Saturday, April 29, 2006

Why Darfur Matters

Let's See Ann Coulter Brag Now, Beeatches!

(Ed. Note: I'm not sure why I attributed this stuff to Coulter, altho she could and probably has said it. The intereview I cite, however, features another frigid blonde, Laura Ingraham. Mea culpa. I try to be accurate.)

You may recall I posted about an exchange that James Carville had with Ann Coulter on the Today Show a month ago or so. During the course of that discussion, Coulter called into question the courage of journalists who reported from "the balconies of hotels in Iraq" about all the bad news going on there, while she was on the ground with the soldiers.

I might point out, those were American, well-armed, soldiers who appeared, based on the photos, to be miles behind any action. Be that as it may, that ridiculous and obnoxious (obnoxious, because she was saying it on the network that lost David Bloom during the Gulf War to an injury directly attributable to being in action) comment now has a smackdown.

Academy Award winning actor George Clooney and his father, Nick, a columnist for the Cincinnati Post traveled to Darfur in Sudan to witness firsthand the genocidal slaughter and ethnic cleansing of black Sudanese by Arabic Muslims in that region of Africa.

They went without a guide. They went without any formal military escort and without the permission of the Sudanese government.

In short, bitch Coulter, they put their asses on the line to do some REAL reporting and weren't running around wasting precious American resources and military might to get some debutant to the dance on time. They were journalists.

Excerpts from Nick Clooney's column, Friday, April 28:
"They came from the sky," one told me. "Bombers and helicopters with guns. They shot us down. We did not know why they came. We hid children. There was quiet for a time, then we heard horses' hooves and they were on us. They slaughtered everything, our cattle, our goats. They killed. They killed. We ran."

How many in your family were killed? I asked.

"Nine." Another man said "seven." Another held up three fingers.

Who did it? I asked. They were hesitant. "The tora-bora," said a chief. That is slang for renegade militia, random thugs and others.

George spoke to a group of women. They told him of the attack, the torture, the pillaging. Who did it? he asked. "The janjaweed!" shouted one woman. Yes. The hated "devil riders."

We heard dozens of harrowing stories. "You must help us. There must be peace." What do you need right now? we asked. "Plastic sheeting. The rainy season is in two weeks and we have no shelter from the rain." Would they go back to Darfur? "Never. There is nothing there."

Meantime our little group had its first casualty. Mike Herron collapsed from heat stroke. After a brief hospital stay, he returned to the states, cursing his luck. George would take over camera duties.
Here that, MAnn Coulter? Put your scrawny little ass on the line like an Academy Award winning actor, or shut the fuck up!

For those of us who DON'T live on Cloud City, here's the Clooney interview from Today.

Pay close attention to how, even when refugees stream over the border into Chad, they are still harassed, and killed, even for a pail of water.

Rallies are tomorrow. Find one. Go.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Weh-hell, It Looks Like New York Dems ARE Relevant, After All!

Democrats Look to Clinton and Spitzer for Help in Winning House

April 21 (Bloomberg) -- The Democrats' prospects for winning control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November may rest with two high-powered New York politicians who aren't even running for seats: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Eliot Spitzer.

Clinton, who's likely to win easy re-election to the Senate, and Spitzer, the state attorney general who is leading in polls to become the next governor, might help the Democrats pick up as many as six New York congressional seats -- more than one-third of the 15 they need nationally to gain a House majority.

The two are so strong politically that they may lift Democratic candidates across the state, said Lee Miringoff, director of the Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in Poughkeepsie. Spitzer, 46, led potential Republican candidates by margins ranging from 18 to 66 percentage points in a Qunnipiac University poll last month; a Marist poll earlier this year found that 54 percent of New Yorkers ``definitely'' plan to vote for Clinton, 58.

``It could turn into a Democratic year in New York, which might then have an impact on down-ballot races for Congress,'' Miringoff said.
Interesting. Let's see how this works:
House Democratic candidates such as Kirsten Gillibrand are campaigning on the theme that their Republican opponents are too closely tied to President George W. Bush's policies.

Gillibrand is seeking the Democratic nomination in New York's 20th District to challenge four-term incumbent Republican Representative John Sweeney.

Democrats are also targeting seats held by Republicans Sherwood Boehlert, Randy Kuhl, Tom Reynolds, James Walsh, and Sue Kelly, said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He said Democrats may have an advantage because of a flagging economy in upstate New York, and will be helped by the candidates at the top of the ticket.
Now, Boehlert has already announced he will not seek re-election. He's been in Congress for 24 years now, and one imagines that, as a moderate Republican, he's probably had enough of the nonsense that passes for a legislative agenda.
Kuhl won a first term in Congress in 2004 with just 51 percent of the vote, making his southwestern New York district a top target this year. He will probably face off in November against Democrat Eric Massa, a former Navy officer and special assistant to General Wesley Clark.
That he pulled 51% of the vote as a newbie in New York State in a year when Bush couldn't be seen on the political radar (except for his appearance at the RNC, see below) is no small matter, but he replaced Republican Amo Houghton, one of the genuinely nice guys and smart guys in Congress (I know, I've spoken with him at length). My suspicion is, coupled with his....shall we say, less than spotless marital record?...he might be a bit vulnerable on his record, or lack thereof.
Reynolds, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, is being challenged by his 2004 opponent, businessman Jack Davis, who won 44 percent of the vote in the Buffalo suburban district last time
Now, Reynolds is running in a district that sees Tim Russert regularly, and during the 2000 Senatorial campaign, you may recall that Buffalo hosted the infamous Lazio manuever during a debate, when Republican Rick Lazio assaulted Hillary Clinton.

What you may not recall from that debate was the strong note made regarding the lackluster economy in the Buffalo area. Some progress has been made, based on a recent trip I took up that way, but clearly more can and should be done to improve what has always been a fine working class town. It's cities like Buffalo that deserve America's attention.
Walsh's leading Democratic challenger, former House Ways and Means Committee aide Dan Maffei, has raised $207,000 so far, compared with the $381,000 raised by the nine-term lawmaker. The Syracuse district gave Kerry 50 percent of its vote in 2004 to 48 percent for Bush.
You might be noticing a pattern here: all of these seats are in western New York state. The demographics up there have altered somewhat over the past six years, and certainly more rapidly over the past two. Kerry won the district. Gore won the district, but by a slightly larger margin. Could be a toss-up.
The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan Washington newsletter, has Kelly's race on a watch list because the district gave Bush only 53 percent of the vote in 2004. As many as six Democrats may face off in a September primary to take Kelly on in November. The front-runner, lawyer Judith Aydelott, has raised $466,000 to Kelly's $1 million.
Hey now! Where's John Hall in all this??? He's "Still the One"!

More in-depth info at, and a hat tip to, the Working Families Party Journal

Under Construction

Loyal readers of Simply Left Behind will remember that I have had some small sport with the "progress" at Ground Zero. To-wit, you may recall this little grandstand play of the governor (and Mayor Bloomberg):
That happened just prior to the Republican National Convention, a sort of beauty pageant for the morbidly ugly souls of America. Consider this cornerstone placement as the fireworks display that preceded the opening and the tossing out of the first gall.

Today comes this news:
Real deal for WTC site
It took leadership to get here, and it’ll take even more in the years to come

April 27, 2006

Isn't it amazing what a little leadership can accomplish? What progress can be made on the toughest of problems when the metro area's top officials work together for the common good? That's the only reason for this week's workable agreement to redevelop the grounds of the World Trade Center.

Until the governors of New York and New Jersey and the mayor of New York City agreed to a common negotiating tactic with the site's lessee, it was a ground zero for progress. More than four years after two jets destroyed the Twin Towers, killing thousands, the project has languished in a political, legal and financial swamp.
So the agreement is reached. What's next?
NEW YORK -- After spending months wrangling for control of buildings and money at ground zero, politicians and a private developer prepared to roll out trucks Thursday to mark the beginning of construction of the Freedom Tower, the symbolic skyscraper designed to replace the destroyed World Trade Center.
Yah huh. Is this another grandstand play? I mean, four...almost five...years after the attacks, and TWO years after the laying of the cornerstone, mirabile dictu, the Trade Center site will rise again!

Waiting For Godot, anyone?


Oh....and that "cornerstone"? Granite, solid, should last throughout eternity as it is made of the stuff the planet is made of?
Politicians broke ground on the tower for the first time on July 4, 2004, with a 20-ton inscribed granite cornerstone that has remained encased in blue plywood since construction stalled.
A fitting dénouement to a tragic bit of New York political theatre.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pan Of A Thousand Days

See that counter over on the right sidebar? "Days Until The Chimp Is Drummed Out Of Office:"? Just under the Google ads?

Party time. Sing along with me...

School's Out

Well, we got no choice
All the girls and boys
Makin' all that noise
'Cause they found new toys
Well, we can't salute ya
Can't find a flag
If that don't suit ya
Life's a drag

School's out for summer
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks

Well, we got no class
And we got no principals
And we got no innocence
We can't even think of a word that rhymes

School's out for summer
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks
Out for summer
Out 'til fall
We might not go back at all

School's out forever
School's out for summer
School's out with fever
School's out completely

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bush's Approval Rating Keeps Tanking

Some other random surveys for comparative purposes

So what have we learned today?

We've learned that about as many people like Bush as watched curling, that Barry Bonds, an all-but-admitted criminal, scores slightly lower in approval ratings than Bush, that about as many people approve of Bush as know some idiot who's home schooling their kids (ain't that telling?), but fewer people won't take a vacation this year...

...probably because Bush sucked up all their vacation time!

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Contest Time!

Over at The Fifth Estate, my good friend "Brit" is running...well, OK, he's not running, but I started one in his reply thread...a contest to find the best title for outgoing press secretary Scott McLellan's memoirs.

Go for it, folks! And read the piece....*sniff* choked me up....

Hu Hears A Horton

The U.S.- China energy dance
Countries should cooperate over oil

April 25, 2006

As summits go, the one between President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao last week was a subdued and seemingly unproductive affair, aside from some minor concessions by China on the protection of intellectual property rights.

But of keen interest to Americans who see gasoline prices rising daily, Bush suggested to Hu that China expand its nuclear power to generate electricity. It was a pointed allusion to China's growing thirst for oil to keep its economy pumping out the exports that have flooded the American market.
So, Mr. Bush, why does it have to be China that has to risk its citizens for our benefit?
[China] now has some 60 percent of Sudan's oil flowing its way, has signed a $78-billion oil contract with Iran and is negotiating with other oil-producing nations for similar deals. After his summit with Bush, Hu also met with Saudi Arabia's leaders, who said oil cooperation with China is on track.
Starting to see the picture here, folks? Why it has to be China that moves towards nuclear power? Hu is directly picking Bush-and-Cheney's pocket, and it's pissing them off.

If the United States-- Republicans in particular-- hadn't been so short-sighted about energy when there was a chance to nip this problem in the bud, we wouldn't be in Iraq. We wouldn't be in Afghanistan. We wouldn't have half the Muslim world mad at us, and we wouldn't be lurching towards war with China.

The was all avoidable. Flat out avoidable. The strides we've made in the past ten years would have been made thirty years ago, and likely today, we'd have a totally Middle East-independent energy policy, with local distributed energy networks supplying most of us with all the power we need, and then some.

Think about it. The August 2003 blackout would have been a localized affair, limited to that small section of the Great Lakes region where the breakdown occured, as opposed to affecting, well, basically the world. Energy prices would not only be stable, but also lower, as each individual region would determine the best, most effective way to provide its residents with power and use that, whether it be wind, solar, oil & gas, coal, or nuclear. There would be no artificial means of enriching the pockets of petroleum producers by forcing communities to slave for oil. The Federal government could have funded alternative energy programs, and probably have received a wealth dividend in return (low cost loans whose repayments would be tied to the level of production, which in turn could be run as quasi-private industry, with no profit limitation, but a definite price ceiling).

And yet we're lecturing China to build nuke plants that are costly as all hell...we could have been spending all this time and money working on improving nuclear efficiency and more important, safety, instead of depleting our Cold War peace dividend on new weapons systems for outdated warfare.


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Hat Tip To Miss C for letting me crib a photo from her blog. Again.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Promise Gone Awry

(Hat tip to Ed Bremson, proprietor of the fine blog, The Tao of Politics. Go buy his books.)

Farmer suicide on rise as India's rural crisis deepens

YAVATMAL, India (AFP) - Despite failed crops and mounting debts, the family of Indian cotton farmer Chandrakant Gurenule never believed his suicide threats until he set himself alight and fled their home in flames.

The ambitious 34-year-old bought the latest, expensive, high-yield genetically-modified cotton seeds for his 15-acre (six-hectare) farm in this parched corner of India's vast rural hinterland only for his crops to fail for two successive years.

He sold the pair of bullocks he used to plough the fields, and told his wife -- whose wedding jewellery had already been given to unofficial moneylenders -- there was no hope left.

He sat inside his home, doused himself in kerosene and lit a match.

His death on April 1 was one of the latest in a crisis that saw more than 4,100 farmers commit suicide in the western state of Maharashtra alone in 2004, according to a state government-backed report based on police figures.
Why, you ask?
Desperate and debt-ridden with loan sharks demanding up to 120 percent annual interest, the failed harvests and tumbling prices have driven businesses to the wall and farmers to suicide.
OK, but why is it so expensive to farm cotton in India?

Well, two words: American greed.
Three years ago, the Gurenules, persuaded by their local farm agent, took the first step to move into raising GM (ed. note Genetically Modified) crops, and trials gave good results.

They increased the amount they bought the following year, even though the cost of one bag of seed was 1,600 rupees, compared with the 450 rupees they used to pay, but that year's crop failed because of drought.

So they bought even more as part of a 70,000-rupee (1,500-dollar) cultivation bill. [T]he crop failed when it was washed away by too much rain. [...]

Investigators for India's monopoly monitors earlier this month accused US biotech group Monsanto, which has a tight grip on the GM market, of overpricing its cotton seeds, charging so-called "technology fees" on seed packets.

The investigators called the price "exorbitant" and said it "imposes unjustified costs on the farmers by way of manipulation of prices".

Monsanto declined to comment on the investigation but said "based on interactions with key stakeholders" it had reduced its "technology fees" for the coming season.
That's not quite true, however:
Delta and Pine Land Company announces first quarter fiscal 2006 operating results, acquires Indian seed company.
(FULL DISCLOUSE I control a small stake in Delta And Pine Land Company, less than one percent).

The whole promise of GM was to increase crop yields and drive down prices for poorer nations. I invested in a company that specialized (at that time) in cotton, because it was a non-consumable, meaning it was not going to be eaten by humans or feed animals, thus its benefits would greatly outweigh any "Frankenfood"-type concerns. Monsanto is a direct competitor of DLP, and while I was tempted, I felt Monsanto's other product lines were too risky, environmentally speaking.

So here's a product designed to improve life for what amounts to subsistence farming: cheap, hardy, and higher yielding.

So what does Monsanto do? Jacks up the price. And now we see 9,000 farmers have committed suicide for the benefit of Monsanto's bottom line.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Wait...This Book Is By A CONSERVATIVE???

America's borrower-industrial complex

By Marshall Loeb, MarketWatch
Last Update: 5:01 AM ET Apr 23, 2006

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- A fast-rising new book by a provocative conservative shows how the debt explosion is hurting our country

Almost overnight, it has hurtled to the top of the best seller lists. Its title is "American Theocracy," its author is Kevin Phillips, a former top Republican strategist and leading conservative intellectual, about whom Time magazine once wrote, "in the shoot-from-the-hip world of Washington prognostication, Kevin Phillips stands out like Nostradamus."
Now his controversial argument, which clearly has struck a chord, is that America is deeply endangered by a combination of three forces:

One: The nation's global overreach, demonstrated by the so-far-unsuccessful invasion of Iraq.

Two: The surge of militant, fundamentalist, evangelical, right-wing religion in the U.S.

Three: America's ballooning debt, which has mortgaged the country's economic health to financial speculation.
Holy shit....maybe the end times really ARE near!

Let's look at that last point in depth, since Loeb has read the book, I have not, and he talks on this point. Plus, I think that long term, this point has more meaning than the other two, easily correctable errors of judgement:
Phillips argues that the U.S. economy is being kept afloat by a splurge in consumption that is being financed by awesome debt. Americans carry an average of eight credit cards per household and pay interest charges of 19% to 25% on their balances. Between 1990 and 2003 the number of people holding credit cards jumped by 75% -- from 82 million to 144 million -- but the amount actually charged exploded by 350%, up from $338 billion to $1.5 trillion.
Yes, it is really true that Americans spend more than they earn. For every $1 that they earned in 2004, debt-engulfed Americans spent $1.04. Their mantra became, "I shop, therefore I am."
Lest you think it's only you. We're all paying out money we've promised to earn. Four percent may not sound like much, but compare it to just about any other developed nation, including those so-called "high tax socialist havens" like Scandanavia, where despite higher taxes, people manage to sock away upwards of ten percent of their earnings each year.

Now you're talking a 14% deficit.

It would be easy for the Right to blame consumers (which they would anyway...damned Americans and their Game Boys and iPods...a nonsensical argument if I've ever heard one), but it's not just consumers spending money they don't have. Debt implies risk, and it appears corporate America is filled with gamblers looking to bluff with a pair of threes:
Meanwhile, record issuance of low-rated bonds prompts David Hamilton, director of corporate bond default research at Moody's to observe that "this percentage of really risky debt is unprecedented."
Moody's a long-established debt rating service, and so has some experience with this issue.

Phillips is no long-haired, sandal wearing vegan Beetle driver, either. Let's take a look at his analysis of all this:
[During the Bush administration] A substantial part of Washington's strategy, writes Phillips, has been to create a low-interest-rate boom in real estate, thereby raising the percentage of American home ownership, ballooning the price of homes and allowing householders to take out some of that price increase through low-cost financing. Through home-equity loans, owners turned their houses into ATM machines.[...]

The media relayed a war-time initiative: "Uncle Sam wants you to borrow."

"Never before," writes Phillips, "have political leaders urged such large-scale indebtedness on the American consumer to rally the economy."

Meanwhile, he notes, there was a troubling growth in U.S. income inequality. "The top one percent of Americans in 2000 had as much disposable (after tax) as the bottom 100 million, or 35 percent of the population."

One of the reasons was that the U.S. economy -- and the labor force -- was fast shifting away from manufacturing, toward financial services. Congress, lubricated by lobbyists, sped the process by deregulating banking and other financial services in the late 1990s. Banks were allowed to buy brokerages, securities firms were permitted to acquire life insurance companies, or be acquired by them.
Guess who gets hit the hardest by this simultaneous loss of income and increase in debt....
The debt and credit explosion hit many groups of Americans, but none more than the elderly. Those reaching retirement during the 2000s were less likely to own their homes than before. Those already over 65, said The New York Times, not only have the fastest-growing home debt but also the fastest-growing share of bankruptcy filings and the biggest growth in demand for credit counseling.

More and more of the elderly are in outright financial distress. One in seven households headed by someone 45 or older was considered heavily indebted in 2001 -- devoting at least 40 percent of their income to debt payments.
It's that last bit that I find the most troubling.

People over 45 are in their prime earnings years, or just about to start them. This is when you squirrel away money for retirement, for your kids' college funds, and have a cushion in case of health problems, which start to happen around this time of life.

So what happens now? How many people will go on welfare, only to find out they can't? How many will file bankruptcy hoping for a clean start, only to find out how much harder it is now to declare? How many will simply walk away from their debts?

Which will destroy the American economy. Flat out. It will make the Great Depression seem like a picnic.

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