Friday, March 6, 2009

Rush runs America

Limbaugh Rooting for Planet to Explode

Could Help GOP, Radio Host Claims

In remarks that seemed guaranteed to create controversy, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said today that he was "rooting for the planet Earth to explode" because it would help the GOP retake the White House.

Mr. Limbaugh elaborated on his planet explosion theory, explaining that if the world blows up in the next four years "it will happen on Barack Obama's watch."

"Let's face it, the world exploding would be great for the GOP and Barack Obama knows it," he said.  "That's why he is doing everything in his power to keep the planet from blowing up."

While asserting that he had his fingers crossed that the planet would detonate sometime in the next four years, he said that there were other scenarios he found equally appealing.

"If the population of the U.S. was suddenly afflicted with plagues, locusts and open sores, that would be fantastic for the Republican Party," he said.  "I'm rooting for all of those things to happen."


Fun With Amazon

These books, which I found on Amazon, are still for sale. A collage like this (but better) ought to be a museum piece somewhere. Or a funny poster. Or a magazine cover. Or all of the above.

This site operates under a Creative Commons license, but I'm waiving the "no commercial use" and the "no derivative works" for this post — so if you're an artist or a designer or an art director, and you feel inspired, have at it. Just please shoot me a copy of whatever you create. Thanks.


Docs seek gag orders to stop patients' reviews

CHICAGO - The anonymous comment on the Web site was unsparing: "Very unhelpful, arrogant," it said of a doctor. "Did not listen and cut me off, seemed much too happy to have power (and abuse it!) over suffering people."

Such reviews are becoming more common as consumer ratings services like Zagat's and Angie's List expand beyond restaurants and plumbers to medical care, and some doctors are fighting back.

They're asking patients to agree to what amounts to a gag order that bars them from posting negative comments online.

"Consumers and patients are hungry for good information" about doctors, but Internet reviews provide just the opposite, contends Dr. Jeffrey Segal, a North Carolina neurosurgeon who has made a business of helping doctors monitor and prevent online criticism.

Some sites "are little more than tabloid journalism without much interest in constructively improving practices," and their sniping comments can unfairly ruin a doctor's reputation, Segal said.

Segal said such postings say nothing about what should really matter to patients — a doctor's medical skills — and privacy laws and medical ethics prevent leave doctors powerless to do anything it.

His company, Medical Justice, is based in Greensboro, N.C. For a fee, it provides doctors with a standardized waiver agreement. Patients who sign agree not to post online comments about the doctor, "his expertise and/or treatment."

"Published comments on Web pages, blogs and/or mass correspondence, however well intended, could severely damage physician's practice," according to suggested wording the company provides.

Segal's company advises doctors to have all patients sign the agreements. If a new patient refuses, the doctor might suggest finding another doctor. Segal said he knows of no cases where longtime patients have been turned away for not signing the waivers.

"The Hebrew Mamita" Vanessa Hidary (Def Poetry)

A volatile truce for troubled Swat valley

Pakistan | The government's pact with Taliban militants in the Swat valley has not stopped the killing. And along with the violence, the door has swung open to the Taliban's imposition of harsh religious rule over the valley.

Pakistani student Tariq Khan walks past a painting in a classroom of a school allegedly blown up by Islamic militants in Mingora, capital of the troubled Swat valley. Taliban militants in the valley have extended a cease-fire, strengthening a peace process that Western governments say risks granting a safe haven to extremists close to the Afghan border.
Pakistani student Tariq Khan walks past a painting in a classroom of a school allegedly blown up by Islamic militants in Mingora, capital of the troubled Swat valley. Taliban militants in the valley have extended a cease-fire, strengthening a peace process that Western governments say risks granting a safe haven to extremists close to the Afghan border.

The Taliban and the Pakistani army signed a truce in February in Swat, the once-popular tourist area an hour north of the capital. But far from establishing peace, the pact seems to have allowed the Taliban free rein to expand their harsh religious rule.

Just days after the truce was signed, a member of a prominent anti-Taliban family returned to his mountain village, having received government assurances it was safe. He was promptly kidnapped by the Taliban, tortured and murdered.

The rebels then erected roadblocks to search cars for any relatives who dared travel there for his funeral. None did.

This week, two Pakistani soldiers who were part of a convoy escorting a water tanker were shot and killed because they failed to inform the Taliban in advance of their movements.

Wednesday, the provincial government signed an accord with the local Taliban leader that imposes Islamic law, or Shariah, in the area, and institutes a host of new regulations, including a ban on music, a requirement that shops close during calls to prayer and the installation of complaint boxes for reports of anti-Islamic behavior.

Local residents are skeptical that girls' schools will be allowed to reopen.

Books: The Biggest News In Publishing Since The Kindle

Imagine if you bought a DVD and had to decide at the store whether you wanted to watch it on your TV or your laptop. If you wanted to do both, why you'd have to buy it twice. Imagine if you bought a CD that could only be played on your home stereo. If you wanted to play it in your car, you'd have to buy another copy. And if you wanted to play it on your iPod, why you'd have to buy yet another copy. So instead of paying $15 for an album, you'd have to pay $45. Crazy, right?

But that's exactly how most publishers treat bookbuyers, even though the internet has made the distribution of ebooks and audiobooks wildly inexpensive for them. Do you like John Grisham? If you want a hardcover of The Associate to put on your shelf and share with your spouse, that's gonna cost you $27.95. Want to listen to it on your iPod or in your car? Well, the audio version will cost you $44.95. Is your mother living with you but has poor eyesight? You can buy a large print version also for $27.95. Oh, but you just bought the Kindle. I bet you'd love an electronic version. That would cost $10 for the Kindle version...but it's not available in that format yet. Me, I prefer reading Grisham in the mass market paperback format (the small, easily portable version sold at airports). That will be probably $8 or more -- when it comes out in a year or two. So just to read the new John Grisham any way you want, you would pay about $120. Of course, no one is going to do that, but being forced to choose what way you want to read a book is crazy.

The book world has idiotically followed the disastrous lead of the music industry, which killed the single -- the cheap inexpensive way to start collecting music that turned teenagers into lifelong music consumers. The result? Collapsing album sales softened somewhat by the return of singles via iTunes (which record companies fought every step of the way). Similarly, the book industry has decided you HATE to buy cheap paperbacks at $7 and would MUCH RATHER buy $14 paperbacks in the bulkier trade paperback format, which is a lot heavier and harder to carry around. You also have to wait a year or more to do so, even though in other parts of the world the paperback is released the same time as the hardcover.

The book world has sadly imitated the movie industry by haplessly trying to emulate the DVD. They thought that meant including an author interview at the end of a paperback as an "exciting" extra.

In truth, Nelson is the first publisher to recognize the lesson of DVDs. DVDs succeeded because they offered far superior quality than VHS, provided extras like commentary tracks that were previously impossible and -- this is important -- were the same or cheaper than videotape. Now, taking advantage of the internet and cheap distribution methods, Nelson has dragged the book world into the 21st century. Buy the right to read a book and they'll give it to you in every format possible -- a print edition, an audio edition and an electronic edition so you can read it when and where you want. And they did it without raising the price. If Random House and Ballantine and Simon & Schuster and the rest have a brain in their heads, they'll follow suit immediately.

Give me more money

When Green Is Another Word for Cheap

Hotels' linen-reuse programs get me fuming. Which eco-marketing gimmicks do you find most annoying?

When my sisters and I were girls, we loved exploring the hotels my family stayed at on vacation. On arriving, we would race off to ride up and down in the elevator, thumb through the tacky bric-a-brac at the gift shop, and check out the pool, inhaling the sticky, chlorinated air. In the room, we'd fight over free postcards in the desk drawer, play with the phone in the bathroom, and salivate at the prospect of ordering room service and getting those miniature bottles of jam delivered to our door. This was a world that suspended the realities of life at home, and we reveled in every aspect of it.

My taste for luxury has evolved somewhat—I'm not nearly as taken with the M&Ms in the mini bar—but on entering a hotel room, I still immediately review the room-service menu, bask in the prospect of fresh, silky sheets, and inspect the bathroom to ensure I have fluffy, clean towels for every possible need. Then I spy one of those little placards, nestled among the tiny soaps or hanging from the towel rack, asking me to reuse my linens: "Save Our Planet … Every day millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once … Please decide for yourself." And, like that, my hotel buzz fizzles.

I'll admit that I sometimes choose not to participate in this program and request fresh towels and sheets every day. Before you write in scolding me for being a wasteful person, let me qualify that by saying it's not the program, in theory, I'm against. I'm all for saving the environment. But I don't want to be guilt-tripped into going green. It's the two-facedness of it that gets me—save our planet! Conserve our resources! It's up to you, hotel guest. Forsake that washcloth (or two!), or those crisp sheets that are your right when you pay for the room, and to what end—so the hotel can save money on laundry? How many natural resources are wasted printing all of these little signs? Here's an idea: Instead of printing out a placard for every room in the hotel, wash my towel.

Side show takes main stage

by Gene Lyons

If the economic situation weren't so scary, it'd be amusing watching so many Republicans go crazier than a peach orchard boar, as country folks say.

To the connoisseur of political folly, last week's Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington offered a rich spectacle. Except it wasn't the usual sideshow barkers who provided the most bizarre entertainment; it was the headline speakers, notably Rush Limbaugh and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Between them, they made Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal sound statesmanlike.

Jindal, after all, was merely pitching sweet feed to the cattle. But was it wise to argue that government doesn't work by citing the Bush administration's feckless response to Hurricane Katrina? To mock as wasteful the U.S. Geological Survey's monitoring of volcanoes? The same agency funds river gauges and tidal monitors, of interest to the Bayou State. Heck, why not throw in the do-nothing National Weather Service? Why watch the weather if you can't change it?

Just once I'd like to see one of these Confederate Republicans acknowledge how much more their states receive from the Treasury than they pay in taxes. (For Louisiana, it's $1.45 for every dollar paid; for Mississippi, $1.77, etc.) But then what's a little hypocrisy among free lunch conservatives? Jindal also mocked an (imaginary) $8 billion earmark for a high-speed railway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Then he turned right around and solicited funding for a Baton Rouge-New Orleans line.

Back before free-lunch hypocrisy became gospel, Louisiana had a social structure like Guatemala's-low taxes on the wealthy, a beaten-down middle class and sprawling poverty. Economically, GOP doctrine consists of ignoring the obvious. Show me a low-tax, "pro-business" paradise like the Deep South before World War II, and I'll show you poverty, disease, illiteracy and stagnant opportunity.

Alternatively, try finding a wealthy country anywhere on earth with the economic policies the Jindals, Limbaughs and Huckabees recommend. They simply don't exist. Hence, the current nearhysteria on the right. We haven't seen its like since the 1960s, when many white Southerners panicked over the prospect of racial integration, the John Birch Society flourished, and billboards depicting "Martin Luther King at a Communist training school" lined rural highways.

Historian Richard Hofstadter described it in a seminal 1964 essay: "The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms-he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days."

Night of the Living Limbaugh Listeners

How Close the Bush Bullet


By Robert Parry

Earlier this decade when some of us warned that George W. Bush was behaving more like an incipient dictator than the leader of a constitutional republic, we were dismissed as alarmists, left-wingers, traitors and a host of less printable epithets.

But it is now increasingly clear that President Bush and his top advisers viewed the 9/11 attacks as an opportunity to implement a series of right-wing legal theories that secretly granted Bush unlimited power to act lawlessly and outside the traditional parameters of the U.S. Constitution.

These theories held that at a time of war – even one as vaguely defined as the "war on terror" – Bush's powers as Commander in Chief were "plenary," or total. And since the conflict against terrorism had no boundaries in time or space, his unfettered powers would exist everywhere and essentially forever.

According to his administration's secret legal memos released Monday, Bush could waive all meaningful constitutional rights of citizens, including the First Amendment's protections on free speech and a free press.

John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department's powerful Office of Legal Counsel – which advises a President on the limits of his constitutional powers – declared that Bush could void the First Amendment if he deemed it necessary to fight terrorism.

"First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully," Yoo wrote in an Oct. 23, 2001, memo entitled "Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States."

Yoo then added ominously, "The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically."

What was particularly stunning about Yoo's reference to waiving the First Amendment – a pillar of American democracy – was his cavalier attitude. He tossed the paragraph into a memo focused on stripping Americans of their Fourth Amendment "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

While saying that Bush could order spying on and military attacks against U.S. domestic targets at his own discretion as Commander in Chief, Yoo added, almost in passing, that the President also could abrogate the rights of free speech and a free press.

Former Countrywide executives cash in on federal housing bailout

by Jeremy Gantz

After overseeing a company at the very center of the still-imploding U.S. mortgage market, a dozen former executives are now poised to make millions from the housing crisis.

Stanford L. Kurland, the former president of Countrywide Financial the bank that has become most synonymous with the bad mortgage lending practices that eventually caused the housing market to burst, setting into motion the current financial crisis and colleagues from the defunct firm now run PennyMac.

The company, headquartered in the same Los Angeles suburb where Countrywide was managed before it was sold to Bank of America last summer, specializes in buying up bad home mortgages that the U.S. government took over from other failed banks, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

PennnyMac has been buying up some of those mortgages for just a fraction of their value, and they keep a portion of whatever money they collect from the mortgage holder.

PennyMac's business has been "off-the-charts good, said John Lawrence, the companys head of loan servicing, the Times reported.

Although the company is reportedly helping many financially troubled homeowners by slashing interest rates for some strapped homeowners, many are angry that businessmen who oversaw a company that ultimately failed in part due to its subprime lending practices can turn around and profit off the housing crisis.

Countrywide was investigated early last year by the FBI, SEC and the Justice Department for accounting fraud, insider trading and possibly misleading security filings.

"It is sort of like the arsonist who sets fire to the house and then buys up the charred remains and resells it," said Margot Saunders, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center. The organization has for years sought to limit the sort of abusive lending practices that were employed by Countrywide and other financial companies.

Not for long