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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, August 7, 2006


Taking Advantage

Will they or won't they? That's the question we're all asking as the Alaskan oil field, which is responsible for eight percent of all US consumed oil, is shut down. The price for a barrel of crude oil has jumped one dollar.

This reminds me of the recent price rise in crude a few weeks ago when the price soared to $78 per barrel. However, in this case, gasoline prices didn't rise at all. The speculation for the lack of a price increase was that this is an election year and the Republicans were getting nervous. It will be interesting to see if they still are.

Compensating for the loss of crude production was "severely limited,"
-Kevin Norrish of Barclays Capital

It sounds to me like the boys who trade in this commodity want to hile the price, election year or not.

If the Bushies can't work with their "base" of "haves and heave-mores" on this issue, one wonders whether the honeymoon is over.

The reason for the shutdown, according to BP Exploration Alaska, a division of Britain's BP PLC, is the corrosion of a pipeline in Prudhoe Bay. And we all know how environmentally friendly these oil companies are.

"Oil prices could increase by as much as $10 per barrel given the current environment,"
-Tetsu Emori, chief commodities strategist at Mitsui Bussan Futures in Tokyo

Now remember this, boys and girls: Oil companies are already experiencing the greatest profits in history. CEO salaries and benefits are at all-time highs. Every time crude oil prices rise, we, the consumer, has to shell out dollars, not only for the price increase, but for the profit on that increase, on a percentage basis. In other words, $10 a barrel translates to $20, $30 or much, much more to us in real dollars for that same barrel.

If BP fabricated that pipeline out of inferior materials (materials that corrode easily), we, the consumer are going to pay for the new pipeline as well as the increase in fuel costs. That's how business in price-gouging land works.

"We regret that it is necessary to take this action, and we apologize to the nation and the state of Alaska for the adverse impacts it will cause,"
"We will not resume operation of the field until we and government regulators are satisfied it can be operated safely and pose no threat to the environment."
-Bob Malone, BP America chairman and president

Let me translate that for all of you: BP will not resume production until they squeeze every nickel they can from the American people. BP will say that they're environmentally responsible to the people of Alaska, even though it was their greed and negligence that brought out this latest, near environmental disaster (or is it "near"?). BP is saying "Whoops! We're sorry for screwing up, but you'll have to pay for the cleanup, helping us build a new pipeline and still pay higher prices for fuel.

Let's face it: Being a world energy giant means never having to say you're sorry. It's a lot like being a Republican president.

-Noah Greenberg

Another Bum Bites the Dust

"I must think of them first, and I can no longer put them through this ordeal,"
Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), regarding his reason for not seeking re-election

Coming on the heels of Jack Abramoff's plea bargain and Rep. Tom Delay's (R-TX) announcing that he won't seek the "G"reed "O"ver "P"eople party (re-) nomination for his congressional seat, Ney going to slink away and hope he doesn't have to spend time in an orange suit. The guy known as "Representative Number One" who received "services and gifts" from Abramoff and his clients is thinking of only his family as he makes drops from the race he would surely lose.

What a guy, huh?

Neil Volz, Ney's former chief of staff has already admitted wrong-doing and has pleaded guilty to conspiring to send Ney on the wrong path. Why, that would make Bob a victim. After all, how could a mere man say no to all that stuff?

But don't fret for Bob Ney. After all, he still had over $400,000 in the bank and all of that Abramoff money to pay off the devil with.

-Noah Greenberg

The Rules of War

The USMC rules of engagement are "kill all military aged males," and American Christian Marines cannot instinctively recognize that as a violation of the rules of war?

I ask all and sundry does Christianity provide a moral framework that allows its adherents to distinguish EVIL from mere immorality?

-Robert Chapman

Unemployment Lines Don't Lie (but Bush does!)

All this year, President Bush has been able to bamboozle at least some people into thinking that the economy has been humming along just fine for working Joes and Janes. With today’s unemployment report, that spin machine will falter.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the unemployment rate went up to 4.8 percent, an increase from 4.6 percent in June. What is perhaps more significant is that the net increase in the number of jobs in July—113,000—was lower than the roughly 150,000-job increase many economists expected , and continues what many experts say is the economy’s persistent underperformance in producing jobs.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research notes in today's Jobs Bytes report hat the economy has added only about 402,000 jobs since March, and "a rate of job growth of 100,000 per month is not sufficient to keep the unemployment rate from rising."

Meanwhile, the Economic Policy Institute says in its latest analysis that the jobs report "confirms that the various headwinds that have reduced overall economic growth are also being felt in the job market."

The Institute also says that trends underlying the report are likely to mean "longer job searches for new and returning workers entering the job market, and this could put upward pressure on the unemployment rate in coming months. Though wages are still rising at a decent clip, this dynamic will ultimately put the brakes on wage growth. While that may encourage central bankers worried about (phantom) wage pressures on prices, it's a tough deal for most workers, whose paychecks still lag inflation."

The job crunch also appears to be cutting a wide swath through the job market. For the second consecutive month, there was no growth in retail jobs, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. There was only a slight uptick in construction jobs. And much of a meager addition of 22,000 manufacturing jobs in June was erased by a loss of 15,000 jobs in that category in July. The Center for Economic and Policy Research says there are signs that supervisory and white-collar workers are losing out as well. They note that the number of production workers in manufacturing has risen by 169,000 over the last year, while non-production employment has fallen by 152,000, a sign that managers and administrators are being squeezed out.

And while unemployment rates among whites and Latinos remained unchanged, unemployment among African-Americans increased a full half-percentage point, to 9.5 percent, over June. For teenagers the unemployment rate shot up from 14 percent in May to 15.5 percent in July.

Here’s the reality: Since July 2000, we have gone from a 4.0 unemployment rate to a 4.8 percent unemployment rate, after at least $860 billion worth of tax cuts pushed by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress ostensibly intended to stimulate the economy and produce more jobs. Yes, 2.2 million new jobs have been created, but not mainly because the private sector has stepped to the plate; there are far fewer goods-producing, manufacturing and, perhaps surprisingly, information sector jobs today than in 2000. Credit instead such sectors as health care, education and the effects of government spending for ramped-up homeland security and the "war on terror."

Secretary Of Labor Elaine Chao released a statement saying that the uptick in unemployment was "largely the result of people re-entering the labor market, as opposed to people losing their jobs." That does help explain the short-term change. It does not mask the broader reality: The growth in the economy is failing to keep up with the volume of work being sought as well as the quality of jobs people want. Reports such as this 2005 Economic Policy Institute analysis, which concluded that since 2001, "nearly every indicator—from job gains to economic outputto spending—has fallen far short when stacked against comparable periods in past cycles," shows that the administration’s economic policies have been not merely ineffectual, but actually reckless.

But then again, this is the administration that even just today still declares that minimum-wage workers should not get a wage increase unless multimillionaires get an estate tax break. It is bad news for workers, but it will make it easier for progressives to make their case that we need a change of direction
--Isaiah J. Poole | Friday, August 4, 2006 11:34 AM

-Robert Scardapane

Dirty Tricks

"A group of mostly Democratic U.S. senators blocked legislation on Thursday that would have raised the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, because it also would have permanently cut estate taxes paid by the rich.
"On a 56-42 vote, the Republican-led Senate failed to get the 60 votes needed to clear the way for final congressional passage. Earlier approved by the House of Representatives, the bill would have raised the $5.15-per-hour minimum wage to $7.25 over three years.
"The Senate vote was a setback for conservative Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who put the inheritance tax cut at the top of their agenda."
-the Kos Man

This was a dirty election time trick that was probably conjured up by Karl Rove. The Rethuglicans in the Senate changed the rules so that a super-majority (60 votes) was needed to pass a pure minimum wage increase bill (this Democratic bill failed by one vote). The Rethuglicans used an obscure procedural rule to claim that a super-majority is needed when any Senator declares a bill will have undue economic hardship on their state (yet, minimum wage increases are correlated with job growth not economic hardship). Instead, the Rethuglicans came up with this trick bill calculated to take money away from waiters, bellhops and other tipped employees and give the super rich the ultimate gift - the repeal of the estate tax (1 trillion dollars would have been lost from the treasury over the next ten years). The Rethuglicans are simply disgraceful - use this against them in the days ahead!!!

-Robert Scardapane

You Say Menendez, I Say Martinez

Some of the president's best friends are Cuban-Americans.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), at the White House this spring for a meeting with other senators to discuss immigration with President Bush, was surprised when Bush approached him as the meeting broke up and observed: "Senator Martinez, you've been very quiet."

"That's Martinez," Menendez said, pointing to Mel Martinez — Florida's junior senator and Bush's former secretary of housing and urban development. "I'm Menendez."

Bush turned bright red, we're told.

It was probably an innocent mistake, but the idea that Bush can't quite tell the difference between two Cuban-American senators, one of whom used to be in his cabinet, is kind of amusing. Unless, of course, you are Martinez or Menendez. The mistake is a little like if Bush mistook his sister-in-law, who is Colombian, for Daisy Fuentes or Carmen Electra.

-Forwarded and commented by Victoria Brownworth


by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2006, San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc.

Having (barely) survived the first round of the terrifying global warming reality show previewed over the past two weeks nationwide, we can now all sit back, relax and enjoy the other meltdowns as we wait for what Rev. Pat Robertson and other evangelicals are saying is imminent: The End Times.

What over-the-top TV event to start with–the heat wave of 2006 (and since November is just around the political corner, keep the following news quote in mind: House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said he would oppose global warming mandates if Republicans control the 110th Congress. "I think the information is not adequate yet for us to do anything meaningful," he said.), the imminence of WW III or Mel Gibson?

This being summer, we have two entertainment choices, scary or fun. Let's do fun, because the end of the world as we know isn't as catchy as the tune and Gibson's tale is perfectly scripted for the tube.

First, a disclaimer: Schadenfreude is a dangerous practice to engage in because you never know when it will suddenly turn into karma. (And it's never wise to trust something invented by the Germans, anyway, especially if Nietzsche had a hand in it.) That said, we have to say how very much we have enjoyed the Mel Gibson debacle from just that vantage point. We've been positively giddy. As Craig Ferguson exclaimed on the first night of the Gibson takedown, "I haven't had this much fun since Dick Cheney shot the lawyer."

On Ferguson's August 4th show he commented on the legs the Gibson scandal had, "This story has run for a full eight days without giving out. Kind of like Hanukkah." (On that same show comedian Carlos Mencia explained Gibson's meltdown this way: "They said it was tequila, but I think he was drinking German beer.")

Melwatch lifted up an otherwise sluggish summer of comedy on late night. (The prize goes to the Jimmy Kimmel show for the photo shop extravaganzas that included a Gibson bar mitzvah, among other hilarities.)

Allow us the Schadenfreude: *We told you so.*

Back when Mel's *Passion of the Christ* was causing controversy, we wrote about the interview Diane Sawyer did with Gibson for ABC and noted that he seemed, well, totally nuts. *Wide-eyed certifiable.* Sawyer asked him several times if he was anti-Semitic. No, no, a thousand times no! Gibson told her. Yet when asked, he refused comment on the fact that his father is a Holocaust denier and writes Holocaust denial literature. As we noted back then–if it looks like a pogrom and smells like a pogrom.... (Kimmel showed a clip from that interview, only in his version Gibson's nose grew each time he denied that he was anti-Semitic.)

So Mel was out drinking with a lot of women not his wife (standard behavior for right- wing ideologues who tout family values, have seven kids and their own churches). Then he goes driving down PCH (fortunately not in the really narrow part with the 300 ft. drop) at 40 miles over the speed limit. Can you spell DUI?

Now why do we think that if *we* had been pulled over, then called the cops "f***ing Jews" and sexually harassed a female cop by calling her "sugar tits," no one would have given us a cup of coffee and a ride home? But then we don't "own Malibu." (Wait–we're confused! Don't "the Jews" own everything?)

The most disturbing aspect of the Gibson debacle isn't that what he said was despicable (although we love seeing him hoisted on his own foul petard). He always *was* despicable. (Don't forget, he hates queers, too, and didn't have the excuse of being drunk to cover his *anti-gay* statements.) But after having watched as much coverage in the past week of Melwatch as of the wars in the Middle East (which according to Mel are all caused by *the Jews*), having seen myriad tabloid TV and serious news shows hand-wringing about what will become of Mel's career and having heard (and howled at) all the late night jokes, in the end it's just another Michael Jackson/ OJ Simpson/ Robert Blake spin: celebs really can get away with anything if they have the money, the power and the fan base. (Unless you're Britney Spears and don't have a car seat.)

Which begs the Kantian question: If TMZ.com hadn't broken the story and fed it to the networks, would it have even *been* a story?

Which begs another question: Why is Gibson's meltdown a story? Why has there been as much videotape of Mel as there has been of the wars in the Middle East? Is it because Harvey Levin, who runs TMZ, is Jewish (Levin told *Nightline* he thought long and hard before he ran the story because of the damage it might do to Gibson's career)? Is it because the major power-brokers in Hollywood are Jewish? Is it a cabalistic conspiracy?

None of the above. Rather, it's that in 2006 outright, in-your-face, public bigotry is just incredibly vulgar. It isn't that people have stopped being bigots. Far from it. It's that the out-loud kind replete with expletives reeks of Alabama trailer trash ickiness and inbred ignorance. Kind of like Mel's mug shot looked.

Sadly, we know Teflon when we see it. Right wingers never seem to take the heat left wingers do for the same crimes (remember when Martin Sheen called the cops on son Charlie to blast him into rehab? Or when Robert Downey Jr. went to *prison*?). So expect the Mel story to take some sappy, weasel-y turn in which all is forgiven and the real culprit turns out to be addiction and Mel is shot wearing a tallis and yarmulke in something other than a photo-shopped Kimmel sketch.

The ever-pithy Ferguson (a self-confessed recovering alcoholic and former blackout drunk who has been sober for 14 years) explained rather succinctly one night last week that for an alcoholic, a .12 alcohol level is nothing and doesn't "cover" the sort of comments Gibson made. Just like it didn't cover his anti-gay diatribes.

*In vino veritas*? Or just a Homer Simpson moment: "Did I say that *out loud*?" The shock isn't in *what* Gibson said, which we all knew he was thinking, but *that* he said it. Icky, icky, icky.

Speaking of bigotry, we grew up in the days when hating Jews was the norm in this country. Not so long ago. But from what we have seen in recent days on the news, evangelical Christians–one in four Americans according to ABC's *Nightline*–have jumped on the support-Israel bandwagon with a vengeance of biblical proportions and suddenly the Jews are a Christian's best friend (well, except Gibson).

Evangelicals are touting the end of the world and pointing to the wars in the Middle East as their template ("there will be wars and rumors of wars"–pretty much covers the Bush and Olmert Administrations, doesn't it?). The evangelicals, according to the various news stories and a big piece on *Nightline* August 3rd, are eagerly awaiting the Rapture–when the Messiah returns to Israel and the faithful (evangelical Christians) are raised up to heaven. (The rest don't fare so well. Particularly the Jews who after care-taking Israel for the evangelicals, perish.)

It's alarming stuff. Especially since it appears to be driving American foreign policy as the President is himself an evangelical as is Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Why else would any sane world leader stand by and watch the carnage in Lebanon and make no move to end it? Or is it just that Bush doesn't watch the news and is thus unaware that Lebanon is being decimated, more than a million Lebanese have been displaced and hundreds have been killed, a third of them children?

Of course seeing former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu popping up on the tube every other hour as he tours Europe and the U.S. stumping for the war can only mean terrible things for Israel and Lebanon. Netanyahu is Israel's Dick Cheney, except good-looking: Machiavellian and fascistic. If Netanyahu is Olmert's pilot fish, the evangelicals could be right: World War III may indeed be around the corner.

Playing up the WWIII angle is big on TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network), the evangelical network. Robertson is clear: Armageddon is coming soon. But in the meantime, it's important to get as much theocracy into government as possible and who better than celebrities for Jesus to help in that fight?

Remember Jennifer O'Neill? Cover Girl model for 30 years, Oscar-nominated star of *Summer of '42,*huge TV movie-of-the-week heroine and guest star on numerous TV series, at 58 O'Neill–still beautiful–has returned to the tube with a vengeance–biblical vengeance.

We caught her on TBN on August 3rd touting her ministries (yes, she has her own ministries: www.jenniferoneill.com) and her latest book, which she described as *Desperate Housewives* for the saved.
O'Neill has testified before the Senate about abortion and refers to herself as "an abortion survivor." She said on TBN that there is life after abortion, but it is fraught with disease (she cites the erroneous data that abortion contributes to beast cancer), addiction, miscarriage.

In case anyone is thinking that Islamists have cornered the market on propagandizing, check out TBN–the world's largest Christian broadcasting network reaching umpteen countries. (They're not too fond of queers, either.)

As Howard Stern noted in an interview with Martin Bashir on *Nightline* August 4th (check out the whole interview at ABCnews.com; it's terrific), the religious right is America's Taliban.

And speaking of ideologues, if there were any doubt that Sen. Hillary Clinton is running for president, that was put to rest when she skewered Donald Rumsfeld on the floor of the Senate August 3rd. In what was one of the best moments of her senatorial career–and only three years late in coming–Sen. Clinton told Rumsfeld he should tender his resignation for having utterly bungled the Iraq war.

Tish tosh, replied Rumsfeld, and went off to ignore more casualty reports–ours and theirs–in earnest. After all, when 3,000 Iraqis have been killed in six-weeks' time, who's to say it's a civil war?

Meanwhile, we're afraid to turn on the tube, the horrors are so ineffable and unending: Carnage everywhere and no leadership in sight. As Jimmy Kimmel noted after Bush's annual physical, "He's the only president who actually looks *better* since he took office. Like he doesn't have a care in the world."

Finally, if the planet is still here in a month, which between global warming, Iraq and Lebanon, looks increasingly doubtful, the new fall lineup is looking absolutely, fabulously escapist: NBC actually has some good series once again (*really* good; you are going to *love* *Studio 60*), CBS is *not*your grandmother's network anymore (you are going to *love* *Smith* and *Jericho*) and ABC is holding steady with solid old (*Lost*) and new (*The Nine*) fare. But that's for another column so, stay tuned.

In response to AOL's "down-sizing" 5,000 employees, Billie M. Spaight writes:

I always disliked AOL.. They don't like rcn and sometimes they block rcn mail.

I hate outsourcing and I think it should be illegal in most cases. Here they are trying to stop Mexicans from coming here but yet they don't mind sending JOBS overseas. That is totally ridiculous. What gives?

Pretty soon all of us will be dead between the lack of employment and the lack of health care. But they will shoot themselves in the feet because there will be nobody for them to boss around or to take money from for their products.

This country is becoming a third-word country.

The Dis-United States of the Banana Republic which stands for nothing.

In response to "Friedman says we are conveying/exporting fear now and it leaves the world with much less optimism for the future and a void of hope," Robert Scardapane writes:

Well, if Mr. Friedman is singing a new tune, I may cut him a break. Note that I did say may! Mr. Friedman has not cut American workers any breaks at all. Some will say that I am just shooting the messenger. I understand that Mr. Friedman didn't invent globalization or outsourcing but he doesn't have to be so cold about it. There is just no reason for Mr. Friedman to be so "excited" by the demise of the American worker and so impressed by his own "irreplaceable", yeah right, value. Okay Mr. Friedman, I may give you one more chance.

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-Noah Greenberg