Saturday, January 29, 2005

8-Track Memories - REO Speedwagon

It was inevitable when I began this series that eventually I would have to admit to liking some music that I can't stand anymore. So here it is: I had an 8-track of A Decade Of Rock & Roll '70-'80 by REO Speedwagon, and I loved it.

REO started out in Champaign-Urbana, IL around the time I was born there. As a midwestern band, they probably got more airplay in the Chicago area (where I moved in 1973) than elsewhere. I have realized while writing this series that music was still somewhat regional in the late 1970s and early 1980s--Cheap Trick, Styx, and REO were all Illinois bands that I liked in those days, although I didn't know they were "local" until years later.

This best-of compilation covers REO's first nine albums, including the legendarily titled You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish. Although I listened to Decade a lot, I usually gravitated (i.e., changed tracks) toward a handful of songs: "Keep Pushin', "Roll With The Changes," "Time For My To Fly," and "Only The Strong Survive." And of course, there was the live version of "Ridin' The Storm Out," my favorite song on the tape. Reading the lyrics now, I think it was kind of a goofy song, but I liked the music.

Decade came just before their big commercial break-through, 1981's Hi Infidelity, which included "Take It On The Run" and "Keep On Lovin' You." I borrowed a friend's copy and liked it but somehow resisted buying it for myself. I don't like them anymore; I can't stand Kevin Cronin's voice. If I hear an REO song on the radio, I change the station, even if it's "Ridin' The Storm Out." I guess I'm not sentimental about all of my 8-track memories.

Friday, January 28, 2005

"A Medically Supervised Anecdotal Study"

There is a commercial on Air America Radio for a product to "improve your performance in the bedroom" that cites the results of "a medically supervised anecdotal study." Huh? Do people miss this verbal slight of hand and think they said "clinical study?" Or worse, do people think an anecdotal study is meaningful just because a doctor is watching? Now there's a job I wouldn't want! Actually, I picture a bunch of guys, one of whom happens to be a doctor, in a health club locker room bragging about their recent conquests.

This junk phrase reminds me of a woman I worked with in the JC Penney shoe department when I was in high school. She told customers that shoes were made of "genuine simulated leather." One of them asked sincerely, "Oh really? Is that good?"

I had a feeling that someone else must have commented on this advertisement before, so I googled it yesterday. I found several references on the web, including a great site called
The Church of Critical Thinking (CoCT). There was not only an entertaining analysis of the many lowbrow ads on Air America, but also a response from Air America co-founder Sheldon Drobny that agreed and promised that the ads will get better as the fledgling network's audience reaches critical mass.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Republican Racial Tactics

The conservative movement has used the same racial tactics so many times now that I wonder when people will finally catch on and ignore them. Here is what they do: They find a woman or minority person with extremely conservative views. When the Democrats oppose that person based on their politics or past actions, the conservatives claim that they are doing it just because they hate women, blacks, Hispanics, etc. who don't agree with them. They never acknowledge that perhaps it is ideology; it is always about gender or race.

It may have started with Clarence Thomas. While Bush the First gets a little credit for nominating a black man, Thomas was not the most qualified candidate. When Democrats went after him, conservatives said it was because he was black. Likewise, Democrats (Harry Reid, for example) are branded as racists whenever they criticize Thomas' rather undistinguished record as a Supreme Court Justice.

Bush II has used this tactic more than ever. Take Condi Rice, for example. Now, I will grant that she has achieved a lot considering where she started. Her stint as National Security Advisor, however, is not the least bit impressive. She failed to comprehend the gravity of the Al Qaeda threat before 9/11, and she let the administration get into the quagmire of Iraq. What has she accomplished in the area of national security? She has been nothing if not Bush's yes-person. And for that alone, she is "promoted" to Secretary of State? Regardless, Republicans frame Democratic opposition as racist or sexist. I am certain that Democratic senators would have just as many questions if Bush nominated Donald Rumsfeld to Secretary of State. The administration has been too secretive for too long, so senators are asking questions at the only time they might get answers.

Republican racial tactics even extend to black conservative commentators. People like
Neil Boortz are claiming that Democrats are upset about Armstrong Williams getting paid our tax dollars to promote No Child Left Behind just because he's a black conservative. I am sure Democrats would be just as upset if Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly got paid by the government, but the Bush administration probably used Williams because they could play racial politics to defend him if anyone found out about it. It's one thing for wealthy individuals like Richard "Cougar" Mellon Scaife to fund conservatives, but spending government money to do so is unconscionable. It is all the more heinous that $240,000 was spent to buy favorable coverage of a program that is miserably underfunded.

Next up, Alberto Gonzalez. He tried to duck the "torture memo" issue during confirmation hearings, but many of us saw through his denial. He is another undistinguished Bush loyalist whose best qualification to be Attorney General is that he is not as extreme as John Ashcroft. Rush Limbaugh will tell you that the Democrats hate Hispanics who aren't Democrats, and he'll bring up Miguel Estrada as another example (Estrada didn't even have any experience as a judge, and Bush nominated him to one of the most prominent courts in the country). But Rush won't tell you about Bush's 22 other Hispanic judge nominees that were approved by the Democrats.

I wouldn't dare to assert that Democrats are not racist; I believe that most people are racist to some degree. To accuse the Democrats of opposing conservative ideologues for racist reasons, however, is ridiculous. Regardless, it is standard practice for the Republican party.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Other Side Of Johnny

I rarely agree with Chicago Tribune writer John Kass when it comes to politics, but I read his work anyway. Today he surprised me with a great column about the late Johnny Carson. Most of us have focused on Carson's life, but Kass, a fellow smoker, pondered Carson's death and interviewed an esteemed doctor about emphysema. Upon hearing about and envisioning Carson's last days, Kass vowed to make another effort to quit smoking.

For decades, my grandmother was a militant smoker. If a restaurant didn't have a smoking section, we didn't go there. Her mother died of lung cancer in 1986, but grandma kept right on smoking. I don't think she ever even tried to quit. A few winters ago, she caught pneumonia. Grandpa, who quit smoking decades ago, made her go to the hospital (she hadn't seen a doctor in ages because "he'll just tell me to stop smoking"). The doctor did not disappoint, telling her exactly what she had expected to hear. Except this time there was more urgency to it: stop now or you won't live much longer. And so she quit. We never thought we'd see the day, but she did it. She's still alive and breathing today.


I wish Kass luck. If you'd like to join him, contact the American Lung Association at 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872).

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Truth About Truthaboutsplenda.com

Here we go again--another propaganda web site with misleading information. First of all, and this should come as no surprise, it is funded by the sugar lobby. I don't have to tell you that they might be a little biased. While walmartfacts.com abuses statistics to "support" its cause, truthaboutsplenda.com uses misleading rhetoric to "make" its point.

The site constantly harps on the fact that Splenda is a "chlorinated compound." But so is table salt! Just because an element is toxic, that does not make its compounds harmful. They use scaremongering, conspiracy-inferring statements about how there are over 3,500 products using Splenda "and none of them say the product contains chlorine." Hmm, I do not recall ever reading about chlorine in the ingredient list of a product including salt. It isn't listed because a "chlorinated compound" is not the same thing as chlorine. Hydrogen is flammable--it's the chief fuel of the sun and indeed the entire universe. Water contains hydrogen, so is water flammable? Of course not. Likewise, my can of Campbell's soup doesn't list hydrogen or oxygen as ingredients.


Here is a typical statement from the site:
Fiction: The chlorine found in Splenda is similar to that found in other foods we eat.
Fact: The manufacturer of Splenda claims that chlorine is naturally present in such foods as lettuce, mushrooms and table salt, but they never directly state that eating Splenda is the same as eating these foods. Remember, Splenda is not a natural substance, it is an artificial chemical sweetener manufactured by adding three chlorine atoms to a sugar molecule. And again, because there have been no long-term human studies on Splenda to determine the potential health effects on people, no one can say with certainty that the substance is safe to eat.

First of all, the Splenda people "never directly state that eating Splenda is the same as eating these foods" because obviously Splenda is not the same as lettuce, mushrooms, or table salt for many reasons. The sugar producers couldn't possibly claim that eating sugar is "the same" as eating lettuce, either. Then they ominously warn that "Splenda is not a natural substance." If you stop to think about how many substances in food are not natural, you will see how silly this line of reasoning is. Is high fructose corn syrup a naturally occurring substance? One could argue that refined sugar isn't a truly natural substance, either. Finally, they claim that "no one can say with certainty that the substance is safe to eat." Okay, but for that matter, is sugar safe? It can make you fat. It causes trouble for diabetics. So I wouldn't say it's safe "with certainty" for everybody. The statement is vague and subjective.

That is the type of rhetoric on truthaboutsplenda.com. It is full of scary language and innuendo but lacking in concrete evidence. It's just a front for the sugar lobby and tells no real "truth." Unfortunately, plenty of people will fail to see this for what it is. I would not be surprised to get an e-mail titled "the dangers of chlorinated Splenda" from people like my grandmother who pass along everything they see on the Internet without question.

I'm not declaring whether Splenda is safe or not. I'm just encouraging critical thought and analysis of propaganda masquerading as truth.

UPDATE 01/28/05: I should have given a citation for truthaboutsplenda.com's connection with the sugar industry (specifically the Sugar Association) since the site itself conceals this.


So Long, Johnny

Like almost everyone over the age of 25 or so, I was saddened to hear of Johnny Carson's death on Sunday. My parents watched him all the time; for all I knew, the other channels played "The Star-Spangled Banner" after the 10:00 news and went off the air. I grew up with Johnny. For a while, my bedtime was 10:30 when he came on. Sometimes I was allowed to stay up to see his monologue. When I got older, my bedtime shifted to 11:30 so I could watch the whole show. Johnny was a constant through my teenage years, and he retired as I graduated from college.

I still recite bits from his show. Just the other day I repeated one of my favorites, a spoof on the Ernest and Julio Gallo wine commercials. After "we will sell no wine before its time," they cut to Johnny dressed up as a bum with a brown paper bag in hand. "It's time!" he exclaimed, taking a swig from the sack.

I'll never forget when Julio Iglesias was on the Tonight Show, and Johnny came out dressed as Willie Nelson to sing the duet "To All The Girls I've Loved Before." That was especially appropriate considering that Johnny was married four times!

Another area where Johnny stood above other talk shows was in developing (and playing) recurring characters, like Carnac the Magnificent and Floyd R. Turbo (of whom I am reminded every time I see a hat with ear flaps). I also remember recurring gags like the Slawson Cutoff and the law firm of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe.

Johnny was such a great all-around entertainer, someone who could tell jokes, do interviews, and perform in sketches. Just look at how many people have failed with talk shows and remember that Johnny succeeded for 30 years. There will be many tributes this week, and the Tribune has an excellent obituary. A few years ago I bought my parents a "Johnny Carson Collection" video set. I wish I had my own to watch tonight.

8-Track Memories - Styx

In the late 1970s, I thought Styx was the greatest band in the world. My dad liked them, and he was a major influence on my pre-teen musical tastes. Twenty years passed before I discovered that critics often cite Styx as one of the cheesiest rock bands of the era.

I got hooked by The Grand Illusion, an album that I enjoyed so thoroughly that I couldn't pick a favorite song. "Come Sail Away" was its big hit. Pieces Of Eight followed with the hit single "Renegade." I still hear "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)" on the radio, which was a topical song when it came out. Although I liked Cornerstone when it was released, it hasn't stood the test of time. One of the album's worst songs, "Babe" (not about the pig), was a popular single. The band even took a stab at politics with "Eddie," warning Ted Kennedy not to run for president lest he meet the fate of his brothers. Paradise Theater was a return to form, the last Styx album worth buying. I didn't care for "The Best Of Times," but I liked "Too Much Time On My Hands," "Half-Penny, Two Penny," and the cocaine lament, "Snowblind."

When I started building my own record collection in the mid-1980s, I still liked Styx enough to buy the four albums named above. I haven't listened to them in years, though. Kilroy Was Here was their last studio album that my dad bought. "Mr. Roboto" was a really goofy, overwrought single, and the rest of the album was forgettable at best. In 1990s parlance, they had jumped the shark.

Norwegian Intuition

This was one of the best stories from the inauguration: "Norwegians Confused by Bush Salute"
OSLO, Norway -- President Bush's "Hook 'em, 'horns" salute got lost in translation in Norway, where shocked people interpreted his hand gesture during his inauguration as a salute to Satan. That's what it means in the Nordics when you throw up the right hand with the index and pinky fingers raised, a gesture popular among heavy metal groups and their fans in the region.
As any college football fan knows, Bush was referring to the University of Texas Longhorns. Of course, the irony in this story is that many people throughout the world feel that Bush is indeed in league with the Prince of Darkness. This AP reporter is a bit naive, though; this gesture is not unique to Scandinavian metalheads. The burn-outs used to do it all the time in my high school, usually while professing their devotion to metal performer Ronnie James Dio.

The gesture also has a sexual meaning in Italy, at least according to an episode of JAG.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Wal-Mart's Boilerplate Press Releases

Wal-Mart Facts lets you search for the "community impact" in your state. The search results show a list of articles, most of which announce store openings:
  • August 25, 2004 BELVIDERE, Ill., Aug. 18, 2004 --- Thousands of shoppers from throughout Boone County are expected to converge on Belvidere’s new 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter, which will celebrate...
  • January 28, 2004 WEST CITY-BENTON, Ill., Jan. 21, 2004 --- Thousands of shoppers from throughout Franklin County are expected to converge on West City-Benton's new 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter,...
  • June 23, 2004 O’FALLON, Ill., June 16, 2004 --- Thousands of shoppers from throughout Saint Clair County are expected to converge on O’Fallon’s new 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter, which will celebrate...
  • May 19, 2004 VANDALIA, Ill., May 12, 2004 --- Thousands of shoppers from throughout Fayette County are expected to converge on Vandalia’s new 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter, which will celebrate...
Notice a pattern here? There's a lot of countywide converging going on! I understand that a company opening hundreds of stores around the world cannot be expected to come up with a clever lead for every grand opening celebration, but... don't give the public an easy way to see that their own grand opening isn't so unique and special!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Wal-Mart's Propaganda Site

I found an unintentionally amusing web site today, http://www.walmartfacts.com/. Apparently, this site was created to show how great Wal-Mart is. Their "Nationwide Impact" page makes such dubious claims as
  • "In 2005, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. projects it will create more than 100,000 new U.S. jobs, compared to 83,000 last year." Okay, but how many jobs are lost in smaller retail stores when a Wal-Mart moves in? Or factories whose production is now in China? I know they don't have the data, but what is the net job gain/loss when other employers are considered?
  • "Last year, Wal-Mart collected $10.2 billion in state and local sales taxes for our communities." Wait a minute. Don't all retail stores collect sales taxes? This number pretends that those sales tax dollars magically appeared, but they were really shifted from other stores. In fact, one could even argue that since sales taxes are a percentage of the price, Wal-Mart is actually contributing less because their prices are lower!
  • "In 2005, we are projecting that our company will spend approximately $4.1 billion on benefits we provide our associates." This is meaningless without context. How much do they spend per employee, and how does that compare with other retailers?
  • "Wal-Mart purchases goods from more than 68,000 U.S. suppliers and supports more than 3.5 million supplier jobs... In fiscal year 2004, Wal-Mart spent over $137.5 billion with suppliers in the United States." Okay, then how much did Wal-Mart spend with suppliers in China? What percentage did they spend with suppliers here versus abroad, and what have those percentages been over the past few years? I have a feeling that a rapidly increasing percentage of business is transacted with foreign suppliers. And I won't even ask about the Marianas Islands sweatshops that produce "made in U.S.A." products at Third World wages (check out Jim Hightower's If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote...).
  • "Wal-Mart’s supplier development program has grown from $2 million initially to more than $2 billion spent with minority and women-owned businesses." Judging from the above item, that $2 billion is pretty small, just 1.45% of $137.5 billion--even less as a percentage of Wal-Mart's global spending. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Jesse Jackson or Gloria Steinem to lavish praise on them for that.

What a joke. Then they add

"Wal-Mart is the greatest thing that ever happened to low income Americans. They can stretch their dollars and afford things they otherwise couldn't.” - W. Michael Cox, Chief Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, The New York Times, December 2003.

What Mr. Cox failed to acknowledge was that Wal-Mart isn't the greatest thing for Americans whose factories close due to price-lowering pressure from Wal-Mart, or those whose downtown stores are wiped out by the new Wal-Mart on the edge of town. I love cheap stuff as much as anybody, but we can't be a nation of consumers without being a nation of solid wage-earners.

This web site simply tries to "shock and awe" visitors by reciting big numbers from a huge corporation, larger than most Americans can imagine, without putting them into any relevant context. I hope everyone can see through this misleading PR campaign.


Another Lyric Change - Kate Wolf

Since people seemed to enjoy my post about Hilary Duff's lyrical corruption of "My Generation" (I wonder if she performed that one at the "America's Future Rocks Today" concert), here is another lyric change that bothers me. I listened to Kate Wolf's An Evening In Austin from 1985 for the first time tonight. She does a version of the Youngbloods' "Let's Get Together" ("C'mon people now, smile on your brother/Everybody get together try to love one another right now"). Except she changes "smile on your brother" to "smile on each other." In fact, she makes a point of announcing the "updated" lyric change when she introduces the song.

Why??? This is a textbook example of rewriting a past work to suit a fashionable political agenda, and it is the worst aspect of politically correct feminism--rendering everything gender-neutral. Does anyone really listen to the original version and think that the singer was addressing only the men of the world? "Your brother" also infers a closer relationship than "each other," which makes it more appropriate for the song's theme (and yes, I see the irony of making potentially divisive comments about a song encouraging unity). It is a needless revision that merely grates upon the listener's ear.

Aside from that ill-advised change, I guess it's a decent album. Female folksingers don't usually interest me much, but I decided to check out Wolf because she wrote a great song that Nanci Griffith recorded called "Across The Great Divide." Unfortunately, that song isn't on this album.

P.S. For a great comparison of the political leanings of Washington's newspapers, look at their coverage of "America's Future Rocks Today:"
Washington Post: "Strike Up The Bland"
Washington Times: "Jenna, Barbara rock with the future"
You can guess which one I prefer (hint: it's the one that isn't backed by a fanatical Korean religous figure).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Inauguration

On TV last night they said that 2,500 anarchists are in Washington, DC preparing to protest the inauguration. I wisecracked to my wife, "But anarchists aren't much for organization!" Truth be told, I hope they succeed. I hope the protesters find every possible way to embarrass our chicken hawk president and his corporate butt-kiss-fest inaugural celebration. I wish I was there to help. I told my wife that we should wear black armbands when we go out to dinner with her mostly Republican family tonight.

Don't even ask what I think about the $40 million in corporate "access buying," the millions in security costs being passed on to the city for the first time ever, and the nine inaugural balls. I'm sure our troops will enjoy watching the decadent jubilation in the the capital as they literally fight for their lives in the desert.

There is a great post at the blog of Air America's "Unfiltered" show. It asks Ronald Reagan's famous question: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Then it compares statistics about the budget, unemployment, gasoline, AIDS, and wages. It's pretty sad that they don't even need to mention Iraq to come up with a damning critique. Four more years, indeed.

8-Track Memories - Cheap Trick

When I was a kid, I stayed with my grandparents for a few weeks every summer. They moved into a new house just before my brother was born in 1979. My absolute favorite 8-track then was Cheap Trick's Live At Budokan. The day they moved, I lost my Cheap Trick tape. I think I threw some sort of tantrum until my parents replaced it.

Cheap Trick was a hot band in the late 1970s. This was years before the cheesy hit ballad "The Flame" and long before famous fans like Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins) made them "cool" again in the late 1990s (the bands played together memorably at the release concert for Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness). This album was also my introduction to Japan, which was pretty exotic to a nine-year-old. The way the fans were screaming, you would have thought these were the Beatles reunited, not a band from Rockford, IL with a couple of hit singles.

I don't remember why I got this tape in the first place, but it was probably from hearing "Surrender" and "I Want You To Want Me" on the radio. Looking back, the latter is just a lightweight pop song, but "Surrender" has stood the test of time. The lyrics are goofy but in a charming way. I also liked "Ain't That A Shame" and "Clock Strikes Ten," which had a guitar line that coincidentally sounded like the doorbell chimes in my grandparents' new house.

I just learned that in 1998, the entire concert was released on CD. The original had just ten songs. As a kid, I had wondered why a band would go all the way to Japan to play such a short concert (editing never occurred to me). Cheap Trick At Budokan: The Complete Concert sets the record straight with nineteen songs, including one of the band's classics, "Auf Wiedersehen," as well as their well-known cover of The Move's "California Man" (written by Jeff Lynne, better known from ELO).

I never bought another Cheap Trick album, and I stopped listening to Budokan sometime in junior high school. I heard a few songs from the album last year, though, and I remembered all the words. Impressively, they are still together with the same line-up (one member left for a while in the 1980s but came back).

8-Track Memories - Introduction

Judging from the comments, my blog entries about music seem to be the most popular. With that in mind, I am starting a series about the music of my youth. These will be bands that I liked before high school, which means prior to 1984. My dad introduced me to a lot of this music. It's weird to think that back then my dad was younger than I am now. I'm calling this "8-Track Memories" in honor of my preferred musical format at the time (actually, my dad had a recording 8-track deck, so many of my "8-Track Memories" originated on vinyl).

I hardly ever listen to most of these bands anymore (I finally gave up on 8-tracks around 1985). For me, music evokes a certain period of my life. Once that period is gone, the music just isn't the same. I still like it in some way, but not enough to seek it out and play it. Of course, when I hear those songs, I still know all the words. Call it "comfort music." Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Three Cheers For Boxer and Kerry!!!

At least somebody had the guts to stand up and say, "Condi, you've done a lousy job as national security advisor, and we don't think you deserve the promotion to secretary of state." After hearing Senator Boxer take Rice to task yesterday, I wanted to move to California just so I could vote for her. When Boxer caught Rice in a lie about the pre-war threat of Iraq, Rice had the gaul to tell Boxer not to question her integrity. But Rice doesn't have integrity. She may have an advanced degree, but she is one of the least independent thinkers in the administration. She shamelessly goes along with everything Bush, Cheney, & Rumsfeld want to do.

She willfully ignored the advice from the Clinton adminstration that Al-Qaeda would be her most important foreign policy issue. Did that made us more secure? When a senator asked her whether the euro or the dollar should be the international monetary standard, she said she didn't know and that she would leave that to the secretary of the treasury. Huh?

Much has been made of Rice being the first black woman to become secretary of state. I will acknowledge that she has overcome some disadvantages to rise to this position, but she's still just a Bush shill. Watch for the Republican noise machine to brand Democrats as racists for daring to oppose her. I say three cheers for Boxer and Kerry for voting against her, and one cheer for Biden for at least questioning her aggressively.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Tort Reform - Taking Away More Of Our Rights

Bush caused a stir down in Collinsville, IL when he visited recently to talk about medical malpractice lawsuits. This is a rather contentious issue, with the American Medical Association apparently more interested in lowering their malpractice insurance costs than in implementing reforms within their profession to weed out the bad doctors who are causing the "crisis." Of course, since doctors are allied with the Republican party while trial lawyers tend to be Democrats, Bush is pushing for malpractice award limits.

Lost amid the excitement about the "first sitting president to visit Collinsville" was a very telling fact: while Collinsville's Madison County has a reputation for large jury awards against corporations, medical malpractice suits are not really a problem there (IIRC, this was in last Sunday's Chicago Tribune). At first blush, one might laugh this off as another Bush gaffe--holding a press conference about malpractice where it isn't even an issue. This time, however, there is a more ominous undercurrent.

Medical malpractice limits (which are not as universally effective in holding down malpractice or health insurance costs as Bush would have you believe) are part of a bigger issue called tort reform. Bush demonizes trial lawyers (look at his 2004 stump speeches where he says "trial lawyers" with the same sneer as "activist judges") and wants to limit their power. While all of us have heard stories of frivolous lawsuits, we forget that the "power" of trial lawyers is really our power. If Bush's tort reforms are passed, Americans will lose their primary means of holding corporations accountable for unsafe products and dangerous business practices. As we move toward a corporatocracy, the federal government is doing less to protect us. Deregulation is a consistent theme in the conservative movement, and the current administration is doing its part. Without the government suing or disciplining corporate malfeasance, who is going to stop these companies from taking advantage of workers and consumers?

While Bush's idea of tort reform is to limit the ability of individuals to sue corporations, it turns out that
corporations themselves file far more lawsuits. According to a Public Citizen survey of cases in Arkansas, Mississippi, Cook County (IL), and Philadelphia (the few jurisdictions where reliable data about whether cases are filed by trial lawyers or businesses exists), businesses file four times as many lawsuits as individuals do, although there are forty times more individuals than businesses in the United States. Corporations want to limit your right to sue while preserving their own access to the courts. Keep this in mind when Bush says he's helping you with tort reform.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Ultimate Social Security Scam

The Bush administration claims to have a bold new plan to line the pockets of their corporate contributors. Oops, I meant to say that they have a bold new plan to dismantle social security. Oops, I meant save social security. The administration claims that social security will go bankrupt, but there are no government studies that agree with them. Depending on the source, social security will be able to pay 100% benefits until between 2040 and 2060, then 80% benefits indefinitely beyond.

The fact is that social security is one of the best government programs ever instituted, a way to help the elderly and disabled live with some dignity. The Republicans have been agitating for the destruction of this last great New Deal program for years. Now that Bush has his supposed "mandate," they figure this is the time to push for that change. Their proposal, which won't come cheap, is to let workers put much of their social security money into the inherently risky stock market. But even Bush has admitted that he has to convince us there is a problem. That task is made more difficult by a lack of corroborative evidence. Oh, and by the way, in case you thought you missed Bush's pleas for social security privatization during the 2004 presidential campaign... No, you didn't miss it. He hardly ever mentioned it, and he still hasn't unveiled any specifics.

A conservative organization called Progress for America is doing its part for the Prez. They are running commercials on Fox News and CNN that show Franklin Roosevelt and claim that Bush's plan to "save" social security is as brave as FDR's plan to create it was. FDR's grandson is rightfully livid: "On behalf of my family, I would ask that you cease using my grandfather's image in your advertising campaign." Naturally, Progress for America has refused his request.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bushwacked

This book by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose is both outrageously hilarious and deeply depressing. It examines the policies of the Bush administration and how they effect everyday Americans--that is, the 99% of us who make too little to benefit appreciably from Bush's tax cuts while suffering the budgetary consequences.

As I read this book, I couldn't help thinking of friends and family who voted for Bush. Take, for example, my wife's aunt. One of the first things the administration did was to wipe out industrial ergonomic rules that were twelve years in the making (starting under Bush I). The White House press release characterized repetitive stress injuries as "an extremely broad class of injuries, whose cause is subject to considerable dispute." My wife's aunt wore a brace on her wrist for years, the result of a career in information technology. Surely she would not agree that there is "considerable dispute" about the causes of repetitive stress injuries (neither would most people). I will allow that she could have been fooled in 2000, but how could she have voted for Bush in 2004? Incidentally, she does not wear the brace anymore, having lost her job a couple of years ago. So far, she hasn't found one of those great new jobs that the administration has created.


Postscript: My wife pointed out that this aunt also thinks that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is a "maverick" because he wants to get prescription drugs from Canada. Never mind that seniors near the Canadian border have been going there for years to get their medications. And I thought the only people who considered Blagojevich's idea to be radical were those in bed with the pharmaceutical industry.

One Last Complaint About Lost In Translation

Two months ago, I wrote about how I didn't like Lost In Translation. Today I saw the soundtrack on Usenet, so I downloaded it just to see if a certain song, perhaps the best thing about the whole goofy movie, was on it. Remember the song that was playing in the strip club? I thought it was hilarious. Well, save your money, folks, because it is not on the soundtrack.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Republicans Misrepresent Electoral College Challenge

When Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) raised an objection to the Ohio electoral votes yesterday, they were only trying to call attention to the integrity (or lack thereof) of our voting process. I heard Boxer's press conference, and she said explicitly that she did not believe that Bush had lost Ohio (as far as I know, no Democrat in Congress claimed otherwise), but she was concerned about the many voting irregularities there. Since we are supposedly "bringing democracy" to the Middle East, it is crucial for our own elections to be run with the utmost integrity. For this reason, Bush should welcome the inquiry, but instead the Republicans have predictably miscast this as a challenge to Bush's legitimacy:

"Their intention in this whole process is merely to sow doubt and undermine public confidence in the electoral process itself," said Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). The challenge is "no more than another exercise in their party's primary strategy to obstruct, to divide and to destroy," she said.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) called the protest "a shame," while a White House spokesman said it was time for the country to move on not to "engage in conspiracy theories or partisan politics of this nature."

This was not about conspiracy theories at all. While the voting problems in Ohio probably didn't add up to the 118,000 votes that Kerry needed to defeat Bush, there were plenty of documented problems. To my disappointment, the Chicago Tribune's article did not bother to include any information about the irregularities in its story, preferring to talk about the politicians who opposed the challenge. Electionline.org reached the same conclusion that Boxer and Tubbs Jones noted yesterday: the irregularites weren't widespread enough to change the results, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore them. Check out their report (PDF) for more details.

Better yet, look at the report (PDF) from Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan) of the House Judiciary Committee. As a co-author of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, Conyers has a special interest in making sure elections are fair. The Republicans chose to ignore this report (as did much of the media), preferring to blast the Democrats for partisanship. The fact that they also were disrespecting a longtime colleague (Conyers has been in the House since 1964) didn't seem to matter much to them, either. Just imagine the outcry from the GOP propaganda machine if Democrats had treated a senior Republican similarly.

In a democracy, a citizen shouldn't have any reason to doubt whether his/her vote was counted. That's what this was really about, and any attempt to cast it as partisanship is disgraceful.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

What's Jeb Got To Do With It?

Colin Powell is touring the region ravaged by the tsunami this week with Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush? Doesn't he have a hurricane-torn state he should be at home running? I suppose that the party line is that Bush knows about water damage, so he is qualified to be there. My opinion is that he is starting to position himself for a 2008 presidential run, a continuation of the dynasty. I can already see the political ads featuring photos and videos of the "compassionate conservative" empathizing with the victims of this awful disaster. Eight more years. Yes, folks, it can get worse. I can't wait until it's Neil Bush's turn at the helm. I'd love to see how Karl Rove would spin the S & L scandal!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Blagojevich & Gun Control

The Tribune had an editorial today about how Rod Blagojevich has softened his anti-gun stance since he went from the U.S. Congress to Illinois' governorship. Although my rabidly pro-gun father probably assumes that I am anti-gun since I have mostly liberal views, I think the word that best describes my feelings about the issue is apathy. I went target shooting plenty of times with my dad when I was younger. The hobby never caught on with me, but I don't have any problem with people who enjoy it. As a Chicago resident and the spouse of a police officer, I am concerned about gun violence, but I am not convinced that legally restricting gun ownership is going to solve our problems. I also believe that no statistics regarding guns exist that are not heavily tainted with bias from either side. Without a personal interest or reliable data, I choose not to take a strong stand on the issue. (For what it's worth, I thought Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's attempt to hold gun manufacturers responsible for gun violence was a ridiculous pursuit, and the courts recently agreed.)

There was one part of the Tribune article that irritated me, though:
Another initiative, an attempt to hike the fee for gun owner permits to help pay for better enforcement of gun laws, has become an absolute non-starter with Blagojevich. At $5 for five years, less than half the fee to camp at a state park for one night, the gun permits are one of the biggest bargains in a state government where Blagojevich has been pushing fee hikes left and right to make ends meet. The nominal gun fee, however, has become sacrosanct with the governor, largely because he pledged never to raise it during his campaign, to mollify the gun lobby.
Many pro-gun people say that what we need is not more gun control, but better enforcement of the laws we have. If they really believe that, then why would they oppose raising the permit fee to enforce those laws? (And as a small business owner whose fees have doubled during the Blagojevich administration, it bothers me that gun owners don't have to pony up extra money to help balance the state budget like I do.) One dollar per year is ridiculously low--people probably lose more than a dollar in change every year just getting their keys out of their pockets. Why not quadruple or quintuple the fee? It certainly wouldn't be a barrier to gun ownership if gun owners had to cough up $25 for a five-year permit.

The gist of the editorial was that Blagojevich grandstands about issues of dubious import, and I agree with that. While video games are more graphic and lifelike than ever, video game violence is a tired old issue. Perhaps he's just trying to jump on the post-election morality bandwagon (although the importance of "moral values" was way overblown). I would think that our governor would have more pressing concerns.