Friday, April 29, 2005

Too many items worth blogging

I surrender. This is a day that has just had too many weird, ridiculous and Xtian extremist items to blog about, so I will refer you to The Carpetbagger Report. Just keep going down until you get to yesterday - then stop if you can.
In an interview with Raw Story Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) slammed President Bush and Congressional Republicans.

"I think the Republicans basically resent the poor and they figure if we can get the poor investing in the stock market, maybe they'll start thinking like Republicans," Moran said. "God help us."

The Virginian said he believes that the Republican base has used Bush to push Social Security reform, a project that he says is essentially one to axe Social Security.

"I think they realized that they're never going to find anybody who is as willing to carry out the agenda of these Republican right wing nuts and reverse the course of American progress," he remarked. "This is their chance. This is their chance to cut taxes down to the bone. This is their chance to repeal Social Security and to bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid."

Rep. Moran seems to have gotten the picture. This is pure ideological politics by the Republicans who have been trying to destroy Social Security since it was created. Let's not forget that in 1978 Bush predicted Social Security would be bankrupt by 1988. As we could see, he did not forget to use that word, bankrupt, at various times again last night.

This is also the same group of Republicans in the Legislature who today passed a budget bill that cut Medicaid payments $10 billion while cutting taxes for the wealthy $109 billion. Let's talk about income redistribution again, why don't we? And these are the people who are telling us that they want to "reform" the same Social Security that those sterling Republicans Goldwater, Reagan, Dole and Bush are all on record as wanting to destroy.

I don't trust anything they say. Let's face it. If there is a unverse in which the truth can be found, these Republicans will avoid being found there with all their energies. Everything they say has two meanings, or as the Native Americans might say, "Republicans speak with forked tongue." One meaning is relatively innocuous, the other is destructive, and both are untrue.

If Bush has said anything honest in the last four plus years, then it was an accident and he didn't mean it. Last night was simply one more hour in which he practiced his usual deceptions.

The mind of a terrorist

What is bin Laden thinking? Why does he think he can defeat the U.S.? Go read this at dKos.

Then continue to watch it played out in the news and with the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the federal budget the Republicans just passed - the one they are not even honest enough to include the war in Iraq in.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

What is the matter with these Republicans?

Now we get Republican temper tantrums written into the record of the Judicial Committee as the Republicans vote down Democratic amendments. The bill is one about criminalizing the action of anyone who takes an underage woman across a state line to evade a state parental notificaltin law. Look at the record reported by Hilzoy.

Kevin Drum describes it as "Republicans are just going insane with frustration these days."

It seems like the children have taken over Congress, and it is the spoiled and nasty ones at that.

NeoCon philosophy by Billmon

Billmon describes the philosophy that Strauss, the founder of the NeoCons, used. Billmon is excerpting from Shadia Drury’s book: Leo Strauss and the American Right.

Here are some excerpts that especially struck me: "To the Straussians, rationality does not provide an adequate basis for a stable social order. To the contrary, the Age of Enlightenment has ushered in the crisis of modernity, in which nihilism – the moral vacuum left behind by the death of God – inevitably leads to decadence, decline and, ultimately, genocide.

[...]"When Newt Gingrich equated feminism with the destruction of Western civ, he was echoing (in his dumbed-down way) Strauss’s lurking fear that the liberal American state would steer the same course as the Weimar Republic – a political Titanic on a collision course with a totalitarian iceberg. Deprived of the moral certainty provided by religion and tradition, the masses are vulnerable to crazed political adventurers who would fill the nihilistic void with their own crackpot ideas – like, say, the international conspiracy of Communists and Freemasons."

So the Strussians believe that there are two classes. The elite (conservatives) who can handle the nihilism and the absence of absolute truths in modernism, and those masses who must have religion to support them in the nihilist modern world.

"One of the Straussians’ most important innovations has been to reconcile their brand of elite conservatism with Southern fried demagogic populism ala Huey Long and George Wallace. That’s a pretty radical concession [...] But it's solved the traditional dilemma of old-style conservatives in America: How to win power in a society that has no landed gentry, no nobility, no established church – none of Europe’s archaic feudal institutions and loyalties.

"The rationale – or rationalization – for the populist ploy is that the common folk are a hell of a lot less liberal (again, using the Enlightenment definition of the word) than what the Straussians like to call America’s “parchment regime” – that is, the ideas and principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The masses want their opium, in other words, and with the right guidance, will happily sweep away the liberal elites who have been denying it to them.

"This, in turn, will set the stage for a golden (or at least silver) age of religious orthodoxy, patriarchal values and a hierarchical corporate capitalism stripped of its original libertarian feistiness – all of it supervised by a moral nanny state freed from the confines of all that “parchment.”

Billmon goes on to point out that the Straussian ideas have been thoroughly spread throughout Republican conservatives.

This is the connection between the NeoCons and the fundamentalist Xtians I have been looking for. The conservatives and the NeoCons need the votes and the energy provided by the fundamentalist Xtians. The fundamentalist Xtians need the conservatives for the Republican Party that gives them access to government power.

Colin Powell in the attack - Condi Rice in trouble

Sidney Blumenthal provides an extremely interesting article in today’s Guardian on the campaign Colin Powell is now conducting to scuttle the Bolton nomination as Ambassador to the UN.

But now he [Powell] has re-emerged [from his retirement] to conduct a campaign to defeat President Bush's nomination of conservative hardliner and former undersecretary of state John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN.[...]

Blumenthal goes on to list Bolton's misdeeds and Powell's resulting actions.

[...]And after Bolton attempted to coerce a state department intelligence officer to agree to an unfounded report about nonexistent Cuban WMD, Powell personally assembled the entire intelligence staff to instruct them to ignore Bolton. When the British foreign secretary Jack Straw complained to Powell that Bolton was obstructing negotiations with Iran on the development of nuclear weapons, Powell ordered Bolton to be cut out of the process, telling an aide: "Get a different view." The British also objected to Bolton's interference in talks with Libya, and again Powell removed Bolton. But as much as he may have wanted to, Powell could not dismiss him because of his powerful patron: Vice-President Cheney.

The Bolton confirmation hearings have revealed his constant efforts to undermine Powell on Iran and Iraq, Syria and North Korea. They have also exposed a most curious incident that has triggered the administration's stonewall reflex. The foreign relations committee has discovered that Bolton made a highly unusual request and gained access to 10 intercepts by the National Security Agency, which monitors worldwide communications, of conversations involving past and present government officials. Whose conversations did Bolton secretly secure and why?

Staff members on the committee believe that Bolton was probably spying on Powell, his senior advisers and other officials reporting to him on diplomatic initiatives that Bolton opposed. If so, it is also possible that Bolton was sharing this top-secret information with his neoconservative allies within the Pentagon and the vice-president's office, with whom he was in daily contact and who were known to be working in league against Powell.

If the intercepts are released they may disclose whether Bolton was a key figure in a counter-intelligence operation run inside the Bush administration against the secretary of state, who would resemble the hunted character played by Will Smith in Enemy of the State. Both Republican and Democratic senators have demanded that the state department, which holds the NSA intercepts, turn them over to the committee.

Blumenthal also explains how Condi Rice, who achieved her current position by absolute loyalty to Bush and Cheney, is trying to put a lid on the information coming out of the State Department about Bolton. She is the one holding up the NSA intercepts.

Republicans = Anti-Constitutional Anti-Rule-of-Law Party

Interesting post by Josh Marshall this evening. There is apparently talk that if Bolton isn't voted out of committee, then the Senate may vote on him anyway.

Josh discusses some of the ramifications.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Want to see what is happening to American Labor?

Workers who work, not for the employer but for a labor contractor the employer hired to do the paperwork. No paychecks, no check stubs. A worker who works more than 40 hours gets paid by a different labor contractor (at the same address as the original one) and at the same hourly rate.

The work is dangerous, but there is no training and no safety equipment. Not even a hard hat. The workers are demolishing a building with asbestos in it, which should be done by especially trained and equipped workers.

This is the story from the Village Voice.

Nah, we don't need no unions. The employers will take care of their workers.

Yeah, Right.

Not if it costs them a dime. They are drawing the big bucks that the Bushites claim shouldn't be taxed so heavily, and the work should not be inspected by OSHA and should not be unionized.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Tony Perkins demands Xtian activist judges

Ed Kilgore at New Donkey dot com analyzes Tony Perkins' statement:

"FRC President Tony Perkins said Democrats were using filibusters to exclude religious believers from the bench. Holding up a Bible, he told the audience, "What we are saying tonight is that as American citizens, we should not have to choose between believing what is in this book and serving the public."

I very much agree with Ed. Perkins wants Judges to be activists in the sense that they elevate their reading of Biblical Law above that of the federal or state Constitution, legislation, or precedent established in centuries of Common Law. Such activist judges will be violating their oath to uphold the Constitution and the Law. Texas Justice Patrician Owen is such an activist judge, which is why the Democrats in the Senate object to her being given a lifetime appointment to the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans.

This effort by Perkins is an example of the effort of the Xtians like Perkins and Dobson to take control of the American government and judiciary so that their dream of creating a Biblical Theocracy in America can be make real. They consider the Bible to be inerrant, word for word the Word of God, and believe that it contains the Truth in History, Science and Law.

If you want to understand Xtian fundamentalism, read "Fundamentalism" and/or "The Battle for God", both excellent and well-researched books listed at the side column of this blog.

Colin Powell moves to claim influence

I have not blogged on the John Bolton nomination as UN Ambassador because I don't feel I have anything to contribute. Steve Clemons in the Washington Note has done an outstanding job of keeping up with the nomination, to include a lot of original reporting. Up until now it has just seemed to me to be an example of an extremist and bad tempered conservative (not religious) who is being moved out of the State Department because he prevents Rice from doing what she needs to do.

It appears obvious that Bolton was placed by Cheney in the State Department under Powell because Powell was an outsider, and Bolton's job was to keep Powell on the reservation ideologically. But now Powell is gone, and Cheney and Bush have no such concerns about Condi Rice. Rice doesn't want him disrupting her State Department, so they wanted to reward him while still getting him out of her hair. Thus the promotion to the UN Ambassador. It has been a nasty political battle since Bolton is so clearly not suited to the position of Ambassador to anything, and his nomination seems to show the contempt the Bush administration holds for the UN.

Last Friday things changed. The story got larger. Colin Powell weighed in and made a direct move against Bolton's appointment to the UN. According to David Frum, quoted by Steve Clemons' post this is also a direct attack by Powell against Bush's Presidency.

For those of us who have wondered where Powell has been for the last four years, this is a really interesting view.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The elitist "Right to Conscience" campaign

The right wing conservatives (that is, the religious extremists) are pushing the state legislatures (including Texas) to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions they morally object to. The main focus is to allow them to refuse to sell “Morning After” birth control drugs when the patient provides a valid prescription.

John Belisarius at The Emerging Democratic Majority has a lengthy discussion of the Elitism involved in this effort. The conscience clause may be reasonable for an MD, DO or Registered Nurse, but a pharmacist is not in such a critical position. He or she is really no different from a clerk selling cigarettes or alcohol to customers.

Pharmacists […]do not personally select medications, prescribe them or administer them. They dispense them in accordance with a doctor's instructions. Drug store pharmacists may have more specialized education and greater responsibilities then other retail salespeople, but when they package and sell a customer a product they personally consider ethically objectionable their individual moral involvement and responsibility - which is what we are talking about here -- is in absolutely no way greater or more direct then that of a ordinary convenience store cashier who sells condoms of which he or she morally disapproves or a supermarket, gas station or 7-11 cashier who sells cigarettes that he or she personally considers addictive and poisonous and therefore deeply immoral on ethical and religious grounds.

We license MD’s and DO’s to make the decisions regarding what medications a patient will take. We license Pharmacists to obtain or formulate, warehouse, package, dispense, and ensure the reliability of the medications the physicians have prescribed. That is a very technical and important job, but the pharmacist is NOT licensed to refuse the orders of a physician. The pharmacist is a member of the medical team and is not the leader. He can advise the physician, he can report a physician for malpractice, but he cannot countermand him.

One pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for a child's ritalin. A number have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control pills. A pharmacist in Denton, TX refused to fill a prescription for a day-after pill for a woman who had been raped.

I do tax returns for people through one of the larger chains. The refund anticipation loans cost up to 780% (annualized per year) for a loan that gets them the refund perhaps two or three weeks before the IRS would get it to them. I find such usury to be immoral. My choice is to perform the job or to quit. The customers came to get their taxes done, not to listen to me tell them how they are being ripped off (they are – big time.)

The pharmacists have the same choice I have. They can do their job – all of it – or they can quit and find other work if their morality won’t let them function as they are expected to. If they really want to make the decisions regarding what medications people will be prescribed, then they should go to Medical School and become physicians.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

More health insurance problems

The Los Angeles Times reports that states are cutting back on who gets coverage under Medicaid. Missouri will eliminate the program completely by June 30, 2008, even though one in four of Missouri residents are covered by the program.

Bush plans to reduce spending on Medicaid by $40 billion.

"State Rep. Trent Skaggs, a Democrat from Kansas City,[MO] considers the new rules cruel, especially at a time when more than 45 million Americans lack insurance. He worries parents will stop working so their income will drop low enough to qualify their family for free care.

Rather than raise costs for minimum-wage clerks, Skaggs suggests increasing insurance premiums for lawmakers who get health coverage through the state. He recently introduced a measure that would have cost the average politician $115 a month — the measure failed on a close vote.

"That made a complete mockery of the idea that leaders sacrifice first," Skaggs said. "Times are tough, but not so tough that we have to sacrifice?"

In the meantime the Washington Post reported April 14th:

The House voted 272 to 162 yesterday to permanently repeal the estate tax, throwing the issue to the Senate where negotiations have begun on a deep and permanent estate tax cut that can pass this year, even if it falls short of full repeal.

Congress is committing to "...a tax cut largely for the affluent that would cost $290 billion over 10 years, in the face of record budget deficits.

"This is reverse Robin Hood," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "We're taking money from the middle class and giving it to the super-rich."

The Republican Missouri legislators will not pay for their own state-financed health care, and the US House is happy to give tax cuts to dead people who aren't spending any money while cutting the funds that go to Medicaid to pay for it.

With the takeover of the government by the Republicans we now live in a Plutocracy rather than a democracy.

plu·toc·ra·cy (plū-tŏk'rə-sē)
n., pl. -cies.
Government by the wealthy.
A wealthy class that controls a government.
A government or state in which the wealthy rule.
[Greek ploutokratiā : ploutos, wealth + -kratiā, -cracy.]

The new motto for America is "Support your local Plutocrat."

And you damned well don't need health care while he sucks your blood out!

The Paranoid Bush Administration

OK. Kevin Drum and Atrios point out this:

The CITEL Inter-American Telecommunication Commission is having a meeting to determine the standards for interconnectivity in the following areas:

Recommendation for 400 MHz bands
RLAN in the 5 GHz band
Recommendation on harmonized frequencies for property protection
Revision to Recommendation PCC.II/REC. 67 (XIX-01) on Low Power Radiocommunication devices,
Radio frequency identification devices (RFID)
Broadband Power Line Communications (BPL)
Refarming of 700 MHz band
Answer to Market questionnaire on IMT 2000 and systems beyond
Results of the video conference on wireless broadband

Time Magazine reports that "At least four of the two dozen or so U.S. delegates selected for the meeting, sources tell TIME, have been bumped by the White House because they supported John Kerry's 2004 campaign."

This is paranoid partisan madness!

The White House people must think everyone is out to get them, and with stupid behavior like this, such behavior becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's Baaaaack! Creationism Returns!!

The Texas Legislature is in session! Hold your wallet and hide your daughters! Don't let them find your books! They have torches!

And this Legislature belongs to the religious fundamentalist Republicans! It's worse than most!

State Rep. Charlie Howard, (R-Sugar Land - also Represented in the US Congress by Tom DeLay), wants to inflict his House Bill 220 on the students in Texas. The news is here in the April 23rd Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

"By R.A. Dyer
Star-Telegram Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - Biblical creationism could be taught side by side with evolution in science textbooks under legislation pending in the Texas House, according to the bill's sponsor.

State Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, said his House Bill 220 would give the elected State Board of Education more control over the content of school textbooks. Students should get information about creationism if they are being taught about evolution, and he said his legislation could lead the way.

"I don't believe in evolution -- I believe in creation," he said. "Some of our books right now only teach evolution, [but] if you're going to teach one, you ought to teach both."

The Houston-area lawmaker also said the State Board of Education, a Republican-controlled body with strong representation by social conservatives, should have the discretion to remove evolution segments from science textbooks."

This was the problem that existed prior to the change in the law in 1995. The Creationists were causing Texas students to be taught from textbooks that had no mention of Evolution.

The argument Representative Howard is that he doesn't believe in Evolution and that if Evolution is taught in science classes, Creationism should also be taught along side it.

OK. On his first point, his belief in Creationism, alien abduction, a flat Earth, Next Wednesdays' lottery number or anything else has nothing to do with what should be taught in science classes. Science classes are established to teach students about the subject of science.

The curriculum in science classes should consist of facts, theory and the forms of scientific thought. Representative Howard seems to be addressing a sense of fairness when he thinks that if the theory of Evolution is taught in science classes, then Creationism should also be taught alongside it. This is apparently because both Evolution and creationism seem to answer the same question - Where did different species come from?

What is missing is that Creationism is not science, it is not scientific, and it teaches a form of magic rather than scientific thought. Creationism does not come from a study of the facts of the various species. It is not a scientific theory because it cannot be phrased as a hypothesis that guides the search for facts that will prove it untrue.

The fact that Creationism undermines scientific forms of thought is its most significant failing - as part of a science class. Inherent in the idea of Creationism is that the human mind cannot comprehend how species were differentiated because that is something done by God.

So Creationism not only does not fit in science classes as a viable "alternative theory", it is in fact destructive to efforts to teach students how to think scientifically. So Representative Howard's argument fails on both counts.

I am not going to say that a "scientist" who believes in Creationism cannot contribute to the advancement of science, but I am certain that no Creationist has ever built a major research program on Creationism that led to any form of major scientific advancement at all.

A scientist who believes in Creationism is like a one-armed handball player. He may not be totally useless on the court, but with his disability he will never be a ranking player of the game. Do we want to try to train a generation of crippled scientists because Representative Howard does not "believe in Evolution?"

Creationism is already widely taught in the fundamentalist churches here in Texas. They don't allow Evolution as an alternate "religious" teaching. Representative Howard's effort to shoe-horn it into science classes where it does not belong really needs to be rejected.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

How the Supreme Court works

Stephen Henderson of Knight Ridder Newspapers presents an interesting report of Justices O’Connor, Scalia, and Breyer discussing how they make their decisions.

I found the following items especially revealing:

People don’t understand the Constitution

All three justices lamented how little people understand the Constitution and the courts.

"It's a major problem," O'Connor said, noting that schools often don't adequately teach civics. "You don't inherit knowledge of the Constitution through the gene pool. It has to be taught."

Should Justices consider International Law?

When Scalia and Breyer argued over whether international law was appropriate to consider when deciding cases, she [O’Connor] jumped in.

"This is really much ado about nothing," she said. There were some cases involving treaties with other countries or lawsuits with international implications in which justices have to consult foreign law, she said. In addition, some clauses of the Constitution, such as the ban on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment, are "elastic" and unusual and benefit from global context. But other provisions, she said, have been interpreted in a more static fashion.

The court recently cited international rejection of juvenile executions as one of four reasons to outlaw the juvenile death penalty in the United States. O'Connor declined to join that opinion.

Scalia said that ruling was especially inappropriate because the court had concluded the opposite just 15 years earlier.

"The majority in that case contradicted the majority of states in this country that have the death penalty," Scalia said. "International law had no place in that."

Breyer said even the founders consulted international law, noting that James Madison's papers included notes on the governmental structure in Syracuse in ancient Greece.

"Ah, but he was writing a constitution, not interpreting one, my friend," Scalia said.

Frustrations with judges

Asked about the increasing political frustration with judges, including threats to strip judges of some of their power, Breyer sought to put the current flap in context.

In 1830, he said, President Andrew Jackson used federal troops to prevent a court decision ceding land to Indian tribes from taking effect. In 1954, he said, President Eisenhower had to use National Guard troops to desegregate southern schools after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

But today, no disagreement has reached that level of rancor or inspired that manner of confrontation with the judiciary, Breyer said.

"People will criticize, but they will follow the rule of law," Breyer said.

I am a strong believer in the Rule of Law and of the American Constitution as the basis for our American way of life. I hope that Breyer's comment remains accurate, but I think that the Xtian Right is bringing them under attack.

Status of Fitzgerald's Plame Investigation

What the heck is going on with the investigation of Robert Novak's release of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative in order to discredit her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson?

Murray S. Waas has a good article in the American Prospect. Murray Waas is an investigative reporter covering the investigation by the Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald. He also reports results of his investigations in his blog, Whatever Already.

Fundamentalists to neuter courts

The LA Times has received a tape from a March conference at which Evangelical Christian leaders Tony Perkins and James C. Dobson explore ways to punish sitting jurists and even entire courts viewed as hostile to their cause.

This is their next step after taking control of the Republican Party. It is one more step in their efforts to set up a theocracy in America and eliminate the Rule of Law based on the American Constitution.

Friday, April 22, 2005

An example of wasted healthcare expenses

This news is from the San Francisco Chronicle April 22, 2005. Consider this story in the context of my article on American’s Failed Healthcare System.

This story describes a private insurance company which is attempting to sell policies and reduce costs by shifting the healthcare costs of non-dependents to some other healthcare payer. The “professional benefits counselors” are paid from healthcare funds, but add nothing to America’s healthcare. Such behavior is required by the system itself if private insurers are to operate.

"The Oakland Unified School District has given out thousands of employees' Social Security numbers to insurance salespeople and has infuriated Oakland teachers, who say they are being forced to sit through a life insurance sales pitch on penalty of losing health benefits for their dependent family members. […]

"The purpose of the meetings is for the Oakland schools to determine whether dependents claimed by roughly 3,000 employees are entitled to the health insurance they receive. All 3,000 are required to meet with a "professional benefits counselor" by May 6 and show original documentation -- such as birth certificates and marriage licenses -- to prove the eligibility of their children, spouses or domestic partners."

The waste of money is a problem over and above the violation of privacy involved when the school district hands out Social Security Numbers and phone numbers to private sales people.

The private commercial health insurance system is the problem. The wasted money is necessary because we pay insurance companies to administer the Health care system, and they make a profit by adding members, collecting premiums, then delaying or not paying expenses. Private health insurers cannot compete with government health insurance on a cost basis! They don't even try!

America’s failed healthcare system

Why does the greatest healthcare system in the world cost over twice as much per person in the population, leave out 44 million people and provide inadequate results? The US has lower life-expectancy and higher infant-mortality rates than other industrialized countries?

Paul Krugman addresses this today. Here are some key points:

"According to the World Health Organization, in the United States administrative expenses eat up about 15 percent of the money paid in premiums to private health insurance companies, but only 4 percent of the budgets of public insurance programs, which consist mainly of Medicare and Medicaid. The numbers for both public and private insurance are similar in other countries - but because we rely much more heavily than anyone else on private insurance, our total administrative costs are much higher.

According to the health organization, the higher costs of private insurers are "mainly due to the extensive bureaucracy required to assess risk, rate premiums, design benefit packages and review, pay or refuse claims." Public insurance plans have far less bureaucracy because they don't try to screen out high-risk clients or charge them higher fees.

"And the costs directly incurred by insurers are only half the story. Doctors "must hire office personnel just to deal with the insurance companies," Dr. Atul Gawande, a practicing physician, wrote in The New Yorker. "A well-run office can get the insurer's rejection rate down from 30 percent to, say, 15 percent. That's how a doctor makes money. ... It's a war with insurance, every step of the way." "

"Isn't competition supposed to make the private sector more efficient than the public sector? Well, as the World Health Organization put it in a discussion of Western Europe, private insurers generally don't compete by delivering care at lower cost. Instead, they "compete on the basis of risk selection" - that is, by turning away people who are likely to have high medical bills and by refusing or delaying any payment they can."

So the private enterprise model builds in excessive costs designed the reduce the expenses for each individual company, but those costs are not eliminated from the system. Instead, they are simply shifted to other payers.

Then there are the other costs of this private insurance healthcare system.

"First, in the U.S. system, medical costs act as a tax on employment. For example, General Motors is losing money on every car it makes because of the burden of health care costs. As a result, it may be forced to lay off thousands of workers, or may even go out of business. Yet the insurance premiums saved by firing workers are no saving at all to society as a whole: somebody still ends up paying the bills.

This is a drag on our productive economy because we demand that employers cover the cost of healthcare out of profits rather than recognizing that it is a social cost properly paid by society out of tax money. GM and other producers will save money by firing American workers and having the goods produced in other countries that do not force employers to pay the healthcare expenses. This isn't recognized as a cost of healthcare, but it is a cost paid by all Americans.

"Second, Americans without insurance eventually receive medical care - but the operative word is "eventually." According to Kaiser Family Foundation data, the uninsured are about three times as likely as the insured to postpone seeking care, fail to get needed care, leave prescriptions unfilled or skip recommended treatment. And many end up disabled - or die - because of these delays."

Here we have part of the reason why the healthcare results in the US are worse than in other industrialized nations.

The solution is a national, tax funded, single payer system that funds private healthcare suppliers. A review of the French and German systems would offer guidance.

New Pope loves cats

Matthew Schofield of Knight Ridder Washington Bureau offers a description of Cardinal Ratzinger that is quite at odds with many of the scary descriptions some have recently written.

No one who likes cats can be all bad. And according to Matthew, the cats like him also.

Gonzales denies information to congress on Plame investigation

Murray Waas at the blog Whatever Already reports that Attorney General Gonzales has sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee denying the request for information on the Plame investigation by nine Democratic members of the committee.

News reports state that the investigation was completed over six months ago, but Gonzales states that he will not release information in an "on-going criminal investigation."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Mitzi - the cat who runs this house

My little Tabby cat (Mitzi) is sitting on top of my monitor because it is close to me. She is 7 pounds, has green eyes , is about seven years old, gray, white and black with an underfur of light brown. Cute, smart and aggressive don’t fully describe her.

I find her markings interesting. My military training made sure that camouflage was put on with the light colors where shadows normally were found and dark colors placed where the sun created highlights. That is her markings. White jaw, white under the eyes, and black stripes away from the eyes and mouth. Her ability to aim her ears fascinates me.

But most of all, I love her paws. Fur covered, concealing her claws. Little switchblades concealed in fur-covered paws.

Sometimes (at my discretion) we play coup. The name comes from the Indian form of warfare in which a warrior strikes an enemy without killing him. Counting coup. I will sneak up and tap Mitzi from behind, and she will turn to counter-attack the disgrace to her personality. I then tap her from the opposite side. She turns and swings a claw at me. This continues until I get tired or she connects and I am bleeding.

In college I was on the fencing team, and the coach would occasionally get disgusted that we were not parrying (blocking your opponent’s attack) before we attacked. So he would announce “OK. Everyone take off your shirts. Get an epee. Fence to first blood.” We instantly got serious about parrying – until the next time. I still have several scars on my right arm where I did not parry properly. Mitzi hasn’t given me a scar yet.

For a cat, she is quite gentle.

Greenspan says budget deficts dangerous to American Economy

Alan Greenspan tells the Senate Budget Committee that the continued growth of the federal budget deficits needs to be brought under control soon before they hurt the American economy.

The defict must really be getting threatening for Greenspan to tell Republicans to control their spending.

Rolling Stone finds the Dominionists

Rolling Stone has discovered the Dominionists. They posted this article April 07, 2005.

Meet the Dominionists -- biblical literalists who believe God has called them to take over the U.S. government. [...] They want to rewrite schoolbooks to reflect a Christian version of American history, pack the nation's courts with judges who follow Old Testament law, post the Ten Commandments in every courthouse and make it a felony for gay men to have sex and women to have abortions. In Florida, when the courts ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube removed, it was the Dominionists who organized round-the-clock protests and issued a fiery call for Gov. Jeb Bush to defy the law and take Schiavo into state custody. Their ultimate goal is to plant the seeds of a "faith-based" government that will endure far longer than Bush's presidency -- all the way until Jesus comes back.

The godfather of the Dominionists is D. James Kennedy, the most influential evangelical you've never heard of. A former Arthur Murray dance instructor, he launched his Florida ministry in 1959, when most evangelicals still followed Billy Graham's gospel of nonpartisan soul-saving. Kennedy built Coral Ridge Ministries into a $37-million-a-year empire, with a TV-and-radio audience of 3 million, by preaching that it was time to save America -- not soul by soul but election by election. After helping found the Moral Majority in 1979, Kennedy became a five-star general in the Christian army. Bush sought his blessing before running for president -- and continues to consult top Dominionists on matters of federal policy.

"Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost," Kennedy says. "As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors -- in short, over every aspect and institution of human society." [...]

To implement their sweeping agenda, the Dominionists are working to remake the federal courts in God's image. [...]

Activist judges, of course, are precisely what the Dominionists want. Their model is Roy Moore, the former Alabama chief justice who installed a 5,300-pound granite memorial to the Ten Commandments, complete with an open Bible carved in its top, in the state judicial building. [...]

To pack the courts with fundamentalists like Moore, Dominionist leaders are planning a massive media blitz. They're also pressuring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist -- an ally who's courting support for his presidential bid -- to halt the long-standing use of filibusters to hold up judicial nominations.[...]

It helps that Dominionists have a direct line to the White House: The Rev. Richard Land, top lobbyist for the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, enjoys a weekly conference call with top Bush advisers including Karl Rove. [...]

The Dominionists are also stepping up efforts to turn public schools into forums for evangelism. In a landmark case, the Alliance Defense Fund is suing a California school district that threatened to dismiss a born-again teacher who was evangelizing fifth-graders. In the conference's opening ceremony, the Dominionists recite an oath they dream of hearing in every classroom: "I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe."

Cass urges conference-goers to stack school boards with Dominionists. "The most humble Christian is more qualified for office than the best-educated pagan,"[...]

While the dominionists rely on grass-roots activists to fight their battles, they are backed by some of America's richest entrepreneurs. Amway founder Rich DeVos, a Kennedy ally who's the leading Republican contender for governor of Michigan, has tossed more than $5 million into the collection plate. Jean Case, wife of former AOL chief Steve Case -- whose fortune was made largely on sex-chat rooms -- has donated $8 million. And Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, is a major source of cash for Focus on the Family, a megaministry working with Kennedy to eliminate all public schools.

The one-two punch of militant activists and big money has helped make the Dominionists a force in Washington, where a growing number of congressmen owe their elections to the machine. Kennedy has also created the Center for Christian Statesmanship, which trains elected officials to "more effectively share their faith in the public arena." Speaking to the group, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay -- a winner of Kennedy's Distinguished Christian Statesman Award -- called Bush's faith-based initiatives "a great opportunity to bring God back into the public institutions of our country."

[All underlining is mine - RB]

If this is Christianity, it is a form of Christianity that Spain's Phillip II would recognize, and would release the Inquisition to support. Both Christianity and Western Society have moved forward and greatly improved since then.

Notice that George Bush is tightly connected to these people, Bill Frist is courting them for his Presidential bid, and Tom DeLay is one of them. This isn't some fringe cult like Jim Jones in Guyana. This includes the President and the top guys in the House and Sentate.

I don't think Dominionism is Christianity. More important, whatever it is, it is not the America we have under the Constitution. America, the constitution, and the "Rule of Law" are under attack!

Eric Alterman responds to an attack by a hack journalist

Eric Alterman shows how an intelligent angry man can take after a fool who attacked him.

John Cloud is the so-called journalist who wrote the puff piece on Ann Coulter that disgraced the cover of Time Magazine recently. When Eric Alterman wrote an article that described the Coulter piece as “a morally and intellectually indefensible work of journalism” Cloud replied with an attack of indefensible personal invective in an interview with the Colombia Journalism Review, some of which Mr. Alterman has reproduced in his response.

Go read it. It is an excellent rebuttal of both Cloud and Coulter, and makes you wonder what is wrong with Time Magazine (again.) It is also very well written.

Difference between Democratic and Republican Economics

Here is a really insightful statement from Kevin Drum.

[…]the Republican economic vision quite correctly: I'd say that its key tenets are sound money (i.e., low inflation) and small government. In practice, this translates into a preference for tight monetary policy and low taxes on capital. Neither of these directly drives economic growth, though, which is why the economy routinely does poorly under Republican presidents.

But what about Democrats? If I had to describe Democratic economic vision in only a few words, I'd say its tenets are full employment and a thriving middle class. Regardless of the policy choices that various administrations have used to pursue these goals — which include such disparate things as Social Security, the minimum wage, support for labor unions, and the Earned Income Tax Credit — these two things do directly drive economic growth. This is why the economy does better on practically every measure you can think of under Democratic presidents. It's not a coincidence, it's a result of the fact that the things liberals care about really do drive growth.

Unfortunately, "full employment" is practically an archaic term these days, one that probably has more negative than positive resonance even among those who would benefit from it. As for taxes, the middle class has largely been hoodwinked into believing that low taxes on capital are actually good for them — or that they shouldn't worry about economic policy at all and base their votes instead on important stuff like gay marriage or gun laws.

It is my opinion that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are wrong. The difference is in the point of view each takes. If you take the point of view of what makes an individual business or even an industry successful, the Republicans are correct to focus on balancing the budgets of the businesses and lowering costs (which means avoid the demands of government.) These things build individual businesses.

But they do not build an economy. An economy is built on full employment and a thriving middle class. The government will have to do things like forcing accurate financial accounting, forcing companies to pay for costs of production that they would otherwise externalize such as workman’s compensation for industrial injuries, preventing dumping of waste that injures people or destroys the common areas of the environment, and allows labor to organize to gain sufficient power to deal with the inherent power of large businesses, etc. All of these efforts help to build a better society and overall economy, but they are things businesses prefer not to spend money on.

Who is Pope Benedict XVI? from Washington Post.

The Washington Post has what appears to be the first good article on the choice of Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. This article is an excellent antidote to the many scare stories which have risen after the ascension of the Cardinal who has been in charge of Catholic orthodoxy for two decades. If nothing else, it presents the new Pope as a much more complex man than the rest of the recent journalism. Here are a few excerpts that jumped out at me.

"I, too, hope in this short reign to be a man of peace," the new pope said, according to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.

With those words, Benedict XVI opened his papacy with a prediction -- that he would not hold the throne of Saint Peter as long as John Paul II -- and a promise -- that he would promote conciliation. Both ideas appear to have been crucial to his election. […]

He ate breakfast with African and Asian cardinals. He assured U.S. prelates that he was in tune with their efforts to deal with child sexual abuse by priests. He sought to allay fears that he would set back attempts at interfaith dialogue.[…]

After the 26-year pontificate of John Paul, some cardinals did not want another long reign; for them, Ratzinger's age was reassuring. Others were concerned that the Vatican's longtime guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy might come across to ordinary Catholics as too severe; for them, his desire to step out of his old role and to be a conciliator, a man of peace, was vital.[…]

In the run-up to the conclave, the cardinals met daily in a modern hall inside the Vatican's medieval walls to discuss issues facing the church, including the spread of Islam, economic globalization and the ethical dilemmas raised by biotechnology.

These sessions were also covered by an oath of secrecy. But several cardinals made clear on Wednesday that the march of secularization across Western Europe was the number one problem on their minds, and that Ratzinger seemed to be part of the solution.

The new pope, said George, the Chicago archbishop, "understands Western society" and "is very well prepared" for the task of revitalizing Christianity in affluent, secular cultures.

After the last 26 years of the “Rock Star” Pope, John Paul II, this is going to be a very interesting change.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I take a readability test.

OK. So how readable is this blog? Juicy Studio tells us.

Readability Results for

Readability Results
Summary Value

Total sentences 452
Total words 6,940
Average words per Sentence 15.35
Words with 1 Syllable 4,346
Words with 2 Syllables 1,334
Words with 3 Syllables 806
Words with 4 or more Syllables 454
Percentage of word with three or more syllables 18.16%

Average Syllables per Word 1.62
Gunning Fog Index 13.40
Flesch Reading Ease 54.14
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 9.52

Interpreting the Results

Philip Chalmers of Benefit from IT provided the following typical Fog Index scores, to help ascertain the readability of documents.
Typical Fog Index Scores
Fog Index Resources
6 TV guides, The Bible, Mark Twain
8 Reader's Digest
8 - 10 Most popular novels
10 Time, Newsweek
11 Wall Street Journal
14 The Times, The Guardian

15 - 20 Academic papers
Over 20 Only government sites can get away with this, because you can't ignore them.
Over 30 The government is covering something up

OK. If you have finished 9th grade you can read this, and I write at a level between the Wall Street Journal and the Times and Guardian.

Hmm. So my MBA and my status as an anglophile show through.

A Review - Why are the Books listed on the Right?

The books on the right give a real insight into the America and the world we currently live in. Why are our politicians making statements that seem utterly irrational? Why did the Social Conservatives vote so overwhelmingly for Bush? Why does Osama bin Laden hate America? What makes terrorists willing to conduct suicide bombings? Some of the answers can be found in those books I have listed, and I am looking for more.

Fundamentalism and Social conservatives

For a better understanding of the social fundamentalist movement in the US and the Islamic fundamentalist movements in the Middle East, read Paul Berman's book, "Terror and Liberalism", Steve Bruce's book, "Fundamentalism" and Karen Armstrong's book "The Battle for God." All are shown in the column to the right.

Just as an aside, I read Karen Armstrong's book to understand fundamentalism, but as I read it, for the first time since I was a teenager in this miserable Bible Belt State (Texas) I now have a clear idea what religion means to me, and why I need to participate. Because I have been surrounded by fundamentalist Southern Baptists the only reasonable religious organization I have found has been Buddhist. If you are a secular westerner, then this book will give you hope for Christianity. Fundamentalism isn't Christianity, they have merely appropriated the language for themselves.

Back to understanding fundamentalism, I'd suggest starting with "Fundamentalism" for a precise description of the social movement, followed by "The Battle for God" which provides an outstanding history of the three monotheistic religions, their impact on the history of the West, and the sources of the fundamentalisms within each.

Berman's book "Terror and Liberalism" rather neatly generalizes the subject. Berman suggests that since WW I there have been a series of mostly authoritarian reactions against Liberalism. These reactions include Stalinism, Franco's conservatism, Fascism generally, Christian fundamentalist religion, Islamic fundamentalist religion, the Jewish fundamentalists in Israel, Baathism in Iraq and Syria, and a number of other movements. The key in Berman's view isn't a question of left or right ideology, but rather it is an authoritarian reaction against Liberalism itself and an attempt to return to some mythical fantasy from the past, which he calls the "Ur Myth." Each form of authoritariansim develops its own "Ur Myth" so they seem like they are each different from the other, but they aren't. Each is primarily a reaction to Liberalism. It's an easy read, but I would suggest reading either Bruce or Armstrong first to provide some context.


The book "Against the Gods" by Peter L. Bernstein is rather ironically titled in this context. It is intended to be a really interesting and highly readable history of probability theory and its application to risk management. The tools were first used in investing and insurance, but they are also the basis of Economics and the Social Sciences. This is a history book not a mathematics book, and it gives an outstanding view of the social implications of what statisticians have done to our view of the world we live in.

The process called Risk Management is the exact antithesis of the premodern methods of making decisions for the future. Prior to the Enlightenment decisions were based on experience, Intuition (which G. W. Bush is proud to say is his method -- also here.), luck, hunches, or prophecy from God, the Gods, Astrology, or something else. The results were, as you might expect, erratic at best. The only reliable predictor of future results was the history of what had happened in the past.

Risk management is essentially the very modern process of determining what we know and what we don't know about likely future events, collecting appropriate information, and determining the likely cost of failure against the rewards from success. Based on this a reasonable decision can usually be made with some likelihood of gaining a profit or otherwise succeeding in the endeavor. In other words, risk management is a set of techniques that allow us to make decisions based on what the future is likely to bring rather than depending on what happened in the past. That makes risk management the intellectual essence of modernism. It allows us to apply logic and rationality to social decisions.

A synthesis of the two sections above

Karen Armstrong makes a big point out of the difference between a society that makes decisions based on what happened in the past, and one that makes decisions based on what is expected in the future. Societies based on agriculture move slowly, so that using past history is the best way to plan for the future. But that is also a prescription for a static, unchanging society. Modern Western civilization is the first in history ever to make decisions based on anticipated future results that are reasonably expected to be different from what happened in the past. The system of Risk management describes the new forms of thinking that allow this revolutionary form of society. It is that form of thinking that allows society to change and improve as it has over the last two hundred years. Commerce and the Printing Press may have given the West the Enlightenment, but probability and risk management have given us the world in which we plan for a future we have never seen or heard of before.

More Modernism

I added "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter because it is the single best introduction to the philosophy and excitement of modern mathematical thought which I have ever read. It does not require any problem-solving or homework. It is an approach a historian who failed algebra (twice) can love. Ask someone who has read it, and watch their eyes light up!

Back to Fundamentalism and related social movements

But not everyone can accept a world in which the only decisions about Man are made by Men. The uncertainty of it creates a level of anxiety they cannot deal with. So they have developed a logical form of religion that is based on the faith-based acceptance of an all powerful God. For Christians, that all-powerful God provides his guidance through the inerrant writings which were collected by the early church and called the Bible. The knowledge that there is someone in charge, that they know you individually, and that he will protect you from the otherwise unpredictable and uncertain things that happen in this modern world sharply reduce that anxiety. However, anything which threatens that belief causes severe anxiety and must be attacked.

I suspect that this same emotional reaction is to some extent found in all of the various anti-government, anti-tax, militia, anarchist, and such movements, as well as the fundamentalist forms of religion. Did some such belief motivate Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph? I suspect it did.

Fundamentalist Christianity is based on a literal reading of the inerrant Bible which is presented as God's complete word, true in all religion, ethics, history, and science. I offer S. I Hayakawa's classic "Language in Thought and Action" to demonstrate the utter impossibility of any human language to encompass all that the fundamentalists claim is found in the Bible. Hayakawa's book is still the best single introduction I have found to the language study called "General Semantics." Hayakawa wrote it to show how the Nazis were misusing language in their propaganda, and it is still used as a textbook today.

Terrorism - mostly in the Middle East - Applications of the studies shown above.

The next three books, "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed -- and How to Stop It" by Rachel Ehrenfeld, "Modern Jihad: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks" Loretta Napoleoni, and "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden" by Peter L. Bergen all focus on terrorism in the Middle East. Before reading these, read "The Battle for God" and "Terror and Liberalism" for the context these terrorist movements have grown up in and why they exist as they do.

Middle East History

For a reasonably quick, enjoyable and easy to read history of the Middle East nations over the last two centuries that also set the background for modern problems there read "The Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland " by Karl E. Meyer. It is a good popular history of the region with a focus on the reaction to the Age of Imperialism.

A good Novel

Then, finally, I suggest the excellent "A Handmaid's Tale", a novel by Margaret Attwood. She presents a vision of the future in which the Christian Fundamentalists have taken over America. This is the kind of thing Science Fiction does really well, and the book is quiet compelling.

If you have read this far you are really a masochist! So leave a comment - agree, disagree, question, or best, what books have I missed that add to this thread of thought?

I'm exploring, and I'd like some company.

Liberalism - what is it?

Since the Republicans claim that I am a Liberal, I wondered exactly what they meant. Somehow I feet that the discussion I might find on National Review might - let's say - "lack something in rigor," I went to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and found this. This is the first paragraph:

Liberalism as a Political Theory


‘By definition’, Maurice Cranston rightly pointed out, ‘a liberal is a man who believes in liberty’ (Cranston, 459). In two different ways, liberals accord liberty primacy as a political value. First, liberals have typically maintained that humans are naturally in ‘a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions…as they think fit…without asking leave, or depending on the Will of any other Man’ (Locke, 1960 [1689]: 287). Mill too argued that ‘[T]he burden of proof is supposed to ith those who are against liberty; who contend for any restriction or prohibition…. The a priori assumption is in favour of freedom…’(Mill, 1991 [1859]: 472). This might be called the Fundamental Liberal Principle (Gaus, 1996: 162-166): freedom is normatively basic, and so the onus of justification is on those who would limit freedom. It follows from this that political authority and law must be justified, as they limit the liberty of citizens. Consequently, a central question of liberal political theory is whether political authority can be justified, and if so, how. It is for this reason that social contract theory, as developed by Thomas Hobbes (1948 [1651]), John Locke (1960 [1689]), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1973 [1762]) and Immanuel Kant (1965 [1797]), is usually viewed as liberal even though the actual political prescriptions of, say, Hobbes and Rousseau, have distinctly illiberal features. Insofar as they take as their starting point a state of nature in which humans are free and equal, and so argue that any limitation of this freedom and equality stands in need of justification (i.e., by the social contract), the contractual tradition expresses the Fundamental Liberal Principle.

The article is lengthy and extremely informative.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

More crap from Tom DeLay

After his grudging 'apology' for his intemperate language, Tom DeLay is continuing his attack on judges who do not rule the way he thinks they should. The Christian Science Monitor describes it like this:

Leading the charge against "activist" judges in the House, Texas Republican Tom DeLay is himself in danger of wrongheaded activism on this issue.
Taking steps to fulfill his promise that judges in the Terri Schiavo case would "answer for their behavior," majority leader DeLay last week asked the House Judiciary Committee to investigate federal court decisions related to the case, and come up with possible legislation. Mr. DeLay is furious with the judges for not intervening, calling the judiciary "out of control."

The proposed Constitution Restoration Act - in both the House and Senate - would restrict federal courts from cases involving the acknowledgment of God. Violation of this and other provisions would be an impeachable offense. Indeed, a cry is rising among some conservatives for "mass impeachments" of judges who don't strictly interpret the Constitution.

These people are not decent political opponents with whom sensible people can agree to disagree. Sensible people cannot do deals with them because they will renege in a heartbeat. They are bat-shit crazy, and it comes from fear of a society they do not understand and can't control. They're scared to death that there will be people out there (somewhere) who do or say things they don't approve of. Diversity and tolerance are ideas they consider anathema. They won't tolerate differences or disagreement with their beliefs, and they demand that everyone act as they order them to. And God forbid that the Courts reverse their intolerance laws!

This nation is suffering a rebellion against the Constitution, the Rule of Law, and the ideas of liberty, diversity and tolerance that have made it the great shining beacon of the world. The rebels are suffering a mass psychosis, and in their fear and madness they will do whatever it takes to force everyone else in America adjust to their sick idea of utopia. They will not compromise because that is a loss to their perfect vision. They will not be reasoned with because their vision of utopia is completely unreasonable. They have demonstrated that they will do whatever they can to totally subvert America and destroy the Constitution and the Rule of Law.

These next few years are going to be difficult ones for America. Tom DeLay is just a visible symptom of our difficulties.

Why did the Stock Market drop?

As usual, Paul Krugman offers a clear analysis of the situation the US economy is now in.

Here is a short summary. Unemployment, because it does not measure those no longer looking for work, is 5.2%, about the same as during the Clinton years. But fewer total number of Americans are working, periods of unemployment are longer then in the 90's, and wages are not keeping up with inflation. Job creation is anemic.

So why is the fed increasing interest rates and slowing the economy? Because inflation is pushing the high end of the 2 to 3 percent acceptable range. Oil prices and healthcare price increases as well as the drop in the international value of the dollar (reducing competition and allowing producers to raise prices) are causing the inflation.

So the fed is putting the brakes on our economy. Increased interest rates and more unemployment is preferable to increased inflation. The economy is still increasing, but that is based on consumer spending. If the real estate bubble collapses or there is an oil shortage the causes prices to spike (and oil production is presently pushing the absolute top limits of production) then consumers will cut back spending. Then we are going to have an economic slowdown. With the federal deficit at its current levels, we have no tools left to deal with such an economic shock.

So the investors have decided that the stocks aren't worth as much now as they were before. Too much risk in the future.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Battle for the Soul of America

Steve Clemons reprints a short essay from the Chris Nelson Report (subscription only, apparently) that explains what is happening to America since Bush was elected.

This is the "money Quote" in my opinion:

"What we are seeing is a fight for the political soul of the nation. We've had these before, in the existential sense. . .in my political lifetime, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the women's rights versus, to a certain extent, the right to life movement. But this time it's totally and completely a fight about God. . .specifically, whether God is going to rule in the United States.

The Constitution says that would be illegal, and any serious expert can tell you that not only were the Founders liberal in their interpretation of the Deity, but they intentionally enshrined a purely secular civic government, including the courts. They didn't think that Jesus had an official plan for us, much less did they think that politicians who defined their duties in secular terms were defying the word of God."

[Underlining mine - RB]

Chris Nelson's report should be read by every American who is not a theocrat.


I have one complaint with Steve Clemon's set up for the report, and I left the following comment on his blog.

The quote is from Steve Clemons. The remainder is my comment.

" paints both the Democrats and Republicans amorally triangulating around the White House's winner-takes-all, win-every-battle obsession in the Tom DeLay and John Bolton fiascos."

I'm going to question the term "amorally" that you used in your setup. If that were all this battle is, then it could be fought without ultimate danger to America. But it misses to point.

In fact, this is at the core a battle-to-the-death between two views of morality, being fought by strong partisans, each with their amoral politician allies.

The battle is about whether America will keep its secular Constitution as the basic law of the land, or if there will be a board of theocrats placed in a position to overrule decisions and punish people who violate the law as they see the Bible has established.

It is a battle between the morality of God's law as interpreted by theocrats from the inerrant Bible, as opposed to the morality of the Rule of Law based on the secular law of the Constitution as interpreted by the thousand year tradition of the English Common Law.

In many ways, we are refighting the English Civil War, and the Roundheads already own the Parliament and the Executive.

But the Republican Roundheads have gotten more subtle, so that the Democrats don't dare come right out and attempt to brand them as the anti-American theocrats they really are for fear of sounding so shrill that the American public just shuts them out until too late.

That is the lesson of Howard Dean and many moderate Democrats before him. These Republican roundheads make spirited opposition sound like wackos shouting on a soapbox.

Since the Republicans have such a disciplined sound machine that everyone speaks the same lines, a federation of interests like the Democrats with individuals who attempt to stand on moral grounds in opposition to the Democrats appear to each be lone wackos with crazy messages going up against the common wisdom.

Howard Dean came out with spirited opposition to the War in Iraq and was dismissed as a crazy. Kerry was more restrained and was defeated as too weak to be able to provide America with the security it clearly requires.

That may be ending, since the Republicans are now attacking the "Rule of Law" at its' roots and so clearly attempting to install a theocracy.

But in essence, I disagree with your characterization of amorality. This really is a battle of two contending moralities, one rational, secular, and described as the Rule of Law, and the other irrational and based on the Law of God as expressed by the inerrant Bible - which they interpret.

Since the fundamentalists in power are bat-shit crazy, I know which side I take. Very shortly every American is going to have to choose his side. These people are afraid of the modern world, and fear the loss of any battle they fight. It is going to require an equivalent no-holds-barred war to stop them.

A Good Blog on the Constitution in Exile

If you want to see what the filibuster problems in the Senate are all about and haven't read My earlier blog on the constitution in Exile, go read blogenlust. Then go back and read my earlier one.

Americans prefer government healthcare when they have it

Kevin Drum presents poll results that show the poor and elderly (both on government-provided healthcare) are more satisfied with their healthcare system than those in the totally private market.

This idea that America has the best health care system in the world is simply false. It is rooted in the fact that Americans in general know little or nothing about the rest of the world.

Money dominates politics in this country, and money dominates the media. The result is that money is more important than people's lives and health. That's just plain unbalanced. It really needs to be fixed.

Getting national single-payer health care would be a start.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Scalia needs to learn Constitutional Law.

Newsday has an interesting editorial on whether the Ten Commandments should be permitted to be displayed in government areas. One line, however, struck me strongly. The Supreme Court was recently hearing arguments on the subject, and (from the editorial) ”During the oral argument in the Ten Commandments case, Justice Antonin Scalia noted that our government derives its authority and its laws from God”.

If Scalia really believes this, he should resign or be impeached from the Supreme Court. The US government derives its authority from the Constitution, which derives ITS authority from the people of this nation.

The Supreme Court exists to ensure that the Congress acts only within that authority delegated to it by the Constitution, which is the will of the people.

God has no FORMAL authority in our government. Any Justice who believes otherwise is completely unsuited for a job in our court system.

For an extended discussion of this, see this dKos Diary on the subject of the role of the Supreme Court to protect the people from the tyranny of the legislature.

Without the filibuster, do we get the Constitution in Exile?

The New York Times Magazine has a good article on the Constitution in Exile. Here are some excerpts:

Early in the hearings, [For Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court] Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, voiced a concern about Thomas's judicial philosophy. In particular, he singled out a speech that Thomas gave in 1987 in which he expressed an affinity for the ideas of legal scholars like Richard A. Epstein. A law professor at the University of Chicago, Epstein was notorious in legal circles for his thesis that many of the laws underpinning the modern welfare state are unconstitutional.

As Epstein sees it, all individuals have certain inherent rights and liberties, including ''economic'' liberties, like the right to property and, more crucially, the right to part with it only voluntarily. These rights are violated any time an individual is deprived of his property without compensation -- when it is stolen, for example, but also when it is subjected to governmental regulation that reduces its value or when a government fails to provide greater security in exchange for the property it seizes.[Note: this subordinates government to the whims of market pricing – RB] In Epstein's view, these libertarian freedoms are not only defensible as a matter of political philosophy but are also protected by the United States Constitution. Any government that violates them is, by his lights, repressive. One such government, in Epstein's worldview, is our government. When Epstein gazes across America, he sees a nation in the chains of minimum-wage laws and zoning regulations.

In 1995, echoes of Epstein's ideas could be clearly heard in one of [Clarence] Thomas's opinions. By a 5-4 majority in United States v. Lopez, the court struck down a federal law banning guns in school zones, arguing that the law fell outside Congress's constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. Lopez was a judicial landmark: it was the first time since the New Deal that the court had limited the power of the federal government on those grounds. Thomas, who sided with the majority, chose to write a separate opinion in which he suggested that even his conservative colleagues had not gone far enough. The real problem, he wrote, was not just with the law at hand but with the larger decision of the court during the New Deal to abandon the judicial doctrines of the 19th century that established severe limits on the government's power. He assailed his liberal colleagues for characterizing ''the first 150 years of this Court's case law as a 'wrong turn.''' He continued, ''If anything, the 'wrong turn' was the Court's dramatic departure in the 1930's from a century and a half of precedent.''

[…] it is perhaps just as likely that the next justice -- or chief justice -- will be sympathetic to the less well-known but increasingly active conservative judicial movement that Epstein represents. It is sometimes known as the Constitution in Exile movement, after a phrase introduced in 1995 by Douglas Ginsburg, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. (Ginsburg is probably best known as the Supreme Court nominee, put forward by Ronald Reagan, who withdrew after confessing to having smoked marijuana.) By ''Constitution in Exile,'' Ginsburg meant to identify legal doctrines that established firm limitations on state and federal power before the New Deal. Unlike many originalists, most adherents of the Constitution in Exile movement are not especially concerned about states' rights or judicial deference to legislatures; instead, they encourage judges to strike down laws on behalf of rights that don't appear explicitly in the Constitution.

DavidNYC wrote an excellent Diary on the Constitution in Exile. Read it for further background.

Then ask – do we really want a disinterested, uneducated President to send one of these people to be Supreme Court Justice, to a partisan Senate that has 55 Republicans and needs only 51 to approve him?

I don’t. This is way too radical.

Who are the Social Conservatives?

I have been reading on Fundamentalism and Dominionism, and trying to work out the form of their political movement in America. I wrote the following as a comment on Daily Kos, and it all seemed to come together. This is what I think is happening poltically in America now. I started with the way populism fits into Fascism, and began to realize that the fundamentalist political movement in America is a similar anti-modernist populist movement. So here it is.


We seem to be facing a populist fundamentalist religion-based, very anti-modernism political movement. The key, as I see it, is that it is anti-modernist and a powerful poltical movement. Because of those two elements, it resembles Fascism.

I have been reading on 19th and 20th century "isms" recently (and I am looking for some good books on Populism in America and generally, preferably sociological studies or good histories.) But the distinction between Conservatism in an agrarian society and Fascism in an industrial society has struck me as interesting.

According to Roger Eatwell, Fascism has a strong level of populism in it, but is a rejection of liberalism. It is a middle class rejection of the uncertainties in an industrial society, but it is also a rejection of Marxism and Socialism. Fascists normally gain power by attaching themselves to older type conservatives who already have power in government. The older-type conservatives use the fascists as shock troops against Socialists and Marxists. But Fascists, Socialist and Marxists are all middle-class movements in a modern market-based industrial society, and all have a major populist element.

Conservatism is found in a more agricultural society and is the reaction of the older powers-that-be to the rise of the middle class itself. Older type conservatives tend to be aristocrats, military officers and Catholic religious leaders.

Franco was an older type conservative, while Mussolini and Hitler were Fascists.

One thing that intrigues me about this discussion is that until recently in America, religion has been either conservative in the old sense or simply not included in modern politics. Modernism has meant separating church and state.

But the history of religion in the US has been the displacement of the older religions by evangelical religions, particularly Baptist and Methodist in the 19th century. This hasn't been politically important in the US because of the broad acceptance of the separation of church and state as a bedrock principle of being modern. Until recently.

It seems to me that evangelical religion and fundamentalist religion both have strong elements of populism built in. Fundamentalism has in addition a strong belief that everything must be subordinate to God and religion, and radio and TV fundamentalist evangelists have been quietly building their outreach programs since the 1930's. The fundamentalists also totally reject modernism. They began to spread into politics with Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell, Nixon's guy (Coulter?), etc. probably in the 70's.

With Bush 43, they feel they have elected one of their own. Tom DeLay is another fundamentalist, and their are seven top Republican Senators with 100% Christian Coalition ratings - Bill Frist, TN, Mitch McConnell, KY, Rick Santorum, PA, Bob Bennet, UT, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, TX, Jon Kyl, AZ, and George Allen, VA.

If I am correct, what we are facing is a populist, anti-modernist, fundamentalist religious based political movement. And this is the answer to Thomas Frank's question, "What's the Matter with Kansas."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

A Diary from a recovering Xtian

This is a statement written by one who claims to have been deep in the Catholic movement and close to people in Operation Rescue. I don't know enough to endorse the statements, but they match what I have been learning about the Fundamentalists, the Dominionists and the relationship of Bush and the Whitehouse to the social conservatives.

Diary by Bellatrys.

Buy Blue

Why do all the blogs connect to when referring to books, which Buy rates as Light Red: 21 - 44% Buy Blue rating, when the equally efficient and inexpensive Barnes & Noble has a rating of Dark Blue: 80% or higher Buy Blue rating?

State Department cancels Reports on Patterns of Terrorism

Apparently the most recent report showed a really sharp increase in terrorist incidents, making it difficult for the Bush administration to claim success in the War on Terror. Solution? Cancel the report.

Kevin Drum provides some commentary and The Counterterrorism Blog provided the initial report.

The Counterterrorism Blog is listed on my blogroll on the right.

Nine investigations show no abuse of Terri Schiavo

Part of the nasty behavior of the religious right in the Terri Schiavo case included accusations that her husband, Michael had abused her. Between 2001 and 2004 the state of Florida conducted nine investigations of allegations of such abuse and found no basis for those accusations.

Judge George W. Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court ordered the Florda agency to release those documents before Monday.

This is from the New York Times April 16, 2005.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Frist to use religion to push his political ambitions

When is a religion not a religion but a political movement? It's time to ask Senator Bill Frist.

From the New York Times April 15, 2005:

"As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as "against people of faith" for blocking President Bush's nominees.

But is this really "people of faith?" Or is it a set of otherwise politically unacceptable hacks who are masquerading as members of a form of Christianity? Frist is proving that he is in league with the people pushing the agenda of the Dominion theology [* See below].

From The Despoiling of America .

"Discarding the original message of Jesus and forgetting that Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world,' the framers of Dominionism boldly presented a Gospel whose purpose was to inspire Christians to enter politics and execute world domination so that Jesus could return to an earth prepared for his earthly rule by his faithful "regents."

"For Dominionists, perhaps the single most important event in the last half of the twentieth century occurred when the Reverend Jim Jones proved that the religious would follow their leader to Guyana and even further, to their deaths. That fact could hardly have escaped the notice of even the dullest of politically minded preachers.

"Indeed, Jim Jones' surreal power over his congregants leaps out from the grave even today. If a man desired to change the laws in America - to undo Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal for instance, and allow corporations the unbridled freedom they enjoyed prior to the Great Depression (which included the freedom to defraud, pillage, and to destroy the land with impunity on the way to gathering great fortunes), what better way to proceed than to cloak the corruption within a religion? If a few men wanted to establish an American empire and control the entire world, what better vehicle to carry them to their goal than to place their agenda within the context of a religion? Jim Jones proved religious people would support even immoral political deeds if their leaders found a way to frame those deeds as 'God's Will.' The idea was brilliant. Its framers knew they could glorify greed, hate, nationalism and even a Christian empire with ease.

"The religion the canny thinkers founded follows the reverse of communism and secular humanism, it poured political and economic ideology into a religion and that combustible mixture produced 'Dominionism,' a new political faith that had the additional advantage of insulating the cult from attacks on its political agenda by giving its practitioners the covering to simply cry out, 'You're attacking me for my religious beliefs and that's religious persecution!"

So if the Republicans present a set of truly unsatisfactory judicial nominations, and they are all presenting themselves as fundamentalist Christians and pushing an anti-Constitutional anti-American agenda, Democrats who try to protect America from their appointment are somehow engaging in religious persecution?

I don't think so. This is just a Republican power-grab, and Frist is on board to get the fundamentalist vote for his run for the White House in 2008.

[* Dominion theology - From The Despoiling of America . Dominionism is a natural if unintended extension of Social Darwinism and is frequently called 'Christian Reconstructionism.' Its doctrines are shocking to ordinary Christian believers and to most Americans. Journalist Frederick Clarkson, who has written extensively on the subject, warned in 1994 that Dominionism 'seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of 'Biblical Law.' He described the ulterior motive of Dominionism is to eliminate 'labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools.'[...]

Born in Christian Reconstructionism, which was founded by the late R. J. Rushdoony, the framers of the new cult included Rushdoony, his son-in-law Gary North, Pat Robertson, Herb Titus, the former Dean of Robertson's Regent University School of Public Policy (formerly CBN University), Charles Colson, Robertson's political strategist, Tim LaHaye, Gary Bauer, the late Francis Schaeffer, and Paul Crouch, the founder of TBN, the world's largest television network, plus a virtual army of likeminded television and radio evangelists and news talk show hosts.

The DeLay network simplified

Want to see all of Tom DeLay's connections in the Republican Party? Click here and place your cursor on any of the icons in the picture that DeLay is the center of.

Then explore. Every item on the page is an outrage perpetuated or aided by Tom DeLay. I especially like the dropdown list of scandals in the lower left corner.

This is not a diagram of Tom DeLay. This is a diagram of the Republican Party.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Bankruptcy Bill is about to pass

Looks like we are about to get bankruptcy reform. Anyone want to bet how much interest rates and fees on credit cards go down now that the credit card companies are sure they will get their money?

This is a good article telling what the present bill is going to do to people. Here is a sample:

”The poorest debtors would not be affected by this change. Many don’t file for bankruptcy, as they have no assets to lose. Those who do file would still be eligible for Chapter 7 status. Wealthy debtors retain major loopholes under the new bill, such as the right to keep valuable homes and retain assets in special trusts.

The changes would fall squarely on the shoulders of middle-class people facing life crises like illness, disability, unemployment, divorce, and death in the family. Democratic members of Congress unsuccessfully introduced dozens of amendments that would have helped consumers and debtors, including specific protections for the elderly, veterans, and caregivers to sick or disabled family members.

“Some single parents who manage to avoid bankruptcy themselves would have a harder time collecting child support and alimony. When noncustodial parents are forced to declare bankruptcy under Chapter 13, rather than Chapter 7, the repayment plan diverts some of their limited income from child support and alimony to credit card debts.

“Legal fees would probably rise sharply under the proposed bill, which would hold attorneys responsible if their clients filed bankruptcy petitions with missing or incorrect information. This would lead to more paperwork and higher malpractice premiums. In addition, more bankruptcy court judges would be needed, so the bill raises court fees to pay their salaries.”

The passage of this bill might mean that it is time to start getting Americans to use less debt. A program that gave alternatives to debt, training in financial management and alternatives to the super high interest rates some loans (like payday loans and IRS refund anticipation loans) just might get traction in the new environment.

If fewer people used credit cards, credit card companies might have to start competing for customer and actually lower interest rates, fees, and unannounced rate increases. The real benefit would be that fewer people might be likely to need bankruptcy. Of course, it might also mean a reduction in consumer spending which would cause a reduction in the American economy, but that is coming soon anyway.

Tom DeLay backs down - a little.

The litany of Republican politicians who have criticized Tom DeLay (recently including Newt Gingrich)appears to have reached him, and he has decided that he will not survive just by blaming the Democrats for his troubles. Mike Allen of the Washington Post reports today that he has apologized for his intemperate remarks about making judges pay for the Terri Schiavo decisions.

As I read Mike Allen's story, rather than an apology Tom DeLay has grudgingly stated that he should not have said what he said the way he said it, but he has not apologized for the contents of his remarks.

Still, the key to what Allen wrote is this: "People who are working in support of DeLay's position said the next several days would be critical, as leaders wait to see whether any other House Republicans call for his resignation."

If he survives the next few weeks, he will probably make it to his next election in November 2006. Either way he is an asset to Democrats. If he resigns as Majority Leader, the Republicans are going to find it difficult to locate a replacement as effective as he has been at holding them together. If he survives to November 2006 he is going to be the face of the Republican Party and every Republican running for election will have to defend their association with him. Either way he is going to cost the Republicans seats in the House in the next election.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

House votes repeal of Estate Tax - Paris Hilton will never have to work

From the New York Times today.

Filed at 7:46 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans on Wednesday pushed to make permanent a one-year reprieve on estate taxes, a change that Democrats said would reward the wealthiest families and increase the federal deficit by tens of billions of dollars annually.

Current laws would eliminate the estate tax in 2010, only to resurrect it the following year. Republican lawmakers want to keep the repeal in place, decreasing government revenue by roughly $290 billion over a decade.

''Eliminating the death tax is a matter of basic fairness,'' President Bush said.

Amy Sullivan writes at Kevin Drum's Political Animal:

House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to permanently repeal the estate tax--at a cost, let's remember, of nearly $300 billion over the next decade.

So, to sum up: Actual prescription drug relief? There's no money. Armor to protect our troops? There's no money. The funds to back up the mandated reforms of No Child Left Behind? There's no money. Doing away with a tax on super rich kids? Plenty o' cash to spare.

Not only is this giving money to those who don't need it, the money will be borrowed by the federal government so that it increases the federal deficit. That means that paying the treasury bonds held by the Social Security Trust Fund becomes more difficult, at exactly the time the baby boomers are stressing the system.

Bush and our Congress are intentionally working to make life more difficult for Americans in the next half century. It really only works if they are insane, severe Paris Hilton fans, or if they are religious fundamentalist premillennialists.

Conservative Christians taking over US foreign policy

Don Monkerud describes in Rightweb the way the Christian fundamentalist right is taking over the US foreign policy for their own purposes.

”When Americans ponder why the rest of the world regards it with less respect, they could turn to the recent controversy created by the U.S. delegation at the March meeting in New York of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

“The issue reveals both the new approach of right-wing fundamentalists to international organizations and the extent to which such groups increasingly determine U.S. foreign policy.

“At the two-week meeting, attended by 6,000 women from 130 countries, the U.S. delegation created a furor when it refused to sign a declaration reaffirming the Beijing Platform for Action. Signed by the U.S. and 184 other countries in 1995, the Platform included resolutions asserting the fundamental rights of women and called for ending discrimination against women in 12 important areas.

“Before signing a reaffirmation of the Beijing Platform, the U.S. delegation demanded that an amendment rejecting abortion be inserted. Meeting with widespread opposition from international women's organizations and supported only by Egypt and Qatar, the leader of the U.S. delegation, Ambassador Ellen R. Sauerbrey, eventually relented and signed the declaration.

“[…] Sauerbrey, a Republican national committeewoman described as a "conservative stalwart" by National Review magazine, stressed that the U.S. upholds an "ABC" approach to women's health: abstinence, be faithful, and the use of condoms, "where appropriate" to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“[Zonibel] Woods observed that other countries are frustrated by U.S. policy that focuses moralistically on abstinence, parental rights, and restricting comprehensive health education. In addition to withholding $34 million earmarked for United Nations Population Fund, used to promote family planning, sexual and reproductive rights, sex education, and condom use, Bush imposed "a global gag rule," which prevents organizations that receive U.S. funds from counseling, referring, or providing information on abortion. The UN estimates that withholding these funds led to an additional 2 million unwanted pregnancies and more than 75,000 infant and child deaths.”

[Underlining is mine – RB]

So for a foreign policy they are attempting to force a so-called “moral leadership” on foreign countries in which their idea of sexual morality is more important than how many people die because of their demands.

This is NOT morality. This is authoritarianism and an effort to become international control freaks. Causing these deaths and unwanted pregancies is utterly immoral, with no possible jusitification.