Wednesday, April 26, 2006

April 19-25, 2006

April 24, 2006

Bush's Real
Professor Moriarty

At least Sherlock Holmes knew that the key shit disturber in his ficitional world was the evil Professor Moriarty

Not so President Bush. He's still not hunting the right guy. Sure Osama, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Saddam, are bad players, but they are not the worst, none of them is the world's most important villain. That man is alive and well and we know exactly where he is.

CIA, pay attention. As the Blogosphere's self-appointed "Decider," I have decided to declassify this information. Here it comes:

Name. Professor Abdul Qadeer Khan (AKA “A.Q. Khan)

Location: His palatial home on the outskirts of Islamabad.

And here's the best part – he's home all the time because he's under “house arrest.”

What makes A.Q. Khan the world's most dangerous and evil villain is that he's the guy who provided two of three of President's Bush's “Axis of Evil” nations the stuff they needed to build nuclear weapons.

Which two nations? Here's a hint. Iraq wasn't one of them.

A.Q. Khan is anti-proliferation advocates worst nightmare. He not only stole the plans (from German & the Netherlands) on which Pakistan built it's nuclear bombs, but broke the law smuggling much of the hardware they needed as well.

All that has made him a hero in the Muslim world because he provided the first Islamic nukes.

Pakistan claims it's nukes are secure. But Pakistan itself is not secure. Only one man – General Pervez Musharraf -- stands between those nukes and the al Qeada types who lay awake nights plotting new ways to kill him. And it's no secret that Pakistan's military and security forces are run by Islamic true-believers – who, by the way, were big supporters of the Taliban, and remain so.

So if President Bush is really worried about the “smoking gun arriving in the form of a mushroom cloud,” why hasn't he put out a “Wanted, Dead or Alive,” order for the one person who actually created that possibility -- A.Q. Khan?

All the stealing, lying and smuggling he engineered to give Pakistan the bomb should, in and of itself, have put AQ at the very top of the Most Wanted list. But he did more. Much more. He also sold/traded North Korea and Iran the plans and equipment they needed to join the nuclear club.

And where was our “ally” Musharraf, when all this was going on? Just in case you haven't been paying attention, Pakistan is police state. Nothing of importance happens in Pakistan that is not known by, or orchestrated by, Pakistan's security forces. Did Musharraf know what his chief nuclear scientist was up to? Duh.

So President Bush got his Axis of Evil one country wrong. It should have been, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan ... not Iraq. Iraq had no nukes, no nuclear programs and was not proliferating anything but bluster. All Saddam was, at that time, was the world's biggest wind bag.

A.Q. Khan, on the other hand, was the real deal. So, President Bush, what about AQ? Why isn't he in a cell at Gitmo?

Because General Musharraf knows a sucker when he sees one. And he's played sucker George W. Bush like a fiddle. Musharraf knew what AQ was up to. It served Pakistan's purposes. He allowed AQ to feather his own nest bartering what he had and knew about building nukes, for the missing pieces he needed to finish Pakistan's own nuke.

After he succeeded AQ because a hero, not just in Pakistan, but throughout the Muslim world. Once that happened Musharraf didn't dare take action against him for continuing his lucrative side business. He also knew that, if he allowed the West to take AQ into custody he'd spill the beans stripping Musharraf of the last shreds of deniability.

But once AQ's cover was blown Musharraf had to do something to keep the US happy so they “arrested” AQ and he was sentenced to house arrest, but only after going on television and allegedly telling all.

It was a make-believe performance in a make-believe capital. In interviews last month in Islamabad, a planned city built four decades ago, politicians, diplomats, and nuclear experts dismissed the Khan confession and the Musharraf pardon with expressions of scorn and disbelief. For two decades, journalists and American and European intelligence agencies have linked Khan and the Pakistani intelligence service, the I.S.I. (Inter-Service Intelligence), to nuclear-technology transfers, and it was hard to credit the idea that the government Khan served had been oblivious. “It is state propaganda,” Samina Ahmed, the director of the Islamabad office of the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that studies conflict resolution, told me. “The deal is that Khan doesn’t tell what he knows. Everybody is lying. The tragedy of this whole affair is that it doesn’t serve anybody's needs.” Mushahid Hussain Sayed, who is a member of the Pakistani senate, said with a laugh, “America needed an offering to the gods—blood on the floor. Musharraf told A.Q., ‘Bend over for a spanking.’ ” (Seymour Hersh, 2004 -- Full story)

If the day should ever arrive when North Korea or an Islamic group set off a nuke, the millions killed will have had their death warrants signed by one man; A.Q. Khan -- not Saddam or Osama.

Which begs the question: Why don't we hear President Bush demanding A.Q. Kahn be turned over? After all, if Bush takes non- profileration so seriously that he's ready to bomb Iran, why not pursue the world's most notorious proliferator?

The answer is because the Bushies are good old fashioned Uncle Suckers. Musharraf remembers how small countries like his played the Soviets and Americans against one another during the cold war. A despotic nation could get all the US aid and military support it needed just by agreeing to help keep the commies at bay. And that's all they had to do. They were free to go about oppressing their people and plundering their nation's wealth – oh -- and stealing US aid too boot. As bonus for their help, if their people revolted, the US would help keep them in power. The "terrorists" have taken the place of commies for the good general.

And that dynamic explains why AQ is still free. It's also why Osama, who surely spends most of his time hiding in Pakistan, has not be caught. Becaise Osama is money in the bank to Musharraf – US money. The worst day in Musharraf's life would be the day Osama is killed or captured.

If Bush were serious about sending a message to future proliferators he would insist that this real-life Dr. Evil be turned over. If the Paks refuse then it's call in the CIA's Soprano squad. That wouldn't make us a lot friends in radical Muslim countries but, since we don't have many friends there to begin with, who cares? It sure as hell wouldn't make us any more hated than bombing Iran.

Dealing with AQ in an uncompromising manner would send an unequivocal message to future A.Q. Khans: "Sure you can make big bucks illegally selling nuclear technology to the wrong kind of people. You just won't live to enjoy it."

Everyday Professor Khan remains at-large sends exactly the opposite message. So, Mr. Bush, before you waste a few billion more dollars bombing Iran, why not use a few hundred thousand dollars and send a Speical Forces team to drop in on AQ. After all, he's guy who created that problem to begin with.

If we did, imagine the Iranian Mullahs picking up their morning Tehran Times to be greeted by a headline something along these lines:

Body of Former Head of Pakistan's Nuclear Program Found In Centrifuge
Government calls death of national hero, “A tragic accident.”

Maybe that's just my Sicilian heritage talking. But who knows, the Iranians might just get the message – and without dropping a single bomb on them.

Finally: Welcome to my world:

April 20, 2006

Forrest Gump's Evil Twin

How extraordinary. Something is happening here that has never happened in America's history. A consensus is sweeping the nation. Not that the war in Iraq is wrong, or that oil companies are screwing us blue, or that the climate is going to hell, or that good-paying jobs are being replaced by low-paying jobs, or that our national health care system is a disgrace, or that that the rich are getting a lot richer while the middle class gets poorer.

While all that's true, and more and more folks are getting it, that's not the consensus of which I speak. Nope. This one is bigger, enormous, huge!

Here it is:
The President of the United States is a moron.

Yes, stupid, dumb as common road gravel. And not figuratively, but literally. George W. Bush, President of the world's last remaining super-power, is a moron. Forrest Gump's evil twin.

I broached this possibility one year ago in a post entitled, Bush: The Worst President Ever? I were a bit early with that one. But what a difference a year makes! Here's the cover story of this week's Rolling Stone Magazine:

So the jury is in: Bush is a moron. If stupid is as stupid does, he's stupid. A botched war on terror, exploding debt, his “what me worry” response to Katrina – and the ongoing mismanagement of the recovery, North Korea has the bomb and Iran is on its way to its own nuke. Think about that for a second because it is definitive proof Bush is a moron. First he identifies three nations as his “Axis of Evil” in the world: North Korea, Iran and Iraq. Then he as a chance to whack one of the three and he picks the ONLY ONE that had no WMD. The only way he could look worse is if it were only two countries – a coin flip – and he still got it wrong.

Yes Virginia, the current occupant of the Oval Office is no longer a crook or an adulterer. He's a moron.

As if that were not a bad enough, we still face two and half years with this man at the controls. NFR reader, Philip Bourgeois, suggested an intervention be launched by former presidents, Clinton, Bush Sr. and Jimmy Carter. Not a bad idea, Phil.

Poppa Bush must be beside himself watching his kid screw up decades of diplomacy in just five short years. He could take sonny into that Oval Office alcove where Monica used to dispense her favors and administer a few long overdue dope slaps.

Bill Clinton could sit the moron down and give him a short course in how balance a checkbook, teach him the difference between capital investment and undisciplined spending and the virtues of saving for a rainy day.

Jimmy Carter could teach Junior the actual meaning of the word “compassionate,” and how to walk that walk. Carter could reveal to him that giving the already comfortably rich even more money, is not compassion. Giving more money to the growing number of those who work 60-hours a week, or more, and still can't get by, is "compassion.” And he could figure out how to cover the nearly 50 million Americans who cannot afford health insurance.

But none of that is likely to happen. One of the trademarks of a moron is contempt for facts that challenge the simple but comfortable fictions that rule their daily routines. You can drag a moron to a library, but you can't force him to learn.

In fact morons get downright testy when someone challenges what they think they know. We saw this trait earlier this week when Bush was asked if he thought Don Rumsfeld should resign. The moron lashed out at the questioner, dashed into his imaginary phone booth and emerged as The Decider. "I'm the Decider, he pronounced, with Mussolini-like swagger. You see, scratch a moron and beneath that smirking, ignorance-is-bliss exterior you discover a fundamental truth: beauty may be only skin deep, but moron goes right to the bone.

I'm staying close to home until this guy is gone. Keeping my head down, my nose clean, and watching what I say in emails for friends. And I have a piece of advice for the Iranians too -- this guy really is crazy enough to "decide" that bombing the shit out you is a good idea. Yes, Bush is exactly as stupid as he looks, sounds and acts.

Doubt that at your peril. Fifty-one percent of American voters doubted it. And now we're screwed.

Another definition of Moron
"Bush has been studiously anti-science,
a man of applied ignorance who has undernourished
his mind with the empty calories of comfy dogma."
(Columnist Richard Cohen)

April 19, 2006

The Better Idea

Carl Bernstein has a piece in this week's Vanity Fair warning that, if the Republicans want to avoid losing big in November they need to make a bold move now. That bold move, Carl suggests, would be for the Senate to hold bipartisan Watergate-type hearings on alleged Bush administration misdeeds.

“ is essential that the Senate vote—hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties—to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.” (Full Piece)

With all due respect to Carl, I have a better idea: impanel a South African-style, “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Stick with me for minute here.

First, I like Carl's idea. But, it won't work. It won't work because Republicans suspect – (as do most folks by now,) -- that the Bushies have broken the law... or more accurately “laws.” They also know that dragging those guys before the Senate and putting them under oath would wipe away those suspicions by replacing them with hard proof.

Great. But then what? Once suspicion became proof they committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” Congress would have no choice, they'd have to act, meaning impeachment proceedings. Those administration officials not impeachable would then have to be indicted, tried, convicted, jailed.

Can you imagine the mess? Sure, plenty of folk would revel in seeing the Bushies get what they have coming. But it's a wet dream. It's simply not going to happen. Period. Ever.

First, those those currently in charge of Congress, Republicans, understand all to well that that's exactly where Carl's idea leads. So they aren't going to go there.

Ah, you ask, but what if Democrats win control of the House and/or Senate in November? They could do it. They could hold hearings leading to impeachment proceedings.

Sure they they could. And you can bet there would be plenty of folks out here on the left hounding them to do just that – investigate, investigate, impeach.

But should they do that? I would argue, no. Remember the Clinton impeachment? What mess. What a waste of time. Voters hated it.

But more importantly, it would gum up the works at the very time Democrats should instead be using any political clout they win in November to begin fixing the things these guys have stolen, broken or just plain screwed up.

Anyway, think about it. If Democrats do win back control of congress it would mean voters had themselves “investigated, indicted and sentenced” the culprits. At that point the biggest job facing Democrats would be to prove to those same voters that they also deserve the White House back. The worst way for them to go about that would be to become a lynching party rather than a legislating party.

But Carl's right about one thing – the Bush administration needs to be investigated, inside and out, upside down, and inside out. They should not be allowed to leave office as just a failed administration. Because they are more than that -- much more than that. They are arguably the largest, boldest and most virulent criminal enterprise ever occupy that office. Their alleged crimes span the full spectrum; graft, corruption, perjury, war crimes, false imprisonment, kidnapping... It's breathtaking. Simply breathtaking.

So I suggest that rather than waste time hoping Congress will investigate they instead authorize the establishment of a South Africa styled Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission would be made up by a handful of respected, non-partisan, judges – people who have proved they can subordinate their political affiliation to the great good. I am thinking of people like David Gergen, Sam Nunn, George Mitchell, Sandra Day O'conner. Their job would be to determine if the testimony given by suspects was full and truthful. And, if so judged, they would be given immunity from prosecution. If not, then the evidence collected by the commission's investigators would be referred to the FBI for further investigation and prosecution.

My point here is America need the truth more than it's needs revenge. Future administrations need to know they can't hide from history. So, before these guys leave office, we need to find out;

* Which energy company officials did Dick Cheney meet with to create the administration's national energy policies... what deals did they strike that remain secret.. who got what in return.. and what role if any did those deals play in our current energy mess and the record profits being made by those same energy companies?
* Who authorized torture -- what did the President and Vice President know about it, and when?
* How many individuals have been abducted by or at the direction of this administration around the world -- why were they abducted, where were they held, how were they treated, what happened to them -- which administration officials authorized the abductions and interrogations?
* What did the President and Vice President know about torture and abductions, and when did they know it?
* What did the Attorney General know about torture and abductions – when did he know about it – what role did he play?
* What did the President and VP know about truthfulness of the Niger yellow cake accusations, and when did they know it?
* What did the President and VP know about the leaking of Valarie Plame's identity, and when did they know it?
* What did the administration really know about the state of Iraq's WMD programs before the war and how does that compare with their public statements?
* Did the President and/or Vice President knowingly lie to Congress – and the American public regarding the reasons for going to war in Iraq? -- And/or about torture and domestic spying?

I'm sure folks can add to that list, but I think that would be a good place to start. Let them come before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, face the facts and explain or admit. If they tell the truth, that's it, they are free to go. No indictments, no long trials, no jail. Just the verdict of the court of public opinion and, worse, history.

That could work. Carl's idea won't work, for all the reasons I pointed out above. Republicans are not about to open that door because it leads to more trouble than anyone wants. But Republicans could get the get the same bang for their buck that Carl suggests they would get from his idea by appointing a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

What we citizens would get in return are answers to the most important questions of our time. Which would be enough. Because the bright light of truth is always more powerful and lasting the orgasm of revenge.

The Enemy
Really IS Us.

Say hello to the America's account deficit. And it's gonna get you.

Not scared? Well, outta be. Because, under Bush, this little puppy has grown into a pit bull, and now it's right at our neck.

What is it?
The best way to understand it is to imagine that the nations of the world are companies that do business amongst themselves. They do so much business that rather than exchange cash with each transaction, they keep a record of credits and debits. Some companies sell more than they buy so they have a positive account balance. Others buy more than they sell, so they they have an account deficit. Ideally, over time, it should all balance out. Ideally.

But it doesn't. Countries with cockeyed fiscal policies almost always run account deficits. And, in order to keep doing business those countries run up a tab with the other countries. In other words, they borrow the money they need to remain in the game. That tab is secured with IOUs -- in the case of nations bonds.

How Bad is It?
Bad. Really bad. And, getting worse. The US is currently running an annual account deficit with the rest of the word of over $800 billion a year, and rising. Soon it will be a trillion dollars a year. The US has become the world's unrivaled debtor nation. No other nation on earth is as deeply in hock as we are.

So What?
America, once the richest nation on earth, has become Blanche DuBois – living off the kindness of strangers. And, as strangers go, they get no stranger than some of America's largest creditors: Saudi Arabia, China, UAE.

Pop quiz:
Question: What part of the world hates America the most right now?
Answer: The Arab world. Duh.

And guess which nations have the biggest account balances? Middle East, Arab, oil producers. In 2002 those oil exporting nations had $400 billion in loose change rattling around in their account balance, account. In 2005 that had grown to $700 billion... almost as much as we will have to borrow this year. And with $70 a barrel oil, you can bet that by the end of this year those little buggers will have shoved a trillion extra bucks into their account, much of it compliments of America's drivers.

(Factoid: Americans are spending $212 million a day more for gas than they did last year. A DAY!)

Up until this year those strange strangers have been kind, lending us all the money our government needed to stay in business, by investing in dollar assets, particularly bonds. But they really don't like us -- any more than we like them. And, while we have no other option but to do business with them, they have other options. And they are beginning to exercise those options when it comes to where they stash their cash.

Until recently the US could be smug about this precarious marriage of convenience. After all, the US was the only economy in the world that was growing and offered a secure investment environment.

Ah, but that's not so any longer. Japan is emerging from 15-year slump caused by their own fiscal and business bubble back in the 1980s. Unlike us, they've wised up, straightened out and are on the rebound. We, on the other hand, are about to reap the bitter harvest of America's second dalliance with supply-side VooDoo economics. Likewise, China has become the world's most attractive growth market ripe for foreign investment.

Which is why those strangers have suddenly become demonstrably less kind to us. According to a recent report by the US Treasury, in the 12 months ending this past January, oil-exporting nations invested less than $50 billion in US securities. During the same period last year they invested $100 billion.

How Serious is This?
Pretty damn serious.

“We (the US) need enormous amounts of capital inflows just to tread water.”
(Lewis Alexander, economist, CitiGroup.)

What Can we Do Now?
Once you get into as deep a hole as the Bushies have dug there's only one thing you can do – raise interest rates -- and keep raising them until US dollar investments become too attractive for foreigners to ignore.

This tactic, while postponing the inevitable, simply makes the inevitable more inevitable. By paying high interest to foreign investors even more dollars go “that-a-way,” further ballooning our account deficit. And, as America's credit rating continues to plummet we are forced to raise rates higher and higher to mitigate the higher risk we've become. It's the Debt Death Spiral.

What's it to You?
Where do I begin? Housing costs skyrocket, utility companies must pay more to finance capital improvements and that gets added to your bill, credit card companies, already loan sharks whose rates would have made John Gotti blush, will raise rates even further. Which will force more consumers into bankruptcy, which will force credit card companies to raise rates higher yet to cover those loses – the consumer version of the Debt Death Spiral.

But the biggest impact will be on the American government itself. Our military strength today is financed with borrowed money. Our domestic infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports, seaports, increasingly depend on borrowed money to finance repairs and improvements. Every time Congress passes a highway bill, they paying for it with borrowed money. Every time.

If the account deficit were an approaching hurricane we'd be evacuating right now. If it were an enemy preparing to launch an attack, the President would have sounded general quarters, jets would be scrambled, the fleet dispatched to meet the enemy.

But listen....... what do you hear? Nothing. Silence. No preparations, no sense of alarm at all. Why? Could I be wrong about all that? Now that we're a free trading, open markets, cheap labor one-world economy, maybe the rules of business physics that have been repealed. (You know, like the dot-com boom in the 1990s repealed them.)

There's absolutely no sense of alarm at the Bush White House. They believe in miracles. They believe that, just as Christ divided the fish and loaves feeding hundreds from a single lunch bucket, that they can do the same. For unbelievers there's Keynesian economics. For the Bushites, it's faith-based economics. Real economic theory fills thousands of books, none with pictures. Faith-based economics is much simpler -- cut taxes on the rich and they will share. Simple indeed.

I can hear you now. “I've been reading this blog for almost two years now and you've been predicting that the end is near since the get-go. And the end has not materialized.”

The trouble with this kind of trouble is that it is never preceded by marching bands. There will be no warning from Homeland Security. And right up to the day the shit hits the fan, TV talk shows will be filled with the noise of economists debating how many trillions of dollars can dance on the head of a pin.

No, this kind of trouble creeps up on nations. The Roaring Twenties in the US. Everyone was having such a good time no one asked the key question: “Is the activity fueling all this sustainable? Is this the real deal, or are we just jerking off? The answer arrived unannounced on a very ordinary morning in October 1929. The gay and carefree "Life is a Caberet" society of 1920's Germany was reduced to ashes by the wild fire of run away inflation.

"The many parallels between 1924 Germany and present-day United States are cause for concern. We have not yet reached the depths to which Germany descended in that era, but few can look at the constant depreciation of the dollar since the early 1970's and fail to be alarmed. It seems we differ from 1924 Germany only in the duration between cause and effect. While the German experience was compressed over a few short years, ours has been more protracted. I think this has occurred for two good reasons: First, American central bankers have learned enough from the German experience to delay and extend the consequences of printing too much fiat money. Second, Germany was a small state isolated from the rest of the world --- a pariah nation of sorts --- and, as a result, it had a difficult time finding a market for its government bonds. German deficits had to be financed internally --- an impossibility which greatly accelerated the printing of fiat currency." (More)

We, unlike Germany of the 20's, have been able to borrow money rather than print. The day we can't borrow any more, we too will print.

So, the next time you are breezing through the business section and see the words, “US account deficit,” stop and read the damn story. Because the rules of business physics have not been repealed. They still apply, and breaking them still carries serious penalty.

Bush has broken them, and broken them and broken them. He figures the rules don't apply to him. That, by ignoring those rules he can get things done quicker and more efficiently. He is like a man who resents the limitations imposed on him gravity, so instead of taking the elevator down from the 30th floor, he can get down quicker by just stepping out a window.

Yes, he will get down faster than if he'd taken the elevator. That part of his theory, at least, was correct.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

April 17: Various posts

Permission to Speak Freely

I'm sorry high school and college kids no longer have to face a couple of years of mandatory military service. That may be a strange thing to say for a guy who protested the draft back in the 60's. Maybe it's the inevitable aging process. Or maybe it's the perspective you get from the higher altitude of experience.

What got me thinking about this is the extraordinary statements being made by recently retired US generals. Those who never served in the military really don't understand just how extraordinary it is for career military officers to say the things these guys are saying about their former civilian superiors.

I hit Marine Corps bootcamp on July 7, 1965, a wimpy kid from suburbia. The first thing we were told was that we were the lowest forms of life on earth. And that meant lower than civilians. I was to learn as time went on that that was not just drill instructor blather. It was a genuine, deeply ingrained reverence that permeated through to the highest ranks of the military for civilian control. We were repeatedly told that the lowest civilian we met on the street outranked the highest grade military officer. And that was not show. They believed it, not just as a principle, but a sacred trust.

I know... those who never served will likely see that as corny, empty rhetoric, window dressing, quaint -- at best. But those who did serve know of what I speak. We get it.

That's one reason I bemoan that two generations of kids have since been spared a stint in uniform. It changed my life in ways I now understand and appreciate in ways I could not back then.

No, this is not a column about re instituting the draft. I just want to make the case that you pay close and respectful attention to the recent statements by retired top Pentagon brass. Because never in my life did I ever expect to hear these kinds of things coming out of the mouths of such men. Never. Here's a sampler:

General Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi army troops in 2003-2004:
“(Sec. Of Defense Don Rumsfeld) has proved himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-2005:
"I think we need a fresh start" at the top of the Pentagon... We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them.”

Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who held the key post of director of operations on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2000 to 2002:
"We won't get fooled again... Rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach should be replaced.”

Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who serced a chief of the US Central Command which oversees Iraq and the rest of the Middle East:
"The problem is that we've wasted three years...absolutely, Rumsfeld should resign.”

Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who until last year commanded Marine forces in the Pacific Theater:
"A lot of them (other generals) are hugely frustrated. Rumsfeld gave the impression that military advice was neither required nor desired" in the planning for the Iraq war.

Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs:
Described his peers as "a pretty closemouthed bunch" but that his sense is "everyone pretty much thinks Rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out." He said h e believes Rumsfeld and his advisers have "made fools of themselves, and totally underestimated what would be needed for a sustained conflict."

The administration is trying to counter these devastating statements by noting none of the generals voiced such reservations during the lead up to the war. And, because so many Americans now lack any direct experience with the military, the tactic may just work. After all, it's easy to dismiss these retired generals just that easily. “So, where were your qualms when we really need them, General?”

I know the answer to that question – and it's not the answer the Bushies want you to get.

When an officer has a particularly sticky problem with the actions or orders of a superior officer he/she can “request permission to speak freely, sir.”

Well, that was tried – by Army General Eric Shinseki – and he was promptly and unceremoniously “shit-canned.” (Another term only my fellow vets may find familiar.)

The Pentagon's civilian leaders sent a clear message to the rest of the Pentagon brass... “Do what we want or we'll find a junior office who will.”

With the “permission to speak freely” option off the table, the brass was left only with their prime directive: civilians rule.

So, their silence leading up to war was not cowardice or careerism, as some have suggested. It was instead the manifestation of that deeply ingrained principle that civilians not only out-rank them, but that the most dangerous thing that can happen in a democracy is for the military to start preempting civilian leadership.

We can quibble over that notion, of course. We can wave around the Nuremberg principle that “just following orders” is no defense for wrong doing. I agree. But let me tell you, my experience in the military left me with a deep respect for the way the American military views it's place in our democracy. They really do believe civilians rule. And I would have it no other way. And, neither should you.

Which is why we old vets understand better than most how gut-wrenching it must have been for these recently retired officers to go public. I am certain it was not the way they wanted to end their lifetimes of service to their country. Because, as far as these men are concerned, under normal circumstances, such behavior smacks of treason.

Retired two-star Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the Big Red One - the Army's 1st Infantry Division - in Iraq until November, said Rumsfeld must go for ignoring and intimidating career officers. "You know, it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense. (Full Story)

So, no one should take their statements lightly. This is serious business ... especially at the very moment those same civilian leaders are grunting eagerly over satellite images of Iran.

Meanwhile on the lighter side

Washington, DC (APE) -Jeannette Huster, mother of embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today became the latest in a succession of high-profile persons insisting on his resignation. She spoke to press members from the Pentagon, having been clandestinely smuggled past security by anonymous Pentagon officials. In the past month, no less than four high-ranking retired generals have stepped forward to criticize Mr. Rumsfeld to no avail, so it remains to be seen what if any effect this latest call for his resignation will have upon the Bush administration. (Full Story)

April 12, 2006

Did We Wait Too Long?

We are sitting on three ticking time bombs:

* The Public/Private Debt Bomb
* The Global Warming Bomb
* The Energy Bomb

I worry a lot about all three. But it's that last one I was mulling this morning. In particular I was wondering this: “Have we waited too long to develop alternatives to fossil fuels?"

Of course we did. We could of. We should of. And, if we had been wise, we would of. But we didn't and now the fat's in the fire... our fat.

So here's the deal. Looming on the near horizon is what could be best described as the perfect(ly-awful) storm:

* The industrialized west is more dependent on fossil fuels today than ever,
* while peak oil production worldwide is dropping like a rock,
* and while overpopulated Asian nations. specifically China and India, are rapidly industrializing,
* at the same moment the social/political/military conditions inside the largest oil-producing countries are falling apart.

If you asked me to imagine a more precarious situation – for the West – I could not. Our way of life hangs on the thinest of thin threads. Believe me, the prospect of $3 a gallon gas this summer is the least of our worries.

If I were a heroin addict and my suppliers were Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran and Nigeria, I'd go cold turkey tomorrow.

Of course, we don't have that option. We can't go cold turkey on petroleum because our entire social/industrial/economic complex is built on the stuff. We are living on the razor's edge. If al Qaida and their kind were smart they'd forget about attacking the West. They would attack the oil producing, refining and transportation infrastructure in their own neighborhood.

Imagine what conditions would be today if, instead of blowing up the World Trade Center, and sending suicide bombers into Spain and England's subways, they'd instead invested those two-legged dumb bombs into blowing up oil facilities over the last four years.

We've just been lucky they were not that smart. They were Islamobots, driven by religious nonsense rather than strategic sense. Notice I said “were” and not “are.” Because they are taking notice and you can bet your SUV that as you read these words they've noticed that the West's real vulnerability is not our “decadent” lifestyle, but the oil that fuels it.

Hugo Chavez certainly has taken notice:

CARACAS, Venezuela — In the uneasy world of petroleum politics, fears that Venezuela will nationalize its oil industry may not rank at the moment with possible war in Iran or civil unrest in Nigeria. But Venezuela's recent actions directed at foreign energy companies are contributing to oil's relentless march toward record prices. In New York futures trading Tuesday, oil pushed past $69 before closing at $68.98 a barrel, up 24 cents..... worries that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez might seize key fields containing large deposits of heavy oil in the Orinoco Belt also are spooking the market. Last month, Chavez grabbed majority control of 32 smaller foreign-operated drilling projects. (Full Story)

Meanwhile in Nigeria, another major oil source for the West, things are as things have always been in that part of Africa. The fat hogs are fighting to stay at the trough and the lean hogs are demanding their turn. And, if the lean hogs aren't given their turn at their country's oil trough, they blow it up. (Story)

Iraq, potentially the world's third largest oil producer, can't even pump enough of the stuff to fill domestic demand and are importing the stuff. This is one place the Islamobots have figured out that the best way to cripple an economy that runs on oil is to blow up anything with the word “oil” on it.

Oh and speaking of Iran – how much oil do you think will be coming out of that country if their desire to join the world's nuclear club ends by having the snot bombed out of them by the US and/or Israel? Besides the damage to Iran's infrastructure that would do, the Iranians are virtual gatekeepers for oil from other Middle Eastern countries shipped through the narrow Straits of Hormuz.

Oh, and did you catch the story last week about Iran's new super-high-speed torpedo?

All it would take is for the Iranians to threaten to sink oil tankers for the cost of insurance to go so high no shipper would be go near the region.

All it would take now is for all the folks who hate the US to get their acts together -- literally. For example, what could the US do if Iran blocked the straits, Hugo Chavez tighened his oil tourniquet and al Qaeda attacked several large Saudi oil facilities -- all around the same time? Nada. We could start sucking down our Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR,) but that would provide less than a two-month supply. After that, what? Attack Iran, Venezula and occupy Saudi Arabia? Not likely. We can't even pacify Iraq.

There aren't any real options. And that's the truth.

That's the razor's edge upon which our western lifestyle, economy and military strength, teeters. And it's our own damn fault. We ignored the obvious for too long. We lived for too long in our fool's-fuel-paradise. Driving gas guzzling SUV's made us "feel safer," while making us catastrophically less so.

Yes Virginia, we waited too long.

Time's up.

April 11, 2006

Humpty Dumpty's Glass

Lately I've been trying to figure out if the glass is half-full, or half-empty.

On the half-empty side we have Iraq, the ballooning national debt and, of course, global warming.

On the half-full side there's Bush's plummeting poll numbers, Republicans up for reelection dissing their own leader and a handful of Democrats actually venturing out from their five-year defensive crouch.

Half-full? Or half-empty?

Then yesterday I realized why I was having so much trouble deciding; the glass is neither half-full or half-empty. The glass is broken.

Look no further than the current brouhaha over immigration. This is not a hard problem to solve. Both the problem and it's solution are clear and simple.

The Problem: A first-world nation cannot have an open common border with an impoverished third-world nation.

The Solution: Secure the border. Then, after the border is secure, institute an orderly and manageable guest worker program. Implement real employer sanctions for hiring illegals and this time enforce them. Those already in the US illegally will need to register, get green cards and go to the end of the line for citizenship.

Simple. But those we sent to Washington to manage such problems for us can't get it done and in the right order. Any one with the IQ of a appliance light bulb knows that if we pass a guest worker program and offer to normalize those already here illegally, without FIRST sealing the border and policing US employers, more will come, just as they did after the 1986 Simpson/Mazzoli bill was signed by Ronald Reagan.

Duh! Double Duh.

So, why can't they get that? Oh, they get it, they just won't do it. Because the glass is broken. Republicans and Democrats have become independent contractors. They don't work for us, they're self-employed. They're job now is to get re-elected. Getting re-elected requires two things: money and votes.

The money they get selling their attention to those with the money. They votes they get by pandering to energized voting blocks – fundamentalist Christians last time, Hispanic immigrants this time.

Republicans were once the undisputed whores of corporate payola. Democrats got elected as poverty pimps, selling the poor and disadvantaged on the entitlements of victimhood.

But today the two parties are almost indistinguishable. Democrats have joined the corporate money chase for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks, “because that's where the money is.” And Republicans have noticed that the Southwest is no longer the sunny purview of rich white voters, but has turned brown and speaks Spanglish.

And, as if that didn't complicate the debate enough, the folks with the money have jumped in on the side of the Hispanic voting block. Companies are pumping money to both Dems and Repubs to insure things stay just the way they are. An endless flow of cheap labor from Mexico is the best thing to happened to corporate America in a hundred years. A surplus of cheap labor not only fattens company bottom lines but will be the final bullet in the head of America's once robust organized labor movement. A win/win for companies and illegal aliens and a lose/lose for the dwindling American middle class and the even more dwindling U.S. Treasury.

So, corporate money is flowing to parties to insure that either no strong new immigration laws be passed or, if they are, they will be largely window dressing. And, with midterm elections just 7 months away, and the Hispanic voting block showing it's numbers in the streets. members of both parties are busting a gut to habla espanol.

As I said, the glass is broken, which is why our borders are broken, our immigration policy is broken, our labor laws are broken, our budgets are broken, our tax code is broken, our environment is broken, our our strategic standing in the world is broken.

Most shocking of all is that the solution for much of it is so simple: public financing of Congressional and Presidential campaigns. Sure politicians will still pander to voting blocks. But public financing will break the back of the two-party monopoly and provide grassroots reformers a shot at making a difference.

Incumbents of both parties fear pubic financing more than they do any other possible reform. I learned that fact back in 1994 when I interviewed folks at the Clinton White House who, at the time, were pretending they were going to push through real campaign finance reform. I wrote that story 12 years ago, and nothing has changed - except for the worst. (Read "Doing Well by Pretending to Do Good") -- After reading that piece you will have to remind yourself I didn't file it last week.

So, that's how we put the glass back together. Only after that can we have a rational discussion about it being half-full or half-empty – or any chance at all that it will be either.

Karl Rove's Replacement Interviews for the Job

"So if I understand you correctly, Jesus, I nuke Iran and then invade N. Korea? Or do I nuke N. Korea and then invade Iran?


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Instead send your comments to:
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Pizzo's Simple Solutions
To Complicated Problems
(No. 2 in an occassional series)

Immigration Reform

Leave it to politicians to make something simple hopelessly complicated. I am, of course, referring to immigration reform. After listenting to C-Span all week I felt compelled to help these poor souls out. So, senators, representatives, White House folk, print this out and pin it your shirt for quick reference in the weeks ahead.

Important directions: WARNING: These instructions will only work if they are implemented in the exact order listed below. Try to implement them all at once, or in a different order, and they not only won't work, but will make matter worse.

So, by the numbers.

1) Who's Who: Establish an online Social Security data base available employers, police, banks and other recognized entities that already routinely handle Social Security numbers. An employer seeking to verify a number provided by a job applicant would simply log on, enter a person's name then the Social Security number they provided. The data base would come back with a simple answer – they either match or don't match.

2)Employer sanctions: Require employers check all their employees, current and future, against that database which will provide them a confirming printout for each employee who's number and name match. Employers then caught with illegal aliens on their payroll will be fined $500 for each one for a first offense, $1000 for a second offense, and face jail for subsequent offenses.

3)More Cops on the Beat: The Bush administration is already talking about hiring as many as 11,500 additional border control agents. Assign all these new agents to employer inspection duty in the 48 contiguous states. (Note: Only three employers were charged last year with hiring illegals. Until employers know they are going to be regularly audited they will continue to ignoring the law. And, as long as employers continue ignoring the law, so too will illegals. Hey Republicans, remember what your patron saint Ronald Reagan instructed: “Trust, but verify.”)

4)Guest Worker Job Center: Establish a formal guest worker program designed specifically to accommodate non-citizen workers seeking jobs in the US -- think of it as a kind of for guest workers. This service would be available both online and at physical offices in each Mexican and US state capitol. Not only would US employers and Mexican workers connect here, but wages, work conditions, transportation and other worker/employer issues could be established and monitored.

5)Secure the border. I mean really secure the border. If I have to take my shoes off at airports to protect the US mainland from terrorists, the least I we can demand is that the same government that makes us do that seal the god damn border across which illegals cross, shoes and all, by the thousands every month. If they can't secure the border we should find someone who can. (Note: Securing the border becomes much easier once employer sanctions and an orderly guest worker program is in place and working. )

6)What to do about the 11 million illegals already here? Normalization? Let them go to the end of the line for citizenship? Okay.. a reluctant okay, but okay. But ONLY after reforms 1 through 5 are in place and operating smoothly. Not before. Not during. After.

Now, was that so hard?

I know, privacy rights folks will complain that establishing a Social Security number database would turn the Social Security card into a defacto national identity card. Well, I have a news flash for them: Too late. It already is. Get over it. Besides, uncontrolled immigration poses a far greater threat to the American way of life than establishing a reliable piece of I.D.

This database would also give police, banks and credit card companies a tool to combat ID theft. They would be able to quickly compare, not just the name and number provided, but the database would also take note of the city where the actual person holding that card was last known to live. Then if someone presents a Social Security card to a bank or employer in, say Arizona, that matches up with a card holder know to be living in Maine, a red flag would go up, even if the names match. The database service would then send up a red flag requiring further inquiry – 800-number provided.

Remember, the person(s) using this database to verify the status of someone would never see the actual information held in the database. They would just get a thumbs up, thumbs down or “call for additional information.”

There you are. Simple as that. Since the IRS never seems to have a problem finding me, even when I moved to different states, I suspect they already have a database something along these lines. The Social Security administration certainly does. So we just need to hire a half-dozen of those talented webby dudes or dudettes, (sporting ear rings in all the wrong places, ) to write a web interface that lets employers and police verify quickly if a person and the Social Security number they provide match.

In a normal, (non-governmental) environment such a task should take less than six months to write, secure and test. Then, since almost every employer in the US now has a web connection all they need to provide them is a URL, a user name and password.

So, what's the hold up?