Blogs

Little Steven Goes to Washington...and Wants To See Laura Bush

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 1:33 PM EST

Little Steven wants to chat with Laura Bush.

That's what Steven Van Zandt--a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, the actor who played Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, and the host of the syndicated radio show, Little Steven's Underground Garage--told me on Monday after a press conference in which he teamed up with the National Association for Music Education to promote music in primary education. At the event, Van Zandt announced his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation is creating a music appreciation curriculum for middle and high schools that will cover the history of rock and roll.

Van Zandt is no fan of the Bush administration. He has long identified with progressive causes. His 1984 album, Voice of America was loaded with rough anti-Reagan sentiment. In 1985, he pulled together dozen of top recording artists--Bob Dylan, U2, Run DMC, Springsteen--for the antiapartheid anthem, "Sun City." And in 2004, Van Zandt (with Springsteen and the rest of the band) was part of the Vote for Change tour that hit swing states to encourage people to, well, vote for change--that is, to vote against George W. Bush.

But now Van Zandt is pushing an issue that he says "transcends politics." At the press event, he was joined by John Mahlmann, the executive director of the National Association for Music Education, who noted that student access to music education has dropped about 20 percent in recent years--thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act. Mahlmann also said that students' "contact time" with music and all the arts has fallen 40 percent. The No Child Left Behind law, Mahlmann claimed, has caused schools to obsess over testing for math and reading and that "pushes out other areas of the curriculum."

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IPOA Smackdown: DynCorp vs. Blackwater

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 12:39 PM EST

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The knives have come out at the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA). Times have been tough for members of the private military industry trade group since IPOA member company, Blackwater USA, was implicated in a series of controversial shootings in a Baghdad traffic circle on September 16, which killed 17 Iraqis and wounded 24 others. Three weeks after the shootings, Blackwater withdrew its membership from the IPOA, apparently after receiving word that the group was preparing to launch an investigation of the company's conduct. Doug Brooks, IPOA's founder and president, has done his best to deflect criticism and shield his member companies from unwanted attention. But according to reporter Joe Neff of the Raleigh News & Observer, anger with Blackwater (if not for its conduct in Iraq, then for the unwelcome spotlight it has shone on the entire private military industry) is clearly on the rise among the firm's former IPOA brethren.

In a recent teleconference with investors and financial analysts, DynCorp president and CEO Herb Lanese went to great lengths to distance his company from Blackwater. Only 2 percent of DynCorp's revenues come from security work, Lanese said. "So, when you compare us to Blackwater, 2 percent of our revenue is on the same basis of Blackwater," he continued. "Unfortunately, it's very visible work that tends to attract a disproportionate amount of attention that I believe unfairly distorts the image of DynCorp... I do want you to know that in this narrow space in which we compete with Blackwater, we believe we are a very different company."

Dear Hillary: Success Trumps Sisterhood Every Time

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 11:40 AM EST

Conventional wisdom suggests that Hillary Clinton has all but locked up the gender primary. She dominates the female voting bloc, a sign that women are actually energized about her historic candidacy. But there's one group of women that she hasn't yet won over: professional and executive women who make more than $75,000 a year. These women support Clinton far less than their lower-income counterparts, and they are slightly more likely to vote for Giuliani in the presidential election, reports the Wall Street Journal today.

Despite having much in common with Clinton, these women are demonstrating that old adage about how feminism's biggest achievement is allowing women to emulate the worst in men (see the rise in women's smoking and incarceration rates, for instance). Really, it's no surprise that when women achieve power and wealth, they start to care more about capital gains taxes than children's health insurance programs. Apparently, sisterhood is a casualty of climbing the corporate ladder.

HMO Pays Staffers to Drop Sick People

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 11:10 AM EST

Virtually all the Democrats running for president have endorsed health care proposals that maintain a major role for private insurance companies. Much of their rhetoric suggests that if we could just get everyone health insurance, then all will be well. But the debate continues to ignore the horror stories like the one reported in the L.A. Times Friday.

A private insurer paid $20,000 in bonuses to an underwriter for dropping coverage for sick people, including a hairdresser who was half way through chemo treatments for cancer. She was left with $200,000 in medical bills as a result. Meanwhile, the company, Health Net, saved $35 million by cutting off 1,600 people who had made a major medical claim. Built into the system were performance bonuses for employees who dropped the most and the sickest patients. The widespread practice suggests that Americans need a lot more than an insurance card to guarantee access to medical care when they most need it.

Finally, Cable a la Carte?

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 10:34 AM EST

I have long suspected that my husband and I may be the only people in D.C. who don't subscribe to cable TV (sorry, David). For years we have resisted, largely because 1) cable is expensive and controlled by monopolies and 2) the only reason we want it is so that we can watch The Wire and New York Giants games that aren't broadcast in our area on regular TV. We don't want to pay hundreds of dollars a year for cable when we wouldn't watch 99 percent of its offerings.

This all might change, however, if the newly energized chairman of the Federal Communications Commission gets his way. Republican Kevin J. Martin is pushing once again to restrict the monopoly power of giant cable companies, whose rates have soared far faster than inflation in recent years. (Comcast haters take note: Martin's work would put a huge hitch in that company's expansion plans.) Among the other measures that Martin is championing, though, is what every cable consumer has long desired: the ability to pick her own channels, without having to pay for all the Home Shopping Network additions forced into the standard packages, the so called "a la carte menu."

The FCC's changes are based on a law that kicks in when 70 percent of the marketplace has cable, which it does. Naturally, the big cable companies hate the idea, but it should be a boon for consumers. Indeed, the measure might not improve my New York Giants' watching (we'd need Direct TV's NFL Sunday Ticket for that), but we might actually get to watch The Wire in real-time instead of waiting months for it to make its way to Netflix.

Obama Attacks and Nobody Notices

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 1:35 AM EST

clinton_obama_profile.jpg Here is my final thought on the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner that I liveblogged on Saturday night: Barack Obama finally went on the attack against Hillary Clinton and it didn't seem to matter.

Clinton unveiled "Turn Up the Heat" as a new campaign slogan, but it was Obama who was committed to putting his chief rival through the fire, as he had been promising to do for many weeks. A few days prior to the speech, Obama told the press that Clinton was running a "textbook" campaign. Saturday he said, "The same old Washington textbook campaigns just won't do in this election. Triangulating and poll-driven positions because we're worried about what Mitt or Rudy might say about us, just won't do." Triangulating and polls, of course, are the Clintons' forte.

On Saturday night the senator from Illinois said, "When I'm your nominee, my opponent won't be able to say that I supported this war in Iraq; or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; or that I support that Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to leaders we don't like." In the span of one long sentence, Obama attacked the frontrunner on Iraq and on Iran, and compared her foreign policy philosophy to Bush's and Cheney's.

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Ron Paul's Legislative Record Must Be Considered

| Sun Nov. 11, 2007 11:53 PM EST

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We've had a LOT of debate in our comments section between Ron Paul supporters and Ron Paul detractors. Supporters tout his positions on the war in Iraq and the war on drugs, and his willingness to speak honestly and directly at all times. The detractors tend to concede all of those points and then say, "Have you seen the other things the man wants to do?"

Well, now we finally have a definitive list of what those other things are. Over at the blog Orcinus, they've put together a list of bills Ron Paul has sponsored or co-sponsored in his long legislative career. It gives you a great sense of what a President Paul would do on some of the issues that aren't being highlighted in the current debate.

Some of the included are:

H.R.777: To prohibit any Federal official from expending any Federal funds for any population control or population planning program or any family planning activity.
H.R.2597: To provide that human life shall be deemed to exist from conception.
H.J.RES.80: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States authorizing the States to prohibit the physical destruction of the flag of the United States and authorizing Congress to prohibit destruction of federally owned flags.
H.R.2962: A bill to repeal all authority of the Federal Government to regulate wages in private employment. [Abolition of the minimum wage.]
H.R.1789: To restore the inherent benefits of the market economy by repealing the Federal body of statutory law commonly referred to as "antitrust law", and for other purposes.
H.J.RES.46: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to deny United States citizenship to individuals born in the United States to parents who are neither United States citizens nor persons who owe permanent allegiance to the United States.
H.R.2424: To repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 and amendments to that Act.
H.R.1146: To end membership of the United States in the United Nations.

If there are Ron Paul supporters who are familiar with all this, good for them. Everyone ought to be so familiar with the candidates they support. And I'm not a Ron Paul critic; I've admired and repeatedly defended him. But every single Ron Paul supporter needs to read this full list and then state if he or she still wants Paul to win the presidency. Let's get it on.

Update: Glenn Greenwald has essential reading on Paul's flag burning position. Thanks to Greg in the comments.

San Francisco Oil Spill an Avoidable Disaster

| Sun Nov. 11, 2007 9:33 PM EST

Why wasn't a boom, a protective barrier which would have isolated last week's spill to the area directly surrounding the ship, utilized almost immediately? No telling yet, but early on Fish and Game said that private companies would handle the spill cleanup, companies hired by the ship's owners. Huh? That's the proper response an environmental and homeland security hazard? Let the industry mop up?

More on this, at MoJoBlog.

Oil Spill an Avoidable Homeland Disaster

| Sun Nov. 11, 2007 6:32 PM EST

oil%20trail2.jpgLast week's oil spill in San Francisco makes one thing painfully clear: we should, and don't, know better.

The early story was that the spill wasn't much. The main question addressed in just-after coverage was whether the Cosco Busan's collision with the Bay Bridge would affect traffic. The spill total? 140 gallons. That's a bundle of fill-ups, not good for the Bay by any stretch, but handleable, especially given the resources available, Coast Guard and otherwise. The clean-up? A month, said the rep from Fish and Game.

The cargo ship, en route to South Korea, hit the bridge at 8:30 Wednesday morning, but it wasn't until nearly 5pm that the Coast Guard realized that not 140 but 58,000 gallons of bunker oil (essentially container-ship fuel) were loose in the Bay, constituting the largest spill in the area in almost two decades. The spill, which inexplicably wasn't contained via a boom for hours, thus was spreading in all directions, including several miles out through the Golden Gate and into the open ocean.

The one benefit of oil in water is that because of the separation it's initially easy to track and, where response is swift, contain. So why wasn't a boom, which would have isolated the spill to the area directly surrounding the ship, utilized almost immediately? No telling yet, but early on Fish and Game said that private companies would handle the spill cleanup, companies hired by the ship's owners. Huh? That's the proper response an environmental and homeland security hazard? Let the industry mop up?

Iran NIE Finally "Finished"?

| Sun Nov. 11, 2007 11:24 AM EST

According to Gareth Porter, the intelligence agencies and Dick Cheney's office have wrestled to a tie on Iran:

The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program. The aim is to make the document more supportive of Vice President Dick Cheney's militarily aggressive policy toward Iran, according to accounts provided by participants in the NIE process to two former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers.

But this pressure on intelligence analysts, obviously instigated by Cheney himself, has not produced a draft estimate without those dissenting views, these sources say. The White House has now apparently decided to release the "unsatisfactory" draft NIE, but without making its key findings public.

The rest.

Here are the conclusions of the two government "investigations" of whether the Bush administration pressured the intelligence agencies on Iraq. First, the Senate Intelligence Committee:

The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

And the WMD Commission:

The Commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs.

Look for the reports on how there was no pressure re Iran in early 2011.