Monday, May 15, 2006

May 5 - May 15

May 9, 2006

The Left
Duped Again?

If I were Karl Rove, and worried Democrats might win control of either house of Congress next November, how could I depress turnout of just the kind of folks most likely to vote Democrat?

Piece of cake. If the left is a sucker for anything, it's a sucker for a juicy conspiracy theory. Hell, there's a whole left-demographic that believes 9/11 was a Bush administration conspiracy. Even though we all saw it live and on tape hundreds of times now, some even believe it wasn't jets that blew up the Trade Center and Pentagon, but government planted bombs. And that Flight 91 was not hijacked, but shot down on purpose to deepen the sense we were being attacked.

Karl sees all this, and in it he sees a way to depress Democrat votes by cooking up a conspiracy stew around voting. Feed the fires of doubt about the integrity of our voting system itself. Make left of center voters feel hopeless and powerless so they stay home.

I call it the “Oliver Stone Meets Diebold Strategy.” The perfect strategy at the perfect time. And, it may just be working.

They didn't mean too, but back in 2000 Republicans prepared the ground for this strategy with the Florida recount/Supreme Court fiasco. Back then it was just all about winning at any price. Folks like Katherine Harris and James Baker did what it took to make it happen.

I still don't believe they had a thing to do with the confusing punch ballots, but once handed that opportunity, they knew exactly what they had to do leverage it into a stolen victory.

In the process doing whatever they had to do to win in Florida, the GOP had unwittingly planted the first seeds of doubt about the very integrity of our election system.

Also planted were the seeds of an idea that's time had apparently come. Getting your own voters out to the polls had always been a key election day tactic of both parties. But depressing the other side's vote – well that was a potentially rich and largely unexplored vein. And so --

April 24 (Bloomberg) -- To Republicans, the New Hampshire phone-jamming incident is an isolated case of political dirty tricks that took place more than three years ago.... The facts, on the surface at least, are suspicious: dozens of phone calls to the White House by a man later convicted in the case; the national Republican Party agreeing to pay more than $2.5 million in legal bills; phones jammed on Election Day, not only of Democrats but of a firefighters' group, in the first U.S. congressional elections since the Sept. 11 attacks. Democrats say that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff may even be involved. (Full Story)

Hanging chads and the mess they caused in Florida spurred demands for election reform. Old punch paper ballots were blamed and congress demanded that states update their polling equipment.

Enter Diebold.

The decision to favor electronic voting proved a two-fer for the GOP. First, they were able to reward a loyal Republican company with a near monopoly producing electronic votng machines. Whether or not they also tried to get the company to “fix” those machines – or the company simply did so on it's own because it knew what side it's bread was buttered -- is not a fact I have yet seen established.

Regardless, Diebold's own actions, intentional or otherwise, served to water and fertilized those seeds of doubt. And water them, and water them and water them. If Diebold had set out to create doubts about it's voting machines, they could have done a better job at it. From the very first models the company looked like a kid caught with an empty cookie jar, crumb-encrusted lips and figures, denying guilt. (See Blackbox Voting)

Here's the second piece of good news for the GOP. Republican voters have pretty much shrugged off charges that Diebold was fixing to fix future elections as largely the chattering of the loony-left.

The left, on the other hand has rolled in the issue like a dog rolls in fresh bear droppings. Some have simply demanded more independent testing, certification and safeguards, such as voter-retained printouts and audit trail. Others demanded the machines be scrapped entirely. The various demands aside, they have raised doubt -- admittedly justified -- in this new form of voting... and strangely in voting itself.

As the November midterms approach, that flap continues flapping. Diebold keeps rolling out machines it claims addresses critics concerns. And each time critics find more things to be concerned about. In fact, Diebold seems to go out of it's way to look suspicious. While the company seems able to crank out thousands of bank ATMs that routinely provide customers a post-transaction printed receipt, Diebold claims it would be too complicated and expensive to produce voting machines that do the same thing. Hmmm. More doubt.

Again, intended or just fortuitous, the flap over Diebold's machines is pure pay dirt for conservative candidates. Those little mustard seeds of doubt first planted in Florida 6 years ago have grown into a mighty tower of doubt today. I don't know how many voters on the left have come to believe now that voting has become an empty gesture, but I get a lot of email like the one I got today from a reader:

I've read your work over the last few years and generally thought you do a whale of a job, considering the volume and breadth of your work. However, 'Nov. the only game in town' is way off the mark. What you are missing is the fact that politics is stone cold dead in U.S. A.

We are a fascist state. Have been for decades. Donkeys are a moribund carcass of their once fond memory.

Electronic voting assures that the Fuhrer will never be impeached. It also assures that you and I will always be pawns in the game of power and life.

... when you go to vote for your donkeys in November, take along your fire-ax and swing it squarely into the monitor of the Diebold electronic Wizard of Oz voting equipment that we know will be in place ...again.

Voting reform will never be challenged by either party, neither will be term limits, or any consideration of ethics ... the process is poisoned. Voting for donkeys in November will only encourage them. Vote with your fire-ax!

From the prairie

Karl must smile broadly when he reads such words of frustration, doubt, defeat and grim acceptance. Why even bother voting? The machines are fixed, the outcome pre-programmed. Just stay home and grouse on your blog about the rising tide of fascism and ever-shrinking circle of liberty.

So, if you are looking for a real conspiracy, there it is. I've never been a big fan of the blackbox, wholistic vote fixing theory. It always struck me as simply too risky for the perps. As a former journalist I know for a fact that sooner or later someone squeals. I know that because I have been on the receiving end of such squeals. Someone always feels slighted, dissed or unappreciated, and they squeal. If caught actually and actively trying to fix national elections, there'd be hell to pay for the GOP. Too risky -- even for this bunch.

On the other hand, rumors and lies are reasonably risk free. Unlike the kind of physical evidence – computer code, etc – fixed voting machines might leave behind, lies offer a comfort level of deniability. “Well, we believed it when we said it.” (Remember WMD? ) If they could start a war by spreading disinformation, and get away with it, why not fix elections the same way? It's not necessary to put a fix in place if you can just make voters believe you have and that their vote won't count anyway. Don't fix an election. Instead fix that idea in the minds of those likely to vote in ways you would prefer they didn't.

Those who oppose electronic voting would better use their time making Diebold's machines irrelevant by organizing voters in their districts to register for absentee ballots. I have voted absentee for the past twenty years. My ballot remains on file emblazoned with my votes and signature in the event a recount is deemed necessary. Oregon ran it's last statewide election last year by mail-in ballot. It not only went well but more folks voted.

And there's a Rove-defeating bonus to getting folks to vote absentee. Working stiffs, who are most likely to vote Democrat, often don't vote because they either have to take off from work on a Tuesday or stand in line after a hard day of work. If they could vote by mail from home, more would vote -- as we saw in Oregon. Once folks get a taste of the pleasure of unhurried voting by mail, they will never go to a poll again. Diebold's voting machines will end up on the scrapheap of history.. along with the anti-democratic doubts they created.

So vote absentee. But damn it.. vote. Because if you don't the real terrorists win - again.

May 8, 2006

The only game in town.

If you're like me Republicans scare the hell out of you, and Democrats don't. They don't inspire fear – because Democrats don't inspire -- period.

Still Democrats are the only card people like you and I have to play this Nov. And we need stop grousing about our dufus-Dems and work to get them elected.

We need to get going now because, in some districts we have chance to throw out the incumbant Dem and replace him/her with a more worthy candidate. Since this will be the only chance we have to fine tune the November Democrat field, folks in such districts need to get on now.

After that we need to become a single voice, a voice that shouts, loudly and insistently every day between now and November, “Vote straight Democrat in November.”

Whew! That was tough for me to get out without gagging. The Dems have become such a disappointment for so long most of us have hard time any given day deciding whether we'd like to tar and feather Republicans for what they've done to us, or Democrats for letting them get away with it. For me, most days, it's a toss up.

But the pay off of a Democrat victory in November would be well worth a bit of short term nausea.

First, Democrats in charge of either or both houses of congress would regain subpoena power – the colonoscopy of congressional power. For the first time in six years the Bush administration would have to start answering questions under oath and providing documents.

Among the Bush administration secrets that would get probed for the first time include, what went on during those Energy Task Force hearings five years ago that have could explain the record profits oil companies are making, even as the energy sector is in crisis.

We'd alos learn more about illegal domestic wiretapping even as the architect of that NSA program takes the helm of the CIA.

And has this administration, in our name, broken international human rights and laws of war in it's fight against terrorism?

Who knew what about torture in US-run prisons in Iraq, Gitmo and elsewhere.

Oversight committees with jurisdiction over environmental, legal, industrial, pharmaceutical and health care would be chaired by Democrats.

The of impact of such a shift would be enormous, even assuming that Democrats continued being the worthless little shits we've come to despise. Suddenly nothing the Bush administration wanted to do would slide through a Republican rubber-stamp congress. Energy company CEO's would, like tobacco CEO's before them, be put under oath when they testify. That would make it risky to blow off penetrating questions with breezy, self-serving, free market nostrums.

Republicans live in terror of such a Democrat victory this November and, they are trying to scare a rapidly dwindling Republican majority. The scare tactic this time is that, if Dems get control of congress, they will try to impeach President Bush.

Forget for a moment the stunning chutzpah of such a threat coming from the party that wasted four years trying to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about his sex life. While they failed in that endeavor, they learned something: voters hate that kind of thing. So now they are using the disgust they themselves created against impeachment efforts, to scare voters into not electing Democrats to congress this Nov. (Yes, Virginia, they have no shame.)

So, all you out there – lefty liberals, DLC-types, Greens and Progressives, transexual-multiracial-gay/lesbian-unicyclists-for-peace: – from this day go forth and spread the message:

Vote straight Democrat this November.

After that you can go back to dissing Dems and hating Hillary. I'll join you. But on the second Tuesday of November, in the privacy of the voting booth where none of your friends, spouse or children can see you, swallow hard and sacrifice for your country -- Vote Straight Democrat.

Then we have two years for the Dems to show us they remember how to lead.

If not, then it's third party time – big time.

Letters From The Front
Vietnam War Marine veteran, Gary Canant, was going through some old boxes one day when he found a bundle of letters he wrote home i 1968-1970. The letters covered the period from when he his arrival at Camp Pendleton, to his flight to Vietnam and on from there. Like so many of us who lived through that period, Gary felt these letters would resonate with today's readers. So he scanned them in and posted them, along with easier to read typed transcriptions, at

As I read through some of Gary's letters, I was struck by how similar they are to the letters – and today emails – of young men and women now serving in our latest mistake of a war in Iraq. Hopefully we'll get those kids out of that snake pit of a country before we have to build another wall memorializing tens of thousands more aborted young lives.

May 3, 2006

Why should you care about this?

U.S. Dollar Starts Big Slide Against Major Currencies
The Sunday Times 
April 30, 2006

LONDON: The dollar has embarked on a big decline that will see it fall against all leading currencies, according to analysts. The plunge is being prompted by America’s $800 billion current-account deficit, they say.

The dollar has been under pressure following last weekend’s meeting of G7 finance ministers and central bankers, which emphasised “global imbalances” and said currencies should reflect economic fundamentals. Then China raised its key interest rate to 5.85%, its first hike for months, and Ben Bernanke, the new Federal Reserve chairman, hinted that American rates would pause at 5% after a rise in May.

Analysts say that without interest-rate support, the dollar will be weighed down heavily by America’s imbalances.

“I think this is it,” said Tony Norfield, global head of currency strategy at ABN Amro. “The dollar has been supported by high yields but markets are saying that is no longer enough. The question for policymakers is going to be how to manage the dollar’s decline. It won’t be a one-way street but the fall is likely to be biggest against Asian currencies.”


I know... I'm a broken record on this issue. Some days I feel like one of those religious nuts that walk around with signs proclaiming that “The End is Near.” But it is. At least for America's economic dominance and the relatively carefree lifestyle it's provided during my 60 plus years.

Republican supply-side Moonies have done it again, shifted wealth from the working middle class to the investing upper class. They keep trying to prove that this is the best way to “grow the economy.” The first time they put this hair brained (and transparently self-serving) theory into action during the Reagan administration they left working taxpayers saddled with hundreds of billions of dollars in debt and a nearly fatal deregulation of the nation's once robust thrift industry.

Supply-siders believe that, if the investing class is allowed to keep most of the money, they make they will plow those tax savings back into the economy creating new jobs. (They call this “trickle down economics.”)

And they have a point – up to a point. But each time supply-siders were given a shot at proving their theory they've taken it too far. They cut taxes too much for those at the top and not enough for those at the bottom. And, so federal deficits soared.

But what about all those jobs they were going to create with the extra tax money they were allowed to keep? Statistically job creation has not differed from non-supply-side periods. And worse, what jobs have been created pay less than the jobs American has lost during this administrations tenure. (See chart below)

(On the other hand trickle-up econmics actually works. Because when you put tax savings in the pockets of working Americans they spend that money, creating demand for products and services, which in turn creates jobs. Duh!)

Do you need more proof that the supply-siders have it all bass-ackwards? When Bill Clinton raised taxes on capital gains he not only balanced the budget and created a surplus, but created millions of good paying jobs as well.

Bu hey, la de da, la de da.... you know all this already. I only mention all that because it's time for supply-siders to play “Truth AND Consequences.”

Thanks to all the above:

* We are saddled with a foreign war costing us $6 billion a month that we have to pay for with money borrowed from China. Why? Because the supply-siders gave wealthy investors enormous tax breaks they neither needed nor deserved.
* Which is why our national debt has doubled to $8.4 trillion since Bush's tax cuts went into effect.
* Those wealthy industrialists, the supply-siders promised, would use their tax savings to create jobs here didn't. Instead they figured out they could get more bang for those tax-free bucks creating jobs in China and India instead.
* American workers are getting whacked with a double whammy as cheap labor floods across our southern border, driving the wages of already low-paying jobs even lower. Because instead of investing their tax savings into good-paying jobs, companies must pay lower and lower US wages in order to compete with goods made by cheap-labor off shore factories -- factories often built and run by the very US companies that were supposed to use their tax savings to create new jobs in the US.
* All of which is why our trade deficit with other countries is approaching a trillion dollars a year with no end in sight. Because we no longer make enough stuff in the US to offset all the stuff we buy from countries. The reason for that is that the stuff we used make here and sell to China is now being made in China and sold to us.
* Then there's the federal deficit, now approaching half a trillion dollars a year. It too will continue to grow until taxes are raised on the wealthy to pre-Bush levels.
o (Do you find it curious that supply-siders are pushing to have the Bush tax cuts on capital gains made permanent, but are only willing to protect middle class taxpayers from the dreaded alternative minimum tax (ATM) for two years? )

And what about that cheaper dollar? The supply-siders will try to convince you that this is really good news. They will say that a cheaper dollar will make stuff made in America cheaper to buy in other countries. Which would be true – if only we still made stuff here. But we don't. America is now a “service economy,” remember? We serve each other meals at restaurants and change each other's sheets in hotel rooms. We fix each other's cars and leaky pipes. We pretty up each other's landscaping and ring up each other's sales at Penny's. What part of that activity do supply-siders suggest we can export?

And so the dollar will fall, and fall again. Already other nation's are beginning to disengage from the Bush-buggered buck. Our fair-weather friends the Saudis and other OPEC producers will no longer tie the value of their oil to the US dollar, but instead to a basket of EU, Asian currencies and gold.

The Chinese, who now finance more than a quarter of the US deficit, are also beginning to edge away from the dollar. As much as they might like to, they can't bolt for the door without driving down the value of their current US bond holdings. Also, until China can replace the US consumer as their cash cow, they won't want to do anything that could deep six the US economy. But the Chinese are clearly inching towards the exit. Just this week China and Japan were making nice, for example. And the EU is more than anxious to dip it's toe into China's growing consumer markets – and visa versa.

Once it becomes clear that China and Japan are shunning US treasuries in favor of European and Asian investments interest rates in the US will skyrocket to levels never before seen in an attempt to lure those guys back.. And at that point it's Katie bar the door time for us. All of us.

Imagine that. George W. Bush and friends created this monumental mess in just five short years -- a toxic fiscal stew that will take decades and trillions of dollars to clean up.

Nice going George.

May 2, 2006

If Not Now

Memo to US Senate: Take your $100, roll it into a tight wad and shove it. (Notice: You may use NO petroleum product to ease the pain.)

Now, that I have that off my chest, I have another suggestion for them: Rather than waste your time and ours trying to buy our love, how about earning our repect instead. Here's a first step in that direction.

Hold bipartisan hearings into Dick Cheney's 2001 Energy Task Force.

If not now, when?

Low-wage working Americans can not longer afford to drive to their jobs? Already folks some folks have been forced to pawn personal items just to fill their tank for another week. How bad does it have to get before you guys up there start asking the questions you should have asked years ago. And demanding real answers this time.

So, Bill Frist, Harry Ried, pull together a bipartisan panel made up of your toughest, most skeptical prosecutional-minded members, hire a couple of junkyard dog lawyers to act as GOP and Dem counsels, and let the long overdue hearings begin.

Subpoena everyone who had anything to do with those meetings, including secretaries who transcribed the original minutes. Oh, and when you call oil industry execs back, put them under oath this time. Because they lied last time when they said they had no idea...

(Washington Post May 2005) A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress ...The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated. (Full story)

I mean really guys – if not now, when?

Almost everyone else except Congress has tried to get this information out of the administration. The non-partisan government Accountability Office (GAO,) filed suit in 2002 seeking access to April 2002 seeking access to the records of Cheney's energy task force. But one of those “liberal activist federal judges” dismissed the suit. The Sierra Club carried its fight for those records all the way to the US Supreme Court, which in 2004 voted 7-2 to uphold "a paramount necessity of protecting the executive branch from vexatious litigation." (Interesting who they didn't feel that way when the “vexatious” inform being sought involved free sex instead of the crippling cost of energy.)

But just to make sure no one got lucky in court, the administration built wide moat around all things it feels are none of our damn business, including whatever deals Cheney made in 2001 with energy company CEOs.

“WASHINGTON - As the Bush administration has dramatically accelerated the classification of information as "top secret" or "confidential," one office is refusing to report on its annual activity in classifying documents: the office of Vice President Dick Cheney ... A standing executive order, strengthened by President Bush in 2003, requires all agencies and "any other entity within the executive branch" to provide an annual accounting of their classification of documents. More than 80 agencies have collectively reported to the National Archives that they made 15.6 million decisions in 2004 to classify information, nearly double the number in 2001, but Cheney continues to insist he is exempt. (Full Story)

And it's not as though we don't have good reason to suspect skulduggery was afoot at those meeting -- skulduggery that has now been allowed to manifest itself in the form of war, economic hardship for average Americans and record profits for the Big Energy folk who attended those meetings. Over the past four years we have learned little about what happened at those meetings, but what little we have learned is startles even those of us who thought we had seen it all:

“Documents turned over in the summer of 2003 by the Commerce Department as a result of the Sierra Club’s and Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, concerning the activities of the Cheney Energy Task Force, contain a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” The documents, dated March 2001, also feature maps of Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates oilfields, pipelines, refineries and tanker terminals. There are supporting charts with details of the major oil and gas development projects in each country that provide information on the project’s costs, capacity, oil company and status or completion date.” (Full Text)

So, did Cheney and oil company executives lick their chops over Iraqi oil less than two years before we attacked over non-existent WMD? When the administration brushed off questions about Cheney's meetings by telling us they concerned “securing America's energy future,” was this the plan they cooked up? -- To overthrow Saddam, set up a puppet government and pump, pump, pump? If so, that plan has gone terribly wrong.

So, shouldn't Congress find out? If not now, when?

Well, let me correct myself. Not everything went wrong for everyone -- just 2800 American kids who died, tens of thousands of Iraqis who died and now American drivers. But look who came out smelling like a rose. By disrupting oil supplies from the Iraq, the world's third largest producer, and destabilizing the entire oil producing region, and now by threatening Iran, oil companies with oil assets in the Gulf, Alaska and other regions, have seen the price of their oil skyrocket. Clearly a seat at those energy task force meetings was a seat worth having -- worth billions.

Last week, Exxon Mobil, (the majority owner of Imperial Oil (AKA “Esso,”) announced its first-quarter profits had risen 14 per cent to $8.4 billion over the same period last year. That followed similar announcements by Conoco/Phillips and Chevron, the next two largest U.S. integrated oil companies. Chevron's profits jumped 50 per cent to $4 billion while Conoco/Phillips saw its profits climb 13 per cent to $3.3 billion.”

A citizen would think that such obscene profits, at the very time real wages of working Americans are falling, heating and cooling their homes rises every month and their transportation costs soar, would provide congress with some backbone. After all, there's a election in November and there are not enough votes among oil executives to candidates much good.

Senators, this is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Investigate. Not just Big Oil, but Big Dick as well. Inquiring minds want to know. We are waiting and we are watching.

If not now, when?