Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Feb. 27, 2006

Tale of Two Economies

So there I was Saturday night, curled up with my Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition. In my not-so-humble opinion the WSJ is the best newspaper in print. That is, until you hit the editorial page. I know reporters who work for the Journal and whenever I mention their paper's Op Ed page they blanch in embarrassment. The folks who regularly appear on the WSJ Op Ed pages are – not to put too fine a point on it – different – and not in a good way.

All was going well Saturday night as I perused long, well-written, fair and balance national and international news, until I turned the page and there it was, the Op Ed section. I knew I should just throw the Section 1 into the trash and move on to safe and sane Section 2. But instead, I read it. Why? Got me. I suppose it's the same sick need that forces me to look when I pass a car crash, only to regret it later.

The one that got me this time was an editorial by David R. Henderson, from (where else) The Hoover Institute. It was entitled, Minimum Wage, Minimum Sense. In case you don't get the point, Mr. Henderson – and all his kind – are flat-ass against raising the minimum wage. Henderson's knickers were in a twist over news that California Governor, Arnold, was pushing for a 15% boost in the minimum wage. The Terminator had turned traitor.

Whenever conservatives argue against increases in the national minimum wage they drag out the same old argument; that rather than bettering the lives of low-wage workers, it makes their lives worse. The reason, they claim, is that employer hire fewer low-wage workers when they have to pay them a few cents an hour more.

To quote Mr. Henderson:

“The law of demand says that at a higher prices, less is demanded....Since a legislated increase in the price of labor does not magically increase workers' productivity, some workers... will lose their jobs.”

To listen to Mr. Henderson you might think that this law of labor cost vs. demand applies universally. But no way Jose. If you're a corporate CEO, Henderson's Law of Labor Cost reverses itself.


And forget productivity. It doesn't seem to matter that health care companies can't cover nearly 50 million Americans. If you run a health care company you are kicking the ceiling off your own minimum wage:

Healthy Salaries for Healthcare CEOs

By AMNews staff. May 26, 2003.

William McGarvey, MD, a retired Indianapolis otolaryngologist, found the high pay commanded by managed care CEOs so reprehensible that, at Anthem's 2002 annual meeting, he confronted President and CEO Larry Glasscock about his multimillion-dollar pay package.

In 2001, the year covered at that meeting, Glasscock got $3.1 million in salary and bonuses, as well as a $12.4 million long-term incentive payout. In 2002, Glasscock got $3.3 million in salary and bonuses, about the average for managed care CEOs at the largest firms. His 6.5% raise was actually below the 17.7% average bump for the top managed care CEOs, as reported by Equilar Inc., an independent corporate research firm.

Physicians, like Dr. McGarvey, feel that high pay for managed care CEOs is particularly galling considering companies are jacking up premiums by 20% or more, and tightening physician reimbursement as a means to raise profits. In their view, money that could presumably be used for care, or to make insurance more accessible, is instead heading into the pockets of paper-shufflers.

"We have (over) 40 million people in this country who have no medical insurance because they can't afford it," Dr. McGarvey says. "They work just as hard as the CEOs. They just haven't had the breaks that they have, and it's not fair. The majority of Americans live from Friday to Friday."

So, what have learned today, boys and girls? We've learned that Mr. Henderson's law, that higher wages hurt workers, only applies to low-income wage workers. Because there appears to be no penalty -- in the form of lost jobs -- for the astronomically high salaries of CEO's .

The rich have gotten lousy rich under this administration. Life is good, for them, and they are now busy trying to figure out how to keep the party going after their boy George leaves office. But now it's getting trickier. As income inequities grow it gets harder and harder to just talk wages down with their time tested, “mandatory-minimum-wages-cost -workers-jobs,” argument. And now that they see Republicans like Arnold being forced to back minimum wage increases, the rich know they need a new ploy, and soon.

And they have one. Say hello to the new ploy: A Guest Worker Program.

(Translation: Open the valve at the Mexican/American border and let the cheap labor flow in. Let American workers arguing for wage increases face Mexican workers for whom our current minimum wage looks like a small fortune. )

This explains why normally xenophobic Republicans suddenly want to institutionalize and legalize an influx of cheap Mexican labor.

As usual Democrats are too tied up in their own politically correct triangulation to do much about it. Once again the Republicans have slapped Democrats into handcuffs of their own making. The Dems are, so they say, for minorities, workers and the down-trodden. Wouldn't it be nice, if it were so.

As the African/American demographic fragments, and American labor whithers, Democrats need the to attract the growing Hispanic vote. But Republicans what them too and actually have a plan to get them. In fact, Republicans see backing a guest worker program as a win/win:

- First the GOP ingratiates itself to Hispanic voters by backing what appears to be a humane Guest Worker Program.

- And, if they pass a robust guest worker program, it will keep a lid on US wages, for decades ahead, particularly at the bottom.

(Republicans may be evil, but they are smart-evil. Democrats? What can I say? What need I say? )

As the disparity between the haves and have-not's widens it will interesting to see how Red State voters, so-called "Reagan Democrats," and evangelicals react. After all, the super-rich amount to just 1% of those who caste votes. The other 99% have less – increasingly a lot less. At some point something's gotta give.

Even Biblically-lobotomized evangelicals have begun to showing signs of unrest with this administration. The first break has come over the ruination of the environment this administration seems so comfortable with.

The next break will come when Bush's so-called, “faith-based charities” his “armies of compassion,” wake up and figure out that they've been used to justify cuts in social programs. They will learn this when their modest little churches are drowned by a rising tide of hungry, homeless and heathcare-less Americans -- and Mexican guest workers, who don't earn enough to live here and send money home to Mexico as well.

That's when Bush's faith-based armies of compassion will morph into a pissed off army of prayin', marchin' hell-raisin' evangelicals. Because hell hath no fury like a screwed evangelical. That's when Bush becomes the Anti-Christ.

Maybe the Wall Street Journal editorial board ought to apply Mr. Henderson's theory, that lower wages create more jobs, to the executive suite. Because, if he is right, there seems to be something out of whack up there. There seems no breaking point when it comes to executive compensation.

The Hendersons out there argue that wages have to be in balance with worker productivity. But clearly, “productivity,” doesn't apply to the top 1% either. Hell, they get raises and obscenely large bonuses even when their company's stock is in the shitter. They simply get, because they've got. They deserve, simply because they are deserving.

Believe me, this sorry state of affairs had nothing to do with those musty old economic bromides Mr. Henderson parroted in his editorial. Instead it is all about an even older law of society: "The rich get richer.” If you are not one of them, that's not their problem. Eat cake, losers.

A piece today by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman makes a similar point:

The idea that we have a rising oligarchy is much more disturbing. It suggests that the growth of inequality may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. Unfortunately, that's the real story.

Should we be worried about the increasingly oligarchic nature of American society? Yes, and not just because a rising economic tide has failed to lift most boats. Both history and modern experience tell us that highly unequal societies also tend to be highly corrupt. There's an arrow of causation that runs from diverging income trends to Jack Abramoff and the K Street project.

It may take some time before we muster the political will to counter that threat. ... It's time to face up to the fact that rising inequality is driven by the giant income gains of a tiny elite, not the modest gains of college graduates.

Sooner or later the wealth gap gets so large that those at bottom no longer have anything to protect.. or lose. And that's when those who have over-filled their personal silos with society's finite wealth start getting calls from their front gate guards:

“Ah, sorry to disturb you sir, but there's large crowd gathering down here -- and they're in a pretty ugly mood.”

When Ugly Moods Happen

Quote of the Day
"Of course I believe in the free enterprise, but in my system of free enterprise,
the Democratic principle is that there never was, never has been, and never will be
room for the ruthless exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few."
President Harry S. Truman

Monday, February 27, 2006

Feb 25, 2006

Where's the Lifeboats
On A Ship of Fools?

So, how are you doing? No, I mean really, how are you doing – you and your family? Are you feeling prosperous, living the American dream? Are you on course for a secure retirement and with smooth going as you sail off into the sunset?

American families saw their real incomes fall 2.3 percent from 2001, according to a Federal Reserve survey of consumer finances released Thursday.

Bush will, of course, blame these negative figures on “a recession we inherited,” (Translation: Blame Clinton,) and then “we were attacked on 9/11.” (Translation: Blame the terrorists.)

I wonder how many years have to pass before those excuses ring as hollow as they are?

Simply put Bushenomics has been the most destructive set of economic policies to hit Americans since Herbert Hoover. No, wait. That understates the problem. Thanks to this administration we are all now stuck in a race between two looming catastrophes: an economic collapse or an ecological collapse. Who knows, it even might be a draw.

Oh sure, you say, “There he goes again! Mr. Repent The-End-is Near.”

Well, you tell me. Let's just look at the gauges on our economic dashboard and see what they tell us. The study released yesterday provides us with the most current readings.
"This is a tremendously detailed, comprehensive look at the American family's balance sheet and it ain't pretty," said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute.
(Read study findings here)
And (Paying for Retirement)
And (Paying Employers not to end pensions)

All of which are among the reasons I continue to believe we are living in the final months of a fool's economic paradise -- (the fool, of course, being GWB and his merry band of trickle-down Moonies.)

The last time we teetered on such a precipice was at the end of the Reagan presidency. Conservatives like to point to the Reagan years as golden times, and for the wealthy and unscrupulous, they were. But Reaganomics, like Bushonomics, was fueled, not by genuine worker productivity and a healthy consumer spending, but hot money -- credit.

During the Reagan administration banks and savings and loans were deregulated and allowed to lend to anyone, even themselves. That fueled a building boom that was more often than not completely unrelated to housing demand.

Billions of dollars were pumped through the bank accounts of shadyt speculators and even shadier developers, for housing developments and commercial buildings for which there was no demand. Many of those developments went bankrupt and were later simply torn down.

You know how that story ended. While all the free and easy dough pumped up economic indicators, it nearly killed the thrift industry, with almost half the nation's thrifts going under. And, it left future taxpayers with a $500 billion hole to fill. (See Inside Job)

And, like Bush's tax cuts, Reagan's tax cuts did not, as promised, increase real economic activity resulting higher tax revenues. They did just the opposite, they gutted the treasury, just as Bush's tax cuts have done today. (Details)

How did we escape economic collapse after Reagan? Well, first his successor, George H. Bush, was left with no choice but to go back on his “watch my lips, no new taxes,” pledge, and raise taxes. It was either that or start boarding up government buildings.

That cost Bush One the love and support of the usual suspects that benefit from tax cuts, corporations and the wealthy. And that cost him reelection.

But even the Bush H. tax increases proved a drop in the deficit bucket. So when Bill Clinton came to office he raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans and, by the time he left office eight years later, the US budget was in surplus.

Crisis averted.

Then Son of Bush and his team of economic Taliban arrived, and it was back to voodoo economics; the wrong tax cuts for the wrong people, deficits and profligate borrowing. Happy days were here again -- at least for those with the right connections, or the right lobbyist.

All that loose cash has done it again -- distorted traditional economic indicators. The needles point to "full" but family bank accounts remain empty. Here we go again.

Deborah Reed, an economist at the Pubic Policy Institute shares my sense of deja vu.

“The 1980s were marked by a similar paradox. The economy is growing but the profits of that are not being shared with workers. They're going to the CEOs and the people owning stock," she said.

It was just lucky for us that Reagan's term in office ended before his all his deficit chickens came home to roost at once. We are not likely to be as lucky. This time the perps have three more years at the till.

By the time the next President is sworn into office he/she may have to take a crash course in Franklin Roosevelt's first years in office.

But even if the next President is able to plug the holes in this ship of fools it might be too late. Worldwide disruptions in food, energy and human migration forced by global warming might well sink us anyway.

On the bright side – at least the water will be warm.

(PS: Memo to Red State voters: Thanks for nothin', you morons!)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Feb. 22, 2006

Morons Go to War

The Bush neocons treat democracy as though it's penicillin – a one shot cure-all for what ails the world. But it would have been nice if, before launching two wars in the Islamic world, they had checked to see if any of the world's problems were resistant. Had they taken the time and trouble to do so they would have quickly learned that at least one mean-ass bug – Islam – eats democracy for lunch.

Given the choice between the West's freedoms, and the lifestyles that inevitably spring from such freedoms, rank and file Muslims almost always gravitate back to familiar Islamic strictures once they taste often contentious, free-wheeling western-style freedoms.

A recent opinion poll taken in Muslim immigrant communities in England showed that 40% of those polled said they would favor laws that allow Sharia (Islamic) law to be applied within their communities rather than English law.

So, back to Iraq. Now that we are there all that's left to do is lose. And lose we shall. Here's why.

Don Rumsfeld likes to throw around the term “asymmetric warfare,” meaning conflicts in which the least powerful of opponents can trump the most powerful by employing grassroots, innovative and relatively small scale, even primitive, military tactics.

Which is precisely what minority Iraqi Sunnis are doing. But wait. That alone wouldn't do the trick. Our defeat requires one more element – which also could have and should have been foreseen: Just how crazy Shiite Muslims are about their faith. (And I mean crazy in both the enthusiastic and clinical senses)

Ah, now that does it. Combine those two ingredients and we have a recipe for US defeat.

No one knows better how to push Iraqi Shiite buttons than Iraqi Sunnis. Sunnis, in case you haven't been paying attention, are largely secular folk – kinda like reform Jews or cafeteria Catholics. Sunnis call themselves Muslims, but they are really Muslim-lite.

Shiites, on the other hand, are the fire-breathing religious right of Islam. During the decades the Sunnis ruled Iraq they kept a tight lid on Shiite religious expression because they knew that once those guys get on a religious roll there's no stopping them.

Well, the US took that lid off when they dethroned the Sunnis, and the Shiites are on a roll. Once again they can whip themselves into bloody messes once a year – oh joy. And once again they can visit their holy shrines. All of which is just fine with Sunni insurgents. Because nothing is quite as explosive as a bunch of born-again Shiites on an emotional roll. Just wind them up and they will burn, kill, burn and pillage anything in the path -- even one another.

Which is precisely why, at each critical stage of the US plan to turn Iraq into something resembling a civilized nation, the Sunnis pull a stunt like this:

LONDON, February 22 - A bomb attack in Iraq has badly damaged one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, sparking furious protests, BBC reported. 

Thousands of Iraqis have gathered at the al-Askari shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, where two men blew up the famous golden dome in a dawn raid. (More)

Remember the uproar over those Muhammad cartoons? Well buckle up baby. Wait til you see how Iraqi and Iranian Shiites react to this, and future attacks on their holiest sites. It's as if someone blew the dome off the St. Peter's Church in the Vatican, or bombed the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. But this time it was done to a religious group that relishes blood-revenge. So, one might say, heads are gonna roll over this.

It's a tactic of desperation by the Sunnis. Suicide actually. The only hope Sunnis have of avoiding becoming the Palestinians of Iraq is to stop the formation of a Shiite dominated government. Beyond that they have no plan. Chaos is the only card they have to play and they will play it with a vengeance. The al-Askari shrine is just one of several dozen sites in Iraq revered by Shiites. Which means there are plenty of Shiite button pushing sites left to blow up should the Shiites calm down and get back to trying to form a government.

There is of coursea fatal flaw in the Sunnis' strategy. If they keep blowing up Shiite holy sites, Shiite radical mullahs will gain stature, eventually pushing aside the US-supported, suit and tie wearing moderates. Shiite militias, now armed with the best weapons and armor US taxpayers could provide, will make short work of Sunni insurgents – and their families. You might call it a civil war, but it will be a bloody, short one once the Shiites can take the gloves off.

Also, blowing up Shiite holy places will become an open invitation to Iran to step in and fill the void left when the US and Brits high tail it out there.

Therefore, the Sunni strategy contains within it defeat for both the US and Sunnis. While the Shiites will lose a few religious sites before it's over, they will win the big prize; control over half of what once made up Iraq, including much of its oil. The Kurds will get a third, also with oil.

And for all their trouble the Sunnis, (those who survive the civil war,) will get herded off to a barren, oil-less sand pile next door Sunni-dominated Syria and told by the Shiites not to let the door hit them in the ass on their way out.

After that the West will try to convince Syria to take care of their now impoverished Iraqi Sunni cousins, which of course Syria will refuse to do -- just as Israel's attempt to force Jordon to solve it's Palestinian problems failed decades ago.

So, there you have it. What a mess. Nicely done George, Don, Dick, et al. Before the events you morons unleashed finish unfolding, you will have gotten more people killed than Saddam, Osama, Milosevic and the Taliban combined.

But then of course, we wouldn't want to do anything that “let the terrorists win,” now would we?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Feb. 15, 2006

Equal Justice
For Most

No one is above the law. The President says so. The Vice President says so. Even the nation's top cop, Attorney General Gonzales, says so.

But when one of them gets their nuts in a jam the law they get is very different than the rest of us get.

When VP Dick plugged his hunting partner last weekend he got the Five Star law. Investigation closed. There was “no wrong doing.”

So much for those fabled Dudley Doright Texas Rangers. When it comes to a VIP like the VEEP, its “wham bam, thank you ma'am." justice.

But much remains unaswered.

* For starters, why was a bleeding and seriously wounded 78-year old man taken to the small Kingsville hospital by ambulance, over rough country roads, rather than flown by med-evac helicopter to the state of the art Corpus Christi hospital? You know if it had been Cheney shot that day he would have been med-evac'ed PDQ to Corpus Christi, not sent to a cow-town hospital 46 miles away.

Why did they send poor Harry to Kingsville? My guess: Cheney and his staff calculated that reporters wouldn't be hanging around the Kingsville hospital hoping for a scoop -- and they were right.

But poor Harry could have died on that drive. So what's worse than shooting your friend?

Answer: Having the press find out you shot your friend. (“Hey sorry about that Harry. But do try to bleed less. We're taking the scenic route to the hospital.”)

* Next I want the Texas cops to tell me how soon they'd like to eyeball me if I had just shot someone? You know, just to kinda sniff my breath, make me touch my nose with my eyes closed – that kinda “investigatin's” stuff. Okay, I'll take a stab at it... let's see.... LIKE IMMEDIATELY!

So, why did they let VP Dick chill for 14 hours before questioning him personally? My guess: it takes that long for the liver to finish flushing alcohol out of the system. If Dick had been falling down drunk the day of the shooting, 14 hours later he'd look, act and smell like Salt Lake City Mormon preacher.

* Then there's the way the Veep handled the media – which was to keep them in the dark for a long as humanly possible. They had to know the press would find out eventually. And when they did find out, that the press would be super pissed over being kept in the dark and made to (once again) look foolish. Cheney and his people had to know that holding back the news was only going to make the story bigger once it got out. So why were they willing to incur such a predictable wrath?

My guess; the alternative was worse. Turning the press loose before all the witnesses had been tutored on the alibi, and duly impressed by tales of woe that came to those who crossed the Veep, could result in a negligent homicide rap if Harry succumbed. Imagine what might have happened it reporters had gotten to some of those good ole boys before they were briefed:

“Yeah, we were doing a bit of drinkin'. Dick's a regular guy. You guys are making too much out of it. Stuff like thats happens all the time down here when the boys get together. I mean, it's not like he was fallin' down drunk or anything. Just a few brewskies to steady shootin' hand. You big city reporters would be better off if you got out and did little drinkin's and huntin' once in while.”

* Another mystery persists. I have more than a passing familiarity with shotguns. I never shot any friends but I did once dispatch as nasty pit bull with a shotgun a few years back. So, those of you who also understand how shotgun pellets expand at distance need only look at this accident scene report. The shot pattern clearly indicates that poor Harry was a lot closer to the Veep than the 90-100 feet being claimed. It looks to me as though he was more like 30 feet away, rather than 30 yards.

* Finally, 28-gauge shot won't deeply penetrate a human body at 30 yards. So how did a pellet make all the way through chest muscle and embed itself into poor Harry's heart? Not from 30 yards. No way. At that distance it might not have even made it into a frail quail's ticker.

So, where is Rep. Dan “Watermelon Man” Burton now. You might remember that it was this GOP nut who claimed that Vince Foster did not shoot himself, but was murdered. He knew this because he had conducted tests in his own backyard, shooting a watermelon with same caliber gun found at Foster's side. How's about trying that little test now with a 28-gauge loaded with bird shot. Watermelons at 30 yards...

Oh well, just keep repeating, “No one is above the law. No one is above the law. No one is above the law.”

Who knows, it might even become true again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Feb 14, 2006

Imperial Hubris

How would King Louie XVI reacted if, on a hunting outing, he had accidentally shot one of his court toadies? He probably would have berated the wounded man for getting between the King and his game then gone back to his palace and forgotten the incident.

It's good to be the King. Being King means never having to say you're sorry. Being King means you don't even have to get a hunting license from the King, since you ARE the King.

But above all else, being King means whatever he does, it's none of anyone else's damn business.

That's really all you need to know to understand why Dick Cheney didn't inform anyone that he had shot a hunting companion last weekend. That incident, like nearly everything else this VP says, does or meets with, was personal, and none of our damn business.

Hell, he didn't even tell the guy in Washington who is literally an undependable heartbeat away from the Presidency, George W. Bush. Had it been Cheney who took the lead his pacemaker/defibrillator could have gone off, scaring the shit out of the VP and killing him dead – leaving George home alone and in charge.

The mainstream media wants to know more. Why did the Secret Service deny local police access to Cheney for 12 hours after the shooting. Whenever there's a serious accident resulting in death or injury the first thing police want to know is if anyone involved had been drinking. That's a bit difficult to determine 12 hours later. Did the VP have a little flask of brandy with him? Was he tooting and shooting? Inquiring minds want to know.

I have a different question. Who puts a loaded semi-automatic shotgun in the hands of a man with an implanted defibrillator? What if that little gadget goes off and tasers the guy setting his trigger finger into a serial twitch? He could mow down a small crowd of companions before he either croaks or his battery goes dead. Cheney's little hunting trip could have turned into My Lai on the open range.

The Swiss Ambassador was there and witnessed the shooting. But he's not talking, claiming "nuetrality." He did, however, offer to hold the victim's wallet -- which has now gone missing.

My pal Tony Seton at Quality News Network asked me yesterday if I thought this story “had legs.” I responded that nothing this administration has done wrong before has made a bit of difference, legs or not. The WMD fiasco, mishandling the war itself, New Orleans, secret meetings with big energy companies followed by record energy prices... nothing stops them. Their response when caught doing something wrong can boiled down to this... “So, bite Me.

They just don't care. When John F. Kennedy narrowly beat Nixon his brother, Bobby worried out loud that “we don't have a mandate.” To which JFK responded, “We don't need a mandate. We have the White House.”

The Bushies have boiled that attitude down to imperial dimensions. It's good to be the King. Just don't go hunting with him.

Other Absurdities

Another Fine Mess
Remember Valerie Plame? When the Bushies outted the CIA agent wife of Ambassador Joe Wilson, their defense was, “no harm, no foul” They said she was no longer undercover and just a CIA clerk now.

Wrong.... Guess what she was doing at the time Cheney blew her cover? She was tracking nuclear materials being smuggled to where – oh, go ahead – guess:


Yes boys and girls, even as this bunch of hypocrites bash the Washington Post for disclosing the NSA domestic spying program (a year after they learned about it,) they themselves blew the cover of the CIA agent trying keep a non-nuclear Iran, non-nuclear.

Remember that the next time these windbags invoke national security as the reason they can't tell us what they are up to in our name.

Here's more on the Plame story.

More KY for the Oil Guy
Big Oil has already built pipelines directly into each of our bank accounts, reporting -- surprise, suprise -- record profits. But the Bushies figure they need more, so they are proposing to give them a little Valentine gift:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 — The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years...New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government. (Full scam here)

I wonder how that switch-grass-to-gas idea of Bush's is coming along?

Liars are as Liars Lie
As the administration began to feel the heat over it's illegal NSA domestic spying program the President made a Hail Mary pass in LA last week hoping to blunt further criticism. He insinuated that the NSA program had prevented a 9/11-style attack on the tallest building in LA. It was lie. (I mean, another lie.)

Outraged intelligence professionals say President George W. Bush is "cheapening" and "politicizing" their work with claims the United States foiled a planned terrorist attack against Los Angeles in 2002.

"The President has cheapened the entire intelligence community by dragging us into his fantasy world," says a longtime field operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. "He is basing this absurd claim on the same discredited informant who told us Al Qaeda would attack selected financial institutions in New York and Washington." (Full tale here)

I told Tony last night that these guys are wearing me out. Seriously, nothing they do, no matter how wrong, no matter how deadly or how transparently cynical, gets them in trouble. Had Bill Clinton pulled any one of the stunts these guys have gotten away with the GOP-controlled Congress would have successfully impeached him long ago. (I will refrain from mentioning that the only thing Bill shot by accident was a blue dress... oops..)

But we no longer have a loyal opposition to protect us. Democrats are quite hopeless. As I wrote last month, I am done with them. Hope does not spring eternal after all. Democrats have succeeded in exhausting the last of my hope reserves. Democrats just posture and fiddle as Republicans rape the Constitution and pillage our treasury.

Who will save America? Who will save us? I don't know about you, but I don't have a clue. Al Gore? Which Al Gore? Hillary Clinton? Hillary is just Tom DeLay with hot flashes.

I am not optimistic. My combination social/political/environmental/fiscal barometer has been dropping like a rock. Heavy weather's ahead. I am battening down the hatches on the good ship Pizzo.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Feb 10, 2006

Domestic Wiretaps

Today I was going to write about how the Bush folk were subverting, not just our constitution, but virtually every organ of government; conducting a systematic coup of government agencies and silencing anyone within who refuses to toe the radical right party line.

Hardly a week goes by that we don't hear from a current or former career civil servant muzzled by this administration.

NASAs top meteorologist was disciplined by an administration crony appointee for publicly confirming that global warming was real, of human origins and a happening thing. (Full Story)

Lou Fisher, a 36-year veteran of the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, wrote that he believed the Bush administration had exceeded its legal authority when it allowed the NSA to spy on Americans. The next day he was disciplined by his politically appointed superior and told, in no uncertain terms, to shut up or he would be reassigned to a less sensitive job. (Full Story)

Of course we all remember what the administration did to General Shinseki when he bucked administration neo-cons who believed they could conquer and occupy Iraq on the cheap. And Ambassador Joe Wilson, (and his wife,) when he contradicted their false claims that Iraq had tried to buy yellow cake from Niger. The pattern has become clear to anyone paying attention. The term "thugs" jumps to mind.

But we lefties can write about such stuff until the cows come home and only other lefties will read them nodding like bobble head dolls.

But today my pal at Quality News Network, Tony Seton, sent me a piece by former Reagan official, Paul Craig Roberts. In it Robert's poses a terrifying possibility, one that even my dark and troubled mind had not considered. That the Bush administration may be using materials sucked up in it's domestic spying operations to blackmail political opponents.

When a Reagan conservative slaps such an accusation on the table, you have to sit up and take notice. This time it can't be dismissed as simply more left wing paranoia. Roberts served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, later as Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of the conservative, National Review.

(The piece was very long so I edited it down and highlighted key points for those of you who may want to just scan it.)

Who Will Save America?

By Paul Craig Roberts

A number of readers have asked me when did I undergo my epiphany, abandon right-wing Reaganism and become an apostle of truth and justice.

I appreciate the friendly sentiment, but there is a great deal of misconception in the question.

When I saw that the neoconservative response to 9/11 was to turn a war against stateless terrorism into military attacks on Muslim states, I realized that the Bush administration was committing a strategic blunder with open-ended disastrous consequences for the US that, in the end, would destroy Bush, the Republican Party, and the conservative movement.

My warning was not prompted by an effort to save Bush's bacon. I have never been any party's political or ideological servant. I used my positions in the congressional staff and the Reagan administration to change the economic policy of the United States. In my efforts, I found more allies among influential Democrats, such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell Long, Joint Economic Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen and my Georgia Tech fraternity brother Sam Nunn, than I did among traditional Republicans who were only concerned about the budget deficit.

My goals were to reverse the Keynesian policy mix that caused worsening "Phillips curve" trade-offs between employment and inflation and to cure the stagflation that destroyed Jimmy Carter's presidency. No one has seen a "Phillips curve" trade-off or experienced stagflation since the supply-side policy was implemented. (These gains are now being eroded by the labor arbitrage that is replacing American workers with foreign ones. In January 2004 I teamed up with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer in the New York Times and at a Brookings Institution conference in a joint effort to call attention to the erosion of the US economy and Americans' job prospects by outsourcing.)

In Reagan's time we did not recognize that neoconservatives had a Jacobin frame of mind. Perhaps we were not paying close enough attention. We saw neoconservatives as former left-wingers who had realized that the Soviet Union might be a threat after all. We regarded them as allies against Henry Kissinger's inclination to reach an unfavorable accommodation with the Soviet Union. Kissinger thought, or was believed to think, that Americans had no stomach for a drawn-out contest and that he needed to strike a deal before the Soviets staked the future on a lack of American resolution.

Reagan was certainly no neoconservative. He went along with some of their schemes, but when neoconservatives went too far, he fired them. George W. Bush promotes them. The left-wing might object that the offending neocons in the Reagan administration were later pardoned, but there was sincere objection to criminalizing what was seen, rightly or wrongly, as stalwartness in standing up to communism.

Neoconservatives were disappointed with Reagan. Reagan's goal was to END the cold war, not to WIN it. He made common purpose with Gorbachev and ENDED the cold war. It is the new Jacobins, the neoconservatives, who have exploited this victory by taking military bases to Russian borders.

I have always objected to injustice. My writings about prosecutorial abuse have put me at odds with "law and order conservatives." I have written extensively about wrongful convictions, both of the rich and famous and the poor and unknown.

Americans have forgotten what it takes to remain free. Instead, every ideology, every group is determined to use government to advance its agenda. As the government's power grows, the people are eclipsed.

We have reached a point where the Bush administration is determined to totally eclipse the people. Bewitched by neoconservatives and lustful for power, the Bush administration and the Republican Party are aligning themselves firmly against the American people. Their first victims, of course, were the true conservatives.

Having eliminated internal opposition, the Bush administration is now using blackmail obtained through illegal spying on American citizens to silence the media and the opposition party.

Before flinching at my assertion of blackmail, ask yourself why President Bush refuses to obey the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The purpose of the FISA court is to ensure that administrations do not spy for partisan political reasons. The warrant requirement is to ensure that a panel of independent federal judges hears a legitimate reason for the spying, thus protecting a president from the temptation to abuse the powers of government. The only reason for the Bush administration to evade the court is that the Bush administration had no legitimate reasons for its spying. This should be obvious even to a naif.

The United States is undergoing a coup against the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, civil liberties, and democracy itself. The "liberal press" has been co-opted. As everyone must know by now, the New York Times has totally failed its First Amendment obligations, allowing Judith Miller to make war propaganda for the Bush administration, suppressing for an entire year the news that the Bush administration was illegally spying on American citizens, and denying coverage to Al Gore's speech that challenged the criminal deeds of the Bush administration.

The TV networks mimic Fox News' faux patriotism. Anyone who depends on print, TV, or right-wing talk radio media is totally misinformed. The Bush administration has achieved a de facto Ministry of Propaganda.

The years of illegal spying have given the Bush administration power over the media and the opposition. Journalists and Democratic politicians don't want to have their adulterous affairs broadcast over television or to see their favorite online porn sites revealed in headlines in the local press with their names attached. Only people willing to risk such disclosures can stand up for the country.

Homeland Security and the Patriot Act are not our protectors. They undermine our protection by trashing the Constitution and the civil liberties it guarantees. Those with a tyrannical turn of mind have always used fear and hysteria to overcome obstacles to their power and to gain new means of silencing opposition.

Consider the no-fly list. This list has no purpose whatsoever but to harass and disrupt the livelihoods of Bush's critics. If a known terrorist were to show up at check-in, he would be arrested and taken into custody, not told that he could not fly. What sense does it make to tell someone who is not subject to arrest and who has cleared screening that he or she cannot fly? How is this person any more dangerous than any other passenger?

If Senator Ted Kennedy, a famous senator with two martyred brothers, can be put on a no-fly list, as he was for several weeks, anyone can be put on the list. The list has no accountability. People on the list cannot even find out why they are on the list. There is no recourse, no procedure for correcting mistakes.

I am certain that there are more Bush critics on the list than there are terrorists. According to reports, the list now comprises 80,000 names! This number must greatly dwarf the total number of terrorists in the world and certainly the number of known terrorists.

How long before members of the opposition party, should there be one, find that they cannot return to Washington for important votes, because they have been placed on the no-fly list? What oversight does Congress or a panel of federal judges exercise over the list to make sure there are valid reasons for placing people on the list?

If the government can have a no-fly list, it can have a no-drive list. The Iraqi resistance has demonstrated the destructive potential of car bombs. If we are to believe the government's story about the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh showed that a rental truck bomb could destroy a large office building. Indeed, what is to prevent the government from having a list of people who are not allowed to leave their homes? If the Bush administration can continue its policy of picking up people anywhere in the world and detaining them indefinitely without having to show any evidence for their detention, it can do whatever it wishes.

Many readers have told me, some gleefully, that I will be placed on the no-fly list along with all other outspoken critics of the growth in unaccountable executive power and war based on lies and deception. It is just a matter of time. Unchecked, unaccountable power grows more audacious by the day.

Congress and the media have no fight in them, and neither, apparently, do the American people. Considering the feebleness of the opposition, perhaps the best strategy is for the opposition to shut up, not merely for our own safety but, more importantly, to remove any impediments to Bush administration self-destruction.

The sooner the Bush administration realizes its goals of attacking Iran, Syria, and the Shia militias in Lebanon, the more likely the administration will collapse in the maelstrom before it achieves a viable police state. Hamas' victory in the recent Palestinian elections indicates that Muslim outrage over further US aggression in the Middle East has the potential to produce uprisings in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Not even Karl Rove and Fox "News" could spin Bush out of the catastrophe.

Debate is dead in America for two reasons: One is that the media concentration permitted in the 1990s has put news and opinion in the hands of a few corporate executives who do not dare risk their broadcasting licenses by getting on the wrong side of government, or their advertising revenues by becoming "controversial." The media follows a safe line and purveys only politically correct information. The other reason is that Americans today are no longer enthralled by debate. They just want to hear what they want to hear. The right-wing, left-wing, and libertarians alike preach to the faithful. Democracy cannot succeed when there is no debate.

Americans need to understand that many interests are using the "war on terror" to achieve their agendas. The Federalist Society is using the "war on terror" to achieve its agenda of concentrating power in the executive and packing the Supreme Court to this effect. The neocons are using the war to achieve their agenda of Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. Police agencies are using the war to remove constraints on their powers and to make themselves less accountable. Republicans are using the war to achieve one-party rule--theirs. The Bush administration is using the war to avoid accountability and evade constraints on executive powers. Arms industries, or what President Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex," are using the war to fatten profits. Terrorism experts are using the war to gain visibility. Security firms are using it to gain customers. Readers can add to this list at will. The lack of debate gives carte blanche to these agendas.

One certainty prevails. Bush is committing America to a path of violence and coercion, and he is getting away with it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Feb. 7, 2006

Brace For Collision

History is on the move. The last couple of generations have come to think of momentous moments in history as – well, history. The U.S. Civil War, World War I and II, the Holocaust, Stalin's purges, the Great Depression, history neatly chronicled, with a beginning, middle and ending.

We've lived in times during which noteworthy events have been, by comparison, History-lite. I'm 60 and the first real historical event I recall was the Cuban Missile Crisis. But it's impact was almost entirely emotional. It lasted only few days then life returned to normal. The next historical event in my life was the Kennedy assassination, followed a few years later by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. But again, after a short period of shock, followed by a few weeks of sad reflection, life resumed quickly to normal.

The only history made during the conscious lives off the 30 and under generation was the fall of Communism, and that was good history.

History, like earthquakes, happens when it happens. A hunk of humanity over here, and a different branch of humanity over there, follow different paths, making their own progress, their own rules, their own mistakes, on parallel paths. Until one day, hardly noticed, their paths begin to converge. First there's friction. Sparks fly. But neither is willing or able to change or alter course. And finally, one day it happens. The two collide, and history – the bad kind -- is in the making.

That's precisely what's happening right now. The Christian/Judeao/secular West has merged paths with the Islamic world. Sparks have been flying for some time now while folks on both sides hoped one or the other would verge onto a less confrontational course. But neither has, because neither can.

The West has spent the last two centuries developing relatively open, enlightened, science-oriented, liberal societies. The Islamic world spent that time tethered to a philosophy that dictates both its religious and social identity, Islam. It once made them great, but now functionally obsolete, it has rendered them uncompetitive and increasingly unwelcome.

The West cannot accommodate unreconstructed Islam. Simply outlawing cartoons that offend Muslims, or letting them wear religious garb in public schools won't do it. Eventually the only way the West can avoid colliding with fundamental Islam is to “respect” all their rules -- rules that are antithetical to what being Western is. It would mean respecting rules, for example, that treat women in ways the West rightfully abandoned centuries ago. And that would just be the beginning.

I understand, even as I wrote the words above that saying such things risks throwing me into the company of bigots, flag-waving rednecks and jingoistic nut-case neocons. But the intractable nature of fundamentalist Islam has been on full display for several years now. Sooner or later something has to give, and I can't believe it's going to be the West. (When was the last time your heard of an Islamic nation complaining about illegal immigratants from Europe?)

The point of collision for this chapter in history will be Iran and it's s nuclear ambitions. As long as all the angry Islamic world's only weapons were suicide bombers the West had the luxury of pretending that radical Islam was a manageable problem.

But radical Muslims with the ability to kill millions of Westerners and disrupt the entire world economy in the process, is distinctly NOT a manageable problem. It's collision. It's war... and this time, a real one.

The inability of either side to change course has already set in motion forces that will create that moment of collision sooner rather than later. Muslim masses that immigrated to the West for jobs are now busy wearing out their welcome with riots and demands their Western hosts cannot concede. Those Muslim immigrants are also unable to concede. But they hold the weaker hand. If the violence continues -- and it will -- such guest workers will be sent packing. Those with European citizenship will be put in confinement under new laws, not unlike the internment of Japanese/Americans during WW II.

Those workers deported from Europe back to their native countries will only add to endemic unemployment there and they will become fresh fodder for anti-west forces. The Islamic world will achieve full-boil. Western companies and Western investment will flee. The House of Saud will be threatened by internal forces and will have to be protected by Western forces to secure access to Saudi oil – which will of course only further enrage radical Muslims. Collison in the making.

And speaking of radical Muslims, after collision Muslims throughout the Islamic world will either all be radicalized, or pretend they are. Because those who openly support the West will risk losing their heads.

Bleak, huh? Yep. But for the life of me I can't see a peaceful outcome to this unique collision of cultures. One society is populated by largely educated liberal, forward-looking citizens. The other is populated by largely uneducated, anti-intellectuals steeped in a social/religious framework that stopped changing and growing a thousand years ago -- a culture that sees almost every aspect of liberal Western life as an offense against Islam. An offense against them personally.

Which brings me back to Iran. It's bad enough that Pakistan has nukes, but Iran is horse's ass of a different color. It can't be allowed. This time it won't be the goofy neo-cons in Washington rattling their sabers, but the Europeans – and Israel. Because tit will be them, not us, within range of Iran's first nuclear tipped missiles. And, it's far more likely that a nuclear-equipped suicide bomber will get into an Israeli or European city than a US city.

All of which is simply unacceptable.. It cannot be allowed to happen, so it will not be allowed to happen. Diplomacy has not worked, particularly with Iranians. Because radical Islam doen't make deals with infidels. Infidels are either converted or conquered.

That's why I believe that some morning in the not-too-distant future we will awake to the news that someone just bombed the living crap out of Iran's nuclear facilities, including a nuclear-tipped bunker buster used to reach Iran's underground enrichment facility.

It will be Pearl Harbor – the Islamic world version. Collision. The first page in a new chapter of mankind's bloody history will begin. And, like all momentous moments in history, this one will change our lives and the world in ways we cannot now even begin to imagine.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Feb. 4, 2006

February 3, 2006

Drawing A Line

I assume by now you've heard about the flap over the cartoons of the prophet Mohammad that ran in a Danish newspaper back in September. If not, catch up here.

The reaction against these cartoons is so over the top I don't even know where to begin my rant. It begins with the Koran, an appendix of which carries quotes from Mohammad, including one forbidding drawings or pictures of any living creature, since only God can create living creatures.

Over time this doodling prohibition was narrowed to just humans. But then mega-maniacal Mullahs like Ayatollah Khomeini so much liked seeing their faces plastered on everything from money to billboards. So the prohibition was narrowed to just drawings or pictures of Mohammad himself. (Even that rule seems to have its commercial limits as visitors to Iran will attest that paintings and posters of Mohammad and Mecca can be easily found in the local markets.)

So, what's this flap all about, really? What we have here is a mass inferiority complex on steroids. Muslims feel the West disrespects them. Gee. I wonder how on earth that could be?

Could it be because they lump all us non-Muslims together as 'infidels," demanding from the West while heaping ridicule and disdain on us?

Or that the only time we see Muslims rioting over something it's an inanimate object, like Korans, novels or cartoons. But they seem able to go on as if nothing significant has occured when one of their own blows up a bus load of innocent men, women and children.

Maybe it's because they claim covering their women from head to toe and restricting their every movement is their way of showing respect for women. While we notice Muslim men don't seem interested in being treated to that brand of "respect" themselves.

It could also be because we sense a double standard when women accused of adultry are gang raped and/or stoned to death for their half of the "crime," while their male co-conspirators get off with a few lashes and live to adulter another day.

It could be any one, or all the above. But for me the bottom line is the quality of the cultures themselves. While the western countries are far from perfect, those of us living in them are not exactly chaffing at the bit to trade places with the folks rioting over a few cartoons.

Respect can't be had on demand. It's earned – or not – as the case may be. The Islamic world has not only failed to earn the West's respect, but seems to working overtime to lose what little they have.

The fact of the matter is that, despite the West's dependence on oil, the Islamic world is largey a ward of the West. The Saudis and Kuwaitis spend their oil money on bling -- from the western nations. It's the West that keep the Egyptians afloat. It's the West (and Israel) that keeps the Palestinians in business. It's the West that shows up when tsunamis wipe out Muslim Indonesians.

For the most part the Muslim world is a backwater of civilization a social, political and financial basket case.

I had to chuckle last night as I watched Arab shopkeepers pulling Western goods off their shelves in protest of other European papers running the offending cartoons. They said they were going to boycott all western goods until the governments in question apologize. Right. So until they get such an apology the Blue Light Specials at Alladin-Mart will be limited to all-things goat, hummus and hemp sandals. We'll see how long that lasts.

And when the bird flu sweeps through the Islamic world they will demand the West provide western developed vaccine, quickly and free. Because their scientists had either fled to the West or busy trying how to build nuclear weapons to develop a vaccine of their own.

Let's compare the Muslim world's reaction to the cartoons of Mohammad to how a mature nation responds to such a trival event. There was a similar flap a couple of years ago in France over a cartoon, only that time it was Christians who got their knickers a twist. The cartoon made fun of the Pope's opposition to any form of birth contro. It depicted Jesus, stark naked, with a woody, wearing a condom. Catholics screamed foul and the case made its way to the top French court. The court ruled that, thought the cartoon was certainly offensive to some people, it was not against any laws, nor should it be. Freedom of the press also means freedom to offend. Becasue without the freedom to offend, a free press cannot exist.

Which brings me to our western media. Several French and German newspapers immediately reprinted the Danish paper's cartoons in support of a free press. US news outlets have, for the most part, self-censored, reporting the story but withholding the cartoons from their readers.

Shame. Shame. Shame.

What every western news operation should do is show those cartoons with every story they run on the rioting over them. The message should be that attempts to intimidate and censor a free press will result in just the opposite. Try and you will only get more of what you don't like, not less. Caving in those ignoramuses is like paying a blackmailer or giving into hostage takers. Once it begins, it never ends.

I have a challenge for the Arab press too. Do your job as journalists. Send your reporters and cameras into the markets of Baghdad, Cairo, Mecca and Tehran and show the pictures, posters and drawings of Mohammad being sold there. It's time your Islamic readers (at least those who can read) make up their minds about pictures. And, while you're at it, show some of the worst of the hundreds of anti-semitic cartoons that run in Arab papers every year, and ask the rhetorical question – is this wrong too? And if not, why not?

The proper response to this flap by the West should simply be, “Get over it! Then get a clue. This is 2006 AD, not 1206 AD."

Though I can see how many in the Muslim world might not have noticed.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

January 30, 2006

January 30, 2006

The Sound
NO hand clapping

Why do we clap? It's a question I want to pose to Democrats on the say before the State of the Union. Why do we clap?

If you look under “applause” in the Webster online dictionary you find this definition:

Function: noun
1 : marked commendation : Acclaim
2 : approval publicly expressed (as by clapping the hands)

Okay, so when President Bush walks into the chamber Tuesday night, why applaud? Sure stand. Standing when the President of the United States enters a room is a show of respect – not for the man -- but for the office. So by all means stand.

But clap like a trained seal? Why? If Democrats clap what are they clapping for?

If you are a Democrat andyou plan on clapping Tuesday night, will you do me a favor today -- put a check mark next to the Bush policies you are approving of:

I am a Democrat and I will clap Tuesday night when Bush walks in because:

* Of the mess Bush has made for us, the Iraqis and the world in Iraq.
* Of the 2250 American soldiers he got killed in a war justified by falsehoods.
* Bush is breaking the law by spying on Americans.
* Bush has added the US to the list of nations that sanction torture.
* Of Bush's systematic gutting of the American working middle class.
* Of the 50 million Americans who can't afford medical insurance.
* Bush is a global warming denier.
* Of record high oil company profits and record heating and gas prices.
* Bush cut taxes for the rich while doubling our national debt.
* High paying jobs have been replaced by lower paying jobs.
* Of Bush's disastrous “democracy” crusade in the Islamic world.
* Of this year's $400 billion deficit, and the many that will follow thanks to his failed trickle down” voodoo economic policies.

Here's what I am asking – and I don't think it's much to ask from those of us out here who hope the Democrats will step up to the plate and begin leading again.

Tuesday night I want House and Senate Democrats to show the Presidency respect by standing when the current occupant of that office enters and leaves the chamber.

What I DON”T want them to do is to clap.

Instead I want them to keep their manicured hands respectfully folded in front of them. Let GOP sycophants on the other side of the aisle clap and hoot all they want.

But I want Democrats to simply stand in respectful silence.

Is that so much ask? After all, all I am asking Democrats to do is what they are best at anyway – nothing. They've perfected doing nothing to an goddamn art. So play to your strength kids. Tuesday night, stand, but don't clap. Here it is – a rare moment when doing nothing is actually the right thing. Imagine that!

But I have no false hopes. As was once said about the Palestinians, Democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Tuesday night is an opportunity, a rare opportunity for this beaten down, powerless opposition party to actually have an impact – by doing nothing, It would be a silent protest witnessed by hundreds of millions of Americans, as well as millions more around the globe. It would offer hope. Hope that there may be an alternative to the dismal, un-American, undemocratic, authoritarian, plutocratic, arrogant pack of intellectual goose-steppers now in power. And that not everyone in Washington is either an drunk with power, a cheap opportunist, crazy or all the above.

Of course I have been around too long to believe for a second that the Dems can agree to stand united in silent protest Tuesday night. Many – likely most, -- Democrats will clap. They will do the political calculation and, as they always do, figure that standing silent might piss off a contributor or a voter demographic. So, wearing a glum expression, while clapping unenthusiastically, is safest way to go.

Playing it safe by trying to have it both ways is the reason Democrats are out of power and likely to stay that way. Exhibit A: Hillary “Burn-A-Flag-Go-to Jail” Clinton. She'll clap. You can bet the farm on it. She'll put on her best scold expression, -- (A look Bill knows all too well.) Then Hillary will clap -- at least until she's sure the TV camera captured her pained expression and listless clap. All bases covered.

So it's up to us. Today let your Democrat representatives know you don't want them to applaud for this guy tomorrow night. Then on Tuesday night watch as the camera scans that sea of trained seals and notice if your Senators and Representative are clapping. If they are clapping then Wednesday morning phone or email their office and asked them to explain specifically what particular policies they were congratulating George for with their applause.

Because, inquiring minds will want to know.

Send your comments for publication to


Feb. 1, 2006

February 1, 2006

Man Without A Party

I got nothing more and nothing less than I expected from George W. Bush's State of the Union last night. It was George being 110% George – which still left him about 105% short of what a president oughta be.

Nevertheless I girded my loins, poured a double brandy and listened through to the end just to see what the Democrats would serve up as a rebuttal.

What they served up was Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. In all America Democrats succeeded in finding a speaker more boring than Al Gore and blander than John Kerry. It was like watching Michael Dukakis playing scrabble on three Valium.

Ah but there was a triangulated method to the Democrats madness. They picked Kaine to give the State of the Union response “because he is comfortable talking about his faith.” Which he did by starting right out letting listeners know he began his adult life as a missionary.

So there you have it. Democrats have joined the “faith and values” camp. If you believe in stuff that contradicts not just commonsense, but science as well, Democrats want you back and are willing to pretend they too see that six-foot tall white rabbit you say goes everywhere with you. Because faith is a powerful thing, and faith must be not just protected, but nurtured – nurtured into votes.

Republicans were first to figure out that there were millions of voters out there who would vote for anyone who pandered to their belief in the metaphysical. It was sure easier than coming up with real solutions and policies too. All GOP candidates needed to do was throw a few “God bless America's” into their speeches, say they too believed a fertilized egg is a person and that public schools would be better off if kids prayed there. That was all there was to it. Those voters were theirs for the taking.

Democrats resisted pandering to the biblically lobotomized. Instead Democrats clung to the quaint notion that a nation cobbled together from an international inventory of races, cultures and religions, would fly apart in sectarian strife unless the government remained secular in all matters held in common.

But the Republicans got it right. When your fortunes are tied to sheep, become shepherds. Make no quick moves or loud noises. Sheep spook easily. What they need most is reassurance. And you can't lead sheep, you herd them. If you try to lead sheep they will just stand there confused, munching their cud as you march bravely off, alone.

So Democrats, tired of seeing Republican shepherds rustle the flocks, decided to become shepherds too. Shepherds of the faithful. Herding, rather than leading, them to the polls.

Of course this will all end badly. But in the short term it will work. Faith-based Democrats will peel off voters from faith-based Republicans. Who knows, faith-based Democrats may even regain control of Congress, even the White House.

But by then it will make little difference. Republican or Democrat, they will soon find themselves tangled in a sectarian brier patch which, once started, spreads like wildfire. Ask the folks in what used to be Yugoslavia – at least those who are still alive to tell about it. Ask the Tutsi, the Ugandans, the Sudanese, and Ethiopians. Ask the folks of Northern Ireland, or Iraq. They will tell you what happens when politicians become faith-based shepherds.

So, what's my bottom line after last night's speechifying? I had written off Republicans long ago. Now I am done with Democrats as well. I am now officially a man without a party -- and increasingly, without hope.

If there is to be hope again – at least for lost lambs like me – it will have to come in the form of a new party – call it the American Unity Party.

But third parties are always losers. Almost from the day they are announced they attract political and social wingnuts like Rush Limbaugh to pain killers. For such a party to avoid the same fate, it be infused from its inception with leaders who are known, proven and respected.

And the only way to get leaders like that is if they defect from the Democrat and Republican parties.

Here's a cheery day dream. Imagine waking up one morning and tuning in CNN to find a group of familiar men and women holding a press conference announcing they are leaving their party to form the American Unity Party. Among them, Russ Fiengold, Barack Obama, John McCain, Byron Dorgan, James Jeffords, Pat Leahy and Barney Frank. No where in sight is Hillary, John Kerry, Tom DeLay or Lieberman.

The platform for the AUP: (Pronounced “up” by the way.)

* Restate the secular traditions our enlightened founders set as the corner stone of what they knew would become the world's most successful and enduring secular democracy.
* End the tax-free status of any religious institutions or organizations that become involved in partisan political activities.
* Set forth a fair, simple and progressive tax system.
* Bury once and for all the cynical, disingenuous and failed “trickle down,” economics and replace it with “trickle up” economics -- a system that puts money in the pockets of working Americans who then spend it on products and services thereby enriching those who produce and provide them.
* Acknowledge the reality of global warming and the imminent danger it poses to all mankind. Set forth a 10-year plan to deal with it.
* Return domestic issues to the top of the political agenda.
* Wind down our failed forced-democratization military adventures in the Middle East.
* Propose implementation of a national, single-payer health care insurance system.
* Propose a constitutional amendment mandating public financing of campaigns for federal office, including President.

Now, wouldn't that be a nice way to start your day? A new party, but filled with names and faces who have fought these battles before, and there for know where the land mines are buried. A party headed by folks who decided to throw away safe political careers to return America to what it was before the Neo-con revolution perverted and converted it into a modern-day Sparta.

But unless something as unlikely as that occures, I see no hope on the horizon. Hillary Clinton? Rudolf Guiliani? John Kerry – again? Democrats without coherent domestic or foreign policies or Republicans with bad ones. Your choice.

But not mine. I'll sit on my hands during the next election if those are my only choices. And I suspect many like me will do the same. Democrats hoping that by pandering to “people of faith,” combined with the accumulated messes caused by Bush policies will give them a win next November.

Maybe so. But so what? And isn't that precisely the point?