Monday, February 28, 2005

Feb 25027m 2005

Weak-End Edition

I guess it would be safe to say that most people, who read my daily rants, at least more than once, are of the liberal persuasion. And, as we know liberals can be somewhat “humor-challenged.” So I often get in more trouble when I try to be funny than when I write something serious. To wit:

Hi Steve,
I was disappointed in your crude comments about the royal couple. Did you really want to compete with Rush Limbaugh in having no class? I am 57 years old and should have realized everybody has feet of clay, but it hurts to find out you do.

Bill B.
Downers Grove, IL

Well, I do have feet of clay, everyone does. But especially so when it comes to those embarrassing, anachronistic, self-indulgent, royal hillbillies, the Windsors. What a waste of skin. What a massive waste of money. If I had my way I would turn Windsor Castle into a daycare center for the poor, retire the Queen and her husband – who dresses like an over-decorated bus driver – to a modest home next door to some aspiring hip hop band. And I would make Charles get a real job, maybe master of ceremonies for the international Eukanuba Dog Show. As for the now-sainted Princess Diana, gag me with a backhoe. The woman was a ditz. She may be dead but she is still with us and being channeled by Paris Hilton.

Oh, and Bill, I have two years on you. So that may account for me being such a clay-footed curmudgeon. See what you have to look forward to? And you thought it was just hemorrhoids.

Anyway, clearly Dave Barry does not have to worry about me grabbing his job during his sabbatical.

Queer Eye for the Straight Shooter

I read a story the other day about how military discharges under the “Don’t ask. Don’t Tell,” policy had dropped like a rock since the war started. With the military finding it increasingly difficult to get people to sign up to be shot at it seems they decided to – at least for now -- let gay soldiers die for their country after all.

Up until the shooting started they had been weeding gays out by the thousands, 10,000 to be precise, since 1993. The program has proven costly. The US military – (that would be taxpayers) has had to spend around $200 million to replace service members bounced for having too much fruit in the loom.

Seems that a lot of those tossed out were a lot more skilled than the run of the mill heterosexuals they let stay in. Many gays discharged were skilled in – for example – foreign languages, like Arabic, Farsi and Korean. Of those discharged, 757 were in critical occupations such as interpreters and intelligence analysts. Some 322 had proficiency in strategically important languages that the Pentagon has said are in short supply.
But that was then, and this is now. With the Army and Marines missing their annual recruitment targets, “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” has been temporarily modified to just, “Don’t scoot, just shoot.” (“Oh, and by the way, just love what you’ve done with the barracks!”)

Punting With Putin
Well, our Johnny Appleseed of Democracy, Pres. GW Bush, met Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Once again George looked into Validmir’s soul, and once again he saw his own reflection.

Yes, even though Putin has busied himself for the past two years strangling Russia’s free media in its crib, expropriating private assets, canceling elections for regional governors, trying to fix the election in neighboring Ukraine and abetting the attempted murder of the leading candidate in that election, George W. Bush still saw a fellow democrat in Putin.

Imagine if George W. Bush announced that there would be no more need for the states to elect governors. What a bother. In the future he would just appoint them. It’s ever so much cheaper and efficient that way.

And, what if the Bush folks didn’t just try to bully major broadcast media or lie to them, or plant phony reporters in their midst, but put CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC under direct government control? (FOX has already volunteered.)

And, citing the high fuel cost oil, what if Bush took over Exxon and Standard Oil?
Well, Putin has done all that, and more. So it turns out that Bush’s commitment to democracy is the same as his commitment to “clear skies,” and “no child left behind,” and Social Security “reform.” It’s rhetorical --- more Theater of the Right.

We can only imagine what George said to Vlad in private. But I suspect he could not resist smirking, “guy to guy,” remarks like, “Man, I wish I could get away with dropping the hammer on a few of our reporters. They really chaff my ass.” Or, “How did you pull off getting that Yukos big shot locked up for giving money to your opponents? I’ve one just like him, Soros. I’d love to put that little bastard out of circulation.”

Wink, wink. Nod, nod.

Bush assured us after the closed-door meeting that Putin had “gotten the message.”

That, at least, we can be sure of.

Deadbeat Nation

I know – I sound like a broken record with my constant hand wringing about our national debt, trade deficits and out of control consumer borrowing. But, now that Alan Greenspan has become a member of Bush’s see-no-evil economic team, someone has to sound the alarm, because we are headed for the mother of all reality checks.

Here is another clue. Have you noticed how hot the mortgage lending business is right now? How could you not with all the DiTech ads? (BTW, that little fat man in the DiTech ads is even more annoying than Mr. Whipple was in the “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin," ads.)

The reason mortgage and home refinance money is so plentiful and cheap is because foreign investors, largely Korean and Chinese, are buying up every securities US mortgage they can get their hands on. That means if you recently refinanced your home they, not the bank, were your real lenders.

Demand for these securities by foreign investors is great because they are looking for something besides US bonds into which to salt away all the money they are making selling cheap goods to US consumers.

While on the surface that might look like a fair trade, cheap loans in return for a higher trade deficit, it’s trouble in the making, because, it only adds to this nation’s already massive foreign debt. (And just wait until the US housing market cools and those foreign buyers start buying Euro Bonds instead.)

The ballooning U.S. trade deficit soared 24 percent in 2004, to $617.7 billion. The dollars spent by Americans on Japanese cars, Chinese televisions and other imported goods end up in the hands of foreigners, who plow them into U.S. bonds and securities.

As the deficit mounts, so does America's overall indebtedness to foreigners, which now totals about $3 trillion. Now, there’s good debt and there’s bad debt. Good debt is money borrowed to build infrastructure and other capital investments that will make the nation more efficient and competitive in the world markets. Bad debt is going into hock in order to roll over old existing debt rather than paying it off, and borrowing to pay for things like war, that do nothing to improve a nation’s competitiveness.

And, all our borrowing since G.W. Bush blew the Clinton surplus has been bad debt. Three trillion bucks worth, and counting.

Clinton Treasury Secretary, Lawrence H. Summers, -- who clearly understands the economy better than he does women – recently spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, warning that, "If you look behind the 6 percent of GDP deficit, there's a lot to make you worry," because foreign money "is financing consumption, not investment" in plants and equipment.

You might want to take a cue from the Koreans and move some of your 401K money out of long term US securities and into I-Bonds.. Inflation protected bonds. Because when this puppy lights up it’s going to burn hot.

Putting the NO back in Novak

We need to get a campaign going to convince CNN to kick quisling Robert Novak off the air. While two real reporters face jail for refusing to divulge their source for a story Novak broke, he faces no such fate. CNN needs to ask – why.

Of course there can be only one reason. Novak told, squealed, spilled the bean, and ratted out his source, to save his own rightwing skin. How can CNN keep such a despicable person on the air while two real reporters are dragged through the courts and may have go to jail just for doing their job and keeping their word?

Will CNN come to stand for the Cowardly News Network?

Instead, since one of those “Ns” in CNN stand for “News” CNN should treat Novak, not as a “pundit,” but rather a key subject in the Valerie Plame scandal -- because he is. CNN needs to put a crack reporter on Novak’s trail, the same way they did Jeff Gannon, and the same way FOX went after Dan Rather.

Novak and Gannon… birds of a feather. And neither belongs on CNN.

CNN… put the NO back in Novak. No airtime. No paid punditry. No mercy. No way.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Feb 24, 2005

Unhealthy

We have a problem. It’s a big problem too. Bigger than big, gargantuan. It’s a problem not unlike the problem Seymour had with his man-eating plant Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. It was cute when it was little and satisfied with a few flies, then a share of Seymour’s lunch. But then Audrey grew and day and night it was “Feeeeeeed me Seymour, I’m hungry.

America’s Audrey is our nation’s healthcare system. It rate of growth has reached a point where we can no longer afford its care and feeding. The only way to keep Audrey from eating entire federal, state and local budgets is to slip her a lethal dose of weed killer and start over.

How hungry has Audrey become? Well let’s see. Within nine years she will require the federal government pay half her food bill. That’s nine years from now. You should still be around to see that, unless of course you should be without health insurance and get very sick. Then you are likely to miss that meal call.

Total health spending will double in a decade, to $3.6 trillion in 2014 from $1.8 trillion last year, while gross domestic product, the total output of goods and services, grows more slowly. As a result, health spending will constitute 18.7 percent of the economy by 2014, up from an estimated 15.4 percent last year – and those are numbers supplied by the Bush administration. Since we know better than to accept anything they say as fact, you have to believe matters are probably worse than that.

Nevertheless administration after administration has found it easier to shut Audrey up by increasing her portions than replacing her with a system that works for everyone. So far they have gotten away with it. But that’s only because the public has devised ways to cut their own consumption of drugs and medical services, a kind of self-rationing. My wife is a family nurse practitioner in private practice and she comes home daily with tales of little old ladies who are getting sicker only because they cannot afford the pills she prescribes.
Then there are those golden oldie bus tours to Canada to buy drugs made by US companies for half what they cost in the US.

But that’s all just a drop in Audrey’s chow bucket. A huge healthcare crisis looms and even folks in the Bush administration are beginning to look for ways to once again rearrange the deck chairs in the hopes they can keep the system afloat at least until they get out of Dodge four years from now.

Enter Michael O. Leavitt, Bush’s new head of Health and Human Services (how’s that for an oxymoronic name for a Bush administration agency?) Leavitt’s solution is to ration healthcare at its source by providing low-cost health coverage for the uninsured that would cover routine emergency room visits but nothing for catastrophic care.

"Wouldn't it be better to provide health insurance to more people, rather than comprehensive care to a smaller group? Wouldn't it be better to give Chevies to everyone rather than Cadillac’s to a few?" Michael Leavitt.

You can ignore that. Those who can afford it will still get Cadillac-care. And if you believe the rest of us will get shinny new Chevies I have a bridge you can buy to drive it across.

Leavitt was not talking about the only real solution to America’s ever-growing healthcare gap -- universal health insurance -- into which everyone pays premiums and which in turn provides a reasonable baseline of healthcare for everyone. And that would include catastrophic care. Under Leavitt’s plan a person going to an emergency room would pay small co-pay and get seen. That would be the good news. But God help the patient if the doctor discovers he is seriously ill and must be admitted to intensive care. In that case he would still be – to put it bluntly -- shit out of luck.

There is no way to tame America’s healthcare monster. If we keep it we have no choice but to continue feeding it. And then it will continue growing and demanding ever larger portions.

Kill it and replace it. Universal, single-payer healthcare, is a plant we can live with. Despite all the anti-single-payer propaganda pumped out by the right and their healthcare industry supporters, single-payer is the only way to fairly and efficiently spread the costs and benefits of healthcare to all Americans.

Single-payer is NOT socialism. And it would not be a “gove
rnment healthcare.” It’s simply actuarially the only way it can be done without either bankrupting government or creating the healthcare equivalent of apartheid – one system for the well-to-do and substandard charity-care for the uninsured.

I challenge those who disagree to conduct a poll in Canada or the UK. First ask them if they think their system is great. A pretty good percentage will say no, it’s not, and they will provide all kinds of tales of long waits for non-critical care. Ask them if they like their jobs, their extended families or the weather, and you will get much the same. Nothing is perfect and no one is ever completely happy.

Then ask them if they would trade their system for ours.

I rest my case.

Update

Steve,
As a Canadian living in WA state on a military exchange program, the
"education" my husband and I have received about the American health care
system has been very enlightening during the 3 years of habitation in the
USA.

Your right, I wouldn't give up what we have in Canada, it makes me sick that
this country "allows" its' citizens the denial of this basic requirement.

Kathy

By Stephen Pizzo
Raconteur at Large

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Feb. 23, 2005

I don’t know about you, but every time I hear an economist tell us that inflation is in check, I do a double take. Again today we hear that consumer prices “edged up a tiny 0.1 percent last month.”

I don’t know what these people are measuring – or smoking – but my household inflation rate has been going up for the last two years, and by whole lot more than 1.2% a year. Every time I have to pull out my wallet these days to pay for one of life’s essentials the bill floors me. Car repairs, groceries, lumber for home repairs, dental bills for mouth repairs, gas and electric – all up. But not up in the statistics. The only device apparently sensitive enough to detect inflation seems to be my battered wallet.

I don’t know why the Consumer Price Index keeps telling us there is no inflation when we consumers out here know otherwise. Maybe they are measuring the wrong things, things people really don’t need to keep the home fires burning. But they are wrong. Inflation is not only back, but we are getting a double whammy. Here’s what I think is up.

Thanks to trade deals that gave away the farm to foreign producers, and off-shoring, US wages have dropped. When wages drop discretionary income disappears first. As wages continued to drop due to job losses, consumers cut back further on their spending and began conserving as much as they could. Lower consumer spending works to push the CPI down in ways that I do not pretend to understand.

Nevertheless, inflation is here and it is showing up in other places, such as the wholesale and producer price indexes. At the same time the CPI appears stable, wholesale prices jumped three times as fast as the CPI, 0.3 percent last month. The news is even worse when overall, or “core inflation” is measured. Last month the core inflation rate jumped 0.8 percent, the biggest increase in more than six years.

As I have said before, thanks to runaway federal deficits, outsourcing, stupid trade deals and our dependence on imported oil the dollar is worth so little today on international markets that even our allies, like South Korea, are talking about dumping the buck as their traditional investment.

Little by little Wall Street is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and that it’s coming from a train carrying Bush’s 900 pound debt chickens home to roost. The DOW tumbled 174 points yesterday, the worst drop since 2003.

There is a price to pay for living beyond ones means. When the government does it that price is paid out of our hides, and our kid’s.

Who can tell how history will treat George W. Bush’s handling of foreign policy. But his domestic fiscal policies will go down in history alongside those of Herbert Hoover.

Celebrity Beat
Government is not the sole practitioner of the art of dumb. Celebrities manage to hold their piece of that low-ground as well. Some of that was on display yesterday as SF Giant’s prize hitter, Barry Bonds, met with reporters. I have to disclose right now that I am NOT a sports fan. Okay? (I heard that... I am not gay either.)

Barry Bond -- a man who’s singular claim to fame is that he can hit a ball really hard with a stick – ranted at reporters because they continue to want to know if he took steroids. Barry does not like the question and so refuses to answer it.

"This is old stuff. It's like watching 'Sanford and Son.' It's almost comical, basically. ... Are you guys jealous, upset, disappointed, what?….. I'm not a child. You repeat those things to children and then eventually they tell you. I don't." "I don't know what cheating is."

The last comment may have come closer to the truth than Bonds’ intended.

Anyway, I am really tired of these guys – and yes, they are all guys who act this way – who are paid salaries so out of whack with their functional IQ’s that it leads them to think they actually excel at an important social skill. Such arrogance might be justified if, during the off-season, Bonds and his fellow athletes did something more with their lives than just shake down kids for autograph money and give each other congratulatory slaps on the ass. You are just ball PLAYERS.. hellooooo. And some of you are doped up ball players to boot -- Barry.

Bert and Ernestine to Marry
Speaking of annoying people, did you hear, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowls are getting hitched. What a pair. Both are as ugly as mud hens. The wedding will look like a Munster family reunion. Even Chuck’s mother refuses to attend -- the same mother that flatly refuses to allow Chuck to become King, unless it’s over her dead body. It would appear that even motherly love has its limits and Chuck has pushed them all.


Jerry Springer could not have produced a more dysfunctional crowd as the royals. But Charles has outdone them all. First he marries the most ditsy, whiney, brooding, spoiled brat that generations of blue-blood inbreeding could produce. Then she embarks on a non-stop, decade-long whine about her miserable gilded cage life, then runs off with a rich Arab and gets herself killed by her new boyfriend’s drunken chauffer. During all this Chucky is sneaking out of his pretty wife’s bed to climb into the sack with a woman who would not find takers at 1.59 A.M at Moe’s bar.

When these two wake up next to each other in the morning, which do you think screams first?

Summers of Discontent

Okay ladies, I think you can let up on Larry Summers now. At the time he said it, I noted it was a dumb thing to say, at least the way he said it. But holy menstrual cycle! The reaction from educated women has been way over the top.

On an university campus, especially Harvard, scholars should be able to talk about anything without fear the thought police will be around to serve them up a good thrashing. At the top of the list of things that should be freely discussed are the very things people don’t want to talk about. Universities are supposed to be free thought zones. Going to a college where it is dangerous to bring up sensitive subjects, like religion, race and sex, is a bit like going to a shrink who does not allow you to talk about what’s really bothering you.

Poor Larry is now so beaten up that he is beginning to sound like a internee at a Red Chinese re-education camp:

"I am determined to set a different tone," Summers said in a statement before taking questions at the standing-room-only session. (You aren't going to hit me again, are you? Can I have my pants back now?)

Anyway, knock it off Ms. Profs. and get back to setting an example of open-minded debate for your students. (Oh, and sorry about that menstrual cycle crack. Opps. I better get out of here before I end up in the dog house with Larry.)

Big Brother Beat
Conservatives like to say that government should stay out of citizen’s lives. But when they get in power they jump right into bed with us – literally. They begin defining what is and is not acceptable sex, rule that it’s alright for states to prohibit the sale of sex toys to adults, want laws passed that say two people of the same sex cannot get hitched or adopt children. And, they won’t even let us die the way we want. Which brings me to this:

The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear the Bush administration's challenge to the nation's only right-to-die law, setting the stage for a showdown over whether states may permit doctors to prescribe drugs intended to end patients' lives. The justices will decide whether Oregon's Death With Dignity Act violates federal drug-control laws. The case will be argued during the court's fall term.

Now, even though Oregon voters approved the right-to-die measure twice, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft decided he’d have none of it and vowed to punish doctors who prescribed the medication to dying patients: "I hereby determine that assisting suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose," Ashcroft said.

If helping a terminal person to leave this life in a dignified and comfortable way is “not a legitimate medical purpose,” then why is helping a person into this world during child birth a legitimate medical purpose? But then again, this is the same man who was offended by a pair of 100-year old brass breasts on a statue.

But isn’t the timing interesting now? Oregon’s right-to-die case reaches the court as its own conservative Chief Justice battles terminal cancer. Two other justices have had brushes with cancer as well.

The case will not be heard until next term. By then it is likely the Court will have a new Chief Justice. But having seen such a difficult final exit up close like this may convince the Justices that the government has no business there.

Uncle Bucky Bush Cashes In

What a surprise. A Bush family member has been quietly profiting from the push to provide US troops in Iraq with the armor they were sent there originally lacking.

His name is William H.T. “Bucky” Bush and he is the uncle of the president and former President George H.W. Bush’s little bro. The Iraq war has been a windfall for Uncle Bucky by boosting the earnings to St. Louis-based defense contractor Engineered Support Systems Inc. Bucky Bush, cashed in ESSI stock options last month pocketing a quick half mil. Bucky served on ESSI’s board of directors.

Dan Kreher, vice president of industrial relations for ESSI, said of Bucky, “We've known him for a long time. Having a Bush (on the board) doesn't hurt," said Kreher.

Now, those of us who have covered the Bush family understand that this is business as usual for the clan. Neil Bush was on the board of Silverado Savings and pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from grateful borrowers.. most of whom never repaid their loans. Jeb Bush lobbied for a Miami HMO that bilked Medicare out of hundreds of millions of dollars. George W. Bush was taken care of by his Harken Energy partners after the company “beat out” major oil companies to bag a drilling contract in the Bahrain. (Full details on all those deals and more are HERE.)

Anyway, it’s nice to know that while American boys and girls are dying and being maimed for life in Iraq, that at least one Bush family member is selling them armor.




By Stephen Pizzo

Raconteur at Large

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Feb, 23, 2005


"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Jesus said (in a much earlier interview.)

I love this story. There's this homeless guy, Thomas Van Orden, in Austin, Texas. During the night he sleeps in a tattered tent in the bushes near the State Capitol. During the day he roams the capitol grounds. One day while making his unappointed rounds he came across a 6-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide pink granite monument etched with the Ten Commandments and Christian and Jewish symbols.

Now, Tom – who is 60 -- may be homeless but he is not a heathen. Van Orden considers himself a religious man. He was raised Methodist but in 1990 became a member of the Austin Unitarian church.

I mention all this only to note that Tom harbors no grudge against the Ten Commandments themselves. He just didn’t think it was proper to build a statue to them on public land. So, he contacted the Austin chapter of the ACLU figuring they might not have notice the thing was there and would leap to action. No way Jose.

In an earlier time, before Tom’s life went down the drain, he had been a lawyer. But he lost his license to practice and, in 1990, the state told him before he would be allowed to practice law again he would have to present a certificate attesting that he was sane.

As Tom thought about it he suddenly realized why in over 40 years not one lawyer had ever challenged the Ten Commandment monument. This, he realized, is Texas, after all.

"If you're in private practice in Austin and file this suit, you're going to be radicalized -- even in liberal Austin,” Tom told the Washington Post.

And then it struck Tom; he had plenty of time on his hands and most folks already kept their distance. “Look at me; I'm the perfect person,” Tom said. “I don't have anything to lose. It's like God called me to do it. How could I walk away from that?" he said. "It just looked to me like the light shined on me."

And thusly it came to pass. Tom filed suit representing himself and, after losing twice, his case found its way to the highest court in the land. On March 2, the Supreme Court of the United States of America will hear Van Orden v. Perry, the case spawned by a homeless American’s belief that religion belongs in churches not government. "I wrote myself to the Supreme Court," Tom, who is still homeless, said when he found out the court had accepted his case.

But this time Tom has a lawyer few of us could afford. Constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University will argue Van Orden’s case at the Supreme Court.

"I have nothing but the greatest admiration and respect for him," Chemerinsky told the Post. "(Tom) genuinely cares about this issue…I think he did an excellent job of briefing and arguing the case on the trial level and the appellate level. . . . A large Ten Commandments monument sitting between the Texas Capitol and the Texas Supreme Court violates the establishment clause."

Of course rightwing Christians see nothing wrong with ten-ton Judeao-Christian edifices populating public grounds and buildings. I suspect they would feel differently if suddenly ten-ton Buddha’s or various colorful Hindu gods and goddesses starting springing up in front of their local courthouses. But, if they don’t get that point, Tom certainly did.

And he’s tired of the local rednecks accusing him of “suing the Ten Commandments. "I sued the state . . . to uphold the values found in the First Amendment,” Tom snaps.

I love this story, on several levels. First, it is the quintessential “only in America” tale. Where else could a bedraggled 60-year old homeless man get such an issue moving, against strong headwinds, and keep it rolling until it reached the US Supreme Court?

And, he did it, not just without a lawyer, but also without money either! All Tom owned was a passion for the First Amendment and plenty of time. He used the Texas State Law Library for research, panhandled to get small donations to pay for copying and supplies. His U.S. District Court filing fee was waived because he got himself qualified a “pauper.” He used a $4 disposable camera to take the pictures of the monument to submit into evidence. He hitched a ride to New Orleans when it came time to argue his case before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals – where he lost a second time.

But, if the religious right thought that Tom was going to let the matter drop there, they did not know Tom. He still had plenty of time on his hands and his belief that religious monuments have no place on public grounds was undiminished.

But Tom worries that, after beating all the odds and getting his case this far, the power of the religious right to frame issues like this as religious “persecution,” will sway judicial opinion.

"You can still do it with a piece of paper, a pen and a law book," Van Orden said. "But that will be lost in all the hoopla of the Ten Commandments."

I just thought you would like to know about Tom’s fight. Because it’s your fight too. And it has been carried forward, not by the big donors -- and even bigger talkers – in the trail lawyer community – but by a lonely homeless man sleeping in tent in Austin, Texas.

So, yes indeed, God should bless America. And the best way to do that is to protect her from the best intentions of Your followers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Feb 21, 2005

Sad Day

Your average journalist reports what he sees. A good journalist looks beneath the surface of a story and reports what he finds. But a great journalist – and of these there are few – sees into the very soul of events. Then, armed only with words ill suited to the task, they try to tell the rest of us what they saw. In the process, too often they go mad.

Ernest Hemmingway was one of these. Hunter S. Thompson was another. This weekend Hunter followed Ernest, checking out and paying his final bill in buckshot. He had seen enough. He had seen too much. Even his vices – drugs and alcohol – could no longer dull the truths he carried in his head. So he blew it off.

Writers like Hunter and Hemmingway write, not because they give a shit whether we “get it” or not. They were not trying to warn us about anything or to steer us in one direction or another.

They wrote because they were trying to get all that stuff out of their heads. It was their only hope. If they got it down on paper, they thought, maybe they could move on.


But it never worked. Instead every story they covered simply added another truth filter through which the mundane nonsense of everyday American life, work and politics had to pass muster. And, increasingly it did not. It could not. Hunter had come to know too much.

So Hunter, like Hemmingway self-medicated -- and self-medicated some more.


But booze and drugs alone could not get Hunter through his days. He had to live. He had to work. He had to interact with those he knew only too well were stupid, evil and/or full of shit -- all that, and less.

And, he also had to live with the rest of us, most of whom believed the BS they heard on the news and seen on TV. So he lived satirically. He lived life as farce. Maybe then people would understand. Or maybe they would think he was just an attention-needy class clown who never grew up. Whatever. It was the only way he could navigate the world. He knew it was all a joke... more often than not, a bad joke. And so that's how he lived it.

Thankfully it was not until the final months of his life that Hunter withdrew almost entirely from our world. He continued to work. He continued trying to let us see what he saw. During Clinton’s first term Thompson wrote an essay comparing Clinton with Nixon. He had covered both presidents and said he found them very different.

“I covered Nixon. Nixon was truly evil,” Thompson wrote. “But Clinton is not evil. Clinton’s just a punk with bad habits.”

Once again Hunter had seen right through the fa├žade and into the soul of events, events that had yet to fully reveal themselves. How right he was about Clinton, a brilliant politician with the emotional maturity of a horny 16-year boy.

And he decoded GW Bush, as only Hunter could;

"Things haven't changed all that much where George W. Bush comes from. Houston is a cruel and crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money and violence. It's a shabby sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops and super-rich pansexual cowboys who live by the code of the West -- which can mean just about anything you need it to mean, in a pinch." (Hunter S. Thompson, RollingStone, 2004)

Anyway, Hunter is gone. He will be sorely missed. I have no idea whom fate has tapped to replace him, but history shows that no time is without its Hemmingway or Hunter. And, I look forward to his/her arrival. Never have we needed such a writer more than we do now.

YO, Hunter -- this Bud’s for you pal.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Feb. 18-21, 2005

Friday Freak Out

By the time Fridays roll around I have four days worth of loose news items floating around in my head. News that, while annoying when I read them, did not seem worthy of a full-bore rant. Trouble is I can’t let go of them. They keep popping into my consciousness demanding attention. It’s a bit like having Andy Rooney living in my head.

My only escape is to download these troubles to you. What you do with them is your business.

Phony White House Reporters

I never thought I would say this, but the time has come to pull the TV cameras out of the White House Press Briefing Room. The daily press briefing has become a dog and pony show that simply encourages a trend in journalism that has done nothing but harm the profession – reporters as players.

I trace this phenomenon back to that day young White House reporter, Dan Rather, stood up and challenged president Richard Nixon. It’s a now famous film clip that you will surely have to watch once more in March when CBS sends Dan off into involuntary retirement. That short back-and-forth between a mere reporter and the President of the United States made Rather’s career. Ever since we have seen more and more reporters strive to become media personalities.

Major print publications now pay their reporters bonuses for writing a story that gets their puss on one of the dozens of TV news talk shows. The networks put the best of them on contract as regular panelists. To my mind this has been the most corrosive trend afflicting journalism today.

While being a White House reporter may sound glamorous, it is in fact a tedious assignment. TV cameras in the White House Press Briefing Room have became an opportunity to escape the faceless press scrum with a high-profile grab at the news media brass ring of stardom.

The cameras also offered a cheap and dramatic way for political operatives like Jeff (Militarystuds.com) Gannon -- a wolf hiding among the sheep -- to use White House briefings as an extraordinarily high-profile vehicle to deliver rightwing propaganda.

It’s time to unplug the cameras at the White House before the Screen Actors Guild starts organizing White House reporters and demanding royalties.

Regarding Groping
For the record, I am foursquare against sexual harassment, okay? And, I have supported women’s liberation since 1969. (Alright, I admit it was the bra burning that initially won me over, but after that I supported the substance of the movement and continue to do so to this day.)

But forty years later I just shake my head in disbelief when I read about women wasting valuable court time trying to prosecute and/or sue famous guys because, they say, at some point in life, the guy “groped them against their will.”

First let me say that’s redundant. I know of no women who have been “willfully groped.” Groping is by definition an uninvited and unwelcome lurch by one individual at the private body parts of another individual. There are guys – concentrated in Red States -- who view groping a woman just a bit of proactive petting. Of course groping is not petting anymore so than rape is consensual intercourse.

Having said that I am becoming increasingly annoyed at the recent spat of groping allegations, like the one against Bill Cosby. Do I think Cosby is incapable of groping a woman? Nope. He may well have tried to sneak a feel or two. And, if he did, he was a bad boy, a cad. If my wife discovered I groped someone, the next time you saw me in public I’d be wearing an orthopedic hand brace, maybe two.

But we need to get this groping business back into some kind of perspective. Unless some other kind assault or law was broken in the course of a furtive, unwelcome, uninvited sneak feel, groping is not rape. And, if unrelated in anyway to the workplace it not sexual harassment either – at least as the term was legally intended.

What is groping then? It’s a bad date. Yeah, you dated a jerk. So feel free to return the favor by thoroughly “groping” the cad’s crotch with your knee. Then call a cab, not a lawyer.
Women’s lib has come a long way, but women still have plenty of good reasons to seek judicial redress. Groping is not one of them. (And don’t even get me started on the counter-revolutionary nature of breast implants and the WonderBra !)

Farm Welfare
Before I became a journalist I was a farmer -- a Wisconsin dairy farmer, to be precise. Never mind how I got from shoveling cow manure to covering Washington, except to say the leap was not difficult.

During my farming years I became well acquainted with welfare masquerading as farm subsidies. And I learned how farm subsidies became a $20 billion a year welfare program impervious to all attempts to end them. Farmers, it turns out, are fabulous PR people. You would not have thunk it, but let me tell you, they have their spiel down pat. They are so disciplined in their message that even when talking to one another, they remain in character. Prices are always too low, costs too high, the weather, markets and bugs are always against them. It’s a miracle any of us survive at all.

I had many such conversations with neighboring farmers:

“How’s it going Bill?”

Bill shakes his head as he kicks the dirt with the toe of his new, steel-tipped work boots.

“Don’t know Steve. Don’t know what we’re gonna do if corn don’t go up pretty soon.”

“Did you lose any corp during that hail storm that came through the county last week?”

Bill looks out over 200 acres of man-high corn. “Well, I don’t know. But I called my federal crop insurance rep. He came out and approved a claim for a 10% loss, just in case."

“That’s your third claim this season, isn’t it?”

“Yep. Been a bad weather year,” Bill says looking up at a clear blue skies.

“But your field looks great, Bill.”

“Yeah, but I will barely break even, if lucky, at these prices. Can barely afford to plant next year. Thank God we don't have to pay federal gasoline tax or that would bust me for sure."

Then Bill brightens up. “Hey, come on in the barn and see my new tractor."

"But Bill, that tractor was only five years old. Why did you get rid of it so soon?"

"Depreciated that puppy beyond salvage value," Bill replied with a chuckle and a wink. "Hey, look at this baby. Damn thing cost me $125,000, but that included the GPS gadget, stereo and air conditioning. Didn't have to put a dime down. Farm bureau got me one of those no-interest disaster loans approved after the winter floods.”


Saturday Update: From a reader:
Stephen,
I had to laugh at your piece on farmers. You have a lock on the way they can complain about anything. My father is from Iowa and his favorite joke is two farmers looking over a perfect field of corn,

"Well, Bill, looks like a record crop."...."Yeah, but it's going to be hell on my picker."

Jay O'Neill Burbank, CA

Farmers are the all time system finaglers. Yes it's hard work, but so is busing tables and cleaning motel rooms for a living and I don't see anyone subsidizing those folks. How do they get away with it? Farmers shamelessly leverage a long-gone Norman Rockwell image of family farmers even though farming is now the biggest of big business in farming regions. By predicting the end of the family farm they have locked themselves into the fattest-assed stream of government welfare money in the country.

How much? Wheat, corn, cotton, rice, soybeans farmers alone bagged more than $130 billion over the last nine years. That’s a record, by the way.

But don’t pay a lot of attention President Bush’s recent promise to cut farm subsidies. An eye familiar with such things need only a brief glance at Bush’s proposed cuts to see that he is proposing only a tiny cut, $5 billion over ten years. Chump change. Nevertheless get ready for the heartbreaking stories of families being forced off their farms.

The trouble is that farm subsidies don’t do what farmers claim they do. These payments do not stabilize food prices. Instead they distort normal supply/demand market forces. I saw this first hand when I was milking cows. At the time the markets were awash in milk. You couldn’t give the stuff away. Nevertheless the government paid me a top dollar for all the milk I could deliver. They took the stuff and wasted a few tons of natural gas drying it, then rented warehouses to store it until it went bad.

Multiply that kind of waste by many times over and you get an idea of why its time to get rid of most farm subsidies. (Except for that mohair subsidy. Guys my age fondly remember how great girls looked in mohair sweaters so I am prepared to see my tax go to encouraging more to that kind thing.)

More Corporate Welfare
I began my journalism career writing for a banking newspaper where, among other things, I covered the two giant housing finance entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I call them “entities” because they are neither companies (as we know them) or federal agencies. They are “GSE’s” Government Sponsored Entities. What that means is that, while they operate like private companies their product, mortgage backed securities, carry the implied backing of the US government.

The idea when these agencies were created was that an implied government guarantee would serve to keep home mortgage rates low since it would take the risk out of the bonds that backed them for investors.

It worked. Boy did it work! Fannie and Freddie mushroomed into financial behemoths. Those who ran them became filthy rich. And I mean filthy rich. We’re talking salaries and bonuses in the triple millions for the top guys.. like former Clinton budget advisor, Franklin Raines, Fannie’s CEO.

But since these companies were created decades ago, banking and the mortgage businesses have been deregulated, re-regulated, deregulated again and reinvented. Today you would be hard pressed find a more competitive business than the home mortgage and refinance rackets.

Therefore, frankly Fannie and Freddie no longer need or deserve implied government backing. What they do need is to be kicked out from under the taxpayer’s umbrella before they do end up costing us a few hundred billion dollars.. something I suspect may already be brewing.

All the signs of trouble are there for anyone paying attention. Both companies have been caught cooking their books, ala Enron et al. And both companies responded to congressional criticism by turning loose hundreds of high-paid lobbyists loose on Capitol Hill to fight for the status quo. What this tells me is that some valuable turf, rather than taxpayers, are being fought to protect.

Even weird Al, Fed Chief Alan Greenspan, believes it’s time to kick Freddie and Fannie out of their well-feathered nest. This week Greenspan testified that if the two companies want to keep their GSE status they should be made to reduce their portfolios of mortgage loans to between $100 and $200 billion, to protect taxpayers. How much do they hold now? A combined $1.7 trillion. (By comparison, the S&L scandal of the 1980s cost taxpayers $165 billion.)

I agree with Al. Today’s residential mortgage markets are so competitive the miniscule premium Freddie and Fannie’s gets because of its GSE status makes little to no difference to consumers.

So let both of them compete on a level playing field. Before the housing bubble bursts, please get us taxpayers clear of these two titanic GSEs.

Axis of Evil Refreshed

With Iraq now well into a 12-Step anger management program, there was a vacancy in Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” That vacancy was filled last week the Syrians blew up Lebanon’s former, and likely future, Prime Minister. So we have a full hand again. And, the question is not whether Syria deserves the listing, it does. Syria is a bad actor. Always has been. While they don’t have WMDs they do have BA - bad attitude.

And, they routinely display a shocking lack of subtly. Piss them off and they kill you. They kill you, your wife, your kids, your neighbors and anyone who happens to be passing by. A while back when a handful of their own political dissidents pissed them off they leveled their entire city, killing everything that moved. These are mean-ass folks. Don’t doubt it. The Lebanese sure don’t.

The same goes for the North Koreans and Iranians. Which poses a problem to those of us who hate all things Bush. When is it okay to agree with this guy? Since he lies like a rug so often, we are never quite sure. But we would make a serious mistake denying that he has these three countries wrong. Even Bush can get some things right, and classifying these three as the malignant tumors, he is right.

The question becomes, what to do about them. Send troops? No way. First we couldn’t if we wanted to. We don’t have the troops and we don’t have the money for that kind of thing now. Besides, as we learned in Iraq it’s – to quote Bush – “hard.

For an alternative refer to my “Don’t Do That Doctrine,” the full text of which you can read here if you are curious. We can inflict an unacceptable level of pain on these pains in the neck without sending troops. We should play to our strength, technology, not our weakness. Anyway, troops are so 20th century.

North Korea is a pricklier matter now that Bush has allowed them develop several nukes. Now it’s pretty much up to China to reel their crazy cousins in before they spark a arms race in Asia. Instead of threatening North Korea (never pick a fight with a man who has nothing to lose,) we should threaten China with the prospect of US nukes in Japan and So. Korea if they don’t drop the hammer on their Kim boy and PDQ.

Anyway, love Bush or hate him, there is no denying that someone, someday, is going to have deal with countries like Syria, North Korea and Iran AND Saudi Arabia. Democrats can only pray that someone figures out how to round up these perennial bad actors before the problem lands back on the desk of the next Democrat occupying the White House.

Ah, that felt good. I hope it was good for you too.

Have a nice weekend.


By Stephen Pizzo

Raconteur at Large

Friday, February 18, 2005

Feb 17, 2005

The House has given overwhelming approval to a bill to drastically increase the maximum fine for broadcast indecency.

The bill passed 389-38 on Wednesday would increase the maximum fine from $32,500 to $500,000 for a company and from $11,000 to $500,000 for an individual entertainer. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, where it has broad bipartisan support.

I don’t know about you but I did not send my representatives to Washington to act like Iranian Mullahs. I sent them there to solve problems, not monitor TV content or decide for me what I, or any other American, should not see, hear, read, say or write.

What breathtaking chutzpah! And what a breathtaking waste of the time voters allotted them to deal with real problems, like war, peace, poverty, climate change, deficits, jobs…
No, none of that. First they had to address indecency. It would semm that for these phony dimwits Super Bowl 38 was a kind of 9/11 event. When Janet Jackson’s tit crashed into the eyeballs of millions of Americans, the whole world changed for politicians.

The casualties from that disasterous event have been staggering in ever since – young children, who had not seen a such a sight since their mothers weaned them, were forever scared. So in response, still flushed from banging their interns, members of congress rushed to vow they would not let those young victims go undressed - I mean unredressed.

But the wave of indecent terror stuck again. Radio slock-jock, Howard Stern, keeps saying words from the Oxford Dictionary of American Slang outloud on the air. Again, politicians -- including one who just moments earlier had finished telling a fellow senator on the US Senate floor to “go fuck himself” -- huffed, puff and pontificated on what an outrage it is to have such language floating around on government-regulated airwaves.

So this week they decided enough is enough. Led by such paragons of purity -- the soon to be indicted Tom DeLay -- House members created new punishments for what they define as "indecent content." The sight of a woman’s breast while never again scar our youth. Howard Stern types will never again be allowed to go unpunished from saying out loud words describing human reproductive functions or organs. Finally, our children will be spared the trauma of hearing anything that might hint at how they got here.

Of course none of this affects drug companies, which will still be allowed to bombard us and our kids with the good news that, if daddies hemorrhoids are itching and burning, they just thing. And during those special father-child sport watching moments they will still be able to reassure junior that if daddy can no longer get an erection, they have a pill that will not only fix that but also "produce a long-lasting, quality experience.”

You see, unlike Howard Stern, drug companies know how to deliver these kind of sensitive messages responsibly. For example, when talking about how good their erectile disfunction drug works on father's flacid friend, they also offer helpful safety tips, such as, “If an erection lasts more than four hours seek immediate medical attention.”

So you see, there is on-air indecency and there is public service. Congress knows the difference. For example, Howard Stern talking out loud about bathroom functions.. that's indeceny. But when a major corporation do it as part of a sales pitch, it's a public service.

Hey boys and girls, when people get older, like your parents, they often start wetting their pants again. That's called being incontinent. But not to worry, we sell a solution for that too - adult diapers.

God bless Proctor and Gamble, Pfizer and all those other companies who openly and graphically inform us by TV and radio that even the most private of body parts and functions has a rightful place on our airwaves and our dinner tables.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Feb. 16, 2005

The New(s) Rightwing Conspiracy

As a former card-carrying member of the mainstream media I am only too aware that many of its current wounds were self-inflicted. But there is something else going on too. You might call a continuation of the “vast rightwing conspiracy.”

This time let’s call them, “Infonistas.” They are a tightly knit association of far-right neo-conservatives who believe information control and management is the most important tool of government. And, that they have too allowed liberal secularists to control this vital tool.

Their goal was to erode public confidence in the mainstream media, even create hostility towards it. That goal has been largely accomplished. By leveraging the mainstream media’s own shortcomings (Dan Rather, Jason Blair and more recently CNN’s Eason Jordan,) together with a non-stop campaign against the “liberal media,” the public now ranks journalists right there with used car salesmen and politicians. Mission accomplished.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the media is left of center. Paula Zahn or Peter Jennings or anybody who is attempting to pass himself off as reporting news -- they're not telling the whole story. Dan Rather wants you to believe that Saddam Hussein is a nice guy! There are two companies doing truly balanced news today: Sinclair and Fox." David Smith, Chairman, Sinclair Broadcasting.

Simultaneous with that campaign other Infonistas began creating well-funded parallel propaganda organs masquerading a “fair and balanced” media for those seeking “liberal” mainstream media.

Their plan was conceived, I believe, when they saw the affect Rush Limbaugh’s radio show had on millions of voters who traditionally voted Democrat – working class voters.
Infonistas who, for decades had sought ways to court this rich working class base from pro-labor Democrats saw that Rush had found the formula. All they had to do was serve up content that, while humorous in its delivery, portrayed Democrats as limp-wristed liberals, pro-gay, pro-affirmative action, pro-European, pro-welfare, anti-American sissies.

Their plan worked better than they could have ever imagined. Even their victims in the mainstream media jumped in to give them a hand. In the constant chase for ratings cable news giants like CNN and MSNBC fell all over themselves to add “conservative” commentators, like Robert Novak, Tucker Carlson and others to their “news” stables.

“On the February 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, host Matthews asked conservative MSNBC host-to-be Tucker Carlson, "Do you think our network is getting too conservative?" His answer; "No."

FOX News – started and run by former Reagan strategist Roger Ales – quickly became both the flagship and pace car for the growing Infonista media machine.

Now, some may be asking by now, do I exaggerate? Have I become a liberal conspiracy nut? Or just a plain nut? Well, the latter may be true, but not the former. Here’s a sampler. (For lots more go to Media Matters.)

  • - Operation Gannon. Jeff Gannon, who does not use his real last name – Guckert – because he has, shall we say, a colorful past - ( :-0 Nude photos) – became a Infonista-funded operative masquerading as a journalist. How did he get into the White House press briefing room? Well, let me tell you, not by accident. The last time I got into the White House compound to interview an official I had to submit reams of personal info 24 hours before, including my Social Security number so the Secret Service could run me. (And that was before 9/11) The White House knew Gannon was an Infonista operative. Believe me, they knew. That’s why they called on him. He was a ringer. It was a set up.


  • - Operation Novak. Yesterday a federal court ruled that Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, either had to cough up their sources in the Valarie Plame, CIA leak scandal or go to jail. But wait, wasn’t it Infonista senior operative Robert Novak who got the leak and blew Plame’s cover? Why isn’t he threatened with jail? There can only be one reason – he talked, further proof that Infonistas are not real journalists. And, the fact that he got the leak from this administration – the most secretive in history – further cements the working relationship that exists between Infonista propagandists and the Bush administration.


  • - Operation Armstrong Williams. Need I say more?
  • - FOX News and radio host Sean Hannity made the obviously false claim on his February 11 radio program that "there is an absence of evidence" that Senator John Kerry "was in combat in Vietnam." Echoing a syndicated column by veteran Infonista Ann Coulter, Hannity compared Kerry's record in Vietnam to that of Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado professor who compared some victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks to Nazis: "There is an absence of evidence, just like John Kerry, that he [Churchill] ever was in combat in Vietnam."
  • - Infonista David Horowitz, who had to recently defend himself against charges of racism by baselessly branding one of his critics, liberal radio host Al Franken, a "racist" -- paid nearly $300,000 to Rotterman & Associates, a Republican media consulting firm that helped run the racially divisive campaigns of former Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), according to tax filings of Horowitz's “Center for the Study of Popular Culture” shows.
  • - Last week Lis Wiehl, FOX News legal analyst and regular co-host of Bill O'Reilly's radio program, claimed that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) "lied about going to the funerals" of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Her accusation is false. Wiehl was repeating O'Reilly's own misleading statements on Clinton following 9-11, claiming falsely that she failed to attend "any funerals for the regular people killed." In fact, Clinton attended several funerals and memorials, including one for 79 restaurant employees.
  • - MSNBC “analyst” and former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan falsely claimed that President Bush's plans to partially privatize Social Security would address the program's fiscal shortfall "down the road," and that Bush has said as much. In fact, although Bush has suggested that private accounts will be part of the solution, a White House official has acknowledged that the administration's proposal to let workers divert payroll taxes into private accounts will do nothing to address Social Security's long-term revenue shortfall.
  • - FOX News Washington managing editor Brit Hume falsely claimed that a Washington Post story on a new White House cost estimate for the Medicare prescription drug benefit had reported that "the new estimate contradicted an earlier 10-year forecast." In fact, the February 9 article never reported that the new estimate "contradicted" an earlier estimate, only that the new estimate indicated that the benefit would cost hundreds of billions more in later years than most people expected based on previous estimates. The co-author of the article was Washington Post staff writer and FOX News contributor Ceci Connolly, who regularly appears on the "FOX All-Star Panel" on Hume's show, Special Report with Brit Hume.
Finally, if you have not read Eric Klinenberg’s amazing expose in RollingStone of Sinclair Broadcasting, you must. You can the full text here.

"You weren't reporting news," says the (Sinclair) producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "You were reporting a (pro-Bush) political agenda that came down to you from the top of the food chain."

Anyway, you get the idea. And so do the Infonistas. Turning a free media into an organ of propaganda requires a three-stage process. It begins by discrediting the existing free media, then infiltrating and compromising it, and finally co-opting it.

The Infonistas are now well into Phase II.

Oh, wait. There is one further requirement: that you let them get away with it.

Do I hear a big “double ditto” on that?


Quote of the Day

"Journalism that is inquisitive and intellectually honest, that surprises and unsettles, [doesn't] always exist. There is no law saying that it must exist forever, and there are political and business interests that would be better off if it didn't exist and that have worked hard to undermine it. This is what journalists in the mainstream media are starting to worry about: what if people don't believe in us, won't want us, anymore?"
--Nicholas Lemann, writer, 2005

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Feb. 15, 2005

Shooting Up With George

Thanks to a new federal law credit rating agencies must provide consumers with a free credit report once a year. Might I suggest that President Bush avail himself of this freebie right now and see how the credit markets feel about America’s credit worthiness?

For those of you, who like Bush, slept through Econ 101, here’s how the lending business operates: the higher the risk lenders perceive in a borrower’s financial future, the higher the rate of interest they charge. It’s Rule One of economics – the higher the risk, the higher the rate of return, and visa versa. It’s what makes capitalism, capitalism.

If Bush pulled a free credit report for his US of A this morning here’s what he would discover:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Interest rates on short-term Treasury bills rose in Monday's auction to the highest levels in more than three years. The Treasury Department auctioned $20 billion in three-month bills at a discount rate of 2.540 percent, up from 2.480 percent last week. Another $17 billion in six-month bills was auctioned at a discount rate of 2.760 percent, up from 2.710 percent…. the highest since they averaged 2.560 percent on Sept. 17, 2001. The six-month rate was the highest since 3.120 percent on Sept. 10, 2001.

Clearly those with the money to lend do not agree with Dick Cheney’s view that, “deficits don’t matter.” They may not matter to him or Bush since they will be long out of office when the loans they are taking out now to cover tax cuts, deficits and war come due. But the lenders – who these days is largely China – care a lot.

What they see when John Snow comes around, like he did this week, shaking his tin cup, is a nation living far beyond its means, and not about to change. So, they hike the interest they demand on the money we borrow to mitigate the risk of default.

Of course default is unlikely since the US can always print more money, spark inflation and devalue the dollar allowing us to screw our lenders by repaying old obligations with dirt-cheap dollars. But even former commies like the Chinese understand that and, by charging higher rates
they mitigate against that as well.

Then there is the final reason rates go up for debt-junkie nations. It’s the same reason a heroin addict’s supplier starts the user out with free and then cheap fixes until he is good and hooked. After that the price charged is determined by degree of need – “So, just how much do you need a fix today, son?”

China and other nations that buy US bonds, (which you can accurately see as our communal credit card debt.) are only too aware of the Bush administration’s drunken-sailor-on-leave spending habits. They watched as he turned a projected $5 trillion budget surplus when they took office into a $4 trillion budget deficit. Most of that money went to buying votes from the rich with tax cuts and the elderly with drug benefits and two foreign wars. Eeeeeeeeeha!

So, it has come this. “Well, George, how much do you need a fix today,” ask our inscrutable Chinese lenders as they gauge the amount of sweat on his brow, the trembling hands, rambling references to God and democracy, incomprehensible mumbles about gays and marriage, and occasional outbursts about how he needs the money to help old people invest their retirement savings wisely.

And the interest rate on our national credit debt goes up.

Today’s news of higher rates on the bonds that fund the Bush deficits is just the beginning folks. This week Bush goes to Congress for another $82 billion to fund the war in Iraq. That’s $107 billion so far this year and it’s only Feb. Estimates are that little extravagance will cost us at least $400 billion.

Let’s be clear. He is not asking Congress for the $82 billion, because there is no $82 billion in the Treasury to give him. He is asking that Congress allow him to borrow another $82 billion for the war.

And, if Congress agrees, as it will, he will be sending poor old Treasury Secretary Snow back to China with his tin cup to borrow the money.

Am I crazy or is that crazy?

Speaking of Crazy
I have seen examples of denial before, but none as potentially deadly as this one.

Seoul Doubts N.Korea Has Nukes, Despite Claim
Mon Feb 14 -- South Korea's top policymaker on North Korea said Monday North Korea's claim to have nuclear weapons was unproven and Seoul's controversial engagement policy with the North would remain, at least for now.


While the North Koreans live in a delusional Communist paradise, their cousins down south are living in capitalist denial heaven. They see war or threats of war as bad for business. The South Koreans fear a bad business climate more than they do a possible nuclear winter from the North.

It’s incomprehensible, but true. They fear slumping foreign investment in S. Korea more than they fear nukes in the hands of the whack job up north who just ordered every male in his country to get their hair cut exactly like his. (That’s true.)

Meanwhile the US continues to protect the South with US troops, so they can go on living in denial and selling cheap crap merchandise to Wal-Mart.

What the US should do in the wake of this week’s admission by the north that they have nukes and don’t want to talk about it anymore, is launch a full-scale embargo, air and sea. And then, pressure China to seal its boarder with N. Korea and to stop providing them food and energy until they cough up the nukes. If the Chinese get testy about that, tell them the other alternative is we put nukes in South Korea and Japan to balance the nuclear threat from N. Korea. And, we will only remove them once N. Korea’s nukes are gone for good. (See also Tony's take on this in today's SetonnoteS)

Without support form China, N. Korea would collapse within six months. No bombing, no troops, no invasion necessary. The country is a rotten hollow tree and the only thing holding it up is China.

Of course, it’s kinda hard to get butch with the same country that’s lending you the big bucks you need to pay for war while cutting taxes at home and provide grandpa with his Viagra, isn’t it !



Raconteur at Large

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Feb. 14, 2005

Dead Men Walking

There is an old adage that nothing else focuses the mind like ones own pending execution. And last week we began to see some serious focusing on the part of leading congressional Republicans.

That focusing began as Republicans who have visions of replacing George W. Bush as president in 2008, and those who hope to be reelected to their current seats, felt a noose being gently slipped around their necks.

When startled Republicans turned around, imagine their shock to discover the would be executioner was none other than George W. Bush.

The noose Bush was trying to slip on without alarming them was his 2006 budget. It seems that now that they have had time to read it, Republicans realize that it is chuck full of tax cuts and spending increases that won’t hit until Bush finishes his second term – and just in time for the next – (they hope)- GOP president and GOP Congress to deal with.

Now that the GOP controls both Congress and the White House they are still pretty sure that Bush’s successor will be one to them. And, NONE of those hopefuls is about to let Bush skate painlessly through his second term by kicking all the pain down the road for them to feel long after Bush blows Dodge for good.

And so it came to pass last week that everyone of the GOP presidential aspirants could not sleep because of a similar recurring nightmare:

January 21, 2009 - The Scene: Being sworn in as the new President of the United States of America. Supreme Court Chief Justice Clarence Thomas awaits at the podium. As he stands and approaches to take the oath of office the announcer shouts into the microphone:

Dead man walkin’ Make way – Dead man walkin’

By the end of last week, puffy-eyed, sleep deprived GOP leaders slipped the noose and scurried to the nearest microphone to assure voters, in essence, “He’s with me.”

- "I don't think anyone in the administration really thought Congress would go along with this," Said one house Republican. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), chairman of the Agriculture Committee, has also voiced his objections.

- Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). "The days of being everything to everybody are quickly coming to a close," he said, adding that a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts would make it politically impossible to borrow the full cost of a Social Security fix. "We have to look at the deficit in a holistic way."

- John Weaver, an advisor to Sen. John McCain (R-Az): "… unfortunately in the political world kicking (problems) down the road is often seen as leadership."

Just how much pain and suffering is Bush trying to leave behind for his own party when he goes back to Crawford? Texas-sized mess, of course. Here is just a sampler of the numbers causing GOP leaders to wake up screaming at night:

- Tax cuts approved in 2001 and 2003 of $1.7 trillion are due to expire at the end of 2010. Bush wants them made permanent adding an additional $1.1 trillion in negative revenue (debt) during the next president’s term.
- Bush’s Social Security restructuring that would cost $754 billion through 2015 – over the next ten years and up to $4.6 trillion over the next 20 years. But like the his tax cuts and Medicare drug benefit cost would not be felt until 2009, the first year of the next president’s term.
- The first full 10 years of the Medicare drug benefit program would cost $1.4 trillion during its first decade and $3.5 trillion in the second decade.
- Bush’s plan to establish broad new tax-free savings accounts would cost $15 billion beginning late in the next president’s term -- and the cost would rise sharply from there, as the accounts began shielding virtually all American savers from capital-gains, dividend and interest taxation. "That's a time bomb," said James Horney, a budget analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

So, how many Republicans are willing to hang together so Bush can beat the rap? Not many, and that spells trouble for Bush. In national politics the bigger a bill of goods a party is peddling the more accomplices they need to convince people it’s true. During Bush’s first term lowering taxes on the rich and justifying war were successfully peddled lies. Bush was able to keep his party singing off the same hymnal. If bullshit were music, during Bush’s first term the GOP was a loud and tight marching band.

This time it’s different. Take for example Bush’s Social Security private accounts gambit. Like the other lies he sold us in his first term, Bush has hit the road, crisscrossing the country like a patent medicine salesman trying to convince his intended victims he is offering them salvation. Only this time he is singing acapella – there's no GOP toady chorus accompanying him. He’s on his own – which in Bush’s case is not so good.

Instead of backing him up GOP leaders are spending a lot of time behind locked doors trying to figure out how to neuter their leader before his policies send them back to minority status. So, instead of singing from hymnal they are writing their own budget, coming up with their own Social Security plan and talking seriously about cutting back both Bush’s Medicare Drug benefits and his precious tax cuts.

Don Nickles, the recently retired Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee who is working closely with Hill Republicans, said Bush's drug benefits will need to be reopened to address problems of skyrocketing costs. He also said that Congress will have to be selective in extending the tax cuts, dropping some of the cuts and perhaps modifying the estate tax repeal to keep some of the revenue. That was Don Nickles talking, not Tom Daschle, not Harry Reid, not Ted Kennedy - though one might have though it was one or all of them.

Congressional Democrats are going to be the least of George W. Bush’s problems this time around. Members of his own party are not about to let him write checks they will have to cover long after he’s back in Crawford regaling folks with tales of his days in the Yankee capitol.

This could interesting. Bush never did understand the complexities and sensitive processes that make capitalism function, just as he also does not understand the complexities that influence the physical environment. Deficits, he believes, have not proven to be bad for the economy, just like global warming hasn’t been proven to be bad for the environment.

The man is not deep. So he will not understand what fellow Republicans are doing “to him” and to the handful of beliefs he holds dear. As they refuse to make his tax cuts permanent, reject his private SS accounts, and cut his Medicare Drug benefits, Bush will become befuddled. (Befuddleder… I should say.)

Anyway, I intend to enjoy the show.

Memo to Democrats: Try not to screw this up. Resist calls by the quisling arm of your party – those who want to court the red-state knuckle-dragger votes by “not obstructing” Bush’s proposals. You don’t have to obstruct anything in this case. Just stand by ready to throw lifelines to Congressional Republicans don't want to go down with Bush’s fiscal Titanic as they watch their captain float off in the last lifeboat.

"You can't depend on the man who makes the mess to clean it up." -- Richard M. Nixon

Democracy: What a Bitch!
My favorite stories are the ones where owners of mean-ass pit bulls and rotweillers get bitten by their own dogs.

It was in that spirit of cosmic justice I enjoyed reading how Iraq’s democracy midwife, George W. Bush, was shocked when his baby came out looking nothing like daddy. Clearly an Iranian milkman had gotten to the girl first.

With all the votes counted the winner was announced… Iran won the Iraqi election. And not by the kind of slim 2% margin Bush won his either, but by a healthy 48%.

Thousands of members of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Iran-friendly Shiite-dominated slate won almost half the votes and will name a prime minister who spent decades in exile in Iran. Most of the militia members in its largest faction were trained in Shiite-dominated Iran. Second place with to the Kurdish alliance, whose co-leader Jalal Talabani is the top nominee for president and also has deep ties with Iran.

"This is a government that will have very good relations with Iran. The Kurdish victory reinforces this conclusion. Talabani is very close to Tehran," said Juan Cole, a University of Michigan expert on Iraq. "In terms of regional geopolitics, this is not the outcome that the United States was hoping for."

Oh, would that be the same Iran that just told the Bush administration to get stuffed, that they intend to continue pursuing their own nuclear weapons program? The same Iran that is one of the two remaining Axis of Evil nations? The same Iran the administration claims is now the world capitol of support for terrorists? That Iran?

Nice going Gomer. I’m not sure we can survive many more new democracies right now George.

At least not the kind you deliver.



Raconteur at Large

Monday, February 14, 2005

Feb. 11, 2005

The Real Deadenders

They lost power and in recent months they suffered horrific additional loses. Nevertheless hardcore deadenders have rallied and continue to fight a fierce rearguard action. Because they know if their hated opponent prevailed they would be unceremoniously tossed into the dustbin of history.

Oh, I’m sorry, I should have noted earlier that I am not talking about Saddam’s former Sunni stooges in Iraq, but leaders of the Democrat Party.

Since losing the last Presidential race, and before that losing their long-held majority in Congress, Democrat Party leaders, who triangulated their party into this mess, have been waging a life and death battle to save their cushy DNC leadership jobs.

But it’s been an uphill fight because grassroots Democrats are fed up with the whole values-vacant, conniving, smarmy, carpetbagging bunch at the DNC. During the last campaign this frustration took the form of a cry for change:

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaa!”


That cry scared the living hell out of traditional Dems. So, the rebel Dem who uttered it was unceremoniously shown the door by party thugs. While Howard Dean spoke for millions of frustrated Democrats, he was not in step with party bosses and those whose party patronage jobs -- and toady power -- were threatened by any grassroots intrusion into “their party’s” internal affairs. So they had Howard kneecapped.

Bush handily won a second term, and the Dems lost yet more seats in Congress, and Dem party bosses settled in for four more years of business as usual. They figured they could spend the next four years grooming Hillary or reinventing John Kerry, for 2008.

And that was exactly what they were up to when; from grassroots wilderness they heard it again:

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaa!”

He was baaaaaaacccck. But this time Dean was not interested in the Presidency; he wanted their jobs – on a platter.

Panic ensued at Fort DNC. Wagons were circled and political hit-teams were sent out to find and neutralize Dean again. They could not let him get control of the DNC because they knew the first thing on Dean’s “to do” list would be a purge of DNC deadwood that would make Stalin look a girlie man.

Hit team members went to work on Dean:

"I think Howard Dean would be viewed as synonymous with being upper-East Coast liberal, and that just makes the burden on southern Democrats that much more difficult," said James F. "Jim" Kyle Jr. (D), the minority leader of the Tennessee Senate.

But smear as did they could not stop Dean this time. He had too much grassroots support from Democrats around the country sick and tired supporting party leaders who not only lost control of America to a bunch of rightwing nuts, but were now telling us we had to learn to goosestep their way into the hearts of red state voters.

And so DNC party hacks lost that fight. Tomorrow rebel leader Howard Dean will take control of the DNC. It’s Hillary’s worse nightmare. And she’s not alone and Democrat House and Senate leaders are furiously digging in for their own anti-Dean insurgency. These Democrat deadenders represent a Who’s Who of party leaders, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

They may have lost the presidental election. They may have lost their majority in Congress. But the old DNC leadership are not about to surrender. Once Dean’s victory was sealed party deadenders slithered to the nearest CNN microphones to deliver their first threats aimed at Dean and those who would follow him. It was they, not the DNC chairman, they declared, who were in charge of party policy. Dean, they demanded, should take his orders from congressional leaders and not dare try to set the agenda himself.

Then they called in outside reinforcements. They reached down into the corrupt ranks of big labor where they knew they would find people who, like them, had feathered their nests for decades betraying those they were supposed to represent. Dem deadenders knew they would find allies there because a resurgent pro-worker movement within the DNC would spawn Dean-like grassroots insurrections within union ranks as well. So big labor unions joined the deadenders in Congress. Big Labor's Dons threw down their markers as well:

Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, warned Dean, "He's got to remind himself, in terms of discipline, that he is the national chair of the party and there are other people in the party that should speak on issues as opposed to the national chair."

Another labor official put it more bluntly: "The question for all of us is, will he act as chairman of the Democratic Party or president of the Democrats, and what makes people nervous is the latter."

Dean’s response?

Eeeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaa!


"The real message of my campaign was stand up for what you believe in and pursue the politics of conviction," Dean said. "That's frankly why George Bush was successful, because he gave the appearance that he had some deep-seated convictions. If you want to excite people in politics . . . you've got to be a party of convictions."


Convictions? Yikes, what a thought. A Democrat Party acting solely on conviction rather than weasel-like triangularization, valueless, deal making. Might just work.

The weeks ahead should be interesting over at the DNC. We can hope that once Dean takes over he does the same thing Porter Goss did when he took over the CIA, clean house. For starters the security guards at the DNC’s front desk should be given photos of Bob Schrum, Begala, Carville, and all the other so-called political “consultants” and told to call them a cab if show up. Then replace those conniving, too-cute-by-half, losers with hardworking, grassroots organizers from around the country – people who have actual firsthand contact with the America outside the DC Beltway. Fly them in once a month for meetings. Then send them straight back home before they catch whatever it is that causes those who stay in DC too long to forget who sent them there and why.

Then Dean should set down a series of markers – convictions that the party will no longer make deals over. He should draw a series of lines in the sand, lines beyond which his party will never again cross in search of money or votes:

Choice: Some good Americans believe abortion is wrong. Other good Americans believe a full-term woman has more rights than a fertilized egg or embryo. Both sides have a right to their beliefs. What neither side has is the right to impose their belief on the other. Those who believe abortion is wrong have every right to try to convince the other side of their views. What the do not have, and must never get, is the right to impose that belief by law on those who do not share it. Period.

Trade: Free trade must be fair trade or it is neither free nor fair. Therefore “free,” when used to describe trade deals, must no longer mean “free of worker protections and livable wages.” Or, “free of the environmental protections that US competitors must comply with. If a foreign producer wants to profit from the American market they must also be prepared to comply with the same rules as US competitors. Period.

Heathcare: After three decades of failed private sector health management and health insurance schemes nearly 60 million Americans still have no health care coverage. The only way to provide comprehensive modern medical care is through a single-payer health insurance program. Such a program would NOT be a government-run medical program but rather a single-payer national health insurance program. Under the current system competing private insurers and HMO’s insure only those Americans least likely to need medical care while rejecting those most likely to need it. Only a single-payer insurer can accept all comers and still endure the costs of such actuarial risk over time. Also, a single-payer health system can help control the cost of healthcare by using its purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices and medical service fees. America is the only modern industrialized nation on earth that has not learned this lesson. It time to demand a well-managed, quasi-private single-payer health plan for America. Period.

The Environment: Global warming is real and, if we don’t start acting like we understand that nature will solve the problem herself by getting rid of the root cause – us. The US must ratify the Kyoto Treaty immediately. Then we need to move away from dependence on fossil fuels as fast as cleaner alternative technologies can take us. Period.

Social Security: Mend it, don’t end it. Private accounts do not mend what ails Social Security but threatens its very long-term survival. The real Social Security shortfall projected to hit in 2040 represents at most 30% of promised benefits. Congress can easily plug that hole by removing the $80,000 cap on all earned income. The wealthy would pay more towards Social Security, a fair trade since the wealthy could not have gotten wealthy without all the “little people,” who work for them or maintain the nations infrastructure. Removing the cap on earned income would still leave the wealthy with unearned income (dividends, interest and capital gains) untouched, so they forget about whining because they have to pay their fair share of Social Security. Social Security only needs minor adjustments like that, not private accounts. Period.

Taxes: The part of the Bush tax cuts that should be made permanent are those that directly benefit poor and middleclass working families. The rest should be allowed to expire as currently scheduled. At a time of war and record deficits tax cuts that benefit only the wealthiest Americans are unconscionable. Period.

I am sure I you can think up a few more convictions Democrats can start standing firm on. But for now that would be a great start for the Dean insurgency.

Democrat deadenders will continue to plant political IED’s in Dean’s path, but the momentum is now against them. The NNC, like Iraq, just had free elections and the deadenders lost. They’re days are numbered.

Nevertheless, expect them to play on the “Dean-as-borderline-maniac” card next. But it won’t work this time. Because I and millions of other Democrats figure that, if we are going to be part of a party that loses all time, we might just as well lose fighting for principles we believe in rather lose trying to cozy up to red state knuckle-draggers.

I want a party with a little “eeeeeeehaaaaa” in it. And Democrats need to to stop running away from it.

Because the real reason Democrats keep losing is because they have lost touch with their inner “eeeeeeeehaaaaa!”

Have a nice weekend.


Quote of the Day

"The way I had it is all gone now. The bars are gone, the drinkers, gone. There remain the smartest, healthiest newspeople in the history of the business. And they are so boring that they kill the business right in front of you." --Jimmy Breslin


Raconteur at Large