Archive for August, 2006

Links…

Shane’s debut post at Left in the West covers my coverage of the Independent’s blogger article.

Singer’s post title pretty much sums it up. “Conrad Burns: Dumb or Racist? Take Your Pick.” The answer, of course, is “both.” A smart racist keeps his yap shut. A dumb “non-racist” blathers about, oh, his fantasy baseball team.

Cece’s exhaustive explanation why CI-97’s proposed changes to the state constitution is…well…unconstitutional.

Forest Service working on secret plans at behest of the Bush administration to close thousands of recreation sites? I mean…it’s almost as if the Republicans want to lose the West to the Democrats. (Hat tip to Granny.)

Turns out the other Senator blocking the pork transparency bill is Democrat Robert Byrd. Disgraceful. I’m going to remember this, and I hope you do, too.

Steve Benen on the increasing appearance of racism among Republican candidates this election cycle. Gaffes or strategy?

Far-right politico Steve Laffey way up in the polls against moderate incumbent Senator Lincoln Chafee. Bad news for the Republican party; Laffey basically has no chance to win the general.

Sean Hannity says Republican victory in the 2006 midterm is “worth dying for.” Not a joke. He really said it. Why is this joker on the air?

Mother Jones has given us bookmark fodder: a complete timeline of all the lies and deception leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

Keith Olbermann rips Donald Rumsfeld. Must-watch video.

The Brad Blog posts on the NY Times article blocked for UK readers. Hm. I think it’s time to start calling them the “UK Seven.” (Tip to Brad: redesign your hideous UI, buddy.)

The “Top 10” Katrina videos.

California demonstrates how we can begin fighting global warming.

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Great letter in Tuesday’s Missoulian from Cascade Tuholske (great name!) on the Montana GOP’s use of 9/11 imagery for political purposes:

Using 9/11 for political gain despicable I felt compelled to write after visiting the Western Montana Fair and walking through the commercial building. I was passing by the Republican booth when the large photos from Sept. 11, 2001, caught my attention. I just stood there, stunned at what the Republicans were displaying for political purposes. There was a huge photo of three bodies falling from the towers next to another of the twin towers burning. The slogan above asked, “Have you forgotten?”

Of course I haven’t forgotten! Who could possibly forget that day? The more important question that should be asked is what do these photographs have to do with the Republican candidates in Montana? I heard one staffer point to the pictures while mentioning the current war in Iraq to a passer-by. Hasn’t it been made abundantly clear to everyone now that this war has absolutely nothing to do with Sept. 11?

To use these photographs for political gain at a local fair is morally reprehensible and one of the more tasteless displays I have seen. That day was a tragedy for all Americans alike. I would have liked to think that displaying the photographs of those falling from the buildings, moments before they perished, was beneath anyone.

Apparently I overestimated the local Republicans. I would like to apologize to the families of all those victims, whose images were displayed for political fodder. It was not only politically misguided and showed a lack of awareness regarding our current war in Iraq, but tasteless and ethically bankrupt.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Get Cascade a blog!

Some may draw parallels between the GOP’s use of 9/11 and the recent flap over a DCCC web-based commercial that uses a brief image of a flag-draped casket. Hey, says a well-intentioned “neutral” observer, “both parties engage in this type of behavior.”

Not so fast.

The difference between the GOP’s use of these images and the Democratic use of the image of the war dead is that the Republicans’ message is deceptive.

Consider for a moment exactly how the 9/11 images are being used and the goals of that use. Basically the image is intended to remind everyone of the danger of terrorism – to keep fear alive – in order to keep up support for the war in Iraq and the administration’s “war on terror.”

First – the obvious point – the Iraq war has nothing to do with 9/11. Using false premises to scare people into supporting your clusterf*ck is bad manners. Some might say it’s intentionally deceptive.

Second, the Iraq war is detracting from the “war on terror.” Valuable resources – money, men, material – is being wasted on some bizarre quixotic quest to…what? Protect oil reserves? Implement neocon fantasies of empire? Allow W to show up his father? These resources could be better used to, say, protect our borders and capture Osama bin Laden, for starters.

Third, the GOP is using the fear spawned by 9/11 to implement the administration’s version of the “war on terror” without opposition. You know the drill: the Patriot Act, military tribunals, rendition, torture, “enemy combatant” status, wireless wiretapping, data mining. In other words, an agenda whereby the government erects a legal structure to arrest, detain, torture anyone it wants. Why punish America’s law-abiding citizens first and foremost? Why not go after, say, Osama?

On the other hand, the Democratic use of the image of flag-draped coffins does, and should, serve as a reminder to the American people the cost of the Iraq war and who’s largely responsible for these dead: the President and the Republican party that supports him.

The mistakes made in Iraq were not military mistakes. They were political. They were Bush’s.

I quoted Lincoln in the last post about this topic, and it bears repeating again:

It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Look, it may already be too late to salvage the Iraqi war. Bush may have already bungled it away. I think it was probably unwinnable to begin with. (A post for another day?) But there’s not a chance that this administration is going to honor those men and women who fell in Iraq with any semblance of victory. If Bush continues unopposed in the Middle East, our reputation will be in tatters, our allies nonexistent, the region in complete chaos. In order to honor those that fell with any hope of a positive outcome, we’ll need leadership change and a plan for Iraq.

Why not remind the American voters of the situation? Why not remind them of our collective debt to our fallen to do the right thing?

Hey! Look who’s handsome mug graces the cover of this week’s Missoula Independent! The feature story’s not bad, an introduction of the bloggers to the Independent’s readership.

I like this line. It’s spooky:

The scene looked more or less like any other late-summer lawn party: children played soccer in the yard while adults milled around the appetizer table, occasionally swatting yellowjackets away from their drinks. Save for the television producer from PBS’s weekly news program “NOW” poking her camera into conversations, it seemed like your run-of-the-mill Missoula potluck….

Heh. Lord knows I’ve written on blogging often enough. And no one really understands its impact yet. So there’s no way in h*ll I’m going to offer any criticism of Adams’ story. It’s as fair an assessment as any I’ve seen.

My favorite part of the story? This awesome photo of Mr. Proud:

Has anyone been over to the website of Americans for Limited Government recently? There’s a little surprise:

Meet Howie Rich! The picture alone is worth a blog post. Previously the Manhattan real estate developer and hidden funder of Montana’s trio of terrible initiatives – 154, 97, and 98 – was about as camera-friendly as a mafia don. The only picture on the Internet of Rich available was a grainy snapshot from some Manhattan function on Hart Williams’ blog. He was a recluse, pulling the strings for putting fiscal social engineering intiatives on the ballot in Arizona, California, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington, buying signature gatherers through front organizations in an attempt to make the initiatives look like grassroots-driven legislation.

The ruse is over. This web page is an obvious acknowledgement that Rich is behind the intitiatives.

Check it out. All the information is there. Under “Our Campaigns” you see the proposed inititaives. Under “State Partners” (now there’s wishful thinking) is listed each state and the initiative Rich has put on the ballot and links to the local websites. There’s even a blog, which posts the outrageous anecdotal perfidies of government – completely unrelated to Rich’s initiatives – the usual pap used to whip up the usual gang of outraged anti-government nuts.

Heck! I’m bookmarking this site! Instead of trying to follow Hart Williams’ exhaustive work uncovering the connections of each state to Rich, I’ll just trundle over here! There’s no more need to link to every story that traces their state’s proposed legislation through the financial labrynth and paper trails to Howie Rich: it’s all right here!

I’ll hand it to Rich. He’s no dummy. It was obvious his secretive work was damaging the initiatives politically – thanks to the blogs! Maybe five years ago slipping under the radar would work, especially considering traditional media’s almost nonexistant coverage of the issue. But the blogs were making a stink, so Rich put up this page, posted a generous portrait, and is apparently on a PR offensive, pretending that he’s been on the up-and-up all along.

Good luck with that.

So here you go, Montana journalists. The link from the initiative to its financier. Of course, now that Rich is tacitly admitting his support, it’s no longer a story, is it?

Oops.

Links…

Seattle P-I columnist Joel Connely on the anti-incumbency feeling sweeping the nation and featuring Conrad Burns and Jon Tester.

Speaking of corrupt incumbents, Bill Frist is in Montana to stump for Burns.

Matt Singer on Kendall van Dyk and HD-49. He needs support.

The tale of another corrupt and incompetent Bush appointee. He sure knows how to pick ‘em, doesn’t he?

Why does Joe Lieberman hate democracy? And apparently his staff doesn’t know if the sun’s rising or setting.

Ugh. George Allen is a peach. A Cleveland lawyer explains from personal perspective of why his comments were so hurtful.

Matthew Yglesias calls out the prevailing opinion that Iran is actually a threat to the Middle East. He makes good points, but neglects the fact that Iran and its militant Islam have supporters among the poor and middle class throughout the region.

I guess using your news network as a blatant mouthpiece for government propaganda has its effects.

Freepers go after the recently kidnapped Fox News journalists. Um…and you wonder why I have to say “um” a lot? I just don’t understand these people.

Maybe the best editorial on Donald Rumsfeld this summer: “In recent weeks, he has been laid bare in public more often than Pamela Anderson.” (Via Shane.)

Okay, I admit I’m not into all the Katrina nostalgia. It all makes me queasy. But Crooks & Liars is doing it right – they’re reposting all the good video and story links that were published during that time. Check it out.

So who secretly blocked the government transparency bill? You got it, “Mr. Series of Tubes” himself, Ted Stevens of Alaska. He gives Stevenses a bad name.

Apparently conservatives would rather let a working health-care system die than open the door for a single-payer system. And screw vets in the process. Had enough?

Maybe the best editorial on Donald Rumsfeld this summer: “In recent weeks, he has been laid bare in public more often than Pamela Anderson.” (Via Shane.)

So the NRA is supporting Conrad Burns by hosting fundraisers across the state. (Sorry, no link. I just know these things, heh heh. It’s part of being a Montanan.) For many of my out-of-state readers, some of whom are “coastal elites,” this is a big deal. Montanans love their guns.

(Note that I’m pretty “squishy” when it comes to gun control. I think some communities can have a legitimate interest in limiting the type of guns in their neighborhoods. That said, I think the current background check system is decent enough, if enforced, and I’m comfortable with Montanans and their guns. Ultimately it’s not much of an issue with me. But this ain’t about me.)

Why is the NRA supporting Burns? Jon Tester is an avid supporter of the Second Amendment. When I emailed his office for his position on gun control, I got the following “official” statement:

“Jon Tester is a hunter and sportsman who fully supports Americans’ second amendment rights to keep and bear arms.”

Burns, too, has a record of supporting gun rights. In 2000, he won an “A” rating from the NRA for his lifetime record on gun issues.

Normally, if all things were equal, you’d think the interest group would just bow out and concentrate on other races. However, the NRA policy (no link here, either, just trust me) is to support the incumbent over the challenger because the incumbent has more advantages in Congress because of his seniority and committee assignments.

Only thing…Burns and Tester aren’t equal when it comes to NRA gun issues. There’s the little thing called the Patriot Act that separates them on the protection of Second Amendment rights.

You see, gun owners rightfully distrust the Patriot Act, and the NRA recently joined the ACLU in criticizing the legislation. Many (sane) conservatives don’t want government to intrude into their daily lives – which is why the Montana state legislature’s condemnation of the Patriot Act was overwhelmingly bipartisan. The NRA and their supporters are extremely vigilant in protecting their right to bear arms; the Patriot Act through its many and nefarious provisions allows unreasonable search, seizure, and imprisonment of US citizens…and their guns.

In the televised June Senate debate, Jon Tester

….said that after 9/11 we had a great opportunity, everybody was willing to effect real change and eradicate terror organizations. We had allies and willing cooperation. But all Bush told us to do was “go shopping.” And then came the Patriot Act, which “penalized our people first.” We don’t need to take away Americans’ freedoms to catch terrorists; we can still follow the rule of law and catch terrorists.

Burns? Big fan of the Patriot Act. (And note that Burns’ “A” rating came in 2000 — before the passage of the Patriot Act.)

Not only does Burns lag behind Jon Tester in protecting Americans’ personal liberties and their right to bear arms, apparently – as rumor has it – he’s been very disappointing at the NRA fundraisers. Apparently he shows up and gives a lame five-minute speech on voter registration and then splits, which only reinforces his commitment, not to Montanans, but to lobbyists and industry.

The NRA’s endorsement of Burns reveals one thing: they are not an interest group, they are blind, partisan Republican supporters.

NRA members and gun rights’ advocates: now is the time to write to the NRA and voice your complaint with their endorsement. The NRA should be about protecting the Second Amendment, not supporting Republicans. Burns does not support American liberties; he should not receive the NRA endorsement.

Anyone see the Gazette report on the Senate race? It’s mostly fluff, the kind of piece newspapers do to keep the non-political junkies abreast of the race, a quick summary of how excited Democrats are of the race and some random GOP speaking points tossed in.

The interesting stuff lands at the end of the article where “handicappers” – i.e., political pundits – weigh in on the race.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report:

“We have become convinced that the national environment is not going to improve for Republicans, that the strong desire for change we’ve been seeing is not going to abate and that Tester is running a pretty good campaign,” Rothenberg said…He added that the only way Burns has a chance of holding on to the seat is to paint Tester as so “ideologically radioactive” that moderate voters won’t consider voting for him.”Just calling Tester a liberal is probably not going to be enough in this election year,” Rothenberg said.

Oh boy. It’s not like Burns hasn’t already gone negative this campaign, the last thing he needs is a little encouragement.

The Cook Political Report:

“Incumbents, unless they are indicted, never go beyond toss-up in the direction of the other party, because incumbents have this funny way of closing gaps,” said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate and gubernatorial races for the report…”Having said that, I think it’s hard for Burns to pull this off.”She said the factors hurting Burns’ chances are, in order, the senator’s ties to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, Burns’ verbal gaffes, the national political environment and finally Tester himself.

Oft-heard Gazette source stalwart, Larry Sabato:

“Burns simply has too many problems – from President Bush and the Iraq war to the lobbying scandal and his own uncontrollable tongue,” Sabato wrote on his Web site. “Burns will be exceptionally lucky to come out of his tailspin and win another term. Tester’s image seems just right for Montana voters, and Burns’ efforts to label Tester a left-wing liberal have not taken hold, at least not so far.”

If you’re Jon Tester, these tidbits have got to feel good. Like reading glowing reviews of the book you just wrote. Remember, these people never get carried away. Changing a race status from “leans incumbent” to “tossup” or even “leans challenger” is an act of daring bravado for these people.

My advice to all you Tester supporters out there is to take these opinions as incentive to keep up the hard work, volunteering, and donations. Relaxing will not win this race. We’re doing the right thing, and we need to more of it. So read these optimistic reporst and let it get you fired up!

You know the drill: Contribute. Volunteer. Talk up Tester to everyone you know.

Links…

Boss Hogg pens an amendment that prohibits public access to national park forest land.

Cece’s got a hot rumor about Davison…remember it’s just gossip, people! But good gossip…

Global warming makes wildfires worse.

Ken Camp meets Jon Tester in Seattle.

Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski challenged initiative funder Howie Rich to a debate, only Rich chickened out.

Kos on the Wyoming House race.

Hm. I guess the Lieberman campaign is struggling with creating an image for the Senator.

Schumer, of all people, supports Net Neutrality. There you go.

U.S. Census report shows that Americans are doing great! That is, if you’re insanely rich. The rest of us are pretty much getting screwed.

Rumsfeld compares war critics to Nazi appeasers. Guess he sucks at history, too.

And then there’s this little tidbit: President Bush let Brownie take the fall for Katrina.

And what about that UK terror plot? Turns out the case may be endangered by the Bush administration’s “hyperventilation.”

Maybe those are the reasons why the GOP is abandoning the administration.

Here’s an easy issue to take sides on: genocide. Right? I mean, who’s for genocide? Okay, people like bob t. Maybe I should have said, what reasonable person is for genocide?

But believe it or not, not all American lawmakers are eager to end genocide, especially the slaughter taking place in the Darfur region of the Sudan, where ethnic Africans are being killed or pushed out of the region by ethnic Arab militias supported by the Sudanese government. Half a million dead. More than two million forced to leave their homes.

The U.S. government can do something to try to stop the violence. From sanctions to aiding African Union peacekeepers to getting NATO involved, our government has the ability to really do something meaningful for an embattled region. There’s been a number of pieces of legislation that have come before Congress to address the genocide in Darfur; not all have done well.

Thanks to Dafur Scores, we can see how our own legislators have done. Let’s see…

Conrad Burns: a “C”! That’s “satisfactory” or “average”! Good for the Senator! That’s about as successful as he’s been in any legislative area. Well…except for “lobbyist relations.”

Denny Rehberg: a “D.” Not surprised. This is, after all, a guy who clamors for tax cuts that would benefit…him…and nobody else in Montana…while we’re in the middle of a war he eagerly supports. Until the Sudanese genocide spreads to his ranch and threatens the value of his property, don’t expect much from our Representative.

And…finally…that brings us to our state’s Democrat, Max Baucus! Surely, as a Democrat – you know, the party of people, the party that doesn’t loll in self-interest – surely he’s supported anti-genocide legislation!

Uh, no. An “F” for our senior Senator.

Max Baucus has received an “F” for not supporting a single piece of Darfur legislation or casting any favorable votes to stop the genocide in Darfur. This person has the power to protect civilians in Darfur, yet is doing nothing.

So much for partisan hackery today, eh gang?

Hey! Look at that! Montana politicians are scrambling to donate the campaign contributions received from conman and Burns ex-fundraising chief Pat Davison.

Good for them.

Seems like we’ve seen this before, haven’t we?

Only…one name kinda sticks out from the others, doesn’t it?

Okay, so it was only a grand or so…but why is Pat Davison donating to Max Baucus?

Links…

Matt Singer on CI-154 and unions.

Shane Mason mulls over the House race and comes up with some more reasons to vote for Monica Lindeen.

Motto calls on the Montana GOP to denounce CI-97.

Meanwhile, Hart Williams posts on the Daily Kos about Howie Rich’s activities in Nebraska. Kossak Sandlapper riffs off of Rich’s claim that it’s “all about the ideology.”

Krugman reminds us that blame for the Katrina disaster ultimately lies with the President. Have people actually forgotten this?

Or I guess with the Vice-President, since he’s running the country.

The Existentialist Cowboy (post-Camus W?) sums up the sobering costs of the Iraq War. Had enough?

Meanwhile, while we tilt at windmills in the Middle East…

Hm…some interesting points raised about the NY man arrested for broadcasting Hezbollah TV…it’s…sort of strange knowing certain media is banned in the U.S., isn’t it? Are we afraid that our ideas may not be so persuasive?

Corporate profits up, economy rebounding. Nation discontented. Is that because wages are down?

MyDD’s House Forecast 2006. I haven’t pored over it, but will…

Kos’ excellent summary of the ID-01 race. Democrat Larry Grant needs your help. Contribute!

Dept. of irony: An unknown Senator has blocked a bill that would make government more transparent. For the Senator’s sake, his identity better remain hidden. At least one middling Montana blog will rip him/her a new one once it’s known.

Weren’t they supposed to wait until after Thanksgiving before they start up with the War on Christmas?

Hm, what’s going on over at INSA lately? Well, director Milt Datsopoulos says INSA is going to hire an outside auditor to go over the non-profit’s books.

“I wanted some answers and I thought it was important to get an outside expert’s view,” Datsopoulos told the Missoulian.”I think that people who contract with us and who support INSA’s application to do work for government agencies need to know that it has systems in place that provides good governance and proves that it has competent procedures,” he added.

Smoke screen or genuine effort?

Datsopoulous was one of three board members to serve on INSA, along with George Bailey, and Mary Stranahan. Bailey was the executive director of the organization, and one of the malefactors in the scandal.

Legislative auditors found George Bailey, INSA’s executive director, and Lloyd Chesnut, UM’s former vice president for research, were in violation of potential conflicts of interest. The concern arose from the fact that both UM’s space program and INSA were generated and funded out of the Office for Research and Development at Chesnut’s direction and where Bailey was also employed.

Datsopoulous is head of a prominent Missoula-based law firm and a supporter of the Democratic party. He’s a donator to the Glacier PAC, a big supporter of Democratic candidates, including Monica Lindeen and Jon Tester. That said, Datsopoulous has connections among powerful Republicans: he’s a friend of Missoula-based entrepreneur Dennis Washington, and is representing GOP wife-beater, Tom Opre.

My guess is that he’s a friend to power and probably filled the INSA seat as a favor. Do I think Datsopoulous was actively involved in the glaring nepotism that so marked INSA’s life? He may have known something was up and was simply looking the other way…business as usual?…but I doubt he had a hand in the running of INSA. If so, we might have expected a few jobs filled by the friends and family of Democratic politicians.

Hopefully Datsopoulous’ audit represents an honest effort by the Missoula attorney to clean ship and reveal what really took place. Maybe Datsopoulous has caught the whiff of political change in the air and is willing to sell out his conservative buddies in order to land on the right side of the new order we’ll be seeing in Montana after November. Certainly INSA is a worthwhile idea; Montana can use all the high-tech business it can get its hands on. If the internal audit helps get the organization on track for its stated purpose, then Montana is well-served.

If a corrupt Republican lawmaker or two are thrown onto the fire at the same time, well, Montana would be doubly served.

As my regular readers no doubt know, I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell. I quoted him liberally concerning the ineffectiveness and harm of using racial profiling for airline screening – in which Gladwell made the point by talking about our prejudice against dog breeds. Well, he’s also a crack observer on our system’s health-care woes.

In this 2005 article for the New Yorker, Gladwell explains why the rationale behind insurance industry’s health-care coverage is deeply flawed. According to the article, the industry subscribes “moral hazard” rationale to covering health in attempt to make Americans’ use of health-care efficient.

“Moral hazard” is the term economists use to describe the fact that insurance can change the behavior of the person being insured. If your office gives you and your co-workers all the free Pepsi you want—if your employer, in effect, offers universal Pepsi insurance—you’ll drink more Pepsi than you would have otherwise. If you have a no-deductible fire-insurance policy, you may be a little less diligent in clearing the brush away from your house. The savings-and-loan crisis of the nineteen-eighties was created, in large part, by the fact that the federal government insured savings deposits of up to a hundred thousand dollars, and so the newly deregulated S. & L.s made far riskier investments than they would have otherwise. Insurance can have the paradoxical effect of producing risky and wasteful behavior.

In health insurance terms, this notion comes into play in the form of high deductibles and co-payments. The theory goes, if you’re responsible for paying a large share of your medical costs, you’ll use health care only when you need it.

So why doesn’t this rationale work for health insurance?

The focus on moral hazard suggests that the changes we make in our behavior when we have insurance are nearly always wasteful. Yet, when it comes to health care, many of the things we do only because we have insurance—like getting our moles checked, or getting our teeth cleaned regularly, or getting a mammogram or engaging in other routine preventive care—are anything but wasteful and inefficient. In fact, they are behaviors that could end up saving the health-care system a good deal of money.

Got that? Not only does the insurance industry’s attempts to prevent us from using health care cost the consumers, it also drives up long-term medical expenditures. That means in the long run, it costs insurers more, too. (Assuming of course that they haven’t kicked you off the insurance roster when your health woes catch up to you.)

Actuarial organization of health care costs – charging more for those who are higher risk for getting sick, or who have serious illness – also doesn’t work.

The triumph of the actuarial model over the social-insurance model is the reason that companies unlucky enough to employ older, high-cost employees—like United Airlines—have run into such financial difficulty. It’s the reason that automakers are increasingly moving their operations to Canada. It’s the reason that small businesses that have one or two employees with serious illnesses suddenly face unmanageably high health-insurance premiums, and it’s the reason that, in many states, people suffering from a potentially high-cost medical condition can’t get anyone to insure them at all.

In the end, of course, the subject of insurance should be an ethical question, not an economic one. That is, we shouldn’t worry about maximizing profit for private industry, we should worry about covering every person in the most efficient manner.

Gladwell:

The issue about what to do with the health-care system is sometimes presented as a technical argument about the merits of one kind of coverage over another or as an ideological argument about socialized versus private medicine. It is, instead, about a few very simple questions. Do you think that this kind of redistribution of risk is a good idea? Do you think that people whose genes predispose them to depression or cancer, or whose poverty complicates asthma or diabetes, or who get hit by a drunk driver, or who have to keep their mouths closed because their teeth are rotting ought to bear a greater share of the costs of their health care than those of us who are lucky enough to escape such misfortunes? In the rest of the industrialized world, it is assumed that the more equally and widely the burdens of illness are shared, the better off the population as a whole is likely to be. The reason the United States has forty-five million people without coverage is that its health-care policy is in the hands of people who disagree, and who regard health insurance not as the solution but as the problem.

Bingo.

In a more recent article, “The Risk Pool,” demonstrates that our current system of insurance and pensioning is actually hurting American business.

Gladwell begins by describing how American industry in the 1950s adopted an employer-based system for pensions and insurance, because industry leaders were terrified of the effects that universal health care and pension programs would have. They were just too d*mn socialist. So, prodded by negotiations with labor unions who were looking for promises of health and stability into workers’ old age, the industry captains took the risk onto themselves.

The problem was that these industries shrunk over the years, partly because of competition, party because of improved technology and the resultant increase in worker efficiency. So now the big car companies and steel industry have an absurd worker-to-dependent ratio. (Gladwell talks at length in the article about the effect of this dependency ratio.) And the ratio is negatively affecting business:

…consider the continuous round of discounts and rebates that General Motors—a company that lost $8.6 billion last year—has been offering to customers. If you bought a Chevy Tahoe this summer, G.M. would give you zero-per-cent financing, or six thousand dollars cash back. Surely, if you are losing money on every car you sell, as G.M. is, cutting car prices still further in order to boost sales doesn’t make any sense. It’s like the old Borsht-belt joke about the haberdasher who lost money on every hat he made but figured he’d make up the difference on volume. The economically rational thing for G.M. to do would be to restructure, and sell fewer cars at a higher profit margin—and that’s what G.M. tried to do this summer, announcing plans to shutter plants and buy out the contracts of thirty-five thousand workers. But buyouts, which turn active workers into pensioners, only worsen the company’s dependency ratio. Last year, G.M. covered the costs of its four hundred and fifty-three thousand retirees and their dependents with the revenue from 4.5 million cars and trucks. How is G.M. better off covering the costs of four hundred and eighty-eighty thousand dependents with the revenue from, say, 4.2 million cars and trucks? This is the impossible predicament facing the company’s C.E.O., Rick Wagoner. Demographic logic requires him to sell more cars and hire more workers; financial logic requires him to sell fewer cars and hire fewer workers.

So not only does our current form of health insurance worsen the long-term health benefits of individual consumers, it’s also taking down U.S. industry.

The solution is to disperse the risks and obligations for health and old-age pensions through a larger demographic, thereby insuring that it isn’t borne by a small subset who are more susceptible to economic shifts in innovation and competition. Gladwell:

If the retiree obligations of Bethlehem Steel had been pooled with those of the much younger industries that supplanted steel—aluminum, say, or plastic—Bethlehem Steel might have made it. If you combined the obligations of G.M., with its four hundred and fifty-three thousand retirees, and the American manufacturing operations of Toyota, with a mere two hundred and fifty-eight retirees, Toyota could help G.M. shoulder its burden, and thirty or forty years from now—when those G.M. retirees are dead and Toyota’s now youthful workforce has turned gray—G.M. could return the favor. For that matter, if you pooled the obligations of every employer in the country, no company would go bankrupt just because it happened to employ older people, or it happened to have been around for a while, or it happened to have made the transformation from open-hearth furnaces and ingot-making to basic oxygen furnaces and continuous casting. This is what Walter Reuther and the other union heads understood more than fifty years ago: that in the free-market system it makes little sense for the burdens of insurance to be borne by one company. If the risks of providing for health care and old-age pensions are shared by all of us, then companies can succeed or fail based on what they do and not on the number of their retirees.

Massachusetts recently passed a bill requiring all state citizens to be insured. The idea plays off the concepts here: the theory is that, by having everyone pay into the pot, there’s more money to pay for health care and the lower the individual premiums need to be.

I’m not a big fan. There’s nothing stopping the insurance industry from pocketing the extra and continue charging exorbitant rates in the name of “moral hazard.”

Bottom line: health shouldn’t serve profit. Universal health insurance found in other industrial nations is more efficient and generally better than the health care we find here.

It’s time we budge aside the alarmist road blocks and start talking single-payer health care systems.

On pitchers

One of the fun things about playing fantasy baseball is getting to know random players very well. If it weren’t for fantasy, I’d probably know everybody who played for the Red Sox, and nobody else. And the most interesting guys aren’t the fantasy mainstays – the A-Rods, Pujols, or Big Papis. You just plug those guys into your lineup and forget about them. No, the guys I think about the most about are the fringe players. The guys who fill statistical gaps, or who fill out the bottom of your pitching roster.

Take three pitchers I drafted for my team but have since cut: Chris Young, Matt Cain, and Daniel Cabrera. I’ll remember them forever because of all the hours (well, maybe minutes) I spent poring over their biographies, stats, and play in order to decide whether I should keep them or cut them loose. (I cut them loose.)

Before delving into the trio, I should probably explain how I evaluate pitchers, or what makes a pitcher good in my estimation:

Strikeouts.

Seriously. You can tell more about a pitcher from that single stat than anything else. A pitcher strikes out a lot of batters? He’s going to be good. If he doesn’t? Chances are he’s lousy.

What about Jamie Moyer? David Wells? you ask. Greg Maddux fer chrissakes!

Enter walks. The fewer a pitcher walks, the better for the pitcher. A pitcher with a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate is a Hall-of-Famer. Clemens, Pedro, Randy Johnson. Wells and Moyer and Maddux succeed without many strikeouts because their walk rate is astoundingly low. (In 1997, for example, Maddux walked twenty batters in 232.2 innings!) But keep in mind walks allowed is not a fantasy category. So in fantasy a strikeout pitcher is worth more than a control pitcher like Maddux.

There are other factors, too. Ballpark is probably the biggest, only on WHIP and ERA. The least predictable fantasy category is wins. The one factor that influences wins is the team you play for. The more runs they score, the more likely your pitcher will pick up wins. But still, how do you explain Roger Clemens’ 13 wins in 200+ innings and with a 1.87 ERA for a pennant-winning Astros team? (That same year Chris Capuano won 18 with a 3.99 ERA for a Brewers team that won 81.) You can’t. So I don’t even try to predict them. They don’t count as far as I’m concerned.

And now…a peek into my brain:

Chris Young

All the indications were good for Young. A young arm, but at 26 not too young. A great start last season with Texas, with a late season fade. (Texas heat!) Considering the league, park, and heat, his 4.26 ERA and 1.26 WHIP were extraordinary. And a very good K rate of 7.8 strikeouts every 9 innings.

Best of all, he had been traded to the San Diego Padres in the offseason.

It was perfect! He was bound to slip under the radar with his 4+ ERA, his 13 wins. But not only did his stats suggest he’d thrive away from Arlington, he was going to Petco, one of the best pitcher’s parks in the majors and to the NL, where you could easily shave a full run off his ERA!

Certainly he didn’t disappoint. Sure there were some rough patches (a May 24 start against Atlanta when he was chased from the game in the fourth), but his ERA was 2.97 as late as July 1st.

Then something was up. A series of less-than-spectacular starts, none catastrophic, that raised his ERA to the upper 3s. Tired arm, I thought. Turns out he was probably pitching in pain, the result of a “strained right rhomboid muscle.” Whatever that is.

I like the kid. Maybe a short stint on the DL or a skipped start puts him back on track. While it’s too early to write him off as an early-season pitcher, I’ve moved on.

Matt Cain

Cain is the perfect example of how bad data sullies evaluation of a player. No, I’m not talking about the seven games he started for the Giants last year, his big-league debut, when he posted eye-popping numbers:

2-1 – 46.1 IP – 24 H – 19 BB – 30 K – 2.33 ERA – 0.93 WHIP

It is too small of a data set for predictive purposes. Only seven starts? H*ll, the Mets’ Steve Traschel has had seven-game stretches this good. Still, latent in this small set was a warning: 24 hits allowed in 46 innings pitched. That’s an average of 0.52 hits allowed every inning, too good to be real. (Sandy Koufax gave up 0.75 hits an inning, and he struck out 9.3 batters every 9 innings compared to Cain’s 5.8.) The low amount of hits allowed masked the frequency of walks – 3.7/9 innings. (Pedro’s career mark is 2.4/9 innings.) It was only a matter of time before the hits started dropping, and then the walks would get him.

H*ll, I know the danger of evaluating a player after a seven-start callup to the bigs. No the bad data I got was the hype I heard from my friends and family in the Bay Area. All they could talk about last Christmas was Matt Cain this, Matt Cain that, like he was the next Pedro Martinez.

So how is he doing? Sure enough, this year he’s up to 0.85 hits allowed every inning, and the walks up to 4.4/9 innings. His strikeouts are up, but the kid is wildly inconsistent. H*ll, he was downright bad at times. This year Cain averaged only a solitary quality start (7 IP with 3 or less ER allowed) each month this season, until this month when he had three – against San Diego, Washington, and Arizona. It’s obvious he’s not Pedro Martinez. Maybe the next Ramon Martinez…

Never, ever take advice during the offseason from a desperate fan base trying to focus away from a superstar slugger under suspicion of steroid-abuse.

Daniel Cabrera

Cabrera is one of my all-time favorite fantasy players. I really enjoyed having him on my team, only his stats were killing me. So…then…why?

Owning Cabrera means that once every five days a big surprise awaits you. The closed door on “Let’s Make a Deal.” A box with either a live cat or a dead cat in it. The tossed dice on the craps table with your week’s salary at stake.

And the morning after, the box score was a demonstration in surreal art.

I owned Cabrera way too long, for six crazy weeks. Here, for example, were the pitching stats for his first three starts:

1.1 IP – 3 H – 7 R – 7 ER – 0 HR – 7 BB – 1 K (April 7 loss vs. Boston)

5.0 IP – 3 H – 1 R – 1 ER – 0 HR – 9 BB – 10 K (April 12 no decision vs. Tampa Bay)

7.0 IP – 5 H – 1 R – 1 ER – 0 HR – 1 BB – 6 K (April 17 win vs. LA Angels)

I picked this guy because of his crazy strikeout numbers (8.75/9 IP in 2005, 9.3 this year). And his strong finish last year. He’s one of those rare pitchers that might actually do better with a dead arm – a Randy Johnson or Nolan Ryan type talent here. This year, too, he’s in the midst of a two-game scoreless streak, at 16 innings and 17 strikeouts. Love watching the guy. Will try to draft him next year, too, even though he could take down my fantasy team.

Creep: Donnie Daniels

Donnie Daniels of Lovell, Wyoming, supplies us the goods today:

We’re at war, and judge doesn’t get it

In reference to the Tuesday, Aug. 22 Gazette opinion, I can’t believe it. How can The Gazette possibly believe that a liberal judge like Anna Diggs Taylor can be right in her ruling that the warrantless surveillance program is illegal?

This loony judge is one more legacy left by that nut Jimmy Carter. As for the American Civil Liberties Union, this is our terrorist bunch. We are at war, something The Gazette, Taylor and the ACLU don’t seem to understand.

The Gazette certainly has a right to its opinion, and I have a right to my money. Cancel my subscription to The Gazette immediately.

“We’re at war?” Um…with whom? With Iraqi insurgents? I don’t remember seeing too many Iraqi insurgents setting off IEDs on the US telephone lines. With terror? An emotion? I refuse to abandon my civil liberties over right-wing attempts to battle their own inner demons. Try a little sedative, maybe take some time off from work. Catch up on your summer reading. Stay away from me. With terrorists? How would you go about warring with non-governmental organizations? Like the ACLU?

(What is it with this paranoid vision of the ACLU? I mean, their mission is to protect dunderheads like the author of this letter. I’ve talked before how the group seeks to protect the rights of individuals — even degenerates like NAMBLA and Ollie North – why do the people most vulnerable attack the people that are looking to protect them?)

And where was that declaration of war? Only Congress has the right to make it. Haven’t heard a peep from them since…well…1941.

Buck up, pardner. The judge made the right call, and all the desperate fearful hysteria in the world won’t change reality. Time to come out from under your bed and face the world with courage.

Wulfgar! has an excellent summary of the blog buzz (as of 6pm last night) surrounding former Burns fundraising chief Pat Davison’s recently exposed fraudulent activities. There are some ideas I’d like to highlight.

First is from Western Democrat’s Ken Camp, who wonders how much of the funds Davison raised for Burns were fraudulently acquired:

I guess these corrupt types travel in packs. Conrad Burns took a significant amount of money from his buddy Jack Abramoff, and hired an alleged con-man to fundraise for him. I hope Jon Tester or the DSCC have some folks looking into every donation made to Burns, because there could be some fraud or illegal donations there. There used to be a low for corruption in politics, and his name was Richard Nixon. Guys like Conrad Burns take it to a new level.

I’d go further. I think the FEC should get involved. I think we need to freeze every asset that Burns has collected until we can verify that its source was freely given and legitimate. And every penny that Davison gave to both Burns and Rehberg through his shadow companies should be given back to the people Davison defrauded.

A couple of things the good people over at Intelligent Discontent uncovered are also worth highlighting. First, while Klindt claims Davison hasn’t worked for Burns in “four weeks,” there was no announcement concerning his departure. Your chief fundraiser quits the campaign, and it’s not a newsworthy event? Two things: either the folks working for Burns knew why he was quitting and wanted to keep it out of the spotlight, or he never quit.

Second, Klindt and his choreographed line of kicking-girl blogs are starting to downplay Davison’s role in the campaign. He was a volunteer. His role was small in the campaign. Jason pretty much destroys this argument by culling a link to a Burns staff press release which describes the position as “key.” This Helena IR January announcement calls Davison one of the “leaders” on Burns’ staff.

Hm, he warrants press releases when he’s hired…? In any case, that’s enough of that right-wing spin. Let us never mention it again.

Probably the most disturbing thing about this burgeoning scandal is Helena IR’s Chuck Johnson’s coverage of the scandal – again covered by the crack team of Intelligent Discontent – in which he basically edited out Davison’s involvement with Burns. Interesting, eh? NeoMadison valiantly claims that Davison’s most newsworth association is that he once ran for governor, but of course that’s pure horsesh*t. Here’s the chief fundraiser for Conrad Burns – who’s running in one of the six most important Senate races this year, a year in which Democrats could wrest Congress from the GOP, and put an end to corruption and incompetence – who gets arrested for fraud, and that’s not newsworthy???

No, Davison’s activities are newsworthy, and not just because he was raising funds for Boss Hogg, but because he’s just another in a long string of dirty conservatives working in this state. Honestly, this state’s Republicans have made it clear that it ain’t just a couple of bad apples. I’ve always said I’d vote for an honest Republican over a crooked Democrat, but are there any honest conservatives in this state?

And let’s not forget that Davison is also a big fan of Denny Rehberg. The only thing that ties Davison to Rehberg right now is the several thousands Davison dropped in Denny’s pocket from fictitious companies. But why is it when there’s a big stink with Burns, there’s also a little whiff from the Representative, too?

I’m growing tired of rushing to correct Denny Rehberg’s every public statement. It’s tiresome. It’s bothersome. Why can’t Montana’s Representative just say what issues and policies he really supports instead of masking his voting history under a load of liberal rhetoric? Like his campaign flier, paid for by my tax dollars. Or his July guest editorial in the Gazette.

Here we go again.

This time it’s Rehberg’s “defense” of the horrendous 2005 Energy Act.

Before we delve into Rehberg’s guest editorial, let’s see what the Washington Post has to say about the bill:

The bill exempts oil and gas industries from some clean-water laws, streamlines permits for oil wells and power lines on public lands, and helps the hydropower industry appeal environmental restrictions. One obscure provision would repeal a Depression-era law that has prevented consolidation of public utilities, potentially transforming the nation’s electricity markets.

[snip]

…it exempts oil and gas companies from Safe Drinking Water Act requirements when they inject fluids — including some carcinogens — into the earth at high pressure, a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Betty Anthony, director for exploration and production at the American Petroleum Institute, said states already regulate the process, but residents of Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia and other states have complained that it has polluted groundwater in their communities.

Meanwhile, the measure will streamline Bureau of Land Management drilling permits — even though the Bush administration already has granted a record number of permits on BLM land. Lawmakers also authorized seismic blasting in sensitive marine areas to gauge offshore oil reserves — despite a moratorium on drilling in many of those areas. And the bill will exempt petroleum well pads from storm-water regulations under the Clean Water Act. Anthony said the provision makes sense because the wells are already exempt, but critics question why the oil and gas industry, which has seen record profits in recent months, should be exempt from any aspect of environmental law.

The bill also granted $500 million in subsidies for deep-water drilling for oil and gas and millions of dollars in other subsidies largely to the oil, coal, and gas industries.

Indeed, calling this an “energy” bill was no misnomer, for we’ll be paying a federal bill to the energy industry for years to come. As if they need more profits.

So what did Denny Rehberg write about this bill?

Honestly, it’s difficult to follow. I mean…there are words and everything…and they seem to follow one another in some semblance of grammatical order…but…well…none of it makes any sense. Take this:

For more than a decade, Washington bureaucrats and politicians ignored the imminent threat on the horizon by refusing to invest in American sources of energy. Because of their inaction, we’re now held hostage by countries unfriendly to the United States, and we’re feeling the result at the pump. That’s why I helped to craft our country’s first ever (and long overdue) national energy policy, and it’s why I am continuing my work to bring some Montana common sense into legislation like the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

“Invest in American sources of energy”? Of course, the amount of untapped in the country would hardly make a dent in our consumption. And it’s expensive to extract. So we’d still be buying oil from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. And the deep-sea drilling the bill subsidizes seems to have been a Tom DeLay earmark for his home district, which relies economically on deep-sea oil drilling. I just don’t understand the logic here, how millions in subsidies to the most profitable industry has anything to do with “American sources of energy.”

Rehberg goes on to tout alternative energy development. Only it turns out to be coal and freeing the energy industry from regulation:

It’s time for America to buy Montana energy. We must increase our domestic energy production to ensure that we are no longer reliant on unstable, foreign sources. That means implementing the technologies we have in our toolbox to both explore for fossil fuels and ensure that our environment is preserved for future generations. That also means streamlining bureaucratic red tape that has left the United States without a new refinery in 30 years and with an aging infrastructure that leaves us vulnerable to price fluctuations. With the passage of this piece of comprehensive energy legislation, the development of traditional energy sources will ensure that we can increase our supply of American made energy for the long term.

Maybe someone should mention to Rehberg that “alternative” energy should be non-fossil-fuel based. Wind. Solar. Hydro-electric. Well, to be fair to the Rep., he does mention this stuff, but apparently thinks the way to achieve more development is to give money to oil companies. And freeing companies of regulation ain’t such a great idea, not if you like to hunt, fish, or breathe. And forget about drinking water.

Here he is defending a bill in which he and his GOP brethren gave away taxpayer money to their big oil buddies in exchange for a little back-scratching ($200K in campaign donations to Denny), and he basically tells it will free us of oil dependency. It…just…doesn’t…make…any…sense. My brain writhes in agony trying to figure out the logic.

Lindeen:

And why does my opponent vote to give unprecedented tax breaks and royalty relief to big oil corporations? Maybe it’s because of the almost $200,000 in campaign contributions he has received from big oil and gas interests over his career.

Why isn’t anyone talking about higher gas mileage standards for US cars? A simple 10 mpg boost would save us more oil in a few years than the total found in ANWR. Why isn’t anyone talking about encouraging supermarkets and box stores to concentrate on buying local produce? That helps American farmers and reduces oil consumption. Why aren’t we talking a gasoline tax – balanced by a reduction in the payroll tax, say, and exempting farm fuel? That would increase incentive to develop alternative energy without costing taxpayers any extra money.

Just like in the case of global warming, there are policies we can enact now, which would be neither deleterious to the economy nor difficult to enact, but which would cut down on gasoline consumption and reduce carbon emissions.

Certainly as long as Denny Rehberg and his like-minded Republican cronies – who have time and time again demonstrated they prefer personal enrichment and political power over ethics and practical policy – remain in office, we’ll continue to see this issue dodged. It’s not in the interest of oil companies to see less consumption of their product, it’s not in their interest to build infrastructure to make gas cheaper and easier to process. And as long as oil profits from shortages, the politicians that suck off the oil teat will toe the line and keep diverting valuable taxpayer money away from energy programs that will actually benefit working- and middle-class Americans.

So you probably heard the news over at Left in the West already, but Conrad Burns’ fundraising chief, Pat Davison, is accused of fraud. Basically he bilked a couple of families for more than a million dollars.

Now, to me, that means Burns’ incoming campaign money might be tainted. I mean, if the guy in charge of raising money for you is a conman and thief, shouldn’t that mean the funds he raised for the Senator undergo a little extra scrutiny?

Anyhow, what I wanted to mention here was a line from Jan Falstad’s Gazette piece on Davison’s fall:

Davison also was co-chairman of the re-election finance committee for Sen. Conrad Burns, D-Mont., but resigned recently according to the Associated Press.

I guess this means Klindt will start yelling that it’s a bipartisan scandal.

And who says traditional media has a liberal bias?

Update: Shane’s done the homework, found the Davison “companies,” and tracked how much each has anted up to Burns and Rehberg’s coffers. Will these folks hold on to their ill-gotten donations, or will they give the money back from whom it was stolen?

Update 2: Pogie has posted a summary of the charges. My, oh, my!

Links…

Liberal Wacko on Rehberg, Shane on Monica Lindeen.

WesternDemocrat on the importance of state-level races, and the Western Republican defections.

Kossak moonboots on the Moonies’ Korean anti-press smashup. Or check out John Gorenfeld’s blog, which tracks the Rev. Moon’s activities in the U.S.

Lizzie on the first anniversary of Katrina. Never forget.

Jon Stewart on Rockey, the Katrina survivor and GOP plant.

The New York Times on neocon war fantasies, “Wanted: Scarier Intelligence.”

Glenn Greenwald on who should decide what to do about Iran. Congress!

Iraq war widow to Bush: “end the war.” Dick won’t let him.

Democratic Representatives on Donald Rumsfeld.

Midterm Madness on Katherine Harris’ catchin’ the spirit.

Steve Benen on the far-right belief in “the death of science.”

BoingBoing on the sale of the SS Minnow, Barney’s penis, and the Colbert debate.

So, here it is, a breakthrough in stem-cell research that allows scientists to harvest human stem cells without destroying embryos:

Under the procedure, a human egg and sperm are combined in a laboratory dish and grown for two to three days, producing a cluster of about eight to 10 cells. One of the cells is removed and allowed to divide overnight. Then, while one of the divided cells is used for the genetic test, the other is grown into stem-cell lines for research.The remaining cluster of seven to nine cells is grown for a few more days and placed in the woman’s uterus to become a fetus.

So there you go. End of the controversey. No more ethical debate about preserving life. Done deal. Now we can move on, divert needed federal funds to stem cell research and get cracking on all the research on neurological diseases for which stem cells are desperately needed.

Right?

Not so fast, pardner.

The usual gang of moralists object:

In a statement, the Bush Administration, which has repeatedly objected to embryonic stem cell research because it involved what it views as the destruction of life in order to save life, noted, “Any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical concerns. This technique does not resolve all those concerns. The President is hopeful that with time scientists can find ways of deriving cells like those now derived from human embryos but without the need for using embryos.”

There you go. If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now. Politicians aren’t going to let their pet issues go, especially if those issues pad your bankroll and get thousands of activists on the streets ringing doorbells in your name.

Great letter in the Missoulian today on our state’s sole Representative, Snidely Whiplash written by Susan Edwards of Missoula:

It’s time to come home, Denny

Former Congressman and presidential candidate Pete McCloskey urged his fellow Republicans to vote Democratic this fall:

“I have decided to endorse every honorable Democrat now challenging those Republican incumbents who have acted to protect former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have flatly reneged on their Contract With America promise in 1994 to restore high standards of ethical behavior in the House and who have combined to prevent investigation of the Cunningham and Abramoff/Pombo/DeLay scandals. These Republican incumbents have brought shame on the House, and have created a wide-spread view in the public at large that Republicans are more interested in obtaining campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists than they are in legislating in the public interest.”

Of course our Rep. Denny Rehberg was so very vocal in repudiating the unethical tactics and practices of DeLay et al, wasn’t he?

Alas, Rehberg didn’t stand up, didn’t do the right thing. On a visit to the Rehberg Missoula office last summer, when the full scope of the Abramoff/Pombo/DeLay scandals was becoming known, I asked where our representative stood. The answer (after a call to some higher up) was that Rehberg stood foursquare for God, Home and Apple Pie, and by golly if anybody did anything wrong, well he was agin’ it. A follow-up letter to his office in Washington elicited a reply of the same noncommittal, political-spin claptrap.

Time to come home Denny, you’ve been back in the big city to long. It seems you’ve not only gotten a mite confused as to the difference between right and wrong, but lot a bit of your backbone as well.

Gasp! Could Rehberg really be against Congressional reform? How dare Ms. Edwards make wild unsubstantiated accusations against our Honorable Representative?

Good thing 4&20 blackbirds is here! I’ll substantiate those accusations!

He voted twice (here’s Rehberg’s voting history; you’ll need this one a lot in this post) to kill investigations into the Abramoff scandal, first in H Res 746 (March 30, 2006) and then in H Res 762 (April 5, 2006).

He consistently voted to change Congressional rules in order to protect his beloved leader, Tom DeLay, from ethics charges (H Res 5, January 4, 2005, H Res 240, April 27, 2005) and voted to block investigation of DeLay’s ethical impropriety (H Res 845, October 8, 2004).

Rehberg voted to weaken the Congressional ban on gifts (H Res 5, January 7, 2003) and against campaign finance reform (HR 2356, February 14, 2002).

So he voted to protect his corrupt brethren. Big deal! He’s not taking any money from questionable sources! I mean besides the $18K from Abramoff. Or the “business” he did in Carter County on behalf of Abramoff associate, Kevin Ring. And forget about the little “slush fund” he staffed with friends and family right here in Missoula…

All I can say is no wonder he stands for “God, Home, and Apple Pie”: he fails to withstand scrutiny on issues like integrity and character. (And I suspect God ain’t giving him passing grades, either.)

Let’s send him home to his pie this November. (God will handle His own affairs in due time.) Support Monica Lindeen.

Links…

So I pointed out how ridiculous some of Burns Vote Smart answers were…Shane points out the lies…so, let me get this straight. This survey is supposed to help educate the voter? Do you prefer a candidate who doesn’t fill out the survey, or who lies on the survey?

Speaking of how new development can negatively impact their communities…

WesternDemocrat on the Wyoming House race.

Budge wonders about a general drop in traffic at political blogs. Funny thing is, traffic is up at MyDD 9 percent, up at ActBlue 24 percent, up at Ned Lamont’s website by over 500 percent… Traffic is up at my site since March over 400 percent. Even those liberal sites in decline have seen only a small bump down compared to the righties. My theory? More blogs, plus fewer interested in right-wing spin.

Jeff Mangan agrees that the out-of-state funding of the terrible trio of initiatives and the anti-union campaign is essentially anti-Montanan.

Agricultural Secretary piles on Burns over his firefighter comments.

I’ve been talking about racism in conservative circles; Matt discovers a healthy does of anti-Catholic sentiment, too.

Burns is one of Jack Cafferty’s “Three Stooges”! (Burns is Curly.)

Why does Wal-Mart love authoritarian Communist regimes? Because it’s profitable! Long live the “free market,” promoting democracy across the globe!

That’s right! August 22 was supposed to be Armageddon! Did the Rapture come and leave everybody behind? Is that what happened?

Meanwhile the GOP war machine ramps up…elections must be coming!

Lieberman campaigns with Republicans. What’s that noise from the Dem leadership? *crickets*

Today the Billings Gazette offers up two guest editorials on CI-154, one “representing” each side of the debate. Actually – and the quotes may tip you off – I found Terry Anderson’s defense of CI-154 to be maliciously misleading, confusing, and…well…bad. Budge should have written this thing. At least he admits it’s a regulatory-takings initiative, not an initiative dealing with eminent domain.

So let’s look at the editorials.

Anderson’s defense starts with the SCOTUS decision on Kelo, which allowed a Connecticut town to take private property under eminent domain laws, and give it to a private developer. Anderson:

Though the Kelo ruling was a legal set back for property-rights advocates, it has since sparked a nationwide movement to limit eminent domain powers, specifically, and land-use regulations, generally.

The comparison of Kelo to CI-154 is completely irrelevant. 154 is not an initiative that limits the government’s power of eminent domain. In fact, if passed, it would place developers under fewer restraints. Kelo might have been stopped by a citizen’s initiative making environmental regulations stricter at the development site, for example, a citizens’ tactic for controlling development 154 would basically eliminate.

Got that? CI-154 would actually make eminent domain seizures of private property for private development easier. Anderson pretty much admits as much:

True, if taxpayers have to pay for regulatory takings, they may demand fewer of them. But this is just the law of demand telling us that raising the price of regulation will reduce the demand for it – “derail it,” if you will.

So…CI-154 will bless our communities with either higher taxes or an inability to pass land-use regulations. As if to further the illogic, Anderson uses Governor’s Schweitzer’s recent comments on water use in support of CI-154:

Reflecting on a district court’s ruling that the Mitchell Slough running through private land is not a natural water course and therefore not open to public access, the governor said, “If you want to buy a big ranch and you want to have a river and you want privacy, don’t buy in Montana. The rivers belong to the people of Montana.”

Of course, CI-154 means that the Governor would have to accept the court’s ruling and close off access to our public waterways so a few wealthy out-of-staters can enjoy their views and pretend they’re “real” Montanans. Is this support for 154? Do Montanans really want right Hollywood stars closing off access to our public lands and waterways? Somehow Anderson believes we do.

As if the editorial were confusing enough, Anderson ends with an outright lie:

A vote against allows government to take property without paying and leaves all property owners vulnerable to the tyranny faced by Susette Kelo.

Um. Current laws require the government to compensate owners for land taken under eminent domain laws. CI-154 has NOTHING to do with eminent domain!

Or, as CI-154 opponent William Mattice writes in his guest editorial,

Terry L. Anderson and other writers keep bringing up the Connecticut case where New London condemned private land and gave it to a developer. That is a dishonest scare tactic. That cannot happen here because Montana law wisely does not allow it.

What Anderson and the out-of-state money people who paid to collect the signatures for I-154 want is to eliminate all land regulations. They will not mind if the developers cover all of Montana with asphalt subdivision roads and asphalt roofs. They say they have a right to develop their private property and that regulations should not stop them.

Amen.

As Mattice notes, the Montana Constitution says that property owners – having the right to acquire, possess, and protect private property – must recognize “corresponding responsibilities.” That is, you shouldn’t develop your land if it negatively impacts your neighbor’s property. Environmental regulations are our community’s expression of how we want to treat our natural spaces and our health and well-being; “derailing” it – as Anderson admits 154 will do – seems to ignore this little facet of the Constitution. And that New Testament stricture, “do unto others” as well.

Mattice notes the west was built on neighbors agreeing to commonsense regulations, and ends with this cautionary note:

I said once that high-density subdivisions should be limited in remote areas to avoid depleting the water table for existing uses and avoid pollution of wells like we read about in the North Helena Valley. Someone answered, “We have plenty of water and our well isn’t polluted now, so why worry about it?” Should we wait until the water table drops and all the subdivision wells are polluted and then worry about it? It is too late then.

The West has a fragile ecosystem. Unchecked development aiding a rapidly growing population will only mean we’ll all have to pay for CI-154 later.

Liddy Dole is back! What is this…her third swing through the state?

Of course, her continued appearances on behalf of Burns only reinforces the fact that no respectable conservative will be seen in public with our junior Senator. Don’t hold your breath for John McCain. Forget about Mitt Romney. Rudy Giuliani? Not on your life.

See, these are conservatives even I would be delighted to meet. Who does Burns get? Liddy Dole. Dick Cheney. George W Bush. The unknown and the unlovable.

I guess national Republicans would rather let the Senate seat slip to Tester than risk their reputation stumping on behalf of Burns.

There I was, providing a possible reason why Tester wouldn’t want to fill out his Project Vote Smart survey, when I suddenly realized the best way to explain the danger of the checklist-nature of the survey is to use an example!

Lo! Imagine my joy when I realized that Senator Conrad Burns had filled out his survey! And if there ever was an example for why a candidate should avoid these things, it’s this survey! Watch as I ruthlessly attack the Senator for his answers…

First up, abortion! What’s the Senator’s position? He answered “e” and “f”: “Abortions should be legal when the life of the woman is endangered,” and “Prohibit public funding of abortions and to organizations that advocate or perform abortions.”

What’s missing? A check next to “Abortions should be legal when the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape.” That’s right, folks! Meet your Senator, Conrad Burns, who thinks a girl raped by her father should have to carry her misbegotten fetus to term.

Lovely.

Scrolling down to the less horrific, but more inane, portion of the Senator’s checklist, we reach the budgetary sections. Part 1 of the issue, “Budget Priorities,” where the junior Senator can list budget areas and whether the government should decrease or increase spending. No major surprises as to what’s listed here — except for “arts”(!) at number two — agriculture, defense, education, law enforcement, etc & co. What’s important to note is that all budget areas are listed as “maintain status,” or “increase slightly.”

(Burns would increase slightly the following budget areas: agriculture, law enforcement, homeland security, and emergency preparedness. Guess if a bureaucracy — Dept of Homeland Security, FEMA — is hopelessly incompetent, the best solution for fixing it is to throw money at it. That should work.)

Section two — defense spending — shows the Senator would like to “slightly increase” four categories and maintain the rest.

Ready? Here comes the fun part. Taxes!

According to the Senator we should “greatly decrease” income taxes for all income brackets, “greatly decrease” alcohol, capital gains, cigarette, corporate, gasoline, and inheritance taxes, and increase deductions of all kinds. Burns also supports the repeal of the federal estate tax and making Bush’s tax cuts permanent.

You’re probably already noticing the inherent illogic of his positions, aren’t you? If not, here’s his answer to balancing the budget:

Increase revenue, decrease spending

So…either he’s against balancing the federal budget, or he’s a moron. You decide. And you wonder why people claim conservatives can’t govern.

Moving on to campaign finance reform…yes, the Senator tarried here, believe or not…but not to offer helpful tips on how to institute it. Instead he favors “increas[ing] the amount individuals are permitted to contribute to federal campaigns.”

I bet he does.

Other interesting notes…Burns favors “reduc[ing] prison sentences for those who commit non-violent crimes.” (Always looking ahead, eh Connie?) He’s against the medicinal use of marijuana. (Unlike, say, the state of Montana.) He’s in favor of regulatory-takings legislation, especially when it comes to environmental regulations, but is against the Kyoto Protocol. He’s against federal health care programs for children. Wants to establish English as the national language. (But plans to continue abusing it.) Favors sending aid to foreign countries under all listed circumstances. (See “balancing the budget.”) Thinks we should never withdraw troops from Iraq. (D*mn!) Thinks we should hold governments accountable for terrorists who operate in their country. (Apparently supports an invasion of the UK.) Supports Social Security! (Heck, there are “Democrats” who think we should privatize accounts! Yay, Conrad!)

I admit I didn’t watch the most recent Bush press conference – I generally avoid any direct contact between the press and the President as it’s usually more bewildering or ridiculous than informative – but a couple of reactions to the meeting caught my eye.

First was Eugene Robinson’s WaPo column, in which he expresses frustration (“President on another planet”) at the President’s obliviousness or malicious misstatements on the Middle East.

According to the Iraqi government, 3,438 civilians were killed in July, making it the bloodiest month since the invasion. The president was asked yesterday whether the failure of the U.S.-backed “unity” government to stem the orgy of sectarian carnage disappoints him, and he said that no, it didn’t. How, I wonder, is that possible? Does he believe it would be a sign of weakness to admit that the flowering of democracy in Iraq isn’t going exactly as planned? Does he believe saying everything’s just fine will make it so? Is he in denial? Or do 3,438 deaths really just roll off his back after he’s had his workout and a nice bike ride?”

I hear a lot of talk about civil war” in Iraq, he allowed — much of it apparently from his own generals, who have been increasingly bold in using the once-forbidden phrase — but all that talk doesn’t seem to penetrate very far. To the president, is all the bad news from Iraq just “talk” without objective reality?

Robinson also drills Bush for – ignorantly? – claiming that terrorists are “trying to stop the advance of democracy,” when evidence seems to show otherwise, that both Hezbollah and Hamas have democratically elected leaders in the Lebanese and Palestinian governments.

In the end, Robinson isn’t sure if Bush is either completely out of touch or just “trying to hang on” to 2009, when it’s somebody else’s turn.

As harsh as Robinson is, Kaplan is harsher. In a column entitled “What a moronic press conference! It’s clear Bush doesn’t understand Iraq or Lebanon or Gaza or…” he begins thusly:

Among the many flabbergasting answers that President Bush gave at his press conference on Monday, this one—about Democrats who propose pulling out of Iraq—triggered the steepest jaw drop: “I would never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me. This has nothing to do with patriotism. It has everything to do with understanding the world in which we live.”

George W. Bush criticizing someone for not understanding the world is like … well, it’s like George W. Bush criticizing someone for not understanding the world. It’s sui generis: No parallel quite captures the absurdity so succinctly.

It’s an old Bush tactic…and the kind of thing you see from third-graders…jump all over your critics for they see wrong in you. “You’re dumb!” “No, you’re dumb!” He revels in the “gotcha” remarks – those smirks emanating from behind the podium, even in the grimmest of statements, when he must be thinking…yeah…that’s good…when he says something coherent.

Kaplan also jumps all over Bush’s claim that democracy is the natural opponent to terror, noting, “The key reality that Bush fails to grasp is that terrorism and democracy are not opposites. They can, and sometimes do, coexist. One is not a cure for the other.”

Kaplan rides the Prez for his failure to understand the desperate situation in Iraq, for failing to understand who the terrorists are, his hollow claims for wanting to aid Lebanese government while being outspent by Iran’s economic package for Hezbollah.

But most disturbing to Kaplan, is that Bush doesn’t appear to know what the word “strategy” means:

Asked if it might be time for a new strategy in Iraq, given the unceasing rise in casualties and chaos, Bush replied, “The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and dreams, which is a democratic society. That’s the strategy. … Either you say, ‘It’s important we stay there and get it done,’ or we leave. We’re not leaving, so long as I’m the president.”

The reporter followed up, “Sir, that’s not really the question. The strategy—”

Bush interrupted, “Sounded like the question to me.”

First, it’s not clear that the Iraqi people want a “democratic society” in the Western sense. Second, and more to the point, “helping Iraqis achieve a democratic society” may be a strategic objective, but it’s not a strategy—any more than “ending poverty” or “going to the moon” is a strategy.

Strategy involves how to achieve one’s objectives—or, as the great British strategist B.H. Liddell Hart put it, “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy.” These are the issues that Bush refuses to address publicly—what means and resources are to be applied, in what way, at what risk, and to what end, in pursuing his policy. Instead, he reduces everything to two options: “Cut and run” or, “Stay the course.” It’s as if there’s nothing in between, no alternative way of applying military means. Could it be that he doesn’t grasp the distinction between an “objective” and a “strategy,” and so doesn’t see that there might be alternatives? Might our situation be that grim?

*gulp*

Links…

After some prodding, the notorious Ts – Mark and Steve – have started their own blog, “Piece of Mind.” Turn the tables and go give ‘em h*ll in the comments!

Colby has also created a blog for reasoned debate between liberals and conservatives. Good luck!

Wrong Dog’s Shane Mason sticks to the GOP over their association to the blogs in a sweet letter to the Helena IR.

Matt Singer talks about another campaign – this one against state employees and their unions – financed by mysterious out-of-state sources.

Singer on Connie’s house painter jokes.

Motto’s billboard hits – Montana blog edition!

Fred Kaplan’s latest on Bush: “What a moronic press conference!” Don’t hold back, Fred.

According to Bush’s logic, we should invade Britain for harboring terrorists. (Hat tip to Steve Benen.)

The Bush administration is calling up as many as 2,500 inactive Marine reservists. And probably won’t be able to equip them. Had enough?

Is the Bush administration beginning to realize its failures in the Middle East?

Meanwhile, the American right is disintegrating and Digby is there.

Kos on the WY House race.

It’s official: Lieberman is nuts.

Will Bunch takes a look at New Orleans’ “average guy,” Rockey Vaccarella, who drove his FEMA trailer to DC to talk with President Bush and finds a GOP operative. I’m shocked!




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