Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sign of the Apocalypse #72: Dead animal beer bottles

My brother, who lives in the U.K., sent me this BBC article earlier today. I almost wish he hadn't. I'm disgusted:

A beer served in bottles made from stuffed animals has been criticised as "perverse" and "pushing the boundaries of acceptability".

The End of History, made by BrewDog of Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, is 55% and £500 a bottle.

The bottles have been made using seven dead stoats, four squirrels and a hare, said to be roadkill.

However, Advocates for Animals and Alcohol Focus Scotland both condemned the marketing.

BrewDog claims the beer is the world's strongest and most expensive.

Its co-founder James Watt said: "We want to show people there is an alternative to monolithic corporate beers, introduce them to a completely new approach to beer and elevate the status of beer in our culture."

I'm all for strong beer, but 55%? And I'm all for alternatives to "monolithic corporate beers" -- I don't drink Bud or Coors or Molson or Labatts and prefer micro-brews -- but come on, seriously? This is ridiculous -- and completely unnecessary, and quite revolting.

"It's just bad thinking about animals, people should learn to respect them, rather than using them for some stupid marketing gimmick," said Libby Anderson of Advocates for Animals. "I think the public would not waste £500 on something so gruesome and just ignore it."

Well, one would hope so, but I have little confidence that "the public" will stay away. Sure, £500 is a lot of money, but someone will splurge, if only for the sheer novelty of drinking stupidly strong beer out of a dead animal.

It's gross, it's disrespectful, and it's SOTA #72.

(I've been remiss with respect to SOTA-blogging, but I'll try to get back to it. For other SOTAs, see the list on the right sidebar or click here.)

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Another salami slice: Chavez regime buys stake in opposition TV network, Venezuela moves closer to total authoritarian rule

Readers of this blog, or who are otherwise familiar with my writing, will know that I detest Hugo Chavez, the Tyrant of Caracas. Whether it's of the left or right, or any other kind, I abhor tyranny, and Chavez has shown over the years that he is very much the tyrant, however much he may spin his authoritarianism as revolutionary populism.

I have written extensively on Chavez's tyranny in Venezuela -- see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here -- describing his devious methods of aquiring ever more centralized power as "salami tactics," that is, slice-by-slice. Here's how I put it back in September '07:

[I]t is clear that Hugo Chavez is using salami tactics in his drive to establish so-called "Bolivarean" socialism -- that is, his own national-socialist autocratic rule -- in that country... Sometimes revolution can be achieved without sudden, dramatic bloodletting. There are a number of different prongs to Chavez's continuing revolution, a number of slices. They may be examined individually, but they are best understood as variations of the same, as components of a single overarching plan. The nationalization of industry, the seizure of private property, repression of dissent and opposition, control of the media, one-party rule, rule by decree, and, soon, the removal of constitutional impediments to the permanent and perpetual rule of the leader himself.

The pattern is clear. One slice, then another, and another, and another, with no one slice so grave as to compel anyone to act (although there are courageous opponents of Chavez's tyranny in Venezuela, and there was a coup, if not one worthy of much admiration, in 2002). 

Chavez has a long history of seeking to repress, salami-slice-style, any and all dissent and opposition to his rule, and specifically of seeking to control the outlets of dissent and opposition, particularly private industry and the media. And he's at it again. As the BBC is reporting:

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has said his government is due to take control of a minority stake in the country's main anti-Chavez television channel, Globovision.

The government would then be entitled to appoint a member of the channel's board of directors, Mr Chavez said.

His government has been in conflict with Globovision for several years.

It accuses the broadcaster of supporting a failed coup attempt against Mr Chavez in 2002.

If the plan goes through, the Venezuelan government could be on the verge of becoming an important shareholder in a television company dedicated to criticising its policies. 

To be fair, there is much to dislike about some of Chavez's opponents, many of whom are not democrats but oligarchs who would likely move the country far to the right -- and, of course, most of Latin America has had a long and bloody history of right-wing politics.

But there is really no excuse for what Chavez is doing, even if what he is doing lacks the heavy-handedness of the common tyrant. He knows, I'm sure, that he can't just crack down on, and censor, opposition media. That would look bad and undermine whatever pseudo-democratic credibility he has. Instead, he's worming his way into the key opposition media outlet by buying into it. Once in place, he will seek to control it, or at least to do enough to undermine it as a viable and influential voice for the opposition.

In this case, the Chavez government recently took over two companies, including a bank, owned by Globovision co-founder Nelson Mezerhane. As the two companies together own 25.8% of Globovision, Chavez is claiming that the state (i.e., Chavez himself) now controls that much of Globovision and should be allowed to appoint a board member. See? Another slice. On its own, it's an egregious move but hardly one that will likely arouse much popular outrage -- indeed, Chavez's supporters and government-run media will celebrate it as yet another step in the right Bolivarean direction. After all, it's just a minority stake and all he seems to want is a single board member. What's so wrong with that?

Well, other than the fact that the state is taking over private industry, the move can't be taken on its own. It's part of a larger pattern, of a larger effort on Chavez's part to suppress his opposition and rule Venezuela with an authoritarian hand. And so if it's just 25.8% now, who's to say it won't eventually be 50.1%? And if it's just one board member now, who's to say Globovision won't eventually be fully under Chavez's control? And with that, a significant slice would have been made, all for the sake of the tyranny of Hugo Chavez, which is all that this is really about.

With such salami tactics, there is a tendency to ignore them, or to downplay them, to make light of them, and to fail to connect the dots. But take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Hugo Chavez is a tyrant who is actively seeking to acquire ever more control over his country and to remove any and all obstacles to his authoritarian rule. He certainly seems to be smart enough to go about it in a rather under-the-radar sort of way, and it's disturbing that so many on the left refuse to acknowledge what's going on and continue to give him the benefit of the doubt (if they doubt him at all), but, if you're paying attention, what he's doing is clear and should be of great concern, to say the least, to anyone who cares about liberty, democracy, and the welfare of the Venezuelan people.

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Just how crazy is Sharron Angle? (5)

So crazy, it would seem, that her campaign won't let her answer any questions:

The day after walking out of her own campaign event when reporters were offered an opportunity to ask questions, Nevada GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle on Thursday responded to a question from a reporter -- to tell them she wasn't answering the question.

For the second day in a row, Angle's campaign alerted the press that they were holding a campaign event where the Republican would offer critical remarks on the estate tax.

After giving a three-minute speech on the tax Wednesday, Angle bolted for the door when asked to make herself available to answer questions from the press.

Angle took a beating in local and national news reports of the event. So on Thursday, Angle's campaign hoped to make the ground rules for the event crystal clear.

The rules? Only one issue, only questions on that issue -- and hardly an essential one, except to the wealthy. (The Las Vegas Sun has more on the story here, noting that Wednesday's event was "the first time since her primary victory that she had agreed to mingle with the media.")

But, really, the main rule is to keep Angle shielded from herself, to keep her from embarrassing herself, to keep her from actually having to engage in a meaningful way in the democratic process, to keep the voters of Nevada from actually getting to know her and learning what she stands for. Because, of course, she's a crazy right-wing extremist (who apparently can only handle a few pre-packaged speaking points at a time).

Remember how the McCain campaign tried to keep Palin out the spotlight, and away from reporters, instead sending her out to rally the mob, with occasional stops to be idolized by those infatuated with her on the right, until her embarrassing performance with Katie Couric proved that it had good reason to do so? Well, at least Palin could wink and smile and flirt and speak in easy-to-swallow right-wing platitudes and make conservative men drool. Angle has none of that, er, charm, and, without it, her craziness is naked. Harry Reid's campaign is effectively exposing that craziness, but she's doing a lot of it on her own, and it's hardly any wonder she's now floundering in the polls.

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Deepwater Horizon: clusterfuck of irresponsibility

As we learn more and more about Deepwater Horizon, the rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, unleashing economic and environmental disaster, it's becoming clearer and clearer that it was one massive clusterfuck of irresponsibility. To wit:

Long before an eruption of gas turned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig into a fireball, an alarm system designed to alert the crew and prevent combustible gases from reaching potential sources of ignition had been deliberately disabled, the former chief electronics technician on the rig testified Friday.

Michael Williams, an ex-Marine who survived the April 20 inferno by jumping from the burning rig, told a federal panel probing the disaster that the alarm system was one of an array of critical systems that had been functioning unreliably in the run-up to the blowout.

Williams told the panel that he understood that the rig had been operating with the gas alarm system in "inhibited" mode for a year to prevent false alarms from disturbing the crew.

He said the explanation he got was that the leadership of the rig did not want crew members needlessly awakened in the middle of the night. 

But wait -- there's more:

If the safety system was disabled, it would not have been a unique event. Records of federal enforcement actions reviewed by The Washington Post show that, in case after case, rig operators paid fines for allegedly bypassing safety systems that could impede routine operations.

Computers used to monitor and control drilling operations intermittently froze, to the point that the problem became known as "the blue screen of death," Williams said. Despite attempted repairs, the issue remained unresolved at the time of the blowout, Williams said.

Earlier in the drilling operation, one of the panels that controlled the blowout preventer -- the last line of defense against a gusher -- had been placed in bypass mode to work around a malfunction, Williams said.

Williams said a colleague told him that an inspection of the rig in the spring, shortly before the disaster, found extensive maintenance problems.

It is all BP's fault? Well, maybe not all -- there's a lot of blame to go around, and some of it ought to be directed at others, including Transocean, the rig's owner (and Williams's employer) -- but the takeaway here, I think, as with the disaster generally, is this: The oil industry, including its enablers in government, is simply not to be trusted. It is all about profit, obviously, but it is apparently willing to cut whatever corners it can to make as much money as possible. And, to the extent that it is trusted, we do so at enormous risk to our environment and economy, not to mention to the livelihood and well-being of all those who suffer directly or indirectly as a result of its persistent irresponsibility. The disaster in the Gulf is the most prominent example we have yet seen, irresponsibility on a huge scale prompting wide media attention, but it is hardly an isolated event.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Darth Vader robs Long Island bank, Obi-Wan feels great disturbance in the Force

How odd:

A bank robber dressed as Star Wars villain Darth Vader made off with an undetermined amount of cash after pointing a handgun at startled tellers inside a Chase bank branch on Long Island.

Detectives say the stickup man walked into the bank shortly before noon Thursday wearing a full head mask and a blue cape. The only part of the uniform that was out of place were his camouflage pants. And that handgun -- no light saber...

The only other description of the suspect was his height: between 6 feet and 6-foot-2. He was last seen running across a parking lot.

Towards his destiny, perhaps. Wherever that may take him.

"In this photo released July 22, 2010 by the Suffolk County Police Department, a person wearing a Darth Vader mask and cape is captured on surveillance camera robbing a Chase bank in Setauket, N.Y., Thursday, July 22."


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Rachel rules

By Creature

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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Dumb and Dumber

By Capt. Fogg

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to vote for Rick Scott or Bill McCollum for Governor of Florida in the November election but there'a an obvious winner if I look at the contest as a test of who can put the biggest DUH in Flori-DUH.

In the last few gubernatorial elections, the very dominant theme here has been taxation. Florida has been known for low taxes yet there have been ads featuring a full minute of a voice chanting taxtaxtaxtax while showing the tap dancing feet of the opponent. If zip codes had their own flags, mine, which is always in the top three in wealth in the country, would have a banner showing a chisel and a pinched penny, but this year the carrot dangling from the GOP stick has been the Mexican Menace.

Scott has been spending large sums of money on a media blitz based on his support of Arizona's "show me your papers" law and features raw mockery of McCollum's attempt to cozy up to Miami Cubans with his speeches on the benefits of immigration. "We don't need it here" has been a McCollum theme. It's common sense to let police check for immigration status, says Greene. I could write a lengthy treatise on the use of common sense as a basis for argument, but I'll spare you.

I'm afraid the majority of hysterical, racist wankers here agree that no method is too dangerous in protecting us from illegal busboys and dishwashers, but on either side, there's little conversation about the license it gives to law enforcement to find some reason to stop anyone who looks Central American or Haitian and force them to prove citizenship or be arrested. There's no discussion touching in any way on the idea that a real problem does not justify a bad solution and of course there are no end of Republican scholars willing to twist the constitution into a mockery of itself in support of anything that will elect Republicans.

I'm not saying that more than a small minority of cops would misuse this travesty of Probable Cause, but enough will to be able to drive any minority they like out of their towns. Florida has an unbroken history of using the police for this purpose already. There's no discussion in Republican circles about instituting a government of men along with their intuitions, hunches and prejudices instead of a government of laws. There's no discussion of the constitution unless it's about our rights to bring guns to presidential speeches or our 'right' to tell lies that harm other people.

The most egregious ad yet, which ran last night, ended with " Bill McCollum: too liberal for Florida!" Face it - the Constitution is too liberal for Florida and it always has been.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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I hope he fails!

By Capt. Fogg

Limbaugh said it and the Republicans echo it. It's more important that the Democrats fail -- that even if successful, Little Black Obama must be seen to fail in any attempt to fix anything, much less to end the recession. To be the party of business they claim to be isn't important, because the public is illiterate and it's cheaper to buy belief than to generate it through doing what you say you'll do. Wave flags and buy pins - that's all the patriotism one needs - the real purpose of politics is winning.

Forget that supply side economics never has and never will work: anything that does work in helping small business survive and thrive and create new jobs must be sabotaged along with anything that helps families stay together long enough to benefit from those new jobs.

That's right, the Republicans who just finished up trying to extend unemployment benefits are trying to sink a bill to help: not Exxon or BP or Halliburton or Goldman Sachs, but to offer credit to small business. Why? because it might just work. The same party that offered apologies to BP for making them pay for their criminal negligence intends to block a small business relief bill because it offers 30 billion in credit. The same party that requested three trillion no questions asked with Secretary Paulson to have exclusive and secret stimulus spending discretion. The same party that would still rather have starvation and poverty and disease rather than give a nickel to anyone who lost their job. After all, non-Republicans are just lazy, illegal immigrant bums without the gumption to be white. No, if it creates the millions of jobs that only small business can do, it might help the Democrats in November. Better to let it all go down and blame it on Obama.

No, making loans to stable small businesses is wasteful government spending, you see -- not like waging useless and unnecessary wars and building useless weapons systems and giving tax breaks to BP.

No, it's the same old GOP, the same party that was willing and eager to let millions of Americans starve during the last Depression they brought on, rather than get a dime they hadn't worked for and couldn't have if they had wanted to. Let it fail - desperate workers are cheaper labor and slave labor is cheapest and just think how well they could live with no middle class and all the burden on the serfs.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Too much business

By Capt. Fogg  

It's one of those things many Obama supporters hoped he would do, and do quickly. It's also one of those things nobody should have expected him to be able to do given any amount of time. I'm talking about the malignant, corrupting influence of unfettered and unlimited lobbying. Amidst the chorus singing about too much government influence in the oil industry being the culprit in the Gulf oil disaster (along with the president, of course), isn't it time to listen to the quiet voices trying to remind us that it's too much business involvement in government that's corrupting both sectors?

Of course, they're quiet only in comparison, because the volume of noise is directly proportional to the volume of oil bucks and gas bucks and the volume of Republican/corporate money wells pumping away at the opportunity to make even more through more obfuscation and deregulation. If The Washington Post has it right and 3 out of 4 oil and gas lobbyists were formerly part of the federal government, we have to believe that congress isn't going to find fault with a practice that can offer lucrative employment to the departing congressman or the promise of election support that opens the spigot of campaign financing from those industries.

No, I don't see Obama doing much about it. In fact, I don't see us or anyone else doing much about it. We just can't afford to compete.

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Calling the deficit-hawks' bluff

By Creature

Lynn Woolsey on her re-introduction of the public option:

"There is all this concern about the deficit," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), a leading champion of the proposal. "Well, guess what: This would reduce the deficit because it saves so much money."

The public option always made sense, but no one seemed to care about sense when there was an industry to subsidize.

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GOP blocks small business loans and tax breaks

By Creature

At least this means the next time Republicans decry that Democrats want to crush business they will be called out on their hypocrisy. Or not.


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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rachel gets it

By Creature

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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By Mustang Bobby.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack apologizes to Shirley Sherrod.

Fox News and Andrew Breibart apologize to Shirley Sherrod.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Snookered: Right-wing propaganda and the truth about Shirley Sherrod

It would seem to be a question of whom to believe, but it really isn't.

Widely discredited right-wing smearmonger Andrew Breitbart posted a video, at his site Big Government, of Shirley Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture rural development director in Georgia, saying that in 1986 she didn't help a farmer because he was white. "Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism," rang his headline. In the wake of the NAACP's statement that there racist elements in the Tea Party "movement," Breitbart hit right back.

Fox News picked it up and ran with it, of course, and all hell broke loose.

Sherrod was forced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to submit her resignation. Sherrod claims that the White House forced her out: "They were not interested in hearing the truth. No one wanted to hear the truth," she said yesterday.

While the White House denied that it had anything to do with the firing, Vilsack defended the move, asserting there is "zero tolerance for discrimination." (Sherrod stands by her claim that the White House was behind the move.)

But what is really going on here?

For his part, Breitbart is claiming that he didn't edit the two-minute video and doesn't have the full video, just edited clips submitted by a source. (This seems unlikely. What is likely is that Breitbart has, and/or has seen, the full clip and is aware of the context of Sherrod's cherry-picked remarks.)

But the NAACP, which had initially criticized Sherrod (and her remarks), is now speaking out in her defence:

The NAACP said in a statement Tuesday that it was "snookered by Fox News" and conservative website publisher Andrew Breitbart.

"Having reviewed the full tape by Shirley Sherrod, who is the woman who was fired by the Department of Agriculture, and most importantly heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe that the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans," the statement from NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said.

Jealous later posted on his Twitter account that he "Spoke to Ms. Sherrod earlier today and personally apologized. Plan to meet with her face-to-face the next time I'm in Georgia."

The organization also urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reconsider Sherrod's resignation from her post as the department's director of rural development for Georgia.

According to this, the NAACP has seen the full video while Breitbart has not. And there does indeed appear to be more to the story than Breitbart and his right-wing cheerleaders know (or would care to admit). As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting:

The full, uncut video of a federal agricultural official's NAACP speech purporting racial scheming, told a different story than the barely-three-minute snippet that cost her her job.

Despite admitting in the edited version of the taping that she once withheld help to the couple on the basis of race, Shirley Sherrod was defended Tuesday by the wife of a white Georgia farmer.

Sherrod "kept us out of bankruptcy," said Eloise Spooner, 82, of Iron City in southwest Georgia. Spooner, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, added she considers Sherrod a "friend for life."

And here's where Breitbart is undone:

Recounting her dealings with the Spooners, Sherrod said she didn't help them as much as she could because of their race.

But a review of the entire 43-minute, 15-second speech -- released Tuesday on the NAACP Web site -- showed that Sherrod was giving a cautionary tale about the evils of racial separation.

"When I made that commitment (at age 17 years old to remain in Georgia and help people), I was making that commitment to black people, and to black people only," Sherrod said nearly 15 minutes into the recording, just seconds before the segment that brought her trouble. "But you know, God will... put things in your path so that you realize that the struggle was really about poor people."

Next, Sherrod would say the words that eventually led to her losing her job.

"[The white farmer] was trying to show me he was superior to me," she said, recalling the day some 24 years ago. "I knew what he was doing, but he had to come to me for help."

Eloise Spooner said as far as she's concerned Sherrod worked tirelessly to help the couple hold onto their land as they faced bankruptcy.

Where exactly is the racism there? Where is the discrimination? Where did Sherrod do anything wrong? Quite to the contrary, she appears to have been a woman of exceptional dedication and determination, and fairness.

And yet a right-wing propagandist uses an edited clip to destroy her and all that she represents, as well as the NAACP's credibility, Fox News and the sheepish conservative blogosphere play right along (wittingly or not), and a member of Obama's Cabinet, with or without pressure from the White House, goes so far as to fire her without any regard for context -- without any regard for the truth?

As appalling Breitbart's propaganda is, it's expected, and predictable. His agenda is transparent. As Steve Benen wrote yesterday (quoted at Think Progress, which has a useful overview post on the story), "The far-right site has the entire video, but only released the part that served the right's purposes. And in this case, the right's purposes are trying to spur racial animosity, taking the remarks of an African-American American official to the NAACP and removing the context, all in the hopes of generating white resentment." We've seen this before with "creative editing" of the ACORN tapes, and we're seeing it again here.

What is even more appalling is what Vilsack did, which is simply indefensible. Like the NAACP, he should rethink his knee-jerk reaction to Breitbart's clip and reinstate Sherrod -- although she may prefer to sue for wrongful dismissal. He has stood steadfastly by the firing, but, in light of what we know now, he has a lot of explaining to do, especially if he doesn't move quickly to reverse his decision. Meanwhile, questions must be asked of the White House. It will deny that it forced Vilsack's hand, but the media need to look into it more closely.

In a broader context, what is troubling here is the whole dynamic of how things unfolded, of how an edited clip by a known right-wing propagandist drove the chain of events, prompting even the NAACP to issue a premature condemnation and essentially directing a cabinet secretary and former governor to act irresponsibly and without any regard for the facts, simply accepting Breitbart's propaganda as truth. As Andrew Sullivan puts it, "[t]he virulence of the far right and the cowardice of the elites is creating a chilled atmosphere." What this whole story shows is not so much how far the right is willing to go, as we have seen all this before in one form or another, but how powerful the right is in terms of driving the media and political narrative. And, no, it doesn't go the other way. Can you imagine a conservative group and a Republican cabinet secretary acting in such a way in response to a video posted at, say, (not to smear that organization by suggesting it's like Breitbart)? And can you imagine the establishment media reporting on it without really looking into it? Hardly. 

This isn't about "a new front... in the ongoing war between the left and right over which side is at fault for stoking persistent forces of racism in politics," as The Washington Post has proclaimed, it's about the right attacking its opponents with blatantly dishonest smears and both the media and government cowering in fear and doing the right's bidding. How is the left at fault here? The NAACP criticized the Tea Party "movement" for having racist elements in its ranks, but it was only expressing the obvious truth that there are in fact racist elements there. It didn't make anything up. It didn't concoct evidence. If anything, it was exposing racism, not stoking it. Contrast that to what Breitbart has done, spewing propaganda based on manufactured evidence to feed racial/racist resentment. There's no equivalency here. 

Sherrod is the victim here and deserves to be compensated. The blame rests with Breitbart, but accountability must ultimately be demanded of the highest reaches of the government. The whole appalling saga has exposed so much of what is deeply wrong with the way America works.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Craziest Republicans of the Day: Michele Bachmann and the members of the new Tea Party Caucus

Just for the record, I'm all for House Republicans organizing a Tea Party Caucus. And I completely support the decision of the Democratic leadership to allow it.

Why? Well, first, it exposes these Republicans for what they are, a group of fringe-conservative extremists who advocate an agenda that, however mainstream in the GOP, is well to the right of the American electorate. And, of course, we're not just talking about the consistently crazy Bachmann and a few others, we're talking about a significant chunk of House Republicans. And, second, it divides Republicans and forces them to take sides:

With the official formation of a congressional Tea Party Caucus, Rep. Michele Bachmann has thrust an existential question before House Republican leaders: Are you in or are you out?

Indiana's Mike Pence, chairman of the Republican Conference, was adamant. "You betcha," he said, deploying a Minnesota catch phrase.

But Minority Leader John Boehner won't have his name on the caucus list.

And Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor and his chief deputy, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California -- known as "Young Guns" for the GOP -- are undecided.

Minnesota's Bachmann, a favorite of the tea party movement, earned approval from the Democratic leadership for her caucus late last week. It came as a bit of a surprise to her leadership, whom she didn't forewarn before formally applying to create the caucus.

"It was something we were doing on our own," Bachmann spokesman Dave Dziok said. "Ultimately, we just pulled the trigger."

Indeed, the tea party movement is a loaded political weapon for Republicans heading into the midterm elections.

Until now, they have had the luxury of enjoying the benefits of tea party enthusiasm without having to actually declare membership. But now that Bachmann has brought the tea party inside the Capitol, House Republican leaders and rank-and-file members may have to choose whether to join the institutionalized movement.

It's like a purity test. Either you're with them or you're a heretic. You're a good Republican if you're with them, but you're also formally exposed as an extremist, increasing your unelectability. (It's hardly any wonder that a more cautious Republican like Boehner is against it -- or at least against joining it.)

And the Democrats were right to allow this to happen. As Noam Scheiber put it today over at Chait's place:

In most cases, there's a kind of implicit alliance between tactical radicals of one party and the establishment of the other -- both are gunning for the same thing, albeit from different directions. (One recalls Karl Rove cheering on Howard Dean during the 2004 presidential primaries.) But in this case the alliance was nearly explicit: The tactical radicals in the House wanted to form an organization that would create all sorts of headaches for the GOP leadership, and the Democratic leadership worked with them to expedite the process.
Nicely done.

Keep it up, Tea Party Republicans. We're with you all the way.

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Drill it, spill it - we don't care.

By Capt. Fogg

The subject of off shore oil and gas drilling has been a frequent discussion topic since I've lived in Florida. My particular part of the state has a large proportion of people who have environmental concerns, at least as far as clean water and the health of fish stocks are concerned. Most oppose rapid growth, virtually all of my local friends are extremely concerned about the ongoing discharge of polluted fresh water from Lake Okeechobee into our estuary and are likely to show anger at the sugar industry and even the cattle industry that are sources of much of it and who benefit greatly from the government guaranteed status quo. But when it comes to oil, it's been Drill Baby Drill even despite former Republican Governor Jeb Bush's opposition to it.

Before the BP disaster, one couldn't bring up the subject without becoming an audience for vituperation against "the Enviros" who were the root of the problem: the problem of course being high oil prices. The Environmental bogey men, they insist, are the reason we don't have more and cheaper nuclear power and why our bottomless oil reserves aren't being tapped as cleanly and risk free as turning on the bathroom faucet. It's the Liberals -- it's always the Liberals. They're all Republicans and conservationists without being in favor of conservation and environmentally concerned without being environmentalists. It's doublethink at it's finest.

One would expect that to have changed, and indeed it is changing, but not by as much as you might think. The illusion persists that there are huge amounts of oil off our coasts than can be easily accessed by sticking a straw into the mud and that the sooner we give the right to do that to foreign oil companies who sell into a competitive worldwide market, the sooner we'll be back to 26 cents per gallon. Efforts -- my efforts at least -- to dispel the mythology haven't been worthwhile. There's always some secret reserve or hidden oil field kept under wraps by a malicious government and their familiars: the Enviros.

They're not chanting Drill Baby Drill any more; not out loud at any rate, but Floridians aren't yet solidly behind a Constitutional amendment preventing these operations in Florida waters. The Republican-led Legislature seems firmly against it and abruptly adjourned a special legislative session after 49 minutes Tuesday, squelching Governor Charlie Crist's proposal to put the amendment on the ballot. Florida legislators, of course, get a lot of money from the oil and gas industry and before the false equivalence parade float is pulled out of the shed, the lion's share goes to Republicans.

The House Republican leader, Adam Hasner claims that Crist is making it "all about politics" but of course opposition to environmental responsibility has little else but politics to offer as a basis.
It's all about continued profits for the oil industry, continued support for their party (which Crist has recently left) and continued disregard for public safety, health and the common resources of our country.

I don't expect my local friends to put it all together and realize that we' can't preserve our local environment while letting the unholy alliance between oil and government rape the land and water and food sources, but according to the Miami Herald today, support is indeed growing for a permanent ban on at least near-shore drilling. That means at least a few more people are willing to see the picture beyond what is framed by their job, their backyard and their circle of idiocy. It's far too soon -- enormously far too soon to sound like an optimist and in fact I'm convinced that slogans and dogmas, slanders and stupidity will remain the song of the South until the Gulf looks like the LaBrea tar pits and we have to resort to eating termites and grasshoppers while the crops die -- and even then, I'm not sure many minds will be changed in the direction of responsible oversight and regulation by a government agency.

What the hell, might as well just drill!

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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The U.S. National Security State

Make sure to read this -- all of it: "A hidden world, growing beyond control," by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin of The Washington Post, a terrifying exposé of the post-9/11 national-security state:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

Glenn Greenwald is right (and read his post, too):

We chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government:  functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.

The Founders, I suspect, would not be amused.

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WTC mosque

By Creature

Here, here [via TPM]:

Furthermore, why is land use in New York City the business of anyone else but the citizens of New York? If so, I would really like to know Sarah Palin's opinion of the Atlantic Yards (or Hudson Yards or the expansion of Columbia University) project, an issue that is 1,000,000x more controversial than this project. That's all this is: a land use issue. [...]

This is a local issue, plain and simple. The people of New York, the ones actually attacked on 9/11 and who had to live through the aftermath, are the only ones who are effected by this and don't seem to have a problem with it, so no one else should. It is no one else's business. Sarah Palin and the "heartland" do not have permanent veto power over what gets built in Lower Manhattan. If they want a say over what happens there, my advice would be to move to New York. They might even learn something about the values of living in a multi-ethnic, multicultural community.

Butt out, Sarah, and the rest of you backward-ass wing nuts.

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Reid surges past Angle in Nevada Senate race

Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun writes that "the trend is inescapable and the race’s dynamic is fundamentally altered." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, though still deeply unpopular in his home state, has taken a solid lead in recent polls over insurgent Republican challenger Sharron Angle:

"This suggests that Reid's scorched-earth strategy of dropping a ton of negative advertising on Angle -- in order to rapidly define her as extreme, dangerous and temperamentally unfit for the Senate before her campaign gets under way -- may be working," wrote Greg Sargent of The Washington Post after Friday's release of the Mason-Dixon poll in the Anglephilic Las Vegas Review-Journal.

May be working? That's like saying the attempt to Swiftboat John Kerry was mildly effective.

It has been nothing short of devastating. Angle's negatives are at Reid-like levels or thereabouts and in five weeks, Reid has done what he had to do.

Of course, it helps that Angle is in fact extreme, dangerous, and temperamentally unfit -- not to mention downright crazy. It's not like Reid is making that up, and his campaign has a lot of material to work with.

So is the race over? Ralston suggests it is, almost: "There remain many wild cards with this much time left -- a double-dip, Reid's lips, Angle's flips." And so Reid needs to keep the pressure up while also reminding voters that he has actually delivered on a number of key issues: health-care reform, Wall Street reform, etc. I've been deeply critical of him in the past -- see here, for example, on his links to the NRA -- and he's hardly the most admirable Democrat out there, but this is a race we simply cannot lose.

It was inevitable that the truth would come out, maybe, but thankfully Nevadans are finally coming to see just who the real Sharron Angle is. And that's enough, clearly, to overcome whatever reservations they may have regarding Reid. They may want to hold their noses in November, but at least he's not her.

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Interim head

By Creature

With the news today that Elizabeth Warren can be named interim head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as The Huffington Post headline screams, there really are no excuses for not naming her. That being said, with Dodd's insider-balloon now busted, I fully expect more excuses.

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Palin: dangerous idiot

WaPo: "Palin invents word 'refudiate,' compares herself to Shakespeare."

Seriously? Seriously. You really can't make this shit up.


The issue, by the way, is that Sarah Palin objects to a mosque being built near Ground Zero in New York -- because, you know, 9/11 was apparently a Muslim attack on America (and not an attack by mostly Saudi extremists, waging mass-murder jihad, who certainly did not represent all of Islam). I suppose Palin herself should be held responsible for every crazy thing every crazy Christian does.

As Jon Chait notes, Palin's black-and-white worldview is in stark contrast even to Bush's:

The Bush administration understood that defining its foreign policy vision as a battle between the West and Islam was a disastrous choice and a victory for the extremists. But conservatives now are falling into the precise trap the extremists have set, which is to define all Islam as radical Islam. If you are capable of distinguishing between moderate Islam and extremist Islam, the notion of a mosque and Muslim cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero ought to be totally uncontroversial. Indeed, it is a celebration of American diversity and a symbol of what makes this country superior to its enemies.

In Palin, the extremists have a willing vessel into which to pour their poison. She is one of them, after all, and the last thing she wants to do, like the rest of her hateful right-wing ilk, is to celebrate what really makes her country great.

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How Come They Can Be Douches, And We Can't?

By Carl
An interesting little meme is developing over white poutrage in connection with a video that has surfaced.

Days after the NAACP clashed with Tea Party members over allegations of racism, a video has surfaced showing an Agriculture Department official regaling an NAACP audience with a story about how she withheld help to a white farmer facing bankruptcy -- video that now has forced the official to resign.

Shirley Sherrod, the department's Georgia director of Rural Development, is shown in the clip describing "the first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm." Sherrod, who is black, claimed the farmer took a long time trying to show he was "superior" to her. The audience laughed as she described how she determined his fate. 

"He had to come to me for help. What he didn't know while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him," she said. "I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land -- so I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough."

The Agriculture Department announced Monday, shortly after published its initial report on the video, that Sherrod had resigned.


Give Sherrod credit. She fell on her sword, knowing that what she had done was wrong.

Not the decision she made with regards to the farmer, but in speaking publicly about it.

The farmer was a douchebag, pure and simple, if what Sherrod is relating is true. If you're a douche to the trooper who pulls you over for a speeding ticket, you're not likely to get off with a warning, and the bigger a douche you are, the closer to seeing the inside of a prison toilet you get.

Likewise, if your family farm is on the line, you don't assume the official helping you is being "uppity". You smile, and even if she irritates you (and believe me, civil servants can irritate the best of us), and politely ask for help.

The clip that posted (I refuse to link to the assholes) is a small clip of the whole talk, so who knows what they edited out. Remember, this is the jerkwad who was behind the James O'Keefe smear of ACORN. O'Keefe, you may recall, posted a cleverly edited video allegedly showing ACORN workers giving assistance to a "pimp and his ho," O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, the disreputable and shamed daughter of Pastor Douglas Giles, who probably ought to be investigated for the sexual abuse of his daughter.

Here's the thing: likely, had the farmer been black and been as snotty as the farmer Sherrod talks about, she would have handled him in precisely the same way. Only you wouldn't have heard about it, even if she spoke at an NAACP rally or for that matter, at a Klan rally.

It's the overreaction by the privileged white people who suddenly realize with alarm that their little fiefdoms of tyrannical uses and abuses of position, power, and author-i-tay have been wrested away from them in large numbers by "other people."

Worse, these "other people" have proven that you don't have to be white to be an asshole. That's what scares them the most, because once you're the one on the receiving end of bureaucracy oveerseen by people you've demonstrated a determined grudge against when you held power, they are not predisposed to be particularly polite to you.

You can almost smell the panic from BigWhiteywood.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind) 


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Senate poised to extend unemployment benefits, ending Republican obstructionism

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are poised to break a partisan stalemate on Tuesday over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who have been jobless for six months or more, but the fight seems certain to continue playing out as a defining issue in the midterm elections.

One day before a crucial procedural vote to provide added unemployment assistance through November, President Obama appeared in the Rose Garden on Monday with three out-of-work Americans to hammer Republicans for blocking the extension until now by insisting, over Democratic objections, that the $34 billion costs of the benefits not be added to the deficit.

"The same people who didn't have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn't offer relief to middle-class Americans," Mr. Obama said.

Democrats have been one vote short of pushing the measure through the Senate. But on Tuesday, a new Democratic senator from West Virginia will be sworn in to succeed Robert C. Byrd, who died last month, putting Democrats in position to overcome the Republican blocking tactic and bring the bill to a final vote.

As a political matter, the issue has appeal to both parties, especially in an election year in which each party needs first to motivate its own base.

For Republicans, it provides a concrete vehicle for pushing the argument that the government’s response to the recession has been wasteful and ineffective, that the growing national debt requires deep spending cuts and that Mr. Obama is guilty of ideological overreach.

For Democrats, it is an opportunity to accuse Republicans of being obstructionist and out of touch with the pain caused by an economic downturn that began on the Republicans' watch.

Mr. Obama's tough attack on Monday signaled the White House's confidence that it has the upper hand, legislatively and politically. Recent public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans favor giving the long-term unemployed more financial help even if it adds to the deficit. 

This is what we need more of from Obama. In this case, he has not just the legislative and political upper hand but the moral one as well, and he, far more than Congressional Democrats, is in a position to drive the media narrative that to a great extent will determine the outcome of November's midterm elections.

And this isn't just an opportunity to "accuse" Republicans of being "obstructionist" and "out of touch" -- a way of putting it that suggests it's all just a political game -- it's an opportunity to draw a stark distinction between two very different approaches to dealing with the current economic situation and two very different visions of how America ought to be. Republicans, after all, are not just obstructionist and out of touch, they're also cruel and vindictive, the advocates of a right-wing ideology that dismisses the needs of ordinary Americans (even as it panders to some of their prejudices) while lining the coffers of corporate America and giving the wealthy every opportunity to enhance their power and privilege in a democracy that is more oligarchy than anything else.

Meanwhile, while we may criticize them for not going far enough, Democrats have passed health-care reform and financial regulatory reform and rescued the economy from the brink of collapse by backing a significant, if not large enough, stimulus package -- and, as of today, extended unemployment benefits at a time when the economy needs the extra push and the recipients themselves need to pay their bills and put food on the table while facing a job market that continues to be weak and that shows no sign of full recovery anytime soon.

President Obama deservedly faces sharp criticism from the left on a variety of issues, but in a system that is basically either/or, Democrat or Republican, the choice, it seems to me, is crystal clear.

And Obama needs to be at the forefront of presenting that choice to the American people.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Crack in the floor

By Capt. Fogg

You didn't think the monster on the sea bed was going to stay muzzled, did you? I was on a ship headed for Palm Beach when I saw the news report that the well had been capped and the pressure was rising. That rising pressure was a good sign seemed to confuse my fellow passengers, being young Americans and thus not quite up to seeing the analogy between this and trying to pump up a tire with a hole in it, but the early good sign didn't stay very good as pressure failed to reach what it should be if there were no other leaks and now it seems there are. Oil is seeping up from cracks in the sea floor.

A young woman sitting next to me was confused by the word seep and wanted to know whether it was spelled 'sepe' or 'seap', but to those who are at least as smart as a fifth grader, it spells bad news. The cap either has to come off or the relief wells have to be completed before the cracks widen and proliferate and we lose control completely.

Of course what may be a disaster for the world may be a boon for Halliburton and perhaps for Darth Cheney himself. The Dubai based corporation posted second quarter earnings substantially higher than expected; an 83% increase in point of fact. Can we understand now why the power behind the Bush kept his energy policy meetings with the oil men a secret we'll never have access to in our lifetime? Can we begin to suspect that it really wasn't about 'principle' but about power and money?

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Republican hypocrisy and the Gulf oil disaster

It's hilarious -- isn't it? -- that Republican senators like Mitch McConnell and David Vitter, eager as always to score cheap political points even at the cost of exposing their raging hypocrisy, are criticizing President Obama's handling of the Gulf oil spill. Like most in their party, after all, these are conservatives who think that government should exist solely to bomb foreign peoples (and, these days, preferably Muslim ones) into submission, pay out huge sums of corporate welfare, and legislate sexual morality, certainly not to clean up the environment. Indeed, it's precisely the anti-regulatory conservatism of Republicans, and specifically of the Bush administration, which made policy based on what was good for Halliburton and ExxonMobil, not on what was good for the country, let alone the environment, that created the culture of profit-above-all-else irresponsibility that allowed the Gulf oil spill to happen in the first place.

And apparently these Republicans think Obama is Superman -- and that he can do whatever he wants, that his will is supreme, and that he doesn't face Republican obstructionism at every turn.

But what else should we expect? It's just the same old bullshit from the same old bullshitters.

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Yea...This Isn't A Problem! No Sirree!

By Carl
The United States has more intelligence gathering operations than you or I know about. Worse, they don't even really know about each other!
To sum up the report in a short paragraph, right now American intelligence agencies grew about twenty percent in number since September 11, or about 250 brand spanking new agencies, each with its own little fiefdom and domain. In a "publish or perish" mentality not unlike that in academia--who said eggheads were only soft and left-leaning?-- in order to justify their budget line item, these agencies issue a flurry of reports and paper that often contradicts other reports, and worse, gets ignored.
The scariest item in the investigation is that nearly a million people, 854,000 and one and one half the number that actually live in DC, have the highest security clearance (e.g. actually know what happened at Roswell). That's a rather large number to have access to the most sensitive information on the planet.
By contrast, President Obama is about six levels down in security clearances, although by law he must be provided any information he requests, whether his security clearance covers it or not.
What does all this mean? If America before 9/11 was unable to connect the dots (and to be fair, Bush should have considering those kinds of games are at his grade level), now there are more splatters than on a Jackson Pollock. Some will connect. Some that should will not. Some that should not, will. And when the next attack happens, I'm betting that there will be more of the middle than of either of the other two.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Amusing Photo of the Day: Swimming the Bosphorus

From The Globe and Mail: "Swimmers wait for the start in the 22nd Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swimming competition over the Bosphorus straits between Istanbul's Asian and European sides July 18, 2010. Some 750 athletes participated in the annual event for which the usually busy Bosphorus waterways close for sea traffic during the 6,500 metres (4 miles) race."

Yeah, but that guy's, like, twice as big as the others. How is that fair?

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Nursery Rhyme Capitalism

Today on guess where -- Fox News -- Rep. Mike Pence (R - Indiana) became the latest in a series of cold-blooded, vultures who said that extending the Bush tax cuts [for the rich, white benefactors of the GOP] was a good thing, despite the effect they will have on the growing deficit. In fact, Pence said, foregoing that $678 billion in revenue would actually help the economy:

"The reality is that as you study -- when President Kennedy cut marginal tax rates, when Ronald Reagan cut marginal tax rates, when President Bush imposed those tax cuts, they actually generated economic growth, they expand the economy, they expand tax revenue," Pence said. "The point is we've got to get this economy moving again and we can't go back to the tax-and-spend policies of the Democrats or the tax-cut-and-spend policies of the prior administration." 

To Pence, cutting taxes for the rich and continuing to spend (on endless wars) is OK. Talk about spin (and bad math). This is just another way of professing the GOP love for trickle-down-your pants economics without mentioning the debunked and income-redistribution-to-the-wealthy tax plan of Reagan and Bush.

Of course before Pence even got to the campaign talking point of tax cuts, he began with the now now ingrained Rovian/Luntz meme that those poor unemployed people are just lazy bums sitting on their fat asses all day watching General Hospital, drinking beer and refusing to flip burgers at the local grease pit. Since they are just a bunch of good-for-nothings, they will just have to continue to wait for the $400 unemployment checks - because, according to Pence, we just cannot afford to help them. The GOP, who really do feel for those lazy, leaching bums, just cannot in good faith authorize or vote for the $33 billion it will cost to extend unemployment insurance without offsetting comparable spending cuts. [but don't touch wars or ask for tax increases!]

Sing a song of Mike Pence,
A pocket full of sighs.
Four and twenty tax cuts,
Baked in some lies.

When the lies were broadcast,
The House became a race;
Isn't this a dainty dish,
To set before our base?

The base is in their counting house,
Counting out their cash;
The whacks are with the teabags,
Toting guns to bash.

The Moose was in her garden,
Hanging $150,000 worth of clothes;
When down came an oil soaked pelican
And pecked off her nose.

Check this out for a great mashup on Pence by Bluegal

What will it take for America to realize that
  1. Trickle down economics - aka tax cuts for Pence's rich Republican benefactors - simply do NOT work, all they do is put more money in the hands of the people who already control 95% of the money. Most people making under $100K or even $200K barely see a nickel of these tax cuts.
  2. The Republicans - including Mike Pence - are primarily the ones that got us into this mess to begin with by pushing for unfunded and unnecessary wars and deregulating everything they could get their grubby hands on.
A few words about Trickle-Down-Your-Pants economics. On paper it sounds so great. Give more money to the smart (and rich) and they will invest it - in businesses, in companies and in research and development. But hold on - that is not what actually happened. The money ended up with the rich alright, but instead of investing it back in the economy and American society (which they started labeling "income redistribution") - they invested it with each other. 30 years of Reagan "trickle up" wealth redistribution just allowed the rich to gather more personal assets (like homes, cars, jewelry, hedge funds) instead of building plants, fostering energy independence, repairing infrastructure and a whole slew of other things that could have been accomplished on behalf of the US as a whole. And since billions in excess income proved to be not enough, the beneficiaries of trickle down Republican tax cuts created new (and ultimately way too risky) ways to make even more money. The new uber-class kept tossing the money wads back and forth to each other, somehow making obscene profits and purposely keeping those bucks out of reach from the proletariat, descamisados and regular Americans. While they had their fun, the middle class became a bunch of welfare queens driving Yugos.

The Congressional Budget Office stated that the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts disproportionately benefited the wealthiest households. The tax cuts boosted the income of the top 1% of households (with average incomes over $1 million) by 10%. Compare this to a 2.3% increase for middle-income families with average incomes of $57,000 and a 1.6% increase for the bottom 20% of families, with average incomes of less than $17,000. (Here comes the lame argument about how the rich already pay a disproportionate amount of taxes, they control a disproportionate amount of the assets of this country).

Think about this - the unregulated "financiers" on Wall Street played cat-and-mouse with pension funds, insurance pools and securitized mortgages. 30 years of binge chugging finally led to an economic meltdown. Bush and company then bailed them out (as he walked out the door). The rest of the country - including the idiots who voted Republican because of a bunch of slogans like "we think government is too big" or "we will insure your right to own a gun" ended up losing their jobs, their homes and their life savings and watched as un- (and under-) employment drove towards depression levels. Two scant years later, the criminals who took us down this road are making more money than ever and those without jobs can't even get a $425 unemployment insurance check from Mike Pence.

This is Nursery Rhyme Capitalism at its best. The few who caused some of the greatest losses ever are rewarded the most, while those who actually produce real things of value, are punished the most severely.

The continued argument about deficit reduction just proves what an abomination Pence and his pals are. He and Kyl (who went on this rant last week) think debt just fine for to pay for the tax cuts for the wealthiest in the country, but debt for those who have been thrown into an economic tailspin due to the misbehavior of the wealthiest - well that is just too much red ink for the budget to handle.

And this is who America wants to run Congress again.

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