2008 - %3, June

How Do You Explain a Savings and Loan Scandal to an Eight-Year-Old?

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 5:40 PM EDT

Meghan McCain, who has made a career of sorts out of following her father's campaign, has a book deal. According to Meghan's blog, the recent Columbia grad will soon be writing an illustrated campaign biography of her father. Meghan's book will join the ranks of other literary endeavors by the daughters of Republican politicians, offering children "the unique opportunity to see the character building events that happened over his lifetime" that have prepared John McCain to lead the nation.

One wonders which of many character-building events this book will actually highlight. Seminal experiences in the Senior Senator from Arizona's life include his oft-mentioned torture in Vietnam. Then there was that highly damaging Keating savings and loan scandal that almost destroyed his career in the 1980s. More recently, there was Mrs. McCain's addiction to painkillers. Are these things really so easy to explain to children?

All in all, decidedly interesting reading for America's Republican tykes.

—Daniel Luzer

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Evolution Before Our Eyes: How Macaques Learned To Fish

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 2:25 PM EDT

fishing%20macaque.jpg

Scientists in Indonesia recently published a paper documenting their field observations of long-tailed macaques going fishing. Even better, they don't just reach into the water to grab their own fish—they watch other macaques at work and learn from their techniques. One researcher theorized that "perhaps a couple of generations back, one primate caught a fish and it was subsequently copied." The scientists suspect that the macaques fish when no other food is available, though they stress that not enough data exists to say for certain.

Okay, so this is cool. It's not often that we see species adapt to changing conditions at a rate that matches the change. (Recovery from human threat and habitat depletion is rare enough.) Further study of this species could teach us a lot, not only about how macaques adapt to changing conditions, but about how we might adapt as well. Unfortunately, if Congress is any indication of how we're doing, right now the macaques are coming out ahead.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from sebr.

Report: Rove Talks "Fairly Regularly" With McCain Camp; Getting Six Figures From Freedom's Watch

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 2:08 PM EDT

In a new National Journal article (not available online), writer Peter Stone dives deep into the conservative establishment and gets campaign staffers, movement operatives, and the ubiquitous "strategists" and "consultants" to talk about Karl Rove's current role in presidential politics. The takeaway? Rove is back. In fact, he probably never left. The campaign that is trying to prove it's not a second coming of George W. Bush is using the President's former chief strategist on a regular basis.

Stone says not to be fooled by Rove's hesitance to be identified with John McCain publicly.

...away from the spotlight, Rove has been busy pitching in by giving informal advice to McCain's team and spending a considerable amount of time as an outside adviser to Freedom's Watch, the conservative political group that is expected to spend tens of millions of dollars to help elect House GOP candidates. William Weidner, a Freedom's Watch board member, recently told National Journal that Rove has offered strategic advice to both the group and its major financial backer, Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. Weidner, president of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which Adelson chairs, called Rove "an invaluable asset" to the group....

While the top of McCain's campaign won't admit to extensive conversations with Rove, fearing that Rove is too closely associated with the Bush Administration and its worst scandals, some folks are willing to spill the beans off the record.

A Right-to-Lifer and the GOP's Nursing Home Dilemma

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 12:27 PM EDT

Connor_sm.jpgWhen Ken Connor was on Capitol Hill earlier this week, it was clear that people in his party deeply wish that he would go back to worrying about the unborn. The conservative Christian Republican trial lawyer had come to Washington to testify in support of a bill that would ban the use of mandatory binding arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts. Most nursing homes today, as a condition of admission, require vulnerable elderly people and their families to waive their right to sue a facility in the event of a dispute. Instead, they must take any complaints about medical malpractice or abuse to a private arbitrator, chosen and paid by the nursing home, in secret proceedings where any awards are much lower than they would be from a jury. The arbitration agreements are often buried in a stack of complicated paperwork, where in some cases, they have been signed by blind people and those suffering from Alzheimer's.

The nursing home arbitration bill is one of nearly a dozen Democratic-backed measures introduced in Congress over the past year that would ban mandatory arbitration in everything from new car contracts to meatpacking company agreements. With the backing of the powerful AARP, it's also the most likely of the lot to pass, and thus, pave the way for Congress to ban mandatory arbitration altogether. After all, if Congress deems the practice unconscionable for seniors, businesses will have a tough time arguing that it still ought to be forced on everyone else. That's why Republicans really, really don't want to vote for the nursing home bill, and one reason Connor's advocacy is making them squirm.

Obama vs. McCain on Taxes: A Simple Video Explanation

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 11:44 AM EDT

I don't say this often, but one of the major news networks did a really good job of digging into policy recently. Specifically, CNN was excellent when discussing the effects the Obama tax plan and the McCain tax plan would have on different income brackets. The numbers make things simple to understand:

This puts the lie to many McCain campaign claims. The most brazenly false ones are from McCain economic adviser and failed Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who claimed that Obama has not proposed "a single tax cut" and wants to "raise every tax in the book." "Everything he's proposed is a tax increase, not a tax cut," she told Fox News. That's self-evidently false, if you (1) know anything about Obama's economic plan, which centers around a $1,000 tax cut for working families, or (2) have watched the video above.

The point here is not to get into a "our tax cuts are bigger!" argument, because tax cuts don't substitute for sound economic policy. And "tax relief," which the Obama campaign likes to say it is offering everyday folks, is most commonly used as a right wing framing device that justifies tax cuts for people who don't need them. Obama's economic proposals include much more than tax cuts: he is also proposing a stimulus package, help for struggling homeowners, and greater and more effective oversight of the financial sector.

But people tend to focus more on taxes than on any of those things, so let's make sure everyone knows how Obama and McCain stack up. The differences are stark.

Update: More here for those who want to dig deeper.

Why Is Carly Fiorina - a Symbol of Corporate Excesses - McCain's Favorite CEO?

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 9:29 AM EDT

When John McCain wants to talk economic policy with voters—especially female voters—he sends out Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, a senior adviser to McCain's presidential campaign, and chairwoman of the Republican National Committee's Victory Fund. For example, days ago, after Barack Obama accused McCain of proposing an additional $300 billion in tax breaks for "big corporations and the wealthiest Americans," Fiorina appeared on CNN to defend the Arizona senator. (She first claimed that Obama was wrong to say that ExxonMobil would receive additional tax breaks from McCain, but then she acknowledged McCain's tax cuts for all corporations would cover big oil companies.) And this week, McCain dispatched Fiorina on a speaking tour in Ohio and Pennsylvania targeting female voters. She's even been mentioned as a possible McCain running mate.

But why should anyone listen to—let alone vote for—Fiorina?

Her stint as a corporate titan was more mixed than master-of-the-universe. In 1999, Fiorina took over Hewlett-Packard, the troubled computer company, becoming one of the top women in Corporate America. Previously, she had built a successful career mostly in marketing and sales at AT&T and Lucent, but she had the not-so-good fortune to be taking the helm of an engineering-driven tech company as the tech boom was ending. Her solution to HP's ailments was controversial: buying Compaq. She pushed the $19 billion acquisition over the opposition of many HP stockholders, including, most notably, Walter Hewlett, the son of the company's founder, who argued the merger would not make HP more competitive.

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U2 Would Like to Name Their Own Price, Thanks

| Thu Jun. 12, 2008 5:15 PM EDT

mojo-photo-u2live.jpgU2's manager Paul McGuinness has denied that the Irish combo will utilize a Radiohead-style pay-what-you-want setup for their upcoming release, saying that the online scheme "to some extent backfired." In Rainbows was released last year via a website that allowed fans to enter their own price, or pay nothing at all, in a ground-breaking attempt to work around illegal file-sharing. However, McGuinness says, people went to illegal file-sharing sites for the album anyway. "60 to 70% of the people who downloaded the record stole it anyway, even though it was available for free," he claimed. His figures may be about right: even in the early days of In Rainbows' release, illegal downloads rivaled official downloads.

Golf Is the Justice Department's Solution to Gangs?

| Thu Jun. 12, 2008 4:28 PM EDT

In another embarrassing moment for the DOJ, ABC News reported that Justice recently awarded a competitive half-million dollar grant for prevention of juvenile delinquency to the World Golf Foundation's First Tee program.

"We need something really attractive to engage the gangs and the street kids. Golf is the hook," said J. Robert Flores of the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Yes, golf is famous for that.

What Flores neglected to mention, however, was that the Justice Department—implementing the Bush administration's state mandate to support "scientifically" based programs—already gave First Tees a middling rating; Justice ranked First Tee 47th on its list of 104 applicants.

Flores, who was appointed by President Bush in 2002 and has distributed about $1.5 billion dollars in federal money in his current position, said that he selects the programs for grants based on the "overall" need, not necessarily on the rating his own department gives the applications. Many other programs that the Justice Department rated highly were denied grants.

So why on earth was the golf program given this fancy grant? It's possible the program's honorary spokesman had something to do with it. —Daniel Luzer

A Blog To Watch: Young People Pushback

| Thu Jun. 12, 2008 4:19 PM EDT

The good folks at Campus Progress have launched a flashy new group blog, Pushback, for and by progressive young people. Editor Rob Anderson describes it as "sort of like MTV's reality show The Real World before it got really trashy: an experiment in which we jam strangers into a confined space and ask them to share with the world their thoughts, their ideas, and their work."

Aiming to keep The Real World analogy on the up and up, Pushback contributor Matt Zeitlin immediately posted this survey from the MIT-Wellesley Journal of Campus Life:

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But it's not just sex, people, they've got politics, too. Check it out.

Video: Live From Main Street Minneapolis

| Thu Jun. 12, 2008 3:43 PM EDT

FYI, if you ever find yourself wondering how independent progressive media in Minneapolis feel about playing host to the GOP convention this fall, wonder no more. They were pretty vocal about it earlier this week for Laura Flanders:


You can watch the full video here. Next up: Miami in July.