Friday, January 27, 2006

January 26, 2006

January 26, 2006

Governing, Just That Simple

What's so hard about it, George W. Bush wonders. Everyone makes governing such a big deal, like it's complicated or something. They are the ones who make it complicated, with all those shades of gray and “nuance” stuff. George brushed all that nonsense away and whittled the governing process down to one cure-all for domestic governance and one for foreign policy.

For domestic policy his Swiss Army knife was tax cuts, especially for those who didn't need them. Want to create more jobs? Just cut taxes. Is the dollar losing value? Cut taxes. The stock market shaky? Cut taxes. Americans can't afford health care? Cut taxes. Federal deficits exploding? Cut taxes. Gotta rebuild an entire American city destroyed by a hurricane? Cut taxes.

Governing a nation – just that simple.

Likewise, George W. Bush believes he can solve the world's troubles with a simple, single tool – democracy.

Like Johnny Appleseed, he sprinkles the stuff wherever he thinks he sees trouble. Democracies, George says, are always peaceful nations – never mind the obvious contradiction of such a statement coming from the only nation on earth currently waging two wars in the Middle East and threatening a third. That would be exactly the kind of unnecessarily complicating nuance Bush so dislikes.

Bush says that when people are allowed to vote for their representatives in open and fair elections, all kinds of good things happen. (Again, ignore that man behind the curtain – his deficits, his spying, the dead piled high about his feet.)

Democracy, George cheers, "is on the march.”

Well Yesterday democracy goose-stepped its way into Palestine. The Palestinian people voted in free and open elections, and they turned their fledgling democracy over to terrorists – Hamas.

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 26 -- The radical Islamic group Hamas claimed victory Thursday in voting for the first Palestinian parliament in a decade, saying it won a clear majority of seats and had the right to form the next government claims, although unconfirmed officially, were followed by the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and the rest of his cabinet. Resignation was a formality following parliamentary elections, but Qureia acknowledged that Hamas had likely won a majority in the 132-seat legislature and should be given the opportunity to form the next cabinet. (Full Story)

The Palestinian elections mirror those earlier in Egypt, where that nation's free and open elections led to major gains for Egypt's version of Hamas, The Muslim Brotherhood.

Meanwhile in Iraq, George has been trying to force-feed democracy to the three waring tribes that live don't want to share that land between them, because it's not a real country. The British created it early in the last century, and were about to give them some lessons in democracy, as they did in India. But they never got around to it. Seems the tribes stopped killing one anohter just long enough to chase the Brits out. Now they're trying to chase us out too, so they can go back to kiling one another -- their own simple solution to governance.

When George insisted the Iraqis hold free and open elections and, the majority tribe, the Shiites, dominated the results -- DUH!. The minority Sunnis were not amused. The third tribe, the Kurds are going their own whey (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

So, you see ... democracy – just that simple.

Simple is, as simple does. And if George is anything, he's a simple fellow. If only governing were as well.

You can almost hear George screaming --- "damn those nuances. Damn them!"

Damn those stupid voters in Palestine. What's wrong with them anyway? We give them the vote and who do with it? Instead of voting to for the guys we like, the utterly corrupt and ineffective, Fatah/PLO, they vote for Palestine's version of the IRA. Imagine that! Who could have? (Not George, that's clear.)

Damn those Iranians. Give them a democracy and the rule of law and they can't put the world's most provably guilty mass murderer on trial.

BAGHDAD: Judges in the trial of Saddam Hussein tried to remove a newly appointed chief judge on Tuesday, a dispute that forced an abrupt postponement of the proceedings and deepened the turmoil in what was supposed to be a landmark in Iraq's political progress. (Full Story)

Ask almost any Iraqi in Baghdad what they should do and he/she will respond without shame or hesitation, “Why bother with a trial. Just hang Saddam.” Iranians, you see, have their own simple governing traditions. The ones we are trying to force on them are too full of ... of.... hmmm, what's the term I'm looking for?... Ah yes, nuances.

Damn those Egyptians. Then last right thing they did was build pyramids. It's been down hill ever since. When George told them they had to get on the democracy bandwagon, or else, they screwed that up too. Of course the Egyptians, the second largest recipient of US money, did as they were told and announced their first free and open elections.

Then things got complicated. When the polls showed that candidates from the opposition Muslim Brotherhood might just win, Egypt's first “free and open” elections became a lot less free or open. What does a fledgling democracy in that Muslim world do when the other side polls higher? Well you start re-simplifying the process -- you forbid them from running, and, if they insist, throw them in jail until after the election.

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian authorities released 260 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood detained during a crackdown on the opposition Islamist group during parliamentary elections late last year, the Brotherhood said on Thursday. (Full Story)

Democracy – just that simple.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

January 25, 2006

January 25, 2006

What's In Your Wallet?

If you own a TV you've seen it, the ad featuring the clueless suburban fellow who has a big house, a pool, a country club membership and new car, bragging he got it all by getting himself -- “up to my neck in debt?”

What a fool. But at least a fool with enough sense to plead, “Will someone please help me!”

That's not the case with “borrow-n-spend” fool living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Wash. D.C. He's a guy who never had to make ends meet, they just mysteriously always did. During his entire life money has always been just a phone call away – money he never even had to repay – with his own money, at least. Money was free. Trouble free, worry free, responsibility free.

Which explains why he sneckers dismissively at those of us not born with a silver boot in our mouths, those of us who fret about our crushing $8 trillion national debt and annual $400 billion deficits. He thinks we are just a bunch of worry worts. And it explains why, despite that rise tide of red ink surrounding our Dept. of Treasury, Bush keeps borrowing from tomorrow to get what he wants today.

George “Just charge it” Bush will unveil his latest shopping list in his upcoming State of the Union. During his first term Bush charged a trillion dollars worth of bling bling in tax cuts for the well-heeled folks who put him in office. Then he charged the cost of a couple of wars and handed out billions of dollars in no-bid contracts for the well-connected.
With no money left in checking, thanks to those huge tax cuts, he borrowed for those last two from his new sugar daddy, Communist (we want Taiwan back) China. China now holds one trillion dollars in loans to the US. One trillion.

Nevertheless, Bush still doesn't have the sense to stop borrowing and spending. So don't expect him to step up to the podium during his State of the Union message, look down upon the clapping seals below and declare, “I'm up to my neck in debt. I can barely make my minimum payments. Will someone help me?” Nope.

Instead Bush will announce that he is going to “buy” ordinary Americans a gift this time – tax breaks for medical expenses.

Washington Post: President Bush will propose that Americans be allowed to take tax deductions on more of their out-of pocket medical expenses, as part of an initiative the White House believes will rein in soaring health costs by shifting responsibility toward individuals, according to congressional and other sources familiar with the administration's thinking. (Full Story)

Even folks who believe tax cuts are good for the economy admit that Bush's medical deduction plan would add another $28 billion in red ink to the $400 billion already hemorrhaging annually.

If there's anything that baffles me more about the Bush administration than it's foreign policy, it's their economic theories – supply-side and trickle down theories so thoroughly discredited the last time they were tried by the Reagan bunch.

Who knows, Bush may get the same break our first supply-side Moonie, Ronald Reagan got. Reagan was able to get out of Dodge just months before all his tax-cut, deficit spending, chickens trickled down all over his successor, George H. Bush, forcing him to betray his own lips and raise taxes.

Or maybe not. Three years is starting to look like an eternity now that interest rates are on the rise, as is inflation. Already Wall Streeters are slinking into a defensive crouch and our foreign lenders are rethinking our credit worthiness.

I've been warning for over two years that the US economy is like a hollow tree. From the outside it looks fine. What once filled that now hollow center was a vibrant working middle class, now eaten away by unfair trade deals and cheap off shore labor. It will take only the right ill-wind to blow our once proud oak over. What might propel that wine, or when, no one can predict for sure. Just that the the likelihood of such a wind grows daily.

What we do know for sure is that both the geo-political and geo-economic environment today is in flux. Some kind of worldwide social and economic sea change is afoot, and like the US auto industry, America is unprepared for the implications. Energy supplies and natural resources, once ours for the demanding, are now being gobbled up by China, India and other developing nations.

On top of that:

* The US dollar is no longer the king of currencies but must now share space in a basket with other currencies, diluting both its value and influence.
* Manufacturing jobs, traditionally the first rung on the ladder to the middle class, are disappearing from America.
* America is blessed with the champagne of medical systems, while most Americans live on beer budgets.
* The housing bubble has reached, and even exceeded, sensible limits and is now officially over. That means no more easy credit from that tit for already over-extended consumers.
* Almost one in four Americans now report they have no discretionary income after paying bills each month... and last year the US savings rate finally hit zero (It's 10% in China) That means no savings for those inevitable rainy days.
* The US military has reached it's limit. Both its human and structural assets have been so abused and misused by this administration that it will require hundreds of billions of dollars and a decade to fully recover.
* Most large banks just reported lower-than-expected earnings for the last quarter. The reason – a jump in personal and business bankruptcies. Even those pro-lender bankruptcy rules Bush signed last year, requiring borrowers be required to repay some of their debt did not help. The banks report that, by the time they got their borrowers into credit counselling, it was already too late – most of them were too far gone.

It's Not Rocket Economics
You don't need a BS degree in economics to understand the trouble we face in the months just ahead. There's simply too much debt floating around out there -- too much personal debt and too much government debt. That's all really need to know.

So, during Bush's State of the Union this year.. when he starts reeling off “tax credit” this and “permanent tax cuts” that... the next sound you should hear should be the sound of Bush swiping our worn and tattered national credit card through the ATM one more time.

Oh, and yes, the bill -- addressed to you, your kids and their kids -- IS in the mail.

Happy now, Red Staters?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

January 12, 2006

Stephen Pizzo: 'The rights' quiet hunter'
Posted on Saturday, January 14 @ 09:45:02 EST
This article has been read 1147 times.
Stephen Pizzo, News For Real

If you are still having difficulty decoding Sam Alito, let me help because I think I've got it.

Let me start with a bit of animal wisdom. When wild dogs -- wolves -- hunt, they don't bark. Only pampered, psychotic domestic dogs are prone to non-stop barking. In the wild chronic barkers would be chased off. The last thing a pack of wild dogs need is some loudmouth warning game of their presence and intentions.

Likewise there are two kinds of righ-wingers -- barkers and hunters. Tom DeLay, Pat Buchanan, Dick Army, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, are barkers. They make a lot of noise. They lift their leg on everything in sight, boisterously marking ever-expanding circles of social and political territory, snarling at any who oppose their claims.

Sam Alito, on the other hand, is a wolf -- a quiet, patient hunter. No barking. No snarling. No chasing every passing car. He chooses his fights carefully. And when Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito marks conquered territory he will do so with indelible ink.

You see this clearly from the days when young Alito served in the Reagan Justice Department. Back then he tried to get that administration's barkers muzzled. He argued that they would get more done if they shut the hell up, stopped snarling and charging at every issue they saw as a liberal affront.

In particular Alito warned them against launching "a frontal assault against Roe v. Wade" at the Supreme Court. Instead he counseled that they adopt a "slow, incremental approach," chipping away at abortion rights one case at a time, eventually rendering Roe irrelevant.

Alito warned the Reagan pack that pushing the Supreme Court to reverse Roe they risked a court reaffirmation of Roe, rendering the precedent even stronger.

But those dogs were on the scent and already barking up that tree. They ignored Alito's quiet, incremental approach and charged barking away up the Supreme Court steps -- only to be pepper sprayed. The Court reaffirmed Roe -- just as quiet Sam had warmed. A quarter century later the quiet hunter's day has finally come. Once on the Supreme Court Sam Alito will not have to convince anyone of his chip-away strategy for rendering Roe moot. This time he will join like-minded conservatives on the Court, with his addition finally complete a winning hand -- a full house.

We progressives/liberals -- whatever the hell we call ourselves these days -- need to come to grips with this new, grim, reality. As I said during the Roberts confirmation hearings, the Supreme Court is lost to the left. Ever since the 1960s liberals have figured they could afford to lose key progressive issues in Congress because the Supreme Court would always stand with the people. Those days are over -- barring half the Justices dropping from bird flu and being replaced by a Democrat President. Not likely. The days of a civil/human rights, progressive oriented Supreme Court are over, and not likely to return during our lifetime.

This will manifest themselves slowly, over time. Rather than unifying America, this court will fracture it. A decade from now a woman's reproductive rights will depend on which of the 50 states she lives in. A woman living in Utah will likely have to head to California to end an unwanted pregnancy. A poor woman in Georgia will just be shit out of luck.

The same will be true for what conservatives like to call, religious expression in the public square." In Bible Belt states the line between fundamentalist Christianity and local and state government will become indistinguishable as "faith-based" (Christian) groups potluck their way into every school, library, police and elected office.

Democrats are not going to prevent Alito's confirmation. And it's not just the Supreme Court that is lost, but also a good hunk of lower federal courts as well. Meaning that, for all purposes progressive, the entire Judicial Branch is lost as well -- an d remain so for at least the next two generations. No longer can progressives simply assume the courts will do the right thing, because they have been stacked to assure they will mostly do the Right Thing instead.

So, it's time for liberals/progressives to knock off the silliness, we are so well know for, and get deadly serious about reclaiming control of the other two branches of government -- Congress and the Executive Branch.

Even then it may be an uphill fight. This new right-wing Supreme Court will now serve a similar function in America as the Supreme Council of Mullahs serves in Iran where any law passed by Iran's elected representatives can be struck down as "un-Islamic" by the Supreme Council. Likewise here, any laws passed by Congress the Supremes disagree with will be declared "un-constitutional."

Reagan coined the slogan, "morning in America."

For progressive forces of reason it's now mourning in America.

Source: News For Real

Friday, January 20, 2006

Weekend Edition


Before I get started today I have a question. I don't know if it's a question on your mind too, but it sure has been on mine.

What's with the striped suits?

I know, I know, with all the problems facing mankind, what western white collar men are wearing isn't exactly on a par with global warming, an unjust war and an approaching economic collapse. Nevertheless it's starting to bug me.

It began with one guy on TV. I don't remember who he was, but I remember turning to my wife, Sue, and remarking, “What the hell is that guy wearing? It looks like he sewed together some old mattress ticking and dyed it dark blue.” Sue informed me it was a pinstriped suit. Ah. yes, I remember seeing pictures of guys wearing those, but they usually include a big gold watch swinging on the end of chain big enough to tow a small car. And weren't there also Panama hats involved?

Then they started to show up everywhere. Now I can't turn on my TV without seeing guys in stripes. Pinstripes! Jesus H. Christ, even John Gotti had enough fashion sense not wear suits that made him look like he was about to high-step down Main Street belting out “Seventy-Six Trombones.”

It's been so many years since I wore a suit I doubt I remember how to tie a tie (another piece of fashion utter nonsense.) But I do recall the limited choices men have when it comes to office-acceptable wardrobe. But returning to pinstripes is not a fashion statement but ape-ary – monkey see, monkey do-ism. (Though I doubt even a monkey would voluntarily climb into one of those things. After all, even Jack Abramoff had enough fashion sense to settle for simple, slimming, evil black for his court appearance. Even certified crooks understand that pinstripes are simply asking for it.)

It makes me wonder if these guys in pinstripes own full-length mirrors. Apparently not. Because if they did -- once they could stop laughing -- they'd strip off those stupid looking constumes and pawn them off on the first, blind man, mime or homeless person desperate enough to accept them. (And the same goes for the growing number of bow ties I am seeing on TV lately. Pinstripes and bow ties -- why not just slap on a red rubber nose and over-sized shoes while you're at it?)

(Disclosure statement: All fashion advice provided by a guy still wearing his P.J.s unshaved, pecking away in a home office that would be designated a Super Fund clean up site if the EPA saw it.)

Whew! Glad we had this little talk. Now onto more weighty – but no less annoying – matters.

More Balls
Last night I nearly wretched as I watch Democrat Senate “Leader,” Harry Reid, being interviewed by Jim Lehrer on the News Hour. If anyone is looking for a symbol of everything wrong about the Democrat Party, all you need to do is hold up a photo of Harry Reid. No more need be said.

Jim was asking Reid pointed questions about the current lobbying scandal and trying to to get Reid to at at least acknowledge the problem was more systemic than partisan. But Reid had his talking points and rattled them off like a third grader reciting a homework assignment. His answers to specific questions never even touched on the substance of Jim's questions. My African Grey parrot, Vinny, does a better job coughing up appropriate answers to specific questions.

Harry Reid sounded like a Coca Cola spokesperson, repeating over and over his brand's latest product slogan. He was not there to provide viewers with insight or substance. This appearance was all about product placement, branding and marketing.

But if Reid was a saleman for my product I would send him to Human Resourses to be freed up to pursue other interests. He was so transparent, his answers so devoid of information or honesty. His very demeanor screamed "Grab your wallet and run. This guy is up to no good." (Full Transcript Here)

He would begin each answer the same smarmy way. Jim would ask him something like, “But doesn't all this lobbying go on throughout Congress, with both Republicans and Democrats?

Reid would cock his head to one side -- as if to say “I am about to be terribly sincere,”-- he'd pause for affect then begin each answer a used-car salesman's first name gambit: “Jim,” (pause.. phony smile... pause,) “What we have to deal with is a Republican culture of corruption,” ... Republican culture of corruption... Republican culture of corruption...."

JIM LEHRER: But it's been going on for years and years-- the very things that you and the Republicans agree on to correct have been legal up till now. In other words, these are not the things that Abramoff is charged with or any of these people that you say are going off in handcuffs, right?

SEN. HARRY REID: Yes. But of course this culture of corruption, we need to change the rules and regulations that you talked about here on the program, but people are taking millions of dollars defense contractors, as one Republican was doing, and is now -- pled guilty. The stuff that DeLay has done, you don't need to change the rules.

Of course, no Democrats ever hung with lobbysts... right? Just those corrupt Republicans.

JIM LEHRER: But the specifics that are involved in the current situation aside, the practices of lobbyists taking people -- financing trips abroad, taking people to meals -- all of that -- free airplane travel -- all that sort of stuff has been common practice. Democrats and Republicans have been doing that for years, correct?

\When Jim finally put the question to him in a way he couldn't dodge it further the pause was longer, the head tilted two degrees further to the side, and the smile nearly broke into a nervous grin: “Jim” (pause , tilt, lean, smile)

SEN. HARRY REID: Jim, your question is very valid, and I'm sorry I didn't get to the answer sooner. Here's the situation we have though. We are in the minority....

Ah yes Harry, indeed you are in the minority – and for a reason. That reason is there are still too many Democrats in Congress exactly like you. If the fight to regain our own democracy hinges on the Harry Plodders of the Democrat Party, al Qaida is the least of our worries.

More Balls

Yesterday I inaugurated New For Real's “Balls of Steel Award,” which I gave to Rep. John Murtha.. a man who is the polar opposite of Harry Reid.

But there are so few like Murtha that I fear I will not be able to award Balls of Steel very often. So today I am inaugurating another kind of award, the News For Real, “Balls of Jello Award.”

And the first recipient of the

Senate Minority Leader

Harry Reid

Thursday, January 19, 2006

January 17, 2006

Bush's Brownshirts

We've become so used to it that many Americans can no longer tell the difference between legitimate investigative reporting and a staged smear. It began with the Clintons, but it did not end there. In fact “they” saw how well it worked and it has become Tool #1 in their box of tricks.

“They,” of course, are the new breed of Republicans that arrived with Newt and Tom back in the 1990s. Lazy, complacent and corrupt Democrats provided a rich medium in which Republican smears could grow and thrive. From Congress to the Clinton White House Republicans had a target-rich environment in which they could nurture mole hills into Mt. Everests. It was the most fun sleaze balls could have with their clothes on.

They nearly crippled the Clinton presidency by magnifying Bill Clinton's flaws, which today seem downright quaint by comparison with George W. Bush's behavior. (What sane citizen wouldn't happily trade a President geting hummers in the Oval Office for the one whe have now who's getting our kids killed in Hummers in Iraq?)

These are not your father's Republicans. These Republicans take no prisoners. Cross them and, even if you are a fellow traveler, they will have you rubbed out. They tasted first blood during the Clinton years, and like chicken-killing dogs, liked it. So when they picked Texan George W. Bush as their candidate they decided it was time to see just how far they could take the smear, how far they could push it.

But pushing it – bending the truth, even breaking it – was politically dangerous. They needed deniablity and distance. So they outsourced their smear-work. That's when the Brownshirts arrived. It was one thing to accuse a sitting president of lying about sex, and quite another to accuse war heroes of being lying cowards.

The first victims of GOP Brownshirts were Vietnam war heros -- triple amputee, Max Cleland, a Democrat, and prisoner of war, John McCain, a Republican. (Nothing personal, John. Just business.)

Again it worked. Oh how it worked! All they had to do was say something over, over and over again and voters internalized it and voted against the target. How easy. Why the hell hadn't they thought of this before?

Then the big show began ... the Bush v. Kerry campaign. Bush, who avoided going to Vietnam by hiding out at a Texas National Guard armory -- when he even bothered to show up -- and Kerry, who had fought in Vietnam winning medals and getting wounded. This smear had to be extra sleazy. And so it was.

The Brownshirts took the guise of “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." The genius of the idea was right there in the name. They had been, like Kerry, “Swift boaters,” the were “veterans,” and they were going to tell us the “truth.” And what a production it was! They launched an expensive media blitz shamelessly contradicting nearly every eye-witness to Kerry's service during the war, contradicted nearly ever official account, challenged every written record. Kerry, they claimed, was really a yellow-belly and a liar.

And it worked again! George W. won a second term, despite the fact he never served in combat and instead actively avoided doing so. And, despite the fact his first four years as President had been an unmitigated disaster. He had started a war on false pretenses. He had gutted the national treasury by giving billions in tax breaks to the already wealthy.

GOP Brownshirts had done their magic once again. Fiction again truimphed over fact. Lies trumped truth. All that was missing was the beer hall.

I only mention all this because they're back. The GOP has called in the Brownshirts. A new contract has been put out by the Commission. The target this time, Vietnam war hero Rep. John Murtha.

Murtha's denunciation of the administration's mishandling of the war in Iraq, and his proposal for immediate withdrawal, posed the first, and so far sole, threat to the administration's wet dream policies in that part of the world. So, war hero or no war hero, Murtha has to go.

Here we go again. Buckle up, the bad boys are back in town.

Murtha's War Hero Status Called Into Question

( - Having ascended to the national stage as one of the most vocal critics of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman John Murtha has long downplayed the controversy and the bitterness surrounding the two Purple Hearts he was awarded for military service in Vietnam. (Full Smear)

(CNSNews bills itself as "The Right News, Right Now," and you can find it quoted and pointers to it on Christian-right sites like Pat Robertson's 700 Club and the Gospel News Network.)

How many more times do we have to bear witness these low-brow drive-by political muggings before someone puts a stop to it? I don't care if it's Republican or Democrats behind it, a lie is lie and should be consequences – legal consequences and political.

And to those voters out there – on the right and left – so anxious to believe the worst about someone they don't want to win – do you really prefer thugs and liars?

The Murtha case is a perfect example. Who would you rather have making decisions about war; John Murtha – who has been there, and done that – or George W. Bush and Dick Cheney – two men who assiduously avoided going to war and yet stand by and allow the Browshirts of their own party to smear men who did serve?

I hope the media wises up this time and rather than parroting smears instead investigates the “investigators.”

In the spirit of the above, I am today inaugurating

News For Real's

Balls of Steel Award

The BOS will go to any public official who, at any point in time, displays balls of steel. How do I decide? Because, like you, I know it when I see it.

The first BOS Recipient is..
(Envelope please..........)

Rep. John Murtha

(Hey Brownshirts – Bite me!)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Friday the 13th

The Bad Luck Top Ten

How unlucky can we get? Well this is the day to take stock.

1) Starting here at home -- this week President Bush re-visited New Orleans and declared that federal and state authorities have done “a heck of a job,” putting the old town back together. He noted that, “folks around the country who are looking for a great place to have a convention or a great place to visit, I'd suggest coming here to the great New Orleans. It's a heck of a place to bring your family. It's a great place to find some of the greatest food in the world and some wonderful fun. (Story)

This just two weeks after denying he lived in a “bubble,” was out of touch and only listened to those who told him what he wanted to hear, true or otherwise. How unlucky for the majority of New Orleans residents still living like gypsies.

2) The US remains the only developed nation on earth with modern health care that fewer and fewer of its own citizens can afford.

“Rising health-care costs, already threatening many basic industries, now consume 16 percent of the nation's economic output — the highest proportion ever, the government said Monday in its latest calculation. The nation's health-care bill continued to grow substantially faster than inflation and wages, increasing by almost 8 percent in 2004. (Full Story)

At this pace by 2050 the cost of proving Medicare services will consume the entire federal budget. Yet no one in Washington, in either party, is doing a fig about it. How unlucky for us and our kids.

3) We are now so in hock to China, which has us 1 out of every 8 of our $8 trillion debt, that we no longer have any leverage against this giant commercial/military force. Of current concern is how China will vote in the UN Security Council to sanction Iran for ignoring internal pressure to drop it's nuclear weapons program. Since China gets a good hunk of it oil from Iran it's likely they will veto UN sanctions against Iran. How unlucky for the world. (Story)

4) When his advisers tell him "frogs are dying off, Mr. President, George Bush likely replies, “Serves those snooty French bastards right for not supporting the liberation of the Iraqi people.” But of course I jest -- not about the frogs though. They are dying off and, this month scientists concluded it's due to global warming – something President Clueless continues to deny is even happening. How unlucky for the frogs – and, sooner or later, us. (Story)

5) The nut who rules North Korea has decided that western food aid feeding his starving people comes with too many strings. In particular donor demands that he stop making nuclear bombs. Asia's Rainman - Kim Jong, who is not starving and reportedly consumes a case of Chavez Regal scotch a week, said no more! – no more food, that is. He has a few nukes and intends to have a few more. Since the bulk of our military assets are tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan – (where there are no nukes and never have been) – we can't do a thing about North Korea's dangerous, likely crazy and surely drunk, leader. How unlucky for all Asia and as well as parts of the US West Coast now in reach of North Korea's newest long range missiles. (Story)

6) America's corporations are redoubling their efforts to gut the Golden Goose that made them rich in the first place – the American worker/consumer. Those whose jobs have not been off-shored are now being squeezed to further improve company bottom lines. Pensions, health care, benefits across the board are being cut or eliminated. Why try to improve profits by making better products when billions of dollars in worker benefits are just laying around begging to be harvested? How unlucky for working men and women silly enough to believe a contract is contract. (Story)

7) Despite all the happy talk from within the White House bubble about the health of the US economy, we are heading for painful and protracted reckoning. “America is running a current account deficit of 6.25% of national wealth, or 1.5% of the total output of the world....To finance this huge shortfall we are pulling in 70% of all the savings in world, much of it from Asia. Economists call it a “curious position” for the world's poorer nations financing the over-consumption of the earth's richest nation.” But there's more. In exchange for underdeveloped countries liberal lending policies, the US is rewarding them with jobs – our jobs. During last year we sent another 51,000 American manufacturing jobs to Asia while wages here at home stagnated. How unlucky for the American middle class, which with every passing day has more and more in common with those frogs mentioned above. (Story)

8) Thanks to our Commander in Chief's wanton violation of Starfleet's Prime Directive, prohibiting interference in the affairs of indigenous species, the Iraqi people are now consigned to generations of sectarian violence. How unlucky for the folks living within the boundaries of geopolitical fiction we currently refer to as “Iraq.” (Story)

9) Congress has once again proved that money, not votes, is what get things done in a mature democracy. How unlucky, not just for ordinary Americans, but all those emerging democracies Bush likes to point to. At least here there are millions of folks well off enough to buy themselves a member of Congress. But in developing democracies it's only the handful of crooks who got to the nation's goodie jar first who can afford the best government money can buy. (Story)

10) Finally to our men and women in uniform. Your luck has been iffy for the last three years. You've been stuck fighting and dying in a war started and directed by a bunch of draft dodgers who can't tell the difference a trigger assembly and a pair of nail clippers. While you trudge around in 100 degree temperatures covered in 25 pounds of body armor, carrying another 40 pounds of ammo and other gear, the guys who put you there are packing light titanium putters on the golf course as a caddy carries their bags. How unlucky for you. So, here's hoping you, before anyone else, get lucky this year.

Have a nice Friday the 13th now, ya hear! And count your blessings – if you have any left.

See you Monday. Maybe. Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

January 11, 2006

Can't Make It Up, Department

Some days the news reads like script for Monty Python.

Python News Skit #1
How do you bring a morbidly obese man out of coma?

Doctors hope aroma from some of Ariel Sharon's favorite foods will help rouse the Israeli Prime Minister from his coma. Israel radio said a plate of shawarma -- a sliced meat dish -- had been put in his hospital room... Before a severe stroke last week, the overweight Mr. Sharon had a legendary love affair with food, and ignored repeated medical advice to lose some kilos. (Full Story)

The Palestinians have wanted to punish Sharon for his complicity in the massacre of Palestinian refugees during Israel's invasion of Lebanon 30 years ago. So Palestinians might take more than a little pleasure in the vision that floated through my warped mind as I read the above story:

There's Sharon drifting off towards eternal peace when suddenly his still fully functioning hunting/gathering cerebral synapses catches a whiff of their client's beloved heated shawarma. The light at the end of the tunnel dims as Sharon rallies and begins clawing his way towards the sweet smell of heated shawarma. Salivary glands, mothballed just days earlier, are reactivated. Preparations are made in Sharon's cavernous receiving dock for a fresh delivery of solid food.

As he slowly re-emerges Sharon opens his eyes -- and there it is --- a big, juicy shawarma steaming on plate being waved gently beneath his nose by a nurse.

Sharon's arm rises slowly from beneath the sheets. The covey of doctors clustered around his bed shoot each other an approving glance.

Sharon flexes his fingers several times to relieve the stiffness from a week of disuse. The docs smile broadly.

Then, in a low rubble, he utters his first words. "Shaaaaaaawarrrrrrmmmmaaa! Uhmmmmm."

The medical team beams in collegial unity.

Then he makes his move -- slowly, his hand shaking, his arm wavering as it navigates the 18 inches from bed to plate, Sharon's fingers gripping in preparation, his lips smacking in anticipation ....

When suddenly the lead physician speaks up.

“Thank you, nurse,” the lead surgeon says, “we won't be needing that any longer. Put it on my desk. I'll have it for lunch.”

The nurse pulls the plate out of Sharon's reach.

Sharon's eyes widen and he sputters a garbled protest. Difficult to make out clearly it sounded as though he called the nurse, “Bride of Hitler!” .

“No, no, no Ariel,” the smiling doctor says, “You've had your last shawarma. Now, how about a nice bowl of hot oatmeal and little skim milk?”

Python News Skit #2
By now you know all you think you need to know about sleazoid lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. Ah, think again. This item appeared yesterday on MSNBC.

In 1972 Abramoff ran for student council president -- when he was in the eighth grade -- where he was disqualified for violating the $100 campaign spending limit by serving hot dogs at an election party .... Abramoff also lost a 1976 bid for high school student body president, later saying that was "probably the last time I've really been involved in totally fair campaigns." (Full Story)

Therein lays all the proof I need to affirm that humans are not only born to be either straight or gay, but some are born crooked as well --bad the bone the day the pop out of the oven, probably before.

Python News Skit #3
Finally there was this story:

JERUSALEM - Israel won't do business with Pat Robertson after the evangelical leader suggested Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke was divine punishment, a tourism official said Wednesday, putting into doubt plans to develop a large Christian tourism center in northern Israel. (Full Story)

This story is further confirmation of my long-held theory that the more you get to know fundamentalist Christians the less you like the sanctimonious little bastards. But this is a special case. if there was ever a cynical unholy alliance, it's the joining of Zionist Jews with America's born-again Christians.

The entire basis for this warped relationship is stupifyingly, jaw-droppingly, stomach-retchingly disgusting. The Zionists pander to Jew-hating Born-again Christians because they have so much political clout in this administration. Clout the Born-agains use to pressure Congress and the White House to maintain unqualified support of Israel, both rhetorical and financial.

While the Zionists see that support as insuring Israel's survival, the Born-agains see it as fulfillment of Biblical prophesy. They believe that coming of Armageddon and the “final days,” depend on sparking all out war in the Holy Land. A key part of this process is that, all sinners – and right at the top of that sinner-list are Jews – will be eliminated.

I really don't know how the Zionist thought they could play footsie with these ignoramuses and not get their toes smashed, sooner or later. What the Israeli right just learned about fundamentalist Christians is that letting them into your life is like handcuffing yourself to the Mother-in-law From Hell. From that moment on nothing – and I mean NOTHING – you do is ever going to be right or enough. They cannot be pleased. They cannot be placated. They cannot be reasoned with.

There was a cartoon in yesterday's paper that said it best. A guy was standing a register line holding a tub of Preparation H. Rev. Robertson was behind him. The man had turned angrily to Robertson and said. “No it's not God's punishment. And mind your own damn business.”
Religious fundamentalist – of whatever stripe – can never mind their own business.

So, who needs drugs when we have news like this?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

January 9, 2006

January 9, 2006

The Endangered Scoop

Let's play the blame game. Whose fault is it, anyway. Seriously. Whose fault is that:

* We still don't know who met with VP Dick Cheney five years ago to formulate the national energy policies that have now brought us record high energy prices.
* We didn't know in time that the Iraq/Niger/Yellow cake business was a scam – and three years later we still don't know who cooked it up,
* We didn't know in time that there were no WMD in Iraq, and there hadn't been for years,
* We didn't know soon enough that US troops were “mistreating” Iraq prisoners, even though reporters were "embedded" with those troops,
* We didn't learn for almost four years that the NSA was breaking the law listening in on Americans and reading our email.
* Why did it take so long to find out what Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay were up to when the evidence has been laying around since at least 2002 just waiting for someone it all together.

Who's to blame for that dismal list of disgrace?

Simple. My former profession, journalism, is to blame – hands down. Journalists are supposed to be in the show and tell” business. But over the past five years they have done neither very well -- if at all.

Let's look at it another way. If the police failed to prevent by catching those who commit crimes, who do you blame – the crooks or the cops? I blame the cops. Crooks are just doing what crooks do – being crooks. They are those proverbial bears in the woods doing what's expected of them. It's the cops' job to make me safe as possible from them. If crime is running rampant in my town, it's the cops' fault.

All the “crimes” listed above were committed by the Bush folk and, while it's despicable behavior, it's nothing we haven come to expect of them. Neo-conservatives, like al Qaida, have made it perfectly clear what they are all about. So I don't blame them for trying. I blame the media for failing to find out what they are trying and exposing it. Neo-cons like to say chant that “we are a nation of laws.” Shouldn't the media have known the same people were breaking those laws – and told us. And not after the damage is done, but in time for Americans to put their two cents in.

What passes for news today too often belongs on the History Channel.

Back in the old days, (yeah, yeah, I know how that sounds....back when I had to walk ten miles to work in the snow and put cardboard in shoes because I was so poor...,) reporters lived for the scoop. There was nothing worse than being assigned to cover a PTA meeting or a city council meeting – unless of course you caught a public official up to no good. Ah, the rush. It's the highest high on earth for a reporter to uncover evil-doers evil-doing. And to write that story and see it on the front page the next morning.

That all changed, I believe, during the Clinton years -- which was also when cable news and the 24-hour news cycle really got rolling. Reporters, who once spent days pouring over public records and picking through campaign finance disclosures, suddenly found themselves chasing a puissant $29.000 real estate deal in Arkansas, women who claimed to have seen Willy's Willie's, and a blue dress with an unspeakable stain upon it.

Many veteran reporters didn't like it. But the reading and viewing public seemed captivated by it. This was news with a twist, news that also entertained. This was news with the legs of a Mexican soap opera. There was something shallow, but titillating, in each day's reporting episode, teasing that something even more prudently jaw dropping tomorrow. Film at 11.

I remember a different time -- a time when real investigative reorters stalked the halls of power, and meant business, and were backed by their employers.

In the late 1980s I had the privilege of working with a great team of investigative reporters at the Arizona Republic. The paper had not only set up a separate budget for this team, but had taken them out of the newsroom and ensconced them in a secure, almost bunker-like, office in the basement. The team included it's own senior researcher, a remarkable man named John Doherty, now sadly deceased. John was Google on two legs. Anything I wanted to know John could provide. And we did some award-winning reporting back then John, Andy, Jerry and I.

But you'd be hard pressed to find similar investigative teams today. Which is precisely the reason the Bushites have gotten way with so much for so long. By the time Bush replaced Clinton in the White House damn few investigative teams remained. Media outlets had slashed their budgets for such labor intensive, time consuming and potentially litigious endeavors.

That's why I put the ultimate blame for the misdeeds of the Bush administration has gotten away with directly on the media. They could have done more – a lot more. They should have done more. And, even now, with new bodies turning up weekly, they are still not doing that job.

Take just Cheney's (secret) Energy Task Force: No national security issues to confuse the argument here. This just your simple, Journalism 101, open governance story. But we still know nothing. Reporters have reported. In the old days I can assure you we'd know who met with whom and what they said. How? By never taking no for an answer. Some reporter would have camped out in the back seat of some source's office until they spilled the beans.

I knew reporters like that, and they are no longer welcomed in today's newsrooms. Why? Because they are pains in the ass – that's why. Real investigative reporters are born that way. They are pushy sons-a-bitches. They tend to go out of their way to intrude, to challenge, to storm out of meetings when they don 't get their way. In today's painfully politically correct, self-esteem-protecting, white bread workplace such behavior is the human resources director's worst nightmare.

The last investigation I did was for partisan Democrats. It was March 2002 and I uncovered DeLay's dealings with Abramoff. I couldn't even give it away. (That 2002 report is posted here) The point being most of the information now being peddled in the Times and Washington Post as "scoops," was readily available nearly four years ago. Why didn't they write about then? The only conclusion I can come to is that the media was afraid that launching a full frontal attack on the darling of the far right, even if justified,, would only reinforce the right wing fiction that the media is a lackey of the left.

So most old mad-dog reporters are gone now, fired or retired. (Some can be even be found pecking pathetically away in blogland obscurity.)

Meanwhile, back at papers that once broke history-changing stories, it's “hear, see, and write about not evil.” Instead of assigning a Mad Dog reporter to the biggest story since Vietnam, the New York Times assigned Mad Woman, Judith Miller. Who, rather than stalking the administration for leakers likely to tell her what was really going on, she became a press release service for the Vice President's office.

But there's something even more disturbing than that in how the Times mishandled the WMD story. It's expected that a reporter will run into stonewalls when trying to unearth the truth from another organization, like the White House. But it says something very, very unsettling when the wrongdoing was happening right there under the noses of hundreds of reporters, right there in the New York Times own newsroom. Where were the other reporters at the Times while Miss Run Amok was running amok? Now that would have been a scoop worth bagging!

Another problem is that the media is all lawyered up now. And so mistakes scare the hell out of editors. When Dan Rather pulled the trigger prematurely on the Bush/Air National Guard story everyone in the mainstream media ran for cover. The few remaining mad dog reporters were put on leashes and told to stick to reporting only what is already known.

Which is largely the reason the NY Times sat on the NSA spying story for over a year.

Memo to the Times: A year-old story is no longer a scoop.
It's a badge of cowardliness and dereliction of duty.

You see, the Times did not want to get itself "Rathered," especially since the paper now had a pretty good idea of what Judy "Hi there sailor" Miller had been up to. So when the president called and asked the Times to spike the story, they complied. Imagine that. If the subject of an investigation had ever called me and asked that I kill or hold something I had learned about him, I would have taken that as the ultimate form of confirmation. And, I would have redoubled my efforts knowing for sure now that I was truly onto something big.”

If I had had a story as important as the NSA spying story was, and my editors refused to publish it the moment I had it nailed down, I would have taken it, or leaked it to, another paper. No real journalist would sit on a confirmed story that important for that long for the reasons being proffered.

This is a good time to recall how the media responded when the Nixon administration got a court order blocking the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers. The Times immediately knew that the right thing to do was to make sure that story got out. They put their own business and legal interests aside and passed that hot potato right off to the Washington Post, which published the material the next day.

That's the way it was in "the old days," when journalists understood that their job – their ONLY job – was to keep the publics' business public.


Memo to
“The Media”

From: The American People

Re: Refresher Course in Journalism

1) You are in the news business. You are NOT in the national security business. It is your job to find out what public officials are doing, and then tell us.

2) If I want entertainment I have 500 cable channels pumping it right into my house 24/7. So stop trying to make news entertaining and get back to making it timely, credible and useful.

3) Cut your entertainment and sports budgets if you must to find the money necessary to fund real investigative units. Staff them with hungry mad dog journalists – then stay the hell out of their way.

4) When you learn something that's news worthy, report it. If someone tries to convince you not to report they just became part of the story. So, report that too.

This Year's Assignment:
Pin the list of missed scoops I list above. Pin them up in you offices, newsrooms and coffee rooms. Keep them there until you remember why it is you exist and why we should care whether or not you continue to exist.

Monday, January 09, 2006

January 6, 2006

The Real WMD Threatening Democracy

Gambling Money

When sleaze meets sleaze magic happens. One glance across a crowded room and they instantly recognize kinship. But when super-sleaze teams up with super-sleaze a fusion-like chain reaction flashes to life consuming everything in range.

And that's what happened when Jack Abramoff met Indian gambling. The master of political sleaze met the masters of societal sleaze.

Oh, I know the media is all atwitter over the political implications for ruling Republicans, but as usual they are missing the soul of this saga -- the political correctness and hypocracy that surrounds Indian gaming.

Let me explain.

I'm have no moral objections to most vices, including gambling and, when I can get away with it, indulge in several vices myself. So the morality of gaming is not my beef with Indian casinos. It's what I learned way back in the 1980s about what's really going on behind all that helping the poor Indians blather.

While working on our S&L book (Inside Job) in 1986, my co-author, Mary Fricker, and I followed one of our S&L crooks to a small Indian reservation outside Palm Springs. It was the home of the Cabazons, the very tribe that took their case for gambling rights to the U.S. Supreme Court and won sparking the Indian gaming revolution.

What we found there was, to say the least, unnerving. Sure there were Indians - about 25, but they weren't in charge. Instead as group of Los Angeles-based Mafioso were running the operations -- people with names like Rocco. The gaming operations were run by a non-Indian “management” company. They would front the money to build, maintain and operate the various gaming operations with the promise the tribe would get a share of the "profits," as calculated by Rocco and friends.

This is how Indian gaming began. After being chased out of Los Vegas and New Jersey by state and federal heat, the mob discovered indian reservations. It was like a gift from the Mob Gods. One mobster testifying before congress was asked how the mob viewed Indian reservations. He replied, "as our new Cuba.”

That's because Indian reservations are sovereign nations within a sovereign nation. The mob could set up casinos, pay off tribal leaders and skim casino proceeds with impunity. If the FBI showed up they had tribal security usher them out the gate because they had no jurisdiction on reservation property.

During our short investigation of the goings on at that Indio, California Blazoning reservation:

* Three members of the tribe were found shot in the head a week after threatening to go public with corruption at the gaming facilities,
* An illicit arms sales operation was set up peddling machine guns,
* The non-indian head of the tribe's gaming management company, John Philip Nichols, was sent to prison on a hire for murder charge,
* The S&L crook who led us to the reservation in the first place and who had financed the tribe's high-stakes bingo parlor, was charged with running fraudulent insurance companies and running off with customer premiums,
* The same fellow was later sued by the federal government for tens of millions in fraudulent loans he got from now-defunct S&Ls,

And there was more. And it's still going on . (See this story)

We heard reports back then of similar activity on Indian reservations in Florida and Minnesota as well. Mobbed up management companies were rounding up their own tribes coast to coast. One operator was pitching so many tribes he referred to his targets as, “Chief of the week," sessions.

Ah, but Indian gaming proponents are quick to counter, “that was then, things have changed.”

Yeah, they've changed alright. They got smart. The likes of one time Republican National Committee chairman, Frank Farenkopf, and later GOP lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, stepped in. While Democrats saw Indian gaming as supporting another down trodden minority and something “we have to put up with because of how we screwed the American Indians in the past,” the GOP saw it another way – the GOP saw indian gaming the same way the mob saw it, as a cash cow.

And so Indian gaming really is different now. It's bigger and more corrupt. The mobsters were shoved into the closet and replaced out front by buttoned down business men, men with the kind of connections that get things done – and without all that messy “batta bing, batta bang” stuff.

Not only could these guys bring big money and big influence to Indian gaming, but legitimacy, even a reassuring glaze of morality. After all, would Jesus-boy, Ralph Reed, associate himself with something sleazy?

Farenkopf made the way safe for fellow Republicans, serving as president of the American Gaming Association. The ASA is the lobbying arm of the gaming industry. It was formed in 1995 and hired Frank at a hefty $1 million plus a year. For his keep Frank took gambling's case directly to GOP bigwigs, even the White House.

"He was the best hired gun that money could buy," said the Rev. Tom Grey, founder and executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling "There is no doubt that he plays a very skilled Washington game."

When Farenkoph argued his case to fellow Republicans he surely pointed out two critical facts:

1)Gaming produces tons of free cash, and
2) Democrats have been getting most of the Indian gaming action. (See here)

From 1998 on the GOP's share of indian gaming revenues has steadily grown. But Farenkoph played by the rules so Dems kept their lead, though it narrowed through 2004. It wasn't until Jack Abramoff blended political action with tried and true mob techniques that the GOP pulled past Dems.

I only mention all this because the only way to get to the bottom of a problem is to identify all the elements that created it in the first place. Sure we need campaign finance reform. And we need lobbying reform as well. But we also need to admit that little has changed since the days when powerful white men set up trading posts on indian reservations, traded their goods for cheap liquor they knew was poison to them then, once hooked on hooch, proceeded to exploit them in every way imaginable. (All of which, of course, was carried out in broad daylight under the banner of “helping the poor Indians.”)

That's all Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed were doing, simply following in the footsteps of those hardy pioneers. Behind all the altruistic hoopla you hear today, Indian casinos are just the latest incarnation of the old exploitive reservation trading posts.

But don't expect anyone in Washington to admit that. Not the Democrats, who you can bet are rushing to assure gaming tribes -- and those that want to join the party -- that Dems hold no grudges about their little fling with GOP whores. The DNC brothel is right where always was and welcomes their indigenous constituents back with open arms -- but do bring wallets.

And don't expect Republicans to say anything but the nicest thiings about indian gaming for the next few year -- and for free!. Republicans must now do penance for golfing in Scotland on indian money even as Abramoff and his pals gang raped their tribal clients.

I don't argue that some revenues from reservation casinos have helped some Indians. But I am quite certain tribes never see the lion's share of the cash that flows through those operations. But non-indian management and politicians do.

Wanna bet?

PS: Oh, and about how Indian casinos are "different now?" Well sorta -- sorta not.

Tribe Deals In Its Own at Casino
The Santa Ynez band's lucrative gambling operations are overseen by its own regulators, some of whom have criminal histories.

By Glenn F. Bunting, Times Staff Writer
October 19, 2004

SANTA YNEZ, Calif. — Gilbert Cash would have no chance of working as a blackjack dealer at one of the major hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. The reason: Cash has filed for personal bankruptcy four times and failed to pay about $60,000 in income taxes. He also is awaiting trial on charges of choking and beating his estranged wife ...

Yet as chairman of the gaming commission at the Chumash Indian Casino Resort, Cash, 38, oversees more than $1 billion in wagering each year. Nor is he the only regulator at the Santa Barbara County casino with a troubled past.

• At least seven of 16 tribal members who have served on the gaming commission during the past decade have backgrounds that almost certainly would preclude them from working at, much less regulating, casinos in Nevada and New Jersey.

One commissioner resigned in July after The Times asked about his past convictions for robbery, burglary and theft. Another former regulator once fired gunshots near the Chumash bingo hall. A third was elected to the commission after he was fired from a management job in the casino for allegedly molesting female employees.

• Tribal members have been caught taking advantage of their authority on the gaming floor. The tribal chairman once directed a blackjack dealer to provide free chips to his son and other customers. In another case, a tribal member was fired as head of video gaming after it was discovered that slot machine tournaments had been fixed.

• Key security jobs at the Chumash Casino are held by relatives of gaming commissioners — an arrangement prohibited by casinos in other states. The surveillance unit in recent years has included several officers who are related to members of the Chumash gaming commission and its executive director.

Such problems are "somewhat inevitable when tribes are given the power to regulate themselves," said I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School who is a leading authority on gambling and an advisor to state regulators.

Tribal leaders contend that the success of the Chumash Casino shows that their patrons have full confidence in the integrity of the operation. They say their tribe — the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians — has taken corrective measures whenever infractions have been uncovered.

"This only underscores our assertion that we can, in fact, regulate ourselves," said Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta. "We run a tight operation."

California voters approved high-stakes gambling on reservations four years ago. Since then, tribal gaming has expanded so rapidly that the state is expected to overtake Nevada as the nation's casino capital within several years.

An initiative on the November ballot would extend the tribes' monopoly on Las Vegas-style gambling into the next century. Proposition 70 would lift restrictions on the number of slot machines and allow tribes to offer unlimited craps, roulette and other high-stakes games.

In exchange, tribes would pay the state corporate income tax of 8.84% on casino profits. Currently, Indian casinos are exempt from state and local taxes.

The initiative is sponsored by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, with support from other tribes. It is opposed by law enforcement leaders, organized labor and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who prefers to negotiate gambling agreements directly with tribes.

Under Proposition 70, tribes would continue to have primary responsibility for policing their $6-billion-a-year industry.

Currently, each of the state's 53 casino-owning tribes is required to set up a commission to monitor gambling. Some tribes hire professional regulators, often with law enforcement backgrounds. The Chumash and other bands do the job themselves, electing tribal members to their gaming agencies.

Advocates of Indian gambling say tribes have kept their casinos free of corruption.

"We can say with confidence there is no evidence that the Mafia is running Indian casinos," said Michael Lombardi, chief regulator for the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians in the Coachella Valley. "Indian gaming in California is much more regulated than card rooms and at least stands up to the same level of quality as racetracks and the lottery."

Last year, the Chumash moved their gambling operation into a new, $157-million Mediterranean-style resort with 2,000 slot machines — as many as Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

A final thought. Lose cash, in the quantities produced by gambling operations, always attracts two kinds of people; sleaze and politicians. (Oh look! A redundancy.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

January 3, 2006

January 3, 2006


I would wish you a happy new year, but that wouldn't be like me. You know me... doom and gloom. I am a pessimist, always have been, and it's served me well so far. I know a lot of optimists and I can tell you, being a pessimist is best. The optimists I know seem to be forever trying to figure out what went wrong. Their lives are peppered with disappointments. Whereas, as a perennial pessimist, I am rarely disappointed and often pleasantly surprised. I prefer pleasant surprises to unpleasant disappointment.

So let's cue up the coming year and see what is likely to go wrong.

In 2006 Iraq's Sunnis will become Iraq's Palestinians. The Kurds and Shiites will carve up Iraq like a prime rib divvying up the juicy oil-rich portions for themselves. The Sunnis will be shoved into a million square mile oil free sandbox on the boarder with Sunni-dominated Syria. The hope would be that sooner or later Syria will take in their Sunni brothers. But that is not going to happen any more than Israel's one-time hope that Jordan would absorb West Bank Palestinians.

What we now call the Sunni “insurgency” will morph this year into a Sunni Intifada. Because in the Middle East there's no such thing as a “good loser.”

As that Sunni intifada escalates, the US will declare victory and leave. The security vacuum created by our departure will be quickly filled by radical Shiite Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops.

Up north, in newly declared Kurdistan, the Kurds will ask for security guarantees from NATO, which they will get since both the US and Europeans have had it right up to here with Iran. Also Europe would not want to see Iranian domination of all of the former Iraq. Since the south has already been lost to Iran, Kurdistan will become a tense DMZ (hopefully) blocking radial Islam's westward march.

Meanwhile down south treatment of Iraq's former Sunni rulers will become increasingly brutal. It will begin with undisguised ethnic cleansing as Sunnis living in Kurdish and Shiite areas are harassed into moving into their Sunni sandbox. Those who resist will face increasingly brutal treatment. Reports of genocide will filter to the west, be denied by Shiites and declared “an internal Iraqi problem,” by the West which has lost its appetite for trying to sort out Iraqi tribal feuds.

Ten years from now maps will show three countries where Iraq once was, Kurdistan, Sunnistan, and the Islamic Republic of Iraq, a defacto Provence of Iran. (At which point muffled hysterical laughter will be heard emanating from the tomb of the Ayatollah Khomeini.)

The Republicans
Today's plea agreement between ubber-lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, and federal prosecutors will result in early retirement of some vintage GOP politicians. It's not so much getting caught up to their arms in corruption but the timing. Abramoff will be spilling his beans at the very moment the entire House of Representatives is up for reelection this year.

Memories of an early House-cleaning scandal lurk. There are still fresh blood stains on the marble from the House banking scandal of 1992. The House Bank scandal ensnared more than 350 House Members, 23 of whom were actually convicted of wrongdoing. But it also reversed the balance of power in the House, helping to give the long-suffering GOP minority their first taste of power in decades. (More here: )

This time the handcuffs are on the other hands, GOP hands. If Democrats don't get caught doing something worse between now and November, history could repeat itself. (And, since Democrats rarely do anything, right or wrong, these days, that outcome seems increasingly likely. )

Tom DeLay:
Thanks largely to Abramoff, Tom DeLay will soon get a chance to dust off his pest control expertise advising federal prisons on how best to control roach infestations. As an inmate himself DeLay will still be able to give advice on matters in which he has a vested interest. (If I were a federal prison cockroach I'd be putting in a transfer request to Gitmo.)

The American Consumer
Credit junkie consumers are in for surprise beginning this month. Those benevolent credit card companies that have made it so easy to get in debt, are doubling their minimum payments on card balances. For decades they didn't really want you to pay down your balance because you were so agreeable about being screwed blue by their usurious interest rates.

But now you've gone and gotten yourself so deeply in debt that even those loan sharks are worried. Now they want some of their principle back as well each month. The “never-never” (never have to pay the money back) days are over.

Which, in and of itself, is a good thing. The only trouble is that so many consumers live right there, at the minimum monthly payment line. Knowing which of their two-dozen credit cards still have available credit and that their monthly take-home pay is just enough to cover the minimum payments on the other cards, is what defines “financial planning” for too many Americans these days. Double those minimums and the math no longer works.

Add to that lenders jacking up rates and up monthly payments on adjustable home loans, a slowing real estate market, skyrocketing fuel and utility bills, and what you get is a consumer unable to consume. Since we are now a consumer-driven economy, that's bad news for industries that rely on what I call “trickle UP economics.

The Environment
I have one piece of real estate investment advice for 2006. If you own beach front property, sell it. If you've always wanted to own beach front property, buy something 20 miles inland and wait a few years.

Some time this year VP Dick Cheney will step aside “for health reasons,” and Bush will appoint Condi Rice to be both America's first woman and first black to hold that office. The politcal calculation is a no-brainer. By 2008 the GOP will be in such disfavor with voters that the party will have to reinvent itself. Sure Rice was part of almost everything that went wrong with Bush's foreign policy, but that won't matter as much as chipping women and minority voters off the Democratic block. To reassure male voters the GOP ticket would be either Rice/McCain, or Rice/Guliani.

Which means, of course, the Dems would have to monkey-do by nominating Hillary and we'll end up with a Hillary/Obama Democrat ticket as the Dems try to thwart the GOPs dastardly plan.

If this comes to pass and we have two women to chose from for President that will be what consumes media attention, not whether either one of them is worthy of the office – which of course, neither woman is.

The Internet
In the coming year the darling of Internet companies, Google, will begin it's transformation into the Wal-Mart of the virtual world. As Google buys everything in sight trying to put the gobs of money investors are throwing at them to work, they will step on toes, lots of toes.
The Internet is just like the physical world, just faster. While it took Wal-Mart a couple of decades to piss off millions of people, it will take Google just a couple of years of tumor-like growth to do the same. (Just ask Bill Gates.)

Which brings me to the world of personal computing. I predict that 2006 will be year computer users begin deserting Microsoft for good. Why? Because we Windows PC users have had it. Microsoft has simply worn us out picking up after it's sloppy programming and monopolistic, take no prisoners, attitude towards any potential competitor with the balls to suggest they have a better way.

We are sick -- sick, sick, sick -- of never-ending security problems, sick of installing patches over holes that shouldn't have been there in the first place, sick of paying extra for third-party anti-virus software to protect our precious files from programs written by kids with ear rings hanging off all the wrong body parts, and sick of paying through the nose every couple of years to upgrade to Microsoft's latest operating system in the desperate hope this iteration of Windows actually works as advertised, only to discover once more that it doesn't.

That's why I say 2006 is Microsoft's last chance. Come spring Microsoft will finally release it's long delayed Longhorn operating system. Of course they claim they've gotten it right this time, which leaves me feeling like Charlie Brown looking down the field at Lucy holding that football in place, promising that this time she won't pull it away.

So, being a pessimist, I decided not to bite this time. After over two decades of migrating up the Windows operating system gauntlet, I jumped ship and bought a new Apple iMac G5.

It wasn't easy. It was a lot like switching sexual orientations. But I knew I had made the right choice the moment I opened the box and was presented with a pamphlet sized user's manual. Oh sure, Windows has a short “Quick Start” section to their users manual too. But that's followed by a thick “Trouble shooting” section that describes what to try if your Windows computer does any one of a thousand things no computer should ever do anyway.

So far, so good. The Mac turned on, ran and has not crashed – a new experience for this escapee from Microsoft's inner circle of Dante's Inferno.

So, if you're an investor, sell Microsoft short and buy Apple stock as early in 06 as you can.

If you are a Windows XP user nursing that increasingly sluggish PC along until Longhorn is released, my heart goes out to you. I know the fear and loathing you feel at the very thought of deserting Windows for a Mac. Hell, when I left the computer store carrying that big iMac box I could jsut feel the stares of hatred from all those Windows folks in the parking lot. I felt like a traitor, a deserter. There in my arms was proof positive that I had joined the pod people, those granola crunching, superiority complex, too-good-for-this-earth, Birkenstocker-wearing Apple people.

But, I got over it. Pass the granola and soy milk please.

So there you have my thoughts and predictions for the coming year. The bottom line:

Become a pessimist. You won't be disappointed.