Wednesday, May 31, 2006

WSJ's Rebellious Virginia Republicans

Those poor Wall Street Journal editors (now there's an oxymoron)--they didn't get the memo from Northern Virginia's Republicans.

Today, the Journal, in an editorial labelled "Virginia's Tax Rebellion," lauded "a gang of conservative GOP members" in the Virginia General Assembly for "foiling" Democratic Governor Kaine's plan to finance much needed transportation improvements in the state.

The Curmudgeon has no doubt that the Journal's pampered, chauffered editors have never had to get around Northern Virginia in rush hour traffic--or even Saturday shopping traffic for that matter. They, of course, could care less whether we Virginians sit in perpetual gridlock.

The same evidently goes for Virginia's rural GOP gang.

But what the WSJ gangsta's didn't hear about was that the rest of Virginia's Republicans--especially the vulnerable ones in burgeoning Prince William and Loudon Counties--are rebelling against the rebellers. Yep, these Republicans are scrambling (finally) to come up with their own plan to raise money from local taxpayers to fund regional transit improvements.

That's right, after hearing from angry constituents fed up with the foot dragging, those GOP delegates from the counties with the worst traffic congestion are realizing that if they don't put up, they'll be put out in the next election.

Guess what, Wall Street Journal: one way or the other, we Virginians are going to get what we need. Either your gang of Republican obstructors will relent and come up with a decent compromise, or the Democrats will simply take over.

If you're wondering which way it will go, check out the Virginia Senate, where GOP members have suddenly become much more moderate. And remember the right wing effort--also lauded by the Journal--to punish those Republicans moderates who sided with Governor Warner for sensible tax increases to finance the government two years ago? A total failure.

Memo to WSJ: Virginians don't want your brand of do-nothing credit card Republicanism to protect the pockets of a few rich citizens. We want roads, and we believe in responsibly financing them.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Webb v. Miller: Virginia Senate Primary Heats Up

It should come as no surprise that, with just two weeks to go, the sleepy Viriginia Democratic primary battle to challenge Republican incumbent Senator George Allen is finally starting to heat up.

Challengers Jim Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, and Harris Miller, a prominent DC lawyer/lobbyist, have begun calling each other names and questioning each other's Democratic credentials in a bid to gain attention and votes in the so far little-noticed race--the only statewide contest in the June 14 primary election.

The Curmudgeon has come out squarely for Jim Webb. (See "Jim Webb for Senate" May 8, 2006).

Many of the Curmudgeon's Democratic friends and neighbors still seem only vaguely aware of the coming election. All would like to see George Allen defeated in November, but they don't know too much about either Webb or Miller. (Their disdain for Allen is not a matter of mere partisanship--the Curmudgeon knows many Democrats who respect and even have voted for Virginia's senior Republican Senator, John Warner, who had the courage to tell Ollie North to stick it, and who has long maintained an independent streak. Allen, by contrast, is a Bush administration cheerleader and backslapper who thinks everything in our country is just hunky dory.)

So here's the scoop: Harris Miller "is a Republican strategist's dream opponent" in the words of Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher. "He's as charismatic as a toaster, wonkier than Al Gore and as proudly liberal as Al Franken."

Hey, nothing wrong with that--the Curmudgeon shares some of those traits, as do many of our friends. But we're talking about a Senate race in Virginia, for gosh sakes, not Massachusetts or Vermont. Harris Miller has no--we repeat NO--chance of defeating George Allen. All he'll do is serve as fodder for Allen's Presidential ambitions (now there's a scary thought: a guy lazier than W and less intellectually engaged than W running for President--just what we need!)

Yet Miller has sought to make the primary contest one over who is the more legitimate Democrat, attacking Webb's support of Allen in the 2000 general election (which Webb concedes was a mistake) and raising other questions about Webb's Democratic credentials.

There's no question about it: Webb is more of an independent than Miller. That's precisely what's refreshing about Webb. And Miller isn't exactly clean--as a lobbyist, he made contributions to key national Republicans. (He claims he did so at the behest of the board of his telecommunications association so as not to appear partisan. Whatever--we know that's how Washington works, but people who live in glass houses . . .)

Nationally, Democrats looking at the fall election see Allen as vulnerable to a candidate like Webb. Allen can't play the usual Republican game of labelling Webb with the "L" word (Liberal), calling him soft on defense and terrorism and deriding his "values". Instead, Allen will have to run on the real issues. Virginia voters, who like the rest of the country think something is wrong in GOP dominated Washington, gravitate toward moderates and are likely to view Webb favorably in a contest with Allen.

And if you think Webb is just a Republican in Democratic clothes, you're dead wrong. He was against the Iraq war before we invaded, and he said so, in writing. He has lambasted Bush's tax cuts for the rich. He favors Democratic positions on most issues. He doesn't kowtow to Democratic special interests, however--that's Miller's bailiwick (see, e.g., his endorsement by Kate Michelman and by various gay and lesbian groups, endorsements that only hurt candidates in Virginia.)

Most Democrats the Curmudgeon has talked with share this view of the race. No one has anything against Miller, we just want a candidate who can win.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Stupid DC School Lockdown; Curmudgeon Finds Common Ground With WSJ

Shots (Not) Fired At Capitol--147 DC Schools In Silly Lockdown

It's no wonder DC's public schools are making so little progress improving these days. This one's from the stupid file:

Yesterday, Capitol Police locked down the Rayburn House Office Building after a Congressman reported he'd heard shots fired in the underground parking garage of the facility. Turned out to be a false alarm. Was locking down the building an overreaction? Probably not. And, unfortunately, it takes longer to figure out nothing happened than to respond to a real problem.

But how did D.C. public school officials react to reports from the Hill? They locked down all 147 public schools in the District, none of which are particularly close to the Rayburn Building, and many of which are miles away.

This is insane, inane and asinine. School Superintendent Clifford Janey ordered the two-hour lockdown--evidently without consulting any police. His excuse: he opted "to err on the side of caution."

C'mon people, get real. Even the Capitol Police locked down only one of nearly dozen House and Senate office buildings, and the reports were never more than of one instance of gunfire. If DC locked down its schools everytime there was a report of gunfire in the District, they'd never be unlocked!

Agreeing With The Wall Street Journal?

Heaven forbid--after taking the WSJ to task for using phony statistical arguments in support of the claim that Bush has been "soaking the rich" on taxes, the Curmudgeon recently finds itself in agreement with a series of WSJ editorials (three in one week--got to be a record).

First, the Journal's protectors of the rich wrote, earlier this week, about the abysmal federal flood insurance program, noting that it mainly subsidizes relatively well-off homeowners in coastal areas, many of whom have received two, three and as many as seven reimbursements from the program so they can just keep getting flooded.

The Journal took note of Dauphin Island, Alabama, a spit of sand with huge beach homes owned by wealthy families, which--duh--keeps getting wiped out by hurricanes. (That's it, above.) Without you and the Curmudgeon subsidizing these folks, they wouldn't be able to rebuild on a spot that shouldn't have houses to begin with.

By the way, the flood insurance fiasco is a joint effort of Dems and Republicans, both of which have protected various special interests and key contributors by continuing to authorize this awful program.

Then, today, we had a two-fer. First, the WSJ took a look at the "backdate" scandal--where companies backdated stock options to give executives more favorable treatment--and concluded not only that it is an affront to shareholders, but that Congress is partly to blame (although the Journal tries to spin the blame to Dems in a rather complicated argument).

Finally, the Journal's editors went after Congress for going "hog wild" on earmarks, particularly in the $18.4 billion agriculture bill passed by the House this week. Noting that the bill includes such items as a $229,000 earmark for "dairy education" and $100,000 for the National Grape and Wine Initiative, the WSJ singled out Republican Rep. Jeff Flake as the "loneliest guy on Capitol Hill" because his effort to rein in the earmark parade garnered only 93 votes.

While some Democrats have abused earmarks, this is clearly a much bigger problem on the GOP side, which controls the Appropriations Committees where the money gets doled out.

So much for free market economics--unless by "free market" we mean business lobbyists who, for a few measly campaign contributions, earn free money from their favorite congressmen and women.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Looser: Fed-Ex Kinko's

This week's Looser Award (the Curmudgeon's weekly award to an advertiser who portrays younger men as dead-end losers, misspelled as only a loser would) goes to Fed-Ex Kinko's for its Cinco de Mayo ad.

Yes, as with all these ads, it's supposed to be funny.

By the way, can you think of a more awkward name than "Fed-Ex Kinko's"?

In the Cinco ad, a group of office geeks gather around a colorful donkey pinata to celebrate the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo. Most of the participants are younger men in typical bland office attire. There are one or two women hanging around the periphery.

The male office manager hands a stick to a tall skinny male colleague who is blindfolded, who then proceeds to smash the crap out of the copy machine while trying to hit the dangling pinata.

Afterwards, the manager says, "uh, ok, I guess that's enough celebration for now." (Or something like that.)

Intended message: call Kinko's when the idiots in your office bust the copier.

Conveyed message: office work is a dead-end for loser guys.

Memo to fellow Yalie, Fedex CEO Fred Smith (a former marine, to boot): are these the type of guys who work in your offices? Keep it up and they will be!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

My Dinner With Howard (Dean)

The Curmudgeon had dinner with Howard Dean last night. (Ok, there were like 40 other people as well, but we were sitting close, we did shake his hand and we did ask a question.)

The Curmudgeon liked what Howard (now that we're on a first name basis) had to say and where he's taking the DNC.

A few highlights: the DNC is (finally) constructing a voter database. For years, Dems have left this task up to individual candidates, letting vast amounts of valuable data and information go to waste when the candidates' campaigns were over. Now, DNC will put together the info and share it for free with individual candidates--all they have to do is give back updated info. Now that's what a national party ought to do.

Dean and other party leaders are working on a list of Democratic "values". This is much needed.
Sample: Dems believe in a balanced budget.

Talk about coming full circle! For years in the 70's the GOP was the party of fiscal responsibility, decrying deficits and even supporting a "balanced budget amendment." Then along came Reagan and Bush I. Reagan tried to blame Congress, even though he never even made the pretense of submitting a balanced budget. Under Bush I, deficits ballooned and the red staters stopped talking about the issue.

Then Clinton managed to produce not only a balanced budget, but a series of decent surpluses, only to have Bush II and his congressional allies squander it on tax cuts tilted to the rich, combined with a Republican spending spree. Call 'em Credit Card Republicans.

Fiscal responsibility is a good issue for Democrats. Yes, it takes some discipline, but Bill Clinton was able to achieve it.

There are a few other core values to come, but the Curmudgeon doesn't want to spoil the suspense!

Dean also wisely avoids talk of "programs." No one outside Washington has any interest in new (or expanded) federal "programs." What we really need is to make existing programs work better. (Again, many executive branch inititatives under Clinton did just that.)

Dean notes that independents and "Reagan Democrats" really don't want anything from the government (other than good, honest government, duh). This group of voters, however, knows they've gotten a raw deal from Bush--while the richest 20% of the country has done well, most of the middle class has seen an erosion of the value of their paychecks, and they know it. (Hence the reason for W's low ratings despite a supposedly booming economy.)

In Howard's view, what Rove has been so good at is tapping the anger of these disaffected voters. That is certainly true. And now they're getting angry at Bush and the Republicans in Congress.

Howard also noted that in congressional elections foreign policy--except Iraq--is practically a non-issue. True again.

And just what did the Curmudgeon ask Howard about? Why, the Virginia Senate race. Howard, of course, avoided endorsing either Jim Webb or Harris Miller in the Democratic primary (the Curmudgeon has strongly endorsed Webb), instead concentrating on George Allen and his vulnerability. (Howard noted a recent speech of Allen's in Utah where he said he was tired of serving in the Senate.)

We look forward to more from Governor Dean.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Poor Laura; Identity Theft Solution

Laura Hears The People--It's the Tough Decisions That Make W Unpopular

Poor Laura Bush. She thinks the President's low approval ratings simply reflect that he's had "hard decisions to make" and "of course, some people are unhappy about what some of those decisions are."

Is that what it's really about? Or could it be W's low poll numbers reflect an incredible series of bad decisions, incompetent governance and mishandled priorities?

According to Laura (who, in contrast to her husband is quite popular), "people know that he is doing what he thinks is right for the United States."

How does she know this? "I travel around the country. I see people. I see their response to my husband."

Ahem. Laura, you need to get out of your little candy-coated micro-managed bubble of polite country club Republicans and hear what people really have to say!

Identity Theft Solution

The revelation that names and SS #'s of millions of veterans may have been compromised by a recent computer theft reminds us how easy it is for criminals to steal an identity. All they need is a name and a corresponding social security number and they can open dozens of accounts using some poor schmo's good credit.

Is the problem carelessness with electronic lists of names and social security numbers?


The problem is with the banks and other financial institutions that make it so easy to perpetrate this fraud. And Congress lets them get away with it because, hey, the banks have lobbyists and money.

It's ridiculous that with such a widespread problem banks still allow people to open accounts without any additional information. All this does is shift the problem away from the banks and onto the unsuspecting victims of the fraud.

Surely there is a way banks can be required to do a better job of verifying the identities of the people opening accounts. Social security numbers were never intended to be used in such a way--and they shouldn't.

Make the banks accountable.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Truth In Hurricane Forecasting

What would May be without the government's annual hurricane forecast?

True to form, most mainstream newspapers carried a story something like this (from the Washington Post) in today's editions:

"NOAA Predicts As Many As 6 Major Hurricanes This Year"

"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted yesterday an 'above-normal hurricane season' this year, with as many as 16 named storms and the prospect that four to six of them could become major hurricanes. . ."

Neither the Post nor any other story I saw bothered to tell readers how well NOAA's last forecast--in May 2005--fared compared to the actual numbers for 2005's record hurricane season.

Here's how the story could have been reported to give readers better perspective:

NOAA Tries To Beat Abysmal 2005 Hurricane Forecast

After coming nowhere near predicting last year's record hurricane season, the experts at NOAA are at it again.

About this time last year, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center predicted a slightly above average year, to include '12-15 tropical storms, with 7-9 becoming hurricanes, and 3-5 of these becoming major hurricanes.'

Boy were they wrong. As everyone now knows--no thanks to NOAA's prediction--last year broke just about every record in the hurricane book, with 28 tropical storms, 15 hurricanes and 7 major hurricanes--more than double the low end of NOAA's prediction.

So, what are those same "experts" forecasting for this season? Pretty much the same thing they said last year: 13-16 tropical storms, 8-10 hurricanes and 4-6 major hurricanes.

According to one private hurricane expert, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of hurricane forecasting, NOAA's forecast means things could be even worse this year than last. "My advice," said this expert, "is sell your beach house if you can, check your flood insurance, stockpile plywood, short your insurance stocks, buy a hybrid car and plan to vacation in California."

A NOAA spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified because she planned to leave the agency shortly, conceded that NOAA's forecasts rarely prove accurate. "Yes, it's true," said the spokeswoman, "we almost never get it right. But usually no one calls us on it. In any event, we were correct last year because we did say it would be an 'above average' year."

Asked to comment on NOAA's forecast for 2006, a FEMA representative, who also asked not to be identified because he didn't want anyone to know he worked for FEMA, said "that's the first we ever heard that NOAA issues hurricane forecasts. We'll have to look into that."

White House spokesman Tony Snow, who also asked not to be identified, said that the President has indicated that NOAA is doing "a heckuva job", and that this forecast "only highlights the need for Congress to pass the President's immigration bill."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Truthout's Credibility Problem; Ditch Rep. Jefferson

Roving Truthout

The Curmudgeon likes Truthout--we even include a handy link to the liberal website. But if you're going to have a name like Truthout, you need to stick to the truth.

In a recent report, Truthout contributor Jason Leopold gave a very detailed account of a meeting that had supposedly taken place at the office of Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, with Plame-gate prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, in which Rove's indictment had been handed down.

Like many Truthout readers, the Curmudgeon was taken in, figuring that with all the details in the story--where the meeting took place, who was there, how long it lasted, who said what, etc.--it must be true.

The Curmudgeon emailed the report to several friends and waited giddily for the mainstream media to report Rove's impending resignation.

Then, nothing happened. Well, thank goodness the Curmudgeon held off reporting anything here.

It turns out the report was false. Whether it was a complete fabrication, a hallucination, a "miscommunication," a publicity stunt, or something else is yet to be determined.

However, Rove lawyer Ruskin says that on the day the big meeting supposedly took place in his office, he was at the veterinarian's office with his cat. Thus, he was pretty surprised when, after Leopold's report, his phone started ringing off the hook with inquiries from the mainstream media.

So what's up with Truthout? It turns out Leopold, a former Los Angeles Times and Dow Jones reporter, has some pretty severe credibility problems. He concedes, in a new book--News Junkie--that he is a former alcoholic and cocaine addict who once was convicted of grand larceny. He also has a history of stories that can't be confirmed--in 2002 Salon retracted a story about then Secretary of the Army Thomas White. Also, publisher Rowman & Littlefied cancelled an earlier version of Leopold's book last year. (All this is courtesy of the Washington Post.)

Truthout's operator, Marc Ash, reportedly claims to "stand by the story" Leopold reported.

Ash had better be careful. It's one thing to be taken in by a con man; it's another to stand by him after you facilitate his con.

Could it be that Leopold concocted the whole thing as a means to promote his new book (under the heading of "there's no such thing as bad publicity")?

We'll see. Meantime, the Curmudgeon is taking Truthout with a grain of salt.

Democrats Need to Ditch Rep. Jefferson

Good grief--do we really need this?

It appears that Rep. William J. Jefferson, an African-American Democratic congressman from Louisiana, was videotaped by the FBI taking $100,000 in cash from an informant who was wearing a wire; then, the FBI found $90,000 of it in Jefferson's freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed into various frozen-food containers. (The Curmudgeon didn't realize cash would go bad if just left in the fridge for a few days.)

Many other sordid allegations of extensive corruption by Jefferson are coming out as well.

This stinks to high heaven. To be sure, Jefferson has not yet been charged with anything, and of course, through his attorney, he denies any wrongdoing.

Here's what needs to happen: the House Democratic leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus need to denounce Jefferson in no uncertain terms and move decisively to get rid of him. And they need to do it fast.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Interstate 81: A Civil Highway; Fixing I-66

The Civil Highway

This week, the Curmudgeon traveled to Christiansburg, Virginia (adjacent to Blacksburg, home to Virginia Tech), a good four hour trek from Arlington.

A few observations from the trip: I-81, which runs the length of western Virginia, mostly through the Shenandoah Valley, is one of the most beautiful highways in the eastern U.S. (and connects quite a few bloody Civil War battlefields, such as New Market and Antietam). It is also the backbone of the eastern freight industry, with truckers running practically bumper-to-bumper along its length.

One of the interesting things about I-81 is how politely most people drive on it compared to the angry free-for-all on I-95 (which passes through dozens of civil war battlefields between D.C. and Richmond), which the Curmudgeon has the misfortune to drive up and down frequently.

On I-81, which is just four lanes--two in each direction--truckers stay to the right, except when passing; when they pass, they invariable go through the ritual of flashing their lights at each other to signal when its safe to move back into the right lane, and to acknowledge the signal.

Cars in the left lane tend to be going a bit faster than the trucks, but they "go with the flow". In other words, with few exceptions, they don't weave in and out of lanes and tailgate drivers in the hope of pushing them to move faster. If traffic slows a bit, they wait patiently with sufficient space between cars.

In contrast, on I-95, no matter how fast traffic is moving, you can still count on some maniac wanting to go even faster and having no patience. Drivers tailgate dangerously close and recklessly switch lanes, occasionally leading to a particularly bad accident that slows everyone down.

The result: even in heavy traffic with many, many trucks, I-81 moves pretty smoothly without so much stress, while on I-95 the aggressive drivers disrupt traffic and actually slow everyone down (including themselves).

In 20 years or so, we won't have that problem, as cars will be driven by computer robots. (Or will the robots cut each other off and make obscene gestures?)

Don't "Widen" I-66--Fix It

Arlington politicians are mostly opposed to "widening" I-66, the main interstate highway linking Washington D.C. with western Virginia. They believe that Arlingtonians--many of whom bitterly opposed building the road in the first place (because it went through a "nice" part of the county)--also oppose widening it. The debate has raged on for years.

The problem is that I-66 doesn't need to be widened. Instead, engineers need to remedy a problem in the highway's design. The problem is at the interchange with Glebe Road, where two lanes of traffic from Glebe Rd. merge into only two lanes of I-66. Not surprisingly, this creates congestion and backs up traffic even during non-rush hour period. The remedy is to add another lane westbound starting at Glebe Road and extending to the beltway. There is no need to add a lane before Glebe Road--indeed that would only exacerbate the problem.

A similar problem exists on I-66 eastbound, with an even simpler solution. There the problem is the interchange with N. Sycamore Street. A steady stream of cars onto I-66 from the Sycamore ramp causes huge congestion, which gets relieved a mile or so later at the Glebe Rd. exit. Simply adding a lane from Sycamore to Glebe Rd. would solve the problem. There is no need to add a lane from Glebe Rd. all the way into D.C.--it would only result in a back-up at the Roosevelt Bridge.

The cost of these fixes has got to be a lot less than proposals to simply add another lane in each direction. Perhaps if the politicians on both sides would stop talking past each other on this, they could fix I-66 for a reasonable cost.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

SC GOP Gubernatorial Primary: A Lovelace Upset?

When I was growing up in South Carolina, there was no such thing as a Republican primary election; indeed, most political contests in the state were decided in the Democratic primary--not the general election--because it essentially was a one-party state.

Today, South Carolina is still pretty much a one-party state, but now that party is the Republican Party.

Still, Republicans don't like primary fights, at least not in South Carolina. Generally, they'd rather do the dirty work behind the scenes, out of sight. Even rarer is a serious Republican primary challenge to an incumbent.

On June 13, however, SC republicans will vote in a primary that features a spirited race against incumbent governor Mark Sanford by an insurgent small-town physician, Oscar Lovelace (right).

I went to high school with Oscar. Don't underestimate him.

At a time when our high school was 75-85% African American, Oscar handily won election as student body president, in large part because he easily rose above petty factionalism and he LISTENED to what his erstwhile constituents had to say. Oscar then went on to also become student body president at Clemson University.

Few in SC give Oscar much of a chance of unseating Sanford and the Curmudgeon isn't going to predict a Lovelace victory. But, he could embarass Sanford with a solid percentage of the vote.

Why is Lovelace, a physician with a successful family practice, a man with a large family, and a political novice (apart from his student body positions) taking the trouble to run against Sanford, who reportedly has a war chest of over $5 million?

Mainly because he sees Sanford--who he supported the first time around--as an arrogant, dogmatic Governor who hasn't really listened to anyone.

Lovelace became disillusioned after Sanford asked him to co-chair a Health Care Task Force. After spending considerable time and energy going around the state to talk to various health care professionals and then producing a succinct report outlining the state's most critical needs, Lovelace was surprised and disappointed when Sanford promptly ignored the report (but not before posing for photos at a press conference touting the report's release).

Lovelace would like to see SC's cigarette tax--the lowest in the country--raised a tad to help fund some improvements in the state's health care network. Sanford dogmatically opposes any and all tax increases; he also recently vetoed a state-of-the-art heart center in Lexington County--the state's most populous Republican jurisdiction--which has upset many supporters there.

It's too bad Lovelace isn't likely to win--he'd be a real credit to the Republican Party. He's whip smart, pragmatic, gregarious, religious, family-oriented and truly compassionate. He'd have an excellent chance of reaching out to independents, expanding the party's base and making inroads with African-Americans.

Oh, and he'd make a great governor.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

GOP Phone-Jam Gate: What Did The White House Know?

Here's one you won't hear Bill O'Reilly and friends talk about: former Republican National Committee regional director James Tobin will be sentenced today in federal court in Concord, New Hampshire for his role in a Republican scheme to jam Democratic "get out the vote" phone lines on election day in New Hampshire in November, 2002.

The scheme may just have vaulted Republican John Sununu into the Senate--he won a closely contested race that day by less than 20,000 votes.

Was it worth it?

Perhaps--at the time, Democrats held a slim one-vote margin in the Senate; losing New Hampshire would have meant flipping a Republican seat to the Democrats. New Hampshire was as close as could be in the 2000 presidential election, so the GOP had good reason to worry.

So far, three GOP operatives--Tobin, Charles McGee (executive director of the NH Republican Party) and Allen Raymond (a political consultant) have been found guilty of criminally violating federal communications laws for their role in the scheme. That's serious business--this was not a silly little political prank.

This much is clear: the scheme, which involved hiring an Idaho telecommunications firm with GOP connections to (quite successfully) tie up the Democratic phone lines in New Hampshire, was sanctioned at the national level, as evidenced by Tobin's conviction.

But was the White House--i.e., uncle Karl--also plugged in to the dirty deed? Probably.

First off, phone records indicate 22 phone calls between Tobin and the White House on election day.

Second, after the election--but before the probe reached Tobin--he was made New England Chairman of the '04 Bush-Cheney campaign (later resigning).

Third, just look at the money trail. So far, the Republican National Committee has spent more than $3 million in legal fees to defend the criminal probes and related civil cases arising out of the plan. The NH Republican Party has also spent a bundle on the cases--so much so that it is broke, with less than $1000 in the bank.

Just think how this would have gone if the shoe had been on the other foot in the days of the Independent Persecutor.

Prosecutors are urging 18-24 months in prison for Tobin, while his lawyers say he's "suffered enough" (i.e., rich white family guys shouldn't have to go to prison because the humiliation and shame of being convicted is enough, by itself, to punish them).

What about deterrence? He should do time, not only for the crime, but because he's still protecting higher ups.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Texas Whopper Double Whammy: Gluttony And Looser

Burger King has outdone itself, earning not one, but two, simultaneous awards from the Curmudgeon for its ridiculous ad campaign for the "Texas Double Whopper".

This ad campaign gives new meaning to the term "killer food".

First, the Curmudgeon gives Burger King a Gluttony (our award for purveyors and promoters of obesity) for the Texas Whopper. (We used to think that "Texas Whopper" referred to W's rationale for the Iraq war.)

The Texas Double Whopper has 1050 calories, with 69 g of fat and 26 g of saturated fat (130% of the "daily value" for a normal human being). The burger clearly is a portion buster and nothing good can come of consuming this monstrosity. Add in some fries and a "regular" (i.e. 20 oz.) coke and you pretty much won't need to eat again for a day.

What's really offensive, however, is the ad campaign, aimed at younger men. For this, Burger King gets the Curmudgeon's "looser" award (our award to advertisers that portray men as losers--misspelled as only a loser would do).

Using the tagline "Eat like a man", the campaign features a guy sitting in a nice restaurant with his girlfriend (presumably former girlfriend by the time the ad ends) looking at a plate with four tiny portions of food on it. He rushes out of the restaurant, accompanied by a tune, the lyrics of which include being "tired of chick food" and "Yes, I'm a guy." He joins a growing band of 20-something guys who appear to be un- or under-employed as they rush out to get their "man-sized" helpings of Texas Crapper.

In one particularly demeaning scene, a large, muscular bald-headed dude in chains is trying to pull a dump truck while he attempts to catch up with a Death Burger held on a shovel by a punkish young woman.

Sure, it's supposed to be funny. It's supposed to break through "advertising clutter." It's supposed to be "edgy".

Well, it's not. There's really no excuse for advertising such an outrageously bad piece of crap food, much less labelling it as a badge of manhood. (Remember, the Curmudgeon is not against any particular food--we enjoy a good burger and fries as much as anyone--but size does matter.)

Interestingly, Burger King is about to go public with an initial public stock offering that its current owners, a private equity fund (Texas Pacific) hopes will make them rich. Here's an idea: change the name to Burger Death, and choke on the IPO.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Let W Have His Largemouth Bass And Eat It Too: The New Supreme Court's Big Environmental Test

Recently, President Bush told the German newspaper Bild that his "best moment" in office was when he caught a 7.5 pound largemouth bass in the lake on his Crawford, Texas ranch.

The curmudgeon agrees that this probably was W's best moment in office.

If Bush wants to keep catching bass and other game fish after he finally relinquishes the presidency in 2009 (seemingly so far away), he'd better hope the new Supreme Court he created rules the right way on one of its first big environmental cases.

Rapanos v. U.S. and Carabell v. Army Corp. of Engineers, combined cases attacking enforcement of the 1972 Clean Water Act, were argued on Feb. 21, Alito's first day of hearing oral argument on the Court. Both cases were brought by property owners challenging the federal government's denial of permits to develop wetlands on their property.

(In Rapanos, the landowner wanted to develop a shopping center on Michigan land that includes a manmade drain connecting to a creek that connects to a navigable river 20 miles away. Mr. Rapanos has defied a number of court orders and filled in the wetlands on his property--if he loses, he may do jail time (let's hope!). In Carabell, the landowner wants to build condos on property separated from a waterway by a manmade berm.)

These are super critical cases in which new justices Roberts and Alito are likely to be the swing votes. A ruling could come any day now.

They are also tough cases. The issue is just how far the Clean Water Act extends--is it limited to "navigable waters" of the U.S.--which would be only about 1% of all wetlands--or does it extend broadly to "adjacent wetlands"--essentially anything ultimately connected to navigable waters.

Under the broader interpretation, just about any property that drains into a stream is subject to the act. That's a lot of property.

Yet, that is exactly what the ruling should be, otherwise the Clean Water Act will be completely meaningless. Today, we know a lot more than in 1972 about the interconnectedness of our waterways and the critical importance of wetlands to our children's heritage. Indeed, what I do in my yard ultimately has an impact on the Chesapeake Bay. We simply can't let landowners engage in activities that ultimately destroy critical resources for all of us simply because they are not right next to a "navigable" waterway.

Put another way, resolution of these cases is actually quite simple: we MUST protect our wetlands from pollution and destruction. Even if it means some restrictions on development, that is far better than the alternative, which is complete destruction of our already declining wetland habitats.

(The Curmudgeon is actually quite big on compromises and "balancing" in public policy; here, the best policy is broad JURISDICTION over land that affects waterways, while using reasonable, balanced regulation of those lands to permit sustainable development.)

Jared Diamond (of Guns, Germs & Steel fame), in his latest book, Collapse, convincingly sounds the alarm for environmental activism now in order to prevent a societal collapse later. Without the broad regulatory powers that Congress clearly intended to safeguard over rivers and streams, we will face ever more severe challenges in the years ahead.

Let's hope W picked justices who share his enthusiasm for sport fishing!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

TV-Land: "24" And Real Life

What's with the TV show "24"?

My good friend Larry turned me on to "24" this season, and I confess that despite some atrociously silly plot elements, I've come to enjoy the show--so much so that I used my digital recorder to find parts of three earlier seasons enjoying runs on various cable channels, so that now I'm in a marathon Jack Bauer festival, juggling four 24-hour days of nerve gas, atomic weapons, killer viruses and vindictive assassins around my usually busy television schedule.

I can't imagine what would happen if the security at our real anti-terror agencies was as porous as that of the Los Angeles office of the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit, or CTU. Let's see, in the four seasons I've watched so far (at least in part), this critical agency has been bombed once with a conventional weapon (after a security breach) and attacked--successfully--with nerve gas (after another security breach). You'd think after the first bombing, they would have beefed up security--but maybe the head of security had an "in" with Jack Abrahamoff.

Those same security guys are constantly managing to lose people they're holding in custody. At least once per "day" it seems that a bad guy escapes (or is killed trying to escape, before giving up crucial information). If I was a bad guy brought into CTU, I'd try to escape too, since it seems pretty easy.

Also, for some reason, the good guys are constantly getting arrested and held in custody at CTU, but they usually escape too (I guess that having seen how easy it is for the bad guys to get away, they figure their chances are good, too). Just this season, Chloe escaped twice. Now, if that happened in a real life agency, you'd think someone would get fired (if they weren't killed by the nerve gas). Or maybe the President would give 'em a cute nickname and a promotion for being loyal.)

Then there's the double agents. It seems that apart from Jack Bauer, just about any of the other agents might just be working for someone else. I could see this happening once, but shouldn't they tighten screening after the first, second, third or fourth time?

And what about following rules and procedures? No one does. Just about every hour of the show at least one CTU employee is operating as a rogue, stealing agency resources to help Jack Bauer, talking furtively on their cell phones (here's a good idea--ban CTU employees from having cell phones), tricking other CTU employees into doing something illegal or telling lies to their superiors. What do they think this is--Congress? (Even FEMA under Heckuva Job Brownie wasn't that incompetent!)

At least the plot this season is solidly plausible: the President, in a bid to get Russian oil, secretly arranges to let a Russian terrorist group have access to a couple dozen canisters of VX nerve gas that it could use against Russian interests, thereby justifying a U.S. invasion under a new treaty to stop the terrorists. But, the plan goes awry and the terrorists nearly gas Los Angeles instead, before Jack Bauer manages to stop them (but they do gas CTU). The President tries to cover up the plot--which required him to authorize the assassination of the most recent ex-President. My guess is that in a couple of weeks Jack Bauer will finally succeed in exposing the plot and bring down the current President, who looks suspicously like Richard Nixon.

Here's an idea for next season, although I grant it's awfully far-fetched: a new President (they'll need one after they get rid of the Nixon clone) decides he wants to avenge a failed assassination attempt on his father--a former President--by the dictator of a middle eastern state. To cover up the motive, the President and his cronies cherry-pick a few unsubstantiated pieces of intelligence data to convince the country that the dictator poses a threat to the U.S. and the rest of the world. When much of the world still doesn't buy it, they send in too few troops, with the wrong training and poor equipment, without any plan whatsoever after they remove the dictator and create a power vacuum in the foreign state. A civil war ensues, but the President labels one side "terrorist counterinsurgents" to justify the continued occupation of the foreign state as part of the war against terrrorism. All the while, the real terrorist mastermind is hiding in the badlands of Pakistan, where fortunately, Jack Bauer nabs him. Now that would be a show!

(And yes, Saddam Hussein did try to assassinate, with a car-bomb, former President Bush Sr. (after he was out of office) in 1993 while Bush Sr. was in Kuwait for a ceremony to commemorate the victory over Iraq in Gulf War I. After an investigation by the Clinton administation tied the plot to Iraqi intelligence, he ordered a cruise missile strike that leveled the headquarters of the Iraqi secret police.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Seething Democrats

Democratic House members recently promised that if they take charge of the chamber after the fall elections, they'll vigorously pursue committee investigations of Bush and his cronies.

Wrong strategy!!

Guess what: to win the fall elections, Democrats will need to attract independent voters in the middle, not vindictive Democrats. And those middle road voters--clearly fed up with W and frustrated with congressional Republicans--are interested in good government, problem solving and security, not vendettas.

To be sure, there's no question that Republicans in Congress during the Clinton administration abused their committee investigatory powers, doing their utmost to disrupt the executive function. But that doesn't mean Democrats have to sink to the same level; in any event, it's certainly not something Democrats should advertise.

Democrats could take a cue from former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson, who yesterday addressed the issue of declining civility in Congress (Simpson was supposed to address his Library of Congress audience on the topic of "Humor in Public Life", but he couldn't resist the opportunity to scold his former colleagues). "Those who say 'Don't get mad, get even' are sick in my mind. They're not productive legislators; you have to learn how to compromise on an issue without compromising yourself."

Simpson has a great descriptive word for the new generation of partisan haters in Congress: "Seethers".

The Republican party is full of seethers. They are egged on by right wing pundits, who seem to view seething as a way of life. (Simpson and others think the problem is the need to raise so much money for congressional campaigns, and proposes public financing to solve the problem; I'm dubious--right wing media has turned seething into an art.)

Democrats have a few isolated seethers of their own, but they generally aren't the party's leaders. In any event, Dems should resist the temptation to sink to that level as a party. The general public, especially middle roaders, finally seeing the price they pay for the Republican politics of seething, are clearly ready for a change.

One Republican who is not a seether is Rep. Tom Davis of suburban northern Virginia, who is pushing a bipartisan bill to give the District of Columbia a vote in Congress, in exchange for an additional House seat for ultra-red state Utah.

While Davis is optimistic, count on the Republican seethers to put a stop to this one. As one "House leadership aide" (i.e., a seether--remember criminal Michael Scanlon, former communications director for Tom DeLay: "This whole thing about not kicking someone when they are down is BS - Not only do you kick him - You kick him until he passes out - then beat him over the head with a baseball bat - then roll him up in an old rug - and throw him off a cliff into the pounding surf below!!!!!"--now that's seething!) put it in the Washington Post, Davis's bill has "not a shot whatsoever" as Davis is "doing his own thing here."

Democrats, seethe the day!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bits & Pieces: More WSJ Tax Lies; Webb Endorsements; Gun Insanity; And Misguided Obesity Policy

Today the Curmudgeon will follow-up on some recent posts:

Wall Street Journal Tax Lies

The Curmudgeon's May 4 post ("Lies From The Wall Street Journal") exposed the faulty math used by the WSJ's right wing editors to justify yet more tax cuts for the rich. Yesterday's WSJ lead editorial continued the charade, arguing that "the reall news is how well [the Bush administration's] lower rates have been soaking the rich to fill government coffers."

Those poor, poor little rich people!

The WSJ's argument is that tax revenues are up more than inflation, therefore the rich must be getting soaked.

Or, it could be that in the Bush economy, the rich are getting so much richer that they're paying a bit more in taxes. Which would you rather have: more money and thus pay more taxes, or the same amount of money and thus pay the same amount of taxes?

Anyway, the lie to the WSJ's highly selective use of statistics is exposed--or buried, depending on how you look at it--in the WSJ's news pages. Today, the WSJ--trying to trumpet a budget surplus in the month of April (which is not unusual--that's when the money comes rolling in to the IRS), notes that April 2006's tax receipts of $315.09 billion were "the second highest on record, just below the $332 billion in April 2001."

Somehow, the Journal's editors always seem to forget about those 2001 numbers, which of course, were collections for 2000, when all the stock indices reached their records and investors had huge capital gains. Since that was BEFORE the Bush tax cuts, it hardly supports the Journal's claim that all this "increased" revenue reflects that the Bush cuts "worked."

Webb Endorsements

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and other national Democrats must have been persuaded by the Curmudgeon's rationale for nominating Jim Webb as Virginia Democrats' opponent to junior Senator George Allen this fall (XCurmudgeon, May 8 post). (Ok, so maybe they just follow the same reasoning.)

Reid's political action committee has given $5000 to Webb's campaign. Webb has also picked up support from Sens. Durbin, Dodd, Salazar and Tim Johnson, as well as former Senators Daschle and Cleland. (Meantime, Webb's primary opponent--Harris Miller--picked up endorsements of four Virginia state legislators, who evidently view party loyalty above winning.)

South Dakota Sen. Johnson put it best: "He [Webb] is a unique candidate who can both clearly articulate Democratic values and compel voters across all demographics to vote Democrat."

Gun Insanity

The Curmudgeon's May 9 post focused on Virginia's insane gun laws, which helped let a deranged teenager armed with an AK-47 assault rifle (and six other guns) launch a frontal attack on a Fairfax County police sub-station, killing a veteran female detective and seriously wounding another Fairfax police officer a few days ago.

The story continues to unfold. We now know that the teen managed to fire off 70 rounds before police killed him. You can't do that with a regular handgun. Thanks, Virginia legislators, for letting this teen outgun the police.

We now know that the teen used high-velocity slugs, which are 10 times more damaging than regular handgun bullets and render standard police armor useless. Thanks, Virginia legislators (and NRA nutjobs) for letting this teenager have access to ammunition that increases the risk to officers on the job.

And, we now know that when police searched the teen's home, they removed at least nine more weapons--many loaded--and that did not include the guns locked in a gun case. Police found a loaded 12-guage shotgun leaning in a corner in the front hallway, a .30 caliber rifle in another hallway, and a .22 caliber hunting rifle in another corner--all just sitting out. They also found "boxes and satchels of ammunition" sitting out.

While we need to know more details, this sounds like the kind of gross negligence that is virtually untouchable in Virginia. Again, thanks Virginia legislators: if it turns out that negligence and carelessness by gun sellers and the teen's parents contributed to the tragedy, it's too bad that slain detective Vicki Armel's family will have no form of redress in the courts.

Wrong Direction on Obesity

Today's Washington Post has an editorial on "The Soda Scourge", which, like the Curmudgeon (May 5) praises the recently announced ban on soda sales in schools as a small step in the right direction.

But when it comes to additional steps, the Post is off-kilter. First, the Post says soft drinks "are among the major culprits in the nationwide epidemic of teen obesity and poor nutrition." Well, yes and no. There's nothing wrong with a little soda. The problem is gi-normous sizes of sodas-but it's not just soda; too much milk, OJ, lemonade, Gatorade or anything else (besides water) will fatten you up.

Then the Post goes on to promote advertising restrictions, and worse yet, lawsuits against school districts for offering chips, cookies and cupcakes.

Liberals love advertising and marketing restrictions--they seem to believe that ads make people do things. They don't, and as a consequence, ad restrictions are not very effective. (They never worked for smoking--raising prices did work, dramatically.)

Liberals also love lawsuits, which mainly benefit a tiny number of highly overcompensated trial lawyers. I sure don't want my tax dollars going to defend obesity lawsuits against my local school district brought by fat kids.

More effective solutions will have to come from efforts to (1) educate all consumers about proper portions of food; (2) take steps to regulate portion sizes; and (3) selectively raise prices on oversized portions (and perhaps on certain particularly useless foods that contribute to obesity).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

It's The National Security, Stupid!

At least some Democrats get it: to win the White House in '08, the Dems have to articulate a credible national security position other than "Bush Blew Iraq."

Yesterday, a number of prominent centrist Democrats spoke at the unveiling of a book of essays on national security policy published by the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank associated with the Democratic Leadership Council. ( )

The book, With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty (Rowman & Littlefield), includes essays by a number of Democratic security and foreign policy experts--of whom there are many.

The unveiling featured appearances by assumed Democratic presidential contenders Mark Warner (former Va. governor) and Evan Bayh (Ind. senator). Bayh put his finger on the mark when he said voters "are not going to trust us" on things like the economy and education "if they don't first trust us with their lives."

Of course, Republicans, especially Bush's brain--Karl Rove--have outmaneuvered Democrats politically on the national security issue, as illustrated by the 2004 presidential campaign. John Kerry, trying to dance around his vote authorizing the President to use force in Iraq, managed to get caught up in the debate over whether we should have invaded Iraq, rather than define the national security debate in his own terms. His best message--that Bush diverted enormous assets from the real enemy (Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda in Pakistan/Afghanistan)--got lost in the political fog.

Can Democrats do better the next time around? Hard to say. Undoubtedly, Democrats have some of the smartest foreign policy and security experts in the business on their side--one need look no further than PPI's book to see that.

But can Democrats figure out how to sell their message politically, particularly if the Republicans nominate someone like John McCain, whose anti-terror credentials will be hard to assail?

Here's a hint. To be successful on national security, Democrats will have to be unafraid of offending some of their fringe constituencies, particularly pacifists, a few civil libertarians, some Arab/Islamic activists, and some immigrants rights activists. In other words, Democrats are going to have to use some tough talk on terrorism that just might step on a few people's toes.

While its fortunate, from a political standpoint, that Bush's incompetent handling of Iraq has squandered the Republicans' credibility on the terror issue, that alone won't be enough--Democrats still have to pass their own test.

Worse yet, while Bush's incompetence is a politically fortuitous, it puts the next President--of either party--in a precarious position, with far more limited options than we had a few years ago when America still had credibility. Sadly, W and his cronies have made it a far more dangerous world.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Virginia Gun Insanity

Yesterday, Virginia's gun insanity hit home in dramatic fashion when a disturbed teenager, who'd escaped from a mental institution a couple weeks earlier, used an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons to attack Fairfax County police, killing a female detective (with two elementary school age children) and seriously wounding another officer.

The incident occurred just a few miles from the National Rifle Association's national headquarters, which is located in Fairfax County. Too bad the gunman didn't take down a few of the jerks at the NRA who are constantly lobbying to make sure "gun enthusiasts" have access to AK-47's and other totally unnecessary weaponry.

Many details of the shooting are still sketchy--no doubt, we'll learn more over the coming days.

One thing I'd sure like to learn is where the troubled teen--who was also killed in the shootout (after firing at least 70 rounds at police)--got that AK-47. In a sane society, the seller of such a weapon would face at least the possibility of ruinous civil damages if he/she was in any way negligent in selling such a powerful weapon to someone.

But NOT in Virginia. Nope. We probably shouldn't even bother tracking down the info, because there's practically nothing that can be done. Viriginia lawmakers continue to make it easy to buy guns, to buy multiple guns, and to conceal guns. They protect gun sellers from liability. In fact, a gun seller has GREATER protection against lawsuits than the average citizen. Is that SANE?

A few police officers dead? Children orphaned? Who cares--gol-darn-it, we're talking the second amendment here!

The saddest part is that even with such a brazen attack on police, the GOP-led Virginia assembly won't even THINK about doing anything different.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Jim Webb for Senate

Virginia Democrats face an interesting primary election to select a challenger to incumbent Republican Senator George Allen.

Longtime Democratic Party insider and stalwart Harris Miller (below), one of the legions of lawyers residing in Northern Virginia, is squaring off against former Reagan administration Secretary of the Navy James Webb (left), an independent running as a Democrat.

For my money, this one's easy: Webb is the right choice if Democrats want any chance of unseating the popular Allen, Virginia's junior Senator, who has Presidential ambitions.

Miller is a fine man--like many stalwart Democrats I know, he's done all the right things, supported all the right positions, worked hard for the party, etc. But, he has NO CHANCE of beating Allen, precisely because he is such a typical Democrat. (For example, Miller was recently endorsed by the Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club--NOT HELPFUL, FOLKS).

Miller's background--he's a D.C. lawyer who became head of a trade association--is so inside-the-beltway as to be painful. (Miller says he has the experience to "fix Washington"--RIGHT--try selling that in Danville, Virginia.) For the typical Virginia swing-voter, who surely will be key to the fall election, Miller will bring nothing new to the table.

Webb, in contrast, is a colorful candidate who can truly appeal to independents, because he really is one. Much as voters in general are angry at the Republican led Congress, they aren't ready to vote in Democrats just for a change. Indeed, many voters still see Democrats--for good reason--as part of the problem. So Webb is just what the Democrats need.

Webb's campaign slogan is "born fighting". He's against the Iraq war, and was fortunate enough to put his position in writing (in an op-ed piece) BEFORE the war, while W was lying to the country about the rationale for the war. Webb also has a son who is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq shortly. Imagine--a member of Congress with a child actually in the war!

I support Webb because he has a shot at winning. As a former Marine and military leader in the Reagan administration, Webb can appeal to disaffected Democrats who despise the Republican economic agenda but are uncomfortable with the Democratic social agenda. Virginia has a lot of swing voters, as evidenced by recent elections in which moderate, practical Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine won the gubernatorial race while Republicans won other key statewide offices such as Attorney General. Harris Miller has little chance of attracting enough swing votes to tip a close general election his way if it comes to that.

Meanwhile, George Allen (below--he was something of a football star), who many believe is the leading Republican alternative to John McCain for the '08 presidential nomination, is more vulnerable than many think. Unlike Virginia's senior Republican Senator--John Warner--Allen has done little to distance himself from W or appear in any way independent of the straight Republican party line. Allen is such a cheerleader for President Bush that he's like Bush-lite. Think of it--that's saying something. (At my kids' elementary school auction last weekend, an Allen-autographed football fetched all of $20.)

While Allen is very personable, a guy like Webb could get under his skin where it counts. And Allen won't be able to get away with labelling Webb as a "liberal" or "soft on defense" (as he easily could with Miller). Indeed, if Webb gets the nomination and the race starts to show the slightest sign of tightening, it will instantly draw massive media attention precisely because of Allen's presidential ambitions and the implications for Republican control of the Senate.

My only fear is that Webb will turn out to be too colorful; or that he'll give way to the urge to pander (case in point: last week Webb called for a 5% income tax rebate for veterans, a blatant appeal to the many retired military personnel around the state, but not necessarily good policy).

So let's nominate Webb and let the real fight begin!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Soft Drink Ban: A Small Step Forward; Gluttony Award--Verizon Arena


Earlier this week, three major soft drink makers (Coke, Pepsi and Cadbury-Schweppes) announced a deal to remove high calorie soft drinks from schools, prodded by a group led by former President Clinton and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.


It's a small step forward--there's a long way left to go.

Here's a modest proposal as a next step with schools: regulate the portion size of all drinks. Even so-called "healthy" drinks like milk and OJ have a lot of calories. They are fine in moderation--no more than 12 ounces (preferably 8) at a sitting. This would also help school age children understand the value of portion control in preventing obesity.


While we're on the subject of obesity, this week's Gluttony (the Curmudgeon's weekly award to a company that has promoted obesity--past winners include Southland for the Big Gulp, Starbucks for putting calories in coffee, and the Cheesecake Factory for its outrageous portions) goes to the Verizon Arena, in Washington, DC (and probably by extension, similar sports venues in most other major cities).

I frequently take my kids to the Verizon Arena (formerly MCI Arena) for college and professional basketball games and an occasional hockey game or concert.

They have ONE SIZE of popcorn--an enormous bucket. My whole family can't eat an entire one of these mammoth servings, even if we're starving (we've tried!).

Of course, the reason for having only one size of popcorn--gi-normous--is greed: the Arena's food vendor (I think it's ARA Services) can charge $5.00 for a bucket containing maybe 40 cents worth of porpcorn (profit: $4.60). If they had a small size, they'd at best be able to charge $3.00 for a bag containing maybe 15 cents worth of popcorn (profit: $2.85)--a much lower profit margin.

Whatever the reason, it's ridiculous that you can't buy an individual sized popcorn.

The same goes for soda at the Arena--the smallest soda is either 20 ounces or 24 ounces. My kids sure don't need that (NO ONE does). (You CAN buy a smaller soda with what's known as a "Kid's Pack"--a hot dog, chips and soda bundled into a mere $6.00 package; but you can't just buy the small soda--I've tried!)

Just about everything else (except the hotdogs--my food of choice) is oversized and overpriced as well.

Cities should start requiring the sports and entertainment arenas in their jurisdictions--most of which are heavily subsidized by local taxpayers--to provide their patrons with reasonable food options when it comes to portion size.

I fully expect to get completely ripped off on concessions when I go to a sporting event; still, I'd like the option of getting out of their without also ruining my kids' health.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Lies From The Wall Street Journal

I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal because it often has pretty good, in-depth, news articles and it has good regular features on investing and finance. I'd be a LOT happier, however, if I could get an edition without unrelentingly right-wing editorial page!

Today, the Journal has an op-ed piece by Stephen Moore, identified only as a member of the WSJ's editorial board, with a misleading headline pretending like the Journal is actually attacking Bush's insane tax policies: "How To Soak The Rich (The George Bush Way)." (The piece actually lauds Bush's tax cuts.)


Moore's piece is a textbook example of how to lie, lie, lie with statistics. I wasn't going to write anything about it, but then I realized that after the WSJ puts this crap out, other right-wing apologistas glom onto it as "fact", passing it along the Fox/Limbaugh circuit as gospel truth.

So what's Moore's thesis? He says that "new IRS data" shows that in the aftermath of the Bush investment tax cuts "the federal income tax burden has substantially shifted onto the backs of the wealthy."

Is that so? Not if you actually analyze the data Moore uses in support of his argument.

First, Moore says that between 2001 and 2004 the percentage of federal income taxes paid by those with $200,000 incomes and above has risen to 46.6% from 40.5%, implying that the richest taxpayers are now bearing a heavier share of the tax burden.

But Moore's numbers are meaningless, and he surely knows it. Since 2001 the absolute number of taxpayers with incomes $200,000 and above has risen substantially--indeed by roughly 20 percent. (In 2001, 12% of taxpayers had incomes of $200,000 or more; by 2004 it was 14.2%.) So it is no surprise that tax receipts from that MUCH BIGGER number of rich folk has also risen--one would hope by at least 20%.

But if you pay careful attention to Moore's cooked statistics, the rise in the share of tax payments from privileged taxpayers with incomes in excess of $200,000 went up LESS THAN the rate at which the group expanded. (From 40.5% to 46.6%, an increase of only 15%). In other words, each individual taxpayer with an income of $200,000 or more is paying LESS of the burden in 2004 than in 2001--the exact opposite of what Moore is disengenuously trying to argue.

The deception continues. Moore points to tax receipts in 2004 and says, (in so many words) "wow, they're a lot higher than in 2002, especially for capital gains." From this, he implies that Bush's tax cuts have boosted tax receipts.


Let's see, what was going on in 2002? Oh, yes, we were coming outof a RECESSION. A lot of people lost a lot of money in the stock market in 2000-01, so guess what: they didn't have much in the way of CAPITAL GAINS. If you were like me, you had LOSSES! Funny that Moore would pick 2002 and not another year--say 1999--to make his comparison with 2004. Now that would be interesting--did the IRS take in more in cap gains taxes in 1999--before the supposedly fabulous Bush cuts--than in 2004? I'll give you one guess.

Interestingly, if a Democrat tried out similarly flawed statistical reasoning, the WSJ's editorial writers would be all over it.

Finally, there is this little tidbit from Moore: "[W]e now have the evidence to confirm that the latest round of tax cuts worked--five million new jobs, a 25% increase in business spending, 4% real economic growth in three years and a $4 trillion gain in net wealth."

Hmm. So I guess tax increases would work in the opposite direction. Wow, we must have done really poorly as a nation after Clinton raised taxes in 1992. What's that? No way--you're saying the economy boomed under Clinton, adding 10 million new jobs, erasing the federal deficit, raising millions out of poverty and leading to the longest economic expansion in the nation's history? Wow. I guess that proves tax increases work.

The fact is, Bush's tax cuts overwhelmingly benefitted the rich; there is ample evidence that his lopsided economic policies simply delayed the onset of a larger, more robust economic expansion that would have helped a broader cross-section of the population.

Here's an idea for the WSJ editorial board: try telling the truth, for once.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Instant MPG Indicators for All!

Want to save a few bucks on gas? Drive differently--it really works!

My car came equipped with all kinds of bells and whistles, some indispensable (who can get through winter without seat warmers!) and others rather silly.

One of the niftier gadgets that I ignored for some time is an instant miles per gallon indicator that can be displayed under the speedometer. A number of cars--especially hybrids (which mine is not)--now come with these. At first, I didn't think much of it, but after gas prices headed back up recently I started paying attention.

Most of my driving is around town, and I was getting a paltry 16-17 mpg unless I went on a long trip. (On the highway, I get a very respectable 27-28 mpg). After I started paying heed to the instant mpg indicator, however, my around town mpg went up to just over 20 mpg, about a 20 percent improvement.

How to squeeze out those additional miles per gallon? It's pretty much what you've always heard: don't slam down the accelerator everytime you start up from a stoplight; don't drive 80 mph (hard to do around town anyway). Most importantly, try to maintain a smooth ride, with gentle acceleration and deceleration. Let the car begin to coast earlier if you see a red light or stop sign ahead; stay far enough behind the car in front of you that you don't need to brake if it slows slightly--all this allows you to coast more, which, as the indicator will tell you, gets you over 50 mpg!

So here's an idea for those idiots in Congress who wanted to give everyone $100 so they could keep guzzling gas: why not instead require car companies (or give them some kind of incentive) to put instant mpg indicators in all vehicles as a means to encourage conservation.

In my case, seeing was believing. And a 20 percent reduction in gasoline consumption (saving most people much more than $100 over a year) is nothing to sneeze at!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Roadside Memorials: A Good Thing

You've all seen them: makeshift highway memorials, those small crosses (or occasionally a Star of David) surrounded by flowers and sometimes memorabilia, sitting next to a highway where someone was killed in an auto accident. (The memorial to the left happens to be from Australia, in memory of Jason and Darryl Krikke, race car drivers killed in an ordinary road accident.)

I think highway memorials are a great idea--they remind you just how deadly the road can be and tell you to SLOW THE FRICK DOWN!

Indeed, I'd like to see them institutionalized by state and federal highway authorities. They could authorize (with a family's permission) the erection at the site of any highway fatality, of a standard marker with the name (or names) of those who were killed.

I have in mind something tasteful and just big enough to notice without being too big or obtrusive. In some particularly dangerous intersections and stretches of road you might end up with quite a few of these morbid reminders, but that's just the point: motorists would instantly know "wow, this is a really dangerous place--a lot of people have already died here. Maybe, just maybe, for a moment I should stop driving like an asshole."

Today's Washington Post has a little story about Maryland's efforts to REMOVE at least some of the makeshift highway tributes that have appeared along that state's particularly dangerous highways (as best I can tell, they must teach tailgating in Maryland driving schools).


Maryland officials worry that the makeshift tributes are distrations that will cause accidents (of course, they cite no DATA in support of that supposition).

Maryland also worries that with 600-650 traffic fatalities each year, they "couldn't possibly give each family the right to memorialize the death" of their loved ones.

Well, I say why not? People could use the reminder--maybe with some 45,000 new memorials each year along our nation's highways, people will start to take safety more seriously, will slow down, etc. etc.

At the very least, those who fail to take heed will get their own personal opportunity to create their own little memorial.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Big Loser: Direct TV

This week's "Looser" Award--that's "loser" deliberately misspelled (as only a loser would), awarded to an advertiser for demeaning men--goes to Direct TV for its ad depicting two 20-something young men in an office trying to one-up each other.

The two guys, dressed in your basic 20-something business attire (dockers, cheap button down, boring tie), banter with each other around the office. Looser No. 1 says something like "I got a promotion"; Looser No. 2 says "I got Direct TV". The No. 1 says "I got an office with a window"; No. 2 says "I've got 164 channels" (or something like that).

Along the way, Looser No. 1 mentions that he has an assistant, and there is a quick cut to a pretty, nicely dressed young blonde-haired woman who, unlike the two guys, is actually working.

In the final scene, the two guys are in the lunchroom (no one else is there, suggesting they're goofing off) when Looser No. 1 finally concedes defeat--he just MUST get Direct TV. His assistant is in the background, getting coffee (and heading back to her desk). Looser No. 1 casually shouts over to his assistant "Do you have the number for Direct TV?" Annoyed, she clearly says "No." Looser No. 1 then says to Looser No. 2, "I don't think she heard me."

So, what do we get out of this insipid commercial? Two unproductive office guys have nothing better to do than debate each other over the perks of promotion versus the perks of satellite TV, while the one lower ranked woman in the office is actually getting something productive done.

This is yet another portrayal of office work as a dead-ender, at least for guys. Worse yet, it is a a clear portrait of guys as unproductive losers, interested only in television and sports.

Sure, sure, it's just an ad, and it's supposed to be "funny"; clearly, it's demographic is young males (i.e., switch to Direct TV and you can sit on your ever-broadening ass and watch sports all night and all weekend). At least the guys weren't fat!

I will say this--the younger men (and women) who worked with me when I practiced law were bright, driven, hard working and ambitious to a person. Why do advertisers feel compelled to portray men as such dead-enders? (This particular ad is not the only Direct TV promo that could qualify for a Looser Award--most portray some poor schmo' just slobbering to get all those great sports channels).

So Direct TV, here's a challenge for you: come up with an ad that shows guys as Winners, who happen to also think Direct TV is a good deal!