Blogs

Thanks, Exxon: Families Spend $1,000 More on Gas Per Year

| Wed May 16, 2007 2:42 PM EDT

There was a mini-firestorm Monday when I reported that the average price for a gallon of gas is at its highest level ever and asked SUV owners to justify their choice of car in the comments. You can see the results here.

Today, a follow up. A study led by consumer groups shows that American households spend $1,000 more per year on gasoline than they did just five years ago.

Click the chart for a larger version.

 gas_chart300.jpg

You know how every so often there is a news story about how ExxonMobil has set a new record for quarterly profits? They did it again in the first quarter of 2007. Their earnings from January to March of 2007 exceeded their already astronomical quarterly earnings record by 10%. Total take in three months: $9.3 billion.

Thoughts?

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Fun Tidbit from Comey's Testimony

| Wed May 16, 2007 2:25 PM EDT

I wrote yesterday about how former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony before Congress shed even more light on why Alberto Gonzales is unfit to be Attorney General, and why Gonzales' behavior during the warrantless wiretapping episode rendered his nomination disgraceful from the beginning. (For an in-depth examination of all of Comey's testimony, see Glenn Greenwald.)

Today, I found this entertaining tidbit from Comey's testimony. Comey is speaking with Arlen Specter, senator from Pennsylvania.

SPECTER: Can you give us an example of an exercise of good judgment by Alberto Gonzales?

[Gap in testimony.]

SPECTER: Let the record show a very long pause.
COMEY: It's hard -- I mean, I'm sure there are examples. I'll think of some. I mean, it's hard when you look back. We worked together for eight months.
SPECTER: That's a famous statement of President Eisenhower about Vice President Nixon: "Say something good." "Give me two weeks."
COMEY: Right.

Full transcript available here.

The Worst of Jerry Falwell

| Wed May 16, 2007 1:50 PM EDT

Timothy Noah let loose on Jerry Falwell yesterday in Slate. Calling the late reverend a "bigot, a reactionary, a liar, and a fool," Noah let Falwell's own statements prove him right. If you've ever wanted a compendium of Jerry Falwell's most intolerant and outrageous statements, you now have one.

On Sept. 11: "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"
On Martin Luther King Jr.: "I must personally say that I do question the sincerity and nonviolent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations."
On feminists: "I listen to feminists and all these radical gals. ... These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men; that's their problem."
On Islam: "I think Mohammed was a terrorist. I read enough of the history of his life, written by both Muslims and non-Muslims, that he was a violent man, a man of war."

The whole list is very good -- it hits on gays, Jews, and global warming, among other things. Check it out.

Hating on Muslims: GOP's Second Debate Same as the First

| Wed May 16, 2007 1:12 PM EDT

When the Republicans held their first debate two weeks ago, I was disturbed by the facile interpretations of Islamic terror that they presented. I wrote:

It has always bugged me that these guys misunderstand or understand and then deliberately misrepresent the reasons why certain factions of the Muslim world hate the United States. They don't hate our freedoms. Okay, maybe a tiny number of al Qaeda types do, but the 70 percent of the Islamic world (rough estimate) that currently tells pollsters that they can't stand the U.S. don't hate our freedoms; they hate that we have supported pro-Western dictatorships in their region, they hate that we reliably and sometimes unthinkingly support Israel, and they hate that we invaded a country that posed no threat to us and completely destroyed it.

The more insidious cousin of the "they hate our freedoms" explanation is the "it's in their religion" explanation. When Republicans argue vaguely that Islam orders followers to kill infidels, it amounts to saying the West is at war with Islam, and that our fights in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in the global war on terror really are a clash of civilizations. (One might even call them a "crusade.") Worse than that, though, is that we lump all Muslims together -- in with Osama bin Laden and his henchmen, we throw millions and millions of peace-loving Muslims who might be convinced that the United States and not their violent, extremist enemies hold the keys to freedom and prosperity.

So when Tom Tancredo said yesterday that al Qaeda is trying to kill us "because it is a dictate of their religion," he needs to know he is doing far more harm than good to our interests. Fueling the sense in the Muslim world that their religion is our enemy -- and not its most wackjob adherents -- makes the prospect of peace in the region all the more dim.

One Last Bit of Military-MySpace Outrage

| Wed May 16, 2007 1:06 PM EDT

Elizabeth blogged yesterday about the military banning the use of YouTube by the troops. I wanted to add just one note about why I find the situation particularly obnoxious -- it comes on the heels of the military itself deciding it wants to use YouTube as a PR tool, hosting its own videos so everyday American citizens get a look at the "real war" the "media doesn't cover." By posting videos of its own but hypocritically banning videos posted by the troops, the Pentagon effectively becomes the censor/filter that it claims the media is. Obnoxious, right?

Is MySpace Your Space? Not If You're In The Military

| Wed May 16, 2007 1:42 AM EDT

Just two weeks after the Army restricted troops from blogging, on Friday the Department of Defense announced that social networking, from MySpace to YouTube, is now off limits.

The memo says that the use of social networking and recreational websites "strains network capabilities and present operational risks." Never mind that they provide a connection for troops to family, friends, home.

The sites to be blocked worldwide include MySpace and YouTube as well as MTV, Pandora, 1.fm, Live365 Internet Radio, Photobucket, hi5, Metacafe, ifilm, BlackPlanet, StupidVideos, and FileCabi. Some curious choices. BlackPlanet, the "largest online community for African Americans," is now offline, undergoing maintenance. Photo-sharing sites, funny videos, a few music sharing outfits, all banned. Why not iTunes? You can get music there too. Some say the list is longer than the 13 announced last week and this is only the beginning.

YouTube, for one, plans to meet with the DoD to discuss the ban. For now troops overseas, and those on base here at home, can't access their own social networks, cutting off yet another lifeline for those who need them the most.

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Stress-Busting

| Tue May 15, 2007 10:26 PM EDT

When did "stress" become the public enemy of health and creativity? It's an interesting question, now that doctors attribute medical ailments to "stress," corporations hold stress-management seminars, and friends talking about problems are told to just not "stress out," because "stress" itself is their problem. In fact, stress-management is the product sold by several billion-dollar industries.

Author Angela Patmore tells Ode Magazine, "A lot of stress management is tranquilizing people, giving relaxation therapies and massages. I believe that's harmful, because instead of empowering people, it slows them down.... We're creating a society of people who are afraid of working. Besides, all this talk about stress doesn't solve underlying workplace problems. It distracts attention from an organization that is run poorly, for instance."

She writes in the Guardian, "Arousal and emotions have been turned into syndromes, and an industry with more members than our armed forces drip-feeds us alarmist medicalising twaddle known as 'stress awareness' about our brains and bodies, the effect of which is to warn us, 'Let us calm you down or you will die.'"

We should seek resolution, not relaxation, she says, in a philosophical, psychological, and historical critique of that one word that has come to stand for so much.

Ohio Man Arrested After He and His Wife Protest Military Recruiters In Library

| Tue May 15, 2007 8:55 PM EDT

Tim Coil is a Gulf War veteran with PTSD. In early March, he and his wife visited the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library in Ohio so that his wife, Yvette, could study for a test and he could do some reading. While they were there, they saw two military recruiters approaching potential enlistees in a nearby room. Yvette Coil wrote some messages on 3x5 cards: "Don't fall for it! Military recruiters lie," and "It's not honorable to fight for a lying president." She says that before she displayed the cards through the window, she asked a volunteer for permission. The volunteer directed her to a staff member who said she could display the cards as long as there was "no confrontation."

There was a confrontation. One of the recruiters asked who put the cards in the window, and Coil said she did it. He then asked for her name, which she refused to give. He then told her and her husband that they could not display the cards anymore. At that point, Mr. Coil questioned whether his freedom of speech was being curtailed, and the recruiter went to find the library director. Ms. Coil placed more cards against the window.

The library director told the Coils that they were disturbing library patrons and could not continue displaying cards. Ms. Coil mentioned that she was a library patron, and the recruiters were disturbing her. The police came and arrested Mr. Coil for disorderly conduct. He has refused to make a plea, and he has refused to pay $100 in court costs. He will appear in court on June 5.

Hey, We Have a War Czar!

| Tue May 15, 2007 8:12 PM EDT

Sorry, sorry, the Bush Administration doesn't like the title "War Czar." The official title of the man named to personally oversee the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan on behalf of the president is "assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation." Sure, much easier than "War Czar."

The guy's name is Douglas Lute, and he's a three star general -- as the guy in charge of making Iraq go right, he may have the hardest job in America. My question: what does the Secretary of Defense do all day, play tiddlywinks?

Update: Looks like Lute advocated partial withdrawal in 2005, saying "We believe at some point, in order to break this dependence on the... coalition, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward... You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It's very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country." Man, the White House must have had a real hard time finding someone to take this job -- they couldn't even get someone who supports the central tenets of their war policy!

What's a Life Worth? A Few Thousand Bucks If You're An Afghan or Iraqi

| Tue May 15, 2007 8:01 PM EDT

Trying to calculate the cash value of a human life is a morbid and even impossibly futile endeavor. As we found while researching our Iraq 101 feature, economists estimate that every life lost in the Iraq War is worth around $6 million. The reality, of course, is much different. The families of American soldiers killed in action can expect to receive $500,000 or more; contractors' families can get $100,000 a year; yet Iraqi civilians whose relatives have been killed by, say, an American missile, can expect around $2,500 per person. That may be big money in Baghdad, but it's hard to justify the magnitude of difference between the official valuation of an Iraqi kid and an American GI. And as Tom Engelhardt writes, this official stinginess also extends to Afghanistan, where the Marines recently paid $2,000 in compensation for each of the 19 civilians gunned down in an incident of what the military calls "excessive force." If our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are truly about spreading the ideal of human dignity, you'd think that coughing up a bit more for our blood debts would be an important gesture. Hearts and minds, hearts and minds...

And if you want some heartbreaking reading, see the excerpts of Iraqi civilians' claims filed with the military, collected by Editor and Publisher. Like this one:

Claimant alleges that on the above date at the above mentioned location, the child was outside playing by their gate and a stray bullet from a U.S. soldier hit their son in the head and killed him. The U.S. soldiers went to the boy's funeral and apologized to the family and took their information to get to them, but never did. The child was nine years old and their only son.

I recommend approving this claim in the amount of $4,000.00.

Find me an American who thinks their child is worth a measly $4 grand.