Monday, August 27, 2007

August 25, 2007

August 24, 2007

Waiting for Greatness

We live in extraordinary times.

That's the bad news.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary leaders, and we have none. Not one.

That's the really bad news.

Among the Dems and Repubs vying to be our next leader there are gradations of greatness. But they range only from the “not-so-great” to “you-gotta-be-shittin'-me” levels of greatness.

Greatness is, to be fair, the rarest of human conditions. We see it only rarely and, if we're real lucky, greatness appears, seemly out of nowhere, at extraordinary times to save our mortal cookies in just the nick of time.

The founders of this country, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, et al, were a pretty impressive lot, for their time. They were weren't perfect, but they were great. They had and displayed courage, wisdom and vision. Oh, I know, they also had slaves ... their bad. But considering the times, they were by any measure, great leaders, without whom our history would have evolved quite differently.

Abe Lincoln was another great piece of work. So was FDR. Roosevelt's greatness pulled America out of economic depression. And his creation of Social Security is the only reason America's elderly enjoy any degree of security in their old age. Oh, and there was that whole World War II thing that Roosevelt was able to pulled off in less time than our current leader has battled us to a draw in Iraq.

Jack Kennedy was shaping up nicely too. Though he was not allowed to fully prove his greatness, we can all thank him for the fact that Florida and Cuba don't glow in the dark today. His brother, Bobby Kennedy also had the seeds of greatness, though they were never allowed to germinate.

Martin Luther King shared the kind of greatness our founders had; courage, wisdom and vision. His greatness was required to complete what Abe Lincoln began a century before.

Now here we are, once again living in extraordinary times. War – or near-war -- rages throughout the Middle East, western economies that run on oil suddenly find themselves looking down the barrel of an empty barrel. The US, once the engine of the world's economy, mortgaged it's engine for a couple of trillion bucks in easy credit to Chinese loan-sharks. American consumers also became credit junkies. Our grandparents once celebrated “mortgage burning parties,” when they paid off their home loans. Today too many Americans celebrate simply being able to scrape enough together to stay out of foreclosure each month.

Then there's the environment. We've shoved so much of our gaseous trash into the atmosphere that Mother Earth has had right up to here with us, and she may just be fixing to shrug us off like so many annoying pests.

Extraordinary times, indeed. But if you're like me you feel like the guy in the play, Waiting for Godot. Where are our time's great leader(s)? Are there any? Is there at least one? Will he/she show up in the nick of time and begin addressing the real reasons we are living in extraordinary times, rather than simply reeling them off as political talking points?

I'm waiting. And I suspect millions other Americans are waiting too. Waiting and hoping. Hoping, but still waiting.

We have something like 20 people running for President, and not one of them has displayed anything that rises to the level of the kind of greatness required by our times.

Barack Obama shows, from time to time, glimmers of greatness. But even there he seems unwilling, or unable, to break completely out of the box, to dare to color outside the lines of conventional political orthodoxy. He had just such a an opportunity when his opponents pounced on him for saying he would not use nuclear weapons against terrorist camps in Pakistan. They called him “naive,” and said it was dangerous to “take anything off the table.”

That was a moment when a truly great would-be leader turned to his/her detractors and said something like this:

“Excuse me. I don't mean to be rude, but I am forced to ask -- are you people crazy? Because if you are now's the time American voters need to find that out before we end up with another reckless nut in the White House.

“So, I ask, just what are you saying -- that if you were elected President you would keep open the possibility of using a nuclear weapon against collections of mud huts in the mountains of Pakistan? Is that what you say "should never be taken off the table?" The threat that you, as Presidient might nuke terrorists camps?

“Let me be perfectly clear what my policy would be as President. Nuclear weapons have only one purpose -- as a deterrent. And not as a deterrent against asymmetrical, near-primitive bands terrorists, but a deterrent against a nuclear attack from another nuclear-armed country. Period.

"Therefore I repeat, I would not use nuclear weapons against terrorist camps in Pakistan or anywhere else.

Now, since each of you, particularly Hillary, have criticized me for saying that, I assume you have a different policy. Therefore, if any of you wish to announce tonight to the American people and the world that you don't share my stated position on the use of nuclear weapons, I relinquish the rest of my time to for you to make that announcement.”

That would have been a display of greatness. I would have recognized it as such, and I figure millions of Americans would have as well.

But Obama didn't do that. He didn't exactly retreat, but he didn't advance and expose the political double talking nonsense being spewed out by the other candidates. A great candidate would have driven that spike right through their phony-baloney hearts. Instead he became cautious, allowing that flicker of greatness to be extinguished by the stale hot air that surrounded him.

No one else running has shown even that flicker of greatness. Hillary is host (in the parasitic sense of the word) for big money machine politics as usual. (Holy cow, the reptilian right wing, FOX News-owning Rupert Murdoch threw a fund raiser for Hillary!)

Hillary Clinton is the quintessential political shape-shifter. She's the Eva Peron of contemporary American politics. The only reason Hillary is leading her Democratic opponents in the polls is because none of them are are. None of them has yet shown the courage to step right up and smacked her around like a pinata. If one of them did just that the toxic crap that fell out of that phony would cause voters to flee in disgust.

But no one has had the guts – the greatness – to do that. Which has allowed Hillary to fill this “greatness-vacuum,” with focus-group-tested policy nuggets and her well-rehearsed but entirely greatness-free, sound-bites.

If what you think the world needs right now is more of the dog that bit it, then Hillary really is your girl.

If it's any consolation, Republican voters are even worse off. None of their candidates have even shown a flicker of greatness. Instead they have a bunch a guys that all look and sound like insurance salesmen vying to convince voters that they are more spiritually connected than their opponents. Instead of putting a guy in the White House who's in touch with a genuine IQ, GOP candidates seem determined to prove they can channel the spirits of Ronald Reagan and Jesus Christ. (Just what the nation needs, another guy in the White House who believes he's in touch with God, and visa versa. )

Americans have become resigned to being limited having to choose from a list of appallingly mediocre candidates. After decades of such elections the mediocre candidates that got elected as “the lesser of bad choices,” created the convergence of daunting and festering problems that now threaten our liberty, prosperity and very lives. They may not have been great candidates or great leaders. But they did create great messes.

Don't such extraordinary times demand better? Shouldn't we demand better? I suspect that the vast majority of Americans, be they Republican, Democratic or Independents thirst for candidates up to the extraordinary challenges that face America and the world today. I'm sure of it.

In fact, I would bet my home that if our ballots included “None of the Above,” that choice would win hands down more times than not. Maybe that's the solution. Let voters reject all the candidates when they don't like them. Then give the parties 90-days to put up new candidates and have a new vote. Pretty soon the parties would get tired of having their mediocre “it's their turn” candidates rejected and would begin putting up their best and brightest, the courageous, the out-of-box thinkers.

Since we don't have and the “None of the Above” option – and are not likely to be granted it by the mediocre incumbents in charge of such matters -- I'm left out here waiting for Mr. or Ms. Great-bar to show up.

At least I have lots of good company to commiserate with. Folks who, as one thing after another goes sideways, can look at another and nod knowingly. “See, I told you so,” we can say with a strange combination of smugness and dread as, piece by piece, the American dream morphs into the American nightmare. the earth continues to heat up, storms, droughts, famines and infestations take on biblical proportions and intensity.

In the meantime I will continue waiting. Waiting for greatness to appear and save our cookies once again.

Or not.

August 22, 2007

Vietnam By Dummies
(Prof. G.W. Bush Lecturing)

President Bush finally got something right by comparing the US war in Iraq with the disastrous US war in Vietnam. After five years of denying there were any similarities at all, Bush lectured us on the lessons he says we should have learned from that war and apply them to Iraq.

So far so good. Trouble is the lesson Bush suggested we should learn from our failure in Vietnam four decades ago goes something like this:

We cut and ran in Vietnam. We let our allies down. We allowed a rag tag group of insurgents to win against the great American military. And that's why we're in the mess we're in today. Our enemies today, another group of rag tag insurgents called al-Qaeda – have been emboldened by our retreat from Vietnam.

Therefore, Bush posits, we must stay the course in Iraq, no matter how bleak the situation becomes. Because, to do otherwise would be to reinforce our enemy's belief that the US lacks staying power and has no stomach for taking casualties. That in turn will encourage them to cause trouble throughout the region and to even launch attacks against the American homeland itself... or as Bush claims, if we don't fight them in Iraq, we'll have to fight them right here in the US of A.

Of course no well-read (or sane) person would draw such lessons from Vietnam. In fact, had Bush and Congress had heeded the real lessons of Vietnam they would have scoffed at the idea of putting tens of thousands of US combat troops on the ground in the heart of the Middle East.

(Note: Few will also miss the bitter irony of being lectured on “the lessons of Vietnam” by a guy who spent that war hiding out in the Texas Air National Guard, drinking beer and malingering by skipping out on monthly drills. (It was good to be the son of a powerful Texas congressman.)

Those of us who lived through the Vietnam era, or have since studied declassified documents from the Johnson and Nixon administrations, have walked away with much different lessons:
Super-power status is meaningless against a enemy fighting on and for their own land and willing to incur and take unlimited casualties.
  1. Puppet governments set up under foreign occupying forces are viewed by their own people as illegitimate and therefore cannot govern.
  2. The hurdle for an occupying army is very high – they need to win. The hurdle for an indigenous insurgency is much more achievable – they simply need to not lose.
  3. When the vast majority of Americans cease to support a foreign war, that war is lost – period.
  4. Retreat from Vietnam did not result in a “domino effect,” in the region, as threatened.
  5. When we retreated from Vietnam the Viet Cong did not “follow us home.”
  6. Our retreat from Vietnam did not result in permanent estrangement, just the opposite.
  7. The only Vietnamese who “followed us home,” were refugees who have since become among some of the most highly educated and successful American citizens.
George W. Bush learned none of the real lessons of the Vietnam War. Because Bush and his Neo-con co-dependents insulated themselves from the those lessons by soaking their gray matter in the Koolaide of denial – that it was the “liberal media” and “liberals in Congress,” that cut the ground from under our troops. In other words, as far as Bush et al are concerned, we didn't lose in Vietnam, we cut and ran before the job was done. They surely believe to this day that, had we only stuck with it a few more months, surged a few more times, that we would have won. The light was right there they say, at the end of that tunnel – a tunnel that never itself seemed to have not end.

And if you believe that, then I have a war in the Middle East to sell ya.

We've gone through so many iterations of the Bush doctrine with Iraq that I've lost the thread. But this appears to be a whole new version of the Bush doctrine: Never give up. Never admit defeat no matter how many soldiers are dying each week (especially since none of them are related to you.) Keep fighting.... no matter the cost in treasure or to our nation's soul. Because, as long as we keep fighting no one can say we lost. No one can say we cut and ran.

It's not a new idea. In fact it's just a reworked version of the military doctrine of another George --

George Custer.

The Day the Economy
Went Cold Turkey

Did you see what happened last week? I mean did you really see what happened?

What happened was the US economy, and much of the world economy entangled with it, was forced to go cold turkey.

But first a look at how they got hooked on junk in the first place.

For the last five or six years America's alleged free marketeers took a page from Barry Bonds' personal play book. America and Americans were already heavy hitters on the world economic stage. But why be satisfied with being just good. Why not leverage our economic strength by pumping it up with artificial wealth – cheap, easy credit.

And so it came to pass. Debt became the enhancing drug of choice for heavy hitters and wannbe heavy hitters.

And it worked, at least for a while. Even after cutting taxes and increasing spending, a seemingly endless supply of cheap, easy credit flowed in to fund government spending from pushers in Asia.

Corporations took notice and began doing the it too, borrowing, buying other companies, borrowing against those assets, buying more companies, building entire corporate empires upon mountains of debt.

Joe Sixpacks down on Main Street figured they'd like to be heavy hitters too. So they beat a path to credit pushers, their own banks, credit card companies, DiTech and such. Consumers loaded up on the stuff.

And it worked for them too, for a while. They bought all kinds of crap they would otherwise not been able to afford -- SUVs, flat panel televisions and, most importantly, houses. If they already owned a house they used it as collateral for more of the stuff, more credit, more debt.

By August 1, 2007 nearly everyone from Washington to K-Mart shoppers were hooked on cheap, easy credit.

Wall Street analysts and government economists downplayed the problem with the standard junkies refrain, “We can stop any time we want.”

Of course they never tried to prove it. They never did stop.

Then suddenly last week their drug of choice dried up. From San Francisco to New York City, from Dog Patch, Idaho to Sacramento, California, from Washington to Hong Kong, London, Germany, France, not a cheap, easy credit pusher in sight.

For three, painfully long days, cheap, easy credit disappeared. And by day-two world markets went into what can only be described as “withdrawals.” Cut off from their picker-upper of choice, banks, mortgage lenders, hedge funds, bonds, mutual funds, home builders and foreign banks began going through the DT's.

By Thursday things had become so unruly, the whines and cries for “spare change,” gotten so shrill, that the Federal Reserve Bank, the pusher of last resort for credit junkies, finally stepped forward and provided the markets the only thing that would calm them – a booster shot of cheap, easy credit.

What happened next should erase any remaining doubt that America's free market big talkers have become nothing more than credit addicted phonies. Because, as you may have noticed, their DT's eased within a hour after the Fed injected their drug of choice – billions of dollars of bargain basement priced credit.

And the Fed did not even try to get these junkies into treatment. On the contrary. The Fed actually sweetened the deal, allowing already debt weakened institutions to get all the credit they say they need to remain afloat at wholesale prices.

But wait, there's more. The Fed's fixes are being handed out through what it calls its “overnight discount window.” Discount window Fed loans have traditionally been overnight loans given to banks to smooth the flow of capital between institutions. The loans the Fed approved in the wee hours of Thursday night are 30-day loans.

But wait, there's more. If, at the end of that 30-day period a bank claims it can't pay the money back, the Fed says the banks can roll them (renew) them for another 30-days.. and then another and another. And, like the sub-prime rules that allowed unqualified borrowers to get those loans without documentation or other proof of worthiness, the banks endlessly renewing these Fed “loans,” are not required to prove they really need to in order to remain solvent. (A 'if you can't beat them, join them,” tactic by the Fed.)

But wait, there's more. Since there was suddenly no market for the billions in mortgages and mortgage backed securities these banks were saddled with, the Fed, for the first time, allowed the banks to use those now nearly worthless assets as collateral against which troubled institutions can borrow even more cheap, easy terms money.

Well! Nothing quite perks up a junkie like a fresh fix! The DOW index soared the moment markets opened Friday morning.

And our Euopean co-dependents felt the rush too:

Paris shares soar on news of Fed discount rate cut; banks lead charge

PARIS (Thomson Financial) - Share prices rebounded in spectacular fashion in afternoon trading following the Federal Reserve's decision to cut its discount on loans to banks to 5.75 pct from 6.25 pct, citing increasing risks to economic growth, market sources said.Announcing the rate cut, the Fed stated: 'Financial market conditions have deteriorated, and tighter credit conditions and increased uncertainty have the potential to restrain economic growth going forward.' (Full)

Of course, all the Fed accomplished Thursday was to temporarily stabilize all those twitching credit addicts. They also managed to reinforce the irresponsible behavior that has created a world economy all hopped up on credit-juice. In the weeks ahead expect the Fed to pump more of the stuff into the body-economic by lowering interest rates.

What's really needed is a tough-love intervention. But, with a national election just over a year away don't expect anyone, in either party, to tell credit junkies, from Countrywide Mortgage to CitiBank to Uncle Sam himself, they need to get off the junk and back to basics.

Of course, anyone who knows a junkie or an alcoholic understands that sooner of later such matters take care of themselves. Rock bottom looms in the future of every untreated junkie. It's not a matter of if, but when. It's an ugly way to get the message. But for the worst of the worst, it's often the only way.

Unfortunately, when this mega-addict plummets into that pit the rest of us are going to be sucked along by the downdraft.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

August 20, 2007

How WalMart

Killed America's Golden Goose

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go;
I owe my soul to the company store.

I do believe we just heard the fat lady warming up in her dressing room.

Walmart misses, cuts outlook
Economic pressure around the world blamed for poor showing
Reuters: August 14, 2007 -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported a lower-than-expected quarterly profit and cut its full-year earnings forecast on Tuesday, saying its customers remain under economic pressure..."It is no secret that many customers are running out of money toward the end of the month," Scott said on a recorded conference call. (Full)

What? The great American working class, running out of money? How can that be?

Well to begin with they aren't the “American”working class any more. They've become the WalMart working class. Yes, WalMart is a nation. To be precise it's the world's 4th largest economy. Over the last decade or so WalMart has had more impact on the lives of America's working classes – from the working poor to skilled blue collar workers – than Uncle Sam.

The WalMart nation is comprised of roughly 127 million former American workers.

With more than 127 million customers visiting a U.S. Wal-Mart store or a Sam's Club warehouse location in America every week, the company is considered a barometer of the health of the nation's retail sector.

The deal, according to free-trade, free-market conservatives, went like this:
  1. Allow WalMart (and other super-discount stores) to devastate local, small businesses because,
  2. Such large retailers bring economies of scale, lower prices and create more new jobs than the jobs lost in the once locally owned retail sector.
  3. Allow these WalMart-types to import unlimited goods from cheap labor countries like China, even though doing so destroys high-paying US manufacturing jobs, because...
  4. US workers must adjust to compete in the new global economy and, even though their once high-paying manufacturing jobs will be replaced with lower-paying service sector jobs – like those $10/hr. Jobs at WalMart -- they won't feel the pain because.
  5. US workers will be able to buy the imported stuff for so much less at WalMart.
See. A win-win. Right?

No. It was never right and and now we can prove it. WalMart cut the golden goose open figuring it could grab all the gold for itself. Now all they – and we -- have to show for it is goose on life support.

For a while anyway, many displaced American workers bought into WalMart's fairytale economic analysis. In the beginning they flocked to their local WalMarts to scarf up VCRs and TV's and chic furniture, clothing and shoes – all at prices a fraction of what their local mercantile once charged.

Then they shopped WalMart because their local mercantile had been driven out of business. But never mind. Even though they were now earning half what they used to, easy credit and home refi's were keeping them in the black, and those WalMart prices were so low! How could they resist?

Then music slowed. Credit got tighter. Suddenly working folk had to start living within their new low-wage reality. From that point on they shopped at WalMart because they couldn't afford to shop anywhere else.

Which was likely WalMart's plan all along. High fives all around WalMart headquarters.

For a brief moment in time WalMart had created a retailer's paradise -- albeit a fool's paradise. Low wage-slave workers, 127 million of them every week, marching slack-jawed across giant parkinglots into WalMarts from coast to coast. Each little peasant family clutching that week's meager earnings with which they purchased all their basic needs -- made by even lower-paid Chinese peasants -- from WalMart. (No extra charge for lead content.)

Now we see the beginning of the end of that too. The once vibrant American working class – the goose that laid generations of golden eggs for America and Americans – is now under hospice care – one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. And, in what will go down in economic history as a classic comeuppance, WalMart is itself about to get the same marco-economic reality check it handed out to local competitors and American workers.

Andd what about all those American workers WalMart screwed blue and tattooed too? What are they feeling now? Not good. And they have their own way of saying, "up yours" to the folks who helped engineer this meltdown.

"In addition, Schoewe said Wal-Mart was contending with higher levels of "shrink" - inventory that is lost employee theft (and) shoplifting..."If you think about the macro environment, where customers are under pressure, there's generally a correlation between theft and macro economic pressure," Schoewe said. "Unfortunately, that's what we're seeing."


Cartoon of the Day

Candidates, Canidates Everywhere
And Not a One Worthy of My Vote

I spent the last week coming to terms with the fact that not a single candidate running for President is worthy of the job. Not in the Democratic Party, or the GOP. And no worthy third party candidates have emerged yet either.

So I decided to sit down and try to sort out what is is I don't seem to like about any of the current batch of candidates. Forget deep thinking and rational analysis. Because I suspect I, like most other voters, don't caste of our final vote rationally. I believe other motivations are trump rational thinking when it comes to picking the person we hope will become our national savior every four years. Emotions like fear, personal and religious values and our old standby reason, “the lesser of two-evils.” In other words, we don't vote with our heads. We vote with our gut.

So that's what I tried to sort out last week. All the policy blather aside, what's my gut reaction to these candidates. I didn't even try to fair and balanced. And if you are looking for the most penetrating analysis of these candidates, stop reading now, because you sure a hell aren't about to get it from what follows.

The Democrats

Hillary R. Clinton: Hillary is the anti-Christ of Democrats According to polls, 50% percent of registered have been bewitched by this shape-shifter. I figure that if you think you're sick of George W. Bush after 7 years in office, just wait until you get a snoot full of a Hillary Clinton administration. If elected President I fear she may be the last Democrat to see the inside of the Oval office for a generation. And the same goes for the next woman nominated by either party for that office. And she's not even much of an improvement over what we have now. Hillary is at least as big a serial liar as Bush, and just as shameful at it. For example, earlier this month she gang-banged Obama for saying he would take nukes off the table in dealing with Pakistan's unruly, terrorist infested tribal regions. Hillary claimed it proved Obama was too unseasoned and naive to be president. But wait -- just two months before that Hillary herself told reporters she would take nukes off the table in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Holy on-the-record hypocrite, Batman. I don't want four more years of that kind of cynical duplicity, phony baloney, valueless and dangerous crap. And that's what I fear a Hillary Clinton presidency would be. Same old, same old, only this time in a pantsuit.

Barack Obama: I had such hopes for Barack. But, so far, they have been hopes unrealized. To call the Obama campaign uninspiring would be an understatement. It verges on somnolent. I was ready and eager for a young Martin Luther King/JFK hybrid. Instead all I've gotten so far is a nice, smart, mild-mannered, well-spoken, well-meaning, tan version of an upwardly mobile Chicago alderman. I had hoped for more, lots more. Because, if America ever needed a no-nonsense dope-slap-upside- the-head kinda president, it's now. But rather than swinging for knockouts, Barack has turned out to be a cross between Oprah and Dr. Phil.

John Edwards: He's smart enough. He's ambitions enough. He's too pretty by half. I wouldn't hold that against him except that he seems to care way too much about it. Something deep within tells my gut that it says something about a person when they can get a perfectly acceptable $25 haircut anywhere in the US but pays $400 for a stylist instead. Is that petty of me? Probably. But, over my 62-years of rubbing elbows with all kinds of people I've learned more than a bit about character. And somewhere among all that are data that gives me concern about this guy. A rich guy who billing himself a champion of the poor, who spends a year getting himself filmed working with poor people, but stops long enough to get $400 haircuts. Maybe I shouldn't find that kind thing a turnoff, but I do. Bottom line on Edwards – He's too cute by half (physically and politically.) The only thing about him that makes him even passingly creditable is his wife, Elizabeth, who if were running instead of her husband, I would vote for with out hesitation.

Bill Richardson:
A nice guy, but reaching. Sure he's held a lot of high-level jobs in government, but it those were his peak career moments. Richardson just doesn't “feel” like Presidential material. VP, maybe, but not P.

Joe Biden: OMG, imagine four or eight years of having to listen to that windbag. Joe is smart-- just ask and he'll tell you. Don't ask, and he'll tell you – and tell you, and tell you, and tell you... Because all Joe Biden does – besides having his teeth-whitened – is talk. Poor Joe was born a century too late. He would have made a bigger splash back in mid-1800s when senatorial windbags were all the rage. Biden would make a great Secretary of State, but not a good President. Besides, if you think Bush has burned out the US military, Biden would do the same thing to the White House press corps. His entire administration would one long, non-stop extemporaneous news conference. I have visions of Helen Thomas fleeing the White House Press room screaming, “No, no... not another news conference?!!! ... I can't do it.... Let me cover golf or American Idol. Just get me out of the Biden White House....”

Chis Dodd: Don't like him. Every time I see him I expect Madam Tussaud to show up to return him to his place in her Wax Museum.

Mike Gravel: No thanks. We already tried turning the nation over to a raving lunatic, and it hasn't turned out well.

Dennis Kucinich: I like him. But I'm not ready for a socialistic solution to every problem that comes down the pike. While a single-payer health system is a good idea, turning the entire health care industry into not-for-profit enterprises would kill innovation. Whether liberals like to admit it or not, free enterprise is almost always more efficient and dynamic than government. Rather than removing the profit motive from medicine, the answer lays in installing and maintaining a government regulatory system that tempers inevitable free enterprise excesses.


Rudy Giuliani: Oh man, if Republicans think Bill Clinton's “personal habits” were an embarrassment wait until they get a taste of a Giuliani presidency. Ruddy Rudy would wear out the sheets in Lincoln bedroom. Then there's current Mrs. Judith (don't-call-me-Judi) Guiliani Whoa! This is one needy gal. If you think Nancy Reagan was piece of work, wait until you get a gander at Judi. Just spend a few minutes scanning the Vanity Fair profile of her. Then close your eyes and try to imagine all the things that could set Judith off as First Lady. And imagine the soap opera that would ensue when (not if, when) President Rudy decides that Judy is past her “use by” date and tries to toss her out of the White House. Talk about the War of the Roses!

John McCain: Remember the old Mr. Magoo cartoons? I do.

Mitt Romney: This guy is difficult to describe because our lexicon has no words to capture this level of slickness. (My pal, Tony Seton over at QNN suggests oleaginous.) Every time I see this guy on TV I expect him to say something like, “Do you know how much you'd save on your heating bill and maintenance if you installed our aluminum siding on your home?” Then there's the whole Mormon thing. I know it's politically incorrect to dump on person's belief structure, but when it comes to choosing a new Commander-in-Chief I think we need to put some limits on that indulgence. I mean it's unnerving enough that all the candidates running believe it's important to trot out their spiritual creds – mostly the Christian variety. In a time when real weapons can anniliate mankind, I am uneasy that we insist on electing only certified spirit worshipers to the presidency. But Romney's religion, Mormonism, is a bridge too far along that path. Mormons rank right up with Scientologists for unadulterated nonsensical beliefs. Would you put Tom Cruise in the White House? I hope not, (though after two Bush victories it's clear voters are quite capable of doing just that.) Anyway, don't ask Romney if it's “boxers or briefs,” because it's neither. It's worse.

Sam Brownback: When it comes to religious nuts, Brownback is the macadamia of the GOP pack.

Tom Tancredo:
The Southwest's David Duke-lite

Mike Huckabee:
Mild-mannered and nonthreatening. Huckabee is the Mr. Rogers of the GOP candidates. But if you didn't care for your visit to Mr. Bush's neighborhood, you won't care for Huckabee's either. Mike is just George minus the smirk.

Duncan Hunter:
If you're looking for a guy who really would “bomb, bomb, bomb.. bomb bomb Iran,” Slam Duncan is your man.

Ron Paul: I like this guy. His honesty is refreshing. But Ron is to GOP what Kuchinich is to the Dems. Rather than socializing everything in sight Paul would cut everything and everyone loose and let social and economic Darwinism sort out the winners and losers. Ron Paul is right about a lot of things, especially on how the US, and most other nations on earth, manipulate their currencies to create one fool's paradise after another – each of which vaporizes when it's bubble bursts. But Paul's extreme libertarian solutions would have American streets looking like old Calcutta in four years.

So here I am. Fools to the left of me, clowns to the right. Stuck in the middle without a candidate to vote for.

Monday, August 13, 2007

August 3, 2007 - August 10, 2007

August 3, 2007

Gunga Din Takes a Vacation

You may talk o' gin an' beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it;

But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.

Sure, you turn the lights out if you're going away on vacation for a month. But the Iraqi parliament apparently went a step further when they left for a month away from away from the troubles in Baghdad – they turned off the water too.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Much of the Iraqi capital was without running water Thursday and had been for at least 24 hours, compounding the misery in a war zone and the blistering heat at the height of summer...Residents and local officials said large sections of the city had been virtually dry for six days because the electricity grid can't provide enough power to run water purification and pumping stations. (Full story)

Oh, and did I mention it's 117 degrees in Baghdad this week? Of course, it is a dry heat.... which is one of those good news, bad news facts. This year it's extra dry heat. Here's an inconvenient fact – it's drier in Baghdad this August than it was five Augusts ago when Saddam the Sadist ran the place. Back then, (before the Iraqis were liberated,) they had water every day. They also had electricity at least 18 hours every day.

Today Iraqis consider themselves lucky if they get 2-hours of juice a day.

That was before August 1. Now it's down to an hour of electricity a day, and no water. Not a drop. Not for even a minute a day.

And did I mention it's 117 degrees there now? So hot that even the pampered members of Iraq's useless-as-tits-on-a-boar parliament skipped town for the month.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the US Congress is about to bug out for a month as well. And you can be sure President Bush will be flying air-condition Air Force One, well-stocked with bottled water, to Texas for his annual Crawford ranch vacation as well.

At least the Iraqi parliament had an excuse most of us can at least understand, if not approve of – it's hotter than billy-blue blazes in Iraq in August, and they're tired of dodging hourly assassination attempts.

What's Washington's excuse for skipping town?

Simple.. in a word their excuse is ... “Petraeus.”

Democrat or Republican, just ask them what the hell they're waiting for before calling an end to Bush's Vietnam and, to a person, they'll chirp “General Petraeus.” They'll explain that they understand you are hearing a lot of bad news about what's going on in Iraq, but that such “anecdotal” reports are not useful. They are waiting to hear the real deal from our man on the ground there, General David Petraeus, when he reports to Congress in September.

Well, should you run into one your elected reps during, what we can assume will be their cool and well-hydrated August vacation, you might mention that, unless the 8-million severely under-hydrated folks in Baghdad are lying about their current “living” conditions, we don't need to wait for General Petraeus' report. We already know enough to know that that the US's misadventure in Iraq has failed.
And now we learn that we've even failed as Baghdad's Gunga Din. After four years, $600 billion dollars, 3700 dead US soldiers and who knows how many tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, we/they can't even provide the hot, thirsty, and increasingly dirty, Baghdadians the most abundant resource on earth --- water.

So it's a 117 degrees in Baghdad, and the public water system is dry as a bone.

Let's repeat that until it sinks in:

It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

What could General Petreaus possibly tell us in September that would mitigate, explain or justify that single fact? What could he possibly report that would convince congress and the American people that 136,000 US troops and half a trillion dollars of our treasure have produced, or can produce, positive results for Iraq or the Iraqi people when one month before his testimony it's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water service in that nation's capitol city?

How can he explain away an elected Iraqi parliament that leaves it's own people in such dire – life threatening – conditions to go on vacation for a month? A parliament that since it was elected has produced not a single piece of useful legislation. A parliament whose members, family, friends and militias have stolen more US aid money than they've invested into their nation's infrastructure. How do you think they're paying for those vacations aboard – trips they try to disguise as official business or for medical treatment. Even when the Iraqi parliament has not declared a mass vacation, up to half of them don't show up for work because they are off gallivanting the globe.

"More than half the members of parliament, ministers and senior officials are on vacation, sick leave or on official assignment abroad" at any given time, a government official said on condition of anonymity. "It is common practice now that they spend more time abroad than in their offices. The main reason is their fear of being targeted inside the country." (Full Story)

So if you are unlucky enough to run into one of our vacationing members of Congress this August, here's all you have to do. Walk right up to them and, when they reach out to shake your hand, grab and don't let go. Look them right in the face and recite the following:

“It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

It's 117 degrees in Baghdad and there's no water.

What the holy hell are you waiting for?”

August 2, 2007

All Fall Down

I wonder how many of those Minnesota commuters were listening to news on their car radios as they approached the I-35W bridge yesterday afternoon? Those who were probably had just listened to GOP members of the House urging their Democratic party colleagues to hurry up and pass legislation re-authorizing the “Terrorist Surveillance Act.”

"It is absolutely vital at the time of a heightened threat environment to realize the present system simply is not as responsive as it needs to be in terms of providing the flexibility and speed in acting on actionable intelligence," pronounced White House spokesman, Tony Snow.

Maybe that's what the victims thought was happening as the bridge collapsed under them yesterday -- that “the terrorists,” had struck again. After all, since 2001 terrorism has been about the only threat to American's safety, lives and wellbeing this administration mentions -- and they mention it often.

So, as those poor folks dropped 65 feet towards the Mississippi below, surely they must have figured that was the cause of their pending misfortune – terrorism.

Those who survived the fall quickly learned that it wasn't terrorism at all. What killed or almost killed those Americans wasn't al-Qaead but al-George and his administration's neglect, mismanagement, misdirection and mis-allocation of our nation's attention, priorities and resources.

The day before the I-35W span collapsed we learned that the war in Iraq will eventually drain the US treasury of somewhere between $1- to $2 trillion dollars. Not a dime of that will be available to perform critical, and already too-long delayed, repairs to the tens of thousands of bridges and overpasses that carry tens of millions of Americans every day.

In 2005 the American Society of Civil Engineers reported that $1.6 trillion is needed over a five-year period to repair American's crumbling bridges, highways and other critical public infrastructure.

We didn't, we haven't and we likely won't do that. Instead that money is being spent to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, much of which will either be promptly blown up by Iraqis themselves or simply left to rot.

U.S. overseers and Iraq rebuilding failures
International Herald Tribune -- July 26, 2007: The report, issued Wednesday, is the first of a planned series of audits of Western contractors that have received large slices of the roughly $40 billion in U.S. taxpayer money that has been spent on the troubled program to rebuild Iraq. Previous audits have looked at individual projects but never the performance across Iraq of a single contractor. (Full Story)

Meanwhile, back here at home, a giant 83-year old steam pipe blows leaving a huge crater in the middle of a New York City street, a 40-year old bridge in America's heartland collapses during rush hour, our air traffic control system can just barely operate, saddled by failing, antique computer systems and a shortage of runways. Meanwhile air passengers become accustomed to sleeping on cots at terminals as an ever-growing number of flights are delayed or canceled.

Over at the NOAA another day of reckoning looms. Even as global warming threatens more Katrina-type hurricanes, there are no replacements being readied for America's aging fleet of weather satellites.

I'm not going to belabor the point. You get it. The bottom line is that you are more likely to be killed or injured on American soil by a falling bridge or plane or by falling into a giant sink hole than by a terrorist. And not just a little more likely, but exponentially more likely.

As I write this I am waiting to hear what George Bush is going to say about yesterday's bridge collapse in a scheduled morning news conference. We know what he would have said had a terrorist flown a plane into that bridge. He would have come out swinging, demanding that we “connect the dots,” to discover how such a thing was allowed to happen. He would also use the opportunity to demand more money to fight terrorism and support for proposals to trim back more of our domestic rights so he can protect us from just that kind of threat.

And, we'd likely go along with him too. He is certainly not going to suggest we need to "connect the dots." on yesterday's bridge collapse, because those dots lead right to Oval Office and Congress.

Yesterday's disaster wasn't terrorism. Al-Qaeda didn't take down that bridge. Nor will al-Qaeda bring down who knows how many other bridges, killing who knows how many more Americans in the years ahead. No it wasn't. The "terrorist" this time wasn't al-Qaeda. It was the Bush Administrationm, and Congress' misplaced priorities that killed those Americans yesterday. It was the product of the fatal combination of imperial hubris, military/industrial primacy and the blind greed military spending it fosters once it gets on a roll.

How ironic that it was Dwight D. Eisenhower who championed and built American's interstate highway system back in the 50's.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, was enacted on June 29, 1956, when a hospitalized Dwight D. Eisenhower signed this bill into law. Appropriating $25 billion for the construction of 40,000 miles of interstate highways over a 10-year period, it was the largest public works project in American history to that point.

The money was handled in a highway trust fund that paid for 90 percent of highway construction costs with the states required to pay the remaining 10 percent. It was expected that the money would be generated through new taxes on fuel, automobiles, trucks and tires. It is said he drew six lines (three vertical and three horizontal) on a piece of paper and told his people to base their freeway system on it. (Full)

It was also as Eisenhower who, on leaving office tried to warn us of the danger created at the nexus of politics, business and the military.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Eisenhower was, of course prescient. We ignored that warning and so it has come to pass. The proof lies among the bodies and wreckage of the I-35W bridge. What Ike could not foresee was that this ascendant military-industrial complex would end up also destroying the crown jewel of his administration -- our national highway and transportation system.

Anyway, that's the way it is. So rather than stockpiling duct tape and plastic to protect yourself from a terrorist attack, it might be wiser to stock your cars with a helmet and life preserver for yourself and each passenger.

Video of the Day

Lying Under Oath For Dummies

Truth can be a cruel mistress. Sometimes a Lorrena Bobbit kind of cruel mistress. As such truth must be treated with both care and suspicion.

I know this runs contrary to what your parents, teachers and ministers may have taught you, that telling the truth is always the right thing to do.

Not so.

You should, of course, always tell any truths that are either harmless which benefits you. That's a no-brainer.

But there are circumstances when telling the truth can get you and/or your friends in a lot of trouble. At times like that it's perfectly logical to do whatever is necessary to avoid telling truth.

That's the purpose of this primer. Think it as, “Truth-telling 2.0 – A Guide For Adults and Public Officials.”

In our nitpicking times you may someday find yourself in legal jeopardy. Say you've done something wrong (as in “illegal”) and you are about to be put oath and asked about it. You've going to have to swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

But you know that if you live up to that oath there's going to be hell to pay for it. Only a fool would voluntarily step up, tell the truth and himself or herself in jail. (Okay, you may be a crook. But you're no fool.)

So what to do?

I am happy to report that there are ways out of this jam. But you have to employ them skillfully and without a hint of hesitation or embarrassment. ,

Under such circumstances, the last thing you want to do is to start coughing up the unvarnished truth. Still, the worst thing you can do though is just cook up a bunch of outright lies. Lies can be disproved with stuff called “evidence.” So you need to avoid concoction lies.

While lying is your only way out, it's how you lie that will make the difference between getting away or getting a bunk above some guy with “Mad Dog” tattooed on his forehead.

There are four basic techniques to address your little problem:

1) Try to avoid taking the oath
Say, Congress wants to question you under oath about something they think you did.

Pretend to be offended by the implication that, unless put under oath, you may lie. (How dare they! etc. etc.)

Tell them you'd be happy to talk to them any time they want, at their convenience, at your office. Your secretary will provide coffee and pastries and they can ask as many questions as they want about anything they want. (Make sure the press knows about this "offer.")

But – and this is critcally important – besides not being put under oath, you also don't want a transcript made of your answers. Explain that you want the conversation to be open, frank and relaxed, and feel and that a transcriber would cause people to “pull their punches,” and stifle the kind “openness that can put all these groundless accusations to rest once and for all.”

The real reason, of course, is that the last thing you want is a transcript of your answers, since you know you're guilty and that it's almost certain your answers won't exactly jive with subsequently discovered “facts” and the testimony of others.

When such “contradictions” materialize – and you know they will -- you need to be able to “deny ever saying anything like that,” and be able to accuse your interrogators of “twisting” your words and “taking them out of context.” Without a certified transcript of your original testimony, they'll be screwed. (Better them than you.)

To review:
- No oath means no perjury.
- No transcript means not having to “amend” your earlier answers to fit newly revealed “facts.”

2) Seek refuge in “The Fuzz Zone.”
If gambit #1 doesn't pan out, and you are forced to testify under oath, prepare well ahead of time. In particular spend some quality time with your attorney going over what “facts” are okay to remember and which you need to “forget.”

(Noteworthy: Since your attorney can never be forced to rat on you, this is one time during the process you need to break down and tell the truth. Your attorney can then help you decide which truths can free you and which will land you in the slammer should you “remember” them under questioning.)

But you must deploy this tactic selectively to avoid damaging your credibility.

For example, let's say you are asked this kind of question:

“How long have you served as (insert your job title or position here)?

Consider softball questions like that as an opportunity to prove your truthful nature by answering them honestly. Doing so will show that “you're not afraid of the truth.”

But, there are questions that you cannot answer truthfully without putting yourself in legal jeopardy.

For example, say you are confronted by a document key to the allegations against you:

“Your signature is on this document. Did you read it before you signed it?”

Here is where to dive for cover in the “Fuzz Zone.”

“Yes, that's my signiture. But I sign a lot of documents during any given day. Aides prepare them, bring them to me, provide me a summary of what they involve and, unless something raises a red flag, I sign them. Some times I read them, but often I do not. I just scan them and sign them. If I read every document put in front of me all day that's all I'd get done. In this regard, while that is my signature, I have no independent recollection of this document.”

The Fuzz Zone, you see, is where memory “fails” you. It's your ultimate legal redoubt, a safe place where you can lie under oath with near complete impunity.

When asked a question that requires forgetfulness you gain entry to the Fuzz Zone with answers like this:

“I have no particular recollection of that meeting.”
“I don't recall that conversation.”
“I have no independent recollection of that.”
“I do not believe I said that.”
“I don't recall making that remark.”
“I have no memory of seeing that memo.”

Shouldering Responsibility without Shouldering Guilt
If you were the head of an agency or organization at the time of the matter being investigated you can still enter the Fuzz Zone, but must do so with greater care. In particular you need to avoid answers that make it appear you are trying to avoid responsibility for things that happened under your command. When faced with a question where forgetfulness may lead to such suspicions, be proactive -- assume responsibility first, then “forget.”

“As the person in charge I take full responsibility for what happened. It was my responsibility to make sure such things don't happen, they did anyway, and I take responsibility for that. As soon as I became aware of this I took steps to assure they never happen again. But, having said that, I have no independent recollection of personally having anything to do with the events (meetings, memos, emails, orders, statements, etc) you mention.”

Terms like “no independent recollection” are particularly useful when the questions center on matters in which you suspect confirming evidence may exist or is likely to surface later in the investigation.

When confronted with proof of prior knowledge, you can go back to your original answer;

“I believe I testified that I had no independent knowledge. Of course, at some point I learned about it by reading of it or being told about by others. But until then, as I testified under oath earlier, I had no independent -- that is personal -- knowledge of the matter.”

If asked who told you, you reply, “I don't recall.” If you want to get fancy you can throw that question back at the questioner;

“But if you know you know and can refresh my memory on that maybe we can move past this issue.”

Such a reply, while appearing pretty checky under the circumstances, is actually a safe gambit, since you know that no one told you, that you knew all along – something your questioner can't prove.

How sweet is that? “I don't recall” -- the lie that cannot be proven. No one can look inside your head and prove or disprove the state of your memory. So say it as often as you must to keep your ass out of jail -- “I don't recall.” It's a dodge that, while it may wear thin with prosecutors, is the gift that keeps giving for the guilty.

3) The “You know I am precluded from answering...” Gambit
This technique only works if you can credibly claim to be in possession of state secrets or privileged executive matters.

When using this technique it is extremely important that you appear “pained” that you cannot simply answer the question. As you “struggle” with your response be sure to insinuate that your answer, were you free to provide it, would fully support your claim of innocence.

“Sir, there is nothing I would love more than to answer that question. But, as you know, I am legally precluded from doing so.”

This technique, if properly deployed, not only protects inconvenient truths, but can recast you from suspected perp to hostage of circumstances beyond your control. (“If only I were free to answer...”)

A variant on this gambit is the “I can't answer that because it involves a matter that part of a pending investigation,” technique. This can be used by those of you involved some way in law enforcement or law enforcement agencies.

There are two “pending investigation” dodges.

1) “I can't discuss anything that's currently under investigation.'
2) “That's a part of a matter from which I am recused.

Those of you working in law enforcement, including the Dept of Justice, are in a prime position to employ this technique to your benefit. If you have prior knowledge that someone is fixing to put you under oath about something you'd prefer not being asked under oath, simply open an internal “investigation” into the matter. If that isn't enough, recuse yourself from that investigation too. Now you've erected two firewalls between having to decide whether to tell the truth and go jail, or commit perjury and go to jail. you and telling the truth.

4)Taking the Fifth
This is you last-resort gambit. When someone refuses to answer, “because it may incriminate me,” it's a surefire way to appear guilty as sin. So, use this gambit only when techniques 1 through 3 are unavailable to you.

Such circumstances may include:
  • When hard evidence has already been presented that proves you did it.
  • When your co-conspirators up the chain of command warn you that any reduced punishment you might negotiate in return for your testimony against them, will pale in comparison to what they'll do to you when they they get their hands on you.
  • When your co-conspirators up the chain of command can credibly assure you that be “taken care of” in return for your silence.

One final rule of thumb to keep in mind. The old saying, “The truth shall set you free,” is misleading as it ONLY applies when the “particulars” of your case allow it.

Sometimes the truth will NOT set you free, quite the opposite. In such circumstances you need to avoid telling the truth as though your freedom depends on it... which it likely does