Friday, December 31, 2004

December 31, 2004

2005 & Beyond

The New Year is upon us and I feel moved to make predictions. Move over Nostradamus, there’s a new kid in town.

DISCLAIMER: My past performance as a prognosticator is no measure of future performance -- for which we can all be thankful. DO NOT use any of the following predictions as guidance for personal investing – (unless you would like to purchase my Global Crossing, WorldCom and Enron shares. )

Okay, now on to predictin’

Let’s start with Saudi Arabia, because that’s where a lot of the trouble will start. The Saudi “Royal” Family will not survive Bush’s second term. If they don’t leave peacefully, they will leave piece-fully.

They will be replaced by a coalition of conservative Islamic clerics who will serve behind a cadre of compliant/intimidated civil bureaucrats. Leaders of radical Islamic groups currently working to overthrow the Royal family will be given posts in the nation’s defense, police and intelligence agencies.

What Saudi Arabia’s new owners will not do is cut off the West’s oil supply. They know we are hooked on the stuff and would probably attack them if we withheld the oil from the markets. Instead sell us all we want and use our own money to build towards their dream of a Middle East free of Western influences. (Lenin once noted, “When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope.”)

The desert kingdom’s vast oil revenues will be redistributed. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year will flow into public works, services and charities in order to build public support for the new regime. Millions more will be used to buy political support from tribal leaders and Saudi companies.

With funding and support from Saudi Arabia flowing to insurgents in Iraq, Bush can kiss his vision of a “free and democratic Iraq” goodbye. Saudi petro dollars will also be used to invigorate terrorist/insurgent activities in Afghanistan and to destabilize western-friendly Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan.

Of most concern is Pakistan. As this well-financed radical Saudi juggernaut gets rolling it will not take more than one warning phone call to Pakistan’s adroit leader, General-President, Pervez Musharraf, to get him to change sides – again. Overnight the world will have the first nuclear-armed radical Muslim state on its hands. India will not be amused. Just how worried India becomes will determine whether or not the world also sees its first use of nuclear weapons since 1945.

Once Pakistan jumps back to the Axis of Evil camp, Iran will quickly reconnect with its Pakistani nuclear mentor, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan and rush work to finish its own nuclear weapons.

Syria will be emboldened by all this and will demand Israel return the Golan Heights – now! With Iran now outfitted with both nuclear weapons and missiles that can reach Israel we will see a Middle Eastern version of the Cuban Missile Crisis develop. It's be white-knuckle time all around once again as each side refuses to back down. How will it end? Well, considering that almost everyone who lives in that part of the world is certifiably crazy , you do the math.

The French may be annoying – (okay, the French ARE annoying.) But, they have also been right when deciding where and how to get mixed up in Bush’s ill-defined war on terrorism. Jumping into the tar pit Iraq was not the French’s idea of a successful strategy. Instead the French are working within the European Union to create a second world superpower.

While the US wastes its blood and treasure on a war that cannot be won in Iraq, the Europeans are making hay. With US budget deficits soaring the dollar becomes weaker by the day and the Euro stronger and stronger. Steadily the long-held dream of a United States of Europe is taking form. And, just as the US grew by adding states over time, so too is the EU. Turkey – a Muslim country – is in line for membership and a host of former Eastern Block nations are filling out the forms for membership.

By the end of Bush’s second term the EU will emerge as the superpower with a voice of reason. At the UN the unified EU will increasingly vote as a block. That will only further infuriate the knuckle-dragging US Neocons who will demand the US quit the UN.


Here at home it will be four years of chickens coming home to roost. Big-ass chickens. Mean-ass chickens. Hungry chickens.

Thanks to Bush’s numbskull supply side economic theories, tax cuts targeted at big business and the rich will not have trickled down to create jobs and prosperity for the rest of us. Instead mounting deficits due to reduced tax revenues will boost interest rates and increased government borrowing that will in turn starve capital markets of the very kind of private investments that do create jobs.

If you lived through Carter presidency the term “stagflation” will send shivers up your spine. Stagflation happens when, despite a flat and sluggish business climate, inflation ignites and prices begin an upward spiral. Raw material prices will soar, driven by demand from a more prosperous and rapidly growing Asia and E.U. Oil, coal, steel, copper, tin, you name it. If you can make something out of it or burn it to produce power, demand will drive the price up – even for us, despite our own slow economic growth.

It’s an economists’ worst nightmare because once this process begins it takes on a life of its own and none of the Federal Reserve’s traditional tricks work any longer. As prices go up people start to buy stuff, even stuff they don’t need, simply because they know it will cost more later when they might need it. That, in turn, drives prices higher yet.

People and businesses begin to stockpile stuff. Such overhanging stockpiles later become a hindrance on any attempt at stopping the slide in business activity. After all, what widget maker is about to hire workers to make more widgets if they know millions of widgets are stockpiled already and that those widgets will be dumped on the market the minute the widget shortage ends?

You will hear a lot of talk about out of the Neocons during the first year of Bush’s second term about how Social Security is in crisis and MUST be fixed. When you hear them say that you need to remember the following phrase form the Bush first term:

“Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”

You get the point? They were lying then and they will be lying again to convince you Social Security is in crisis. The current trust fund can support all retiree needs at current levels through 2052. After that, if nothing changes, Social Security would still be able to fund 82% of its commitments. Is that a crisis? If so then the entire US government is in crisis right now since at current tax and spending levels we can only fund 70% of our annual budgetary needs. We borrow the rest.

So, if the Neocons wanted to fix something they could fix that first, one would think. But that’s not what they are up to. What they want to do is trim back all federal programs they believe are socialistic. The biggest would be Social Security, followed by Medicare. That’s what they are up to and, though they will not get what they want in one bill they will begin the process of chipping away at those two programs until they provide so little in benefits and coverage people are eventually forced into the uncaring arms of the private sector.


Democrats will spend the first two years of the Bush second t
erm in a tug of war between Democrats on the right and Democrats on the left. So-called “moderate” democrats have been playing political Monopoly for so long they have have become tacticians only and have long forgotten the principles and values that made a Democrat a Democrat. Joe Liberman is the worst example of that.

After they lose more seats in the midterm elections the leftwing of the party will finally mount a purge of the corrupt and valueless moderates and begin channeling party money and decision making towards state and grassroots organizations. The party will return to its roots focusing on assuring a living wage for working families, basic healthcare for everyone and affordable drugs and secure retirement for the elderly. And not a moment too soon.

The evangelicals are on a holy roll. They like to remind us that fundamentalist Christians founded this country. What they choose to ignore is that the Puritans did not come to to America voluntarily. They were kicked out of Europe because they were getting up everyone's noses all the time. People just get tired of other people telling them what they can and can't do all the time, so they got 86'd. Of course the evangelicals have framed that exodus as a flight from “persecution,” because nothing fires up a religious nut more than the notion that sinners are out to get them. In reality it is a condition they create themselves – but it takes a while.

History will repeat itself here now, because there is no pleasing these people. No matter how many concessions a society makes to one fundamentalist there are ten behind him who are even holier. Bit by bit every aspect of secular life becomes a matter of religious concern; how your kid dresses, what foods you eat, how you eat it and when you eat it. Do you pray once a day, or five times a day? Do you drink liquor? Dance? Swear? Scratch your ass with your left or right hand? There’s no end to religious obsession. And concessions only feed that fire.

Evangelicals are relentless in their religious values engineering. Sooner or later, everyone will realize that granting them one concession only leads to a dozen more – like paying ransom to blackmailers. When it reaches this point everyone's ox is getting gored in one way or another and society cuts the holy reformers off -- or as they will describe it, begin "persecuting" them -- again.

But I fear we are at the earliest stages of the process. We have a long way to go before those who describe themselves as “values voters,” figure out what happens when you mix religious beliefs/superstitions with politics.

So, buckle up. Abortion, prayer in school, gay marriage, teaching sex and evolution in schools.. it's all up for grabs over the next four years. And, we will lose some of these battles, at least in part. Leading Dems are already considering softening their position on a woman’s right to choose an abortion. They are figuring that selling a few poor women down the river of political expediency is a price worth paying for getting reelected.

So, we have way to go before secularism stops meaning Satanism to Red State voters.

Footnote: Speaking of Satanism, did you know that 1.2 million Americans describe themselves as worshipers of Satan? Evangelicals don’t seem to understand that once you let religion into public schools it means all religions.. even Satanism. It will come as a shock to them when it happens.. and it will. At that point they will become born again secularists, at least when it comes to prayer in public schools.

TERRORISM (and a million other things that can kill you)
Over 125,000 humans died in single natural disaster this week in Southeast Asia, Another 35,000 will die in auto accidents just in the US this year. Breast, lung and other cancers will claim millions more. Shit happens - and that includes terrorist attacks. Deal with it and stop over-reacting to it. Chasing terrorists into the briar patch is just what they want. Homeland security is fine. Do as much as you can to protect against the obvious threats and go on with life. Because no matter how right we get it, none of us is getting out of this alive anyway.

Those are my predictions for the Bush second term. If they all prove right it will be a first for me and I will move on to bending spoons, levitating, and discovering images of the Virgin Mary on every imaginable earthly object.

Oh yeah,
Happy New Year

Readers can predict too... and do. Read their predictions HERE

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

December 20, 2004

As a journalist I am used to criticism. Some is deserved, some not. But, any reporter soon learns that criticism comes with the territory. No matter how good a job you do getting a story right, you know you are going to piss someone, somewhere off for some reason, real or imagined. So, reporters get used to it.

Maybe too used to it. And, nowhere will you find this more so than among the White House Press Corps. They are always getting bashed from the right and the left complaining they are too hard or too easy on the administration in power. In reality they are neither, and they are both. Above all, they are too comfortable. Let me explain.

Among the White House Press Corps we have a group of reporters who have reached the pinnacle of their profession. Covering the White House is the most important beat they will ever have. And the professional stakes just don’t get any higher. Screw up on this beat and you are toast – back to covering PTA meetings, or worse.

White House handlers know that and use that fear to remind anyone who rocks the boat that there’s a price to pay. A friend of mine who covered the Papa Bush White said he was punished for weeks after crossing the line by writing a story critical of the administration at a particularly sensitive time. The next day he found he was no longer getting the usual heads up on newsworthy events and meetings. And, while his colleagues got juicy background briefings on important developments, he was not invited. Suddenly, a job that was easy got hard. He missed some stories and even the ones he got lacked the depth and quotes others had. His editors were not pleased.

That’s how it works. They don’t kill you with poison or bullets, but with neglect. You are ignored to death.

Does it work? You betchya it works.

Just look at how well behaved the WH Press Corps was at today’s Presidential press conference? Bush has a new press conference rule – no follow up questions. Reporters are told they can ask just one question, no follow-ups. This allows the President to reel off his boilerplate position on an issue and move on to the next reporter, unchallenged. Never mind how nonsensical his answer might have been, or that it might contradict earlier positions – no follow up. Now, you might think that there would be at least one old fashioned, maverick reporter in the crowd who would break that rule in the face of such Orwellian crapola.

Nope. Not one.

"Good reporters.. Sit. Stay. Good reporters… here’s a treat. Barney, show them the Christmas decorations..."

Fear is not the only factor dumbing down the WHPC. There is one other. The men and women who make up this group of journalists are the quintessential media insiders. On paper they appear to be competitors. But where rubber hits the road each day they are co-workers and friends. They each got where they are by working long hours on dull stories for what – a ten-foot cubicle in a grimy, noisy newsroom. Now at the White House these reporters have become one big emotional/professional support group in which they share one key goal – to never (NEVER) have to return to that world.

So, good old-fashioned cutthroat, get-the-story-first-at-any-cost competition has been replaced by something far tamer and, for us on the outside, less illuminating. These reporters respect and empathize with each other. They meet around the water cooler, they go out together for coffee, dinners, parties. The lucky ones get to dish political gossip for a few extra bucks on the cable talk shows. And once a year they get into tuxedos and gowns for the annual White House press dinner where they congratulate one another for the wonderful job they do, mug at the cameras like movie stars and yuk it up as the President delivers scripted jokes poking fun at them.

It’s quite the life.

So, how do we get a White House press corps that cares more about ferreting out what an administration wants to keep secret, than staying in this cozy, high profile job? There is only one way -- treat the White House beat the same way they nuclear workers treat working in a hot zone – when their radiation badges turn red it’s time to leave.

In the case of the White House media outlets should rotate reporters out of that hot zone every 13 months.

Why 13 months?
The argument they use now for keeping reporters on that beat is that it takes time to they learn the lay of the land and develop inside sources. Well, as for learning the lay of the land, unless the reporter has a learning disability, that shouldn’t take more than a month. So I propose that each departing reporter spend a month showing the new guy or gal the lay of the land before leaving.

As for needing time to “develop White House sources,” whose kidding whom? There are only a handful of people in any administration – and especially this one – authorized to talk, on or off the record, with reporters. The quickest way to lose a White House job is to get caught talking to a reporter out of school. Those who are authorized to talk to reporters are not sources… they are political PR people. And, over time, they become friends with the reporters they like. Even when friendships do not bloom White House reporters get to see just what grueling jobs White House staffers have and develop a degree of sympathy for them.

So 13-months in, then out. Such a rule would solve most of the problems noted above and provide an added benefit; it would also give young, eager, hungry reporters a crack at making a name for themselves. If they screw up, they would still be toast, but chances are such reporters would hit pay dirt more often than not. My best reporting was done when I was young and had nothing to lose. The older I got, the more cautious I got. It’s human nature.

Memo to Major Media: When it comes to your White House correspondents do what any farmer knows must be done to get the most out of your herd:

Turn your fat hogs out and let the lean hogs in.

Same Goes Here
Pentagon and State Department reporters should probably also have a 13-month rule as well. Reporters at both those departments also become too entrenched and too chummy with the people they are supposed to be watching for us. Rumsfeld has gotten away with murder – literally and figuratively – as the Pentagon press corps has twiddled.

I listened to President this morning answering a question about Rummy and he said something about how he knew Rummy’s heart and saw how misty-eyed he got when he talked about our young kids (none related in any way to either Rummy or Bush) getting killed in Iraq. Well, not misty-eyed enough to hand-sign letters of condolence to their parents. He left that to a machine. Rummy, it would seem, was just too busy to hand-sign five or ten letters a day to the parents of kids (none of whom are related in anyway to Rummy or Bush – but I repeat myself) who died for his mistakes in Iraq.

Here's the deal with that: When your decisions result in the death of hundreds, even thousands, of people everyday, you either learn not to give shit, or you go mad. Kissinger, McNamara, Stalin.. they didn't sign condolence letters either.. because they didn't give a shit either.

Class Warfare: Housing Front
Working Americans, many who must rely on a full-time job earning the federal minimum wage, increasingly cannot afford the rent and utilities on a one- or two-bedroom apartment in many American cities or large towns. A report released today by a private housing group reported that to afford a two-bedroom rental the typical worker must earn at least $15.37 an hour — nearly three times the federal minimum wage. In only four of the nation's 3,066 counties could a full-time worker making the federal minimum wage afford a typical one-bedroom apartment.

At the other end of the income scale life is only getting sweeter.. and bigger. Bill and Melinda Gates are not having any trouble with housing costs. The Gates $97 million waterfront home outside Seattle features an artificial stream that runs through the property and into the pool.

Credit Card Crack
I have been warning for some time now that the so-called “Bush recovery” is nothing more than a credit generated mirage. That consumers have been keeping the economy from tanking by milking equity from their homes and/or running up unsustainable credit card debt.

So here we are on the eve of Christmas and those consumers are out shooting up one last line of credit crack. The total amount of credit card debt was just over $600 billion five years ago. Today it stands at $800 billion, according to the Federal Reserve.

As credit card balances rise – the average household now with $16,000 in such debt – so too have minimum monthly payments. And, with interest rates going up, payments will get only larger after the holidays. Already 10 percent of those with credit cards say they have missed making their minimum payment during the past six months. Economists say more would be missing payments except that they have figured out how to create their own credit Ponzi by using different cards to cover late payments on other cards, a process that requires them getting more and more new credit cards. (You’ve heard all about “Democracy on the March,” Well, this is “Bankruptcy on the March.”)

The highest levels of stress from debts are concentrated among those who have already reached their credit card limit, those who are unmarried and have children, those without jobs and minorities.

The Fed study showed that those with the lowest levels of stress from debt were Republicans, married people, college graduates and people between age 30 and 49.

Monday, December 20, 2004

December 18, 2004

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

This morning President Bush signed the intelligence reform bill into law. It was the kind of ceremony bureaucrats live for. When I watch these kind of dog and pony show ceremonies it always congers up the image of Mel Brooks as the old west governor in the movie, “Blazing Saddles,” as he signed anything put in front of him by his
aides chanting, “work, work, work, work…we gotta do something to keep our phony-baloney jobs.”

And so it was this morning as the President signed a phony-baloney bill he assures us will provide America with phony-baloney security against very real terrorists.

Why do I say it’s phony? Because, at the very moment Bush was creating a new law his administration was blocking the release of a report that really could make a difference.

As Thomas Friedman reported in a recent column, the Bushites are blocking the release of the third in a series of United Nation’s sponsored reports on reform in the Arab world. The first two reports, produced by a group of courageous Arab economists, social scientists, scholars and Arab economists and sociologists, was devastating in their criticism of the backward, undemocratic, repressive, religiously intolerant Arab regimes that currently dominate the Arab world.

So, one would think that this next report, due out last month, would have been eagerly awaited and encouraged by the Bush folks. After all, at every opportunity Bush will wax inelegantly on the importance of democratizing the Arab world. The invasion of Iraq and our ongoing occupation of that country are now framed entirely in those terms.

The third U.N. analysis deals directly with the issue of democracy and even tackles the thorny issue of blending Islam and democracy. But the Bushites refuse to let the U.N. release this report. Why? Because there are ten pages in the forward critical of US policies in Iraq and Palestine. The report cannot be released, the Bushites demand, until those offending pages are removed.

So let’s see if I get this straight. When the U.N. refuses to "say it like it is" in cases such as the Sudan, the Bushites claim the U.N. is shirking its responsibilities and caving into special interests. But when the U.N. does try to say it like it is – as in this case – the US insists the U.N. shirk its responsibilities and cave into the U.N.’s biggest special interest.

If democratizing the Arab world is really this administration’s goal then they should get the hell out of the way and let these “good Arabs” – the ones who really do want democracy and economic development in their part of the world – release their third report.

It boggles the mind unless you understand that, just as their Clear Skies Imitative has nothing to do with clearing the skies, and Leave No Child Behind imitative does nothing but leave children behind, their stated desire to spread democracy to the Middle East has nothing to do with spreading democracy to the Middle East. In fact this administration’s policies on the Middle East are the same as every administration preceding them – maintain just enough stability in that region so as not to jeopardize the flow of oil from the region.

Need fresh proof? How about those massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Saudi Arabia yesterday? Oh, you missed them. So did the demonstrators. Because the repressive Saudi police state swept in and arrested every person who showed up to join the march. Instead of marching for democracy they were marched off to jail and a good rubber hosing.

What did the White House have to say about that? Nada. Zippo. Nothing. If the ruling clerics in neighboring Iran had pulled a stunt like that the White House spin misters would have been on FOX suggesting it was time for regime change in Iran now too. But not a whisper. As for the Saudis themselves? The demonstrators were not pro-democracy forces at all, the silk robed ones claims, they were Bin Laden-inspired terrorists.

``This is an Islamic country which does not permit protests. There is no need for it,'' said a middle-aged Saudi man outside a Riyadh mosque. ``Everything is provided for these people. They are just outlaws with strange ideology. We do not agree with them.''

Is that the sound of "democracy on the march" to you?

The Bushites are not on the Saudi’s backs about it because their biggest fear right now is that the Saudi Royal Family will lose control over their own people and all hell will break loose.

Well, NEWS FLASH FOR UN-CURIOUS GEORGE: The Saudi Royal Family IS losing control over their people and all hell IS breaking loose. Continuing to support these corrupt, self-indulgent, pretend princes, will only delay the inevitable by a few more months. What it will do though is assure that when the Royal Family members are being chased through the streets and strung up on lampposts the U.S. will once again be on the wrong side of Arab public sentiment.

The U.S. got sideways with the Arab street originally because we backed repressive regimes in their countries because it suited our own interests to do so. After half a century of that, guess what, some of them came to hate us. What a surprise. “Gee… what did we do to deserve that?” was the question asked by too many people after 9/11.

Of course there is no excuse for killing innocent people and I do not mean to “blame the victim” here. But, when we are looking for solutions – real solutions – to mounting anger directed at us from the Middle East, just signing a new intelligence bill into law ain’t gonna do it. Not even close.

The real solutions to stemming the tide of Middle Eastern terrorism lay within the pages of that U.N. report the Luddites in the Bush administration are blocking. Stupid is as stupid does.

Class Warfare Sighting
I like to keep an eye open for whenever some of those Bush tax cuts trickle down out of the bank accounts of their wealthiest recipients. Well it seems that Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire CEO of News Corp., finally decided how to spend his Bush Bucks. Rupert is buying a three-story penthouse in New York. The price: $44 million.

The joint used to be owned by Larry Rockefeller. The 20-room apartment spans the 14th, 15th and 16th floors of the building. It has 8,000 square feet of floor space and spacious terraces on each floor. The monthly maintenance fee alone is $21,469.07.

Of course, there are restrictions. Owners are not allowed to have cars up on blocks in the yard or hang laundry outside their windows.

I read that story then opened my email to read the following from a reader about my piece yesterday on Social Security reform:

“As a pizza man making $9.00 hour, I would like to thank-you for your defense of Social Security. Keep up the good work.

Dave Goldberg

Well Dave, you can bet Murdoch is all for Bush’s Social Security privatization idea. Not that he has to worry about his retirement. Which of course is why he’s all for it.

Two Americas indeed. Rupert and George live in one, Dave and a growing number of the rest of us, in the other.

More Other America News
Rupert and other Bush tax cut recipients not only do not have to worry about housing costs but health costs either. But the rest of us sure do. And, as the failed Bush presidency begins its second term in office, things only get worse. Now companies are requiring retirees, already on fixed incomes, to pay a larger and larger share of premiums and other health costs. The trend-line says to anyone paying attention that they will eventually they will cut them off entirely.

"Prospects for retiree health coverage are slowly disappearing for America's workers, and retirees who have it will be paying more," said Drew E. Altman, the president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the study with Hewitt, a benefits consulting firm. Asked about Mr. Altman's assessment, Kate Sullivan Hare, executive director of health care policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said: "That's absolutely true. I can't disagree." The chamber represents businesses of all sizes.

For a typical worker 65 or older who retired this year, the annual premium for health benefits was $1,212, a 24 percent jump from 2003. According to a Kaiser study, back in 1988 two-thirds of all employers provided their retirees health coverage. Today only a third do.

The message to workers: Die young or stay well. Anything in between and you are screwed.

Army of the Bribed
As enlistment in the National Guard drops like a rock, the administration is laying out cold hard cash to lure fresh young blood to fill the dwindling Guard ranks.

“Pssst.. hey, kid… out of work? Tired of flipping burgers at McDonald’s? Want to buy your girlfriend a nice engagement ring? Well, here’s a check .. made out to you.. for 15,000 buckaroos.. All you have to do is sign here and it’s yours. Who knows, you might even live to spend it.”

• $15,000 for new Guard recruits who have served in the military, triple the previous figure.
• $15,000 for Guard soldiers who will re-enlist for six years, also three times the previous amount.
• $10,000 bonus for recruits who have never served in the military, up from $6,000 and now the largest bonus the Guard has offered such recruits.

"These are big incentives. We're putting our money where our mouth is," said a National Guard recruiter.

About 40% of the 148,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are Guard and reserve soldiers."

But it may take more than big buck bribes to get even poor kids to bite. Especially when the ones who have already been to Iraq are willing doing almost anything not to return. It was reported yesterday that a 23-year old Philadelphia Army combat veteran on leave from a unit headed back to Iraq had a buddy shoot him in the leg to avoid returning to the war zone.

In my mind I hear a low sorrowful moan emanating from Vietnam Memorial Wall when I read stories like that.

Friday, December 17, 2004

December 16, 2004

The Shoot Ducks, Don't They?

Social Security – Republicans never liked it, but they were never in a position to do anything about it, until now. Even when it was passed into law, a time when the nation was in deep depression, millions of Americans were standing in breadlines, beggars in tattered Brooks Bros suits panhandling on city streets, even then Republicans didn't like it. Social Security was not a safety net they said, it was socialism. Government had no business taking care of people. Government’s only job was to defend the country and maintain social order. Taking care of the poor and unfortunate, Republicans huffed, was a job for churches and charities, not government.

Of course, that was before George W. Bush introduced “compassionate conservatism.” What is it? Well, you can think of compassionate conservatism as a kind of political duck blind -- a way to avoid scaring the ducks off -- until it’s too late.

The duck hunters are gathering today for day-two of the President’s two-day choreographed economic conference. It was billed as a “dialog on the economy,” but it was really just a monolog. Old Soviet politicians would have been swept into fits of nostalgia watching yesterday’s proceedings. Speaker after speaker lauded the administration’s tax cuts and plans to privatize social security. Not a single opponent spoke because none were asked to speak. All that was missing yesterday were the little red cards Soviet legislators used to raise in machine-like unison when it came time to vote the straight party line.

Here's what's really going on. After nearly three quarters of a century Republicans have finally snuck into positions where they can begin a stealthy dismantling FDR's Social Security. It begins with Bush’s partial privatization, but it will not end there. Diverting a portion of worker’s Social Security taxes to private accounts will begin the process of starving the already stressed S.S. trust fund. Already saddled with nearly $11 trillion in unfunded liabilities, bleeding another $2 trillion (the cost of private accounts) will only weaken it further -- and that’s the whole idea.

Since Bush has already pissed away the Clinton $5.6 trillion surplus, we will have to borrow the $2 trillion. That will add to the deficit. Understand the deficit is plays a key role in all this. Think of the deficit as a ravenous tumor. As it spreads throughout the economy the deficit will eventually force yet another reappraisal of both Social Security and Medicare. Both programs will be deemed far too expensive for a nation mired in debt, debt that by that time will have re-ignited inflation and ruinously high interest rates. At that point the now free-borrowing, free-spending Republicans will suddenly become deficit hawks. The country is broke, in debt up to our eyeballs. Cuts in government spending will the required.

And, that’s right where the neo-cons want us, with a national treasury s
o short of funds that all government can afford are only the handful of things they believe government should pay for. Social programs, they says, will be taken care of by the private sector as more and more government operations are privatized. Faith-based charities, they assure us, will fill the gaps by taking care of the elderly and poor.

And if you believe that... I guess you livc in a red state. The most charitable thing I can say about that theory is that it is a gamble. Not a gamble for the wealthy but the other 95% of Americans.

And, an unnecessary gamble. Despite what the Bushites claim, there is an easier, quicker and safer way to fix Social Security – simply do not make permanent the tax cuts on the top 1% of earners. That would do it. But he won’t for the very reason it would fix Social Security, and fix it is not the real goal here.

That is not to say that he will have an easy or risk-free job in this regard. Social Security remains the third rail of politics and, with the Baby Boomers out here, (myself included) representing a large and dangerous voting block, Republicans knolw they have to treat the dismantling of Social Security like defusing a bomb -- one sloppy move and it could all blow up in their faces.

That’s why we heard Bush “quip” yesterday that he was not going to send any specific proposals to The Hill, "We don't want to negotiate with ourselves," Bush said, “we want to dialog with Congress on ways to do this.”

Though delivered with a smirk and a chuckle, the sentences was pregnant with meaning to those who can translate it:

Translation: We know that this will inflict real pain on real people – benefit cuts, high retirement ages, etc - so we want those proposals to come out of the legislative sausage machine, not the White House. That way we can pretend to oppose them then “reluctantly” accept them as part of a large reform package that voters cannot figure out no matter how hard they try. That worked on Medicare reform so that’s what we want to do this time too.

So, the idea is to slowly strangle Social Security and Medicare as we know them, without leaving finge
rprints on the bodies.

Does all that sound just too Machiavellian for you? Could Karl Rove and fellow neo-cons really be that skilled, sneaky, stealthy, cunning?

Hmmm. I wonder. Let me think…… WMD……. Dems snookered into voting for the tax cuts…. Dems snookered into voting for Iraq War…… Dems snookered into voting for No Child Left Behind…… Dems loose Nov election…..

Yep fellow ducks, they sure as hell are.

Ready Shoot, Aim

Is it just me or do I see a pattern here?

First we attack Iraq before weapons inspectors are done inspecting. Then we send troops into war before they are properly equipped. And now we are deploying a so-called missile defense system that does not work. Remember SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative, AKA “Star Wars?”) Reagan dreamed it up and over the past twenty years or so we have dumped billions of dollars into it. The program slowed during the Clinton years but GW Bush revived it, ordering that, ready or not, we would start deploying anti-ballistic missile missiles this year. And, so we did. Several are already all fueled up and in their silos somewhere in Alaska. By deploying the anti-missile missiles Bush hopes to make the crazy little bastard who runs North Korea think twice before launching a nuclear-tipped missile in our direction.

Well it turns out Weird Leader (N.Korea's, not ours) won’t have to think twice. In fact he may not have to think about it all. Because yet another test of the interceptor missile failed – big time – yesterday.

While many earlier tests at least flew but failed to hit their targets, this one did not even get off the ground. Like an old Chevy pickup on a winter morning, the thing wouldn’t start when they turned the key. GRRRRRRRRrrrr….. GRRRRRRRRrrrr……. The only glow at that launch pad was from the red faces of the generals and defense contractors standing around staring blankly at their shinny, 100 foot tall, $85 million lawn ornament.

Yesterday’s test was the first full test of the system in nearly two years. So many of the earlier tests had embarassed the program's supporters they stopped testing. The Missile Defense Agency attempted to test the new/improved system several times this month, but scrubbed each one for a variety of reasons.

But never mind that the system can’t hit incoming missiles, or even get off the ground sometimes… Bush continues deploying them.

White House to Fearless Leader Kim: “If you are planning to toss a nuclear missile our way could you call first?”

Remember the soldier who asked Rummy why his unit heading for Iraq had to dig around in the Kuwaiti trash to find steel to bold to the Humvees? Well guess what. After that embarrassing little moment the unit’s entire fleet of Humvees were fitted with armor within 24 hours.

But before you rejoice for the soliders hear this. Humvees were never designed to carry all the weight the armor adds. Therefore they are breaking down in record numbers. Axles, drivetrains and suspension system are simly collapsing under the added weight. During a normal year the military sends 300 Humvees to the factory for major overhauls. Right now there are over 8700 Humvees on the list for rebuilds. So, while the Pentagon just authorized another $4 billion to armor up vehicles in Iraq, that will be just the beginning.

It would be cheaper to just melt them all down and use the metal to build a whole new fleet of vehicles.

On the Twin Watch -- Jenna Bush announced yesterday that she’s getting a job. She will teach at a Washington, D.C. charter school. No need for armor there. That leaves just one Bush daughter to decide if she will support her father’s war by joining the Army and fighting for her country. So far 150,000 other people’s kids have, 1200 of whom died for their dad. Wonder what sister Barbara will do. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

December 15, 2004

Whenever a Democrat even mentions the growing gap between top-tier earners and working stiffs, Republicans slap them down with the charge that they are trying to sow resentment and engaging in “class warfare.”

Well, there has indeed been a class war raging. The only trouble is the Dems didn’t show up for the battles.

Remember when the Bushites scoffed at the idea that the President’s nearly $2 trillion in tax cuts would largely benefit the rich while providing crumbs for the rest of us? A lot of Dems not only did not fight back but also defected to the other side, voting for those tax cuts. I remember almost three years ago talking to people in Dashcle’s office trying to convince them after the tax cuts passed to try to roll them back. I was told then, in essence, to shut up and go away. They said they couldn't do that because many of their own people had voted for them.

But the Bushite troops reported for duty on The Hill, and fought. They declared that since the rich pay more in taxes they deserve more in tax cuts and that anyone who said otherwise was just trying to appeal to petty jealousy of the rich and were just pathetic class warfare inciters. And, they asured us there would be a payback. They said the rich would not just hoard their tax savings, but reinvest them, creating jobs for the rest of us. Right?

Well, not exactly. Jobs remain scarce and wages low. But those tax savings have shown up – in the form of lifestyle excess only a Pharaoh could appreciate.

According to the Wall Street Journal the super yacht business is booming. Rich boaters are engaged in a “mine is bigger than yours’ race to see who can buy or build the biggest and most ostentatious floating castle. Boaters once satisfied with a 150-footer are now racing to build 250 and 300 footers. So far Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, is winning. He replaced his old 350 footer with a shiny new 414-foot mega yacht. The boat carries its own 75-foot sailboat tucked away in the cargo hold has two helicopter pads and its own submarine. His tax dollars at work.

Mega yachts are not the only doodads the Bush-bucks are funding. Orders are way up for super cars too. The Maybach (German built) ultra-luxury sedan goes for $450,000. Nevertheless the company says it cannot keep up with orders. Bugatti is introducing a $1 million carriage this year and the orders are pouring in. And no, Bugatti’s are not made in Detroit. But Italy. (By the way, how is your heap running?)

Rolex is selling its $200,000 watches as fast as they can make them and will introduce a million dollar version next year.

And when was the last time you stayed at a Five Star hotel? (Okay, walked by one without getting arrested?) Well five stars are not enough for the newly flush wealthy. All those extra Bush Bucks have sparked star inflation. Plush hotels are adding a sixth star level for the super-picky super-rich. A night’s stay average’s a cool grand. Nevertheless the mangers of these Six Star mangers report 80% occupancy year round. For all that money guests get a room the size of a small house, a butler (of course) and personal chefs are on call 24 hours a day.

So, that’s the picture from the winning side of the Class War. How are things going for the losers?

Not so good.

The papers today report that more and more companies are dropping pension plans that include medical benefits for retired workers. With private health insurance far too expensive for anyone living on Social Security retirees will either have to rely on the failing Medicare system or continue working for as long as they can drag their geriatric bones out of bed in the morning.

Speaking of work, competition from cheap offshore labor continues driving wages down for US workers. Middleclass Americans (soon to be former middleclass Americans) have been using credit cards and home equity to maintain lifestyles once funded by their salaries with some left over. Personal bankruptcies are up -- way up. The end is near.

The Return of Serfdom
So, there you are. There really was class warfare. The only trouble is our side was not fighting. Instead we let the Republicans snooker us again by shaming us into silence. We didn't want to look jealous or resentful of the wealthy. And we certainly did not want to appear like we were itching for class warfare. So we shut up about it. And, with us cowering in our trenches Bushites marched right in without firing a shot, pillaging our futures and the futures of our children and grand kids.

So, welcome to the 21st century version of serfdom boys and girls. Can’t find work? Well maybe you can offer to swab the deck of a nearby mega-yacht or change the satin sheets at a local Six Star hotel. Who knows, maybe there’ll be a little something left over from dinner in the kitchen the nice rich people will let you take home. (They hate leftovers.)

But no Bush-Bucks for G.I.s

Oh, and if you think the Bush tax cuts screwed you, look at what they have done to our troops in Iraq. While Gov. Arnold’s houseboys wax his 8 Hummers, our troops in Iraq are getting their asses blown up every day in poorly armored Hummers.

Why is that? Well because the government does not have the money to pay the cost of armoring up all the vehicles there that need it. It’s not, as Rummy likes to say, a matter of “physics,” but money. He assured the un-curious George that he could fight that war on the cheap, so it would be okay to blow $1.6 trillion on tax cuts.

George, say hello to reality. The war is now costing us nearly $4 billion A WEEK, with no end in sight. Next year alone the war will cost us nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars, and that’s if things get better, not worse.

And where will we get that money? Borrow it, of course.

Oh and then there are those old folks who will now have no medical insurance.. Medicare will have to be funded to make sure our city sidewalks don’t start looking like Calcutta. And of course we all know Social Security needs to be fixed too. Cost – around $2 trillion. Borrow it, of course. Borrow and spend, borrow and spend.

God forbid we should ask the Paul Allen’s of America to chip in – especially since they now have those big (European built) yachts to maintain. (Paul’s yacht costs him $10 million a year just to keep the toilets clean and the engines running.)

Class warfare indeed! They won. We lost. Simple as that folks. Better start training your kids how to survive and act in the post class warfare world.

  • "Yes, ma’am, I’ll tell the chef.”
  • “I’m sorry sir, it won’t happen again.”
  • “You look stunning today, my lady.”
Oh, and of course the old standby in times like these:
  • “Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime?”

Maybe, just maybe it’s not too late. That is of course, if the Democrats start shooting back.

Class warfare is real.

So, what say you guys and gals find your backbones and get real too? We're dying out here.

New letters from you guys out there are posted daily HERE.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

December 14, 2004

The Pudding George Made
<>The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. It took almost four years to cook, but its about to be put on the table, so belly up.
<>First the recipe for:
George’s Deficit Pudding

  • Go to the pantry and get the very large sack of flour left by the last occupant. It contains $5.6 trillion in surplus flour.
  • Send $2 trillion of it to your country club for their annual bash. (Put a nice note in the package assuring them you intend to make this a permanent donation.)
  • Send the rest of the flour to private companies contracted to supply our troops.
  • Go to the store and buy more flour. Since your larder is now empty, use your credit card.
  • Purchase pots, pans and serving plates. Charge them too.
  • On the way home return to the grocery store and charge another $2 billion of flour and give it to the old folks' home.
  • Put your pudding in the oven and bake slowly (preferably in a dark room) for about 48 months.
  • Serve cold.
  • And now the results of the first proof tasting are in:
    <>- Interest rates -- rising
    <>- Producer Price Index – rising
    <>- Consumer Price Index – rising
    <>- Job creation – weak
    <>- Retail sales – weak
    <>- New car sales – falling
    <>- Home sales – falling
    <>- Trade deficit – rising
    <>- Value of the dollar – falling
    <>- National Debt - exploding
    <>Yum, yum. What’s not to like? Bet you just can’t wait for the next batch of G.D. Pudding!
    <> Is it “Oversight” or “Over Sight?
    <>The most important political story of the day, maybe the year, was buried on page 10 of today’s Washington Post:
    Democrats Planning Watchdog Role
    Senators' Hearings Will Scrutinize Administration Policies
    Senate Democrats announced plans yesterday for wide-ranging hearings to examine Bush administration policies and conduct, saying the Republicans who control both houses of Congress have abdicated responsibility for oversight of the GOP administration.
    <>Well, it took a thorough trashing at the polls to convince congressional Democrats it might just be a good idea to represent the half of us out here who think Bush gang is ruining the economy, the country, the environment and annoying the crap out of the rest of the world.
    <>Of course Senate Republicans believe that their oversight responsibilities are to exercise over sight. They have no interest in holding hearing that could confirm the obvious flaws in this administration’s policies, foreign and domestic. Nor do they have much interest in hearing that could reveal the full scope of the fleecing of the US Treasury by their GOP corporate posse.
    <>The plan announced yesterday described by Democratic Senator Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.), could, for the first time, put this administration’s feet to the fires of public accountability. With Republicans pretty much in charge congressional oversight committees we have seen few if any really probing hearings on this administration’s (failing) programs and policies.
    <>But yesterday Sen. Dorgan warned that that beginning with the next congress that will change. If Republicans refuse to hold hearings on festering sores, like Halliburton’s Iraq contracts, or the administrations phony baloney, “Clear Skies” initiative, or the possible negative impacts of rampant federal borrowing, then Senate Democrats will call and hold their own hearings and, if Republicans refuse to show, tough. (The question is, will the press show?)
    <>Of course, if Republicans boycott those hearings they will lack teeth. As the minority party Democrats will not have subpoena power or be able to compel witnesses to testify. But Dorgan thinks they won’t need no stinkin’ subpoenas. He said he believes that four years of arrogance and ignorance from the Bushites has pissed off scores of hard-working career agency employees who are just itching to spill their guts during C-Span televised hearings. I believe he may just be right about that.
    <>If Senate Democrats follow through with this threat and hold well prepared, hard-hitting oversight hearings, it could provide the spark needed to focus and revitalize the long dormant dems. For too long the party has bought into the phony notion that voters don’t like controversy and division, that Democratic voters really want the minority party to be helpful, not obstructionist. Wrong. But that’s exactly what Karl Rove wants. Because when the opposition party is compliant it becomes irrelevant. And an irrelevant minority party is a minority party -- forever.
    <>When the Republicans were in the minority they were anything but compliant. They fought, fought like French resistance fighters behind Nazi lines. They were political terrorists, conspiratorial, subversive, cruel pranksters and sneaks. They awoke seven days a week with only one mission -- to spend that day making Democrats miserable. They were bastards in their single-minded determination never to be seen as irrelevant. And they won.
    <>Now we can only watch to see if “Dorgans’ Raiders” remember how to fight and, if they do, if they are still a match for these thugs.
    <>Rewarding Failure
    <>Today at the White House George W. presented the highest civilian honor, The Medal of Freedom, on two failures – former CIA chief, George “Slam Dunk” Tenet, and former Iraq coalition head, Paul “Green Zone Jerry” Bremmer. Former General Tommy Franks also got a metal but he deserved his. He got the job done in Iraq, saw that it was going to be a mess forever and day, and retired. So, he gets an I.Q. Metal too.
    <> No Confidence Vote
    <>If Sen. John McCain can’t be President his next wish is to be Defense Secretary. So, after three years of being a burr under Bush’s saddle, McCain became a male version of Laura Bush during the campaign in the hopes that in a second term Bush would dump Rummy and appoint him to the job. Then Bush double-crossed him announcing that Rummy would stay. So, the burr is back. Yesterday McCain told any reporter with a mic, camera or notebook that he no longer had any confidence in Rumsfeld.
    Asked about his confidence in the secretary's leadership, McCain said
    "No. My answer is no. No confidence."

    Rummy helped McCain out last week when he flubbed that question from the troops in Kuwait about them lacking armor. It was a rare moment where Rummy glib tongue cramped in mid-answer and he was suddenly revealed to be something considerably less than the military genius he clearly believes he is.
    <>So. is Rummy on the way out and McCain on the way in? Maybe. If so we could see the oddest of odd couples take center stage next year. Are you ready for this dance team:
    <>McCain as Secretary of Defense and Joe Lieberman as head of Homeland Security.
    <>Yes, it’s true. One of the men on Bush’s shortlist to replace Bernard “Jersey Boy” Kerik is none other than Republicrat Joe Lieberman, a man who when he ran for President, could not seem able to remember if he was running for Commander in Chief or national Rabbi.

    Life in Bushworld… it just gets stranger and stranger.

    New letters from you guys out there are posted daily HERE.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2004

    December 13, 2004

    I remember when Richard Nixon was reelected for a second term. The feeling I had on Nov. 2 was the same I had back then; a disturbing mixture of hopelessness, despairs, anger and fear. I had been active in the anti-Vietnam war movement and could not imagine how a man with so much personal and political negative baggage could win reelection. But he did, and for many of the same reasons George W. Bush did. And, despite some of the very same negatives. Look at the map below. In this case blue are the states that went for Nixon. And you thought Kerry lost a lot of states! Clearly the nation was going through an even crazier peroid than now.

    So many who read this column are too young to remember the Nixon administration, but don’t despair. You would find it eerily familiar – an scheming vice president (Spiro Agnew,) a creepy Attorney General (John Mitchell,) a scary national security advisor/Secretary of State (Henry Kissinger,) a mad Defense Secretary, (Melvin Laird,) and a covey of White House thug/yes-men (Halderman, Ehrlichman, Colson, et al. –
    (See table below:)

    The Nixon gang roared to a second term with a sense that they had been reelected in spite of the festering tumor of the Vietnam War and Nixon’s illegal bombing of neighboring Cambodia. And they believed they had put the final nail in the coffin of liberal even though anti-war protesters were in the streets almost every weekend. And nearly every other country in the world was telling us to get out of Vietnam, that we had no right to be there and had no chance of beating the insurgents.

    Nixon Republicans saw the election victory as a mandate. If they could win such a sweeping victory in spite of an unpopular war, well, the people must really like what they say and do. So they started saying and doing it all with a new sense of impunity and arrogance.

    Pride Goeth Before the Fall. And so it came to pass for the Nixon administration. Two years after sweeping the election they were all gone, some into a disgraced early retirement, some to jail. Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, declaring, “our long national nightmare is over.”


    Now we have a new one that looks a lot like the old one. Only the faces and names are new. It’s the same nightmare though. A different war that in almost every way is the same war. A different cast of blowhard conservative officials and advisors, who are in too many ways like Nixon’s gang. Look no further than John Ashcroft and John Mitchell. Two very strange men, neither emotionally nor intellectually qualified to be circuit judges much less the nation’s top cops. And that bunch over at Defense… this administration’s “best and brightest,” which, like their Nixonite predecessors believe bombs are agents of change. Words, they believe, are for French and other sissies.

    So, in his second term Bush will move his Iron Magnolia, Condi Rice, the same person who told him invading Iraq was the way to go, to replace Colin Powell as Secretary of State. To the rest of the world this must seem like appointing an Army Special Forces officer ambassador to the Vatican.

    And now we have the Bernard Kerik affair. An administration that likes to boast of its adherence to moral values chooses a New Jersey thug to protect the US homeland. A man with an easily discovered history of arrest warrants, sleazy business deals, misuse of government assets, even an illegal nanny. How could that happen, you ask yourself? Easy. He fit right in. After all, Dick Cheney’s actions as head of Halliburton didn’t keep him out of the administration. By comparison Kerik was a piker, an up-and-comer sleazoid just beginning to move his way down the ladder. Once at the helm of Homeland Security, with mentors like Cheney, hell, the sky was the limit. Maybe when Guilani replaced Bush, Kerik could replace Cheney. Ah, continuity.

    Then came the fall. Arrogance and hubris are natures’ answer natural crack cocaine. After the 1972 race the White House became a virtual crack house as the Nixon gang mainlined the stuff. The swagger was unbearable. And, like now, the message to the rest of the world was “the voters reelected us, so get off our back about the war!”

    Of course it would be foolish for we “losers” to just sit back and hope that the Bush second term will implode as Nixon’s did. God knows there are plenty of festering sores from the first term, any one of which if pursued with the same integrity and vigor as Watergate and Monicagate could indeed bring an early end to this administration too.

    But, don’t hold your breath. The press and Congress are not what they were three decades ago. Bernstein is retired and Woodward might as well be. The White House press corps is little more than a glorified press release service. Back in the 60s congress contained a core of individuals who possessed genuine American values and integrity -- real legislators who had the ability to see wrong even when their own party is the perp. Today’s Congress is composed largely of men and women who, if they were in civilian jobs, would be calling you at dinner time trying to get you to list your house for sale. There are exceptions, but the wrong kind. Tom DeLay, for example, who if a civilian, would be in prison by now. (Why? See DeLay’s Axis of Influence. )

    Anyway, I prepared the chart below to amuse myself.

    The Old Nightmare and the New Nightmare

    Nixon Administration


    Bush Administration



    Richard Nixon

    Reelected, then faced Impeachment/resigned


    George W. Bush


    Vice President
    Spiro Agnew

    Resigned after being convicted of taking payoffs as Gov.

    Vice President

    Dick Cheney

    Halliburton.. Dresser Industries

    Sec. of State

    Henry Kissinger

    Former W.H. National Security Advisor. Dr. Strangelove kinda guy

    Sec. of State

    Condi Rice

    Former W.H. National Security Advisor. Dr. Strangelove kinda gal.

    Atty. General

    John Mitchell

    The first Attorney General to be convicted of illegal activities in office -- imprisoned.

    Atty General

    John Ashcroft

    Resigns after first term. One weird dude with lots of issues, i.e. statue breasts.

    Sec of Defense

    Melvin Laird

    Coined the term “Vietnamization.” Reformed DOD. Pushed to end the draft and created the all-volunteer army

    Sec. of Defense

    Donald Rumsfeld

    Is currently trying to Iraqitize the war in Iraq. Reforming DOD. Is stretching the all-volunteer army to the breaking point.


    John Erlichman

    H.R. Halderman

    Charles Colson

    Ehrlichman/ Halderman..convicted conspiracy – jailed

    Colson – jailed for obstruction of justice


    Karl Rove

    Richard Perle

    Scooter Libby

    Time will tell


    Monday, December 13, 2004

    December 12, 2004

    December 9, 2004

    Will Our Real Values Please Stand Up
    I’m a bit confused over this whole “values” business. I’m more than willing to come to grips with the possibility that I have no values, or the wrong values, but first I need those who claim to know to explain a few things to me first.

    Is it wrong to lie and cheat? If so why do we let people like Barry Bonds continue to earn millions of dollars a year? Why do we let our kids chase him and his kind around for autographs? He is a liar and a cheater. You know it, and I know it. We know it just like we knew Clinton lied when he said he smoked pot but didn’t inhale.

    But you values guys do nothing about people like Bonds. Oh sure there will be laws passed against athletes using steroids, but Bonds and his fellow liars and cheaters will be allowed to go on earning millions and pretending to be role models for your kids. And you guys will let them do it. Some of you will even make money off these liars and cheaters.

    So, are lying and cheating among the values you Red State folk want to discourage or encourage? I just want to know. Because if your really want to discourage such behavior then why not insist that the punishment for lying and cheating at least match what a liar or cheater can gain by lying and cheating? In the case of these high-priced athletes I would think that the least you'all should be demanding is that they be banned from the game.

    But then you do the opposite. These famous, highly paid celebs actually seem to be rewarded for lying and cheating. Take Martha Stewart. When she finishes her five-month stay in jail she will emerge as a heroine. The groundwork for her reemergence was being laid on my TV screen this morning when a spokeswoman for Stewart’s company gushed, “Martha showed real class and bravery in agreeing to serve her five months sentence…” Right. Like she had a choice.

    And, what is your values culture going to do to Martha when she gets out? Why give her her own TV show, of course.
    Martha, From Slammer to Syndication
    Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, announced yesterday that reality TV impresario Mark Burnett will create for the company "the most exciting offering to come along in daytime television" -- development of which will get underway just as soon as the star gets out of the slammer. Jailed nesting diva Martha Stewart will host a one-hour daily syndicated daytime show for the General Electric division, debuting next fall and featuring a live studio audience and celebrity guests. The 14 NBC-owned TV stations, including Washington's WRC, have signed on to air the program.

    The message here: Girls grow up to be a tough ass woman, work hard and, when necessary, break the rules. It's okay, as long you make enough money to hire the best lawyers and aggressively manage your image.

    So, you see why I am a bit confused about just what kind of values you guys are nagging me to adopt. I was raised to shun liars and cheaters, not embrace them. So, can you help me a bit with that one?

    Okay, I will wait for an answer on that. Can we move on to another values contradiction I need some help on?

    Let’s talk stealing. I would think that stealing would not be a value you would want to encourage. At least on the street you seem determined to punish those who steal. But shouldn’t the punishment for stealing match the size of the crime? I thought so, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. In fact a look at the numbers tells me that if you are going to be a thief, be a big ass thief. Because, someone who sticks up a 7/11 for a couple hundred bucks will get thrown in the slammer for a couple of years, while a company and that steals millions of dollars gets off with no jail time, for no one. If they don't get caught they keep the money. If they get caught they just have to put the cookies they stole back into the jar, plus a little for the lawyers and the state, and they are allowed to go their way. Most of the time they don’t even have to admit they did anything wrong to begin with. Being a thieving corporation in American is a bit like being a Catholic; when they get caught sinning all they have do is go to confession, say a few prayers in private and, whalla… a clean slate.

    Think I exaggerate? I just dipped into today’s business section for these little nuggets:

    Fannie Mae Settles Case in Mortgage Scam
    Fannie Mae yesterday agreed to pay the government $7.5 million to settle a case in which the Justice Department alleged that the giant housing-finance company knowingly accepted proceeds of a mortgage scam.

    Inter-Tel to pay $9.5 to settle e-Rate fraud charges

    Inter-Tel Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary Inter-Tel Technologies will pay about $9.5 million in civil settlements and criminal fines under the terms of a plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice..

    Between just those two stories we have $17 million in stolen money. Stolen by whom? Well no human apparently because no “body” is going to jail in either case. Of course a corporation does not commit a crime without humans acting in ways that aid and abet. But no, it’s the paper entity, the un-jailable “corporation” that takes the rap and the humans within are thereby allowed to maintain their Brooks Bros. patina of respectability. (And, don't even get me started on that rat's nest Halliburton!)

    So, since you values folks are in charge now, are you going to change that situation? Or should I just start instructing my grandkids that, if they should decide to become a crook just don’t become a small-time crook - one with low values. Think big, aim high and be sure their crookery is shielded by an air-tight corporate charter.

    Help me with that one would you? You gonna change that or leave it the way it is?

    Okay, enough with bad values, let’s talk about values I thought you guys wanted to encourage.

    Professionalism, honesty and fidelity.
    I'd assumed that those three would be right up at the top of your Must Have Values list. But, look what happens to those who try to live by those very values. As you read these words there are three journalists facing jail because they followed those rules.

    In New York: “The U.S. Court of Appeals judges here will decide whether reporters Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of the New York Times can be jailed for refusing to appear before a grand jury investigating whether administration officials illegally identified a covert CIA operative to reporters in the summer of 2003. “

    In Rhode Island: TV reporter Jim Taricani, 55, and the recipient of a recent heart transplant, faces six months in the slammer for refusing to reveal who leaked him a copy of video tape showing a local government official taking a bribe in one of Rhode Island’s perennial public corruption investigations.
    Not one of these reporters mugged anyone, stole their life savings, lied or cheated. They were simply doing their jobs and keeping their promises. Work and fidelity – values I thought you Red Staters were hot to encourage. Was I wrong about that? Should I ditch my long-held values of keeping my pledges and adhering to the rules and standards of my profession? (Can I also make things up now? )

    Then there’s the little matter of Robert Novak, the guy who started the troubles now facing Miller and Cooper. Neither of those two reporters received the leak in question, a leak that outted CIA agent Valerie Plame. No, Robert Novak did that. He got the leak and he broke the story. But wait, why isn’t Novak facing jail time for refusing to reveal the source? Could it be because he already spilled the beans? Seems a reasonable conclusion.

    So, Novak, one your leading values advocates, broke both faith with source and his profession. And, is letting two other reporters hang. (Reminds me of the line from a Faulkner novel: "The louder he spoke of his virtue the faster we counted our spoons.")

    Yo, CNN, why is are you allowing this value-challenged columnist to remain on your payroll or, for that matter, on the air? I would think your motto, “The Most Trusted Name in News,” would preclude such a despicable person being associated in any way with CNN? (FOX sure, but CNN?) What source is going to trust a CNN reporter to keep his/her promise of confidentiality after this?

    So, values voters, help me out here. Do I have all this wrong? I’m totally confused and need to hear from you guys on these issues. Why is it you talk big and act small when it comes to weeding out the biggest liars, cheaters and thieves in our midst?

    Those of us out here you are so determined to change await your answer – oh, and your actions. Because the older I get the less I watch people mouths and the more I watch their feet.