U.S. Navy vs. the perpetually deferred payday

It's not very often you hear news of the U.S. military attempting to enact genuinely progressive legislation, so this took me by surprise:

Military targets payday lenders

A top Navy official testified during the last legislative session that payday loans -- short-term cash advances typically made at high interest rates -- ensnare young sailors in a dangerous cycle of debt that can harm their combat readiness. A raft of bills was introduced in the House and Senate that would have curtailed payday loans, but only one passed. Critics said the lone bill, which essentially codified the payday industry's "best practices" for lending to military personnel, was weak and ineffective.


"We're looking for much more aggressive legislation. We're looking for some bills with real teeth that will cap APRs (annualized percentage rates) and extend the payback period to 90 days or more," he said, adding that the Navy would be heading back to Olympia for the new legislative session that starts Jan. 9.


"We have been and always will be supportive of legislation that balances the interests of consumers with those of the industry. But we will remain steadfastly opposed to legislation that is a disguised prohibition that serves to take away the alternative or choice of payday loans for consumers," [president and CEO of Seattle-based Moneytree Inc. Dennis] Bassford said.

Hey Bassford, skip the double-talk and just come out with it: payday loans can actually improve combat readiness! Payday lenders and pawnshops are truly the backbone of the American fighting machine.

Anyway, as much as I'd love to support a business model which relies upon postdated checks written by desperate soldiers, I still think predation is something which should be regulated. See the Center for Responsible Lending for more information.

Allawi: Abuse as bad as Saddam era

Practical lessons in the maxim that perception is reality:

Ex-PM: Abuse as bad as Saddam era

LONDON, England -- Human rights abuses in Iraq are as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein if not worse, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has said.

"People are doing the same as (in) Saddam's time and worse," Allawi said in an interview published in Britain on Sunday.

"It is an appropriate comparison," Allawi told The Observer newspaper. "People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things."

And continuing:

"A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations," Allawi said. "We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.

"The Ministry of the Interior is at the heart of the matter," Allawi said. "I am not blaming the minister himself, but the rank and file are behind the secret dungeons and some of the executions that are taking place."

In highlighting this article, I am not slamming our troops, or neccessarily denigrating our efforts there. I am examining the fact that a former prime minister of Iraq is saying that the human rights situation in Iraq is as bad as it was under Saddam. That should give us all here in the American cheap seats a long pause.

Our influence in Iraq is stretched past its capacity to change the course of events there. An extended stay comes with the likelyhood of an expanding list of atrocities - more white phosphorous, more gunned down civilians, more exposed dungeons. Yes we will kill some of the fraction of the insurgency that represents Al Qaeda. But right or wrong, every single abuse that happens in Iraq is branded with a bright American Flag. Even if we win the battles, we will continue to lose the war for the people's trust. Though a precipitous withdrawl could be destructive, it may be the least nauseating choice in a vomitous buffet set out by the current administration.


Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham: Congressman for hire (and he isn't the only one)

Say hello and good bye to another rotted, hand-in-the-cookie-jar soul. A GOP pig at the trough extraordinaire.

Calif. Congressman Admits Taking Bribes

Have you seen enough of this type of Republican leadership? You probably will once the Abramoff trial gets through.


Murtha straight talk express

I saw Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) call for the troops to come home from Iraq. At last someone is talking straight to us. His tough, arid words cut through the sandstorm of spin that seems to shroud all public conversations about Iraq. I am not sure if I agree with Murtha, but his honesty and directness are much needed in our country.

If there ever was, there is not now an honest broker for the case for staying in Iraq left in the Bush administration. It is undoubtedly because the case for going to Iraq was so irrevocably flawed. Combine a broken case for war with the unpallatable truth that our government's post-invasion actions have birthed a failed state and the meaning of the phrase "between a rock and a hard place" becomes immediately clear. Yet do we not need to salvage a respectable exit out of Bush's mess? I think we do. We need to find a way to claim victory and leave.

Right now the way is hidden. The definition of victory has eluded everyone - Republicans, Democrats, independents, think tanks. A vigorous debate about the problem will be required. In that debate, many will seek to advise us. Some, like Murtha, will debate the problem, not the character of those suggesting different solutions than his. Some, like Anne Coulter will do the opposite:

The Democrats are giving aid and comfort to the enemy for no purpose other than giving aid and comfort to the enemy. There is no plausible explanation for the Democrats' behavior other than that they long to see U.S. troops shot, humiliated, and driven from the field of battle.

They fill the airwaves with treason, but when called to vote on withdrawing troops, disavow their own public statements. These people are not only traitors, they are gutless traitors.


Republican rhetoric hasn't been that far behind Coulter's vicious sludge. That, more than anything, should clue you in to the fact that the same folks that brought you this horrendous war fully intend to go down with the ship.

Hurricane Cheney

Cheney on the road snarling, sneering, indignant:

"The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone — but we’re not going to sit by and let them rewrite history,” said Cheney, a principal architect of the war and a focus of Democratic allegations the administration misrepresented intelligence on Iraq’s weapons program.

Cheney said the suggestion Bush or any member of the administration misled Americans before the war “is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.”

Cheney at the end of his career, marching on, applying all the lessons he learned from Nixon and then some. He pulled the strings, massaged the intel, loved Curveball too much.

Now he has agreed to headline Tom Delay's fundraiser for the defense.

Whatever else you say about him, the Dark Lord is a force of nature.

The Press: The Enemy Within sings a sad song

Michael Massing, writing for the New York Review of Books, takes a long look at the abysmal state of US media.

The Press: The Enemy Within will give little reason for the ball of wonder and fear you feel in your stomach as you click through the 200th straight day of the jackson trial to dissipate. It won't provide you reason to hope that the corporavision will stop showing missing white women, feelgoodshow, shoutnews and weather. But it will name your pain.


Michael Brown plans more disasters

When I read this headline:

Ex-FEMA Head Starts Disaster Planning Firm

I honestly thought, "Is Michael Brown planning more disasters?" But no, he intends to help people develop contingency plans.

It could be a trend. George Bush may just become a freelance diplomat. Tom Delay could teach ethics. You could also learn to swan dive from this guy.


Is there a candidate for CD3?

The DCCC has put together a list of every 2006 House race in the country (via Kos).

There's a very real chance of an anti-Republican backlash in 2006, but we need to make sure there's a Democrat running for every seat to take advantage of that. This list is an excellent resource.

Looking at the Minnesota races, there is no one listed to oppose Jim Ramstad in CD3. I know he's a popular incumbent, but there must be someone out there who'd like to take him on.

Is anyone running for this seat?

Star Tribune covers peak oil

The Star Tribune published a story about the reaction to peak oil today. One thing you get from this story is that peak oil is not a left/right issue. Neo-conservative hawks and environmentalists are both concerned about the impact of the end of cheap oil.

For more on Peak Oil, check out The Oil Drum.

DFL picks up a seat in the Senate; What's up with Pawlenty's calendar?

DFLers should be celebrating today, because the party picked up a seat in the State Senate in yesterday's special election in Senate District 43. Terri Bonoff bested Judy Johnson by nearly 1000 votes. Results are here. The Republicans held onto their seat in the other special election yesterday in SD 19.

Why were these elections held two days before Thanksgiving? Why not a more logical date (like, oh, say, election day)?

The governor has the responsibility for scheduling special elections. Governor Pawlenty scheduled these elections at this time. There's two more special elections coming up to fill seats in St. Cloud. Governor Pawlenty scheduled that special election for December 27. Two days after Christmas. In a college town.

Do you detect a pattern here?

MN Politics Guru thinks that Gov. Pawlenty is trying to manipulate the results of these elections by making them as inconvenient as possible.

This fits into a wider pattern of Republican voter suppression. By confusing, scaring, or intimidating voters, they hope to suppress turnout by all but the most dedicated party activists.

By contrast, Democrats generally believe "high turnout is an end in itself" as MN Politics Guru says. Obstacles to voting are obstacles to the will of the people.


Memories: Clinton in 1998

Clinton: Iraq has abused its last chance

"Saddam (Hussein) must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons," Clinton said.

Sounds familiar, eh? In a moment of rare consistency, I protested those airstrikes, which took place in the middle of Clinton's impeachment proceedings. Clinton recently said invading Iraq - obviously a dramatically more difficult undertaking than airstrikes - was "a big mistake."

WaPo has a good rundown of the latest increasingly divisive back-and-forth over Iraq. Here's my favorite, though:

Asked during an appearance in South Korea who was right — Cheney for calling the war criticism reprehensible or Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for saying that questioning one's government is patriotic — Bush appeared perturbed and fired back: "The vice president."


Now that's what I call hardball politics

Star Tribune: Mayor accused in knife death threat: "According to court documents, [Hawley Mayor Davis] Blakeway entered the home of a Hawley man and used a knife to stick a note to the wall threatening to kill him."


The Mondovino Argument

The Star Tribune ran a short article last week about the controversy over wine rankings: "Winemakers, sommeliers, retailers and even some wine writers have complained for years that the most influential wine critics love only sweet, overripe, excessively oaked wines that don't age well and don't complement food."

Jonathan Nossiter explored made this argument in his 2004 documentary Mondovino.

The movie isn't mentioned in the Star Tribune article, but the cast of villians is the same: wine critic Robert Parker, who can make or break a vineyard but only likes certain types of wine; and wine consultant Michel Rolland, who advises vineyards on how to make their wine taste good to Parker (there is a hilarious montage in the film showing Rolland on his cell phone talking to a number of vineries, telling each to "micro-oxigenate, micro-oxigenate").

The movie is long but worth it if you're interested in wine, globalization, or dogs.

(And my advice on picking the right wine? Ask the employees.)

Perference for LRT over buses no surprise to transit advocates

The Star Tribune reported that the Hiawatha light rail ridership numbers are 65% over predictions. Most of the discrepancy is due to riders' preference for LRT over buses. The Metro Council estimates that 40% of LRT riders never ride the bus.

The preference for rail over buses is no surprise for transit advocates. This phenomenon has been observed time after time in cities that (re-)build light rail systems. The Star Tribune article hits on the reasons why people prefer trains: "Rail's smooth ride and consistent schedule make it appealing to riders who would not consider the bus. The permanence of the track and the frequency of service make it easy to use without knowing a schedule."

Exactly. When the trolleys and streetcars were ripped up all over the nation by a conspiracy lead by GM, one of the arguments made to replace trains with buses was that bus lines could easily be reconfigured. It turns out that's exactly the wrong way to go. When a rail line and transit stop are put down, the land around it becomes instantly more valuable, because people know that they can count on that train stopping there several times a day for the indefinite future. In fact, cities like Portland are using that increase in value to fund LRT development through Tax Increment Financing.

The anti-transit Republicans in charge at the state capitol make transit funding for the core cities hard to come by. I hope that Minneapolis and St. Paul will get smart about using TIF to fund our own streetcar projects.

Minneapolis Election Analysis

The voters have spoken. What sort of city government will Minneapolis have for 2006-2009?

Minneapolis Upside Down takes a look at what we got. In short, Loosestrife sees more a more Rybak-friendly council and a mayor with a justifiable claim for a mandate. But what does Mayor Rybak have planned for his second term? We will see.

The Minneapolis Observer also saw a big win for Rybak, and additionally found that the park board reform movement came up short. The reformers have three seats on the board, with a swing vote from Tom Nordyke. The ossified park board incumbents all survived. Disappointing.


U.S. House Leaders Strip Alaska Oil Drilling From Budget Plan

I had to rub my eyes as I read this:

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. House Republican leaders removed from a $50.5 billion budget-cutting plan a provision that would have opened an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling in an effort to win support from dissenting members in their party.

Of course I am rejoicing over the preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve. A pristine tract of wilderness is not a chotchky for the petroleum industry.

What really caught my eye, though, is the willingness of Republicans to part with the White House and the floor leadership. Absent Tom Delay and with Shrub and Co. having every appearance of a mutated quacking duck and lead albatross, the dark cloud may have lifted. Maybe little Frodo Fitzgerald climbed to the mouth of Mordor and tossed in the ring. If that's the case, is there redemption for moderate Republicans with the center left? It will take more than one vote for me. Even if former snarly-mouthed, talking-points-shoveling, Iraq-war peddling, tax-cut and spend Republicans turn all nicey-nicey before the 06 election cycle - we still need to kick them out on their cans. There has been far too many irresponsible, party-line votes under the bridge to just plain forgive and forget. Thanks for the ANWR Vote, though. It should help you sleep better in your collective retirements.

The punched Judy show

I admit Judy Miller is an interesting character. She could star in one of Scooter's turgid novels. Some say [TM: Fox News] she has. Here's a really fascinating article on her curtain call at the Times:

The Reporter's Last Take

Good riddance from my perspective. The bullhorn afforded journalists should come with one minor qualification: Integrity. She doesn't have it.


Dover, PA voters rebuke flat earthers

Kudos to voters in Dover, PA. In a sharp contrast to Kansas, voters replaced 8 Republican, pro-intelligent design school board members with 8 Democrats who ran as a slate to oppose the inclusion of Intelligent Design in science curriculum. (hat tip to the anonymous commenter in my post below).

Dover voters oust intelligent design supporters

In a way, it's too bad this particular argument is even faintly partisan. Good science isn't remotely ideological. I suppose that doesn't change the fact that you would be hard-pressed to find a member of the Democratic Party that is also an Intelligent Design supporter. I am sure they are out there. I just don't know any.

Kansas School Board lacks faith

I half expected the news that the Kansas School Board OKs Evolution Approach to live in infamy with the Onion's Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory. Sadly, I know the truth to be different.

While Intelligent Design is purposefully non-denominational, it is promoted by the Christian Right. It is a stepping stone to a more fundamental world. I interpret the Christian Right's fight to limit human knowledge to a literal interpretation of the Bible as a profound lack of faith.

If God is God, then God cannot be explained by any amount of human effort, scientific or otherwise. Every truth discovered both adds to the body of human knowledge and deepens our understanding of what we do not know. Every successful experiment simply moves the knowledge horizon farther away. In a very powerful way, science can contribute to the view of God as designer by exposing the miraculous precision with which our world was created. However, this view itself is a spiritual view not a scientific view. Science provides the evidence of things seen, or empirical truth.

Spiritual truth is an entirely different matter. The result of a personal quest for spiritual truth is a topographic map of the human heart. Individuals spend their whole lives mapping; each makes his own. Universal spiritual truths are rare but they exist. Religions seek to identify them. A personal quest for spiritual truth may include one or many religions. Individuals determine the validity of a universal spiritual truth as it pertains to their own map. Individuals often evaluate spiritual truth through the lens of faith and prayer. This is an intimate exercise, not readily shared, even within religions.

Empirical truth and spiritual truth are equally valid but determined by different means. The means to arrive at empirical truth, the scientific method, has given us a body of knowledge. This body of knowledge is not related to any one faith or interpretation of God. It has produced facts. Facts are not ideological. I doubt very much that any proponents of intelligent design sit in their cars and pray for them to start. I imagine they use a key to trigger the spark that ignites the fossil fuel that makes their cars move. In their actions they affirm science, evolution in fact, to get where they need to go.

Conflating science with faith weakens both. Confusing spiritual truth with empirical truth results in a weaker spirituality and faulty empirical processes. Thus far we have rightly accorded them two separate places in our society. Our search for empirical truth and our stewardship of the body of knowledge is centered in public shcools and universities. We decide as individuals where and how we will search for spiritual truth.

The idea of Intelligent Design has no empirical basis in fact. It does not belong to the body of empirical knowledge. Intelligent design is at the center of each person's attempt to map his own heart. It does not belong in science classrooms. We do not seek to teach nuclear physics in churches, for example. Why should we seek to teach faith, especially one faith, in schools?

Randy Kelly lost in the Bushes

Kelly was pummeled tonight. He lost because he endorsed Bush, plain and simple. This is as it should be. An endorsement of Bush, no matter how heartfelt, is an endorsement of policies that are bad for our citizens. How about a nice dish of sweet short term gain in exchange for a big cup of steaming long term misery? No thanks. Bush's policies have put every Minnesota citizen under the economic gun. Thanks to our Nincompoop in Chief's profligate spending, there is now a $27,000 birth tax on every newborn. Minnesota's share of the cost of the war in Iraq is now over $5 billion dollars. St. Paul's slice of that pie nets out to about $245 million. Oh...Is that what you stand for Mr. Kelly? See you later.


The Masters of the Universe are parasites

After I read last week about how bond king Michael Gross dropped the equivalent of several thousand worker salaries on a coupla postage stamps, I knew that the parasitic neo-gilded age was in full swing. Now we get to hear that investment bankers stand to reap enormous bonuses this year:

Economically, the year-end bonus makes up most of a Wall Street professional's compensation. Socially, the bonus - and the real estate, art and NetJets shares purchased with it - determines who will be the year's Masters of the Universe. This season, despite a lackluster stock market, bonuses are forecast to be strong for a third consecutive year.


Paychecks for fixed-income traders, those who trade debt - like bonds, credit derivatives and mortgage-backed securities - are expected to be flat to 5 percent higher. Still, coming on top of their already large levels of compensation, such bonuses will leave those traders high on the Street's pecking order.

The big winners could be traders involved in commodities and energy, in particular, proprietary traders who deal in those two high-octane growth areas. They could receive pay increases of 40 percent to 50 percent, with some walking away with $15 million to $20 million each, according to one investment banking executive who is prohibited by his firm from commenting on compensation issues.

Oh c'mon, we're all winners in this deal aren't we? I mean, these investment bankers will use these huge windfalls in order to ... trickle down... their incomes into... art, and jet rentals and stuff. Yeah. Let's not ignore the obvious: these bankers are parasites of the first order, cash-bloaded ticks hungry for the next, bigger blood feast. And those of us who've been seeing our paychecks and lifestyles shrinking can basically thanks these parasites for doing whatever is they do to suck us dry.

Get angry: this is not the way an economy is supposed to work.


The FBI is watching...

Our leaders and legislators have made it possible to gather information secretly, without a warrant, arrest a citizen without due process of law, and house citizens indefinitely in secret prisons. In essence, we have granted our government permission to make us dissapear.

Here's the basic problem with granting exceptions to civil rights. If citizens give permission to government to surveil without permission and arrest without the inconvienient neccessity of having to make a case -- rest assured, it will be used. If history teaches anything it is that power granted will be power used. And power used will eventually be power missused.

Granted, it starts slowly. But where does it end?

Cheney still stumping for torture

Cheney appears to be one of the few remaining American officials who support the use of torture. Some, like McCain, realize that it doesn't work and that it is an affront to basic American values. Others, like Rice, oppose it for practical reasons. Its use causes vast PR problems for the US which in turn produces more terrorists. But Cheney remains resolute.

Reading between the lines of the Washington Post's, Cheney Fights for Detainee Policy, one Cheney's diminishing power twists into focus.

Cheney's camp is a "shrinking island," said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House.


Spinning the shut down

Pontificator wrote an interesting diary on Daily Kos about Harry Reid's war room. In contrast to previous Democratic efforts, Reid's office set up a dedicated and effective rapid response team.

Reid's war room's ability to respond quickly to Republican spin makes maneuvers like last week's surprise closed session possible. Pontificator notes, "As an example of the effectiveness of the War Room, take a look at how well the MSM received Ried's move to close the Senate last week. In days past, the Republicans would have shoved their talking points down the throats of Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman and the rest of the yapping conventional wisdom regurgitators. Instead, the move came out pretty well in the press, with the Dems unquestionably getting the better coverage in the debate."


A country is as sick as its secret prisions

It is impossible to have it both ways. One cannot simultaneously advance freedom while defiling freedom's soul. Irony abounds. Prisons formerly used by the USSR to house and "rehabilitate" political enemies of the state have allegedly been converted to secret prisons housing the political enemies of The Shining City On A Hill . Their grey walls are already soaked in human misery. It is there that our countrymen might ask questions in ways we know to be wrong. The answers sluiced through the cloth of torture are far less important than what we become by accepting ourselves and our country as institutional torturers. Through its use and acceptance we can only become more steadfastly ignorant and cruel. It is possible for the tortured to emerge spiritually intact. It is not possible for the torturer to enjoy that outcome. Think about basic values.

Give Alito the 3rd Degree

More will be revealed about Alito. From what I read of his 300 or so opinions, I agree with some, violently disagree with others. At least he is a judge. Above all, I want a microscopic examination of his record, his intent, his philosophy. While I reserve judgement and am marginally open to the possiblity that Alito could serve, nothing should be spared in the process of examination. The fillibuster should be on a hair trigger. Fortunately, Bush's wallet is empty of political capital and Specter realizes he doesn't have to be pushed around:

Specter Bucks White House on Alito

Republican canditate runs from Bush


Republican candidate shies away from Bush

JERRY KILGORE, the Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia who has seen a double-digit lead over his Democrat opponent disappear since July, has drafted in some big names to save his campaign before Tuesday’s vote.

Last week he welcomed Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York, to a fundraising lunch in Virginia. The next day he was out on the stump with Robert Ehrlich, the popular Maryland Governor. On Thursday night John McCain, one of America’s most celebrated Republican politicians, was the star attraction.

But there is one notable national politician, in a state that President Bush won easily when he retook the White House a year ago, who appears to have become so radioactive that Mr Kilgore refuses to be seen anywhere near him. That man is Mr Bush himself.

Heck-of-a-job Brownie raises bar impossibly high for other superficial jerks

If you haven't availed yourself of the emails constructed by Brownie during the Katrina crisis - go ahead, make yourself sick.


Storm's A-Comin'


Sen. Reid: Dude's Got Balls

Sen. Harry Reid:"The only way that we've been able to get their attention is to spend 3 ½ hours in a closed session. [...] The separation of powers doctrine is something that does not exist in this town."

MSNBC: Heated day in D.C. leads to more prewar probes
A phase-by-phase investigation will resume, Reid announced after the secret session. It will be the second stage of a probe that Democrats have been pressing for for a year.

TPM Cafe: Power Shifts

This is a good day for an America that deserves answers instead of stonewalling. And I have to say, these arcane parliamentary procedures remind me of LOTR's Council of Elrond, or the Galactic Senate from Star Wars.


None Dare Call it Stolen

Even though this is a bit old, it is a must read for ALL AMERICANS, and I just got around to finishing it. It is an article from the August issue of Harper's called None Dare Call it Stolen about the 2004 election, and the shenanigans in Ohio, and oh yes, there were many shenanigans, some even perpetrated or ordered by their Secretary of State Blackwell.

A few of the many, many examples:

In Perry County the number of Bush votes somehow exceeded the number of registered voters, leading to voter turnout rates as high as 124 percent. Youngstown, perhaps to make up the difference, reported negative 25 million votes.

The machines in heavily Democratic Lucas County kept going haywire, prompting the county’s election director to admit that prior tests of the machines had failed. One polling place in Lucas County never opened because all the machines were locked up somewhere and no one had the key. The Washington Post reported that in Mahoning County “25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of Kerry votes to the Bush column,” but it did not think to ask why.

Voters were told, falsely, that their polling place had changed; the news was conveyed by phone calls, “door-hangers,” and even party workers going door to door. There were phone calls and fake “voter bulletins” instructing Democrats that they were not to cast their votes until Wednesday, November 3, the day after Election Day.

The article mentions how the statistical anomalies themselves are a statistical anomaly, as they all took votes away from Kerry, or Democrats. That is just not possible by chance. Need I also mention that the biggest manufacturer of electronic voting machines is a huge Republican supporter and promised to "deliver the election to Bush"?

If you really care about America and democracy, this article will outrage you. Even if all of these things were done by Democrats to disenfranchise Republicans, I would be outraged. The basis of our democracy is that we the people have a voice, and that is our right to vote. If our voice can be silenced by either party, or anyone, it all just becomes a farce and we lose our democracy. We might as well just roll over and play dead, because our beautiful dream of America - of freedom - will be.