Friday, September 30, 2005

September 29, 2005

What's Wrong With Democrats?

Forget "What's Wrong With Kansas." A more relevant question is, "What's wrong with Democrats?"

Before I tell you, let's review where things stand:

* The Bush tax cuts created neither jobs or a sustainable economic recovery.

* What they did produce was a tsunami of red ink that threatens to drown the American economy.

* China now controls the pumps that determine whether the American economy floats on that sea of red ink or sinks beneath it.

* The nation is mired in an un-winnable war smack dab in the middle of the Islamic world's biggest hornet's nest.

* Mother Nature has sent us her first two "thanks-for-nothing" greeting cards for failing to do squat to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

* Four years after 9/11 federal emergency agencies can't even deal with a bad weather emergency much less one created by evil doers.

* Even as 50 million Americans can't get affordable health care, the Majority Leader of the US Senate pulled a Martha Stewart, profiting by dumping his Hospital Corp. of America stock just before it tanked.

* The Majority Leader of the House has now been indicted for conspiracy in money laundering.

That's the Republican record. You might think that Democrats would be taking on Republicans, point by point. You might think they would by now have said, "Enough! This has gone too far. Those people are crazy. Their policies are crazy. And the results prove it. It must stop and, for the good of the nation it must stop now!"

You would think Democrats would roll out their own solutions – solutions that begin to reverse the damage done.

You would think.

But that's not what Democrats are doing. Not even close. Instead they continue playing defensive chess, avoiding bold moves and hiding behind their queen's skirts. (And yes, that's a allusion to Queen Bee Hillary.)

I said I would tell you what's wrong with Democrats, so let's take it one burning issue at a time:

Taxes: The Bush tax cuts have been an unmitigated fiscal disaster. Any freshman econ student with a pocket calculator could figure that one out. Rather than using tax cuts to put more money in the paychecks of working Americans, who not only spend it faster, but also desperately need it, Bush's cuts disproportionally enriched the already absurdly, even obscenely, rich. That left American workers with falling wages while the rich got enormous raises. It's the kind of thing that would have driven old-time Democrats to roll up their sleeves and foment rebellion. But, not today, not now, not a peep.

So last week I proposed Democrats embrace The 1% Percent Solution, repealing the Bush tax cuts on just the top 1% of earners. That move alone would bring nearly $480 billion into the Treasury over the next ten years. (A lot money, but still less than what next year's federal deficit may be.)

How did Democrats respond to the 1% Solution idea? Like it was radioactive, that's how. A former Clintonite in DC circulated it among Dems and got a very cold reception. Why? What the hell's wrong with those people?

What's wrong with them is that they have let the Republicans define them. They are "tax and spend liberials." At least that's what the Republicans have branded them. And, like chubby little girls in grade school who fear being called "fat," Dems will even vote for unwise tax cuts rather than risking doing or saying anything that might add weight to the claim they are "tax and spend liberals."

For starters they could respond that, at least tax and spend liberals know that money has to be raised before you start spending the stuff, something "borrow and spend" conservatives don't seem to understand.

Anyway, that's why, even as the nation sinks into debt, Democrats still refuse to launch a full frontal assault on the Bush tax cuts to the rich. Even as the gap between the have a-lots and the have nots widens, Democrats, onetime defenders of the "little guy," haved not pushed for repeal of even just the tax cuts given the very richest of the rich. Instead they apparently believe it's better to let the nation be fiscally red, than to risk being politically dead.

In short, they are cowards.

The War: Ditto. Democrats again find themselves stupefied by Republican name-callers. In this case it's a terror of being called "soft on defense," and painted as sissies, afraid of anything that goes "bang."

That's why so many of Dems voted to relinquish to Bush their constitutional obligation to decide if the nation went to war in Iraq. And why, even now that it's become painfully clear to anyone with a newspaper subscription or a TV that occupying Iraq was a monumental blunder, Democrats still dance around the issue. Instead of fighting for withdrawal, they keep their hands in the pockets. Why? Because, they know they have blood on them.

Go ahead, just try to get Dems to fight and see how far you get.. Ask them to accept their blame and then fight to redeem themselves by doing what's right. Start with Hillary. Ask her if we should withdraw. The answer you get will be couched in hems and haws -- maybe's but then agains -- it was wrong, but now that we're there -- blah, blah, bladdy blah, blah, with a la de dah or two thrown in to hint they are really on our side after all.

Since the Democrats seem to be at a loss for words or a plan of action, let me help:

Memo to Hillary: here's the right way to answer that question"

The war was a mistake. I'm sorry I voted Bush the authority to get us into this mess. Now we have leave. We should tell the Iraqi's they have until January to get their act together because beginning January 1, 2006 we will begin withdrawing troops at the rate of 15,000 a month with the last combat troops gone by year end.

Simple as that. Oh yes it is simple as that. And it's defendable too – that is, if Democrats remember how to take a leadership position and then defend and fight for it.

Of course the Bushite neo-cons will scream that we are "cutting and running," and that this just proves Democrats are "weak on defense." Fear not Democrats. Don't run this time. Instead put-em up. Let's have that fight. Let's have it right now. Because there is more than enough proof that it's Bush's policies that have weakened US defenses, not Democrats.

* The US military is stretched to the breaking point,
* Enlistments have plummeted,
* Reservists civilian lives have been so disrupted they are not reenlisting,
* State national guard units have been so abused they can no longer respond robustly to domestic emergencies.

Internationally we are weaker than we have ever been. Iran and North Korea know Bush has most of our military assets committed to Iraq, which is way they continue jerking us around as they build their own nuclear arsenals. Our traditional allies no longer trust us since we misled them with bogus intel on Iraq's WMD and then berated them publicly when they refused to help us once we got stuck in tar pit Iraq.

So, who's really the best protector of America's defense? The guys who gutted our military power and prestige around the world? I don't think so.

So, why don't Democrats launch war on the war? Because, they were yellow-bellies when they could have prevented it to begin with and, with mid-term elections looming in 06, that yellow stripe is bigger and brighter than ever. They refuse to leave their fox holes. The only strategic skill they have perfected is the art of retreat. If they had been soldiers during WWII they'd of been lined up, offered a blindfold, and shot for desertion.

They have certainly deserted us.

I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of watching modern-day robber barons pillaging America and Americans, while Democrats cower. I want war and I want it now. The enemy is weak and vulnerable. I want Democrats to grab this opportunity and jump from their foxholes shouting and shooting. No more pussyfooting around the war or the growing gap between those in America who have it all and those who, day by passing day, have less and less. It's either time for Democrats to stand back up for "the little guy" or stop masquerading as Democrats.

For starters, they need to stop running away from the phony charge that by pushing to repeal tax cuts on the richest of the rich they are engaging in the "politics of envy." Polllllezzze! Gag me with a $1000 bill. If Dems can't counter that nonsense after all that's happened, they are hopeless. Start by asking Republicnas just when it will be okay to "envy" the super rich? When they own multiple large homes and millions of working American families can't afford even one home, or even rent? Is that when? Or when the prevailing wage drops below $10 an hour while the super rich can no longer count their net worths in the millions, or the hundreds of millions, but the billions? Is that when it will be okay to get our noses out of joint? Or is it when the super rich routinely undergoe cosmetic surgeries as tens of millions of working Americans can't even afford a trip to the family doc? Is that when we can "envy" them? Huh?

Holy moly, can you Dems make that argument for us? Can they? I'm still waiting.

Oh, and by the way, I have a news flash for you. Republicans like to accuse those of us who grouse about such inequities of waging "class warfare." Well, class war has been raging for the past couple of decades already, just without resistence. It took General Bush to push the super rich to super victory, as Democrats cowered in their Congressional bunkers. He rolled right over them. Hell, in some cases they even collaborated, like the quisling Vichy Democrats over at the Democrat Leadership Council.

So, what's it going to take to flush the Democrats out of their foxholes? The enemy is weak, weaker than ever. The proof their policies don't work, abounds. Their leadership has been shown to be corrupt. Millions of Americans in the Red Gulf states are ripe for change now that they have personally witnessed their emperor buck naked and impotent.

Yo, Democrats! Anyone in there? Are you ready to fight? Do you even remember how to fight even when all the facts are on your side?

And if not now, when?

PS: I am still waiting for some heavy hitter(s) to back The 1% Solution.
If no one steps forward by the end of October I will simply shut the site down.
Hello Howard Dean? It's yours if you want it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

September 28, 2005

Flat Learning Curve Department

Anyone who reads this page regularly knows I love old bromides... you know, "a penny saved is a penny earned," that kinda thing. While growing up I hated them – all of them. And I hated the old farts who kept tossing them in my clueless path.

Now, an old fart myself, I understand they were not trying to trip me up, but sharing. They'd learned, as I have now, that old bromides survive from generation to generation because we learn they are shorthand for hard-learned lessons.

While I have several favorites – as my two long-suffering sons will attest – there's one that has proven most useful.

"If you keep doin' what you been doing you'll keep gettin'what you got."

And that's the theme of today's rant.

"Reforming" The Arab World
The West has always had an uneasy relationship with the Arab world. Every time the West rubs elbows with Arab nations sparks fly. History largely blames it on religion, Christianity and Judaism v. Islam. But the trouble runs deeper than that, as George W. Bush has discovered.

Bush is not trying to turn Muslims into Christians or sacking their cities in search of Holy Grails. Instead Bush decided to "bless" them with the gift of democracy. If only Arab nations got democracy, he figures, they would dump their oppressive, backward and largely dysfunctional systems and become partners with the West. Bush views Arab nations as Prodigal Sons he wants to welcome into the family of nations.

Arabs see it differently. They disagree -- violently.

In all fairness G.W. Bush was not the only American of note who thought this was good idea. New York Time columnist Thomas Freidman thought so too, as did liberal author and Vanity Fair essayist , Christopher Hitchens. Both believed that Bush's policies in Iraq, while heavy-handed, at least created the opportunity for that Arab nation to break free from the continuum of backward governance and plant the seeds of genuine representative government.

That was then. Three years later, this is now:

So, folks, we are faltering in Iraq today in part because of the Bush team's incompetence, but also because of the moral vacuum in the Sunni Arab world, where the worst are engaged in murderous ethnic cleansing - and trying to stifle any prospect of democracy here - and the rest are too afraid, too weak, too lost or too anti-Shiite to do anything about it.

Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won't, then we are wasting our time. We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind. We must not throw more good American lives after good American lives for people who hate others more than they love their own children.
(Thomas Friedman)

I have to admit something – it's part of the eternal penance I must do – I also thought that maybe, just maybe some Arab countries were ready to leave the past and enter the here-and-now, if only someone gave them the chance. But it did not take me as long as it did Friedman to realized I was wrong about that. It quickly became abundantly clear early on that the Iraqis were not going use the opening created by Saddam's ouster to do anything but redistribute their nation's power and booty to a new generation of despots and religious nuts.

And since, if we keep doin' what we been doin' we're going to keep getting what we got, what now?

Let the Arabs stew in their own rotten juices, that's what. They are not ready to change, because they don't want to change. Here's a reality check, for example. This week America's newest image ambassador, Karen Hughes, is traveling the Arab world trying to buff up our image in the region. She was in Saudi Arabia yesterday:

SAUDI ARABIA – AP: The audience - 500 women covered in black at a Saudi university - seemed an ideal place for Karen P. Hughes, a senior Bush administration official charged with spreading the American message in the Muslim world, to make her pitch... But the response was not what she and her aides expected. When Ms. Hughes expressed the hope here that Saudi women would be able to drive cars and "fully participate in society" much as they do in her country, many challenged her.

"The general image of the Arab woman is that she isn't happy," one audience member said. "Well, we're all pretty happy." The room, full of students, faculty members and some professionals, resounded with applause.

Helloooo.... Get it, Karen? Write that down and share it with George when you get back.

Nevertheless Bush neo-cons continue to argue that we can't just let Arab nations alone because they will breed and harbor terrorists who will in turn attack the democratic West. That, in effect, they have declared war on the West and we need to "go to the source" and stop it there before they kill Americans over here.

Well, without getting into whether we are over there to promote democracy or secure our oil supply, the fact of the matter is "they" are now killing Americans over there. Bush's policies have failed on all possible fronts; failed to promote democracy, failed to make oil cheaper or more secure, and failed to protect American lives. All he's really accomplished is to save Arab terrorists the expense of a plane ticket to the US. You might say he brought the mountain to Muhammad.

Nothing is weaker than an idea that's time has not come. And the idea of democracy in the Arab world has not come.

Iraq's First Female Suicide Bomber Strikes
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A woman strapped with explosives and disguised as a man blew herself up outside an Iraqi army recruiting center in a northern town Wednesday, killing at least six people and wounding 30 in the first known attack by a female suicide bomber in the country's bloody insurgency.

I suggested some months ago a new strategy – the "Don't Do That' strategy, detailed here. In short it suggests we withdraw from the Middle East, rebuild our over-extended and crumbling military infrastructure, really secure our borders and invest in a new generation of unmanned, high-tech standoff weaponry.

Then lay down the law. "Leave us alone and we'll leave you alone." If Arabs what to live their lives in repressive, backward, Islamic-theme-parks, where women are treated like fifth-class citizens, men call the shots and national treasuries are the personal piggy banks for the rulers dejur, fine. Just don't make trouble for us over here.

If they do make trouble over here use our standoff weapons to deprive the attacker's host country of something they value. Then wait to see if they get the message. If not, level something else – a palace, a nuclear facility, a bridge. Pick targets that are expensive to replace trying as best we can not to put innocent civilians in the cross hairs.

I know. Some of you out there would prefer we stop using force entirely. I wish we lived in a world where that was an option. But it's naïve – dangerously naïve. Islamo-fascists are going to continue making trouble for the West, because that's what the do. That's their whole purpose in life. They are like pitbulls. The breed should be banned, but that's not option. So we have to be ready to punish their owners when they let them off their leash and they bite someone.

The Arab world may someday decide it's missed the boat and change. But that day is not now, and I strongly suspect we will not see it during our lifetime. Now would be a good time to admit that and change our strategy from, "We're going to liberate you and force feed you democracy," to "Good bye. Don't call us, we'll call you. And keep your dogs tied up, or else."

But what about all that oil over there, you ask? Let's stop kidding ourselves. The only reason Bush wanted to "share" democracy with those nations is because he figured we could help get America-friendly candidates elected who in turn would appreciate the value of America's oil thirsty addictions. So, besides the "Don't Do That" military policy we need a 5-year Manhattan Project-level push for renewable energy.

Then, in a world where oil sells for $5 a barrel Arab oil producers, like Iraq and Saudi Arabia, may find new interest in joining the commercial club now dominated by the West.

Or, they can use their oil to grease their own skids to hell. I really don't care anymore.

The Dark Continent
Africa is another place where the West continues to do things that don't work, even after we know they don't work.

Virtually every European nation tried to colonize Africa. Italy, France, Britain, the Neatherlands... they all grabbed hunks of the African continent and tried to make it their own. In the process they did awful things to it's original owners. Africans, westerns figured, may be humans, but just barely. So they treated them the same way we treated American Indians, like trees that needed to be cleared to make way for profitable crops.

But western colonists did some good things too before they were forced to go home. They created transportation infrastructure, introduced forms of governance better suited to the modern world than old tribal systems. That western presence, for all its faults, vaulted Africa from the primitive to the 18th and 19th centuries in a matter of decades.

After which West spent nearly the entire 20th century doing penance for their racist/imperialistic behavior. White guilt became the motivator for the West's policies towards all things African. The West fought the last vestiges of those sins, apartheid in South Africa -- a good thing.

But also the World Bank and Western governments lavish trillions of dollars on the continent – most of which was wasted and/or stolen, and continue to do so.

With the exception of the end of apartheid, the Africa of today is little changed from the Africa from the Africa of a century ago. Where there have been changes, they are almost all bad changes. Western aid has allowed despots to buy modern weapons with which to commit ethnic cleansing and outright genocide on a scale that would make Hitler blush.

The infrastructure left behind by western colonialists has crumbled. (Even Amtrak has a better safety record than African railroads.) Governance has likewise degenerated. Zimbabwe, once a net exporter of food, has become a ward of the West again under the fascist regime of Robert Mugabe. ( See ReliefWeb ) Liberia, Niger, Sudan, Angola, go down the list and until you get all the way down to South Africa you find nothing but riot, rebellion, ruine and rot.

So, what to do? First, stop using guilt to underwrite World Bank loans. The West can't buy it's way to salvation. What it can do is lay down the law. If African countries want money they have to first put people in office who are not John Gotti's with a tan.

Then treat aid and money the same way banks treat construction loans – make progress payments. No more lump sum., no strings attached, loans. Provide the resources they need to achieve Goal A, and only once they do, give them the resources for Goal B.

Sounds simple enough, but the West hasn't done it. Strings are attached, then not pulled. Billions upon billions of dollars and aid have disappeared into the Dark Continent only to make the round trip back to the West in the form of fat Swiss bank accounts and Mediterranean villas.

And what of all those Africans the West feels so bad about mistreating a century ago? The only thing that's changed for them is they now have the "comfort" of knowing that their oppressors are black instead of white. Other than that more of them are dying today, from guns, hunger and disease, than were ever killed by all western colonists combined.

So Jesse Jackson, there, I;ve said it. So shoot me. But if we keep doin' what we been doin' in Africa, Africans are going to keep getting what the got. You can count on it.

This Just In:
That little two-legged tumor
Tom DeLay Indicted for Conspiracy
For more on this read yesterday's post below.
See actual indictment here

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

September 27, 2005

September 27, 2005

(Editor's Note: If you're looking for 1% Solution information or news you can find it at
I set up that dedicated site so that News For Real does not get lost in that campaign... if, that is, it ever becomes a campaign.)

UPDATED: See addition at the end of this article.

Smoking Gun?

A scandal as large as any seen before, possibly larger, threatens to involve the highest reaches of the Bush administration, possibly the President himself. Like the "third-rate" burglary that unraveled the corruption and abuse of power that finished the Nixon administration, this unraveling beings with second-rate larceny by a first-rate lobbyist. A lobbyist whose influence reached deep within Congress, the Justice Department and, ultimately the Oval Office itself..

Let's begin with the latest revelation. Today the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, reported:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 - The Justice Department's inspector general and the F.B.I. are looking into the demotion of a veteran federal prosecutor whose reassignment nearly three years ago shut down a criminal investigation of the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, current and former department officials report....They said investigators had questioned whether the demotion of the prosecutor, Frederick A. Black, in November 2002 was related to his alert to Justice Department officials days earlier that he was investigating Mr. Abramoff. The lobbyist is a major Republican Party fund-raiser and a close friend of several Congressional leaders.... Mr. Abramoff's internal e-mail messages show that he boasted to clients about what he described as his close ties to John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, and others at the department. (Full Story)

If this had happened during Clinton's tenure you can be sure that "Watermelon-Dan" (Rep. Dan Burton R-IN) would have called congressional hearings PDQ and dragged the Attorney General before his committee to testify under oath whether he or anyone in his office had killed an investigation into a key Democrat lobbyist.

Memo to Democrats: Former Attorney General John Ashcroft is still alive and available to testify. Demand he do so, and under oath.

Besides today's news we already know quite a lot about Jack Abramoff. First, we have learned that it would be almost impossible to be a ranking member of the Bush administration and not know Jack.

And that fact, together with what else we now know about Jack and his dealings, argues strongly in favor of congressional hearings.

For example, we know that Jack Abramoff was key in funding House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's leadership PACs, which in turn was instrumental in engineering a redistricting of through Texas. That in turn play a determining role in the GOP's capture of both houses of Congress. (More Here)

We also know that Abramoff and DeLay were the driving forces preventing US labor, safety or environmental rules from being applied to sweatshops in the US-controlled Mariana Islands. And that even before becoming President, George W. Bush was firmly in the DeLay/Abramoff camp on that issue:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In President Bush's first 10 months, GOP fundraiser Jack Abramoff and his lobbying team logged nearly 200 contacts with the new administration as they pressed for friendly hires at federal agencies and sought to keep the Northern Mariana Islands exempt from the minimum wage and other laws, records show....The records from Abramoff's firm, obtained by The Associated Press from the Marinas under an open records request, chronicle Abramoff's careful cultivation of relations with Bush's political team as far back as 1997.

In that year, Abramoff charged the Marinas for getting then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush to write a letter expressing support for the Pacific territory's school choice proposal, his billing records show.

"I hope you will keep my office informed on the progress of this initiative," Bush wrote in a July 18, 1997, letter praising the islands' school plan and copying in an Abramoff deputy. (USA Today)

We know that DeLay, the darling of the religious right, was unmoved by documented reports from more than one human rights group detailing forced labor and forced abortions ordered by Mariana sweatshop operators to keep their female workers on assembly lines. (More)

There is strong evidence that bribes were paid by some in the Marinas to someone in Washington and that elections in the Marinas were subsequently rigged to elect candidates favored by DeLay and Abramoff.

We know that Enron got a fat power plant project for the islands because someone in Washington pulled the right strings. (And do I need to tell you that Enron screwed the people of those islands blue, after they still have no power plant?) (More)

We know that a lawyer for Tyco International, told Newsweek that evidence has been turned over to Justice alleging Abramoff had lied to the Justice Dept. for Tyco which had hired him to launch a lobbying campaign to stop legislation that would have barred federal contracts to U.S. companies that kept their headquartered in overseas tax havens. Tyco, based in Bermuda, paid Abramoff $1.7 million in 2003 and 2004—plus another $1.5 million to fund a "grass roots" campaign to gin up opposition to the anti-off-shoring legislation.

Here again we see Bush administration finger prints all over the crime scene. The Tyco official who hired Abramoff, Tim Flanigan, is a former White House lawyer nominated by President Bush to be deputy attorney general. (Tyco's lawyers claim Abramoff ripped the company off by charging $1.5 million for "Grassroots Interactive," a group that allegedly did little if any real organizing but instead diverted the money "for other purposes." Grassroots Interactive was controlled by Abramoff. )

Abramoff raised more than $100,000 for Bush's re-election.

Abramoff has been a busy little sociopath and his past has begun to catch up with him. In August he was indicted and arrested for allegedly defrauding lenders in a $145 million deal involving floating casinos in Florida. Hours before Abramoff was indicted on fraud charges in Miami, FBI agents tried to arrest him at his Maryland home. But he'd already flown to Los Angeles. Agents tracked him down on his cell phone and ordered him to surrender to the local FBI office. When Abramoff did, later that day, he was handcuffed, thrown into jail, then released last Friday on a $2.2 million bond.

Abramoff is also under investigation for defrauding Indian tribes he promised to help gain approval for casinos. According to sources close to those investigation Abramoff, with help from GOP anti-tax crusader, Grover Norquist and Christian-right leader Ralph Reed, inflated lobbying fees over-charged the tribes millions of dollars while never delivering the promised services.

And here's something to chew on. Abramoff was a paid lobbyist for Pakistan. That in itself isn't a crime. But considering that a couple of decades ago Abramoff was also a lobbyist and outspoken fan of apartheid South Africa, it's at least interesting. During that time South Africa, if you recall, had worked secretly with Israel to develop nuclear weapons. Considering Pakistan's history of nuclear proliferation, and the amount of money to made by those willing to aid and abet proliferation, the Abramoff/Pakistan relationship is worthy of further investigation. (See SourceWatch)

With all that as preface, we learn today that someone in the highest reaches of the Bush administration may have killed an investigation into Abramoff's activities way back in 2002. The fact that an investigation into such a well-connected Republican lobbyist might have been spiked by top DOJ appointees is bad enough. But the timing is even more suspicious. November 2002 -- mid-term elections were afoot -- elections that gave the GOP narrow majorities in both houses of Congress. (House 205-D/229-R & Senate 48-D/51-R)

It was close, too close. Tom Delay wanted to seal Republican control by even larger margins in 2004, and the best way to do that was to force a redistricting in his home state, Texas. Existing districting favored too many incumbent Democrats. But he knew they would fight redistricting to the death. He would need all the money he could get, and that meant Jack Abramoff -- and the last thing DeLay (or the White House) needed in the Fall of 2002 was an investigation into Abramoff's activities in the Marinas -- or anywhere else for that matter. And so the investigation was stopped. By whom, remains to be investigated.

That left Abramoff free to help DeLay with carving up Texas for the GOP. The vehicle was Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC). Jack Abramoff served for several of DeLay's PACs, and helped set up TRMPAC apparatus. Texas was redistricted and the GOP made the gains DeLay had predicted in 2004 races.

Now a grand jury in Texas has indicted TRMPAC officials accusing the PAC of accepting $120,000 in illegal corporate campaign contributions shortly before and after the 2002 elections that helped Republicans cement their control of the House of Representatives.

I think there's enough here for Congressional hearings, don't you?

Oh wait.. two more things ... Karl Rove's personal secretary was formerly Abramoff's executive secretary? And, before they both ended up in the Bush administration, John Ashcroft was Karl Rove's private attorney?

Nothing worthy of a congressional investigation in any that, huh?

"What this starts to suggest is that Abramoff's ability to corrupt the system was far more pervasive, certainly than we knew at the time," Rep. George Miller

Arrests Made in Case Connected to Abramoff
Three Men Allegedly Killed 'Gus' Boulis, Who Sold A Casino Cruise Line to the Embattled Washington Lobbyist

By James V. Grimaldi and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 27, 2005; 2:57 PM

Fort Lauderdale police have arrested three men on murder and conspiracy charges in the 2001 gangland-style killing of a South Florida businessman who sold a casino cruise line to Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, authorities said today.

Police picked up Anthony Moscatiello, 67, Anthony Ferrari, 48, and James Fiorillo, 28, last night and this morning in connection with the ambush slaying of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, who was killed in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 6, 2001.

Boulis had sold SunCruz Casinos to Abramoff and a partner, Adam Kidan, in 2000 at a time when Abramoff was one of Washington's most powerful lobbyists. Abramoff and Kidan were indicted last month on charges of wire fraud in connection with the purchase of the company. Moscatiello, known to police as a bookkeeper to New York's Gambino crime family, was brought in as consultant by Kidan when he and Abramoff took control of SunCruz. Ferrari is a business associate of Moscatiello.

Abramoff is at the center of a federal investigation into lobbying for Indian tribes and influence-peddling in Washington. Abramoff used contacts with Republican Reps. Tom DeLay (Tex.) and Robert W. Ney (Ohio) and members of their staffs as he worked to land the SunCruz deal, interviews and court records show.

Ney twice placed comments in the Congressional Record at key points while Abramoff and Kidan were wrangling with Boulis over the purchase and control of the company. Ney first sharply criticized Boulis and later praised the new ownership under Kidan. Ney later said he was duped into making the comments by an Abramoff aide.

Also during the negotiations, Abramoff brought a lender he was trying to impress to hobnob with DeLay in Abramoff's FedEx Field skybox at a Redskins-Cowboys game. DeLay has said he did not remember meeting the lender.

Fort Lauderdale homicide detectives say they have been interested in interviewing Abramoff for years, but he has repeatedly begged off, citing scheduling difficulties. Abramoff's lawyer, Neal Sonnett, said after the fraud indictment that his client knows nothing about the murder but would be willing to meet with police. Kidan, who was interviewed by police in 2001, also has denied any knowledge of the murder.

Police have long said they knew who killed Boulis but needed more evidence to bring a case. Late last week, police persuaded the Broward County State Attorney's Office that they had enough evidence to get a grand jury indictment.

Moscatiello was arrested at 8 p.m. yesterday in his Howard Beach home in Queens, N.Y. Ferrari was arrested at 11:15 p.m. in Palm Coast, Fla. Both were being held without bond on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder. Fiorillo, who was arrested this morning in Miami Beach, was charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy.

Michael D. Becker, an attorney in Miami who has represented the men in other matters, said he has not had a chance to speak to any of them yet. "The arrest certainly came out of the blue," he said today.

Five years ago, Abramoff, Kidan and former Reagan administration official Ben Waldman of Springfield, purchased SunCruz from Boulis, 51, the millionaire founder of the popular Miami Subs sandwich shop chain. Abramoff and Kidan have been friends since their days together as College Republicans in Washington. Kidan, of New York City, owned the Dial-a-Mattress chain in the District until the franchise went into bankruptcy in the 1990s.

On Aug. 11, Abramoff and Kidan were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale on five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy relating to their $147.5 million SunCruz purchase. Prosecutors alleged that Abramoff and Kidan faked a wire transfer of $23 million -- the down payment they had agreed to put into the deal for the fleet of Florida-based day-cruise casino boats.

Boulis remained a minority partner in SunCruz after the deal, but the relationship soured quickly.

In October 2000, in the midst of the infighting with Boulis, Kidan turned to a friend of 15 years, Moscatiello, who began visiting Kidan's condominium and golfing with Kidan and Waldman. Moscatiello in 1983 was indicted on federal heroin-trafficking charges along with Gene Gotti, brother of John Gotti, then the head of the Gambino crime family. Gene Gotti and several others were convicted and sentenced to prison, but charges against Moscatiello were later dropped.

Kidan met Moscatiello in 1990 when he was running New York City's Best Bagels in the Hamptons and Moscatiello was running a catering hall. Moscatiello provided Kidan advice on running the business. Kidan said in a deposition he was unaware of Moscatiello's 1983 indictment or his affiliations with the Gambino family.

In December 2000, the trouble with Boulis boiled over in a fistfight between Kidan and Boulis. Kidan described the fight to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, telling the newspaper that Boulis said, "I'm not going to sue you, I'm going to kill you." Kidan said that SunCruz thereafter barred Boulis from its casino ships. "We fired his friends, we fired his family and he wasn't happy with it," Kidan said. "This guy is violent -- he's sleazy."

That month SunCruz made the first of $145,000 in payments to Moscatiello and his daughter. Three checks for $10,000 each were made to his daughter, Jennifer Moscatiello. A fourth check for $115,000 was made to Gran-Sons, a company the Moscatiellos ran. The payments were for catering, consulting and "site inspections," Kidan said in a civil court deposition in 2001.

There is no evidence that any food or drink were provided or that any consulting documents were prepared, according to court documents. The checks to Jennifer Moscatiello were made at Anthony Moscatiello's instruction, although his daughter provided no services for the money, Kidan said in his deposition.

Ferarri is a principal in Moon Over Miami Beach Inc., which received $95,000 from SunCruz for surveillance services in early 2001.

Abramoff and Kidan were traveling on business abroad at the time of Boulis's murder.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

September 26, 2005

Now I've Done It

Last week I proposed The 1% Solution, and it struck a nerve. My email was clogged with folks who said they thought it was a terrific idea and wanted to know how to get started . So I got started... if only just. I registered The site is bare bones right now but it's up.

Now what? I'm only one guy. and a lazy one at that. We're going to need a hellulva lot more than that to make a splash with this. Because it's all up hill right from the start. On our right we face bought-and-paid for Republicans not about to to bite the One Percenters who feed them.

On our left we is an opposition party that's been beaten senseless by right-wing thugs over the past five years. About a third of them have even begun wearing the other gang's colors to avoid further beatings. Then there's the Hillary third of the party that now speaks only in tongues, making it nearly impossible to figure which side they're really on.

That leaves about a third of Democrats that we can probably count on. But even so, it will require enormous pressure from those Democrats, backed up by nothing short of a tsunami of support from the grassroots (that's you, in case you were wondering,) to drag that other two thirds of Democrats onto this bandwagon.

The good news is that a growing number of moderate Republicans, (even a few GOP full-mooners,) are grousing about Bush's mushrooming deficits. The 1% Solution may not be entirely palatable to them. But if it comes down to a choice between that or deficits, many of them will swallow hard, hide behind the "in times of emergency taxes are a necessary evil," rationale, and vote for it. With Democrats on board and a few dozen Republicans, we'd have a veto-proof bill to put in front of Borrow and Spend George. If he signs it, we win. If he vetoes it, we win – twice.

This plan could actually work. So, who out there wants to lend a hand? I will keep the page up only as long as I believe the necessary momentum is building and helping hands keep helping. (The last thing wanted to do when I retired was start something that put me back to work. So I'm not about to try to pull this wagon alone.)

So, here's what's needed... and soon:

* A savvy Washington DC coordinator to get the 1% Pledge to each member of Congress and get 1% lapel buttons to each of those who sign it.
* Someone/company to produce lapel buttons, bumper stickers, printed pledges, pledge certificates, etc.
* Researcher(s) willing and able to compile a list of the Top 100 One Percenters, and then detail the extent of their most conspicuous assets. Also to provide to them copies of The 1% Solution petition to sign (or to refuse to sign it.)

Most importantly, we need a member, or members of the House and Senate willing to step forward and sponsor 1% Solution bills. (Helloooo up there. Can you hear us yet?)

Okay, so there's the deal. If people step forward and pitch in, this campaign continues. If not, I pull the plug on it. Your call. Let's see if you're just all talk or really ready to act. I'm giving this one month to either fly or die.

Another Reason For the 1% Repeal
As I noted in an earlier column, whenever something awful happens in the nation or world, be it war or bad weather, it's always wealthy supporters of this administration and their friends who benefit. The hurricanes are the latest proof this theory.

"More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse.... Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors - the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA. Bills have come in for deals that apparently were clinched with a handshake, with no documentation to back them up.... (Full Story)

Among those profiting from the misery in the Gulf, (that we know about) include;

* The Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.
* $568 million in contracts for debris removal has been awarded to a company with ties to Mississippi's Republican governor, and former GOP head, Haley Barbour. (Imagine what the Republicans would be screaming now if former DNC head, Terry McAuliffe had pulled a stunt like that.)
* CH2M Hill and the Fluor Corporation, two global engineering companies have been awarded a total of $250 million in hurricane contracts. Both companies were previously cited by regulators for safety violations at a weapons plant cleanup.
* The Bechtel Corporation, awarded a contract that could be worth $100 million, is under scrutiny for its oversight of the "Big Dig" construction project in Boston.
* Kellogg, Brown & Root, which has bagged $60 million in hurricane clean up contracts so far, has been rebuked by federal auditors for "unsubstantiated" billings for Iraq reconstruction and criticized for charging taxpayers $100-per-bag laundry service there.

So, besides the obvious problems with all the above, we can probably agree that at the very least these folks should not get more tax cuts. You have to know that at the head of each of those companies sit some of our One Percenters who deserve to have their Bush tax gift repealed. After all, they screw with us – or more precisely, screw us -- regularly. The least we can do is return the favor. You got a problem with that?

So, are you ready to throw your hat into the 1% Solution ring? If so, get ready to put some skin in too. I always appreciate nice emails telling me what "a great job" I'm doing. But I don't need slaps on the back for this to work. I need help. And I need it fast.

Contact: Stephen Pizzo
Phone: 707-829-7038
Email: Stephen(at)

Monday, September 26, 2005

September 25, 2005

History: What a Bitch!

I know you are wondering how it will end. Iraq I mean. When all the shooting, dying and fortune wasting is done, what will the final product look like?

I can tell with near perfect certainty. Just exactly when this result will gel is harder to pin down, but I'd guess it will materialize within the next five years.

How do I know? Because we've been here before. No, I'm not going to drag out the old Vietnam example again. Actually, we should be so lucky if Iraq settled down and emulated the post-war Vietnam of today. No, except for US lives lost for nothing, Iraq and Vietnam will take far different post-war paths.

To understand where we are heading you first have to understand where we've been before. I will make this as painless as possible. But there's no avoiding a short history lesson. I know, I know... boooooring... But hey, I've done all the leg work for you, sorted out the key facts and compressed it all down into a tasty bite. The least you can do is read it.

Here we go. (Hey! You with your finger on the delete key. There will be quiz, wise guy.)

History Part I: Once Upon a Yugoslavia
If you are older than 12 you probably remember a country called "Yugoslavia." Iraq and Yugoslavia are geopolitical twins. (Neither being a "good twin.") Both were warped at birth by forced ethnic engineering.

Yugoslavia first took form as "The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats." But, since that was a hard name to write on checks, the name was changed in 1929 to "Yugoslavia."

Like Iraq, Yugoslavia was invaded by several imperial powers over the years and it was only during such moments that the various tribes that made up the country showed any interest in a single national identity. The last such threat launched by Hitler. Hitler was defeated and Josip Broz ("Marshall Tito"), a Croatian Communist, became President in 1945.

Tito and Saddam could have been separated at birth. Each was good at just one thing: scaring the hell out anyone who opposed them. They both used whatever means necessary, the more brutal the better, to keep their artificial nation states in one piece.

Tito died in 1980 and Yugoslavia began to unravel along ethnic lines: Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were recognized as independent states in 1992. Serbia and Montenegro declared a new "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" (FRY) in April 1992 ruled by Saddam wanna-be Slobodan Milosevic.

The rest is history, so to speak. Once tribal identity trumps national identity it's straight downhill. Which explains why there is no Yugoslavia today. It's been replaced by five tribal nation-states that spend most of their time and energy arguing over property lines and who's mother is uglier.

And like Iraq's Saddam, Molosevic is cuurently cooling his heels in the slammer.

History Part II: Iraq, From Birth to Deathbed
At the very time Yugoslavia was being cobbled together in the early 1900's the British were busy playing midwife to another new nation in the middle east, Iraq. In their defense the Brits didn't even try to pretend they were trying to bring democracy to the poor Arabs. They were there for the oil and made no bones about it. "I do not care under what system we keep the oil," declared Arthur James Balfour, UK Foreign Secretary at the time.

British Forces landed at the port of Basra in November 1914 under oders to protect the oil fields against the Turks and their German allies. Once the Brits secured Basra, facing only light resistance, they figured, "what the hell, lets keep going." Taking Baghdad was viewed by British military leaders a way to restore British prestige in the Middle East in 1915 after the bloody debacle of Gallipoli.

US soldiers fighting in Iraq today would probably agree with an Indian soldier fighting for the British back then. As the soldiers trudged through the staggering desert heat an Indian trooper was heard to remark: "It passeth my understanding why the British Government should be interested in this Satan-like land."

As the British occupied more and more of what was then simply called "Mesopotamia" the natives started killing them in alarming numbers. Eventually the politicians back home figured out that they were never going to turn Iraq into a profitable member of the British Empire.

"We pay for these things too much in honour and in innocent lives," T.E. Lawrence wrote at the time. "We cast them by their thousands into the fire to the worst of deaths, not to win the war, but that the corn and rice and oil of Mesopotamia might be ours."

So the Brits, there prestige in the area now totally shredded, decided the best thing to do was to establish some kind of national identity -- any damn kind -- put someone in charge of it and get the hell out of Dodge.

And so it came to pass. The Iraq we know today was hastily cobbled together by carving up parts of the old Ottoman Empire. The Brits summarily annexed the provinces of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. The result was a Frankenstein nation, stitched together by tailors in a haste to leave.

The new Iraq was less a nation than an imperial convenience that artificially shackled together Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, all of whom detested each other. All these tribes shared in common was their hatred for the British, a hatred that grew once the Brits "liberated" the area from the formerly hated Turks. Once the Turks were gone the Brits replaced them as the area's new imperial rulers and the locals duly transferred their hatred to them. Even as the Brits tried to enforce order, their newly minted Iraq boiled with insurgency and rebellion.

It was clear to the Brits that the Iraqis were not up to the complexities and subtleties of a parlimentary system, so they went with a monacry. They grabbed the first guy who looked like a leader, "King" Fisal, put him in charge and split.

On his deathbed in 1933 King Fisal summed up progress so far:

"There is still no Iraqi people, but unimaginable masses of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever."

Sound familiar?

Okay, end of history lesson. Now that you know where we've been, it will be easier to understand were we are heading.

Yugoslavia is the template. Instead of splitting into five pieces, Iraq will become three; Kurdistan, Shiitistan and Sunnistan (or something along those lines.) Kurdistan will align with the West, Shiitistan with Iran and Sunnistan with Syria for military muscle and Saudi Arabia for money -- which they will need since Sunnistan may have the market cornered on sand, but no oil.

Will that end trouble in the area? Fat chance. Just look at the former Yugoslavia. There are still NATO troops there keeping the parties from killing each other for sport.

In the former Iraq Sunnis will fight for water and oil rights, both controlled by their traditional enemies the Kurds and Shiites. Islamic fundamentalists will make trouble for the Kurds and Shiites who will return the favor. Shiitestan will become for Iran what Lebanon, until recently, was to Syria, a defacto province.

So, now that we know how this is going to end, what's it mean to us? Damn little. Here's why:

* What I described above is how this misadventure will end no matter how long we stay or how many more Americans die. The country will not remain together because it's never been one country to begin with.

* If the US goal in invading was to create stability in the area, we created just the opposite. When Iraq lost Saddam it lost it's sole unifying force... and evil force, to be sure, but a force none the less. It's various parts and pieces have been shaking loose ever since, now with nothing to stop them from flying off entirely. By removing Saddam the US accellerated the inevitable break up of Iraq.

* If it's oil that drives our policy, that game has changed as well. First, Iraq can no longer even pump enough oil for its own needs, much less export any of the stuff. And sectarian warfare will keep things stay that way for at least a decade to come. ("If we (Sunnis) can't have the oil, no one gets it.")This comes at the very time it has finally dawned on the industrialized world that the days of oil are ending and there's a rush to develop new sources of energy. (Even British Petroleum has changed its company slogan to "BP - Beyond Petroleum") The bottom line: So what about Iraq's oil.

* When Iraq comes apart, Sunnistan and Shiitestan will become, (actually all ready are) magnets for Islamic fundamentalist terrorist types. But, there's a silver lining around that cloud. Terrorist always eventually end up causing more trouble for their hosts than their stated enemies. They will be more a problem to these new little countries than to us.

* But we still have to worry about terrorists. By spending a fraction of what we are now in Iraq on real homeland security, especially border security, we will be safer then – by a long shot – than we are now.

It's been 72-years since Iraq's first installed leader, King Fisal, gave himself a failing grade for uniting his country. His words then were spookily similar to those uttered just yesterday in Washington by a guy who oughta know:

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation (Iraq) together. All the dynamics are pulling the country apart....This is a very dangerous situation."

That was Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister yesterday talking to the New York Times. He complained that he said he was so concerned that no one in the White House was listening that he had come to the US to bring this warning "to everyone who will listen" in the Bush administration.

So, there are. You now know how this mess began and how it's going to end. All that's left to do is what the British did 75 years ago, pack up and leave. That opportunity will offer itself this Fall after the Iraqis vote again. If Bush & Co. have an ounce of sense they will make sure the media has hundreds of photos of Iraqis holding up purple fingers and flashing smiles that make every dentist in the world cringe, declare another "mission accomplished," and split.

Because whether it's now or after another 2000 Americans die, that's how it will end anyway.

Friday, September 23, 2005

September 22, 2005

The 1% Solution

Call me crazy, but don't you think now would be like the perfect moment in time for House and Senate Democrats to demand repeal of those Bush tax cuts that benefit only America's top 1% of earners? That act alone would bring in around $450 billion, and just when we need it the most.

Forget about it, you say. The Dems are the minority in both houses, and a fractured and weak minority at that. How could they force anything? Hell, they can't even force us to pay attention to them anymore, much less pull off a major political coup like that.

Well, call me crazy again, but I think they could -- if only they would.

If they only would:

* Challenge the GOP's "Operation Offset" with their own, "Operation 1% Solution." (The very name shows how little really needs to done to solve a big problem.)

* Use the facts they already have that show clearly how the top 1% benefit by grossly disproportionate margins from those tax cuts.(See those facts here)

* Put some of those bright interns to work compiling lists of One-Percenters that show how much extra dough they will get this year if those cuts are not repealed. Then show what the kind of things they are buying with that money, – homes, yachts, planes, -- all of which is available from public records. (Name names, baby. This is no time to be queasy or polite. They sure as hell aren't.)

* Confront the president's false claims that repealing that portion of his tax cuts would hurt the economy. Do so by showing how One-Percenters have actually used their extra tax cuts so far. Publicly challenge the administration and One-Percenters to show precisely how a dime of the tax rebates they received last year created jobs. (Not jobs building their new yacht in a French shipyard either, but jobs here in the US.)

* Make Operation 1% Solution THE centerpiece of all things Democrat. Let no conversation with any form of media happen in which it is not the main topic. Don't let a bill progress in either house without linking it's cost to passage and implementation of The 1% Solution.

* Contact prominent One-Percenters and ask them to endorse The %1 Solution. Then put up a web site showing has and who hasn't.

* Circulate The 1% Solution Pledge among the House and Senate. Put up a web page that shows who has signed it and who has not. Make it the centerpiece of upcoming midterm races in 2006. (So, which side you on? TheOne Percenter's side -- or the side of other 99% ?)

* Finally, stop pussyfooting around the class warfare issue. Here's a news flash for you Dems: Class warfare has been raging for over a decade. But only the other side has fielded fighters. Get out of your bunkers and go on the attack. And when Republicans accuse you of waging class warfare, tell them, "Damn right. Sorry we're late. But we had to get our heads out of our... "

They could, if only they would.

Grassroots Democrats (and former Democrats) need to get with Operation 1% Solution too. Guerilla marketing and guerilla theater are powerful tools. We learned to use both effectively during the Vietnam War. Executed smartly , with both humor and edge, such actions can embarrass and devastate an opponent like nothing short of catching them naked in bed with an assortment of farm animals.

Be creative. Here, this is just off the top of my aging former-hippie head....

* Go out and buy a fleet of wheelbarrows. Paint them money-green. When One-Percenters who refuse to support The 1% Solution show up in public, have someone there to present them with a "complimentary wheel barrow with which to take their Bush tax cuts to the bank." Make sure there are plenty of TV and still images available. (Silly? Yep. And when they accuse you of that, ask them how "silly" it is to give such people tax cuts at a time like this, when the nation and its people are in such need. That's the un-silly part of the action.)

* Have a few dozen families left homeless by the hurricanes set up shantytowns named "Camp 1%" in front of the White House and/or in front of the Capitol. Make sure each camper has a portfolio of color photos of homes owned by various unrepentant One Percenters. This will make it easy for them to explain to reporters why they are there and why they think The 1% Solution may be the solution to their little problem. .

* Round up support among state and local first responders, police, fire and medical personnel. Bush has lionized them for his own purposes. Now turn that powerful image against him with "First Responders for The 1% Solution." They can explain with authority on how federal budget cuts proposed in the GOP's "Operation Offset" would only further cripple their ability to respond to future emergencies, natural or otherwise. (And for the guerilla part -- find a fire department that has an old fire truck to donate to the cause. Get it to Washington and park it in front of the Capitol. Jack the old girl up, remove her wheels, and leave her up on blocks draped with a banner that reads, "Operation Offset." Sure it will get towed. But not before the evening news gets some nice footage. Then, once that parking place is clear, fill it with a police cruiser on blocks, then an ambulence, etc.)

* Round up local and state wounded Veterans and create Veterans For the 1% Solution to dog administration officials in public, blocking their way with their wheel chairs, waving artificial limbs at them, and armed with facts and figures on federal cuts to veteran's health benefits. (They might also bring society page photos of unrepentant One Percenters skiing the Swiss Alps. That would be a nice touch, don't you think?)

Anyway, you get the picture. Talk is cheap. And talk is about all those of us who oppose Bush & Co. have been good at over the past five painful years. Blah, blah, bladdy blah blah. You, me and Democrats in Congress. Big talk, little action.

Democrats on The Hill need to start raising real hell. Not just news conference hell,, but screaming bloody murder hell. Gumming-up-the-works hell. Refusing-to-shut-up-when-told-to hell. Messing-with-Robert's-Rules-of-Order hell. They need to get big 1% Solution buttons and wear them to 24-hours a day. I don't want to see any Democrat on the news not sporting at least one of those buttons. And, every time they rise and stand before the House or Senate to speak, no matter the subject, the first words out of their mouths has to be about the need to pass The 1% Solution, and why.

The same goes for the rest of us. We need to get off our pompous progressive, granola-crunching, tree-hugging, Prius-buying, self-satisfied, we're-too-good-for-this-world spoiled asses and get our hands dirty.

Does anyone doubt for moment that things would change if the streets in DC were filled, day in and and out, with protesters? And not just a the too-much-time-on-their-hands, usual suspect protesters. I'm talking regular folk -- the kind who think tofu is an island in the pacific and movie Fargo, was a documentary.

The 1% Solution -- a simple, honest, straightforward, fair, easily-explained and justified cause to fight for. But in order to have a snowball's chance in hell, it must be embraced from top to bottom, by public office holders as well as by those of us who put them there.

The 1% Solution would not solve all America's problems. It would solve some problems immediately and force solutions be found for others. The $450 billion it would raise would pay for much of the mess caused by Katrina and Rita in the Gulf, and without the added costs involved with borrowing all that money – or the massive cuts in domestic programs suggested by the GOP.

No, it won't end the Iraq. What it would do though is reopen the debate on how, if we insist on staying there, we pay for it. And, faced with giving back even more of their tax cuts, I suspect Bush's upper income contributors might lose their appetite for more of the same in Iraq.

The 1% Solution. I like the sound of that.

So, where can we can we get bulk pricing on wheel barrows and green paint?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

September 22, 2005

Odyssey 2005

HAL: I know a song.
If you'd like to hear it, I can sing it for you, Dave.

Dave: Yes...I'd like to hear it HAL....Sing it for me.

HAL: It's called "Daisy"
Daisy....Daisy.....Give me your answer due....
I'm half-crazy....all for the love of you....

Republicans have been on a roll since Newt Gingrich dreamed up his "Contract With America," a decade ago. The CWA was the first time in decades Republicans had even given a passing thought to a domestic agenda. They had been riding the Better Dead Than Red express since the 1950s. For nearly half a century it had been their ticket to power. Their program back then was simple too – "Democrats are a bunch of limp-wristed, bleeding heart, pinkos who, if allowed to run the country will hand your children and the nation to the Godless Commies on a silver plater. "

Then the commies disappeared, Bill Clinton replaced Reagan and Bush at the top and Democrats controlled Congress. Yikes. What to do? Without an external threat to demagogue they needed a new threat, one closer to home.

That's when Newt & Co. joined forces with those at the far right of their party. These were the crazy aunts and uncles the party had kept locked in the attic because they were, well, crazy. They didn't just hate communist governments, they hated all government, including their own.

Brilliant! The new threat became the threat within -- creeping, nanny government, that intruded into private lives, strangled innovation and entrepreneurs in their cribs and redistributed wealth through taxation. "Tax and Spend Liberals" and the government programs and services they created, became the new threat.

Newt & Company's Contract With America became their manifesto. They would attack the beast from within, sap its strength by denying it subsistence, thereby bringing the beast to its knees. They promised to topple Big Liberal Government just as they had Big Communism.

Then came 9/11 and they saw an unexpected opportunity to revive their old external threat gambit as well. They dusted of their old "evil empire" play books and updated them. Democrats were still weak, only this time on terrorism. "Democrats don't want to declare war on terrorist, they want to arrest them and put them on trial. Can you believe that? Afford them judicial and human rights? A day in court, even an attorney? That's those bleeding heart liberals for you."

Both plans worked --sorta and for a while anyway.

Republicans reclaimed the White House and both houses of Congress. And, even though doubts about his competency had grown, voters reelected G.W. Bush a second time, because they felt he was tougher on terrorists. Now the GOP is on the very cusp of bagging the judicial branch as well.

But the first part of their plan, the Contract With America part, worked a little too well. Just as they promised, they sapped the beast of huge hunks of tax revenue -- under the guise of stimulative tax cuts. So far, so good.

But now reality set in. In recent weeks voters discovered something startling. Osama bin Laden was not the only threat to their lives and fortunes. No. There are even bigger threats out there for which we was not prepared; Osama bin Hurricane, Osama bin Tornado, and inevitably Osama bin Big-ass Earthquake. We learned that our government could no longer respond well to any of those threats. Why? Because, it's hard to respond to anything when you're weak and on your knees.

It reminds me of the computer, HAL, in Kubrick's Space Odessey 2001. The US government's once robust capabilities have been shut down, one by one, disconnected by busy GOP hands from within. That's why, when the poor folks stranded in New Orleans called for help, all they heard at the other end of the line was a stumbling version of "Daisy."

But therein lays a glimmer of hope. By dismantling critical domestic federal services and programs, the GOP inadvertently demonstrated why they where created to begin with. By slashing taxes they have starved "the beast" into a stupor. Gone are the Clinton surpluses. Gone are many of the tax revenues once paid by corporations and the wealthy. And gone are the services they once funded.

Since Katrina even Red State voters have been telling their GOP representatives they want those services restored. That this is America, not Haiti. Holy moly, they saw Mexican troops coming to the aid of US citizens in New Orleans! Hell, most Red State voters didn't even know Mexico had an army. Red State voter's US flags, normally proudly erect, went flaccid. They were humiliated and swept with performance anxiety. They got on the phone and told their representatives they wanted them to restore the kind of government services every other First World nation enjoys -- now!

So, how are these slash and burn Republicans going satisfy those demands? The game has clearly changed but they are still using Newt's old play books. Logical minds say just repeal the tax cuts for the top 1% of earners. That would bring in a quick and easy $450 billion in tax revenues. Forget about it, they say. No. Will not, will not, will not!

So then, what is their plan?

"WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 - Conservative House Republicans plan to recommend on Wednesday more than $500 billion in savings over 10 years to compensate for the costs of Hurricane Katrina as lawmakers continue to struggle to develop a consensus on the fiscal approach to the disaster. At the top of a partial list of the potential cuts being circulated on Tuesday were previously suggested ideas like delaying the start of the new Medicare prescription drug coverage for one year to save $31 billion and eliminating $25 billion in projects from the newly enacted transportation measure. (Full Story)

Yep, that's right. Rather than ask those who have the most to chip in, the GOP's plan is to take more away from those who have less, a lot less. Perversely they also see more beast-killing opportunity in all this misery. Under the guise of finding money to help hurricane victims, they want to de-fund Public Broadcasting. Call it Katrina's silver lining.

And, rather than raise taxes on the rich they prefer squeezing government workers. One of the ideas they tossed out yesterday was to begin charging government employees for the privilege of parking in the company lot. I kid you not. What's next, pay toilets in all government buildings?

It's all part of a desperate rear-guard action to preserve the Bush tax cuts. Nothing more, nothing less. So get ready for new GOP Orwellian tsunami. Example. the old "fraud, waste and abuse," canard.

Republicans always drag this piece of rhetorical nonsense out whenever they don't want to pay for something in an honest and straight up manner. They claim they can squeeze hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars out the beast by "eliminating fraud, waste and abuse." Then they never..NEVER...ever... EVER, do. N-e-v-e-r.

Yet, here it is again. The GOP claims that by attacking fraud, waste and abuse, and trimming more domestic programs they can pay for the war and hurricane relief and the war without raising taxes. They even gave their plan a nifty bit of Madison Ave. branding. They call it, Operation Offset. They say they will "offset" the cost of hurricane relief with cuts elsewhere. Get it, suckers?

But here's where the fun begins. One politician's fraud, waste and abuse is another's sacred cow. Prime example -- House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, R-Tx. When asked if he was ready to sacrifice the $114 million in pork slipped in the new highway bill for his district, he balked. "My earmarks are pretty important to building an economy in that region," Mr. DeLay said.

Observation: At least those naughty "tax and spend liberals" understood that, in order to spend, they had to raise money. New taxes require a vote, almost always an unpopular vote.Democrats were ready to make that case and take the heat. Republicans discovered they can skip the unpopular part of governing by cutting taxes and then borrowing the difference. Borrow and spend conservatives.

The problem now is that Republicans have cut taxes and spent more than the world is willing to lend us. America now wallows in red ink. If we were a private company our bonds would be rated high-risk corporate junk.

It's at such times that the immutable laws of economic-physics kick in. Interest rates are rising. The Fed boosted them again yesterday. (See Here) Adjustable mortgage rates will reflect that change just about the time already stretched home owners are struggling to pay skyrocketing home heating bills. And, adding insult to injury, paying $3 a gallon for the gasoline they need to drive to work so they can earn enough to pay their utility bills.

Not done yet. Almost every major US airline is either in bankruptcy or heading there. The once lauded US education system has become a joke, cranking out graduates that are among the lamest people on earth. The very foundations upon which we became a super power, our national infrastructure, crumbles before our eyes. Our military has been over-extended and is fraying around the edges. We check old-men's shoes at airports but can't afford to secure our wide open borders. Over 50 million American citizens can't get affordable health care or drugs. When a natural disaster strikes victims are left to fend for themselves.

That's the smell of victory. They succeeded. Republicans starved and brought the Government Beast to its knees.

And, if you believe what they are saying now, they aren't done.

Weird Story of the Day
Jeb Bush's Pretend Friend

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

September 20, 2005

Katrina Free Zone

I don't know about you, but I need a break from hurricane news. The final straw for me came during last night's NBC Evening news with the story of Hero Barber. It was a "touching" story about a barber giving free haircuts to New Orleans refugees. I'm sorry, I'm sure this guy is a fine fellow and yes, it's a nice thing to do. But holy moly, that was four minutes out of an already too short 23 minute prime time network newscast -- for a feel good fluff piece.

By all means, celebrate Hero Barber, just not on the evening news. Give the nice barber man a half-hour slot on Ophra or Dr. Phil. But for Christ sake not the evening news. These are perilous times. Lots of genuinely important things happened that day, things that eclipse the virtues of personal grooming. NBC could have – should have -- used those precious minutes to better explain any one of them.

But, no, I had to sit through four minutes of Hero Barber. What are we going to have to endure next as the frantic mainstream media producers try to squeeze fresh stories out of Katrina's already well-squeezed grapes of wrath? Hero proctologist? Hero Cab Driver? Hero Paper Boy? Hero Pedicurist? How about Hero News Anchor, someone who knows the difference real news and fluff?

(UPDATE: I have already gotten one complaint for dissing the Hero Barber. I wasn't dissing him. I was dissing NBC for wasting precious news minutes on a story that wasn't news.Jeeze Louise!)

Anyway, that's why there's no hurricane or FEMA gripes today. I am hurricaned out. Believe it or not, other news is happening. I kid you not.

Blood In The Water – Sharks Circling
Some very interesting things have been afoot while our attention was focused on New Orleans. There's big trouble brewing in the House of Bush. A slow, but steady unraveling has begun. Fall guys are refusing to fall unaccompanied. Lips are getting loose. Secrets are coming out. Fingers are getting ready to point. Blood has been let, and there's lots more to come.

You may recall that just before Katrina knocked everything else off the front page, some key GOP's Capos had attracted law enforcement attention. House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, (R-Tx) was under criminal investigation back home for gross violations of Texas campaign contribution laws.

Then, in what must have been DeLay's worst nightmare, his bagman, Washington ubber-lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, got himself indicted down in Florida in a gambling company scandal that included a mob hit, former Washington bigs hots and assorted Miami Vice plot twists.(More on all that here)

"Abramoff was indicted by federal prosecutors in Miami last month on unrelated charges of wire fraud and conspiracy. He remains the linchpin of an 18-month probe by a federal task force that includes the Internal Revenue Service, the Interior Department and the Justice Department's fraud and public integrity units.....Abramoff's allegedly improper dealings with Indian tribes -- which netted him and an associate at least $82 million in fees -- prompted the federal probe. But investigators have found that his documents and e-mails contain a trove of information about his aggressive efforts to seek favors for clients from members of Congress and senior bureaucrats." (Full Story)

Will Abramoff spill the beans? Will he bargain his way out of trouble by bargaining DeLay in? Abramoff knows where most of DeLay's trouble is buried, because he helped buried it. If Abramoff starts talking he proably knows enough to send DeLay up the river for decades.

But Abramoff won't talk until he is convinced the feds have the goods on him, which they may not. But if someone else can supply the goods on Abramoff, and he suddenly faces ten years or so in the slammer, Abramoff would turn on his own mother to save himself.

Well, guess what -- that "someone else" was arrested yesterday. And he turns out to be no ordinary "someone," but a top Bush White House official.

"The Bush administration's top federal procurement official resigned Friday and was arrested yesterday, accused of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government. It was the first criminal complaint filed against a government official in the ongoing corruption probe related to Abramoff's activities in Washington...The complaint, filed by the FBI, alleges that David H. Safavian, 38, a White House procurement official involved until last week in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, made repeated false statements to government officials and investigators about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002."

If Safavian cuts a deal and provides the goods on Abramoff then Tom DeLay is toast. You may recall, there's no honor among thieves. And when these thieves start telling on each other the feds will need a platoon of stenographers on meth to get it all down.

The unraveling has begun and there's no telling who it may implicate, or high up the administration food chain it will go. But it's going....

Meanwhile over the CIA
Will George squeal on George? That's the question that must be haunting the White House as the CIA Inspector General's report on pre-9/11 intel failures nears release.

"The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee want CIA Director Porter Goss to provide a public version of his agency's hard-hitting report on the failures leading up to Sept. 11, 2001....Spanning hundreds of pages, the report calls for disciplinary reviews for former CIA Director George Tenet and current and former officials who were involved in faulty intelligence efforts before the attacks...The report was sent to Congress last month. Limited details have been provided by anonymous officials. (Full Story)

This is an unraveling of a different kind than the DeLay/Abramoff capers. Instead of revealing political and financial corruption this one threatens to implicate the highest reaches of the administration as architects of the web of lies they used to justify an otherwise unjustifiable war. The CIA report in question does not directly deal with the lead up to the the war in Iraq. But that's where it could take us, and here's why.

Leaks indicate that the report lays the blame on former CIA Director Tenet, who resigned before the report was done. But if Tenet was anything, he was a team player. And his team was the Bush League. Few knowledgeable Washington hands believe Tenet was anything but a "yes man" during the lead up to the war of Iraq. When his administration handlers, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, needed WMD to justify the war, Tenet declared their existence "a slam dunk."

Which is why, when he resigned the last thing George W. Bush did before letting Tenet leave town was to stuff a Medal of Freedom in his mouth to keep him quiet.

But the CIA Inspector General was investigating pre-9/11 intel failures. That fat was already in the fire. Congress had ordered the report and they were waiting. Someone was going to have to take the fall, and who better than lonely George Tenet.

The only trouble with that plan is that would be a deal breaker -- for Tenet. He agreed to go quietly as long as the administration hang the blame for 9/11 around his neck for all history to record. The implied threat from Tenet was, if they tried that he would talk --- and talk and talk.

But, oh what a tangled web they had woven. The administration could only go so far protecting Tenet without letting him off the hook, thereby putting themselves back on the hook. So, the secret report still lays the blame on Tenet for failing to deal with Bin Laden before he struck.

Friends describe Tenet as "locked and loaded," and ready to come out swinging.

That CIA report can't remain secret for much longer. Members of both parties are demanding it be declassified and released, and soon. Republicans want it out so they can say, "See, 9/11 wasn't our fault." The Dems want it out because they know Tenet will defend himself, and in so doing, implicate the White House, not in 9/11, but for knowingly falsifying intelligence on Iraq's WMD to justify the war.

Depending on how much documentation Tenet kept when he left as insurance, his revelations could theoretically, trigger demands for impeachment domestically or war crimes investigations internationally.

So, let's review. Here's what we have cooking:

* A lame duck President whose approval ratings plumbs new depths with each passing day;
* Mid-term elections looming in 2006,
* Key GOP functionaries either indicted or about to be,
* Who among them possess five years of accumulated secrets, back room deals, graft and corruption,
* And now prosecutors center stage, shouting, "Come on down! Let's make a deal!

Stay tuned, because I suspect this is going to get bad – which means of course, good.

Bush Sings, "Fly Me To The Moon"
Wait. Let me just get my pocket calculator out and add this all up.

* War in Iraq: $300 billion
* Hurricane relief: $300 billion
* Projected 05 Deficit: $300 billion

Well that's not a very round number, $900 billion. Let's make it a cool trillion. How?

Bush says, "Hell, let's borrow another $100 billion and send it to barren rock in space."

"NASA yesterday released its master plan for returning humans to the moon by 2018 and eventually sending them to Mars, choosing rocketry from the space shuttle era and drawing inspiration from the Apollo program that first put humans on the lunar surface 36 years ago...NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin said the plan would cost $104 billion over the next 13 years, with increases for inflation..." (Full Story)

A prudent person might ask "why?" A really prudent person might ask both "why" and "how ya gonna pay for it?" George W. Bush is neither. He will pay for his moon trip the same way he's paid for everything in his life, with other people's money. In this case, ours and our grand kid's money.

Does he have any ideas on any other way to pay for it? Sure. Cut taxes. Bush is a one-trick poney. His solution to any problem, real or perceived is always the same; "cut taxes," and if that doesn't work, "cut them more." He's like having a quack for doctor who, when you show signs of anemia, recommends more leaches.

Remember Iraqi Freedom?
Oh right, Iraq. We nearly forgot. How have things been going over there while we were consumed with Katrina over here?

Well, the fighting and dying continues on all sides. Who's winning? Who knows. Who's losing? Hard to say --except in one case, women. Women are losing big time and their losses are about to be codified into Iraqi's new "democratic" constitution.

While the new constitution pays lip to "women and their rights,' (because the US insisted it do so,)' it also mandates that all laws in Iraq must comply with Shairiah Islamic religious law. (Ever read the Koran? It's to democracy what black is to white.)

Giving Shairiah the right to trump civil constitutional protections would be als if the US Constitution stipulated that everyone had the right to pursue happiness, as long as the Jehovah Witnesses agreed.

None of the three major religions have shown much faith in the abilities or rights of females. But of the three Islamic law is the most repressive, and its defenders the most disingenuous about it.
When challenged they shamelessly cloak female subjugation to male rule as their way of actually "honoring and protecting" women – which is, of course, pure, unmitigated, misogynistic nonsense

But there we are, with American soldiers, many of them our women, fighting and dying so Iraqi men can codify their right in law to keep their little ladies in line. Under the Iraqi constitution one of Bush's claims is true, Iraqis will have rights they did not enjoy under Saddam. They will have the right to restrict when women can leave the house, with whom they can associate, what they can wear, deny them higher education, deny them careers of their own, divorce and leave them penniless, beat the crap out of them, even take their children away ... all completely legal under Shairiah law.

Nicely done George. History will record you were the first modern president to sanction and enable the enslavement of half the entire population of a another nation -- making you sort of Abe Lincoln, in reverse.

The depth and breath of your incompetence, sir, knows neither national nor international bounds. You are truly a worldwide calamity – who now has plans to expand to outer space as well!)

I have to lay down with a cold cloth now. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

September 20, 2005

Oh to be..
King For a Day

I don't think you and I would have to agonize for weeks or months over what needs to be done to fix the biggest problems that face the nation right now. Oh, if we only could take charge right now! As ordinary folk we would arrive to the task unencumbered by campaign promises made in secret to large contributors or whack-job ideological constituencies. We'd just take stock of current needs, prioritize them and get about the job of fixing what's clearly and unarguably broke.

Too bad that's not about to happen. Those we put in charge during better times are still there. When we elected them life was pretty good so we figured, "What the hell, how much damage can they do in two or six years? Anyway, it's not like we have much of choice. The other candidate is equally needy, smarmy, blindly ambitious and/or clueless. So, enny, meeny, miney, moe..."

Then the shit hit the fan; 9/11. Afghanistan, budget-busting tax cuts and Iraq. And then Mother Nature was forced into premature menopause by mounting greenhouse gas emissions. Now She's having hot-flashes, which maker Her really cranky, so she wipes out a coastal US city or two..

The accumulated cost of these problmes has mounted into the trillions of dollars.

So what to do?
Clearly the folks we sent to Washington are not up to the task. (But then, we knew that when we sent them) Out-of-power Democrats don't seem to know whether to shit or go blind, so they mostly stand around with one-eye closed farting.

Which is actually better than what the Republicans have in mind. They want to raise the $250 billion needed to rebuild the Katrina damaged cities by cutting the new senior drug benefit instead of the alternative, raising taxes. That would only save $40 billion, so they want to cut additional social programs as well. To the GOP taking medicine away from poor seniors makes more sense than repealing tax cuts for the wealthy.

Republicans also want to revisit the highway bill. Admittedly that bill was so full of pork Jimmy Dean could feed the entire Third World with sausages made from it. But they won't stop by just cutting the "Alaska bridge to nowhere," the dozens of "Senator Blowhard overpasses or the Rep. Nicelady skating rinks. No. Republicans are ready to do whatever it takes to avoid repealing a dime of the Bush tax cuts.

So, once they start picking apart the highway bill they will also cut large public works projects that are actually needed and long overdue. America's infrastructure is crumbling. We keep hearing that, and we keep ignoring it. Then something happens to remind us. Remember those levees in New Orleans? Well that's just a preview of what's just waiting to happen across America. It's not just levees, it's bridges, dams, roads, even our national electrical grid which is a relic of the early 1900s. Much of our critical infrastructure was built during FDR's years in office. That makes that stuff even older than me. And, like me, it shows it's age and is in desperate need of expensive attention. Ignoring that fact already cost us $250 billion down south.

The highway bill also provides money for much needed blue collar jobs across the nation. Those jobs would come at the moment they are most needed and by those who need them most. (And they can't send those jobs overseas.)

Nevertheless, that's what "they" have in mind. Cut domestic programs, keep wasting our money and lives in Iraq, and let Bill Gates keeps his tax cuts.

So, what we do if given a crack? If we could take the reins and run the show for, say, the next six months? As I said above, I don't think we'd need to discuss it long before we passed the following legislation:

The Law: Order that our troops begin pulling out of Iraq on January 1. This January 1, with total withdraw completed no later than the end of 2006.
Our Reasoning: The Bush administration maintains that we can't leave until the Iraqi troops are trained and able to fight on their own. Ah, hello. They already know how to fight. After all, who trained the insurgents? They seem to be doing just fine. Since most of the insurgents are Iraqis, clearly Iraqis already know how to fight. All that's missing on US-supported side is the will to fight. Such a will may or may not exist, but we will never know until Iraqis have no choice in the matter. It's time to test Bush's oft-stated belief that, if given a choice Arabs will chose democracy. Well, they have a choice. So give a chance to chose. A chance to fight and defend their budding democracy, or not.. Because we're done doing it for them.

The Law: Repeal the Bush tax cuts on the top 1% of earners.

Our Reasoning: The tax cuts allotted to already overly comfortable Americans totals over $477 billion over the next nine years. An argument can be made -- and I would be delighted to make it -- that those folks would never have reached such a lofty income bracket without America's taxpayer-funded infrastructure. Their company trucks run on its highways, cross its bridges, use its dammed waters, cut and use timber from public lands, defend its patents in its courts, etc. Now that a whole lot of that infrastructure that helped make them get rich is broken, or about to be, it's only right that they chip in to fix it. Duh.

The Law: Pass a Balanced Budget Amendment.

Our Reasoning: I know, a balanced budget amendment is a fiscal straight-jacket. But both parties have, and will continue, using public funds as reelection chits. One way to short circuit that process is to slap enforcable limits on them -- a budget. No not the kind of phony baloney, dot-com budgets they pass now, but a real one. A budget that requires they first fund critical domestic needs and cover existing entitlement programs. Then, once they've funded a society worth defending, the military is next in line. Finally start paying off the national debt credit card balance -- the national debt -- at 5% a year of the outstanding balance, until it reaches zero. If there's not enough money for all that, raise taxes. Deficit spending would be allowed only to fund a war that has been formally declared by Congress. (And no, no, no, that does not include illegal "resolutions," or passive aggressive "authorizations to use force." A war is either just that, war authorized as required by the Constitution, or it doesn't get a dime.)

The Law: Presidential Vacations would be limited to 4 weeks a year.

Our Reasoning: When we elect a President we are not voting for a national CEO who cuts brush and rides horses far from the office for nearly a quarter of each year. The US Presidency is the most important and complicated job in history, and is only getting more so. So, henceforth we order that whomever holds that office rise early, work late and show up at the office at least 48 weeks out of 52.

Okay, our job done, we can return Washington to it's regular denizens and go home. Good job, guys! Look what we accomplished by just applying good old fashion common sense:

* We paid for Katrina by repealing tax cuts the wealthy should never have received to begin with,
* We ended a war that should never of been launched to begin with,
* We set the national checkbook on course to be balanced,
* We began paying off our national credit card balance,
* We passed a law requiring that the President of the United States of America show up for work more often than not.

Each of those laws is a no-brainer. But the folks in charge in DC now seem to be even beyond no-brainers these days. Their solutions to the national emergencies we face are different:

* Safeguard tax cuts to the rich at any cost,
* Stay the course in Iraq hoping a miracle will bail them out,
* Borrow $200 billion to rebuild the Gulf
* Take granny's heart medicine away to make up the difference,
* Democrats want to wait until 2008 hoping things will be so bad by then we'd even consider voting for Hillary.

But, they are in charge, not us, at least for the time being. Come November 2006 we will have a chance to shuffle the deck in the House and Senate. So, keep your powder dry. While we're waiting ask your elected representative why it is that, since we out here seem to know what needs to be done to fix these problems, why he/she/it doesn't. I know it's kind of a rude question, but then, whatya have to lose?

And if you pose that question, get ready for the inevitabe Washington response:

"Thank you for your letter. Your thoughs are important to me. Unfortuately it's not that simple. You don't know what we know. It's more complicated than you portray in your letter."

It's the same old burecratic dodge. It's what FEMA officials told the poor, suffering people in Louisiana and Mississippi when they could not do the right thing at the appropriate time:

"We can't just drop water and food to thirsty, starving people. We can't just bring trailers to house the homeless. We can't just provide medical care to the sick and injured. We can't just do the right thing quickly like you people out there demand. There's paperwork that must be completed first, you know."

Yes, just doing the right thing, quickly, is very complicated... for them.

Monday, September 19, 2005

September 16-18, 2005

Call me crazy but I had a sinking feeling while our skipper and national bandleader spoke last night, telling how that even though the New Orleans portion of our ship of state had taken on water, the pumps were working and not to worry because New Orleans, and America are, after all, unsinkable.

(Editor's warning: Yes, I am going to beat another bad analogy to death. Sorry.)

What Bush did not mention last night, or for that matter even seem to recognize, was that New Orleans is only one of many leaks in his ship of state. Granted, it's a pretty damn big leak, adding another 250 billion gallons of red ink, but that's a drop in the bucket compared to what's already rushed in through other holes. Either the skipper is in deep denial or his officers are afraid to tell him the terrible truth -- the ship is going down.

Let's take a little tour below decks and assess the accumulated damage already inflicted by this reckless crew.
Social Security: The present value of all future costs and obligations for that program less expected taxes in perpetuity is estimated at $13.7 trillion. If you believe the $1.7 trillion supposedly being held in the Social Security trust fund actually exists, then the unfunded liability is $12 trillion. (Ref)

Medicare: Bush's new unfunded drug benefit, which kicks in this January, will add another $720 billion over its first 10 years, with costs reaching $100 billion annually by 2015. According to estimates by Medicare's chief actuary total expenditures for the prescription drug benefit will reach $1.2 trillion between 2006 and 2015. (Ref)

The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC): You might have noticed that this week two more major US airlines are dumping their penision liabilities in the lap to the underfunded PBGC. It's a trend. Unfunded pension liabilities for private companies have skyrocketed from $26 billion last year to a staggering $111 billion this year, This represents a 425% jump in unfunded liabilities that can only be covered by taxpayers. (Ref)

The list of revenue leaks goes on and on and on. The war in Iraq is working it's way towards $300 billion, New Orleans another estimated $250 billion to $300 billion.

Pretty soon we, as has been said, we start talking real money. Even before Katrina some worried economists started adding up our national obligations for which no funding exists and came up with was a number only Carl Sagen could love... trillions upon trillions upon trillions...
$51 trillion, to be precise

Economist Larry Kotlikoff of Boston University thinks the unthinkable in his analysis of the long-term viability of federal spending obligations in the latest issue of The Milken Institute Review. “With the new drug benefit,” Kotlikoff writes, “the fiscal gap now totals roughly $51 trillion. Roughly speaking, that’s five times the United States GDP and – perhaps most chilling – far larger than total U.S. private wealth. “Coming up with $51 trillion through any means will be extraordinarily unpleasant,” he adds. “One way would be to raise federal personal and corporate income taxes immediately and permanently by 78 percent. Another option would be to cut all Social Security and Medicare benefits in half.” (Ref)

And hey, if anyone should know an unfunded liability when he sees one, it's Mike Milken! That study was done a year ago. So you can be sure that even that bone-chilling figure is even larger now.

I'm no economist. I'm just a 60-year old guy who pays off his credit card balance each month. I fear only two things – hard work and debt. I view debt as the financial equivalent of a pre-cancerous lesion just waiting for chance to grow like tumor and bury me. So, call me old fashion. But I sleep well at night. (Hell, these days I can even catch a few winks during the day as well.) Debt free and relaxed. That's me.

But look, George W. Bush is relaxed too, even though he has 51 trillion reasons to be nervous. In fact, if Bush were at all normal he'd be one big walking nervous twitch. I sure know I would be.

But Bush remains calm and cool as cucumber Does he know something I'm missing? Or is he just trying to look calm so as not to cause a financial panic? The American economy is indeed a marvel, but no economy can operate forever with that kind of overhanging liability, unless revenues are raised to cover them. Does Bush understand that? What makes this guy tick? What makes him think he can cut taxes and pay every bill that comes along, even a foriegn war and a whopper of a natural disaster, by just saying "Charge it.?"

Here's a clue.
When I was working on my book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, I interviewed a lot of Texas high-rollers. Those half-baked, wild and crazy, cowboy/businessmen never had it so good as they did after Ronald Reagan deregulated federally-insured thrifts in 1981. All those pesky federal rules about how much money could be borrowed by a single borrower, how much in assets they needed to qualify for millions, even hundreds of millions, in loans, were gone. It was pig heaven for cowboy developers. At the height of the building boom one of them was asked how he chose the land he would borrow to develop. "I take my huntin' dog out there and when he pisses on a rock I buy all the land around that rock," he drawled -- the Texas version of market research.

Another Texas developer, who also inevitably went belly-up, gushed to me that if he couldn't make the payments on his millions in loans, his good-ole boy banker would just roll the missed payments into his loan balance, "The beauty of it (deregulation) is that I can borrow all this money and never have to pay it back," he gushed, explainng, "because a rolling loan gathers no loss."

Of course those loans did gather loss, just not to the wild and crazy bastards who borrowed and squandered all that money. That little exercise in supply-side, less-government, pseudo-capitalism came to a roaring end with re-regulation, but only after costing taxpayers $165 billion.

But therein lays an important clue into Bush's mindset. He is a the product of a clan and culture that routinely breaks the laws of economics but never faces the music. During George W. Bush's own short foray into the world of business he never made a single dime of genuine profit. And he never had to repay a single loan with his own money. And, no matter how poorly his ventures proformed, he was never allowed to fail. (It's an amazing and infuriating tale and you can read about in gut-wrenching detail right here. I wrote that piece over a dozen years ago and not a single fact in it has ever been challenged.)

All of which explains why George W. Bush is so comfortable with debt. Debt has never been his problem. Any debt he accumulated was always repaid by someone else. And that's how he views the mushrooming national debt as well. It's not his problem now and never will be. Someone else will deal with it; us, our kids, and their kids. Worrying about debt is simply not something Bush has any personal experience with.

This mindset runs throughout the Bush family. I recall covering the federal hearings that looked into his brother, Neal's, stint as a director of Silverado Savings and Loan in Denver. While on the board Neil's business partner was granted about a $100 million in loans, all of which went into default later. That same business partner made Neal a $100,000 personal loan and then "forgave it." When asked by the committee if he saw that as conflict of interest Neal looked confused, even stunned for moment. Finally he leaned into the microphone. "No sir, I don't," he replied. "It happens all the time."

Neal was under oath so he couldn't lie, he told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. Because, in the Bush family, such things do "happen all the time." It's just a simple matter of well-heeled, well-connected friends helping friends help one another out. And rarely with their own money, but other people's money, investors, taxpayers or foreign interests looking to plug into the lucrative Bush clan circle jerk.

"It happens all the time." and happening again now in New Orleans -- another $250 billion in debt someone else will have to repay. Gotta rebuild an entire US
city? Bush's solution: "Just charge it."

What about raising some money for a change? You know, like raise taxes.

Why do that when there seems no end to the cash that can be borrowed?

Bush-enomics reminds me of the joke about the dumb blond who, when told by her bank that her checking account is overdrawn, replied, "But I can't be out of money, I still have checks."

The only trouble with that – and it's a big one -- is those checks Bush keeps writing -- all of them, Iraq, New Orleans, Medicare, you name it -- are being covered by the Chinese and Japanese. And if you think CitiBank gets cranky when you miss a payment, wait until you see how the Chinese react. They'd like nothing better than to the USS America flounder.

And all the Chinese need to do to make that happen is to be no-shows at future U.S. Treasury bond auctions. That very day, our bow would disappear beneath the surface, our stern begin to rise and those who did not make it to the lifeboats in time would have no choice but to tread the frigid waters of depression and pray someone comes along and throws them a line before they sink too.

There's still time to save the ship. But it depends on whether the red ink has risen enough to motivate the number of Republicans and Democrats in congress needed to pass a veto-proof tax increase and cut our expenditures in Iraq. But more Republicans seem concerned about mounting deficits than Democrats. One would think this, of all times, would be the time Dems would be screaming bloody murder about the Bush tax cuts. But no.. not a peep. Why?
I think I can help you with that mystery too. When I was last in DC back in 2002 I spent some time pleading with a high-ranking aide for then Democrat Senate leader, Tom Daschle. I pled for him to push for a repeal of at least a portion of Bush's $1.6 trillion in tax cuts. He hemmed and hawed for a while and I pushed more. Finally he blurted out the truth. "The Senator can't do that, Steve. Too many of our own members voted for those tax cuts."

Yeah. I see. That would an embarrassment – a well-earned embarrassment. Way to go....


Got Guts? If so this would sure be a good time to prove it. Demand that the portion of Bush tax cuts that benefit the top 1% of taxpayers be repealed. You need to start pumping some the red ink out. You know, like you did during the Clinton administration. Remember those days? When you raised taxes and had budget surpluses instead of triple-digit annual deficits? We even had enough left over after paying our bills to begin paying down the trillions in debt left behind by the Reagan and Bush-One administrations. I think we can all agree, that was good thing.

I know you hate doing unpopular things, but sometimes you have to. It's called leadership. You remember leadership, don't you. It's what you promised you'd provide if we voted for you. But, instead of leadership look what we got -- a bunch of round-heeled pols who, at every critical moment in the last five years, when they should have stood up to these neocon-pseudo-capitalists, tossed their legs in the air put out for them. (Don't you feel dirty? Ashamed? Used? You should.)

Okay, that was yesterday. You can still redeem yourselves. But you have to lead -- if you can. If Democrats can't make a compelling argument for rolling back Bush's tax cuts at a time like this, when can you? We have a war that's running up a tab of $5 billion a month, we have to rebuild an entire chunk of our nation and, just over the near horizon lurks the Baby Boomers, poised to descend on Social Security like a biblical plague of locusts. If you can't lead with ammo like that, when can you?

Then, maybe you never could, in which case you would be not just bad leaders, but liars too boot. That would mean what we have are a pack of pseudo-leaders and pseudo-capitalist running the show. In which case we truly are screwed.

We await. But, we are no longer interested in what you say. We are only watching what you do... or don't do.

So there have it -- another maritime analogy beaten to a bloody pulp, a few mixed metaphores some cowboys and even mules thrown in for flavor. Where else can you read crap like this?.

Have a nice weekend. I'll see you next week.

In the meantime I think I'll just grab my lifejacket and mosey on up to the lifeboat deck. They say you can still hear the band playing from up there.