Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Why Another Tax Break for Billionaires?

Via Delawareliberal, we learn that the Senate is poised to vote to permanently eliminate the estate tax, which affects less than one percent of the richest Americans.
Unfortunately Jason's headline (If Carper or Biden Vote for this, they should be TOAST!!) betrays a tendency among Dems to get tough with our own side when we should be getting tough with the other side.
For instance, let's ask Mike Castle whether he supports this billionaires' boondoggle.
Next, let's ask where is the new Treasury Secretary nominee, Henry Paulson, is on this issue. Let's put him on the spot on blowing another hole in the sinking ship that is our federal budget.
It looks like he is getting the Paul O'Neil treatment before he even gets to appear before the Senate for confirmation hearings. For those who want to know what the Paul O'Neil treatment is, check out Ron Susskind's excellent book, The Price of Loyalty, on how Bush's first Treasury Secretary was sandbagged while we pissed away the budget surplus.

Greg Mankiw and the Budget Deficit

Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw, who served as President Sluggo's first economic advisor, is like a guy who complains about the road curving while he was at the wheel. Mankiw writes today in the Wall Street Journal and in his blog:
To understand the challenge that Mr. Paulson [nominated to be Treasury Secretary] faces, let's start with a fact about which every serious policy analyst agrees: The government budget is on an unsustainable path.
And how did that happen?
Americans are living longer and having fewer children. Together with advances in medical technology that are driving up health-care costs, this demographic shift means that a budget crunch is coming when the baby-boom generation retires. The promises made to my generation for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are just not affordable, given the projected path of tax revenue.
Not a word about the decisions Professor Mankiw enabled that burned through the government's budget surplus and left us with nothing but deficits as far as the eye can see.
The reasons Mankiw cites for our record budget deficits can hardly be described as a perfect storm that caught us unawares. These are long term demographic trends which have not changed significantly since the 1990s.
Daniel Gross skewers Mankiw's prescription for the predicament he helped to put us in:
So what does Mankiw offer to help clean up the mess? Regressive taxes. Forget about returning to the income and investment tax regime that seemed to work awfully well the 1990s. Nope. Raise taxes on gas, on carbon, and on cigarettes and alcohol. "Maybe we should consider higher taxes on smoking, drinking, gambling and other activities about which people lack self-control." (In that vein, should we also enact a higher taxes on Republican fiscal hawks who have demonstrated a serious lack of self-control when it comes to aligning tax revenues with spending?)
It's not as though Mankiw doesn't understand the policy that created the budget surpluses and economic growth of the 1990s. This is from page 112 of the 2000 edition of his textbook, Macroeconomics:
Conversely, if the government spends less than it raises in revenue, it is said to run a budget surplus. It can then retire some of the national debt and stimulate investment. This influence of government budget plicy on capital accumulation explains why President Clinton made reducing the budget deficit an important priority when he moved into the White House in 1993.
Left unmentioned in Mankiw's text is the fact that Clinton's policy worked.

An Inconvenient Truth: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

YouTube has the trailer for An Inconvenient Truth, also available here via Apple. With the pounding music typical of movie previews, it packs quite a punch.
It opens Friday at the Ritz East in Philly and the Ritz Sixteen in Vorhees, NJ. For more information, check out the movie's website.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"The last full measure of devotion"

On this Memorial Day, we turn again to the Gettysburg Address. Here's the infamous Powerpoint version, a lesson in how to take a powerful message and reduce it to mush.
And here is the text of the Bliss Version (
with links to readings by Sam Waterston, Jeff Daniels and Johnny Cash):
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Michael Shermer: No Longer a Skeptic on Global Warming

Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine, described himself as a doubter when it comes to global warming. But in his column in Scientific American, he describes how he reached his "flipping point" on the topic:
Nevertheless, data trump politics, and a convergence of evidence from numerous sources has led me to make a cognitive switch on the subject of anthropogenic global warming. My attention was piqued on February 8 when 86 leading evangelical Christians--the last cohort I expected to get on the environmental bandwagon--issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative calling for "national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions" in carbon emissions.
Then I attended the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, Calif., where former vice president Al Gore delivered the single finest summation of the evidence for global warming I have ever heard, based on the recent documentary film about his work in this area, An Inconvenient Truth. The striking before-and-after photographs showing the disappearance of glaciers around the world shocked me out of my doubting stance.
Shermer evidently enjoys a good controversy over science and public policy. He has organized a conference this coming weekend at CalTech called The Environmental Wars: the Science Behind the Politics, and it should be a barn burner. He's invited novelist (and clandestine environmental advisor to President Bush) Michael Crichton and ABC reporter and self-described "scourge of the liberal media" John Stossel to address the gathering. Don't worry, Shermer will have some real scientists, including CalTech president David Baltimore, involved in the proceedings.
Shermer is the author of several books including Why Darwin Matters: Evolution and the Case Against Intelligent Design and Why People Believe Weird Things. He will kick off the conference with a talk entitled, “The Flipping Point. The Conversion of an Environmental Skeptic.”

Friday, May 26, 2006

"An era of near madness in finance"

So writes Kurt Eichenwald in the New York Times, describing the era that came to an end with the collapse of Enron.
Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling tried to convince the jury that there was nothing wrong with Enron, and that the company's failure was brought about by the shenanigans of CFO Andrew Fastow and a "run on the bank" fueled by negative stories in the Wall Street Journal and other business periodicals.
Their inability to admit that anything was wrong at Enron effectively shifted the burden of proof to the defense. Writing in Fortune, Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind summed up the failure of the defense strategy:
Needless to say, the defense did not prove their ludicrous theory.
Eichenwald writes that Enron's leaders came to believe that reporting big profits was the same as actually making money, and ran the company accordingly:
Paula Rieker, an executive with the company's investor relations group, testified to her fear of correcting Mr. Skilling when he made what she considered to be false statements to investors. Vince Kaminski, a top risk analyst, spoke of how Mr. Skilling became increasingly difficult to contradict as Enron won plaudits from the marketplace. And Ben F. Glisan Jr., the treasurer, portrayed an "Emperor's New Clothes" culture, where no one was willing to challenge the rule-bending and recklessness as the company's executives charged into one ill-considered business line after another.
Houston Chronicle columnist Loren Steffy writes that Lay seems to have drunk his own Kool Aid and doesn't understand why others no longer believe him when he speaks:
From the witness stand, Lay, the man who was used to people jumping when he spoke, still seemed to believe that telling his version enough times would make it true.
Just as Scotty on Star Trek used to protest "I canna change the laws of physics," Lay and Skilling have discovered that they couldn't change the laws of economics.
Photo: Nick de la Torre, the Houston Chronicle

The Media's Love of Clinton Gossip

Media pundits like Chris Matthews and David Broder have been obsessing over the New York Times piece on the Clinton's marriage. Media Matters for America has the rundown on the sorry spectacle.
But Woody Allen had it right thirty years ago in his movie, Manhattan:
Gossip: It's the new pornography.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Enron Trial from the Jury's Perspective

The Houston Chronicle has published some interesting comments from members of the Enron jury:
Freddy Delgado, an elementary school principal, said some testimony was especially strong, including that by Enron's ex-treasurer.
"I would say Ben Glisan's testimony (was among the most compelling). We kept going back to that testimony to corroborate things. I believe he was one of the best witnesses brought forward.''
Glisan told the jury that by the summer of 2001, the company had balance-sheet trouble, excessive debt, wildly overvalued international assets and was manufacturing "both cash flow and earnings."
"Were those issues known by Mr. Lay and Mr. Skilling on that day?" asked prosecutor Kathryn Ruemmler. "Yes they were," he replied, saying the myriad financial problems were discussed in meetings with Lay and Skilling present.
Unlike other witnesses who pleaded guilty to crimes at Enron and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, Glisan had no cooperating agreement with the government.
Houston Chronicle business columnist Loren Steffy has more:
As for the defendants themselves, Wendy Vaughn, a roofing contractor, said that Lay's combative demeanor was telling.
"He seemed very much wanting to be in control," she said. "He seemed very much to have a chip on his shoulder. It made me question his character."
Ken Lay surrendered his passport and posted a $5 million bond after the verdict was announced. Between now and his sentencing on September 11, Lay is prohibited from drinking excessively, owning a gun or contacting witnesses or jurors.

Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling Convicted

Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling have been convicted. Lay was found guilty on all six counts, and Skilling on 19 of the 28 counts against him.
The Houston Chronicle has the scorecard.
We'll have plenty of analysis to follow.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Can You Find "Aztlan" on the Map?

I'm a fairly well educated guy, but I had never heard of "Aztlan" or the "Reconquista" movement until Lou Dobbs put this map on the air last night. Dobbs has made his "Broken Borders" hobbyhorse the centerpiece of his nightly program on CNN. The People for the American Way have the video of the newscast, which includes this comment from CNN reporter Casey Wann:
Utah is also part of the territory some militant Latino activists refer to as Aztlan, the portion of the southwest United States they claim rightfully belongs to Mexico.
Via Delawareliberal and Liberal Oasis, we learn that the source of this map of Aztlan is the Council of Conservative Citizens.
And who might the CCC be? The Anti-Defamation League has some useful background on the group:
The St. Louis-based Council of Conservative Citizens traces its roots directly to the racist, anti-integrationist White Citizens' Councils of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Southern Poverty Law Center concurs:
Indeed, the Council of Conservative Citizens is the reincarnation of the racist White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and 1960s.
The ADL reports that the CCC has a newsletter called the Citizens Informer:
It is edited by Sam Francis, formerly a controversial Washington Times columnist who was eventually dismissed for defending slavery. Francis has become more forthright in denigrating nonwhites and is frequently a guest at conferences of American Renaissance, a group that champions the genetic inferiority of African Americans; he stated at a 1998 gathering that "White Americans have a short time to stop the universalism and egalitarianism that threaten to destroy their race."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Three Least Popular Senators

According to Survey USA, the three most unpopular senators are all Republicans and two are up for reelection this year:
Jim Bunning, KY: 40% approval, 48% disapproval
Conrad Burns, MT: 40% approval, 56% disapproval
Rick Santorum, PA: 36% approval, 57% disapproval
The good news for Santorum (such as it is) in SUSA's numbers is that he's still doing better than Bush in Pennsylvania:
George Bush among PA voters: 28% approval, 70% disapproval
According to the WSJ, via Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, Congressman Curt Weldon will not be on hand to welcome Bush.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Does God Hate America?

The death of a soldier is an occassion for grieving. But for Kansas minister Fred Phelps and his followers, it's an occassion to chastise the United States for tolerating homosexuality. Phelps believes that U.S. soldiers are dying as God's punishment for our sins. As the News Journal reports, the people of Seaford do not agree:
"Get out of our county," Amanda Elzey, 18, of Salisbury, Md., shouted. Elzey's pink T-shirt read: "God Hates No One."
More than 1,000 mourners gathered to honor Cpl. Cory Palmer, and to protect the family from the out of town protesters:
Outside the church, Carol Guilbert, a senior citizen from Bridgeville, stood quietly with her husband to support Palmer's family, with whom she attends church. She opposes U.S. involvement in Iraq.
"This has nothing to do with your feelings about the war," said Guilbert, whose husband is a World War II veteran. "We're very supportive of the family."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Pentagon's Mismanagement of Iraq's Police Force

The New York Times reports on the tragically inept program to reconstitute the Iraqi police force:
Before the war, the Bush administration dismissed as unnecessary a plan backed by the Justice Department to rebuild the police force by deploying thousands of American civilian trainers. Current and former administration officials said they were relying on a Central Intelligence Agency assessment that said the Iraqi police were well trained. The C.I.A. said its assessment conveyed nothing of the sort.
After Baghdad fell, when a majority of Iraqi police officers abandoned their posts, a second proposal by a Justice Department team calling for 6,600 police trainers was reduced to 1,500, and then never carried out. During the first eight months of the occupation — as crime soared and the insurgency took hold — the United States deployed 50 police advisers in Iraq.
Against the objections of Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, the long-range plan was eventually reduced to 500 trainers. One result was a police captain from North Carolina having 40 Americans to train 20,000 Iraqi police across four provinces in southern Iraq.
The neocons who came into power in 2001 were so sure of themselves, and so dismissive of those who experience did not confirm their faith-based foreign policy, that they have badly damaged our country's ability to execute a coherent foreign policy
Time and again we have seen the neocons rudely dismiss the views of those who dare to disagree. Their contempt for the professionals who conduct our foreign policy--in the military, the intelligence community and in the foreign service--has cost us dearly.
This is why Dems should be cheering the cadre of former military officers who have stepped forward to run for Congress. For most of my lifetime, voters have given the edge to Republicans when it comes to national security. But when asked who they trust on Iraq in last week's ABC News/Gallup poll, 50% to 36% preferred Democrats. The current Republican regime has abandoned the central ground on national security, and we should do all we can to support those men and women in uniform who are challenging the wrongheaded thinking that got us into this mess.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fawning Over John McCain

For the details on the media's John McCain wet dreams, there's no one like the incomparable Daily Howler, who neatly dissects Michael Kinsley's column on McCain in today's Washington Post in which he writes of his rapture at McCain's recent speeches:
They are marvelous: witty, self-mocking, above all interesting. When McCain climbs onto an old warhorse like, say, filial obligation, you really do not know where he might take it. It would be wonderful to have a president whose speeches weren't a duty to listen to.
Kinsley's column points out that many McCainiacs seem to overlook the great man's actual positions on the issues:
With McCain, something more magical is going on. He says plainly that he is for the war, or against abortion choice, and people hear the opposite. It's a gift, I guess.
A gift? Perhaps, a gift from the legions of smitten journalists like Kinsley himself, as the Daily Howler describes in excruciating detail:
Were McCain’s speeches “marvelous: witty, self-mocking, above all interesting?” That, of course, is a matter of judgment. (For ourselves, we’d judge somewhat differently.) ... McCain’s performance was also “brilliant”—and, of course, it showed his “courage!” Remember: Every gesture, every word, must, by law, display McCain’s courage. There’s simply nothing the great man can do that the Kinsleys can’t find ways to fawn to.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Senate Democrats Propose Energy Plan

The New York Times reports that Senate Democrats yesterday proposed energy legislation designed to promote alternate energy sources, encourage energy efficiency and reduce dependence on oil imports by 40% by the year 2020. The bill, called the Clean Energy Development for a Growing Economy (Clean EDGE) initiative, would also roll back the billions in public funds that BushCo's energy monstrosity shovelled in the direction of oil and gas companies.
The strategy draws on a lesson that our MBA president must have slept through: Instead of throwing more money at the mature industry of oil extraction, we should be supporting the development of more efficient vehicles and alternative energy sources.

Senator Tom Carper summed up why we need to change direction:
We can't afford to let the next 20 years look like the last 20 years. That's why it's imperative that we have to take action today to invest more heavily in renewable fuels, increase our production and development of alternative-fuel vehicles and develop new sources of energy.
The Republicans have had it their way and look where it got us: record government subsidies, record gasoline prices and record oil industry profits.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Status Quo Takes a Beating in Pennsylvania

The primary results from Pennsylvania tell a story of change upsetting the status quo:
Mike O'Brien won the Democratic nomination in the 175th House District (Old City, Northern Liberties, Fishtown) despite a remarkable challenge from progressive organizer Anne Dicker, who fell short by about 300 votes.
An election like this is all about the ground game and O'Brien flooded the streets with volunteers from John Dougherty's machine. Dicker, a Howard Dean organizer, founder of
Philly for Change and a blogger for Young Philly Politics showed that progressive, reform minded Dems can make their presence felt at the polls despite being outspent by at least 20 to 1.
I got to know Mike O'Brien when he was Marie Lederer's chief of staff and I was working in Northern Liberties. He was the go-to-guy for tough problems no one else could fix
; he's the best constituent service troubleshooter I ever saw.
I knew he would be a tough candidate to beat.
Terry Graboyes, who was backed by Vince Fumo's organization, complained that Dicker was the spoiler in the race, but Ray Murphy at YPP thinks
the opposite may be true, and calls her second place finish a gain for progressives. If nothing else, she showed that a group of progressives can compete with the big boys. has a list of
thirteen legislative incuments who lost their primary elections yesterday. The list includes the top two Republicans in the state Senate, who lost because of anger over last year's midnight pay raise:
Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer (R., Blair) and Majority Leader David J. Brightbill (R., Lebanon) - who together have served 56 years in the Senate - were defeated in two of the most costly legislative races in history.
As John Baer writes, "They are the first Pennsylvania legislative leaders to lose a primary election since 1964." These defeats presage trouble for incumbent legislators in November.
In another sign of a shakeup in PA politics,
a Democrat won a special election to the state Senate in overwhelmingly Republican Chester County:
Andrew Dinniman has defeated Republican Carol Aichele to become the first Democratic state senator from Chester County in memory.
In one unsurprising result, Bob Casey, Jr. easily beat two opponents for the right to challenge incumbent senator Rick Santorum:
With a decisive win yesterday, Casey showed that, despite differences with many Democrats on abortion rights, gun control, and embryonic stem cell research, he could unify the party. He easily overcame voter appeals from Center City lawyer Alan Sandals and Bucks County professor Chuck Pennacchio to put up a "real Democrat" against Santorum in November.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ken Lay: "You should not be a slave to the rules."

Kathryn Ruemmler delivered the prosecution's closing statement in the Enron trial. As the Houston Chronicle reports, one message remained constant throughout her four hour presentation:
One government slide quoted one of Lay's own statements in court, which the prosecutor also had mounted on a poster board that stayed up the entire four hours. It was what Lay said about ignoring the company code of ethics when he made a small personal investment with a company that did Enron work.
"Rules are important — but they should not — you should not be a slave to the rules either," Lay was quoted on the screen and ever-present board.
Ken Lay's comment came when he was asked about his investment in a company that did business with Enron, which was contrary to the company's (rather porous) ethics policy and probably should have been disclosed in the company's SEC filings. Lay's $160,000 investment is small potatoes compared to his secretly selling $70 million of shares when he was telling people he was a net buyer of company stock, but the message to the jury is that this is a man who avoids playing by the rules when it suits his purpose.
Lawyers for Skilling and Lay will make their closing arguments today.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Deja Voodoo Economics

The Republicans have been in power for five years and can more or less do what they want, including cutting taxes, without having to invoke faith based economics for their decisions. But as Sebastian Mallaby writes in the Washington Post, they just can't help themselves:
In January, George W. Bush declared that, "by cutting the taxes on the American people, this economy is strong, and the overall tax revenues have hit at record levels." Regrettably, this endorsement of what his dad called voodoo economics was not a one-time oversight. The next month, Bush told a New Hampshire audience, "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase."
Bush is not alone in this. Dick Cheney, allegedly a serious person, asserted in February that the "tax cuts have translated into higher federal revenues."
To refute this nonsense, Mallaby quotes economist Gregory Mankiw of Harvard, who until recently chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under Bush:
How large, exactly? Mankiw reckons that over the long run (the long run being generous to his argument), cuts on capital taxes generate enough extra growth to pay for half of the lost revenue. Hello, Mr. President, that means that the other half of the lost revenue translates into bigger deficits. Mankiw also calculates that the comparable figure for cuts in taxes on wages is 17 percent. Yes, Mr. President, that means every $1 trillion in tax cuts is going to add $830 billion to the national debt.
Mallaby also refers to a brief but important Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, titled Analyzing the Economic and Budgetary Effects of a 10 Percent Cut in Income Tax Rates (discussed here in TommyWonk), to point out the flaws in the tax cut mantra:
On the most optimistic assumptions it could muster, the CBO found that tax cuts would stimulate enough economic growth to replace 22 percent of lost revenue in the first five years and 32 percent in the second five. On pessimistic assumptions, the growth effects of tax cuts did nothing to offset revenue loss.
Was the CBO report penned by the lingering remants of liberal economists hiding out on Capitol Hill? Hardly. Mallaby helpfully points out that the CBO report was written by then-director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, another Bush White House alum.
Update: Fellow blogger Stygius covers the same topic today, concluding with this succinct comment:
Deficit spending increases the deficit. There.
Well said.

Wanted: Someone Interested in Governing

Doesn't anyone want to govern this country?
Writing in yesterday's New York Times, Adam Nagourney raised the uncomfortable prospect of some leading Dems thinking it might be better to not take back Congress:
But here is a slightly heretical question, being asked only partly in jest right now: Is it really in the best interest of the Democratic Party to win control of the House and Senate in November? Might the party's long-term fortunes actually be helped by falling short?
As strange as it might seem, there are moments when losing is winning in politics. Even as Democrats are doing everything they can to win, and believe that victory is critical for future battles over real issues, some of the party's leading figures are also speculating that November could represent one of those moments.
Today we read in the Times that some on the right are thinking the same thing:
"There is a growing feeling among conservatives that the only way to cure the problem is for Republicans to lose the Congressional elections this fall," said Richard Viguerie, a conservative direct-mail pioneer.
The argument is an old one: Wait until things get worse and the masses will rise up in righteous indignation and cleanse the halls of power, ushering in a golden age, et cetera... Among the flaws in this line of thinking is that it leaves until a future date the thorny question of governing.
Not surprisingly, Bill Clinton, the last Democrat to actually govern the country, offers a useful perspective:
"I don't buy the argument that we'd be better off if we almost got there and didn't win a majority in either house," Bill Clinton, the former president, said in an interview. "I think when you suit up you've got to try to win, and I hope we will win because we will get better public policy and it'll be better for America."
The legacy of Bill Clinton reminds us that (a) not only can we do better, but (b) we actually have, and recently.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Roy Blount, Jr. Defends the President

We've heard the story, here via the Guardian:
Asked by Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper what he considered to be his greatest triumph, President Bush replied: "I've experienced many great moments. It's hard for me to name the greatest." He went on: "I would say that the best moment of all came when I caught a seven-and-a-half pound perch while fishing on my lake."
On NPR's Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, Roy Blount, Jr. spoke up on Bush's behalf:
I'd like to defend the president on this. I think he was right.

The Degradation of the Nation's Intelligence Apparatus under Bush

President Sluggo may be grabbing for all the extra-legal spying power he can get his hands on. But for all his zeal for pushing the envelope on domestic spying, our country's intelligence apparatus is in horrendous shape.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their syncophants selectively puffed up the shreds of intelligence that suggested Iraq had WMDs. They sought to institutionalize this stovepiping so that misleading or flat-out bogus intelligence could be rushed to the fore, bypassing the standard review process. Then they outed CIA operative Valerie Plame to punish Joseph Wilson for pointing out that the Niger yellowcake story was simply not true.
Porter Goss set out to purge the CIA of those with whom he disagreed, which cost the agency some of its most experienced top-level management. Intelligence gathering and analysis requires a diversity of views, and is incompatable with blind loyalty.
Yesterday, as the New York Times reports, the FBI other federal agencies raided the home and office of Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's No. 3 official under Goss:
The searches, including the one at agency headquarters in McLean, Va., were carried out by agents of the F.B.I. and investigators from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Internal Revenue Service, all of which are involved in the inquiry, officials said.
Apparently, the politicization of the agency descended to the most tawdry level:
The searches were conducted at the request of federal authorities in San Diego, who are pursuing leads in a case that began with the prosecution of Mr. Cunningham, the Republican on the House Appropriations Committee who resigned and pleaded guilty to taking more than $2 million in cash and gifts in return for helping supporters obtain contracts.
NSA head General Michael V. Hayden, who has been picked by Bush to lead the CIA, has spent the week under fire for his agency's data mining program in which millions of phone records have been compiled.
We've seen relentless attempts to gather electronic data on U.S. citizens, selective use and abuse of intelligence to lead us into war, purges of career professsionals who dare to disagree and even garden variety corruption. What we haven't seen is any progress in tracking down the folks who attacked us 1,705 days ago.

Friday, May 12, 2006

How Many Known Affiliates Does Al Qaeda Have?

The Washington Post reports that President Bush tried to assure us that the data mining program was limited in scope:
He denied forcefully that his administration is "mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," saying, "Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaeda and their known affiliates."
Surely he doesn't mean to tell us that Osama Bin Laden has millions of known affiliates inside our borders?
The Bush administration has secretly been collecting the domestic telephone records of millions of U.S. households and businesses, assembling gargantuan databases and attempting to sift through them for clues about terrorist threats, according to sources with knowledge of the program.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

HUD Spokesperson Says Her Boss Lied

Here's something we don't hear every day: a spokesperson explaining that her boss lied.
From the AP, we learn that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson actually lied about politicizing the department's procurement process:
A spokeswoman acknowledged that Jackson told the story. But, she said, the story was untrue.
"The secretary's story was anecdotal. He is not part of the contracting process," said HUD spokeswoman Dustee Tucker. "He was trying to explain to this group how politics works in D.C."
Oh, so it was a civics lesson, or perhaps a parable in the wicked ways of Washington. Here's what Secretary Jackson said:
"He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president,'" Jackson told the group, according to the newspaper.
"I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.'" Jackson told the group, which promotes business opportunities for minorities in the real estate industry.
"He didn't get the contract," Jackson said. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

This Is Your City on Global Warming

Blogger Alex Tingle has posted a hack of Google Maps that demonstrates the effects of rising sea levels. This is what Wilmington would look like like if the sea rose 7 meters:
The flooded areas include the Eastside, Northeast, Southbridge and Browntown neighborhoods, the Christina River waterfront, I-95, I-495, the Amtrak Station, the Port of Wilmington and the city's wastewater treatment plant, which serves more than half of Delaware's population.

Monday, May 08, 2006

31 Percent

From USA Today:
President Bush's approval rating has slumped to 31% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, the lowest of his presidency and a warning sign for Republicans in the November elections.
The survey of 1,013 adults, taken Friday through Sunday, shows Bush's standing down by 3 percentage points in a single week. His disapproval rating also reached a record: 65%.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

BushCo Has Been Exactly Wrong on Energy

When it comes to energy, there's smart money and dumb money. First an example of the smart money, via Business Wire:
SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 5, 2006--Merriman Curhan Ford & Co. (MCF), a securities broker-dealer and investment bank, and subsidiary of MCF Corporation (AMEX:MEM), will launch today a tracking index focused on the Next-Generation Energy (NGE) sector. This innovative index will give investors a tool to track companies defining the non-hydrocarbon-based economy.
The Merriman Curhan Ford & Co. Next-Generation Index (SM) will be comprised of 30 small- and mid-cap U.S.-listed companies leading the important advances in the development and commercialization of five key NGE technology areas: fuel cells, solar power, alternative fuels, energy storage and other supporting technologies. Tracking begins today.
Compare with the dumb money, via the Austin American Statesman:
Whatever it is, this much is certain: When it comes to high gas prices, President Bush is a supply-sider, always talking about increasing the supply and never suggesting that Americans play a role in decreasing the demand.
There's one problem with this approach: The world has a finite supply of petroleum. No matter how many billions in federal government subsidies, the supply is the supply.
And by the way, the choice we face is not between more drilling subsidies and forcing American families out of their SUVs. The problem we face stems from BushCo's failure to do anything that could create cost saving options for Americans.
We know that mileage of U.S. cars has gone down while sales of foreign hybrids is climbing. We know that the federal government could have encouraged programs to increase fuel efficiency.
BushCo's failure to act has hurt families by limiting the transportation options available to them, and hurt U.S. car companies that saw little reason not to keep selling the inefficent gas hogs that Washington encouraged them to keep manufacturing. The result is pain at the pump and on the factory floor as the market share of domestic automakers continues to slide.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Essra Mohawk Comes to Wilmington

The great Essra Mohawk is in town! Essra was on WVUD 91.3 FM this morning on Scott Birney's Local Vocal segment. Essra sang her song "Change of Heart" which was a big hit for Cyndi Lauper.
Essra compared her new release "Love Is Still the Answer" with local music luminary Hangnail Phillips's new disc, "Wit's End."
Tonight Essra will play at a party I'm having this evening at Catherine Rooney's in Wilmington.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Senator Carper Moving Ahead with his Clean Air Planning Act

The News Journal reports that Senator Tom Carper plans to introduce the latest version of his Clean Air Planning Act today. True to form, Carper has crafted a bill that enjoys support from some moderate Republicans and even some power companies that believe that stronger emissions controls are inevitable, and perhaps even a good thing:
The overhauled bill enjoys bipartisan support, and has co-sponsors like Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., whose hometown is near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most polluted national park. The changes also won Carper's bill the support of health and environmental groups without losing the coalition of power companies that worked with him on the original bill.
"There's been a shifting within the industry, a sense that it's not so much a question of when, but how carbon dioxide pollution will be regulated by power plants," said Michael Bradley, spokesman for the Clean Energy Group, a coalition of seven utility companies that worked with Carper on the bill.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., criticized the bill, complaining that the sponsors seemed to have no interest in coming to a compromise.
A complaint that Tom Carper has no interest in compromise simply misses the mark. Carper, who as I once wrote is so centrist it hurts, loves to craft deals to resolve differences between opposing interests. Carper's technocratic instincts extend to the title of his bill, the Clean Air Planning Act, which unlike BushCo's Clear Skies Act, doesn't sound like it was written by a focus group.
Inhofe is frustrated because has been unable to move BushCo's bill out of his committee for three years. More and more we see energy interests demonstrating that they are more progressive than our president when it comes to the environment.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Enron Trial: Ken Lay Bombs on the Witness Stand

Ken Lay yesterday finished his six days on the witness stand, and by all accounts he was awful. From the Financial Times:
During his 15 years at the top, [Ken Lay] cultivated an image as a leader of the philanthropic community, the go-to man for corporate Houston who drove the revival of downtown.
So it came as a shock this week and last, when the public saw a different side of Mr Lay on the witness stand in his fraud and conspiracy trial.
He was snide with George Secrest, his own lawyer, making faces and asides and indicating annoyance with the questioning in which legal experts say he should have basked.
“Where are you going with this, Mr Secrest?’’ he asked at one point.
That's right, he was snide with his own lawyer. From the Houston Chronicle:
What struck lawyers on the sidelines was not his surly manner with prosecutor John Hueston on cross-examination, but his grouchiness and discomfort at times dealing with defense attorney George "Mac" Secrest, who took the assignment while lead defender Michael Ramsey recovers from vascular surgery.
"I've never seen the transformation of a witness from grandfather to Richard Nixon in a day," lawyer Brian Wice said.
Ken Lay could have argued that the company was brought down by faulty but honest management decisions, unfortunate perhaps but hardly criminal. Instead, he continued to insist that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Enron -- a much harder case to make. From the New York Times:
By trying to resurrect his reputation rather than counter the charges against him, Mr. Lay, 64, put front and center the question of whether he bore responsibility for mismanaging Enron.
Yet he steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for any decision that might have contributed to the fall of Enron. Instead, he liberally sprinkled blame on a market panic caused by short-sellers, The Wall Street Journal, the bursting of the technology boom, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and, most of all, the schemes hatched by the former chief financial officer, Andrew S. Fastow.
Ken Lay was unprepared to deal with some uncomfortable facts. As the company was going south in 2001, he was secretly selling $70 million in Enron shares while telling anyone who would listen that they should buy the company's stock. Lay's excuse that he was forced to sell his shares because of margin calls was punctured by prosecutor John Hueston who demonstrated that Lay was selling his Enron shares even when he wasn't forced to by his creditors and had other assets at his disposal.
It also came out that Ken Lay had joined Jeff Skilling in investing in a company that did business with Enron, which was in violation of the company's ethics policy (and possibly federal securities law). Lay seized the opportunity to demonstrate
his lack of concern for the questionable ethics of self-dealing:
When questioned by Mr. Hueston on Tuesday about a $160,000 personal investment he made in a photo-sharing company that did more than 80 percent of its business with Enron, Mr. Lay called suggestions of impropriety "form over substance."
Rules, he said, "are important, but you should not be a slave to rules, either."
This is relatively small potatoes compared to the brazen scheming of CFO Andrew Fastow. But if the the top two execs see no problem with such self-dealing, it becomes easier to understand how Fastow could have been given the green light on his dealings. In this light, Fastow's deals are exceptional only in the number of zeros involved (as well as the complexity of the schemes). But prosecutors were able to establish that self dealing was accepted at the top of the company.
The trial, which some expected to descend into an endless discussions about arcane accounting rules, has produced more than its share of human drama. Who would have thought that the hot-tempered Andrew Fastow would end up his testimony as a sypathetic figure, and that the affable Ken Lay would come across as a snarling, arrogant and self-destructive?

In Ken Lay's mind, the rest of the world still doesn't get it.
Photo: Richard Carson/Reuters

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Nice Round Number

Today is my birthday. I'll be back with more urgent news and analysis tomorrow.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mission Accomplished Day

On September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden directed the attacks that struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Iraq War began on March 20, 2003.
On May 1, 2003, President Bush showed up in a flight suit to declare an end to major combat operations in Iraq. (He was never actually a combat pilot; he just played one on TV.)
Neil Young describes the stunt in the song "Shock and Awe" on his new album,
Living with War:
Back in the days of “mission accomplished”
Our chief was landing on the deck
The sun was setting on a golden photo op
Back in the days of “mission accomplished”
That was 1,096 days ago. It has now been 1,693 days since we were attacked. Osama bin Laden is still at large.