Thursday, April 26, 2007

April 17-25, 2007

April 23, 2007

Plan X,Y& Z
For Victory in Iraq & Iran

The surge – now being billed as “Plan A,” really isn't. It's more like Plan U or V or W, depending on when you began keeping count.

The original Plan A was actually:
Attack Iraq, topple Saddam, bask in the adulation of the free Iraqi people, bring troops home a few weeks later, hold a parade, hand out medals, strut around.

When that didn't work out the administration rolled out plan after plan ... each described as “the centerpiece of our strategy in Iraq.”

But each new centerpiece has been blown up by a growingly effective insurgency:

U.S. troops note insurgents' growing sophistication

By Joshua Partlow, The Washington Post

I've been all over this country," Sgt Hanner said. "This is by far the worst place I've ever been in my life. This is what you think war is going to be.These guys are smart. The Iraqi insurgent as a whole has really adapted well to our tactics and have learned a lot," said 1st Lt. Anthony Von Plinsky, 28. "They know how to bury things without us seeing them, they know how to trigger it without us knowing.Every time we react to a contact, they take that and learn from it. I hate to give credit to somebody who has no rules, but they're pretty good." (Full Story)

And so the administraton continues to roll out new plans, new centerpieces. Last week we got to see their latest -- and shortest lived -- Plan.. a wall. No longer is national reconciliation a goal. Shiites and Sunnis continue being more interested in killing one another. The new administration centerpiece is a wall to keep them apart.

U.S. Builds Wall to Separate Factions in Baghdad

“FOX News – BAGHDAD: U.S. soldiers are building a three-mile wall to protect a Sunni Arab enclave surrounded by Shiite neighborhoods in a Baghdad area "trapped in a spiral of sectarian violence and retaliation," the military said. ... When the wall is finished, the minority Sunni community of Azamiyah, located on the eastern side of the Tigris River, will be completely gated, and traffic control points manned by Iraqi soldiers will provide the only means to enter it, the military said” (Full Story)

The only trouble with thier new centerpiece/plan is that neither side wants a wall. The Shiites don't want Sunnis walled off so they can't get at them. And the Sunnis strongly suspect that the Americans are designing their walled off portion of Baghdad after the fully-fenced hunting ranch Cheney goes to to slaughter clipped-winged quail with a blunderbust.

So construction of the wall has been halted – another off-center, centerpiece. Another failed plan.

It seems nothing the US comes up with can satisfy any of the inmates of the, Iraqi-Asylum-For-The-Craziest-Muthafruckers-we've ever-gotten-involved-with.

So, what's the next plan to be, the lastest centerpiece of strategy that will finally produce victory in Iraq? Since the administration's own plans seem to be getting sillier and sillier, I am emboldened to suggest my own.

Since the Iraqis are clearly determined never to become a harmonious can of mixed nuts, we need to think outside that box.

Pizzo's Plan X: Freeze-dried Sunnis.

Wait, think about it. We freeze dry the entire Sunni population. There'd be no need for a wall, no reason for Shiites to blow up cars in Sunni neighborhoods or gas Sunnis with chlorine, or drill holes in them with electric hand tools. Because the Sunnis - in all their freeze-dried lifelikenesses -- would be rendered harmless peaceful, serene, "reconciled" at last.

Then John McCain could really stroll Sunni streets withoutunce of protection. Bush and Cheney could finally claim – this time honestly -- that violence between Shiites and Sunni had dropped to zero. Mission Accomplished!

There would be some minor ongoing maintenance required, of course. In the now peaceful Sunni neighborhoods municiple crews would have to bring freeze-dried Sunnis indoors when it rained and return them to their shops and sidewalks when the sun came back out. And due to that desert sun, they would likely have to replace their clothing a couple of times a year.

Of course there would have to be some preconditions imposed on the Iraqi government. The US would insist that at least 20% of the seats in the Iraqi Congress be occupied by freeze-dried Sunnis, of which at least some must be freeze-dried female Sunnis. Because there's no way America could claim victory in Iraq unless Iraqi women enjoyed full political representation.

With the Sunni population “reconciled,” that leaves just the Kurds and Shiites to settle their differences. Since the very notion of freeze-dried curds is gastronomically revolting, another plan is required:

Pizzo's Plan Y: Hire the Kurds.

Put the Kurds on the US government payroll. Let the Shiites have all the oil and simply pay the Kurds a few bucks more each year than they would have made off Iraqi oil.

Pay them to do what? Well, Iraq is a big and dusty country. For starters the Kurds could be paid to take care of all those freeze-dried Sunnis. Because -- Allah knows -- if that job were left to the Shiites it would be only a few days before freeze-dried Sunnis would be sporting funny hats, their pants on backwards, placed in compromising positions or standing around gnawing on pork chops. (Those Shiites!) The Kurds don't have those kind of “issues” with Sunnis and could therefore be trusted to keep the freeze-dried Sunni population nicely dressed and regularly dusted.

Kurds could also be paid to make nice with their neighbors in Turkey so we don't end up with another war on our hands between those two goombas.

That leaves Iran. We really can't leave that region until we have a solution to the Iranian problem. The Iranians are kinda like Oscar the Grouch. If their noses are not out of joint about one thing, it's another. But above all else Iranians bristle at being called Arabs – (they're Persian, you know!) While they are not Arabs, Iranians nevertheless believe they should call the shoots for the Arab nations in the region – kinda like they are the Persians retarded cousins or something.

And of course the Iranians hate the US, (AKA, “The Great Satan.” ) We've taken that kind of name-calling abuse for too long. Time to teach those "Persians" how wrong they are to believe their Mullahs have the market cornered on crazy.

But what'st he best way to do that? Bomb them? Nah. That would be about as effective as throwing a firecracker into a hornet's hive. I have a better idea.

Pizzo's Plan Z: Convince the Iranian people that they are covered by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

This propaganda campaign would be run by an organization that has, time after time, proven it can succeed even under the most blood-drenched circumstances – the National Rifle Association. The goal would be to convince every Iranian man, woman, child -- even the mentally ill – that they too possess the inalienable right .. no.. the DUTY ... to own at least one semi-automatic weapon. The CIA could air-drop bumper stickers with the picture of Wayne LaPierre dressed as a Mullah on them:

“They'll have to wrench my AK47 from my cold dead fingers,” (in Farsi, of course,)

Okay, these may not be the best of ideas ... But really, are they any less silly or less likely to succeed than the series of plans the Bush administration has rolled out over the last four years?

The only plan that could have worked from the start was to haul the guys who came up with Plan A off to the nearest mental facility and put them on Thorazine I.V drips.

Sen. Harry Reid was a right as rain last week when he declared Bush's war in Iraq lost. Because Iraq was never ours to win in the first place.

And he was right about something else too; that Bush and those around him know it's lost. The real centerpiece to their Iraq strategy now is to stall until they get out of town a year a half from now. Then they can claim they victory in sight, before “the Democrats pulled the rug out from under our troops.”

Reid should have said one more thing, that would have also been right. That every American soldier's death from this day forward is a politically motivated murder.

Weekend Edition

When Reason Goes a-Whoring

Pity poor Reason. She's been kidnapped by pimps and is being forced to work the street for her pimps and their friends. I've lived long enough to have seen reason jerked around before, but never to this extent. Reasoning on so many critical issues has become so pimped out that we may have forgotten the un-pimped versions. So I reached back into my memory to recall a few.

The “War on Terror”
Pimped Reasoning: America is at war with terrorism. The enemy, terrorism, is the hate of America and the desire to do us harm. In order to safeguard America from the enemy (terrorism) we must eschew diplomacy and instead employ preemptive military action against terrorism, wherever it exists. We must fight terrorism “there” so we don't have to fight it on here..

(Meet the Pimps: Neo-con “scholars,” (few of whom have had even a passing relation with the military or war itself.) And pimp-connected businesses like Halliburton, SAIC, Blackwater and others.)

Un-pimped Reasoning: “Terrorism” is a tactic, not an entity. Military action cannot defeat an idea. All military action can do when deployed against and idea is to elevate the idea to a cause and those turn those killed espousing that idea into “martyrs.” Bad ideas, like terrorism (and Neocon-ism,) can only be defeated with better ideas expressed in diplomatic, political, judicial and financial terms.

Medicare Drug Prices
Pimped Reasoning: Requiring Medicare to negotiate volume discounts from drug companies would not reduce costs for Medicare or make the pharmaceutical industry more cost-efficient. Allowing Medicare to force drug producers to offer Medicare volume discounts would be bad for Medicare, bad for the elderly and reduce the incentive for drug companies to produce new drugs.

(Meet the Pimps: Members of Congress supported by the pharmaceutical industry. And, of course, the pharmaceutical industry.)

Un-pimped Reasoning: In a real free-market economy negotiating volume discounts on products and services is considered a best business practice. Any business manager who failed to do so would be considered a bad business manager. Negotiating volume discounts works to the longterm benefit of both consumer and supplier by reducing overhead and maximize profits of the consuming entities while forcing producers and suppliers to maximize efficiencies in order to maintain their profits and remaining competitive. As to the threat by drug producers that they would stop new product development if Medicare were allowed to negotiate volume discounts, I refer you to the sheriff in Blazing Saddles.

Deficit Spending
Pimped Reasoning: Deficits don't matter. Instead of taxing Americans to pay for national operations overhead and spending on discretionary operations, just borrow the money by issuing government bonds.

(Meet the Pimps: Politicians providing tax relief to wealthy contributors and corporations in return for campaign contributions. Politicians that want to provide pain-free pork to home state voters by borrowing rather than taxing to pay for bridges to nowhere, etc.)

Unpimped Reasoning: Deficits do matter – eventually. Sooner or later those bonds have to be repaid. In the meantime the nation has to pay interest on a growing national debt. Both interest on the debt and the eventual repayment of principle will have to come from someplace. Either future taxes will have to be raised -- far more than they would have if the spending had been paid for with taxes at the time the obligations were created. Or the government will increase the money supply by simply printing more money. That will sparking hyper-inflation but allows the government to replay those bond obligations with devalued dollars. The last time we did that – to repay the debt we built up during the Lyndon Johnson “guns and butter,” Vietnam War years – it sparked the hyper inflation that racked the economy during the Carter administration. The result then was stagflation – the worse of all possible worlds.

Fetal Stem Cell Research
Pimped Reasoning: Allowing scientists to harvest fetal stem cells from days-old fertilized human eggs is tantamount to taking a human life.

(Meet the Pimps: The religious right and the politicians that pander to them for votes.)

Un-pimped Reasoning: The idea that days-old fertilized human eggs are a person, or that it such a cluster of cells possesses the same rights, privileges and constitutional protections of fully-formed, post-post-partum humans is a religious/philosophical belief, neither a medical nor scientific fact. Even those who claim a heart-felt belief in this view fail the test of consistency. Were those who oppose fetal stem cell research consistent in that belief, the would also support a law banning fertility clinics, (IVF) which dispose of tens of thousands of unused fertilized human eggs each year. The fact that they do not oppose the disposal of those stem-cell rich fertilized eggs exposes a selectivity that, on its very face, defeats their claimed reason for opposing the harvesting of fetal stem cells for research and medical use.

How IVF labs handle embryos or zygotes that are not implanted in a woman's womb:

With donor consent Without donor consent
Handling procedure Numbers of labs % of labs Numbers of labs % of labs
Immediately discarded 115 49.6% 15 6.5%
Cultured to demise (allowed to die) & discarded 107 46.1 28 12.1
Donated - research 55 23.7 0 0
Donated - diagnostic purposes 27 11.6 0 0
Donated - training 52 22.4 9 3.9
Donated - another patient 43 18.5 0 0

(Some percentages total more than 100% because some labs employ multiple disposal methods.)

Tax cuts
Pimped Reasoning: Slashing taxes on wealthy Americans spurs business investment. That in turn will create American jobs and put more workers on the payroll, which in turn will spur consumer spending fueling additional economic growth.

(Meet the Pimps: The top 1% of American earners and the politicians that pander to them for contributions.)

Un-pimped Reasoning: Economies are fueled from the bottom up, not the top down. By cutting payroll taxes workers, most of whom live paycheck to paycheck, will immediately begin pumping more money into the economy with additional spending – (no “trickle down” waiting period required.) That additional spending will almost immediately create demand for additional goods and services forcing producers to meet that increased demand by hiring more workers. When taxes are slashed on the wealthy some of that money will be indeed end up reinvested in the economy. But the lion's share of it gravitates towards non-job producing investments, such as stocks, bonds and other passive investments. And, since workers do not share in tax cuts weighted towards the rich, they don't have that extra money to spend and drive demand for goods and services. Nor are they likely to benefit from the promised “trickle down” effect. Because the rich did not get rich by allowing their money to trickle far from home.

Free Trade
Pimped Reasoning: Open markets benefit everyone. When the US puts conditions on trading partners that subverts the whole process. While some pain and worker dislocation is inevitable as the world moves towards free and open trade, the process ultimately benefits all everyone. Free trade raises the standard of living in poorer nations while forcing producers in richer nations to become more efficient and competitive. Free trade is a win/win.

(Meet the Pimps: Multi-national businesses in search of cheap labor and lax environmental laws, lower taxes and less financial oversight and controls. And – of course - the politicians that make all that possible for them in return for piece of the action.)

Un-pimped Reasoning: Free trade is fine, as long as it is also fair trade. Free and fair trade requires that all competitors, foreign and domestic, play by a common set of rules. In other words, if an American Widget maker is required to dispose of industrial waste in an more expensive but ecologically sound manner, then any Chinese Widget maker that wants access to American consumers must be bond by the same requirement. If the Chinese Widget fails to do so then a duty must be added to his Widgets that eliminates the unfair portion of his pricing reflecting the savings from not disposing of waste in an ecologically sound manner. The other essential elements of fair trade include common rules for safe working conditions, livable wages and the right of workers to organize. Anything less is free and unfair trade – which is what we have now.

Gun Control
Pimped Reasoning: Guns don't people, people kill people. When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. The Second Amendment of the Constitution dictates the unfettered right of individuals to own guns.

(Meet the Pimps: The intellectual Neanderthals of the NRA, gun makers, gun importers and the politicians that pander to them for votes and contributions.)

Un-pimped Reasoning: Guns don't kill people -- people with guns kill people. To argue that controls on gun ownership are somehow nonsensical is itself nonsensical. Would those who argue against licensing gun owners also argue against licensing drivers? In ever state in the union we require drivers to take an eye test, a written test and a driving test before allowing them to drive a car or motorcycle. Because we know that cars don't kill people, it's the people driving cars (poorly) that kill people. When it comes to gun control of any sort, reasoning seems to go straight out the window. We just had a gun massacre in Virginia, but are being told not to blame it on the easy availability of guns. What would the no-rules gun folks advise Asians the next time bird flu kills a couple of hundred folks, “Chickens and ducks don't kill people?” Would they advise them to resist health officials efforts to round up and destroy the birds that might spread the disease? (When chickens are outlawed only outlaws will have chickens!” or “They'll have to pry my chicken from my cold dead fingers!”) America does not have to outlaw guns in order to join the rest of the civilized world in reducing gun-related fatalities. We just need to treat guns with the same care and diligence as we treat the right of driving an automobile or motorcycle. (After all, wouldn't you at least feel better if someone checked to be sure a would-be gun owner could actually see what he thinks he's aiming at?)

Sex-Ed and Family Planning
Pimped Reasoning: The best way to cut teen promiscuity and reduce unwanted pregnancies, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases is to cut funding for family planning devices and instruction and replace them with lectures on chastity and abstention. Once deprived of easy access to information about and access to birth control devices, most hormone-crazed adolescents will embrace abstinence.

(Meet the Pimps: The religious right and the politicians that pander to them for votes.)

Un-pimped Reasoning: Some adolescents will embrace abstinence, as some always have. Like drinking or taking drugs or drag racing, some will, and some won't, no matter what the adults around them teach. But when it comes to teen sexuality the majority will, to one degree or another, become sexually active. Blame it on evolution. Those species that mated early and often won the survival race. And humans (and rabbits) appear to top of that list. (Or, if you are of the biblical-persuasion, blame it on God, Who apparently believe it's a good idea to supercharge teens with mega doses of sex hormones.) In any case, new research has shown that abstinence-only programs do not change adolescent sexual behavior in any significant way at all.

Climate Change
Pimped Reasoning: While global warming may be real, any actions designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be balanced against their impact on the economy. While so-called “green” sources of energy – wind, biofuel, solar etc – maybe be ecologically sound, they are not economically sound. Forcing US industry and automakers to embrace cleaner, but more expensive technologies, will make them uncompetitive in world markets.

(Meet the Pimps: Big oil, big coal, big industry, Rep. Ted Stevens, and the other politicians who pander to to old-energy for contributions.)

Un-pimped Reasoning: Effects of global warming, like crop failures, water shortages, coastal flooding, decimated fisheries and mass extinctions are even worse for business.

Weekend Lecture Series

Gag Me?

Where are we going with all this?

Folks on the political right claim we Americans must give up some of our most cherished freedoms in order to protect our freedom from terrorists. They say we have to give up a our absolute right to privacy, water down the separation of powers, deny the right of an accused to face his/her accusers, challenge the evidence against them, or to even have a public trial.

Folks on the left have their own list of cherish freedoms they say we must protect, and that the only way to do that is to trim back other freedoms -- like freedom of speech when it comes to the utterance of touchy, controversial, unpleasant, potentially offensive subjects and terms. They change the meaning of words, like "illegal immgrants," which becomes "undocumented immigrants." Laws were broken, but should no one is guilty.

Then there's the rest of us in caught in dead center of this growingly furious societal crossfire.

I worry where it's all heading. Ben Johnson once wrote, “Speak that I may see thee.”

His meaning was clear. And over the years I have learned there is no better way to judge a person's intellectual depth, education and character than by simply listening to what they have to say and how they say it. As a journalist it was imperative that I was able to quickly and accurately take the measure of a source. So I let them talk. I listened. And it never failed me.

Now what? Increasingly the morality police on the right and the political correctness police on the left are successfully shutting down speech they don't like. They are bullying those they disagree with to either shut up or self-censor. Those who refuse are forced, like Don Imus, into exile. The mainstream media is now so intimidated by this trend that they have willing adopted a form of media shunning of it's own.

Will any of this make America more moral, inclusive or tolerant? Or will it simply drive the uncomfortable, inconvenient truths, dark thoughts and desires into the shadows? How will I take measure of talk show host's true character if he/she cannot, or dares, not speak freely? He may say all the the “right” things, while not believing them. That's easy. Politicians do that already, and look where its gotten us.

If the thought and morality police ever get the power they clearly want to control the national discourse, racists, porn and women haters won't go away, they will simply go into the closet. They will stop speaking, which means we will no longer be able to “see” them. They will no longer expose themselves to us.

Is that a good thing? Possibly. But I doubt it. After all, members of the KKK hid the faces behind hoods for a reason. They didn't expose themselves, but they were still there. They did their dirty work from the shadows.

Speak that I may see thee, please. Because if the right's morality police and the left's politically correctness hall monitors a allowed to succeed in purging controversial speech, America will not only become a really boring place, but a nation unable to honestly confront its real problems. Because sometimes the real reasons for real problems are real touchy subjects.

For example, read what British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said out loud yesterday, and then try to imagine who on the radio, much less in Congress, would dare utter such a thing today:

April 12, 2007 -- The Guardian: Tony Blair yesterday claimed the spate of knife and gun murders in London was not being caused by poverty, but a distinctive black culture. His remarks angered community leaders, who accused him of ignorance and failing to provide support for black-led efforts to tackle the problem.

"When are we going to start saying this is a problem amongst a section of the black community and not, for reasons of political correctness, pretend that this is nothing to do with it?" Mr Blair said there needed to be an "intense police focus" on the minority of young black Britons behind the gun and knife attacks. The laws on knife and gun gangs needed to be toughened and the ringleaders "taken out of circulation." (More)

Here in the US there's plenty that can and should be said about the real problems that continue plaguing our own black communities. Some of those problems are everyone's fault, and those problems have the stamp of approval from the thought police – we have permission to talk about our common guilt. What we dare not talk about are the self-destructive ideas, music and behavior that exacerbates those problems, the fault for which lays entirely within the black community itself.

But how to get at those problems and the contributing factors. Here is where I find myself in a schizophrenic quandary. While I hate gangsta rap, and I believe it contributes mightily to the problems that plague urban black communities in the US and Europe, I resist the temptation to demand it be banned. Because if we did, gangsta rappers wouldn't go away, because you can't make stupid go away. If banned they will simply go underground where they will be even harder to monitor and where their banned status will likely make them even more popular.

No, the only way to fight stupid -- white stupid, brown stupid or black stupid -- is with heaping doses of smart. So we need to talk more, not less. We need to speak and feel we can do so freely.

Because when we speak to one another we teach, we learn, but most importantly, we expose to one another who we really are.

Monday, April 16, 2007

April 2-April 9, 2007

April 2, 2007

News Views
Random Thoughts on The Morning News

This is the kind of backtalk my poor wife has listen to over morning breakfast as I scan the morning paper. Poor woman. I figured why should she suffer alone. So here, join the morning grumble session:

Iraq victory not possible: Kissinger

April 1, 2007 - Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who helped engineer the US withdrawal from Vietnam, says the problems in Iraq are more complex than that conflict, and military victory is no longer possible...."It is a more complicated problem," Kissinger said. "The Vietnam War involved states, and you could negotiate with leaders who controlled a defined area." (More)

Oh really. Leave it to slippery Henry to know when it's time to get clear of a ticking shit-bomb. It's his M.O. Just ask him what he had do with the Vietnam War and, by the time he gets done telling you his version of events, he sounds like George McGovern. The truth, of course, is that Henry shares responsibility, along with Robert McNamara, for at least 40,000 of the 60,000 names carved on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. If any two Americans ever deserved a thorough hanging it's Kissinger and McNamara.

I only mention all that to put Henry's Iraq war skirt-cleaning comments in context. Until just a few weeks ago Henry served as George W. Bush's Rasputin on the Iraq adventure. Basically it was the same manner of Dr. Strangelove advice Henry once peddled to Richard Nixon about the importance of "winning" in Vietnam. But now that it's clear to anyone with more than two IQ points to rub together that the US is losing Henry's second-favorite war of choice, he is slithering back under his “Kissinger & Associates” rock where he is furiously updating his memoirs.

(Henry to Word Processor - Search/Replace: word: “Encouraged,” to “Warned.” - Replace All.)

McCain touts Iraq plan in Baghdad

April 2, 2007—AP BAGHDAD, Iraq -- After a heavily guarded trip to a market, Sen. John McCain said Sunday that a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in the capital was working...."These and other indicators are reason for cautious, very cautious optimism about the effects of the new strategy," said McCain, who led a Republican congressional delegation to Iraq. (More)

Oh what a tangled web he wove when Mr. Straight Talk decided to blame the media for the public's dire views on the Iraq war. McCain straight-talked himself right into a trip to Iraq. It all began when he claimed that the troop surge had already made some streets in Baghdad safe enough for an American to stroll down. And that the American media based in Iraq haven't been reporting that fact. US media folk in Iraq, where 90 reporters have been killed strolling down those very streets, took umbrage. “Oh yeah, McCain,” they replied, “Prove it.”

With support for his Presidential bid already slipping, and contributors sitting on their wallets, McCain had no choice but to take up the challenge. He had to go to Iraq and stroll down a street. So he did ... accompanied by General Petraus and several hundred security forces providing “perimeter security.” After which McCain said, “See, I told you so.” (Another mission accomplished.)

What McCain did not mention at his Baghdad news conference was that other Americans “strolling” down Iraqi streets that same day didn't enjoy their walks as much as he did. Six US soldiers were killed Sunday in southwest Baghdad, a British soldier was killed, and 20 bullet-riddled bodies were found Sunday, most of them in Baghdad. In Tuz Khormato, north of Baghdad, a bomb killed three people and wounded four at a market. In Mosul, a suicide truck bomber killed two civilians and wounded 22 people, including 15 soldiers, at an Iraqi army building, a police spokesman said.

Memo to McCain: Meet Henry Kissinger for lunch, ASAP. He has a reality check for you.

500 Iraqi Civilians Killed last Week
April 2. Baghdad -- After a violent week that claimed the lives of some 500 Iraqis, and the weekend combat deaths of six U.S. soldiers, U.S. and Iraqi military officials acknowledged Sunday that it will take time for the effects of a much-vaunted security crackdown in Iraq to be felt. (More)

The Surge is “working?” I don't know about you, but I measure progress a bit differently. If this is “working” I can't wait to see what failure looks like. All Bush's surge did is move the murderous venue from the heart of Baghdad to the suburbs and beyond. (The toothpaste tube effect.)

But Bush's Baghdad surge did do Shiite militia leader, Muqtada al-Sadar, a huge favor. Before the surge al-Sadar's militia had become an unruly lot. Lots of wanna-be fighters joined up, but not all for the same reasons. Some just wanted a license to kill. Others wanted to license to steal. Al-Sadar was finding it harder and harder to control his own militia. Bush's surge offered him a way to purge the posers and disobedient. When the surge began Al-Sadar ordered his fighters not to oppose it. That explains the drop in violence in Shiite-controlled areas of Baghdad. Then those fighters who disobeyed al-Sadar's orders where left to fight, be captured or killed. Disobedience problem, solved – thanks to George W. Bush. That little favor came on the heels of getting rid of Saddam for the Iranians. (Heck of a job, Georgie.)

Memo to World Tryrants: Need a hand? Call George.

Hillary Clinton Raises Big Cash
NY Sun, April 2 -- Senator Clinton's record-breaking fund-raising numbers in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination may be met or surpassed by Senator Obama, her leading Democratic opponent...The $26 million Mrs. Clinton raised during the first quarter of fund-raising in the 2008 presidential cycle nearly triples first-quarter fund-raising records by any past Democratic candidate. (More)

I don't know who is giving Hillary all this money, or why, but Democratic Party leaders better get the wooden stake pounded into that creature's heart before she actually bags the nomination. Because if she does end up being their party's nominee there are only two possible outcomes, and neither is good. First she could lose to the Republican nominee. Or she could win. And if you think there are millions of Republicans mourning the day they caste a vote for George W. Bush, just wait and see what four years of President Hillary Clinton does to the Democratic Party. The only good news is that Obama seems to have raised almost as much money as Hillary. And you can bet that the Duchess is “not amused” by that.

Memo to Obama: Hire someone to start your car for you until she cools off.

Gonzales Has To Wait Until April 17 To Testify
April 2, 2007 -- Washington, D.C. (AHN) - Democrats are now the ones stalling over hearing testimony from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales concerning his role in the firings of eight U.S. prosecutors. Gonzales is scheduled to testify on April 17. And although the White House had earlier objected to Gonzales testifying under oath, it is now pushing Congress to move that date up....We are absolutely confused by the White House position," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaking on "This Week," CNN news reported Monday. "For the longest time, Alberto Gonzales wasn't going to come, maybe much later. Now the White House can't wait to bring him in." (More)

So, you asked yourself, “what's that all about?” What it's about is that Seedy Gonzales wants to testify before disaffected (read “fed up,”) career DOJ employees leak any more internal documents showing that Gonzales and Rove operated a two-man political hit-squad to “put the Bush imprint on DOJ for decades to come.” The sooner Gonzalez can testify the less evidence he will have to deny exposing himself to Libby-ization.

Memo to Gonzalez: Resign and let the experts over at the White House do their own lying. They've had more practice.

Planet Earth warned its on "highway to extinction"
April 2, 2007 -- International experts are meeting in Brussels to discuss the impact of global warming. Belgium's Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, opened the talks with a reminder of the last summit's stark warning. "The consequences of global warming are becoming ever clearer and their impact looks like being far more dramatic then we had previously imagined."... A key element of the conclusions due Friday is that earth is on a so-called "highway to extinction" with the number of species dying out rising in relation to the heat, as does the number of people who may starve, or face water shortages, or floods. (More)

Great. As things get ugly in the years ahead, just remember the conservatives who were paid off by the energy lobby to do for them what the “smoking doesn't causes cancer” deniers did for Big Tobacco – lie. This is another instance where the term, “get the rope,” resonates with me.

GAO: Looming Threat to US Oil Supply
Friday 30 March 2007 --A report released Thursday by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office concludes that worldwide oil production will eventually grind to a halt and the United States has no strategy in place to deal with the possible catastrophic results.....Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) called the report "a clarion call for leadership at the highest level of our country to avert an energy crisis unlike any the world has ever before experienced." (More)

This story may actually be the only piece of good news in the litter today. Since we seem determined to continue down the path of least resistance nothing short of running short of oil may be what it takes for us to switch to something that's not going to end life on earth as we know it. Having said that though I have to add that I am appalled that so far the best “Plan B,” folks in Washington have come up with is burning food (corn) for fuel. It's no accident that the corn/ethanol bandwagon is being sponsored by an unholy alliance between Big Energy and Agri-business. If they succeed with their ethanol-from-corn scam, get ready for the $15 a pound steak, the $10 a box morning cereal and $5 Mars Bar (corn syrup, you know.)

Sweet deal, huh?

Weekend Edition

Duck and Cover
(Your Assets)

The free enterprise system is a powerful force for both good and ill. Every Yin has it's Yang.

So I'm not a lefty who believes that capitalism is at the root of all the world's ills. Nor am I a free market moonie who believes that, if government would just get out the way, free enterprise could solve everything. The truth, of course, lays somewhere between those two extremes.

When economic times are good, advocates of laissez-faire markets are quick to remind us that the reason things are good is because free markets are self-correcting organisms. They say the many individual parts that make the economy perk along are so tightly dependent on one another that they self-regulate -- out of self-interest. Why, the free marketeers ask, would one player in bountiful economic food chain abuse their role in a way that could cause that chain to collapse? And why would the others in that chain let him?

Nevertheless, even the most devout free market advocates admit the obvious, that bad apples, like Ken Lay and Charlie Keating, come along from time to time. But when that happens, they claim, the business-ecosystem cleanses itself of these pollutants, not out of any sense of right and wrong, but out of pure self-interest and self-defense.

And it often works just that way -- just not often enough. From time to time distortions in a vertical market segment (can you say, "sub-prime?") can create powerful perverse incentives, incentives that actually make doing the wrong thing collectively more profitable to everyone involved than doing the right thing.

I first saw this during what matured into what is now remembered as the savings and loan fiasco of the 1980s. While the good times rolled back then, nearly half a trillion dollars flowed in and out of the pockets of those in that financial food chain comprised of lenders, borrowers, developers, thrifts, title companies, appraisers and of course accounting firms. Lots of folks in each of those businesses knew - in the gut if not in their head -- that it couldn't last, and that when it ended that there would be hell to pay.

Nevertheless the incentives to keep the money flowing were enormous for each member in the S&L business-chain -- which had devolved from a robust home lending industry into the business-world equivalent of a giant circle-jerk. Everyone was getting theirs so no one wanted to be the one to break up the party. Eventually, as all such Ponzi schemes do, it collapsed. And when the smoke cleared nearly half the savings and loans in the nation were insolvent, busted, leaving taxpayers and innocent shareholders holding the tab.

We saw this phenomena again when Mike Milken discovered how to game the junk bond market by making it worth the while of those up and downstream from him to play ball. Bond markets depend on complex interrelationships between issuers, insurers, buyers, sellers, fiduciaries and bankers and those accounting firms again. Milken couldn't have gotten to first base with his junk bond Ponzi without the eager cooperation of each and everyone of them.

The dot-com bubble is another object lesson, and another instance where I “enjoyed” a front row seat. I was a founding employee of one of those dot-com juggernauts. In less than three years the company grew from 12 to over 430 employees. Venture capital firms elbowed one another out of the way to stuff tens of millions of dollars into our bank account, even though we were not making a dime and had no prospect of ever doing so. In March 2001, and $166 million later, the company lay stone-cold dead in bankruptcy court and disappeared, along with hundreds of similar dot-com mirages.

Once again the marketplace had created perverse incentives to all those involved. The venture firms told us not to worry our little heads that we were not making money. They said to just focus on using the money they gave us to grow, grow.. grow... grow like a tumor. Why? So they could get the company noticed by Wall Street, take it public and cash the hell out. After that they could care less what happened to the company – or all those the suckers that bought their stock in it.

During that process I kept saying things like, “Wait, this makes no sense. We have no tangible product, no articulable business plan, we are burning through $6 million a month and have virtually no income streams.” All that earned me was heartache and a nickname. Whenever I came into a meeting the CEO would remark, “Oh, Oh. Here comes Mr. Trouble.”

It's human nature. When members of one of these business food chains are busy stuffing themselves like Jonestown geese, the last thing they want is for some killjoy pointing out that all that abundance may be the product of deceit, phony-baloney, cooked books, twisted numbers, slight of hand, winks and nods, scratching of backs, the greasing of palms, in other words, everything but sustainable, above board, by the numbers, by the book, "generally accepted accounting principles."

Which explains the reluctance we are witnessing today to recognize the clear and present warnings that another day of reckoning in the offing. Nevertheless the early signs that the end is near for this cycle of business excess abound, at least for those willing to pay a bit closer attention.

Just listen the next time Federal Reserve Chief, Ben Bernanke, goes before Congress and whistles past the graveyard, soft-peddling the impact of such major disturbances in the force now impacting one of the economy's central supports -- new and existing home sales. And imagine the impact of an ongoing war that requires America to borrow $12 million an hour, every hour, everyday. Imagine that! Now try to imagine that kind of borrowing by your government for non-productive spending will not, at some point, impact the economic health of our economy. You'll need quite an imagination to pull that one off.

Watch the US stock market. The DOW now spends it's time crashing one day, then clawing it's way back up a wall-of-worry the next, only to crash again when investors reach the top of that wall are terrified by what they see on the other side. It's a classic see-saw chart pattern we've seen before just before the bottom falls out. The market rises as institutional investors sitting on large positions prop up the market just long enough to dump their positions. On who? Onn ordinary smucks who, every time, fall for their clap trap that, "it's just a market correction," and that “a down market is really just a buying opportunity.” You would think the smucks would be suspicious when big investors are more than happy to sell them their shares. ("Hey buddy. Take my shares -- please!")

And where's the proof for that claim? Just have to follow the money, honey:

Assets in Money Funds Hit Record
Investors contributed $5.61 billion into money-market funds in the week ending Tuesdays, brining the total assets in money-market funds to a record $2.4 trillion breaking a previous record reach March 13." (WS Journal 3/29/07)

The doubters will retort, "Come on Mr. Trouble. That doesn't prove institutional stock investors are deserting stocks for the safety of money funds."

Oh yes it does. Read further.

"Institutional investors $7.3 billion (so far in March) compared to $1.69 billion by individual, or "retail" investors."


Among other reasons institutional investors are bunkering down maybe found in a piece written by Dennis Berman that also ran this week in the Wall Street Journal. In that piece Berman disclosed that precisely the same kind of risky lending that sunk the home mortgage markets, is alive and well and running full-throttle in the corporate bond market.

“Lenders have been doling out increasingly large sums of money and accepting increasingly crummy terms.... Remember those “low-doc” loans that got sub prime home buyers in trouble? These (loans) are their corporate cousins.” (Berman)

Last year alone corporate lenders issued over $145 billion in such sub-prime corporate loans, securitized them as bonds and pawned them off on investors thirsting for high returns. Like the dot-com venture capitalists of the 1990s, these lenders care less if the bonds go belly up once they've bundled them up and sold them to investors on Wall Street. (In the world of accounting such behavior even has a name... it's called a "moral hazard.")

How can we be sure that a corporate sub-prime crisis is in the offing? Because, you don't need to ask what's about to happen when you see the smartest rat jump off a ship. In this case that rat would be Bill Conway, co-founder of the Carlyle Group – a private investment house that serves a who's who of who's who in American business and politics.

This week Conway warned, that while Carlyle had made a bundle on corporate debt over the last few years, that the party is over and he is lowering Carlyle's exposure because of what he described as “a corporate debt bubble.” He also warned corporate lenders that they were sitting atop “a house of cards.

“The fabulous profits we have been able to generate (from corporate debt), Conway wrote to Carlyle's employees and investors, “resulted in large part from the availability of cheap debt.” The bankers,” he added, “are making very risky credit decisions. (Conway)

And they're still at it, because the fees generated issuing sub-prime corporate debt are staggering.

“In other words,” Berman ended his WSJ piece, “don't worry how it will end. Just know that everyone will be getting paid until that day arrives. No worries, indeed.”

Just as the evidence is now pouring in documenting the first negative effects of global warming, so too does evidence abound of severe stresses mulitplying within the business eco-system. Deniers can be found in both cases. For some global warming won't become a fact until it directly impacts them personnally. Even then some hardcore conservatives will still deny human excesses were the cause.

The same goes effects of the growing excesses and toxicities building within the US economy. I'm no longer interested in trying to convince my conservative friends on this count either. It's too late anyway. And I am under no illusion that, when the stuff finally hits the fan, that they will repent, admit they were wrong, and finally agree that some degree of government regulation is not only justified, but healthy. (And you gotta know that when all their econmic chickens come home to roost they will blame the woes on those who tried to sound the warning for "spooking the markets.")

I will not elaborate further. Some reader recently accused me in my last post of being “long winded.” So I will shut up now and simply provide you -- and my conservative friends -- a few links to just a bit of the freshest evidence.

Then you, and they, can decide for yourselves if I am a Chicken Little or realistic. Then act accordingly.

Video of the Week
I couldn't have said it better myself
(And didn't.)

April 10 - April 16, 2007

April 10, 2007

Imus and Bad Raps

I'm not proud of it, but I admit it. I watch Don Imus in once in a while. Why? Can't say for sure, but I suspect it has something to do with rebellion. Rebellion against what? Rebellion against exactly the kind of hypocritical, hysterical nonsense we are being forced to witness right now.

In case you are just now emerging from a coma, last week Imus put both feet in his foul mouth and did a little dance. He called the Rutgers women's basketball team a bunch of “nappy-haired hoes.”

His bad -- VERY bad. He should not have said it. He apologized, as well he should. And, as is so in-vogue these days when a celeb or politician gets caught being human and/or just plain stupid, he immediately embarked on a “Great American Apology Tour.” Pretty soon he'll be in a town near you stopping people on the street to ask their forgiveness. (If that doesn't work he'll likey have to check himself into rehab.)

But give me a break. Look who's leading the charge against Imus – Al (Tawana Brawley) Sharpton and Rev. Jesse (Hymietown) Jackson. Both men are demanding that NBC fire Imus for his racial gaff.

But maybe white-boy Don Imus had simply been studying at the feet of the black community's wildly popular rap music sub-culture. Those young ladies from Rutgers did not deserve being called “nappy-haired hoes,” no question about it. But where's the outrage when men of color degrade black women every single minute of every single day in songs heard thumping out of passing car windows and apartments and boom boxes? Lyrics like:

Back in the day, I use to like bitches
But I'll tell you now days, Bitches ain't shit
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wedesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Don't let no girl, no bitch, no faggy nigger get in my way.

("Artist:" Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz -- Album, Crunk Juice

Or howz bout:
Write a little save-a-hoe speech all these fake-ass hoes...
Fake punk-ass bitches...
Do you know what i mean?
Fuckin'em up like this, man...
Short Dog's in the house, bitch!

Bitch, I'm buyin' you an ounce of this game
You better take it and shut the fuck up
Stop runnin' your mouth like a sucka
Cause you's a punk bitch

(“Artist;” Too Short - Album, Short Dog's in the House)

Or this snizzle of a ditty:

You wonda why they call U bitch
You wonda why they call U bitch.
You wonda why they call U bitch
You wonda why they call U bitch.
You wonda why they call U bitch
You wonda why they call U bitch.

In tha locker room
all the homies do is laugh.
High five's cuz anotha nigga
played your ass.

See it's your thang
and you can shake it how you wanna.
Give it up free
or make your money on the corner.

(“Artist:” 2Pac - Album, All Eyez On Me)

Try singing that one to your honey some night and see how romantic she thinks you be.

These self-demonstrably racist and misogynistic rap lyrics are pumped out by rappers, recorded, distributed and sold by companies as big as NBC. Why aren't Sharpton and Jackson et al picketing those companies? Why aren't they demanding the record labels “fire” those foul-mouth artists? Are there two different codes of conduct now? Can black rappers call black women "hoes and bitches" and, by doing so become show business icons, while a white radio host who uses the term “nappy-haired hoes,” during an adlibed comedy monologue must be fired?

Al Sharpton arguably is guilty of doing more to destroy interracial peace and understanding than anyone since David Duke. That would have been back in the late 1980s when a troubled young black woman, Tawana Brawley, then 15, claimed she was raped by six white men, some of them police officers, in the village of Wappingers Falls, New York. Then too it was Rev. Al to the "rescue." The whole thing was a lie. But that didn't matter to Rev. Al. Before he was done he had smeared nearly every white male in the legal system and sheriffs office, accusing them of complicity in the crime. At least one promising legal career was ruined.

Unlike Don Imus, Rev. Sharpton has never apologized for that. Nor has he “resigned.” Nor has Jesse Jackson demanded he be fired.

Look, I'm not defending Imus or racism. On the contrary. Everyone should knock that kind of low-brow discourse off. It's not only not helpful, it's crude, annoying, debasing and stereotype reinforcing.

But if our self-appointed word-sheriffs, Sharpton and Jackson, are really out to clean up Dodge, they should begin where the trash is deepest, and that's in their own community's rap culture, not NBC.

April 5, 2007

Buying Back America

Almost four decades ago Republicans came up with the concept of the “Silent Majority?” Then they claimed it as their own. It turned out they were right. There really was a Silent Majority, and it was tired of politics as usual.

Back then politics as usual was associated with what had become an entrenched Democratic legislative majority. Republicans were able to lay claim to a large pool of voters who, for various reasons – legitimate or otherwise – had turned sour on Democrats. Familiarity really does breed contempt in life and politics.

Ronald Reagan was the first to tap into that discontent, giving rise to that breed of political hermaphrodite known as the “Reagan Democrat.” Then came the 1994 GOP sweep of the House. Total victory arrived with election of George W. Bush in 2000 along with GOP dominance of both houses of Congress.

Ah, but the worm has turned. Now it's the GOP that's in the cross hairs of America's new Silent Majority. And it's not just familiarity that's breeding contempt for GOP governance. It's the lies, the functional incompetence, the deficits, the careless arrogance and disregard for consequences usually reserved for cocaine addicts.

But wait, there's more to this story than just voters turning against the GOP. This new Silent Majority doesn't like old-time machine Democrats either. You know, like the Clinton machine.

How do I know that a new Silent Majority has emerged? Just follow the money.

The top three Democratic Party candidates for President raised $30 million more last quarter than the top three Republican candidates. That's pretty remarkable in itself, since the GOP has always been able to tap the wealth of their corporate and wealthy supporters.

But there's more evidence buried inside those numbers. Barack Obama raised $25 million, of which 100,000 were small ($100 or less) donors. Not corporations, not bundlers, but individual, ordinary voters... members of the new Silent Majority.

Obama's Campaign Takes In $25 Million
He Nearly Matches Clinton, With Twice as Many Donors

Washington Post: Sen. Barack Obama raised at least $25 million for his presidential campaign in the first quarter of the year, nearly matching Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's record-setting total and making it all but certain that Democrats will face a costly and protracted battle for their party's nomination. (Full Story)

Stop and consider for a moment who we are talking about here. We're talking here about a black guy with the strangest name ever associated with the US Presidency. A guy who only just decided to run. A guy up against the well-oiled Clinton machine and it's smarmy money-man, Terry McAuliffe, who twisted every donor arm in Hillary's and Terry's Rolodex to get to that money before Barack did.

While Hillary did beat Obama by $1 million, she (and Terry) had to pull out all the stops to make it happen. She had to tap her biggest and most reliable sources this early hoping that the shear size of her war chest would scare other would-be contributors into jumping on Hillary bandwagon before it's too late. That plan failed. And worse yet for Hillary, those easy sources of hard money have now been tapped, a likely tapped out.

Simply put, Obama's mushrooming grassroots support trumped Clinton's special interest, business as usual machine. It was the first tangible evidence of the new Silent Majority, and it caught the attention of not just his would-be GOP opponents, but Obama's Democratic opponents as well.

Which brings me to my point. Are you a latent member of this new Silent Majority? Are you among those of us out here who are just plain sick of watching big-money special interests call the tune election in and election out?

If so join those 100,000 who already do so for Obama, get your checkbook out and start firing back.

Because the real message in Obama's $25 million is that little money really can beat big money -- when little money donors join forces they become big money. And when enough of small donors join forces behind a single candidate they become the biggest money.

And here's the sweetest part of the tale. This is one of those rare moments when all those politicians who spent decades pandering to big money donors with tax cuts, regulatory and environmental free passes, one-sided trade deals etc, get hoisted on their own petards. Because, you see, the wealth gap has widened over the past decade thanks to all this big-business favoritism. The result on the ground have been that fewer and fewer Americans feel they have a stake in America's prosperity. The rich got a lot richer, the poor got poorer and America's once upwardly mobile middle class discovered someone had pull up the ladder to next level.

The net result -- the number rich now represent as smaller number of donors than the now expanded pool of “non-rich,” ordinary folk. The GOP created the situation and now they are going to pay dearly for it. The new Silent Majority understands it has been shut out of game, and American workers have seen their dream of upward mobility dashed by outsourcing and so-called “free trade” deals. They are not amused and they now outnumber well-heeled donors by the widest margin since just before the Great Depression of the 1930s.

That's the new Silent Majority. And, while feeling the stress of over a decade of GOP rule, they still have credit cards and checking accounts. While they may not be able to afford anything like the $2300 maximum individual contributions, they can write $25, $50 and $100 checks. And that's just what they did last quarter for Barack Obama.

Now we enter the second phase of the march towards November 2008. The new quarter has begun, ending on June 31. Hillary and Barack will be back out there shaking the money tree. If Barack can raise more money than Hillary during the next quarter -- and I believe he can -- it could spell the beginning of the end of the potentially catastrophic Hillary Clinton candidacy. And, as Martha would say, “that's a good thing.” A very good thing.

I've made no secret of my support for Obama. My money has been on this remarkable young fellow since the first day I heard him speak. There is something real there, real and good. Also America needs a fresh face, fresh ideas, a fresh start. In all my six decades I cannot recall a time when this country was in a more dire state.

Take a moment and try to imagine an Obama presidency. Imagine Barack and First lady Michelle Obama in the White House. Both accomplished as professionals, attractive as individuals and yes, “articulate.” Imagine the picture a black man and woman in the US White House – and this time not pouring coffee at state dinners, but running the America. Imagine that. What more could send the message to the world that America is back – the real America – the good old E Pluribus Unum America. Our America – the one we had before the Neo-con/neo-fascists stole it and had their way with Her.

So imagine that. Then grab your checkbook or credit card and join those of us who are trying to buy our country back. I too wish it were not so, that politics was first about ideas and only second about money. But the Supreme Court has ruled that money is equal to speech in politics so, as the lottery folks like to say, “you can't win if you don't play. It's been said before that “money doesn't talk, it swears.” Okay, if that's the way they want it, then let's swear like sailors. Tell Hillary and the other big-money sycophants to f—k off. Then, come the general election, send the same message to Republican candidates.

But for now, just write a check to Obama. Be a small-money donor for big change. We can do it. Together we can buy our country back. Imagine that.