1.08.2005

From our "Won't Get Fooled Again" File: So–called "Tort Reform" (HA!)
Bush Takes Aim at Asbestos Litigation on Michigan Trip
Law.com (01.10)

Claiming that asbestos lawsuits clog the courts and cost jobs, President Bush urged Congress Friday to change the way people are compensated for illness caused by the deadly material. "The system isn't fair right now," Bush said.

"It's not fair to those who are getting sued and it's not fair for those who justly deserve compensation," said Bush, appearing at a performing arts center just north of Detroit. He claimed that companies have been forced into bankruptcy because of asbestos-related litigation that has cost the nation about $80 billion -- the majority of which is not seen by victims but swallowed up by legal and processing fees.

he also claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and currently claims that Social Security is in trouble, so I'm not sure I would believe anything this man says. Also, notice who he mentioned first: the folks getting sued. That's "compassionate conservatism" right there: compassion for business first and foremost.

But why is this such a big deal for Bush Co. (that is beyond their Neo–Calvinist belief that those with the most toys are more highly looked upon by God and that wealth should never be "re–distributed" as they call it)?
The American Trial Lawyers Association, however, says many of the companies that filed for bankruptcy were reorganized, not liquidated, and that few cases filed in court actually go to trial. Association President Todd Smith said Friday that Bush should spend time with patients suffering from asbestos–related diseases that kill more than 300,000 workers who have died from asbestos exposure.

"Sadly, we doubt the president will meet with any asbestos victims," Smith said. "Rather, he'll once again meet with the asbestos and insurance industries which are fighting as hard as they can to avoid being held responsible for this national health epidemic."

Well Todd Smith certainly seems to know our president! Give that man a prize. As always just wait, the best is yet to come:
Bush also urged Congress to find ways to protect third parties –– companies that he said have nothing to do with causing asbestos illnesses –– from lawsuits.

"Most of the asbestos producers are now bankrupt so that lawyers target companies –– once considered to be too small to sue, or once considered to be not directly involved in the manufacture of asbestos," Bush said. "Because there's nobody else to sue, they try to drag in people who aren't directly involved in the manufacturing of asbestos."

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington–based environmental research group that opposes Bush's proposed changes, says asbestos is a public health, not bankruptcy crisis. Halliburton is the latest company to "emerge" from asbestos bankruptcy proceedings, the group says.

In July 2004, the Houston–based Halliburton Co. won court approval for a $4.2 billion plan for settling asbestos–related health claims. A judge signed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring plan for several of Halliburton's key business units. The judge's action was one of the final hurdles before Halliburton subsidiaries, including KBR and DII Industries, could emerge from bankruptcy. They still must fund a trust, using cash, stock and notes, to pay future claims.

KBR and DII Industries filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003 to deal with claims by about 400,000 people who said they were injured by asbestos exposure. Halliburton, once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, inherited most of the claims five years ago when the conglomerate, during Cheney's tenure as chief executive officer, acquired Dresser Industries for $7.7 billion. Cheney left the company in 2000.

So there you go: Tort reform to protect big business (remember he also wants to move class–action suits to the federal courts... courts he's packing with idealogues). Why are we on this topic? Because bad things happen to good working–class people and often their only recourse is to sue. Who's looking out for you? Not Bush Co. that's for sure.

1.07.2005

Atrios Action Alert
Atrios (01.07)
Atrios is right: contact Armstrong Williams and let him know that taking $240,000 of American taxpayer money from Bush Co. to push their agenda while posing as commentator/talking head is wrong.

Oh you haven't heard about this yet? Here's the mainstream view via Yahoo!

Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004.

Wait for it, wait for it...

Williams said Thursday he understands that critics could find the arrangement unethical, but "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe in."

"And getting paid didn't hurt either!" Williams failed to add.

If he believed in it so much why didn't he do it for free? Why did he have to be paid $240,000? What a total jackass. So much for all that "values" crap we've been pummeled with.

Boxer Brandoland (01.07)
Why is standing up for Voters suddenly Unamerican again? We all know there are problems when we vote, so why do folks get so upset when we try to talk about it? Brandoland has some thoughts on the very very American Senator Barbara Boxer who is our hero of the week. Like Bono says: Don't let the bastards drag you down.

It's time for our song of the week!
Final Straw by R.E.M. off "Around The Sun"

As I raise my head to broadcast my objection
As your latest triumph draws the final straw
Who died and lifted you up to perfection?
And what silenced me is written into law.

I can't believe where circumstance has thrown me
And I turn my head away
If I look I'm not sure that I could face you.
Not again. not today. not today.

If hatred makes a play on me tomorrow
And forgiveness takes a back seat to revenge
There's a hurt down deep that has not been corrected.
There's a voice in me that says you will not win.

And if I ignore the voice inside,
Raise a half glass to my home.
But it's there that I am most afraid,
And forgetting doesn't hold. it doesn't hold.

Now I don't believe and I never did
That two wrongs make a right.
If the world were filled with the likes of you
Then I'm putting up a fight. I'm putting up a fight.
Putting up a fight. make it right. make it right.

Now love cannot be called into question.
Forgiveness is the only hope I hold.
And love– love will be my strongest weapon.
I do believe that I am not alone.

For this fear will not destroy me.
And the tears that have been shed
It's knowing now where I am weakest
And the voice in my head. in my head.

Then I raise my voice up higher
And I look you in the eye
And I offer love with one condition.
With conviction, tell me why.
Tell me why.
Tell me why.
Look me in the eye.
Tell me why.

Exactly.

Outsourcing study a welcome surprise in budget bill CNN.com: Lou Dobbs (12.06.04)
We haven't been tracking the Lou as much as we should, but here's something we all might want to pay attention to...

Congressional authority to peek into citizens' tax returns wasn't the only clause hidden in the omnibus spending bill that recently passed. There's also a more welcome surprise for the American worker: a grant for a comprehensive study of the effects of outsourcing U.S. jobs to cheap, foreign labor markets.

Well at least they aren't total bastards.

So far, the government has simply lacked the data to determine offshore outsourcing's impact on the U.S. work force, said Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia. Wolf initiated the measure to grant $2 million to the independent, nonpartisan National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) for the study.

The new study will provide a breakdown of how many jobs have gone abroad and from which industries. That analysis could have huge implications for future job creation, wage growth and the plight of the middle class.

Too bad Rep. Frank Wolf is such a wanker. Looking at his voting record we don't agree on almost anything. We're having a hard time now giving him credit for even this...

1.06.2005

From Our "Won't Get Fooled Again" file...
the Wehner Memo TalkingPointsMemo.com (01.05)
We've been trying to track down the exact memo for you (but Google has failed us) but Josh Marshall has, apparently, pulled the key parts out of the memo itself:

Let me tell you first what our plans are in terms of sequencing and political strategy. We will focus on Social Security immediately in this new year. Our strategy will probably include speeches early this month to establish an important premise: the current system is heading for an iceberg. The notion that younger workers will receive anything like the benefits they have been promised is fiction, unless significant reforms are undertaken. We need to establish in the public mind a key fiscal fact: right now we are on an unsustainable course. That reality needs to be seared into the public consciousness; it is the pre-condition to authentic reform.

As Marshall notes, this "reform" isn't about saving Social Security at all: it is about killing it outright. If Bush Co. can give a huge windfall to the Wall Street Investment firms at the same time, well that's just a bonus.

Here's Marshall's thoughts on the whole thing:
This entire debate is about ideology -- between people who believe in the benefits Social Security has brought America in the last three-quarters of a century and those who think it was a bad idea from the start. There is an honest debate to have on this point, a values debate. Only, the White House understands that the belief that Social Security was always a bad program isn't widely shared by Americans. So they have to wrap their effort in a package of lies, harnessing Americans' desire to save Social Security in their own effort to destroy it.


We trusted Bush Co. when they said Iraq was a "grave & gathering threat" and it wasn't and now American soldiers are getting killed everyday (7 today, 9 yesterday). Are these really people we want to trust with Social Security?

1.05.2005

It isn't Outsourcing, but you should read anyways because Jeb is next in line...
'You're George Bush's brother? Good for you.': Tragedy turns to comedy as US envoys arrive The Guardian UK (01.05)

It was one of the few moments of light relief in what has otherwise been a week of heart-rending loss, ghoulish encounters with death, and heroic self-sacrifice.
The scene was Phuket town hall, which has become the polyglot headquarters of the huge international operation to recover bodies and support the survivors of last week's tsunami.

[snip]

"Who are you?" asked one slightly bemused Australian consular official as the large–girthed US stranger pumped his hand.

"I'm Jeb Bush."

"Oh, are you a relative of the president?" said the interlocuter, jokingly.

"Yes I am. I am his little brother."

"Oh," came the reply. "Good for you."

To which Jeb thought to himself: "You're fucking right it's good for me you goddamn foreign nobody, because I'm next in line to be president and then you'll see how good it is for me!!"

Jeb Bush was not the only senior US official who appeared to feel awkward.

The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, came close to damaging his reputation as the Bush administration's leading diplomat when he walked into the room, strolled to the US desk, shook the hands of the people working there and then walked straight back out again. It was only when he was downstairs that an aide suggested he "might like" to meet the volunteers from some of the other countries, too. Reminded that he is part of an international relief mission, Mr Powell promptly turned on his heels once again and marched back up the stairs to belatedly press some non–American flesh.

Colin Powell: Real American Asshole. We don't care what anyone says: Powell is a dirtbag and has done little to earn anyone's respect (ever heard the name 'Mi Lai' folks?). Sorry, he has no integrity: Bush picked him because he was "bullet proof" in the media and Dick Cheney HATES him because the Republican machine wanted Powell to run in '96 and they shut down Cheney. Trust me folks, we get this from folks that know. Powell wasted whatever credibility he might have had lying to the world and letting Bush Co. send folks off to Iraq for no damn good reason other some NeoCon fantasy of free markets and a transformed Middle East (oh and they certainly transformed it).

And we stand by the Jeb as candidate in '08. Stop and think about it seriously for a moment and don't tell us that Americans don't like dynasties because that isn't even remotely true: from sports teams to politics, we seem to love 'em.

1.04.2005

From our "We Love Paul Krugman" file...
Stopping the Bum's Rush NYTimes.com (01.04)
The Krugman steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park. Too bad he's too thoughtful, well spoken and educated for the networks. I mean why have a professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University on your bobblehead show when there's tons of Heritage & AEI folks willing to make absurd statements all night long? Anyways, the Krug says:

The people who hustled America into a tax cut to eliminate an imaginary budget surplus and a war to eliminate imaginary weapons are now trying another bum's rush. If they succeed, we will do nothing about the real fiscal threat and will instead dismantle Social Security, a program that is in much better financial shape than the rest of the federal government.


Oh, Paul... could we love you more? You make our heart go "boom boom boom" with your sweettalk...
Here's the truth: by law, Social Security has a budget independent of the rest of the U.S. government. That budget is currently running a surplus, thanks to an increase in the payroll tax two decades ago. As a result, Social Security has a large and growing trust fund.

When benefit payments start to exceed payroll tax revenues, Social Security will be able to draw on that trust fund. And the trust fund will last for a long time: until 2042, says the Social Security Administration; until 2052, says the Congressional Budget Office; quite possibly forever, say many economists, who point out that these projections assume that the economy will grow much more slowly in the future than it has in the past.


But Paul: we're Americans so we're not sure we can handle the truth. Really, our "leaders" spend so much time lying to us that we're not even sure we'd recognize it... and that's what they depend on.

Oh, they're tricksy precious...

Wal–Mart's women –– employees and customers –– in unhealthy relationship SeattlePI.com (01.02)
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Wal–Mart is bad for America so STOP SHOPPING THERE!

Wal–Mart knows its customers, and it knows how badly they need the discounts. Like Wal–Mart's workers, its customers are overwhelmingly female and struggling to make ends meet. Betty Dukes, the lead plaintiff in Dukes v. Wal–Mart, the landmark sex-discrimination case against the company, points out that Wal–Mart takes out ads in her local paper the same day the community's poorest citizens collect their welfare checks.

"They are promoting themselves to low-income people," she says. "That's who they lure. They don't lure the rich... They understand the economy of America. They know the haves and have–nots. They don't put Wal-Mart in Piedmonts. They don't put Wal-Mart in those high–end parts of the community. They plant themselves right in the middle of Poorville."

Betty Dukes is right. A 2000 study by Andrew Franklin, then an economist at the University of Connecticut, showed that Wal–Mart operated primarily in poor and working-class communities, finding, in the bone–dry language of his discipline, "a significant negative relationship between median household income and Wal–Mart's presence in the market."

[snip]

Only 6 percent of Wal–Mart shoppers have annual family incomes of more than $100,000. A 2003 study found that 23 percent of Wal–Mart Supercenter customers live on incomes of less than $25,000 a year. More than 20 percent of Wal–Mart shoppers have no bank account, long considered a sign of dire poverty. And while almost half of Wal–Mart Supercenter customers are blue–collar workers and their families, 20 percent are unemployed or elderly.

Wait for it, wait for it...
Al Zack, who until his retirement in 2004 was the United Food and Commercial Workers' vice president for strategic programs, observes that appealing to the poor was "Sam Walton's real genius. He figured out how to make money off of poverty. He located his first stores in poor rural areas and discovered a real market. The only problem with the business model is that it really needs to create more poverty to grow." That problem is cleverly solved by creating more bad jobs worldwide.

BOOYA! Remember kiddies: just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you! Wal–Mart. What total bastards...

In a chilling reversal of Henry Ford's strategy, which was to pay his workers amply so they could buy Ford cars, Wal-Mart's stingy compensation policies -- workers make, on average, just over $8 an hour, and if they want health insurance, they must pay more than a third of the premium –– contribute to an economy in which, increasingly, workers can afford to shop only at Wal–Mart.

To make this model work, Wal–Mart must keep labor costs down. It does this by making corporate crime an integral part of its business strategy. Wal–Mart routinely violates laws protecting workers' organizing rights (workers have even been fired for union activity).

Whoops: spoke too soon. Read the rest and, as always, come to your own conclusions but please, stop shopping at Wal–Mart... for the children.

From our "We Love Josh Marshall" file:
Josh lays it all out on Social Security "reform" over at TalkingPointsMemo.com (01.02)
Yes, a little late with this but we're easing into the new year. Josh puts it all in perspective though...

The United States has a bit over $7 trillion in accumulated national debt. You can say that's been built up over the history of the country. But overwhelmingly it was borrowed over what happens to be the span of my lifetime -- the last thirty-five years –– and especially over the last twenty-five years.

After 1980 we started borrowing money big–time to finance our deficits –– in large part because of tax cuts on high–income earners. However you want to slice it, we started spending substantially more than we were taking in in tax revenue.

So where'd we borrow the money?

This is from memory, so I may have the numbers a bit off. But I believe about $4 trillion of that debt was borrowed on the open market –– individual Americans have them in their investment portfolios, or pension funds hold them, or the Chinese, Japanese and the Saudis and others have them in bonds.

But about $3 trillion of those dollars we needed to fund the 1980s and 1990s deficits we managed to borrow closer to home. We borrowed it from the Social Security (and a few other government) trust fund(s).

Got it? Good, 'cuz here's the kicker:
Almost the entirety of President Bush's Social Security phase–out plan comes down to a simple proposition: finding out how not to pay it back.

[snip]

So why does the president figure he can get away without making good on the debt to the folks who pay Social Security taxes, who are overwhelmingly low and middle–income wage earners (since no one pays Social Security tax on investment income or wage and salary income over about $85,000 a year)?

Isn't it obvious? Because he thinks they're an easy mark.

If anything, the fact that a sizeable portion of our huge national debt is owed (in the aggregate) to ourselves would seem to be a good thing since it gives us in extremis at least some flexibility on repayment. But to the president this is a reason to abolish Social Security so the money doesn't have to be paid back at all.

As always, read and decide for yourself, but it seems fairly obvious to us too.

1.03.2005

From our "Yee Haw, I'm Proud to Be An American" file...
Cowboy boots carry 'Made in China' label AZCentral.com (1.03.05)

Showing off the bootmaking plant founded by his famous grandfather after a stint in the U.S. Cavalry, Rudolph Lama can't help sounding a little patriotic.

"There are three things this country can still be proud of," he said with a glint in his eye, "Harley–Davidson motorcycles, Wrangler jeans and Tony Lama cowboy boots."

It would be hard to find a product more emblematic of America than cowboy boots, and Tony Lamas are considered top of the line. But reach inside and the label may read: "Made in China."

About 35 to 40 percent of the Tony Lama line is outsourced, according to Lama, who now manages international sales for Justin Brands, which acquired Tony Lama Co. in 1990.

Half of Justin's Chippewa Boots footwear is produced in China, while 20 percent of the company's upscale Nocona brand comes from Mexico, Lama says. Between 75 and 80 percent of the Justin Boots brand are crafted overseas.

Wait for it, wait for it...

"We are operating in a global economy... and the prevailing trend right now is to outsource," Lama explained. "All children's boots now come from India."

Such admissions are touchy subjects for boot manufacturers. Since the interview with Lama, a spokeswoman for Justin Brands e–mailed that Lama "feels several of his comments were taken out of context and they serve to paint a negative picture of the brand" while the company itself was "proud to produce a large number of products domestically."

No new outsourcing numbers were offered, however. In a second e–mail, the spokeswoman said that "if the people you spoke with gave you these numbers, then you are right."

At Justin's El Paso factory, modern methods have taken over in other ways. A computer-programmed embroidery machine has replaced 100 workers who used to do the fancy stitching. The factory churns out 1,000 top–quality pairs of boots a day.

The workforce overwhelmingly is Hispanic; some of them are residents of Juarez, Mexico, which lies on the opposite bank of the Rio Grande. They stitch and adjust and nail and glue, and shine to help sell the final product for between $200 and $1,500 a pair.

[snip]

"Much cheaper, if they are made in China," Lama interjected. (Indeed, Mexico's shoe industry reportedly lost 7,000 jobs in 2002, partly because of competition from Asia.)

Hilarious! The global economy seems to sink all boats except for those like Lama who, we're betting, has never done anything in his life except SELL the company his grandfather created to the highest bidder. We're also sure Grampy Lama would have been proud! Kudos to you Lama (wanna place bets he's a Republican?

Oh, wait: we almost forgot the kicker! Here it is...
"We had 120 percent growth over the past four years," he boasted.

But he admitted that two–thirds of his output now comes from Mexico, and a deal with China may be in the offing.

Happy New Year!!