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»  December 31, 2007


The Savage Mule: Dennis Perrin (who used to blog at Red State Son) is working on a book due out in May from Verso called Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War that touches on a theme I've been working on as well.

I've been an admirer of Dennis's work and have corresponded briefly with him over the past couple of years. His work on the book has taken him away from regular blog posting, but his year-end post is kind enough to mention lowly me in some relatively illustrious company.

He'd better finish that thing. I've pre-ordered my copy.

Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War

Happy New Year!


»  December 28, 2007

What the...?  

Remover of Obstacles:

Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles

Nothing the next year needs more than an anniversary present of a bronze statue of the bridegroom Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles, patron of letters and learning, and the latest addition to our little object pantheon on top of the cabinet in the living room.

Then again, his arrival today wasn't exactly presaged by the best omens, Hindu-wise.



Sales Attacks, Part IV: Since the Oregonian already published an op-ed from Charles Sheketoff rebutting the pro-sales tax piece they ran last week, they're unlikely to run my own, especially considering that I don't run anything with a name like the Oregon Center for Public Policy (or anything, really). But write something I did.

Sales tax proponent Rep. Scott Bruun says that "If you believe that taxes affect behavior ... it's easy to see that Oregon's tax structure stifles incentives for work and investment." It's a belief that he doesn't back up with any proof.

He bases his argument in favor of a tax reform which would add a sales tax using several standard assertions.

  • A sales tax would flatten "the peaks and valleys" of "roller-coaster" income tax revenue.
  • A sales tax is paid by choice, unlike an income tax, and is "inherently better".
  • A sales tax would bring in new revenue from tourists
  • A sales tax would bring in money from the "underground economy".

The last two are perhaps the most flimsy of the Representative's assertions. If a tourist has $1,000 to spend in Oregon on a trip, Rep. Bruun would have you think they're going to spend an extra $50, rather than $952 + $48 (5%) in taxes. And what about the fact that half of Oregon tourists are from Oregon? According to a Longwoods International report commissioned by the state, 51% of overnight marketable trips made to Oregon in 2004 were by Oregonians. That doesn't mean the 7.9 billion tourism dollars that could be affected by sales taxes are halved, but it does put a dent in the something-for-nothing idea of out-of-state dollars.

As for the "underground economy", any time money comes into the legitimate marketplace, it's already subject to business income taxes. A sales tax exempts food, but if an under-the-table worker buys beer or cigarettes, they're paying excise taxes and the business owner gets taxed on income.

The idea that a sales tax is paid by choice and is therefore better is simply bizarre. You no more "choose" to pay a sales tax on a pair of pants -- something it's rather difficult to walk around town without -- than you "choose" to have a job and pay income taxes so that you can buy the pants. A sales tax is inherently unstable unless it taxes items people need to buy.

Which brings me to my final point and Rep. Bruun's first.

In 2003, the Oakland Tribune published an article about a study of the California tax system which bore the headline: "California's sales tax is ultimate roller coaster".

For years, sales tax advocates have claimed that the sales tax is more stable than the income tax, and that it would therefor provide a stable "third leg" to the tax table. California has that third leg, but two decades of data show that "California's income tax base is, surprisingly, not the most volatile of the three major sources of government income. It is at least as stable as property assessments and far more sedate than taxable sales."

Washington, on the other hand, has no income tax and relies heavily on sales and use taxes. What does it have to say about its own system when it compared the sales tax to property taxes and other revenue streams: "Sales and use tax is the most volatile revenue source." The same study showed that households with incomes under $20,000 paid three times the percentage of their income in sales taxes as households in the range above $130,000.

So color me unconvinced. A sales tax would seem to replace part of a slightly regressive tax system with money raised in a more regressive system that isn't really any more stable than the income tax. It would once again shift part of the tax burden from large businesses and upper-income earners to small businesses and medium and low-income households, in an attempt to give "incentives" for more upper-income people to move here and live off the largesse of the rest of Oregon.

Remind me why we were supposed to be in favor of this again?



Democrats Blindsided by DoD Veto: After caving in to the White House on the Defense appropriations bill, and all of the claims that they needed to do it without any restrictions because Bush would starve the troops in Iraq or shut down the Pentagon without his $70 billion, now this:

Bush to Veto Pentagon Funds Over Iraq Provision

Published: December 28, 2007

WASHINGTON — President Bush will veto a huge Defense Department bill because of concerns by the Iraqi government that Iraqi assets in American banks could be vulnerable to claims from victims of Saddam Hussein, the Texas White House said Friday.


The announcement of the president’s intentions caught Democratic leaders off guard. the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California quickly issued a statement complaining that they had been blindsided by the news from Mr. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Tex.

Happy New Year, losers.



Sales Attacks, Part III: Charles Sheketoff of the Oregon Center for Public Policy -- like state Rep. Scott Bruun, a member of the state's Revenue Restructuring Task Force -- responds to Bruun's op-ed piece last week with his own:

Bringing stability to our tax structure

Friday, December 28, 2007

As of November, nearly half the states in the nation were facing budget shortfalls, service cuts or tax increases. But not Oregon. So if Oregon's tax system is the worst in the nation, as a commentary last week by state Rep. Scott Bruun contends ("Changing America's worst tax structure," Dec. 18), why are we outshining nearly half the country?


We suffer from an economy for the few. Bruun's proposals would make Oregon's economy even more lopsided. His income tax scheme would heavily benefit the wealthiest. Given that from 2002 to 2005, nearly all (97 percent) of Oregon income gains went to the richest 1 percent -- households with annual incomes exceeding about $360,000 and averaging about $862,000 -- I can't fathom the logic in exacerbating Oregon's income inequality by granting a 50 percent tax cut.


Bruun correctly notes the instability in Oregon's tax system. But he makes it seem as if there's no way to add stability without a major overhaul and without making the system less fair. That's wrong. We just have to save more in our reserves during good economic times to have stability during a downturn.



My Last Conspiracy Theory For 2007: It's been almost two months since the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and in that time the primary source of criticism of the presidential candidates -- late night shows like CBS's The Late Show with David Letterman, NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report -- have been in reruns. Sure, the criticism is largely superficial, but then the criticism by "real" TV news outlets isn't particularly deep. And the fact that there hasn't been an agreement reached is all to the good for people interested in maintaining the status quo.

Even without the widely-seen but mostly blunt ribbing of Leno or the stiletto-punch of a Colbert gag aimed at a much smaller audience, the fortunes of the anointed in both the Republican and Democratic races have been mercurial. Mike Huckabee has been coming out of nowhere (can't we just say no more Arkansas governors for president for a while?) and even Zombie John McCain's showing signs of life as he reaches for the brains of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. A couple of months ago Hillary Clinton was viewed by many as unstoppable, but Barack Obama and John Edwards are still fighting her for turf. The whole battle's going down without the snarky comments of the late night talk shows, though.

But then, if you had a vested interest in how things were going to come out in the 2008 elections, and you had a way to, you know, keep a sort of a throttle on the process to at least try to keep things under some semblance of control, what would you do? Sure, it might cost you some big-time money, but what if all of your competitors would be in the same boat?

As it stands, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will be returning -- sans writers unless a miracle happens -- on 7 January. Letterman, Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and Conan O'Brien will be back on the air even earlier -- 2 January -- in any case.

But that's left nearly two months of some of the craziest material from the primary campaigns untouched by late-night shows in the run-up to the 3 January Iowa caucuses -- the night after the broadcast shows return [Letterman and the WGA reached an agreement 28 December] -- and the New Hampshire primary on 8 January -- the night after Stewart and Colbert are back. If the strike continues for another month, the huge blocks of delegates at stake in the "Super Tuesday" primaries on 5 February will de be dealt out without the guiding hand of comedy writers.

That may seem like no big loss to many people, but we're living in a world where our fellow voters took someone like George W. Bush as a serious candidate, even with people pointing out he was a buffoon. Sure, I don't agree with all of their politics, and sometimes they simply propogate stupid jokes (Letterman, for one, did Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton gags a couple times a week until at least last year). I, for one, worry what could happen without a little of the funhouse mirror late night shows bring into the house of politics, and I wonder if someone might have their hand on the lid in an attempt to keep things from boiling over in a way they might not prefer.


»  December 27, 2007


Jon Swift's Best Blog Posts of 2007: I've been enjoying Jon Swift's work for a while now, and not just his "Modest Proposal" but also the large volume of quality material he has produced at his blog over the past couple of years.

As a part of his belated anniversary celebration/year-end wrap-up, Swift has gathered together a holiday package of work by other bloggers that he deems worthy of sharing with the world, and my second post from this year is featured there.

So peruse Swift's "selections", and while you're at it travel back to the days of cellphone-videoed hangings and check out my featured economics piece: "The Invisible Hand of Saddam Hussein". It's good, if I do say so myself, and apparently I did, because that's how Swift's list was created.


»  December 25, 2007


Sales Attacks, Part II: Back when Ben Westlund was pushing a sales tax during his campaign for governor, his campaign sent me a copy of some material they'd developed from a Legislative Revenue Office simulation of the effects of a sales tax in Oregon. The first page brief describing SB382 included this:

Gross Collections

The 5% consumption tax Westlund proposed was anticipated to bring in $6 billion of revenue every two years. That would require an annual taxable consumption expenditure of $60 billion. Washington's sales and use tax gets about half of its income from businesses, so make that $30 billion in personal spending on taxable goods and services.

A couple of things about that. One of the touchstones of the sales tax proponents is that it would garner a huge amount of money from the tourist industry. According to the Oregon Tourism Commission, the tourist industry does about $8 billion of business. According to a state study, more than half of the overnight stays in 2004, however, were from Oregonians travelling in-state. Even if out-of-state travellers spend more than residents when they're here, the consumption tax on the $5 or $6 billion they spend is just a portion of the $25 billion of the sales tax base that would need to be paid by residents. (I'm going to be generous to the opposition and take all of it out of the personal spending side, although about 20% of travel is business-related and would properly be accounted for in the half of the sales tax related to business. What's a billion between friends?)

Then there's the item that tends to get skipped over in most of the talk about various sales tax proposals: "Retailer Compensation Rate @ 1.5% of Gross Collections". $45 million in payments to retailers just to collect the tax. That's half the annual funds allocated for the Oregon Department of Revenue in the Governor's 2007-09 budget ($184 million for the biennium).

Finally, I have to ask, where proponents think $25 billion of annual spending by Oregonians is going to come from. The 2005 Oregon Department of Revenue tax data referenced in my previous post on this topic shows that the sum of adjusted gross incomes for all Oregon returns that year was $83 billion. To make their portion of $3 billion in annual sales tax revenue pencil in (by purchasing $25 billion), Oregonians across the board would have to spend 30% of their incomes on taxable items in the state of Oregon.

If you exclude the 10% of Oregonians with incomes over $100,000/year, the adjusted gross income of the other 90% didn't even break $50 billion in 2005.

Merry Christmas.


»  December 24, 2007


Sales Attacks, Pt. I: Me, I like numbers, which is why the recent re-re-resurrection of a sales tax proposal sparked off by an op-ed from Rep. Scott Bruun (R-McMinnville) in the Oregonian -- coinciding as it does with the kickoff of Ben "I was a Republican two years ago" Westlund for Treasurer in the Democratic primary -- and picked up by Blue Oregon (again) and the Oregon Economics Blog (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) just seemed so blatantly off the mark. It was virtually devoid of actual data, and from the op-ed to many of the commenters, unfounded assertions were flying right and left.

This chart is just a quick (relatively) dip in the water with some data analysis. The wedges in the chart represent the proportion of personal income tax returns filed in 2005 in Oregon, grouped by income. The height of each slice shows the net total amount of personal income tax that group paid. Roll your mouse over the wedges to see the legend.

The data in the graph and the table below are derived from the Oregon Department of Revenue's Detail Tables: All Returns and Full-Year Resident Returns (by AGI) which has data on the 2005 tax returns.

Adjusted Gross Income Number of Returns Level Total AGI (1,000s) Level Total Net Tax (1,000s) % of Returns % of All AGI % of All Net Tax Level AGI/Net Tax ratio
less than $20,000 638,004 $4,462,879 $159,567 37.61% 5.37% 3.33% 0.62
$20,000 – $30,000 223,096 $5,523,981 $223,724 13.15% 6.65% 4.67% 0.70
$30,000 – $40,000 173,620 $6,042,093 $276,437 10.23% 7.27% 5.78% 0.79
$40,000 – $50,000 137,192 $6,148,157 $294,134 8.09% 7.40% 6.14% 0.83
$50,000 – $60,000 111,007 $6,087,227 $300,733 6.54% 7.33% 6.28% 0.86
$60,000 – $70,000 90,669 $5,875,611 $300,834 5.34% 7.07% 6.28% 0.89
$70,000 – $80,000 70,759 $5,292,154 $282,440 4.17% 6.37% 5.90% 0.93
$80,000 – $100,000 96,631 $8,610,545 $487,738 5.70% 10.36% 10.19% 0.98
more than $100,000 155,539 $35,032,382 $2,461,177 9.17% 42.17% 51.42% 1.22

In the chart and table, you can see the number of returns filed for the year, as well as the sum of the adjusted gross income (AGI) reported and the net tax paid.

The largest cohort by far in this chart is filers reporting under $20,000 in income. That includes teenagers, retirees, part-time workers, and about 20,000 returns that showed losses from rental properties and other Schedule E deductions. But while this group made up more than a third of the filers (% of Returns), it paid only one-thirtieth of the personal income taxes collected that year (% of Net Tax). Not surprisingly, that fat third of the populace only made a little over 5% of the total AGI reported on Oregon tax returns (% of AGI). That makes the ratio of AGI to Net Tax 0.62:1, which indicates that -- on this raw basis -- the group's percent of the AGI reported for the state as a whole was greater than the percentage it paid in taxes.

I've collapsed the higher-end categories in order to mesh with some other studies for future posts, but if you look at the Excel file from the state, you can see that the 7,511 filers who claimed more than $500,000 in income paid one-sixth of the total personal income tax collected by the state in 2005.

More later.


»  December 21, 2007


»  December 20, 2007


The "Support Rich People" Tax: The candidacy of Republican-turned-Democrat? Ben Westlund for state Treasurer has brought out the fans of a sales tax at Blue Oregon, as it has done before, and before.

Jeff Alworth, one of the editors at BO, points to a post at the Oregon Economics Blog, which in a follow-up to the discussion there describes one of the factors that should be taken into account in a discussion of sales and income taxes:

2- However, income taxes that are too high can (and apparently do) influence weathier households' location decisions and can make it harder for businesses to hire in a national job market.
And I just have to wonder what twisted system people want to get into to advocate poor people taking some of the tax burden off of rich people, in order to attract more rich people to the state. That seems like a negative-sum game to me.

I've got lots of comments (in some cases duplicated because of a problem at BO) and documentation on the regressivity and volatility of the sales tax. More stuff every time they drag me back into this.


»  December 11, 2007


More On Rizzo's Part in Torture Tapes Decisions: I mentioned last week the story of how CIA acting general counsel John Rizzo -- despite having his confirmation challenged earlier this year by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden -- had been in that position for most of the past six years and remains there to this day.

The latest story on the destruction of CIA torture interrogation tapes gives a little more information about his role in the matter:

In describing the decision to destroy the tapes, current and former officials said John A. Rizzo, the agency’s top lawyer at the time, was not asked for final approval before the tapes were destroyed, although Mr. Rizzo had been involved in discussions for two years about the tapes.

It is unclear what weight an opinion from a lawyer within the clandestine service would have if it were not formally approved by Mr. Rizzo. But the former official said Mr. Rodriguez and others in the clandestine branch believed the legal judgment gave them the blessing to destroy the tapes.

The former official said the leaders of the clandestine service believed they "didn’t need to ask Rizzo’s permission."


»  December 10, 2007


Two Generations: In a comment over at Daily Kos, one writer brings up the oft-repeated assumption that Lyndon Johnson's quote about Democrats losing the South for a generation after he signed the civil rights bills was an underestimate, and that it actually cost the Democrats the White House for two generations.

Well, LBJ was wrong about some things.

The Democrats lost the South over race, but LBJ won the 1964 election without a lot of the South in the first place.

Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina. They all went to Goldwater in 1964. In fact, they were the only states that did go for Goldwater outside of his home state of Arizona.

Most of those states went for Wallace in 1968, but Humphrey came within 0.75% of Nixon in the popular vote. In states with large electoral vote totals like Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and even Nixon's home state of California, Humphrey was within 3% or less of winning.

But LBJ and Humphrey (and a Democratic Congress) had been the ones running the Vietnam War for four years by then. Tens of thousands of troops had already been killed, and there was no end in sight, unless you counted Gen. Westmorland's "light at the end of the tunnel."

That was the real political legacy of LBJ's administration. Instead of concentrating the energy of the country on making a better America -- something his willingness to propose the civil rights bills showed he had at least some interest in -- much like Bush he squandered it on a flawed vision of global conflict that was the fantasy of his advisers.


»  December 8, 2007


How the Democrats Will Get Punked on Impeachment: Thursday's New York Times story about the destroyed CIA interrogation tapes is just another crack in the dam holding back the giant pool of crap that is the Bush administration. Everyone knows there's more there, the anticipation from most quarters has been whether the dam's going to hold until the 2008 election or whether it's going to break and cover everyone in its wake with a thick, oozy slime.

The Democratic leadership, by putting impeachment under the table before the 2006 election, has placed their bets on the dam staying intact. There's been no serious attempt to breach it in nearly a year of investigation with the super-special dreaded "subpoena power." They control the speed and depth of the investigations, and they've managed to run through almost a year without actually challenging claims of executive privilege. November is tantalizingly close.

This week's revelations aren't going to be the last news of administration malfeasance. The Times has already published further information linking the Justice Department and the White House to discussions about whether "hundreds of hours of videotapes" should be destroyed as long ago as 2003.

By the end of this winter, more and more cracks are going to have appeared in the dam holding back the crap. As the presidential races start shaking out (and there remains a lot of shaking to be done) by Super Duper Double Tuesday or whatever it is in February, one of the Republican candidates is going to be shocked and astonished by something the Bush administration has done in the waronterror. It'll be something that people pushing for the impeachment of George W. Bush have known or suspected for years, but it will be as to a revelation for the Republicans, much as Oregon Senator Gordon Smith suddenly realized that he was sort of sad about the war a year ago this week.

At that point, the GOP will pronounce their own resolution to censure President Bush and/or Vice President Cheney. They will marvel at the fact that the Democrats, in over a year of investigations, didn't manage to uncover this egregious practice, pointing to that failure as a sign of "Democrat incompetence". They will essentially create a controlled flow of crap from the pool, and channel it into the house of the donkey.

At that point, Democrats will be faced with the choice of doing nothing, pressing for an impeachment that they didn't want to pursue in the first place, or going along with a censure resolution that will take any steam out of an impeachment movement (not that they wanted to do that).

Republicans will be praised for their "courage" in standing up to Bush and Cheney by editorials across the country. Democrats will be excoriated for their bumbling inefficiency at the reins of power. All of the anti-impeachment folks here will be happy, because the Democrats "got real" and didn't make the mistake the GOP did in the '90s of impeaching a president who had violated the Constitution in enough ways to put the Kama Sutra to shame.

Then again, come November, they might not be quite as happy.


Sadly No's Dr. Bradley S. Rocket summarizes Michelle Malkin's take on the torture tapes:

The CIA’s destroyed interrogation videos, what the Dems knew, and when
  • The CIA’s destruction of secret torture videos proves once and for all that the Democrats are pro-torture.
Just an added note: this is a pretty neat little act of contortion on Stalkin’ Malkin’s part. She begins by arguing that the New York Times has conspired to influence the torture debate by publishing articles demonstrating how the government has concealed its torture program (and yes, writing those words is extraordinarily depressing). She then wags her finger at the DEMONKKKrats who want to explicitly ban practices such as waterboarding — practices that, by any sane definition, are torture. Then she pulls off her coup de grâce: She flips the entire argument around and blames the Democrats for not doing enough to hold the CIA accountable for destroying evidence of torture! It’s an impressive feat, especially when you consider that Michelle and pals have already transformed down-is-the-new-up-ism into an art form. Well played.


»  December 7, 2007


Mainway: With all of the fuss over toxic toys coming from overseas lately, it's probably good to remember that the reason lead, mercury, and other once-common materials used in manufacturing (radium!) were banned from use in certain categories of products back when those products were Made in the U.S.A.

Unsafe products have a long tradition in the US, so much so that in the early days of Saturday Night Live, one of Dan Ackroyd's popular recurring characters was Irwin Mainway, a sleazy distributor of dangerous products. The sketches were typically a confrontation between Mainway and a TV consumer advocate. One of the outstanding pieces -- which I unfortunately can't find video for online -- was actually about children's toys where the advocate was played by Candice Bergen (transcript via the Saturday Night Live Transcripts site).

Consumer Reporter: Good evening, and welcome to the holiday edition of "Consumer Probe". Our topic tonight is unsafe toys for children. For instance, this little bow and arrow set. [holds up] Pull the rubber suctions off, and the arrows become deadly missiles.

[cut to full shot, showing Irwin Mainway seated to Joan's right]

We have with us tonight, Mr. Irwin Mainway, President of Mainway Toys. Uh, Mr. Mainway, your company manufactures the following so-called harmless playthings: Pretty Peggy Ear-Piercing Set, Mr. Skin-Grafter, General Tron's Secret Police Confession Kit, and Doggie Dentist. And what about this innocent rubber doll, which you market under the name Johnny Switchblade? [holds up doll] Press his head, and two sharp knives spring from his arms. [demonstrates] Mr. Mainway, I'm afraid this is, by no means, a very safe toy.

Irwin Mainway: Okay, Miss, I wanna correct you, alright. The full name of this product, as it appears in stores all over the county, is Johnny Switchblade: Adventure Punk. I mean, nothing goes wrong.. little girls buy 'em, you know, they play games, they make up stories, nobody gets hurt. I mean, so Barbie takes a knife once in a while, or Ken gets cut. You know, there's no harm in that. I mean, as far as I can see, you know?

Consumer Reporter: Alright. Fine. Fine. Well, we'd like to show you another one of Mr. Mainway's products. It retails for $1.98, and it's called Bag O' Glass. [holds up bag of glass Mr. Mainway, this is simply a bag of jagged, dangerous, glass bits.

Irwin Mainway: Yeah, right, it's you know, it's glass, it's broken glass, you know? It sells very well, as a matter of fact, you know? It's just broken glass, you know?

Consumer Reporter: [laughs] I don't understand. I mean, children could seriously cut themselves on any one of these pieces!

Irwin Mainway: Yeah, well, look - you know, the average kid, he picks up, you know, broken glass anywhere, you know? The beach, the street, garbage cans, parking lots, all over the place in any big city. We're just packaging what the kids want! I mean, it's a creative toy, you know? If you hold this up, you know, you see colors, every color of the rainbow! I mean, it teaches him about light refraction, you know? Prisms, and that stuff! You know what I mean?

I wish I could take credit for tying the "Secret Police Confession Kit" to the asbestor-laced CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit, but that honor has to go to my sister-in-law, Marie.

Since I can't find the video for the toy sketch, here's another Mainway appearance, hawking Halloween costumes.



Torture, Lies, & Videotape: Thanks to Larry Johnson at No Quarter, for the link.

Earlier this year, Senator Ron Wyden got a bit of ink -- including a mention in Jane Mayer's article on the Central Intelligence Agency's black sites in The New Yorker -- for putting a hold on the nomination of John Rizzo as general counsel of the CIA. As a result of the hold, the Bush administration withdrew the nomination.

But as articles in the International Herald Tribune and elsewhere pointed out, by the time Wyden placed his hold, Rizzo had already served as acting general counsel for most of the past six years.

In August, I wrote a letter to Wyden, asking him whether his hold on Rizzo's nomination to permanent status would have "any effect on his status as de facto general counsel at the CIA."

Yesterday, of course, news came out that the CIA had destroyed "at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about its secret detention program."

According to the article from The New York Times:

The tapes were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks, several officials said.

As the general counsel to the CIA, there's a vanishingly small possibility that John Rizzo was not involved in any decisions about what did or did not "expose agency officials to legal risks" or whether the existence of the videotapes should be shared with the various committees investigating both the 9/11 attacks and CIA detention programs.

In his response to me -- coincidentally dated Halloween -- Wyden says he placed his hold on Rizzo because of his demonstrated willingness to "let major programs go forward without a firm legal foundation in place", referring specifically to the 2002 Justice Department legal opinion on what constitutes torture.

At Wyden's August town hall, I asked him whether he trusted the Bush administration. My interpretation of his "trust but verify" comment then was that deep down Wyden did trust the administration to do the right thing, despite years of obvious lying to Congress, the American people, and the rest of the world. Maybe even to themselves. After I posted about his remark, one of his aides reportedly told torridjoe from Loaded Oyrgun that "Wyden does NOT trust the President on Iraq, Iran and civil liberties."

Wyden's Halloween letter to me ends this way:

I am pleased the the President has withdrawn Mr. Rizzo's nomination, and I am hopeful that the President will now pick somebody who will ensure that our national counterterrorism programs have the solid legal foundation they need.

John Rizzo is still acting general counsel of the CIA.


»  December 6, 2007


Ripped From the Headlines: A project I worked on a few years back was the Mac port of a Director-based CSI: Crime Scene Investigation CD-ROM game. It was clean and safe. But via Rick Perlstein at the Campaign for America's Future, another CSI product appears to be not so healthy (and no, it's not the Kiddie Autopsy Kit):

December 4, 2007

Tom DeLuca/Al Kaufman
Toys “R” Us, Inc. Headquarters
One Geoffrey Way
Wayne, NJ 07480-2030

Attn Mr. DeLuca/Mr. Kaufman:

We are writing to ask that you immediately remove from sale all Planet Toys’ CSI: Crime Scene Investigation™ Fingerprint Examination Kits due to recent test results finding dangerous levels of asbestos in powders contained in some sample kits.


The type of asbestos detected in these kits, tremolite, is one the most lethal forms of asbestos, and is the same deadly asbestos fiber contained in products made from ore mined at the notorious W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Montana. Tremolite asbestos, like that found in the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation™ Fingerprint Examination Kits, has killed scores of people in Libby, many who never worked in the mine itself.

What is particularly troubling about this toy is that children are directed to blow the asbestos contaminated powder after dusting for fingerprints, which would make it much more likely that children playing with this toy would actually inhale potentially lethal asbestos fibers. Any amount of this fiber in a children’s toy, particularly in a powder that is certain to be inhaled, is completely unacceptable and unnecessary. A single exposure to tremolite is sufficient to cause fatal mesothelioma or lung cancer later in life.


CD-ROM CSI game? Non-lethal. Asbestos-laced fingerprint kit? Maybe not.

I see this as a great opportunity for CSI, quite frankly. Once the writers' strike is over, the first show ought to be an investigation into the mysterious death of a child who received a home fingerprint kit for Christmas.


What the...?  

The Cloud That Will Bite You:

Jackie Chan, The Cloud That Will Bite You

In the spring and summer of 1998, a young, fluffy cat started meeting Barbara on our back deck when she got home from work. By the time the rain came in the fall, he'd figured out the cat door and started sleeping on the laundry in the back hall, figuring out that there was an opening for a peppy male cat amongst our two spinsters. By winter he'd pretty much moved in full-time and we started vetting him.

At first, Barbara just called him Boy Kitty. But during a particularly energetic bout of chasing a string on a pole (something Barbara had put together to help us try to run off some of his cabin fever that first winter) with A&E's "Biography" on in the background, an episode provided the perfect name for a cat who would run full tilt into a chest, stand up, and shake off the hit to get back to the chase: Jackie Chan.

His personality is incredibly sweet, although he's always liked to tussle with my hand (leaving a fair number of shallow scratches over the years) and there are some spots where arthritis in his back will bring out a warning bite. He was good company five years ago when I broke my leg, although he did tend to hog the pillows I was supposed to be using to elevate the afflicted member. I've made a running joke out of the softness of his fur, saying that it's like "scratching the belly of a cloud" or "having your hand mauled by a cloud."

A few weeks back, after touching one of Jackie Chan's sensitive spots, Barbara's sister Marie came up "The Cloud That Will Bite You," which had the three of us in stitches for no particular reason.

Because he came over the back fence, we don't have any idea of Jackie Chan's actual birthdate, but from the age he was when he started appearing, we figured he was from a late fall litter, so we just picked our all-purpose non-Christmas holiday, which makes him ten years old today!