I never thought I'd see the day when it would be considered good news that a part of New York City was paralyzed, only one person died and there doesn't seem to be any asbestos floating around in the air as a result. (Or maybe not.) The problem is that it is actually very bad news and not just because of the death but because it is a sign of the rapidly decaying infrastructure that has been ignored during the conservative era in favor of free-market religion and the wonder-working powers of tax cuts.

7/18 in New York, a pipe installed in 1924 finally gave way and ended up killing someone. Imagine that. They built things to last in those days, but I doubt anyone ever dreamed that they would have to last for nearly a century.

Rick Perlstein has been writing about what he calls "E. coli conservatism" for a while over at his blog "the Big Con" at commonsense.ourfuture.org, where, among other things, he's chronicling the increasing incidence of ... sinkholes. That's right, these days it's quite common to be driving or walking along a street in Anytown USA and be suddenly sucked into the ground because of the neglected infrastructure of our towns and cities. You can read about it in local papers every day. On 7/18, he wrote:

"We've warned here again and again about the decrepitude of our underground infrastructure, about what happens when a nation consecrates itself to no higher domestic goal than the cutting of taxes. New York had a Republican mayor, in fact, who now spends his days boasting that he cut taxes 23 times. Cut spending, too, he's proud to say."

This is the legacy of the past 25 years of neglect. We shouldn't be relieved when we see a huge cloud of smoke and dust and find that it isn't "terrorism." It's a warning as important as a magenta terror alert or the rumblings of Michael Chertoff's gut. There is a price to pay for this free lunch the conservatives have been selling for the past 30 years and the bill is coming due. Watch your step. (Digby, Salon.com, 7/19)


EDWARDS SETS AGENDA. John Edwards "may be stuck in third place in the polls and fund raising in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. But the populist seems to be playing an outsized role in driving the terms of the party's debate -- generally to the left -- on everything from Iraq to health care," the Wall Street Journal reported (7/20). "It is the essence of Mr. Edwards's strategy for winning the nomination: to come from the left, and win over the party activists who tend to dominate the early primaries and caucuses. Other candidates, notably front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, have tended to take a more cautious tack, in an attempt to preserve their ability to appeal to the middle should they ultimately win the nomination. But with little to lose, Mr. Edwards seems to feel freer to address issues that might alienate the party and business establishment. Just as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean pushed the Democrats toward more staunch opposition of the Iraq war four years ago, Mr. Edwards seems to be having a big impact on forcing the pack to follow his agenda." (PoliticalWire.com.)


NBC NEWSER TAKES BIZ CASH TO BASH EDWARDS. NBC chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski took $30,000 from the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce to address its Business EXPO 2007. During his talk, the Providence Journal reported, Miklaszewski called presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) a "loser" for attempting to defend a pricey haircut. Just last year, MediaMatters.org noted the apparent conflict of interest and violation of NBC's ban on paid speaking gigs when Chris Matthews received tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for delivering speeches to corporate interest groups. The controversy prompted then-MSNBC president Rick Kaplan to clarify that NBC policy prohibited anchors from personally accepting speaking fees and anyone who did so "would risk being fired." MediaMatters.org noted, "It's reasonable to assume that John Edwards' economic policies -- his focus on poverty and health care and the growing gap between rich and poor, and his proposed solutions to these problems -- aren't very popular at the Chamber of Commerce. Edwards, for example, has said he would repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans in order to pay for his health care proposal, while the US Chamber of Commerce lists making the Bush tax cuts permanent first among its tax policy priorities. ... As Edwards embarks on his poverty tour this week, it's fitting we call upon the media to stop their endless stream of personal, negative, and often absurd attacks against progressives and return their focus to where it belongs: the issues. As a respected and influential journalist, Miklaszewski has a reputation to uphold as a serious and objective source of information on air and off. Calling a presidential candidate a 'loser' over a haircut would be absurd enough. Doing so after taking $30,000 from special interests opposed to that candidate is scandalous."


HAIR-BRAINED HYPOCRISY. When media reports revealed that former Sen. Edwards had paid $400 for haircuts, making him the object of widespread ridicule, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) stated that he pays "$50 for a hair cut including the tip." Romney also quipped, "You know I think John Edwards was right. There are two Americas. There is the America where people pay $400 for a haircut and then there is everybody else." When Politico.com reported 7/16 that Romney recorded $300 in payments to a California company that describes itself as "a mobile beauty team for hair, makeup and men's grooming and spa services," in payments billed as "communications consulting" for what was later acknowledged to be makeup consulting, the news disappeared into a vacuum. Marc Ambinder, a contributing editor to the National Journal's Hotline newsletter, explained (7/17) why the media covered Edwards' grooming regimen so much and Romney's so little: "There is a difference in the political reality: fairly or unfairly, a healthy chunk of the national political press corps doesn't like John Edwards. Fairly or unfairly, there's also a difference in narrative timing: when the first quarter ended, the press was trying to bury Edwards. It's not so much interested in burying Romney right now -- many reporters think he's the Republican frontrunner."

Jamison Foser of MediaMatters.org commented (7/20), "Now, if reporters dislike a candidate, that's their business. But when they wage a relentless and petty campaign to 'bury' that candidate, that's our business. All of us." It reminded Foser of the hostility of media insiders to Al Gore in 2000 that resulted in "inaccurate, unfair, and grossly distorted coverage of Gore that decided the campaign."


GI PAY RAISE TURNAROUND. After refusing to support Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.)'s amendment giving the troops a decent interval between deployments and blocking the defense authorization bill, President Bush and the Republicans are now wailing that the Democrats are refusing to give the military a pay raise. This is the same pay raise that was part of the defense authorization bill they just blocked and the same pay raise the president himself threatened to veto just two months ago, Digby noted 7/20 at Salon.com. It was reported at the time that the Bush administration "'strongly opposes' both the 3.5% raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases 'unnecessary.'"


LIEBERMAN'S NEW PARTY LINE. When Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) ran for re-election as an independent last fall after he was defeated in the Democratic primary, he repeatedly promised that he would continue to caucus with the Democrats. But CQPolitics.com noted 7/23 that during the Republican filibuster of the defense authorization bill, Lieberman attended daily tactical sessions to help Republicans plan their strategy for combatting anti-war amendments and their rhetorical points for use against the Dems.


GET BACK TO CAPITALISM. Bernard Rapoport, longtime financier of liberal causes in Texas who was raised a socialist in San Antonio but built a fortune selling life insurance to union members, was interviewed by the Austin American Statesman (7/19) to mark his 90th birthday. Asked if he considered himself a capitalist, Rapoport replied, "Oh yes, I believe in capitalism. But I wish we would have it. We have monopolism, and that's antithetical to capitalism. ... I started a business in 1951 with about $25,000 of borrowed money, and I built a billion-dollar life insurance company. To start that company today you'd have to have $50 million, minimum. Capitalism means that people with ingenuity can have an opportunity. When you have monopolies it's impossible to enter into a new enterprise without unreasonable amounts of money."


BIOWEAPONS EXPERT SEES ANTHRAX COVERUP. Francis A. Boyle, an international law expert who worked under the first Bush administration as a bioweapons advisor in the 1980s, has said that he is convinced the October 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people were perpetrated and covered up by criminal elements of the US government. The motive: to foment a police state by killing off and intimidating opposition to post-9/11 legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the later Military Commissions Act. Boyle noted in a radio interview with Austin-based talk-show host Alex Jones, reported at AfterDowningStreet.org (7/3), that Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) were holding up passage of the bill because, among other things, it would have suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which protects citizens from unlawful imprisonment and guarantees due process of law. "Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, come these anthrax attacks," which included letters sent to Daschle's and Leahy's offices, noted Boyle, who was responsible for drafting the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 that was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. It was obvious to him that the superweapons-grade anthrax came from a US government lab.


CONGRESS PUNTS E-VOTE REFORM. In deference to disability-rights advocates and election officials across the nation, Democrats are watering down US Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.)'s long-in-the-wings bill to address the problems raised by unverifiable paperless touch-screen voting machines, Farhad Manjoo noted at Salon.com (7/21). Rather than require elections officials to purchase verifiable optical-scan voting systems, Congress is considering mandating that all the nation's touch-screen machines be equipped with small cash-register-style printers for the 2008 and 2010 election. Only in 2012 would states be required to switch to more secure optical-scan balloting systems. David Dill, the Stanford computer-science professor who founded the voting rights advocacy group Verified Voting, calls the quick fix a very bad idea. Dill notes that the printers the House is considering mandating have not performed very well in the past. In May, when the Holt bill passed the House Administration Committee, it would have pushed for most jurisdictions to adopt optical-scan systems rather than touch-screens equipped with printers. But according to the New York Times, the Democratic leaders in the House, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, agreed with disability advocates in Washington who say that optical-scan systems would set back the cause of allowing people with handicaps to vote without assistance. Disability advocates favor touch-screen machines because they offer an audio version of the ballot; a blind person can vote on a touch-screen machine without assistance. Dill disagrees that touch-screen systems are the only way to give the disabled access to the polls. He told Manjoo that optical-scan systems can be rendered accessible with the addition of electronic ballot markers; these machines provide audio feedback to people as they vote on a standard optical-scan ballot. "By and large disabled voters who've tested this option have been happy with the solution," Dills says.


US TRAILS IN BROADBAND. The Communication Workers of America recently conducted Internet speed tests, sampling roughly 67,000 people across the country, and concluded that the average download speed in the US was 1.9 megabytes per second (Mbps). That sample included slower dialup customers, but CWA noted that the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's "Assessing Broadband in America" report in April showed that countries such as Japan and even our closest neighbor, Canada, have significantly higher broadband average download speeds -- 61Mbps and 7.6Mbps, respectively, than the US, which ranked 12th with 4.8Mbps.

Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly.com noted (7/20) that President Bush said in March 2004, "This country needs a national goal for broadband technology, for the spread of broadband technology. We ought to have a universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007." But Robert McChesney and John Podesta noted in the January/February 2006 Washington Monthly that Bush and FCC chairman Kevin Martin instead rewarded their corporate cronies for maintaining high prices, low speeds and lackluster innovation. Federal policies have not merely failed to correct our broadband problems, as the FCC allowed DSL providers and cable companies to shut out competitors by denying access to their lines. Whereas the Japanese government encourages individual towns to set up their own "Community Internet," McChesney and Podesta noted, Washington has done nothing while 14 states now have laws restricting cities and towns from building their own high-speed Internet networks. "No wonder America is falling behind its Asian competitors."

CWA supports a draft bill -- the Broadband Census of America Act-- by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that would require the FCC to upgrade its definition of "high speed" to a minimum of 2Mbps down and 1Mbps up. In theory, this would then provide some motivation for broadband providers who don't meet the technical definition of "high speed" to bump their offerings to consumers, Arstechnica.com reported (5/29).


ATTACKS ON GORE BACKFIRE. Conservatives across the blogosphere, citing a People magazine article and a poorly-researched Australian Daily Telegraph article, smeared Al Gore by claiming that he ate Chilean Sea Bass -- a threatened species -- at a 7/13 rehearsal dinner for his daughter's wedding. Attempting to paint Gore as an environmental hypocrite, BlogsForBush, NewsBusters and others expressed outrage over the hypocrisy, Thinkprogress.org noted (7/19). But, as the London Telegraph reported 7/19, "Al Gore's fish dinner turns out green": [T]he fish enjoyed by the Gores were not endangered or illegally caught. Rather, the restaurant later confirmed, they had come from one of the world's few well-managed, sustainable populations of toothfish, and caught and documented in compliance with Marine Stewardship Council regulations." Conservatives countered that Gore is still overweight.


CHENEY: KISSING LEADS TO ... Vice President Dick Cheney told a biographer that he told Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) to "f**k yourself" in June 2004 because Leahy got too close to him. "Leahy came over and put his arm around me. And he didn't kiss me but it was close to it. So I flashed and I told him -- I dropped the F-bomb on him" Cheney reportedly told biographer Stephen Hayes. But according to ThinkProgress.org (7/23), "There were several witnesses from both parties. Leahy walked over in a friendly way and said the Vice President should feel free to come over on the other side of the aisle too, that Democrats won't bite, and he held out his hand. The Vice President started to stick out his hand in response and then drew it back, and that's when he unloaded his expletive.

It's not surprising that Cheney overreacted when Leahy tried to exchange pleasantries. According to Hayes, Cheney 'won't meet with Democrats.'"


KRISTOL UNCLEAR. Fox News pundit Bill Kristol recently attacked the YearlyKos convention, to be held 8/2-5 in Chicago, and its namesake, DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, as out of the mainstream and "not respectable." ThinkProgress.org compiled some of Kristol's rhetoric:

• "It is insane for this country to be obsessing … about a small prisoner abuse scandal," referring to Abu Ghraib. [5/16/04]

• "Cheney's statement" that Ned Lamont's primary victory over Sen. Joe Lieberman helps al Qaeda "is indisputably correct." [6/13/06]

• "The voters in Florida, I guess, who elected him" are responsible for former Rep. Mark Foley (R)'s illicit sexual behavior. "Maybe they should have known better." [10/3/06]

• Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is "sort of the opposite of Lincoln. He would have been with Stephen Douglas in 1858" in appeasing slave owners. [2/10/07]

• Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) saying the war is lost "is much more disgraceful than anything Trent Lott said" about the country being better off if it had maintained racist segregation policies. [4/22/07]

Moulitsas reminds us of Kristol's dismissal in April 2003 of the skeptics who warned that an invasion of Iraq would unleash dangerous religious factions. "There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America," he said on NPR's Fresh Air, "that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular."

And Rick Perlstein noted (7/17) that Kristol defended Bush's record in a 7/15 column in the Washington Post, "Let's look at the broad forest rather than the often unlovely trees. What do we see? First, no second terrorist attack on US soil -- not something we could have taken for granted." Perlstein noted that five Americans died due to the anthrax attacks in October 2001. Now they are forgotten by the Bush administration and Kristol.


FARM BILL ADVANCES. The House Agriculture Committee (7/20) unanimously approved its version of the 2007 Farm Bill, which protects the safety net for farmers when prices fall and includes a process to guarantee mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) is implemented, after the Bush administration resisted implementing COOL for five years. Small farmers suffered a setback when the committee stripped a provision that would have forbidden livestock contracts from requiring mandatory arbitration, which critics say favors large livestock companies. Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, predicted battles in the Senate over reforms that include payment limits on farm subsidies at $250,000 or lower; shifting money from direct payments to conservation incentives; and an energy title that promotes production of cellulosic ethanol, plus incentives for farm production of biomass crops like switchgrass.


DIXIE LAGS IN PREZ DONATIONS. Two New York-based politicians raked in the most campaign contributions from 13 Southern states in the reporting period that ended 7/15: Dem Sen. Hillary Clinton ($8.6 mln) and GOP ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani ($7.3 mln) top the list of 2008 presidential hopefuls in money coming from the South, the Institute for Southern Studies (southernstudies.org) reported (7/19). Former N.C. Sen. John Edwards -- the leading Southerner in the race so far -- has received the biggest share of his contributions from the region. Nearly a third (31%) of Edwards' $23 mln war chest has come from the South, making him the only candidate whose fundraising draw matches the region's electoral significance. Three other candidates have received 20% or more of their contributions from Southern states, all R's: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas (22%), Giuliani and Sen. John McCain. Those getting the lowest percentage of their campaign funds from the South are Sens. Barack Obama (12%), Christopher Dodd (8%) and Sam Brownback (8%) -- a surprising result for Brownback, who has positioned himself as a voice for Christian conservatives, a strong political bloc in the South, which is home to 31% of the Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency, but only 16% of the national fundraising total, revealing the South's campaign contributions have yet to catch up with the region's electoral clout.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2007

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