Archive for July, 2005

All New SoonerThought Gear on Sale Now!

Sunday, July 31st, 2005

All New SoonerThought.com merchandise on sale now! T-shrts, mugs, aprons, stickers, coasters and more!

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LAWYERS GUNS AND MONEY

Sunday, July 31st, 2005

“Just Put Down That Law Suit, Pardner, and No One Gets Hurt.”

Saturday, July 30, 2005
Originally published in The Guardian (London)

by Greg Palast

NEW YORK - There are 200 million guns in civilian hands in the United States. That works out at 200 per lawyer. Wade through the foaming websites of the anti-Semites, weekend militiamen and Republicans, and it becomes clear that many among America’s well-armed citizenry have performed the same calculation. Because if there is any hope of the ceasefire that they fear, it will come out of the barrel of a lawsuit.

And that is why a shoot-to-kill coalition in the Senate, led by Wild Bill Frist (R-Tenn) and his simpering sidekick, Scary Harry Reid (D-Nev), voted yesterday to grant immunity from law suits to gun makers.

First, the score. Gunshot deaths in the US are way down - to only 88 a day. Around 87,000 lucky Americans were treated for bullet wounds last year; 32,436 unlucky ones died, including a dozen policemen by their own weapons.

For Americans, America remains more deadly than Iraq.

In one typical case, a young man, Steven Fox, described feeling pieces of his brain fly from his skull after a mugger shot him. He is permanently paralyzed.

But, hey, that’s business for you. And what a business it is. Guns, ammo and accessories are a $6 billion-a-year honey pot for several corporations: Glock, Smith & Wesson, Colt and too many others.

But, the gun-o-philiacs say, what does po’ widdle Smith & Wesson have to do with a mugger who uses its gun in an unsocial manner?

This cop-out drives Elisa Barnes crazy. Barnes is the lawyer who brought the groundbreaking lawsuit against handgun manufacturers which, for the first time, were found negligent in abetting a criminal.

It’s lawyers like Barnes — and victims like Fox — that the Senate went gunning for.

Barnes thought it was just too convenient for gun makers to blame the criminal alone. Through investigation and statistical analysis she concluded that sales to criminals are a much-valued - if unpublicized - market segment sought out and provisioned by these upstanding manufacturers.

Her calculations are compelling. Gun companies dumped several million weapons into outlets in states with few curbs on purchases, super-saturating the legal market so that excess would flow up the “Iron Pipeline” to meet black market demand in New York and other big cities.

Like the company that sells cigarette rolling papers in quantities far outstripping sales of legal tobacco, gun manufacturers have a nod-and-wink understanding of where their products end up. Their market models cannot account for half the gun sales in loose-law states such as Georgia.

Nor can industry executives fail to have noticed the 800,000 requests to them from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency to trace guns recovered from crime scenes.

The Fox case jury found a dozen gun makers guilty of negligent distribution. The shooter’s gun was never found. Unable to determine which company made the gun that fired the bullet into Fox’s head, the jury ordered all the makers of .25 caliber weapons in the case to pony up $5 million for Fox’s care and pain.

Fox’s victory burst the dam. Several hundred lawyers - including the Costanza group, the combine of firms that mangled the tobacco industry - filed suits to make sure the gun industry feels our pain. New Orleans was the first of thirty cities in court demanding that gun purveyors pay the cost of gathering the wounded off the streets, and the cost of arming the municipal police force in self-defense. The legal profession might have finally accomplished what a cowering Congress dare not consider: shutting down firearms sales at source.

The NAACP weighed in with a massive class-action suit on behalf of thousands of the wounded and dead, based on yet another theory: product liability. I spoke to one of their counsel, Mike Hausfeld, just after he returned from beating Hitler in a US courtroom.

Fifty years after WWII, Hausfeld’s firm brought a suit against Mercedes-Benz, Siemens, BASF and others who used slave labor from concentration and prison camps under the Nazi regime. The defendants agreed to create a $1.2 billion compensation fund.

Hausfeld concedes the companies were acting under orders of the Reich, but points out: “Contemporary industrial empires were made from those profits. In 1938 Henry Ford received a medal from the Fhrer, and his German plants continued to provide Ford income through 1942. Those profits belong to the victims.”

Hitler’s manufacturers finally coughed up their blood money when the defense, “We were only taking orders,” failed to impress US judges.

Glock’s profits belong too its victims as well. But as soon as our President signs the new immunity law, “We were only taking orders” (for more guns) will be a Bush-blessed defense.

Republican Majority Leader Frist makes a big deal about being a doctor. He must believe the Hippocratic Oath changed from, “First, do no harm,” to “Shoot first, then run for President.”

It’s not nice to say, but there’s only one way to stop Doctor Death. In 2008, I hope to see the headline, “Senator Frist Slain in a Hail of Ballots.”

**********
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Subscribe to his commentaries at www.GregPalast.com.

French Family Values

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

July 29, 2005

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Americans tend to believe that we do everything better than anyone else. That belief makes it hard for us to learn from others. For example, I’ve found that many people refuse to believe that Europe has anything to teach us about health care policy. After all, they say, how can Europeans be good at health care when their economies are such failures?

Now, there’s no reason a country can’t have both an excellent health care system and a troubled economy (or vice versa). But are European economies really doing that badly?

The answer is no. Americans are doing a lot of strutting these days, but a head-to-head comparison between the economies of the United States and Europe - France, in particular - shows that the big difference is in priorities, not performance. We’re talking about two highly productive societies that have made a different tradeoff between work and family time. And there’s a lot to be said for the French choice.

First things first: given all the bad-mouthing the French receive, you may be surprised that I describe their society as “productive.” Yet according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, productivity in France - G.D.P. per hour worked - is actually a bit higher than in the United States.

It’s true that France’s G.D.P. per person is well below that of the United States. But that’s because French workers spend more time with their families.

O.K., I’m oversimplifying a bit. There are several reasons why the French put in fewer hours of work per capita than we do. One is that some of the French would like to work, but can’t: France’s unemployment rate, which tends to run about four percentage points higher than the U.S. rate, is a real problem. Another is that many French citizens retire early. But the main story is that full-time French workers work shorter weeks and take more vacations than full-time American workers.

The point is that to the extent that the French have less income than we do, it’s mainly a matter of choice. And to see the consequences of that choice, let’s ask how the situation of a typical middle-class family in France compares with that of its American counterpart.

The French family, without question, has lower disposable income. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out.

But there are compensations for this lower level of consumption. Because French schools are good across the country, the French family doesn’t have to worry as much about getting its children into a good school district. Nor does the French family, with guaranteed access to excellent health care, have to worry about losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills.

Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together. Fully employed French workers average about seven weeks of paid vacation a year. In America, that figure is less than four.

So which society has made the better choice?

I’ve been looking at a new study of international differences in working hours by Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser, at Harvard, and Bruce Sacerdote, at Dartmouth. The study’s main point is that differences in government regulations, rather than culture (or taxes), explain why Europeans work less than Americans.

But the study also suggests that in this case, government regulations actually allow people to make a desirable tradeoff - to modestly lower income in return for more time with friends and family - the kind of deal an individual would find hard to negotiate. The authors write: “It is hard to obtain more vacation for yourself from your employer and even harder, if you do, to coordinate with all your friends to get the same deal and go on vacation together.”

And they even offer some statistical evidence that working fewer hours makes Europeans happier, despite the loss of potential income.

It’s not a definitive result, and as they note, the whole subject is “politically charged.” But let me make an observation: some of that political charge seems to have the wrong sign.

American conservatives despise European welfare states like France. Yet many of them stress the importance of “family values.” And whatever else you may say about French economic policies, they seem extremely supportive of the family as an institution. Senator Rick Santorum, are you reading this?

E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com

Bush’s Approval Rating Under the Basement

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

The American people awaken?

Bush Approval at 44%

A new Gallup Poll finds a decline in George W. Bush’s job approval rating. After standing at 49% approval in the prior two CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls conducted this month, now just 44% of Americans say they approve of Bush, a new low mark for the president. The poll also shows a drop in Bush’s favorable rating to 48%, which is the first time it has dropped below 50% since Gallup began tracking this opinion in 1999. Four in 10 Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, which is essentially unchanged from early July. The poll shows continued positive momentum for the Democratic Party in terms of national party identification and ratings of the two major political parties, both of which were evident before the drop in Bush approval occurred.
The July 25-28 Gallup Poll finds 44% of Americans approving and 51% disapproving of the job Bush is doing as president. Bush’s prior low approval rating was 45%, which occurred once in March and once again in June of this year.

46 percent of Americans are reported to doubt Bush’s honesty

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

Many Americans mistrust Bush and his effectiveness, a poll finds - The Boston Globe - Boston.com - Washington - News

By Will Lester, Associated Press | July 20, 2005

WASHINGTON — Americans have growing doubts about President Bush’s honesty and effectiveness, according to a new survey. The poll was taken at a time when people are uneasy with the war in Iraq, uncertain about the economy, and nervous about a terrorist threat.

Almost half of those in the poll, 49 percent, said they believe the president is trustworthy, while almost as many, 46 percent, said he is not, according to the Pew Research Center, which released the survey yesterday. Bush recorded 62 percent on this measure in a September 2003 Pew poll, and 56 percent in a Gallup poll in April. One of Bush’s strong suits throughout his presidency has been the perception by a majority of people that he is honest.

The reported decline in trust in Bush arose as the White House was answering questions about Karl Rove’s purported involvement in the leak a CIA operative’s name.

‘’If the economy were doing better, the Iraq war wasn’t as tenuous and people weren’t as uneasy about terrorism, then they might be willing to cut Bush some slack on the Rove issue,” said Robert Shapiro, who specializes in public opinion at Columbia University. ‘’And it’s all tied back to how the war was justified, so it raises all those issues as well.”

Only half the public is following the allegations that Rove had leaked the identity of a CIA operative, according to Pew. Democrats are more inclined to say Rove should resign.

In the GOP, about four in 10 Republicans said Rove should not resign; about the same number said they were not sure.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, said an analysis of the survey suggests that the Rove controversy is contributing to the president’s credibility problem. The belief that Rove has committed a serious offense is having an impact on Bush’s ratings on believability, he said.

Only a fourth of people interviewed for an ABC News poll, released this week, said they believe the White House has been cooperating fully with the investigation of the CIA leak.

About half, 49 percent, in the Pew poll said they approve of the job being done by Bush on terrorism; this was as low as he has been on that issue since Sept. 11, 2001. Many independents have abandoned Bush on the terror fight.

Bush’s job approval in the Pew poll was 44 percent; 48 percent disapproved.

The poll of 1,502 adults was taken from July 13 to 17. It reported a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Tales From Inside the Bunker

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

With all the distractions put up by the Bushites (Supreme Court nomination, possible Bolton interim appointment, etc.) it’s vital that all of us keep the Rove scandal on the front burner as much as possible. This piece by Gallagher is by far the best I’ve run across so far.–Jake

KARL ROVE: AN AMERICAN TRAITOR

By Bill Gallagher
Niagara Falls Reporter

DETROIT — It is the holy of holies, the sanctum sanctorum, the secret underground bunker where Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bushevik Buddha, holds court, shares his wisdom and issues orders. It is also a crime scene. It’s the dark cave where Cheney and other conspirators plotted the outing of an undercover CIA officer. And when their treasonous deed was exposed, they used this vile den to map their cover-up plan, which mounting evidence shows may well have included perjury and obstruction of justice.
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Something Rotten in Ohio

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

AlterNet: Something Rotten in Ohio

By Gore Vidal, The Nation
Posted on June 14, 2005, Printed on July 26, 2005
http://www.alternet.org/story/22222/

Outside the oil and gas junta that controls two and a half branches of our government (the half soon to be whole is the judiciary), there was a good deal of envy at the late British election among those Americans who are serious about politics. Little money was spent by the three parties and none for TV advertising. Results were achieved swiftly and cheaply. Best of all, the three party leaders were quizzed sharply and intelligently by ordinary citizens known quaintly as subjects, thanks to the ubiquitous phantom crown so unlike our nuclear-taloned predatory eagle. Although news of foreign countries seldom appears in our tightly censored media (and good news, never), those of us who are addicted to C-SPAN and find it the one truly, if unconsciously, subversive media outlet in these United States are able to observe British politics in full cry.

I say “subversive” not only because C-SPAN is apt to take interesting books seriously but also because its live coverage of the Senate and the House of Representatives is the only look we are ever allowed at the mouthpieces of our masters up close and is, at times, most reflective of a government more and more remote from us, unaccountable and repressive. To watch the righteous old prophet Byrd of West Virginia, the sunny hypocrisy of Biden of Delaware — as I write these hallowed names, I summon up their faces, hear their voices, and I am covered with C-SPAN goose bumps.

At any rate, wondrous C-SPAN has another string to its bow. While some executive was nodding, C-SPAN started showing us Britain’s House of Commons during Question Time. This is the only glimpse that most Americans will ever get of how democracy is supposed to work.

These party leaders are pitted against one another in often savage debate on subjects of war and peace, health and education. Then some 600 Members of Parliament are allowed to ask questions of their great chieftains. Years ago the incomparable Dwight Macdonald wrote that any letter to the London Times (the Brits are inveterate letter writers on substantive issues) is better written than any editorial in the New York Times.

In addition to Question Time, which allows Americans to see how political democracy works, as opposed to our two chambers of lobbyists for corporate America, C-SPAN also showed the three party leaders being interrogated by a cross section of, for the most part, youthful subjects of the phantom crown and presided over by an experienced political journalist. Blair was roughly accused of lying about the legal advice he had received apropos Britain’s right to go to war in Iraq for the US oil and gas junta. This BBC live audience asked far more informed and informative questions than the entire US press corps was allowed to ask Bush et al. in our recent election. But Americans are not used to challenging authority in what has been called wartime by a President who has ordered invasions of two countries that have done us no harm and is now planning future wars despite dwindling manpower and lack of money. Blair, for just going along, had to deal with savage, informed questions of a sort that Bush would never answer even if he were competent to do so.

So we have seen what democracy across the water can do. All in all a jarring experience for anyone foolish enough to believe that America is democratic in anything except furiously imprisoning the innocent and joyously electing the guilty. What to do? As a first step, I invite the radicals at C-SPAN who take seriously our Constitution and Bill of Rights to address their attention to the corruption of the presidential election of 2004, particularly in the state of Ohio.

One of the most useful members of the House — currently the most useful — is John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who, in his capacity as ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, led the committee’s Democratic Congressmen and their staffers into the heart of the American heartland, the Western Reserve; specifically, into the not-so-red state of Ohio, once known as “the mother of Presidents.”

He had come to answer the question that the minority of Americans who care about the Republic have been asking since November 2004: “What went wrong in Ohio?” He is too modest to note the difficulties he must have undergone even to assemble this team in the face of the triumphalist Republican Congressional majority, not to mention the unlikely heir to himself, George W. Bush, whose original selection by the Supreme Court brought forth many reports on what went wrong in Florida in 2000.

These led to an apology from Associate Justice John Paul Stevens for the behavior of the 5-to-4 majority of the Court in the matter of Bush v. Gore. Loser Bush then brought on undeclared wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the greatest deficits in our history and the revelations that the policies of an Administration that — much as Count Dracula fled cloves of garlic — flees all accountability were responsible for the murder and torture of captive men, between 70 percent and 90 percent of whom, by the Pentagon’s estimate, had been swept up at random, earning us the hatred of a billion Muslims and the disgust of what is called the civilized world.

Asked to predict who would win in ‘04, I said that, again, Bush would lose, but I was confident that in the four years between 2000 and 2004 creative propaganda and the fixing of election officials might very well be so perfected as to insure an official victory for Mr. Bush. As Representative Conyers’s report, Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio (3.2 MB PDF link), shows in great detail, the swing state of Ohio was carefully set up to deliver an apparent victory for Bush even though Kerry appears to have been the popular winner as well as the valedictorian-that-never-was of the Electoral College.

I urge would-be reformers of our politics as well as of such anachronisms as the Electoral College to read Conyers’s valuable guide on how to steal an election once you have in place the supervisor of the state’s electoral process: In this case, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who orchestrated a famous victory for those who hate democracy (a permanent but passionate minority). The Conyers Report states categorically, “With regards to our factual finding, in brief, we find that there were massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio. In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State Kenneth J. Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.” In other words, the Florida 2000 scenario redux, when the chair for Bush/Cheney was also the Secretary of State. Lesson? Always plan ahead for at least four more years.

It is well-known in the United States of Amnesia that not only did Ohio have a considerable number of first-time voters but that Blackwell and his gang, through “the misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters.”

For the past few years many of us have been warning about the electronic voting machines, first publicized on the Internet by investigator Bev Harris, for which she was much reviled by the officers of such companies as Diebold, Sequoia, ES&S, Triad; this last voting computer company “has essentially admitted that it engaged in a course of behavior during the recount in numerous counties to provide ‘cheat sheets’ to those counting the ballots. The cheat sheets informed election officials how many votes they should find for each candidate, and how many over and under votes they should calculate to match the machine count. In that way, they could avoid doing a full county-wide hand recount mandated by state law.”

Yet despite all this manpower and money power, exit polls showed that Kerry would win Ohio. So, what happened?

I have told more than enough of this mystery story so thoroughly investigated by Conyers and his Congressional colleagues and their staffers. Not only were the crimes against democracy investigated but the report on What Went Wrong in Ohio comes up with quite a number of ways to set things right.

Needless to say, this report was ignored when the Electoral College produced its unexamined tally of the votes state by state. Needless to say, no joint committee of the two houses of Congress was convened to consider the various crimes committed and to find ways and means to avoid their repetition in 2008, should we be allowed to hold an election once we have unilaterally, yet again, engaged in a war — this time with Iran. Anyway, thanks to Conyers, the writing is now high up there on the wall for us all to see clearly: “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.” Students of the Good Book will know what these words of God meant to Belshazzar and his cronies in old Babylon.

Gore Vidal is a contributing editor to The Nation, and a novelist, playwright and essayist. His recent books include Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta and Imperial America, out in paperback this September (Thunder’s Mouth/Nation Books).

Unions Split: Death Knell or New Beginning?

Monday, July 25th, 2005

One thing is certain: something has to be done, because unions are dying.–Editor

Teamsters, SEIU split from AFL-CIO - U.S. Business - MSNBC.com

The Teamsters and a major service employees union on Monday bolted from the AFL-CIO, a stinging exodus for an embattled movement struggling to stop membership losses and adjust to a rapidly changing working environment.
In a decision that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney labeled a “grievous insult” to labor’s rank-and-file, the Teamsters union and the Service Employees International Union, two major federation affiliates, said they decided to leave.
“In our view, we must have more union members in order to change the political climate that is undermining workers’ rights in this country,” said Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. “The AFL-CIO has chosen the opposite approach.”

Gonzales Says He Told Card About CIA Probe

Monday, July 25th, 2005

Gonzales Says He Told Card About CIA Probe

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday that he notified White House chief of staff Andy Card after the Justice Department opened an investigation into who revealed a covert CIA officer’s identity, but waited 12 hours to tell anyone else in the executive mansion.

The White House did not respond to questions Sunday about whether Card passed that information to top Bush aide Karl Rove or anyone else, giving them advance notice to prepare for the investigation.

Gonzales was White House counsel on Sept. 29, 2003, and got the first official word inside the White House when the Justice Department opened its inquiry. Earlier that day, White House press secretary Scott McClellan had said the leak was a serious matter the Justice Department should pursue “to the fullest extent.” McClellan also said it was “ridiculous” to suggest Rove, Bush’s top political operative, was involved.

Rove News

Monday, July 25th, 2005

LiberalOasis

Say No to Gallo Wine

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

Dear Friends,

Lately, Gallo Wines is worried about too much publicity. And more specifically, they’re worried about the Internet. Why? Because they’re doing something wrong.

The Gallos are one of America’s wealthiest winemaking families, but their seasonal contract workers often endure miserable living conditions without health benefits. The Gallos are right about one thing–they should be very, very worried about the power of the Internet. By adding your name to the Gallo boycott, you’ll send a message to Gallo confirming their worst fears–that exploiting workers can have a very high cost.

Already, tens of thousands of people from across the country have pledged their support in this boycott, started by the United Farm Workers. It’s simple: by standing together, we can convince the Gallos to do the responsible thing. Actions have consequences–and with your help, the Gallos are about to find out that they can’t get away with mistreating their workers.

The famous winemakers have already been found guilty in 2004 by the State of California of illegally trying to get rid of their workers’ union, the Cesar Chavez-founded United Farm Workers. Add your name to the boycott and join Americans across the country in sending a strong message for economic justice.

Your support means so much to the workers in California. Thank you.

In solidarity,
Andy Stern

Plame/Rove coverage suffers in wake of Roberts announcement

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

Excerpted from Media Matters:

In the week since the revelation that even an accidental disclosure of classified information would be a violation of the nondisclosure agreement Rove apparently signed*, media coverage of this aspect of the controversy has been sparse at best.

For example, The New York Times devoted just one paragraph to a memorandum by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) detailing evidence that Rove violated the Nondisclosure Agreement, noting only that it “detail[s] the legal restrictions against disclosing classified information” and “asserts that ‘Mr. Rove was not at liberty to repeat classified information he may have learned from a reporter.”’ Other major newspapers — including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today — did not cover Waxman’s memorandum at all. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post reported Democratic calls to revoke Rove’s security credentials without mentioning that specific regulations underlie these demands.

In order to receive a security clearance providing access to classified information, Rove was required to sign Standard Form 312, which includes the recognition that “I have been advised that any breach of this Agreement may result in the termination of any security clearances that I hold.”
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