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Why Payday Loans Are Better Than Indentured Servitude

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 4:27 PM EST

For a spot-on spoof of an evil trade group website, visit the Predatory Lending Association, whose stated mission is to "help predatory lenders extract maximum profit from the working poor and retired poor with payday loans." The site includes debt calculators, an interactive "PoorFinder" map, and a helpful explanation of the difference between 450% APR payday loans and old-fashioned debt bondage:

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It's not clear who's behind the parody (a good guess would be the Yes Men, but the absurdity-to-reality ratio is too low), but it seems to be inspired by North Carolina's 2006 decision to outlaw payday loans. That move has proved quite popular, according to a new UNC study [PDF] that found that 90% of respondents, including those who had used check-cashing stores, said payday loans are a "bad thing."

Update: In comments, pablo points to this interview with the site's creator, a "Seattle Internet entrepreneur."

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Bush Administration Codifies "Enduring Relationship" With Iraq

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 4:02 PM EST

George Bush has repeatedly said that if the Iraqis were to ask us to leave Iraq, we would. At a May 2007 press conference, for example, the president said, "We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation... If they were to say, leave, we would leave." Nevermind the fact that most Iraqis have long supported an immediate American withdrawal.

According to a White House fact sheet released this morning, the embattled Iraqi government that would be seriously endangered by an American pullout has asked for—surprise!—the exact opposite.

Iraq's leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq....

The fact sheet also says the U.S. and Iraq will (1) seek another year-long U.N. mandate for foreign troops in Iraq, and (2) hammer out what the long-term future of American-Iraqi relations looks like. Spencer Ackerman believes that this means "the administration will work out the terms of the U.S.'s stay in Iraq in order to, at the very least, seriously constrain the next administration's options for ending the U.S. presence." No mention of the "enduring bases" we started building years ago, but if there was ever a question of those bases' legitimacy, they're now settled.

General Petraeus: A Supporter of Christian Nationalists?

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 3:19 PM EST

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Last week, I pointed out that a quote attributed to General David Petraeus, along with a photo of Petraeus in uniform, was being used as promotional material on the website of Eric Horner Ministries. Horner espouses a militant, nationalist strain of fundamentalist Christianity in popular country western songs such as "United We'll Stand When Together We Kneel." His use of the Petraeus photo has been called inappropriate by some military law experts, but, so far, Horner has not removed it. He has, however, changed the quote attributed to Petraeus to read: "I appreciate your patriotic performances for our soldiers and their families." (Is this meant to blunt the impression that Petraeus is endorsing a religion? I'm not sure). Whatever Horner's motives, the change either means that he is (or was) misquoting Petraeus, or that the general gave him permission to run the photo and quotes with the changes. I've sent Horner an email asking him to explain. Either way, the response does not inspire confidence.

Chris Rodda, a researcher with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has uncovered more information about Horner. In this online "praise report," Horner recounts a November 2nd meeting with President Bush that he claims was arranged by Fort Jackson's general. "The General then spoke up and explained to him (Bush) that we came as a ministry to the troops," Horner writes. "The President seemed to get excited about that and thanked us several times. Again, I'm not looking for Glory in what we do, but it was pretty cool to hear those words from the President."

For more of Rodda's findings on Horner and the military, and the changes to his website, see the comments thread here.

Update: The Petraeus quote on Horner's site now shows the word "patriotic" in brackets.

Trent Lott's Resignation Explained: More Time at the Lobbyist Trough

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 1:45 PM EST

trent_lott_frown.jpg Why is Trent Lott leaving? To spend more time with his family? To return to his native Mississippi? Nope.

A Lott friend said part of the reason, and a factor in the timing, is a new lobbying regulation, signed by President Bush in September, extending the existing lobbying ban for former members of Congress from one to two years. The lobbying ban takes effect at the beginning of the year.

Ah, yes. A man who has spent much of his tenure in Congress making sure lobbyists have access to America's politicians, and who benefited greatly in return, is how lining up for his turn at the trough. The idea that a politician would end his career in public service early just so he could fit in another year of growing rich by jockeying for special interests in kind of pathetic. But if Lott's record with his son, also a lobbyist, is any indication, he'll be successful enough at his new job to forget about his loss of integrity. From a 2006 Diddly Awards:

Chester Lott, the onetime Domino's Pizza franchisee and polo player, tried his hand at lobbying for Edison Chouest Offshore, a firm that then happened to get a provision slipped into legislation by Chester's dad, Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.). The fix allowed the company to earn $300 million by sidestepping a 1920 law.

Update: Oooh, Lott's denying it.

Party Ben's European Tour Update #2: Warsaw, Prague, Belgium, Munich...

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 11:53 AM EST

mojo-photo-pbposter3.JPG"...everybody talk about, pop music." Ahem. Anyway, holy moley, Riff, it's been an eventful week around central Europe and my sincerest apologies if you've been awaiting my latest update, wondering if I'm still alive or if I'd succumbed to a plague or a hostel that turned out to be a crazy movie torture prison or something. No, and no, everything's fine, but with barely enough time to sleep a few hours each night I'm afraid Riffing has slid a little on the priority list. Here's a quick recap.

Novak Calls Huckabee a "False Conservative," Fetishizes Partisanship

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 10:51 AM EST

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Wow, Bob Novak really hates Mike Huckabee. His column today is titled "The False Conservative." You wouldn't think an ardently pro-life social conservative who supports gun rights and opposes gay marriage could be all that far off the mark, but according to Novak, "serious Republicans" know that Huckabee is a threat to the party's core ideology. Says Novak:

Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans know that he is a high-tax, protectionist advocate of big government and a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans.

From what I can discern, Novak offers four things as substantiation:

"He increased the Arkansas tax burden 47 percent, boosting the levies on gasoline and cigarettes."

This is true, Huckabee did raise taxes in Arkansas. But he was fiscally responsible, if not fiscally conservative, and left the state with a huge surplus. He may not have shared the GOP's faith in supply side economics, but he produced good governance.

"...he criticized President Bush's veto of a Democratic expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program."

Fair enough. He bucked the party line there, though there was massive support across political parties when everyday Americans were polled about SCHIP. It was only the party elite that wanted to deny kids their meds.

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Obama vs. Clinton on Social Security: An Actual Policy Difference!

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 10:10 AM EST

In a campaign season in which the Democratic candidates agree with each other on 95 percent of their policy proposals, Social Security stands out as an issue with a small but stark difference.

Here's the nut of the issue. Currently, Americans pays a Social Security tax on the first $97,500 of their income. If you make $60,000 a year, you pay tax on 100 percent of what you make. If you make $1 million a year, you pay tax on 9.75 percent of what you make. Barack Obama proposes lifting that $97,500 cap (which rises to $102,000 next year), while Hillary Clinton suggests it would raise taxes by too much.

Over on the Time blog Swampland, I found this incredibly helpful chart. I've stolen it because it breaks down the numbers exceptionally well. As a thank you, show Swampland some love.

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Clinton is right about the rise in taxes: in some instances it is substantial. But only the rich will feel it.

The Intellectual Street Brawler: What if They Held a Street Fight But Nobody Watched?

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 9:31 AM EST

Way to come back from T-day festivities and get all depressed over the state of our humanity.
What the hell, misery loves company. Check out Sucker Punch: The art, the poetry, the idiocy of YouTube street fights over at Slate. Yup, knuckle draggers staging, then taping, disgusting street fights all for your viewing pleasure.

The author is an English professor and fight fan who's using the education his parents denied themselves to give him making street brawls high brow. That's unfair, I know, but so is glamorizing hooliganism (these folks go around 'happy slapping' unsuspecting women) which writing like this certainly does. As does my linking to it.

Trent Lott Says Goodbye to All That

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 9:12 AM EST

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This just in: Mississippi senator Trent Lott is calling it quits after nearly 20 years in the Senate. He's not sick, just sick of the Senate apparently, but no word on his future plans. Perhaps he needs to devote more time to his lawsuit against State Farm, which is still refusing to pay the claim on his Katrina-damaged Pascagoula house.

Despite Lott's devotion to Strom Thurmond, in recent months, he's come off as one of the saner members of the GOP (he made early calls for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, for instance, and his dismay over the Bush administration's handling of Katrina prompted him to consider retiring a few years ago). His replacement, though, is likely to be more of a firebrand. Congressman Chip Pickering, who appears in the movie Borat, with a bunch of Pentacostal Christians cheering against the teachings of evolution, is the odds-on favorite to fill Lott's empty seat.

Ron Paul: Winning the Black Helicopter Vote

| Sun Nov. 25, 2007 11:52 PM EST

Ron Paul's campaign (or is it a crusade?) is trying to engineer another "money bomb"--a one-day intense fundraising drive--on Monday, November 26. The last one, which was detonated on November 5, netted Paul over $4 million--an impressive sum for an outlying candidate who has refused to return a campaign donation from a neo-Nazi. One solicitation for this latest appeal captures the political culture of a slice of Paul's libertarian constituency:

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Note the black helicopters--the symbol of anti-government, paranoid conspiracy theories. Yes, they're coming for you....