I read the news today, oy vey ...


For Washington area Altercators: The Center for American Progress Action Fund is sponsoring a discussion between yours truly and my buddy Tom Edsall, author of perhaps the best single book on contemporary American politics written during the past two decades, as well as some excellent (and some wrong-headed) journalism at HuffPo of late, on Monday, June 16, at noon. You get what they're calling a "light" lunch too, I'm told. The info is here.

Is the new Note as much as a captive of right-wing-driven conventional wisdom as it was under Karl Rove's personal PR rep, Mark Halperin? I like to think it isn't, but what the hell? In writing about Obama's (dumb) hiring of Jim Johnson, it highlights quotes from Commentary, The New York Sun, The Wall Street Journal edit page, and The Washington Times. (What, nothing from the John Birch Society?) OK, so they want to be inclusive? Where are their counterparts? Where are the quotes from Salon, from The American Prospect, from The Nation, from Media Matters, from CAP's columns, from Josh Marshall, etc.? These are routinely ignored by The Note, even though the work they do is by and large first rate. For the Beltway media, there is only a center and a right, and Obama better understand that these people -- so smitten with McCain -- are not his friends.

Now take a look at this from Today's Papers:

President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had both set a deadline of July 31 to finalize the agreement on the future of U.S. forces in Iraq to replace the U.N. mandate that expires at the end of the year. Although officials insist they're working with that deadline in mind, the two countries don't seem to be any closer to agreeing on a document. In addition to the 58 bases, Iraqis say the United States wants immunity for troops and contractors, control over Iraq's airspace, authority to detain Iraqis and not turn them over to the judicial system, and permission to conduct military operations without the approval of the government. But these demands could soon change as the Post reports that President Bush has instructed negotiators to be more flexible. It's difficult to get a full picture of the situation since American officials aren't talking on the record about the negotiations, so most of the information comes from the Iraqi side. And while calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops can be interpreted as an easy way for politicians to get popular support by appearing to stand up to the Americans, the papers note it's particularly significant that the sentiment is being expressed even by some members of Maliki's government. The LAT notes that some Iraqi politicians who were initially in favor of continued U.S. presence in their country have been gradually switching sides when confronted with what they see as unrealistic demands. "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore,' " one Shiite politician said. If no agreement is reached, and Iraqis don't ask for an expansion of the U.N. mandate, "U.S. troops would have no legal basis to remain in Iraq," reports the Post.

We are so used to this kind of thing it's lost its ability to shock. But think about it for a minute. On the one hand, it makes a mockery of democracy. When did this country decide we wanted a permanent occupation of Iraq? On the other hand, it is amazingly, stupidly counterproductive, per usual with this bunch. They are actually achieving the opposite of what they wish by virtue of their arrogance and incompetence. If they were working for our enemies, they could not do a better job. How sad that it barely rates as an issue in the lives of our media. The New York Observer has a long story on that here.

And then there's this, also from TP:

The Post and NYT front, and everyone mentions, news out of the campaign trail, where John McCain and Barack Obama clashed over their sharply different proposals to revive the U.S. economy. "The substantive contrast between the candidates is deep and stark, arguably sharper than between contenders in the last two presidential elections," one political analyst tells the Post. But the truth is that none of their main arguments or proposals is really new. The NYT highlights how, at least with respect to the economy, two candidates who never tire of telling voters that they're a break from the past are offering plans that are little more than "a classic clash" between Republican and Democratic ideals. There's really no mystery here as McCain favors tax cuts and a smaller government with a side order of populism, while Obama wants to generally redistribute income by raising taxes for the wealthy while cutting them for those who earn less. The one unique aspect about this debate is that since the economy keeps getting worse, the presumptive nominees are trying to signal that they would be open to tweaking their plans to adapt to changes."

Yes, very nice right-wing clichés, Mr. TP, but how about we look at the facts. Republicans favor large governments, not small ones. And Republicans want to redistribute wealth to the rich from the poor as well.

From Why We're Liberals:

Historically, American conservatives have, virtually without exception, argued on behalf of small government, balanced budgets, and fiscal prudence. At the dawn of the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994, then-House majority leader Dick Armey announced that most government programs do nothing "to help American families with the needs of everyday life," and that "very few American families would notice their disappearance." He went on to insist that "there is no reason we cannot, by the time our children come of age, reduce the federal government by half as a percentage of gross domestic product." Armey and company failed on their own terms; as the economist Paul Krugman points out, federal outlays other than interest payments and defense spending comprised 14.8 percent of GDP in fi scal 2006, compared with 13.8 percent in fiscal 1995, when Armey initially did his crowing.

Meanwhile, under President Bush, tax collections fell to 16 percent of the GDP, while overall spending rose from 18.5 percent to 20.3 percent. Taken together, this imbalance creates a massive structural deficit that coming generations must somehow make up. (During the Clinton years, federal spending actually fell as a share of GDP, from 21.4 percent in 1993 to 18.5 percent in 2001.) Republican fiscal irresponsibility in this regard dwarfs that achieved during the "taxing and spending" heyday of liberal Democrats, and yet it masks a case of even worse fiscal malfeasance that lurks barely beneath the surface: the entitlement budget. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, for instance, which today consume 7 percent of GDP, are slated to rise to 13 percent in 2030, at which time, according to present projections, they will represent 25 percent of the entire U.S. economy, or an unthinkable $700 billion a year in higher taxes. Current accounting practices allow these numbers to remain hidden to most journalists, and therefore most Americans, but the fact is, if the federal government were forced to adopt the standard accounting rules of corporate America, the 2006 federal deficit would have been more than $1.3 trillion, rather than the $248 billion claimed by the Bush administration. As of May 2007, U.S. taxpayers owed a rapidly rising $59.1 trillion in liabilities, or the equivalent of more than half a million dollars for every household.

How have the conservatives in the Bush administration and the Republican Congress sought to address this problem? True to form, they've sought to exacerbate it. Bush's plan to partially privatize social security, for instance, would have added as much as $80 billion in deficits to his final two budgets plus nearly $700 billion more to those of his successors. But these costs pale in comparison to the trillion-plus-dollar bill of Bush's corporate-friendly Medicare legislation. Representative John M. Spratt Jr., the then-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, put the cost of the first full ten years of the program at $1.4 trillion, rising to $3.5 trillion in the second decade. These obligations were, in addition to the massive Bush tax cuts, advertised to total approximately $1.7 trillion at the time, but given the likelihood that at least some of them will remain in place, rather than end on December 31, 2010, they will likely cost at least an additional $1.1 trillion beyond that.

While George W. Bush enjoys the dubious distinction of presiding over perhaps the largest negative budget swing in American history -- from a surplus of $236 billion in 2000, the year he was elected, to a deficit of $412 billion, or 3.6 percent of GDP, four years later -- he could not have accomplished this without the collusion of the conservative-controlled Congress. When Bush pretended to set a serious cost limit of $6.7 billion for tax breaks in his energy bill, Congress came back with one that would reach roughly twice that much.

The notion that these are fiscally conservative values at work is clearly preposterous. The 1,752-page Bush-Republican Congress transportation bill, for instance, turned out to be the single most expensive piece of public works legislation in U.S. history, replete with 6,376 earmarked pet projects by individual legislators. Back in 1987, when the president contemporary conservatives most revere, Ronald Reagan, vetoed what he considered an unconscionably pork-laden highway and mass transit bill, the offense had been a mere 152 earmarks. To try to appreciate the level of fiscal irresponsibility on display here, consider the size of the burden it has left for future generations. Technically, the U.S. government, like any business, is responsible for the projected value of all future expenditures. Unless it embarks on an inflation-inspiring money-printing craze, it must cover these obligations with its income from future receipts. What lies between these two numbers is a gap that by 2003 had already reached $44.2 trillion or so, on its way to roughly four times the size of the entire GDP What is perhaps most alarming about that figure -- calculated by the economists Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters in a study commissioned by then-treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, but later disowned by the U.S. government -- is that it is actually based on the government's own, sometimes laughably optimistic, projections.

And with regard to TP's second point, here are the relevant facts:

In 2005, the wealthiest 1 percent of the country earned 21.2 percent of all income, according to IRS data, while the bottom 50 percent of all Americans earned just 12.8 percent of all income, down from 13.4 percent, a year earlier. 19 Together, these two figures define a new postwar record for American economic inequality, which is believed by many economists to be greater today than at any other time since the 1920s.

For working people, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation's gross domestic product since the process of collecting this data began more than sixty years ago. In the period since 2000 the number of Americans living below the poverty line has increased by nearly a third. Meanwhile, the average CEO of a Standard & Poor's 500 company took home $13.51 million in total compensation in 2005, a year in which the top 1 percent of Americans earned nearly 22 percent of all income. Believe it or not, by 11:02 A.M. of the first day of work on the first day of the year, one of these average CEOs will "earn" more money than a minimum-wage worker in his company will make for the entire year. The media tends to treat these trends as merely the way the world works, but this is actually the essence of conservative ideology. As the political philosopher Michael Walzer pointed out in 1973:

At the very center of conservative thought lies this idea: that the present division of wealth and power corresponds to some deeper reality of human life. Conservatives don't want to say merely that the present division is what it ought to be, for that would invite a search for some distributive principle-as if it were possible to make a distribution. They want to say that whatever the division of wealth and power is, it naturally is, and that all efforts to change it, temporarily successful in proportion to their bloodiness, must be futile in the end.

One cannot help but ask: Why is this not the case in Europe or Japan? In fact, among major world economies, the United States in recent years has had the third-greatest disparity in incomes between the very top and everyone else; only Mexico and Russia are worse.

ProPublica is live, now, here.

Little Steven on the death of Bo Diddley:

"Little Richard invented Rock and Roll as we know it, Chuck Berry is its Poet Laureate, but Bo Diddley was the Grand Daddy of Garage Rock. The most covered artist by the British Invasion, he stole the show at our Underground Garage Festival in 2004 from the likes of the New York Dolls, and Iggy and the Stooges, both of whom covered him in their criminal youth. The Pretty Things named their band after one of his songs, the Rolling Stones were discovered in a club named after another. He rocked the world for 50 years and it'll never be enough. Gonna miss you Bo." [posted here]

From TomDispatch:

Responding to an angry State Department official, who called a forced assignment to Baghdad a "potential death sentence," Condoleezza Rice's deputy, David Satterfield, said: "This is an expeditionary world. For better or worse, it requires an expeditionary service."

Those phrases caught Tom Engelhardt's eye back in October 2007. An expeditionary world. An expeditionary service. How typical of the muscled-up, faintly un-American phrases -- think "homeland," "regime change," "enhanced interrogation techniques," "extraordinary rendition" -- that the Bush administration has made part of our vocabulary. "These were," he writes in a piece adapted from the introduction to his new book, The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire,"years when American men (and a few women) put on the pith helmets they had last seen in imperial adventure films in the movie theaters of their childhoods, imagined themselves as the imperial masters of a global Pax Americana (as well as a domestic Pax Republicana), and managed to sound as if they were surging across the planet with Rudyard Kipling at their side."

Think of his piece -- a description of one man's online "expeditionary" journey through George W. Bush's world -- as a little up-to-the-minute alternative history of these mad years when Bush the Younger ruled. It takes you from the moment the president and his pals put on those pith helmets (when oil was still about $20 a barrel) to late last night, when two failed wars had helped drive that price well above $130 a barrel and the president's job approval rating down to 25 percent in the latest poll.

Take a roller-coaster ride through the "Pearl Harbor" of our age, the president's "crusade," the pretzeled legal memos, Zawahiri's head (that wasn't), the building of modern military ziggurats in Iraq, and the fate of a faith-based administration (whose most fundamental religious belief was in the application of force). Consider as well the missing stories of these years, which could largely be found only on the political Internet and the role that Internet and sites like TomDispatch played in offering a different vision of how our world worked.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Chuck
Hometown: Kansas City

Here we go again, another election year and the media ignore more BushCo scandals, from Abramoff to Iraq War Lies/Pentagon Propaganda to Telecom Immunity/illegal wiretapping, and on and on. The anchors, pundits, and journalists all buy into the spin, or adopt the 'nothing to see here, keep moving along folks' line. And yet Obama's past is dissected by the likes of Limbaugh, Fox, and Drudge, trying to find something the so-called liberal mainstream media will pick up and run with.

Is there a way to fight this, and bring the attention back where it belongs? I'm actually becoming resigned to adopting the Rove playbook, and hoping someone with deep pockets will fund a group like Vietnam POW Vets for the Truth and run ads accusing McCain of all kinds of scurrilous crap to negate his tough guy war hero persona. Sigh.

Name: Dan Garfinkel
Hometown: Pittsburgh

Anyone who expected Sam Zell to maintain or encourage any sort of journalistic standards at the Tribune Company was hopelessly naive. And the subsequent hiring of the "talent" from Clear Channel that is collectively responsible for disemboweling the radio business should end any further conjecture that the Tribune will survive long as a meaningful source of anything but revenue to Sam Zell. And even that, not for very long.

Name: Clay Landon
Hometown: Los Angeles

I am now convinced that if Fox News visited my school, they would think I was teaching kids to be terrorists. I mean, I do the "terrorist fist bump" with my kids every damn day!

I could be in trouble, no?

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Glenn Greenwald's blog has a great story about the NY Times spreading the administration's fear-mongering rumors about what would happen if Congress doesn't give Bush everything that he wants in order to spy on Americans and anyone else he wants. But again, the media is concentrating on a red herring instead of getting to the real issue.

It is obvious to anyone paying attention that Bush doesn't give a damn whether Congress allows him to spy on Americans or not. The fact that something was illegal has never stopped this president from breaking the law in the past. He just finds a lawyer to write an opinion saying he's in the right or he attaches a signing statement to bills that he wants to ignore. I even think that he believes in his heart that he isn't breaking the law. After all, there are a lot of people smarter than he is telling him so, allowing him to sleep at night without thinking about all those messy legal issues that advisors have to take an hour to explain to him.

Of course the real issue is power, as is usually the case with Republican scandals. This president (and vice-president) wants the power to do anything he wants without any meddling from Congress or the press or anyone else. Every decision is looked at through the "Unitary Executive" lens to see whether it enhances the president's power or diminishes that power, and protecting the telecom companies who broke the law by enabling the government to spy on Americans is just another step to increase the power of the president. Lawsuits against these companies might uncover the extent that this administration has shredded the 4th amendment, and shedding light on their activities might lead to serious consequences against those companies. They might start following the law, which would make it harder for the government to spy on Americans, and that is what the administration is really afraid of. They could care less about terrorism -- it's all about power.

Name: Bill
Hometown: Mill Valley, Calif.

Greg Mitchell writes, "When he gets to Iraq, Fleischer cherry-picks a few tough questions, but the only reporter he identifies is -- are you ready? -- Helen Thomas, the most outspoken of all the White House reporters in that period." Mitchell notes that most of Fleischer's "tough questions" come from transcripts, no reporter's name reported. Mitchell suspects that most of those were Thomas' too. (Few if any by James Guckert, more than likely.)

Yes, this would be the same Helen Thomas whose front-and-center seat in the press room that same Ari Fleischer had moved to the back of said press room and who made well known the fact that Ms. Thomas was not to be called on, thereby shunning and publicly humiliating this icon of the journalistic trade. This was all done to the amusement of the assembled press corps, who apparently thought they were in on the joke rather than being the butt of it. (Plug alert: This and other sickening tidbits about the public failure of White House journalism were reported with his customary savagery by James Wolcott in the article "Round Up the Cattle," which ran in the June 03 Vanity Fair, if memory serves. And no, I do not work for James Wolcott.)

To this Nixon-era veteran, the overall performance of our mass newsmedia in one of the biggest stories since the Civil War is mind-numbing in its horrible historical irony -- irony made even more painful by the openness of the perps, Nixon men all. The genius lives on.

Also: props to Dennis Kucinich for calling these mfers out, if I may be so bold.

Name: Roy Hanley
Hometown: Atascadero, CA

I wanted to also thank you for the links to and your ready encouragement of postings by the Lt. Col. It lends credence to your goal of having your blog be about issues, and not about politics. I often just send my compliments directly to Bob, and as he has said in postings here, he always, and I mean always, has responded even when my email clearly was not seeking nor did it require one. I am interested in political sites as well, but I take particular pleasure coming here to read about ideas and things. Yes those ideas and things relate to our politics, but the discussions are not generally about the politics of the ideas and things. My favorite thing about the Lt Col's postings is that they always make me think about what he is talking about, and although I am sure he has his viewpoints, I know that I can not always discern them in his writings, for he seems to know that he can make me think more if there is a little mystery to that.

Thanks again for giving me an enjoyable place to spend some time thinking almost everyday.

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