost 9 soldiers to the insurgency. But this marine's email says to me once again that more troops have been needed in Iraq since the beginning. They should have been there right after the fall of Baghdad when Iraqis were looting the weapons dumps and infrastructure, they should have been there when the insurgency was first getting off the ground in the spring and summer of 2003 and they should have been there to deal with hotspots like Fallujua, Tikrit, Tal Afar and of course, Baghdad, as it each flared up and the U.S. military was forced to pull soldiers from somewhere else to deal with the violence.

But the administration ignored the realistic troop assessments they got from knowledgeable people like General Shinseki and decided to occupy the country with a light, Rumsfeldian force. Even when it became clear that more troops could and would make a difference in the sectarian and insurgent violence, the administration has not seriously thought about adding the numbers of troops truly needed to make a difference.

They should either fight the war right or get the fuck out. Half-assing the war isn't working and people are dying, both Americans and Iraqis, as a result. I was never for this war and I have always thought it was a mistake. But I have also said over and over, if you are going to fight it, fight it right. Or don't fight it at all. One or the other.

But instead the administration half-asses it and calls critics of their efforts "defeatists."

Gee, who's really leading us toward defeat?

Taking The Bible Literally

From Rasmussen Reports:

Not surprisingly, the Bible Belt region lives up to its name with states like Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia containing the highest percentage of those who believe the Bible is literally true. Alabama and Arkansas came out on top as 75% say they believe the Bible is literally true. West Virginia (70%) and Tennessee (68%) are close behind.

Here are some passages from the bible (all Deuteronomy - I just went to a bible site and started looking randomly) that I assume people in Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Tennessee take to be literally true:

Deuteronomy 23:2 No one born of a forbidden marriage (Or one of illegitimate birth) nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.

Deuteronomy 25:5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.

Deuteronomy 25:11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

These are silly examples that obviously were written thousands of years ago by desert people with, shall we say, differing cultural values than ours today. As I would understand it, we are no longer bound by the above laws or many of the other laws in the bible regarding things like slavery, sex, gender roles, etc. Society has "evolved" since the various books of the bible were written and many of the stories, laws, and rules contained within it are an anathema to a modern people.

So how do large majorities of the people in Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Tennessee and other places where they take the bible to be literally true juggle passages like the above with the modern world?

I'm not ragging on religion here or religious thought or religious faith. I have enormous respect for people of faith and spirituality. What I am wondering is how anybody in this day and age can still take the bible as literal truth.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The "Golden Era Of Profitability"

Here's why a wide majority of Americans give the Bush administration low marks for its handling of the economy:

With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.


The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”


In the first quarter of 2006, wages and salaries represented 45 percent of gross domestic product, down from almost 50 percent in the first quarter of 2001 and a record 53.6 percent in the first quarter of 1970, according to the Commerce Department. Each percentage point now equals about $132 billion.

Total employee compensation — wages plus benefits — has fared a little better. Its share was briefly lower than its current level of 56.1 percent in the mid-1990’s and otherwise has not been so low since 1966.


For most of the last century, wages and productivity — the key measure of the economy’s efficiency — have risen together, increasing rapidly through the 1950’s and 60’s and far more slowly in the 1970’s and 80’s.

But in recent years, the productivity gains have continued while the pay increases have not kept up. Worker productivity rose 16.6 percent from 2000 to 2005, while total compensation for the median worker rose 7.2 percent, according to Labor Department statistics analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. Benefits accounted for most of the increase.

Fair or not, the president is often seen as the steward of the economy. He gets credit when all is well (ask Clinton), he gets the blame when all is not well (ask Hoover, Carter, and George H.W. Bush.)

For most workers in the country, all is not well with the economy. According to the Times article, even workers at the 90th percentile of earners ($80,000 a year) have failed to receive pay increases that have kept up with inflation the past three years. As for those above the 90th percentile, however, they seem to be doing just fine. And the top 1% of all earners are doing the best:

“There are two economies out there,” Mr. Cook, the political analyst, said. “One has been just white hot, going great guns. Those are the people who have benefited from globalization, technology, greater productivity and higher corporate earnings.

“And then there’s the working stiffs,’’ he added, “who just don’t feel like they’re getting ahead despite the fact that they’re working very hard. And there are a lot more people in that group than the other group.”

In 2004, the top 1 percent of earners — a group that includes many chief executives — received 11.2 percent of all wage income, up from 8.7 percent a decade earlier and less than 6 percent three decades ago, according to Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, economists who analyzed the tax data.

Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush all suffered at the hands of an electorate pissed off about the economy. Republican pollster Frank Luntz argues in the article that people aren't THAT pissed off about the economy yet, and that may be true. Polls show that people are upset more by the war in Iraq than the economy. But Republican incumbents and challengers have to be worried that the economy, already pretty bad for the majority of Americans, seems to be slowing down just as the midterm election season gets into full swing. Couple that with the Iraq war issue and you can see why Stu Rothenberg and Thomas Mann are predicting a Democratic takeover of the House this November.

Hey, Do You Feel A Draft In Here?

There's an "atmosphere of reconciliation" in Iraq. So says Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A spate of car bombings and shootings across Iraq killed at least 55 people on Sunday, but Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said violence was on the decrease and that the country would never slide into a civil war.


Car bombs exploded in Baghdad, the town of Khallis north of the capital, the northern city of Kirkuk and Basra in the Shi'ite south, a day after Maliki met tribal leaders to urge them to help stamp out sectarian violence and defeat insurgents.

"Violence has decreased and our security ability is increasing. We are not in civil war and will never be in civil war," Maliki told CNN in a recorded interview on Sunday. "What you see is an atmosphere of reconciliation."

In Khallis, a religiously mixed town, gunmen also stormed a market on Sunday night, attacking a cafe and killing 14 people, police said.

In one of the worst attacks of the day, a bomb blew apart a minibus in a busy commercial road in central Baghdad, killing nine people and sending black smoke billowing into the air.

The minibus blast followed a car bomb attack on Iraq's best-selling newspaper, the government-owned al-Sabah, that killed two employees and badly damaged the building.


In Basra, where Maliki has imposed a state of emergency to deal with increasing violence fueled by tensions between rival Shi'ite Muslim factions, seven people were killed by a motorcycle bomb in a market, officials said.


Police said 20 bodies had been found in parts of Baghdad on Saturday. Some bore signs of torture and most had been killed by gunshots to the head, a typical feature of the sectarian bloodshed between Iraq's Shi'ite majority and Sunni Arabs.

This is an atmosphere of reconciliation? Geez, I'd hate to see an atmosphere of sectarian violence.

Maliki also announced he'll be purging "disloyal or poorly performing ministers" just 100 days after his coalition cabinet was formed.

Things don't seem to be going so well over there. In fact, they seem to be worse than ever.

Yet Preznit Bush said this week at a press conference that "Leaving before the job is done would be a disaster."

Fair enough. But what is that job? I think he said some weeks ago that the mission was to create "a stable and free Iraq" and that's fine as far as it goes. But with Iraq becoming less stable month-by-month, it must be stated openly that the preznit is failing to get the job done. Still, the preznit refuses to change course and figure out a way to get the job done. If he believes, as he stated this week, that if "we leave before the mission is done, the terrorists will follow us here," then surely he can find the political will to "get the job done in Iraq."

The preznit is very big on accountability for others. As a teacher who works under the guidelines of the No Child Left Behind law, I can tell you that he's big on accountability for public school teachers. But it seems when it comes to getting the job done in Iraq, he's not so big on accountabilty. After all, many of the architects of this disastrous policy (starting w/ Rice and Rummy) are still working in his administration. And as the United States gets further away from completing the mission in Iraq, he sits on his hands, begs for patience from the American people ("I know the war is straining the pysche of our country" he said this week), and refuses to change policy.

You know what, Mr. President? If completing the mission in Iraq is so important and vital to the national interest, then why don't you do as John McCain, Bill Kristol and other war supporters have asked for and send in more troops to handle security. You had to pull troops from Anwar Province in order to implement a new security plan in Baghdad. Tom Lasseter in the McClatchy newspapers reports that "many U.S. officials in Baghdad and in Washington privately concede the point...that there aren't enough troops to do the job." It is quite obvious that a more visible American troop presence would help tamp down sectarian violence and keep a lid on the militas. Any extended period of relative calm would certainly be helpful in giving the Maliki government time to unify and grow into an effective political entity. So why not do the manly thing and send another 100,000 or 200,000 troops into Iraq in order to complete the mission and keep the terrorists from following us over here?

Now of course you don't have another 100,000 or 200,000 troops to send in, so you'll have to either bribe allies into ponying up some troops (which probably isn't going to happen) or institute a domestic draft. This isn't the easiest thing to do in an election year, so I can understand why you might want to wait until after the midterm elections before announcing the draft, but the longer you wait, the more unstable Iraq grows and the weaker the Maliki government gets. Waiting to do the right thing and send in more toops is frankly cowardly, kinda like "Standing and Bleeding" instead of "Cutting and Running." So I think you ought to do the right thing now and announce tomorrow that you're instituting a draft and plan to send 200,000 more American troops to Iraq in the next 9-12 months as the additional forces become available. I know this may sound like a hard task to accomplish, but after all, your hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, managed to get millions into the armed forces by early 1942, so I'm sure you can get these mass inductions done soon. And as you yourself have said, "War is not a time of joy...these are challenging times and these are difficult times."

Yes, sir, they are. And that's why a big brave John Waynesque preznit like yourself is just the man to break the news to the American people that you'll be bypassing the Congress and creating an executive order that reinstates the military draft for all Americans under the age of, say, 34 (that ought to provide enough troops for both the Iraq and Iran wars...and the Afghan war too, come to think of it.) Sure, the executive order reinstating the draft is probably extra-constitutional, but so is the NSA domestic spying program, the rendition program, Gitmo and the military tribunals. Heck, during war we just have to be willing to sacrifice some civil rights. And I think the American people understand that.

So I'll look forward to hearing from you tomorrow about that executive order reinstating the domestic draft for all Americans under the age of 34. As Wilford Brimley, another cowboy type, is so wont to say, "It's the right thing to do." And I'm sure the American people, the Republican Congress and Karl Rove/Ken Mehlman will all agree with you.

And if not, so what? You're the decider. Decide what you want. And if the mission in Iraq is as important and vital to the national interest as you say, then surely providing hundreds of thousands more American forces for the mission is the way to go.

Hey, weren't Jenna and Barbara looking for something to do with their lives? Maybe a military career and service in Iraq is just what they're looking for?

Pet Sounds Is 40

Capitol Records is releasing a 40th Anniversary cd/dvd-a package because how can you celebrate an anniversary without simultaneously cashing in on it?

Still, there are worse things you can spend your money on and I'm thinking of buying this edition even though I already own the 1996 Pet Sounds box set. I've really come to like the DVD-Audio format lately and I'm interested to hear the album in 5.1 Surround Sound. Plus Best Buy's selling it pretty cheap.

What the heck, gotta keep that retail sector going, right?

And after all, it is a great album.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Present Joys

Quakerdave over at the Quaker Agitator reminded me a couple of days ago that when a person spends a lot of time blogging the current state of the nation/world in these post-9/11 times, he or she can start sounding pretty negative. Somebody taught me a while back that it's always good to make a gratitude list of things you're grateful for whenever you're feeling down, depressed or sorry for yourself, since often enough you're simply forgetting so many of the blessings you've been given in this life and focusing on the "bad."

So, working from Quakerdave's post and from a post by Paul at Shower of Blessings, here is my current gratitude list, heavy on the summer activities, or as Dave and Paul have called it, "Present Joys":

Watching the Mets with my girlfriend on TV or heading out to Shea and seeing them live. It's the 20th anniversary of their World Series victory in 1986 and it is also the best season they have had in quite a while. I have been enjoying watching this team and the guys on it (Beltran, Delgado, Wright, Reyes, Floyd, Glavine, Pedro, Wagner, Chavez, Bradford, Heilman, El Duque, Trachsel and of course the manager, Willie Randolph.) I dunno how it will end and it doesn't really matter. The AL is a much better league this year, so chances are, the Mets won't win it all. But it has been a lot of fun to watch them so far.

Running around Central Park or along the Hudson down to Battery Park.

Looking out my window and seeing the entire west side of Manhattan and the Hudson River from my 22nd floor apartment. Sometimes my girlfriend and I light candles, drink coffee, put on some music and just spend hours looking out at the view. It's amazing, just watching the life of the city unfold below. I have lived in some awful rattraps in my time but I love living where I do now and I know I am very lucky. Every morning I wake up, look around and say "Hey, this is pretty good."

Picnics with my girlfriend in Madison Park or Central Park or on the 66th Street pier. Especially the pier. I love watching the Hudson River while listening to all the kids and the families playing together on the pier.

Listening to music at home - lately I've been listening to Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, The Grateful Dead, Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, Love, The Move, Electric Light Orchestra, The Blasters, Frank Sinatra, The Velvet Underground, Television, Patti Smith, Suicide, Tom Verlaine, John Cale, Lou Reed, Joe Strummer, The Specials and The Beach Boys. Especially the Beach Boys actually. I used to despise the Beach Boys and country music when I was a kid, but as Dylan wrote once, "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

Buying fresh fruit and vegetables from the Green Market and the woman and man from the upstate farm who sell their produce on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 43rd Street and 9th Avenue. Dinner tonight was barbequed tofu and zucchini, fresh sweet corn (no butter or topping needed!!!), whole wheat pita bread, celery and carrots from the farmer's market, roasted red bell pepper huummus and red and green apples. Dessert is going to be a fruit salad with fresh watermelon, peaches, cantalope, strawberries and pears. Simply amazing! I love summer produce and I love buying it from local growers. It is more expensive than the local farmers market, but a lot less expensive than Food Emporium and the food is delicious. Also buying local helps with our carbon footprint.

Watching The Colbert Report and the Daily Show on TV. Also Olbermann. Other than the Mets and some old movies, I can't stand anything else on the tube.

Seeing live shows. This summer I only saw three: Little Feat at Battery Park City, Tony Levin at BB King's Club, and Rosanne Cash/Steve Earle at the Hammerstein Ballroom. They were all fantastic, but the Cash/Earle show was something else, perhaps because we had third row seats in an audience of 200. I have never enjoyed a show like that before. In fact, Rosanne Cash is playing Carnegie Hall in October and my girlfriend and I are going to attend that show as well.

Drinking coffee in coffee houses. Currently I like Newsbar on University Place because it's great for people-watching or reading The Economist (they actually carry it most of the time and its free to read) and the coffee is pretty good while the iced tea selection is spectacular.

Burrito Box on 58th and 9th Avenue. Fantastic vegetarian fare including tofu or seitan burritos. Really cheap too, though not too much seating.

Red Bamboo Vegetarian Soul Food Cafe on West Fourth Street. The food is amazing, it's almost all vegetarian or vegan (there is some dairy if you want) and I always leave there stuffed AND carrying a doggie bag.

Reading China Mieville. I'm starting Eric Flint's 1632 now.

Watching Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo on DVD.

Watching All In The Family on DVD.

Watching the change of seasons. It's still summer, of course, but today felt positively fall-like here in NYC. An ominous cloud cover hung over the city most of the day and the weather was cool and drizzly. It felt like fall. My girlfriend put on a sweater when we went out to dinner tonight. Strangely enough, my buddy in Portland told me today that the weather was hot and sticky in Oregon. Seems like Portland's got NY weather and we've got Portland weather!!!

Well, I think that's about it. It's been a heckuva summer and I have really enjoyed my rest and recreation. I work very hard during the 10 months of the school year, so I don't begrudge myself the summer off. And the longer I go on teaching, the more I need the summer!!!

Wow. Looking back on the list, I can see that I do have a lot to be grateful for. So let me give thanks and now sign off for the night.

Thomas Mann of The Brookings Institution Also Predicts Dem Takeover

Holy shit, this seems a little unbelievable to me, but coming on the heels of Stuart Rothenberg's prediction that Democrats will retake the House with a 15-20 seat pick-up in November, I guess the internal polls are really starting to show a tidal wave surging against the ruling Grand Old Party. The info is from Taegan Goddard's Political Wire:

Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann "projects the Democrats to pickup 25-35 House seats, and four to five Senate seats with a chance to maybe hit six," according to Thomas Schaller. "Alternatively, Mann said the chance of Democrats capturing the House are two in three, and put the capture of the Senate at 50:50. One lunch attendee whose very close friend happens to be a Republican pollster told him that his internal GOP numbers point to 26 House pickups and six Senate gains for the Democrats."

"In his remarks, Mann also cautioned Democrats to not let the GOP somehow turn the election into a prospective, future-oriented question, but to make it as much a retrospective assessment of Bush in the Republicans. (No shocker there.) He also said Democrats ought to not only figure out a way to make Iraq -- Bush's biggest liability -- into as big a liability as possible."

Last month in the Washington Post, Mann wrote "If history is any guide, we're heading into a major political storm. And that means we could see a national tide in November that will sweep the Democrats back into the majority."

Couple of things here: Mann is right to tell Dems not to allow Republicans to make this into a prospective, future-oriented election. Chris Matthews was trying to do that to a Dem candidate last night on Hardball. But this election is a referendum on the mistakes of the past, specifically a retrospective assessment of the mistakes the Bush administration has made and the ease with which the Rubber Stamp GOP Congress enabled all those Bush policy mistakes: the Iraq war, screwing up the War on Terror (where is Osama? why is the Taliban making a comeback in Afghanistan?), the deficit spending, the shitty economy for everybody outside of the investor class, the shitty port, infrastructure and homeland security, the disastrous No Child Left Behind law, the even more disatrous Medicare law, etc.

Second thing: I don't buy the 25-35 House figure/6 Senate figure just yet. I do believe the internal polls are scary for the GOP. I also believe the GOP pollster who says he forsees 26 Dem pick-ups in the House and 6 in the Senate. But there is still a long way to go before November, Rove undoubtedly has some tricks up his sleeve, and a lot can happen between now and then to change things.

Still, as The Specials used to sing in the Seventies, "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think..."

Friday, August 25, 2006

Stuart Rothenberg Is Now Predicting Democrats Will Take Control Of The House

Wow. This is pretty big news actually. From The Rothenberg Political Blog:

Our latest race-by-race review of Congressional districts around the country convinces us that a Democratic wave is building and that the party is poised to take control of the House of Representatives in the fall. The only question now is the size of the November wave.

The national mood remains bleak for Republicans. President George W. Bush’s job performance ratings are terrible, and the public still gives Congress low marks. A majority of Americans continue to tell pollsters that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

That’s a recipe for a GOP disaster, and there is no reason to believe that things will change dramatically between now and Election Day to improve Republican prospects.

At the district level, voters are more critical of Republican incumbents – and supportive of even unknown Democratic candidates – than they usually are at this point in the election cycle. GOP candidates are running behind where they would be in anything approaching a “neutral” year. While some firming of the Republican base is likely over the next ten weeks, that alone may not be enough for the party to retain the House.

Strong fund raising by the DCCC should mean that some Democratic candidates won’t face the huge financial discrepancy that they have in the past, though RNC money should boost the Republican ground game nationally.

To hold the House, Republicans must retain at least a handful of districts that now appear likely to go Democratic, probably by discrediting Democratic challengers and open seat hopefuls. Unlike previous cycles, when the burden was on Democrats to create upsets, the onus is now on the GOP to save at least a handful of seats before Election Day.

Therefore, we are raising our estimate of likely Democratic gains from 8-12 seats to 15-20 seats, which would translate to between 218 and 223 seats – and a majority – in the next House.

Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats in order to take control of the House of Representatives from Republicans. In April of this year, the Rothenberg Report increased their estimate of likely Democratic gains in the House from 5-8 seats to 7-10 seats. In May, the Rothenberg Report increased their estimate of likely Democratic gains in the House from 7-10 seat to 8-12 seats. Now they've increased their estimate of likely Democratic gains in the House from 8-12 seats to 15-20 seats.

There are no guarantees, of course, but Charlie Cook thinks Democrats have a pretty good chance to take back the House and Stuart Rothenberg just predicted a Democratic takeover.

There are 74 more shopping days until the November 7th midterm elections. You can see from the above Rothenberg analysis which way the trend is going.

Given the way the political winds are blowing these days, I bet we'll see a few more Republicans in close races follow Connecticut Representative Chris Shays' lead and call for a troop withdrawl timetable for U.S. troops in Iraq. With a tanking economy and tanking wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what other way is there for Republicans to try and change the political winds?

Oh, yeah - politicizing the war on terror and an attack on Iran.

What Will Joe Lieberman Say About This?

First Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) called for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from the conflict in Iraq. Now Representative Chris Shays (R-Connecticut) has joined him:

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), once an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq, said yesterday that the Bush administration should set a time frame for withdrawing U.S. troops. He added that most of the withdrawal could take place next year.

Shays, who faces a tough reelection campaign because of his previous support for President Bush's war policies, made his comments after completing his 14th trip to Iraq this week.

He said he found a "noticeable lack of political will" among Iraqis "to move in what I would call a timely fashion" and concluded that Iraqi officials would act with greater urgency if the United States this fall set a timetable for withdrawal.

"My view is that it may be that the only way we are able to encourage some political will on the part of Iraqis is to have a timeline for troop withdrawal," Shays said from London in a conference call with reporters. "A timeline of when the bulk of heavy lifting is in the hands of the Iraqis."


Shays said it is essential to signal to the Iraqi government that there is no open checkbook or indefinite time frame.

Okay, let's work this out:

The Democratic candidate for Senate in Connecticut, Ned Lamont, has called for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawl from Iraq. Lamont has said that it is essential to let the Iraqi government know that there is no indefinite time frame for how long U.S. troops will remain in Iraq.

Connecticut Senator Holy Joe Lieberman said such a policy would be a "tremendous victory" for the terrorists and agreed with Dick Cheney that a vote for Ned Lamont is a vote for more 9/11's.

Now Chris Shays, the same Chris Shays who endorsed Lieberman in the general election for Connecticut's Senate seat, calls for an Iraq war policy that mirrors Lamont's.

Wouldn't that mean that a vote for Chris Shays would be a vote for more 9/11's and Lieberman's acceptance of Shays' endorsement for Senate is akin to his accepting an endorsement from Osama bin Laden?

I'm sure Holy Joe, Connecticut's most circumsized Senator, will have a different spin on it when he gives his weekly blowjob to Chris Wallace on FOX News Sunday this weekend. Oh, wait, Lieberman doesn't do FOX News ever since he realized Lamont's challenge was serious. Well, then he'll spin it on whatever Sunday show he does.

I can't wait to see it.

And one more thing: Why do Chuck Hagel and Chris Shays want the terrorists to win? I mean, don't they love their country as much as Joe Lieberman, Donald Rumsfeld, John McCain, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush do?

To Back Rummy Or Not To Back Rummy

According to Washington Wire, Democrats plan on attaching a "vote of no confidence" for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to defense spending legislation. Democrats hope that moderate Republicans looking to distance themselves from the administration's Iraq war policy will jump on board with them, making it difficult for the administration to defeat the vote.

Meanwhile in Israel, the fallout and criticism from the conflict with Hezbollah has forced Israeli army chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz to admit "there were in certain areas mistakes, particularly on the logistical and operational levels, as well as from the command."

The command, of course, would be Halutz himself (along with other military and political leaders who okayed a war plan that relied on, some say overestimated, air power and sent reserve soldiers deep into Hezbollah territory without being properly equipped.) The Israeli government announced a commission of inquiry into the war to see what went wrong and to fix it so it doesn't happen again. It remains to be seen whether the inquiry is honest or a whitewash, but at least the commision of inquiry was announced soon after the events in question. Compare that with the Bush administration's battle to keep the 9/11 Commission from being formed (and the amount of time and effort the administration expended stonewalling the 9/11 Commission after it was formed) and the whitewashed investigation into the pre-Iraq war intelligence debacle and the long-delayed Senate Select Sub-Committee on Intelligence report on whether the Bush administration deliberately misused the pre-war intel to bolster it's bullshit case for war. Perhaps Pat Roberts will release that report by the time Bush leaves office? If not by the time George Jr. leaves, maybe by the time Jeb leaves?

Anyway, a vote of no-confidence on Rumsfeld won't do much in the real world other than score political points for Dems and the Republicans who join them on the vote. As long as Bushie thinks Rummy is doing a "heckuva job," Rummy isn't going anywhere. There were rumors this week that Bush was asking around about replacements for Rumsfeld. But there were rumors back in March of this year that Rumsfeld was about to be pushed out at the Pentagon and replaced by Joe Lieberman. That never happened, of course, so who knows what's going on now. I suspect Bush and company still like having Rumsfeld at Defense to siphon off some of the criticism over the war and won't make a move to can him until after the midterm elections. But who knows? If Bush or Rove think pushing Rummy out before the elections helps the GOP, they'll do it.

And then Rummy can join former Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer (the man who insisted upon Debaathification, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, and all CPA appointees be members of the Heritage Foundation or the Bush/Cheney political machine) , former CIA Director George Tenet (who oversaw the pre-war intel fuck-ups and the pre-9/11 intelligence fuck-ups) and General Tommy Franks (the Commander-in-Chief of Central Command who agreed to Rumsfeld's "fight the war on the cheap" Iraq battle plan) in receiving a "Presidential Medal of Freedom" from George W. Bush.

Accountability is priceless, isn't it?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bush Administration Gets Ready To Mark One Year Katrina Anniversary

There will be music and drinking, just like Bushie used to do in New Orleans when he was in college and the Texas Air National Guard. Luckily the partying part of New Orleans has been restored to its former glory, so there will be plenty of places to get loaded. As for the rest of the area, not so much...

New Home Sales Tank

Sales of new homes fell 4.3% in July from the June sales pace. The July level of 1.072 million units sold was down 21.6% from a year earlier and was below Wall Street's expectations (a 2.7% drop.) New home inventories are at an 11 year high.

Atrios reacts this way:

Construction jobs are going to start disappearing rather fast I imagine, which could tip us into recession. Then other people lose their jobs. Then the foreclosures...

Fortunately my Egyptian cotton futures investments are netting me 47 quatloos per second.

Lucky Atrios.

The Big Picture discusses what yesterday's weak Existing Home Sales and today's weak New Homes Sales may mean for the "housing driven" economy and how the economy got to be so "housing driven":

The bottom line remains that real estate will no longer drive the economy the way it has over the past 5 years. And nothing else has risen to take its place as a key driver of consumer spending, or creator of jobs.

If that remains the case, its hard to see how a dramatic economic slowdown -- or even a recession -- can be avoided . . .

Maybe I'll look into purchasing those Egyptian cotton futures Atrios is so bullish about...

Rudy's Former Press Aide Found Strangled

First Bernie Kerik, now this:

A former press aide to Mayor Rudy Giuliani was found naked and strangled in a bed inside a cousin's million-dollar Greenwich Village apartment, law enforcement sources said yesterday.

Martín Barreto - a respected public relations guru who lived a luxurious lifestyle with high-powered clients in New York and Miami - was discovered Monday lying near a condom wrapper and safe-sex aids, a law enforcement source said.

Police investigators believe Barreto, 48, a childhood friend of Bianca Jagger, was killed by someone he knew - possibly an enraged ex-lover or a man he met while cruising the Internet for gay sex, sources said.

"We're all crushed because he couldn't hurt a fly," said Cristyne Nicholas, a former City Hall communications director. "He was just the sweetest, kindest, gentlest guy."


Detectives were investigating several theories and trying to find "an ex-boyfriend he had issues with," a police source said. "It's someone who tapped into his computer and had refused to understand that it was over."

Late Friday, Barreto told a doorman he was expecting a visitor and asked the doorman to let the man upstairs, said neighbors, who suspected the man was a callboy.

Several of Barreto's friends also said he had complained about being stalked by a former flame and obtained restraining orders several years ago against the man in New York and Miami. Barreto last spoke of the alleged stalker three years ago, his friends said.

"He was very afraid," his friend Joseph Gelosi said. "Martín was very sure that he was very dangerous."

Investigators seized a computer from the E. 10th St. apartment where Barreto was choked to death, and removed sheets in the hopes of finding DNA evidence. Cops said a condom appeared to be missing.

Cops found no sign that anything had been stolen or anyone had broken into the home.

"His larynx was crushed like an eggshell," a source said, adding the killer likely wrapped his arm around Barreto's neck, killing him with a wrestling hold.

Callboys, cruising the Internet for gay sex, strangled by an ex-lover or a prostitute - just another story about Republican family values.

Giuliani surrounded himself with some questionable people (starting with our old friend and nearly made man in the Mafia, Bernie Kerik) and some people who did questionable things (starting with Barreto having callboys over to the house.) And of course Giuliani himself engaged in lots of questionable behavior, from asking the pope for a special dispensation to marry his second cousin to asking the pope for a special dispensation to annul the marriage to his second cousin BECAUSE she was his second cousin and he wanted to marry his mistress, Donna Hanover. And then there was that ugly matter where he went to court to protect his right to take home and schtup ANOTHER mistress, Judi Nathan, while second wife Donna and his kids were down the hall in Gracie Mansion. And let's not forget how second wife Donna said she had wanted to save the marriage to Rudy but felt she couldn't because of his involvement with ANOTHER woman - his communications director, Cristyne Lategano-Nicholas (the one quoted in the above Daily News article.)

I dunno if any of this stuff actually hurts Saint Rudy (as my friend NYC Educator likes to call him) in the Republican primaries or the general election, but I have to tell you, Rudy's own life and the lives of those who worked for him sound an awful lot like a promo for a soap opera on ABC. Seriously, can you think of any other presidential contender who has had one major associate (a man he pushed to be "made" Director of Homeland Security) convicted of corruption charges and another major aide strangled in a bizarre sex crime? Or another presidential contender with as many ex-mistresses and infidelity allegations as Saint Rudy has?

I'm sure because he's Saint Rudy we won't hear anything about his alleged infidelities, his schtupping the mistress while his wife and kids were down the hall in Gracie Mansion, or his questionable personnel decisions (especially over Bernie Kerik.) On the other hand, the NY Times has no problem publishing 3,000 word front page articles about the Clintons that allege Bill is still seeking a little "recreation" outside of Chappaqua and spends some nights away from Hillary or wingnut fantasies about Hillary having Vince Foster killed and his body carried out in the middle of the night to a park across from the White House.

Ahh, our liberal media at work. Thank God the NY Daily News has no such compunctions over Saint Rudy - but that's because they love a tabloid story more than Rudy's mythology.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Another Reason To Like Eliot Spitzer - He Stymies Bloomberg Projects EVEN BEFORE He Becomes Governor

The New York Times says Eliot Spitzer has put the brakes on at least three Bloomberg-supported projects and he hasn't even been elected governor yet!!! Gee, can you imagine all the good he'll do once he takes office and can stand up to mayor moneybags in a way that Governor Pataki wouldn't and most other politicans couldn't. Here's how Spitzer has already started blocking Bloomberg:

Eliot Spitzer has not yet won the Democratic primary for governor in New York, but already he has started flexing his political muscle, lobbying to put the brakes on projects that Mr. Bloomberg has been trying to accelerate.

Last month, Mr. Spitzer called for further review of the high-rise residential development and basketball arena proposed for the Atlantic railyards in Brooklyn. Then, last week, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver switched gears to halt a $900 million construction plan for Moynihan Station in Midtown Manhattan after Mr. Spitzer, a fellow Democrat, announced his opposition to the project.

A day after officials delayed the Moynihan plan, Mr. Spitzer stepped up his criticism of a city proposal to buy the railyards on the Far West Side from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, calling the city’s $500 million offer stingy and suggesting an auction to the highest bidder.

The article goes on to say that Spitzer and Bloomberg do not have a bad relationship (although Spitzer and deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff - the architect of so many of these projects - do), but Spitzer is looking to protect himself from both Bloomberg and the outgoing governor, George Pataki, from sticking him with projects, financial obligations, and political appointees that he does not want.

Frankly, I don't care what the reasons are for Spitzer sticking it to Mayor Moneybags. As long as he keeps doing it, I'm happy. Bloomberg lost the West Side railyards/New York Jets development deal last year, yet he is still trying to bully the MTA into selling the railyards site to the city for a ridculous price so that he can remake the West Side his own way without any input from the state. Every time some politican forces Bloomberg to have to compromise on an issue (like Sheldon Silver did over the Jets deal), it's a good thing for New York City. For too long now Bloomberg has gotten his way on everything from his schools takeover to no-bid contracts for his corporate buddies to redevelopment in the city. Now New Yorkers are going to have somebody up in Albany who is strong enough to say "Sorry, Moneybags, you can't ALWAYS get your own way, no matter how much money you have!"

And that's a good thing for all of us.

Pop Goes The Housing Bubble

The National Association of Realtors said today that sales of previously owned homes fell in July to their lowest level in two and a half years to a 6.33 million annual rate, a 4.1% decline from June and an 11.2% drop from July sales in 2005.

In addition, the inventory of unsold homes climbed 3.2% to a record high of 3.85 million, a 7.3 month supply, the highest since April 1993.

The median home price rose just 0.9% from July of last year, the smallest year-over-year increase since May 1995. Only the South showed an increase for the median existing home price (up 3.2% from a year earlier.) The Northeast median existing home price fell 2.1% while the median existing home prices in the West and Midwest remained flat.

Last week, the National Association of Home Builders said that confidence among builders was at a 15 year low. Yesterday, the luxury home builder Toll Brothers cut its fiscal full-year earnings projection for the third time this year (down 19% this quarter) and declined to offer an estimate for the next year, which the Wall Street Journal says indicates "that the deterioration in the housing market will continue for the forseeable future." Chief Executive Robert Toll said that ""It would be difficult to characterize the position of home builders as other than in a hard landing." Toll said in his 40 years as a home builder, he has never seen a slump this bad. "I've never seen a downturn in housing without a downturn in employment or... some macroeconomic nasty condition that took housing down along with other elements of the economy," he says. "This time, you've got low unemployment, you've got job creation, you've got a stable stock market and relatively low interest rates."

In another article on the housing market published yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that many existing home owners looking to sell are getting hammered on prices. Since the article is behind a paywall, I'm going to excerpt a good portion of it:

HERNDON, Va. -- For years, real-estate brokers and home builders promised that the soaring property market eventually would glide to a soft landing. These optimists predicted that home prices, which had more than doubled in parts of the country between 2000 and 2005, would continue to rise, but at a more normal pace of 5% or 6% a year.

It isn't working out that way. The rapid deterioration of the market over the past 12 months has caught many homeowners and builders off guard. Some are being forced to cut prices far below what their homes could have fetched a year ago. It's too early to say how hard the landing will be, but at a minimum it will be bumpy for many people who need to sell homes. And the economy as a whole, buoyed in recent years by the housing frenzy, could suffer.


For some homeowners who bought as the market was peaking last year, the downturn is already creating a financial pinch.

Joan Guth is one homeowner who was taken by surprise. Last September, she put her stately five-bedroom home in Herndon, Va., on the market for about $1.1 million. She was confident she would get something near that price, and planned to use the proceeds to buy a retirement home in Florida. But her home in the Washington suburbs attracted few serious lookers, and in March, she cut her asking price to $899,900. Still there were no takers. Finally, on the advice of her broker, she called in an auction firm, beginning a process that would eventually reveal to her just how weak the Northern Virginia market had become.


Ms. Guth, whose home in Herndon, Va., had failed to attract a buyer after months on the market, eventually turned to Tranzon Fox, an auction firm based in Burke, Va. Ms. Guth had based her initial $1.1 million asking price on a 2005 appraisal of her home, which now appeared far off the mark. She and her family decided they would accept the highest bid of at least $675,000.

Kristin Eddy, a 35-year-old pediatric occupational therapist living in a town home in Reston, Va., had noticed Ms. Guth's dark-green turreted home with its wraparound verandas while riding her bike along a nearby trail. "I've had my eye on that house for a long time -- as a dream," Ms. Eddy says. When it first went on the market, it was far beyond her price range. Then she noticed the sign announcing the auction.

On the morning of Aug. 5, the auctioneer, Stephen Karbelk, set up loudspeakers on Ms. Guth's side lawn. Ms. Guth handed bottles of chilled water to the several dozen bidders and curious neighbors who showed up. "I have a whole stomach full of butterflies," Ms. Guth said.

Ms. Eddy figured her chances of winning were near zero. When the auction began, it became clear that there were only two serious bidders. Although Mr. Karbelk tried to stir excitement, the bidding petered out within minutes. Ms. Eddy was the high bidder, at $475,000.

Looking stricken, Ms. Guth and one of her sons huddled with their broker for a few minutes. Then they told the auctioneer they wouldn't accept the bid, which fell below the stipulated minimum that hadn't been revealed to bidders. The auction was over.

Ms. Guth said she would move and leave the house empty until she could sell it at a reasonable price. Late that afternoon, Ms. Eddy raised her offer to $525,000. The Guths wavered for two days before agreeing to accept about $530,000. Ms. Eddy is getting a home with five bedrooms, four full bathrooms, a half-acre lot and a three-car garage for about what some people had been paying until recently for town houses in the area.

Ms. Guth has revised her retirement plan. The disappointing auction result made it difficult for her to afford the kind of home she wanted in Florida. She has decided to buy a home in South Hill, a rural area of south-central Virginia where home prices are cheaper than they are in either Florida or the Washington suburbs. She thinks she can find a home there for $175,000 or less.


In April 2005, Jennifer Bloom paid about $229,000 for a condominium in Yarmouth Port on Massachusetts's Cape Cod, where her son planned to live. After his plans changed, Ms. Bloom, a software specialist for a computer company, decided early this year to sell the condo. She initially listed it at $229,000, and then gradually shaved the price to $199,000 as the market weakened. Earlier this month, she gave up on finding a buyer at a price she could bear to accept. Instead, she is renting out the condo for $1,000 a month, which she says is more than $200 below her monthly costs for mortgage payments, insurance, taxes and other items. She says she intends to hold off on selling it until the market improves.

The slump has been particularly harsh in Northern Virginia, where in recent years, large home builders have turned open fields and wooded lots into new subdivisions. Inventories of unsold homes here have risen 147% over the past year, compared to a 40% increase nationally.

Would-be sellers such as Tahir Javed, a 36-year-old management consultant, are growing frustrated. One year ago, Mr. Javed decided to move up from his town house in Ashburn, Va. He signed a contract to buy for $983,000 a four-bedroom brick colonial that a developer planned to build in nearby Leesburg. He put down a $60,000 deposit and planned to move into the new house in October 2006.

In May, Mr. Javed put his town house on the market for $499,900, which he says is far above the $212,000 he paid in 1999, but in line with asking prices for similar homes in the neighborhood. He hasn't been able to find a buyer, and the balance he owes on his new house -- about $920,000 -- is due in about six weeks.

Mr. Javed says he asked the builder for a price break, but the answer was no. He's considering cutting the asking price for his town house to slightly under $470,000, and if that doesn't work, he may try to find a renter. He had planned to use the money from selling the town house as a 20% down payment on what he owes on his new home, and to borrow the other 80%. Now he may need a bigger loan, which could carry a higher interest rate, he says. "That is the painful part," he says.

This is scary stuff for a lot of homeowners. Anecdotally I know two different people who would like to sell their existing homes but can't get the prices they want. One is trying to rent out her apartment in Minneapolis while purchasing a new apartment in Philadelphia. The other bought a new luxury home in a new development in the Minneapolis exurbs and can't sell because nobody wants to buy an existing home in an area that is full of new homes. Both of these potential sellers are stuck for now and I wonder how long it will be before they are able to sell and if they will ever get the prices they are holding out for.

Of course, the housing market downturn hurts not only homesellers and homebuilders. Both Lowes and Home Depot have reported tanking profits and real estate companies and the construction industry are starting to lay people off. Watching CNBC today, I got the feeling that these latest reports on the bursting housing bubble, coupled with lackluster retail sales during the back-to-school season, have really spooked the markets . Some analysts are now calling for 1% or 2% GDP growth in the second half of the year and outright recession early next year as a result of the downturns in consumer spending and the housing market as well as high energy prices.

But one thing I haven't seen in the latest prognosis of the housing market is what happens when some of those "fancy schmancy chancy" mortgaging schemes people took out to purchase homes move from "interest only" or "less than interest only" pay periods to full payments. If new home sales and existing home sales are already tanking and the inventory of existing homes is at an all-time high, what will happen when thousands of people start to default on their mortgages and those homes get foreclosed and thrown onto the market? Can't you see many of these people holding out for a stabilization in the housing market before they sell their homes actually seeing home prices fall even more than they already have? And what will that disaster do to the economy as a whole?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lamont Closes In On Lieberman In Two New Polls

The Joememtum is shifting against Holy Joe Lieberman.

An American Research Group poll of Likely Voters has Lieberman leading Ned Lamont 44%-42% with Alan Schlesinger enjoying 3% support. The margin of error in the poll is 3.5% so Lamont has closed to within the MOE.

A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Monday has Lieberman with 45%, Lamont 43% and Schlesinger 6%.

It's interesting to see that as Republicans like RNC chair Ken Mehlman, VP Cheney, and Preznit Bush make known their tacit support for Lieberman over their own pitiful Republican candidate that Lamont is closing the gap with Holy Joe.



Or maybe, as Connecticut's Democratic and independent voters see Bush shills cozying up to Holy Joe and hear Lieberman spout RNC talking points about the war like he's Dick Cheney blaming Lamont voters for impending terrorist attacks, they don't like Joe as much as they did before.

Either way, I doubt very much that all this Republican support for Lieberman is going to help him gather many more votes from here on out. With the GOP candidate enjoying only 3% support, Liberman's got all the Republican votes he's going to get. Now he needs Dems and independents. Parroting Cheney and blaming anti-war voters for strengthening Al Qaeda isn't going to help with that so much.

Love and Forgiveness

A friend of mine got some tickets to see a taping of CMT's Crossroads with Rosanne Cash and Steve Earle last night. I have to tell you, it was a profoundly moving experience. I love Steve Earle and I primarily went to the show to see him, but Rosanne Cash's performance was fantastic and I am now a big fan. Her band was top-notch, her singing gorgeous beyond belief, and the music was fun and funny and heartfelt and poignant and rocking and sad and happy all at the same time if you know what I mean. A great show all around.

In fact, I enjoyed the show so much that when I came home I went over to her website to read about her latest album, Black Cadillac. I saw that she posts a web columns entitled "Mrs. L's Monthly," and she has some very interesting things to say about matters political, environmental, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Her latest is about war and hate and it contains a bit of wisdom I'd like to take with me on the road. This excerpt I'm posting is long, but it's really worth reading:

I grew up with the Vietnam War, as I know many of you did. I came home from school to turn on the television and see War, live and in color. I had a deep interest in the draft numbers of the older brothers of my friends, and I remember riding around town in the car of my aunt when I was about 12, flashing the peace sign to everyone I saw, in camaraderie with all the longhairs and counter-culture-ites, in opposition to war in general, and the Vietnam conflict in particular. Around the same time, my father spoke out against the Vietnam War, and then promptly went over to sing for the troops. This made a profound impact on me, and left me with a dual desire and outlook that is so deeply imbedded in me as to be a permanent feature of my character: Peace and Unity. Non-Violence and Patriotism. Many, many years later I sat with my father in his little study, in March, 2003, and we watched CNN together in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. He began reminiscing about his trip to Vietnam, almost forty years earlier. He recalled a sleepless night in Vietnam, lying beside June, listening to faraway, and not so faraway bombs. He said, "Once you hear the bombs dropping, you never want there to be war anywhere, ever again."

I have thought of that statement a thousand times lately. But does it take firsthand experience to reject the violence? I don't think so. I had a small taste of it myself on 9.11. I was in Lower Manhattan on that day, in a parent's meeting at my daughter's school, and the first plane went over our heads. It rattled the building and shook us in our chairs. We looked at each other, and one mother said, 'That plane is going to crash'. A few minutes later, someone came in to say that, indeed, a plane had crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center. I watched the towers burn from the street outside my daughter's school. I was standing with a friend of mine, while they rounded up the kids inside, and we stood shaking as tears streamed down our faces, holding each other's arms. She said, staring at the burning tower, "All this in the name of God". Incredulous, unbelieving. But I did not have a feeling of revenge. I did not have a feeling that I needed to vindicate my hometown. I did not have a sense that retaliation was the only option. What I felt was that it was possible that it could stop there. No one should ever experience this; hatred is a false illusion. Love, in fact, underpins the entire universe. But we don't see it. If we had had a visionary as a leader, the response to 9.11 might have been, 'We need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We need to sign the Kyoto Protocol. We need to mind our affairs at home. We need universal pre-school, and universal health care, so we can raise up some more visionaries."
Instead, we had a leader who spoke in cowboy rhetoric about 'gettin' em dead or alive' and decided to invade a sovereign nation on false pretenses, while the perpetrators of the crime remain at large, to this day, five years later.

Yes, Bono, I've come here to play Jesus to the lepers in my head.

It's been a hard summer, all around. The conflict abroad mimics the conflict in my own heart. And vice versa. But what do I have the power to heal, what is within my control? I meditate every single day, and every single day I say, "I surrender my will to the will of the Absolute". And then I go out and try to inflict my will on every damn thing I cross. Those stones I fill with my heartaches and toss in the ocean come back, as meteors.

Something is shifting. I feel it. Aren't you sick to death of waste and misery, violence, hatred and UN-Love? As a nation, we revel in fear and vengeance, and a warped idea of our omnipotent power. We invade other countries in the name of high-minded principles, poorly assimilated, and turn right around and become the very thing which we revile. We are obsessed with the iconographic particulars of religion, and we pummel each other with what we THINK is in back of the symbols. We elect leaders who are telegenic, because we can't be bothered to think about anything but our own gratification for more than twenty seconds at a stretch, which is not long enough to peel away the layers of spin and polish and artifact. We want our Hummers and our Big Gulp at any price, even the price of the destruction of the entire planet. We do not think about how our actions will affect the next seven generations, as the Native American maxim dictates; we don't even think how they affect US.

My friend Dan Schwarz sent me a fantastic article about a psychiatrist who heals mentally ill people by first healing them in his own mind, by looking through their files and saying to each one that he is sorry, that he loves them.

Can I tell Hamas and Al-Qaeda and Saddam and Scott Petersen and Dick Cheney that I'm sorry, that I love them?
No, probably not. Yet.
I have to start smaller.
I can tell my husband, my children, my sisters, my brother, my dead parents, my friends, the taxi driver, the band and crew, the deli owner, the members of the board, the manicurist, the committee to re-elect, the dry cleaner, the police officer, the receptionist, the postal worker, the audience. Myself.

I'm sorry. I love you.
Nothing you have done is irreparable, nothing cannot be healed in the light of infinite Love.
Some day the rocks I toss, imbued with the concerns of my heart, will fall to the bottom of the ocean. They will stay put. Some day all 200 million of us will go into rehab. We will wake up. Sooner than we think.
Don't agree with me, it's fine. I don't need you to agree with me in order to say
I'm sorry. I love you.

I struggle with the anger I feel toward George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Hastert, Delay, Karl Rove and the rest.

I was never particularly politcally active UNTIL this administration.

I grew during the Carter years, I came of age during Reagan, I grew politically liberal in the 80's and have supported the Democratic Party (for better or worse) throughout my voting life. I was interested in politics but not obsessed.

But these motherfuckers who lost the 2000 election and then governed like they had won a Reaganesque mandate, these cynical bastards who used the 9/11 attacks for partisan gain (and don't kid yourself, Karl Rove was one happy guy on September 12th 2001 as he began to map out the 2002 campaign strategy), these chickenhawk scumbags who lied to the American people, conflated Saddam with 9/11 and started a war of choice in Iraq that has killed or wounded thousands of Americans and countless Iraqis, squandered the fiscal health of the country for the fiscal health of Bush administration crony companies like Halliburton, and made the world and the United States less safe than before, have politicized me like no one could have or would have before. But I don't just want to beat these fuckers in the ruling Grand Old Party. I want to see them humiliated, decimated, exposed as the charlatans and hypocrites and cowards and cheats and fools that they are.

Sometimes the emotion of it all - the disdain, the hatred, the anger for where they have brought the country and the world - can carry me away and infect how I feel not only about the administration and it's allies in and out government but also how I view the rest of the world and more importantly how I view the future. And I know that living with anger and fear and hatred and disdain is not a healthy way to be.

So for today, I'm taking Ms. Cash's words with me as I go through the world: Love and forgiveness. Not for Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Rice, Rove et al. I'm not well enough for that yet. But for the rest, for my girlfriend, my deceased mother, my father, my sister, my extended family, my friends, my colleagues, my students, myself and the people I come in contact with today as I go about my life, I will try and treat them with love and forgiveness.

And then, we'll see about tomorrow...

Monday, August 21, 2006

The DCCC Reponds To Bush On Iraq

Preznit Bush told America today that we are not leaving Iraq as long as he's preznit. Bill Burton of the DCCC responds thusly by email:

"What the president has confirmed today is that a vote for a Republican Congress is a vote for more of the same in Iraq. It's that simple. If Americans like President Bush's leadership in Iraq, they can choose to keep a Republican Congress that will let him go on as he has with absolutely no accountability."

That's it - that's your choice. If you like how things are going in Iraq, then vote for Chris Shays, Chris Chocola, Deborah Pryce or your respective Republican member of Congress and vote for a "stay the course" policy that won't EVER change as long as Bush is preznit.

If you want to stay in Iraq through at least 2009 without ANY change in policy regardless of how the situation on the ground deteriorates, then vote for Joe Lieberman, George Allen, Rick Santorum or your own respective Republican/Republican Lite senator whose votes have helped enable this administration and its untenable war.

Sure there are other important issues in this election like the war on terrorism, the economy, health care, education, the environment, and the fiscal health of the government.

But the Iraq war is clearly THE issue and it is increasingly apparent that George Bush and his ruling Grand Old Party can't acknowledge the stark realities or the deteriorating conditions in Iraq and can no longer be trusted to govern without some alternative vision influencing and/or overruling their own bad decision-making tendencies.

Like the ones that said we would be greeted like liberators in Iraq, Israel was the winner in the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict, and a bombing attack on Iran is essential for world-wide peace.

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