Monday, December 22, 2008

This Week's Winner: The Napoleon of Narcissism Claims Damages of $100 Million

I probably shouldn't be writing this, since Donald Trump--AKA "The Donald," AKA the litigious lecher, AKA the sue-happy hedonist--has been known to enjoin the rest of us "little people" from committing all manner of infractions against him, real or imagined. And it is entirely within the realm of the possible that such an egotistical imperator actually pays people to go online and hunt up random acts of libel against the him. We are, after all, talking about the guy who, without so much as a smirk of irony, tried to copyright the phrase, "you're fired," so that every time it was uttered, someone would have to pay him a royalty.

So how has the Emperor of Entreaty encountered the wrath of your humble host? In case you missed it in the big lead-up to this paragraph, Trump has sicked his attorneys on the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, charging that a city with an annual budget of $20 million managed to do upwards of $100 million in damages. The Combover King claims (with a completely straight face) that the city has violated his civil rights: "The town does everything possible to stymie everything I do."

Sounds more like a pre-pubescent temper-tantrum to me.

"Everything [he] does," turns out to be demanding the city rename a street after him, planting a row of tall ficus trees that blocked resident's view and suing the school district (which he lost) over some land he leases from them on his golf course.

What a pain.

Trump's response? "We have nothing but trouble with this town. . . . We've been treated very unfairly, very badly and we've been looking forward to this day for years. And we think we are going to win a lot of money."

I'm sure he'll need it. Trump went bankrupt in the 1990s, due, no doubt, to his personal and business largess. In 2004, Trump Hotels and Casinos sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and Trump Tower Tampa filed for chapter 11 in July of this year. For anyone that's followed the career of this Napoleonic narssicist, you're already aware that he has a habit of biting off more than he can chew, and not just in terms of debt: he played legal chicken with Merv Griffin and lost, he's cheated on both wives, tried unsuccessfully to copyright a phrase he could have never thought up on his own and even lost his lawsuit with the school district in Rancho Palos Verdes. His only success in life appears to be as a reality TV show host.

Here's to Cap'n Combover and the dreadful damage wrought upon his sorry civil rights: may he meet yet another Waterloo in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cry 'Havock!' and Let Fly the Shoes of Protest at the Dog of War

President George W. Bush was assailed by flying shoes and insults, courtesy of Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi. “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!”said Zaidi, to which President Bush replied, "Shoe fly, don't bother me."

President Bush, being the model of calm, cool leadership and heroism, dodged the first shoe, but then as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Miliki moved to block the second with his hand, Mr. Bush lunged forward, catching the second shoe right in the numbers, thus protecting his teammate from being called out and simultaneously putting Zaidi out of the game--at least until someone from Muntader al-Zaidi's team catches one of Bush's team's shoes.

The security personnel that had been waiting on the sidelines rushed back into the game and pummeled Zaidi with their shoes. But Zaidi, who the referrees had clearly called out, was refusing to leave the game. As per the rules, this gave the security detail permission to drag Zaidi out to the hallway, from where reporters could hear him being kicked, beaten and sodomized. While I have no evidence that Zaidi was actually sodomized, Toby Keith, who was on the security detail, had been heard by literally dozens of witnesses as early as 2002, threatening to "put a boot in [his] ass," as Mr. Keith put it, because "it's the American way." There is no report as to whether Keith's Tony Lamas or W. Axl Rose's Doc Marten's were used in the alleged sodomy, but Mohammed Taher, a reporter for Afaq, an independent television station, owned by Prime Minister Miliki's very own Dawa Party, reported that, “he [Zaidi] was crying like a woman.” A source, close to a source, close to a source, who sits in the stall next to Mahammed Taher during his daily constitutional, said that Taher added under his breath that Zaidi would "be shitting boot polish and decorative stitching for a month of Ramadans."

I have no idea how long that is.

It is considered an insult to hit people with your shoes by Arabic people. According to tradition, this places them lower than your feet, down in the dirt, crawling in the sand, wrestling in the mud with 40 impure women, all of whom refuse to wear a head covering. It is the quintessential mid-eastern atomic wedgie, being pantsed in front of the cheerleading squad and being refused a bailout that was less than one-tenth of what AIG asked for and got, no questions asked, all rolled into one. In short, it is one heavy-duty insult.

And you thought Imelda Marcos took her shoes seriously.

Friday, November 14, 2008

This Week's Winner: David Brooks

Would someone please explain to me what the position of business and political conservatives (as opposed to social conservatives) is on evolution? On anarchy? Mr. Brooks seems to adopt a Darwinian model for the markets (Darwin called in "natural selection," Brooks calls it "creative destruction") as well subscribing to the notion of economic anarchism (AKA laissez faire).

Regardless of the logical flaws in being both a conservative and a Darwinist, Brooks told Detroit it could collectively fuck itself, positing that the $50 billion dollars needed to bailout Ford, Chrysler and GM would "grant immortality" to the Big Three. He asserted that, "This is a different sort of endeavor than the $750 billion bailout of Wall Street. That money was used to save the financial system itself. It was used to save the capital markets on which the process of creative destruction depends."

Apart from being a weak, transparent argument, his Op Ed piece lacks a substantial element: integrity. Why has he not decried how the $700 billion bailout has prevented the "creative destruction" of AIG, much less how Paulson's (possibly illegal) changes to Section 382 of the Tax code have turned BofA, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan&Chase monopolistic behemoths, even bigger than the banks that were, supposedly, "too big to fail."

The failure of GM isn't creative destruction any more than the failure of JPMorgan&Chase would be right now. The failure of either would make space for new industries, but, according to economist and Nobel Lauriat Paul Krugman, it would also prolong the recession, and possibly even sink us deeper into depression. What many social Darwinists, like Brooks, fail to understand about the economy is that it is no more of an example of natural selection than domestic livestock; rather, it is the opposite: artificial selection. The economy is a product of culture, and as with domesticated plants and animals, there are consequences for poor stewardship.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Paulson and the $140 Billion Bait and Switch

This is old news, but it wasn't in the paper until yesterday.

As AIG continues to spend taxpayer bailout money (in the same fashion that put them on the dole with all the other Wall Street welfare bitches), yet another under-reported story of the exploits of one Henry M. Paulson has come to the fore. While the U.S. Congress was responding to yet another dose of Bush Administration shock doctrine--give us $700 billion, no questions asked, or risk a financial Chernobyl--Treasury Secretary Paulson was altering tax code section 382, which prohibits the purchase of failing businesses as a tax shelter. The result is yet another tax break for the wealthy, once again sticking taxpayers with the check. Even as our current lender, China, is failing industrially and the ability to round up what remains of the $700 billion bailout package is in question, Paulson has removed $140 billion from next year's Federal kitty.

If this doesn't piss you off, it's either because you're a Wall Street welfare bitch, or it's time to stop taking your Prozac. Write your Senators and Representative and demand they put Paulson in prison.

While you're at it, tell them to hold AIG's feet to the fire about their spending habits. So far, AIG has spent $869,000 (that we know about) on luxury retreats alone: almost immediately after receiving $85 billion in bailout assistance, $440,000 was spent on a week-long retreat at St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, CA; then, after receiving an additional 37.8 billion in aid, they spent an additional $86,000 on a hunting trip in England; their latest junket at Phoenix's Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort cost us $343,000.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mormons in Glass Houses and the Consequences of Throwing Stones

For those of you that are a little behind on your Territories History, Mormons, at one time, were not allowed to vote in the Territory of Idaho. A Republican named Dubois (pronounced doo-boyss) was able to define marriage as "between one man and one woman," making polygyny and polyandry illegal. For the mass of people within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) faith, this law was not an issue; the rules for polygamy in Church scripture required men who engaged in plural marriages to house secondary wives and children in separate homes, a financial burden that few could afford. But the law required Mormons who wanted to vote to renounce their faith, which many did--much to the chagrin of the Salt Lake City Herald. It is worth mentioning that, at that time, Mormons were, by and large, Democrats, which was the real reason Dubois and his fellow Republicans wanted to deny them the right to vote. In spite of taking the "test oath" and publicly denouncing their faith, Dubois, in a desperate attempt to defeat his opponent, Hawley, sent Republican county officers to arrest the former Church members for perjury. Many were released after a judge, satisfied that they were sincere in there oaths. Some were successful in voting, and others were successfully prevented. But the damage was done. Dubois won re-election.

The preceding narrative might explain why Mormons are now disproportionately Republicans. It might describe part of the history of voter suppression, as per the Republican Party. But its real purpose is how one group of people was singled out by men in power, preying on the fears and prejudices of an uninformed electorate to serve a political agenda.

Were Mormons aware that the definition of marriage as being "between one man and one woman," could be used against them? Clearly they've forgotten how the Evangelicals rejected Mitt Romney, though he was the best and most logical candidate to run for President on the GOP ticket. Clearly they've forgotten their own history of persecution and disenfranchisement.

Or perhaps they haven't. What's the saying? if you can't beat 'em, join 'em? Well, they should be proud of themselves--for now:

Think this is harsh? Think again:

There's not much we can do about a Constitutional Amendment, but there are existing laws--including the Amendment most Californians just voted for--to make California a very unwelcome place for a church of division. By using the pulpit to urge their members to contribute to this discriminatory campaign, they have used their tax-exempt status for political purposes, and hence, they have forfeited that status. With a liberally-controlled executive branch, the new Attorney General could easily decide to push the issue. I will be lobbying the new Attorney General to do so.

Perhaps more disturbing than the narrow margin by which Proposition 8 passed was the comfortable margin by which Propostion 2 passed--meaning that the California electorate is willing to extend rights to animals, while taking them away from some people.

I was allowed to marry the person I loved. I cannot, in good conscience, deny that right to others.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Best and Worst of Election 2008


McCain admonished his party toward their better instincts, saying "We are the party that came to Washington to reform it, but were corrupted by it." I think if anyone could have cleaned up the 'pubs, it was McCain.

McCain's story of how he was broken in Hanoi, ashamed, but not alone, how he found strength through his brothers in arms, and was nursed through this trial by his love for his country.

Obama talking to us about race like we were grown-ups.

Obama's epic of 106 years through the eyes of a black woman and his challenge to us to advance our country as our nation advanced through the lifetime of Ann Nixon Cooper.

Ben Affleck's impression of Olbermann.

Tina Fey's amazing impression of Palin.

Screwing wiith the dudes who follow talking points online. After a while, they won't even talk to you.

Rachel Maddow suffering from Election post-traumatic stress disorder--she drove me nuts!

Olbermann's nightly comments during the last two weeks leading up to the Election.

The Chaffey Community Republican Women's racist "Obama Bucks" graphic.

The constant allusions to John McCain's age and melanoma.

Sarah Palin--EVERYTHING!

California Prop 8 passing. Do the Mormons know the people they were funding hate them, too?

Mitt Romney prostrating himself before the Evangelicals, who didn't support him anyway.


What were your best and worst of Election 2008?

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Day Before the Election: Obama Dominates the Polls, But Will it Matter?

There is a guarded optimism among progressives that, provided individuals brave the long lines, combat the electronic voting machines until their vote stops flipping from Obama to McCain (or McKinney) and take video of their voting experience, Obama might actually win. Cue voter suppression efforts: get any emails or phone calls telling you to change polling locations? Changing your voting day from November 4th to November 5th? Seen any fliers warning you that you'll be arrested for unpaid parking tickets, etc, if you turn out to vote?

It's all stock-in-trade for suppressing the vote in minority and poor neighborhoods. The logic goes that poor whites and minorities are likely to vote Democrat, so these dirty tricks advantage the Republicans. But if the long lines for early voting are any kind of barometer, it doesn't appear to be working this time. And Gallup's Tracking Poll indicates Obama widening the gap among registered voters (53-40), expanded likely voters and traditional likely voters (53-42). Curiously, Senator Obama remains vigilant, refusing to let up in his efforts to persuade people to vote; conversely, Senator McCain is not only optimistic, but incredibly, he has enthusiastically assured his supporters that he will come from behind and win the Presidential election. It's not surprising that McCain would say he'll make a comeback, but it's quite another for him to believe it.

Does John McCain know something that we don't?

That depends on who you ask. According to a post in Brad Blog by Stephen Heller, Michael Connell, Republican IT Guru is being deposed today, regarding allegations of electronic election fraud in Ohio in 2004:

Confidential sources indicate that Connell has been blackmailed by Karl Rove to take the fall under threats that Connell's wife, Heather, will be prosecuted for alleged violations of lobby law. If Connell confirms this story, Karl Rove can forget about hiding behind Executive Privelege.

Regardless of who goes to jail, this is the biggest political scandal since Watergate. Will the mainstream media pick it up? Something tells me this is highly unlikely, even if Senator McCain makes an inexplicable, eleventh-hour comeback. That's why we're going to need to get off our asses and do something about it.


I've said it before: in hard times, the patriots aren't ones with their hands out, but with their fists up. No one is going to give you your vote back, you're going to have to take it. Click the link, pledge your support and take a stand for democracy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Real Women Respond to Palin: Watch the Webathon, LIVE Now

I came across this live program on Twitter. Women are expressing their views, right now on Sarah Palin as Vice President. What do you think?

Women should weigh in on this issue at the source,

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When an Election Jumps the Shark into the Politics of Hate: An Open Letter to the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated

If I started off a joke about someone eating ribs, fried chicken and watermelon, who was on food stamps, you would know that I was about to tell an inappropriate ethnic joke about an African American. If you were a decent person, you might tell me to watch my mouth before I said anything. If you were morally upright and I told the joke anyway, you might knock me on my ass. And if I had a conscience, instead of calling the cops, I'd do what was decent and feel ashamed. While I wouldn't want to admit to full-on bigotry, I would feel compelled to say I was sorry--again, if I had a conscience.

On the other hand if I were a jerk who wanted to insult your intelligence, I would try to tell you that I didn't know that eating fried chicken, watermelon and barbecued ribs were a stereotype for black people, or that being on welfare was an unfair and negative sterotype of black people.

Diane Fedele, president of the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated of Upland, California, is the lowest form of life that has ever existed in our great country: Diane Fedele is a bigot. That's not playing the race card, that is a statement Diane Fedele invited when she composed such an image. This was not "poor judgement," it wasn't innocent, and her garbage apology "to anyone who was offended" is not accepted, because it isn't sincere. She has allowed her enthusiasm in this historic presidential campaign to sour into something so ugly that we have to go back nearly four decades for a reference on such an overt and mainstream display of hate. In an election plagued by members of people yelling "Kill him," in reference to Senator Obama, after being whipped into a violent frenzy by the Republican candidate's running mate, not to mention the Sacramento County Republican's call to "waterboard Obama," there been a clear lack of leadership within the your party, but that does not excuse Diane Fedele's actions. Her portrayal of Barack Obama's face on a food stamp, complete with watermelon, barbecued ribs and KFC fried chicken was a clear and deliberate usage of negative, racist stereotypes directed at African American people. Were there any question that this was anything but a deliberate and vulgar display of ethnic stereotyping, Diane Fedele tipped her hand at symbolism with the Kool-Aid character; your bloggers have stuck to their talking points a little too well.

Drinking the Kool-Aid.

It is a reference to people who followed a white cult leader, Jim Jones, ingesting poisoned punch in Guyana, committing mass suicide. This has been a talking point that Republicans have stuck to religiously, referring to Obama supporters as "drinking the Kool-Aid." Diane Fedele, President of the Chaffey Community Republican Women tipped her hand at symbolism. This was no innocent error. She knowingly and with malice of forethought, in a County that is home over 187,000 African Americans, created such a divisive and hateful image, and in targeting a political campaign, unleashed an unexcuseable attack on, not on 187,000 people, but an entire nation of them.

An entire nation of us--black, brown, red, yellow and white.

Is this who you want leading you, Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated? Are you honestly okay with this? Because it's not Diane Fedele's name on it, it's your name. Do you hate your African American neighbors, as she clearly does? Or your Hispanic neighbors? Or your Asian neighbors? Or your Native American Neighbors? Or your poor, white neighbors? Because this kind of hate rarely stops at one group of people--at least it never has before; not with the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan or the Neo-Nazis or the Aryan Nations. Those groups never stopped at just one group of people, either. And you can say that you're not racists, but you clearly appear willing to tolerate racism when it suits you. Diane Fedele, as your club president, speaks for you, unless you dencounce this disgusting and racist image--unless you denounce her.

Does Diane Fedele speak for you, Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated?

Are you "drinking the Kool-Aid" of hate for her?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday: After the Fall

Someone prayed for Barack Obama to lose. I think the minister, Arnold Conrad said it best:

There are millions of people around this world praying to their god -- whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah -- that his [McCain's] opponent wins, for a variety of reasons . . . And Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation because they're going to think that their god is bigger than you if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name in all that happens between now and Election Day.

Perhaps prayed isn't the right word for it. Pastor Conrad challenged God to prove Himself. Let me give the right-wingnuts here a little refresher course on their favorite book, The Holy Bible, when their so-called "Lord and Saviour" was told the same thing by the Devil himself. His response--since so many of the right-wing "Christians" are loathe to look such things up for themselves--can be found in both Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12. His response was to remind Lucifer of the passage in Deuteronomy 6--"Thou shalt not tempt the lord thy God."

Hence, Pastor Conrad commits blasphemy in the name of politics. Does he think he's the Prophet Elijah? And what will he say if, in a moment, reminiscent of the Priests of Baal, he's had Christians running around the alter, mutilating themselves in the vain hope of provoking their god to action, and fire descends from on high and strikes the other guy's alter (i.e. Obama wins)? Does this mean that Allah is superior to God? Hardly.

I despise ignorance, but I am disgusted by the kind of cynicism shown by the Religious Right. Like me, they know that the God of Abraham from the Torah is also "the Father" of Jesus Christ. They also know enough about Islam to know that Allah and God are one and the same. It breaks down something like this: God has his chosen people--the Hebrews. Later, he sent Jesus for all mankind. In Islamic theology, Jesus isn't the son of God, he's God's prophet--the last prophet before the Prophet Mohammed. And the Jews believe that Jesus was a real person, too, they just don't believe he was the Messiah; I dunno, maybe they think he was a nutty, rogue rabbi--which he might have been. It doesn't weaken his whole "good neighbor" schtick as far as I'm concerned. The point is that every monotheist, whether Jew, Muslim or Christian, prays to the same god.

So whose prayers does God answer?

It's that kind of question that leads me to tell Christians I'm an atheist, which is mostly true: I don't believe in God and I've become increasingly ambivalent toward religion in the recent past; as a person of reason and science, however, God and religion are not associated with empirical evidence, whereby can neither be proven true or false, so I am an agnostic. But from my perspective, the Religious Right is filled with the same kind of nutcases as extreme Islam. They have a thirst for blood, as evidenced by the fact that most so-called "Christians" favor the death penalty--even though Christ's own execution was a stark indictment of such a barbaric practice. Islamic theocracies, such as Iran, also favor the death penalty. And the Religious Right's defiance of laws against using tax-exempt funds for furthing a political agenda shows a clear intent on the part of the Christian Right to convert America into a theocracy. Further, the type of outbursts we've seen from audiences at McCain-Palin rallies, many indicative of a tendency violent behavior, show minds which are both angry and malleable--a lethal combination when it is directed by a toxic message. What little difference that existed between the consequences of Christianity and those of Islam is rapidly eroding.

The Religious Right has a vision of America that is dark, dangerous and none too Christian.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Germany, 1933: How to Survive Madness and Remain Human

It's Sunday afternoon. I've dusted off my recession skills today and baked my own bread. Not that bread machine crap that's roughly the consistency of half-dried cement and tastes like hungarian hogwash; the kind your mother or grandmother used to bake. It had a smell that could drag you in from outside, even when you were having fun, for a slice of that fresh, home-baked lovin' from the oven. It was so tender that you had to cut it with an electric knife. Peanut butter and Jelly? Not on your life. That's for day-old balloon bread made in a factory. To paraphrase Steinbeck, uniform loaves--and uniformly tasteless. Spread it with butter that's been sitting out ever since this morning to make it soft, so it wouldn't tear the bread. Then watch it melt and fill the sponge-like interior.

Yes. Home-baked perfection.

Here's the recipe. In fact, here's two of them--depending on how big your mixer or your oven is.

* * *

Once there was a man who ran for President. Things were going well. He was ahead in the polls and by all appearances, he was going to win. He had served his country in the armed forces and won distinction for his services. His choice of running mate was a little hasty, but he was a gambler.

At some point he started falling behind. The economy soured and he, being a member of the incumbent party, had some of the blame land on him. Realizing that he couldn't win by discussing how he planned to fix the economy, the Presidential candidate began raising questions about his opponent's character. This was not abnormal: it had been done many times successfully. It had been done once to the Presidential candidate during his party's primaries by the current President; the President had sandbagged the candidate by convincing people that he'd fathered an illigitimate black daughter. The truth was that he had adopted a daughter who was black, but the lie worked.

The economy continued to get worse, and the candidate slipped farther in the polls. He became desperate--so desperate that he began accusing his opponent of things that he knew were false. Again, this was nothing new. But his rallies took on a mob environment. People yelled epithets at members of the press who shared the opponent's ethnicity. As his running mate spoke about the opponent's questionable associations, they yelled, "Terrorist," and "Treason," and someone even yelled "Kill him!"

Things had gone too far, and a responsible candidate would have reigned the crowd in. And the Presidential candidate appeared to be trying. At a rally, a man told him that he was afraid of what his opponenet might do to the country. The candidate assurred them that they had nothing to fear from his oppenent. A woman referred to his opponent as an "Arab terrorist." He corrected her and said his opponent was a decent family man. The woman seemed confused. Everyone was.

They were confused because they were repeating what the candidate's campaign had been telling them. These were not random strangers, but people who had volunteered for his campaign. Furthermore, the candidate was continuing the tactics that had whipped his crowds into a violent frenzy. A tracking poll showed that his mob was growing; he gained three percent, even after his running mate was found guilty of ethics violations. . . .

* * *

Bad things happen to great nations. Germany was in the beginning stages of democracy when National Socialism used an underlying German ambivalence toward Jews and Bolshevism to gain undisputed power in the Reichstag. The Reichstag fire of 1933, blamed on the communists, and which resulted in the outlawing of all parties, except National Socialism gave way to the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, in which the Nazi Party purged the S.A. of its homosexuals, which gave way to the Night of Broken Glass in 1938, in which an entire nation of Germans on the Jewish population. It took a five years for Germany to fully embrace the National Socialist's agenda of hate, but the people were completely against the Jews before the war started, before the death camps, before genocide.

I keep repeating Germany's story because they have proven to be an innovative, intelligent, thoughtful, and conscientious people, who had their worst instincts brought out by people willing to take advantage of their weaknesses, their ignorance and their underlying ambivalence toward a group of people they had marginalized. The right has been openly scapegoating, "Minorities and risky folks," as the cause of the mortgage meltdown. McCain's campaign has distributed fliers which refer to Senator Obama as a Muslim terrorist. This is a deliberate play on their ignorance and underlying racism, since many of McCain's supporters do not distinguish between "Arab" or "Muslim." His campaign is aware, as I am, that many evangelicals are (falsely) told by their ministers that the Q'uran has commanded the Muslims to kill for Allah. And his campaign uses this with the knowledge that Senator Obama is neither "Arab" nor "Muslim," and certainly not a terrorist. Somewhere between their attempts at forcing an association with Barack Obama and William Ayers, added to constant references to "Hussein" Obama by uniformed peace officers (which is illegal), and finally, asking the question, "Who is this guy?" implying that he is a dubious character, what conclusions are faithful conservatives supposed to come to?

McCain has placed a powder keg of fear, hate and ignorance at the feet of his opponent, and has done little to discourage the disturbing outbursts by his followers. Ideas have consequences, said Richard M. Weaver. And so, McCain's ideas or Steve Schmidts ideas, or whoever decided that they would take this next step in lowering the polticial bar, has set something in motion that they cannot hope to control.

The last eight years have already taken us places that we never dreamed we would go; who would have dreamed that our President would ever think of trying to justify torture? The dangers inherent in the precedent set by giving one's political campaign over to mob rage, ethnic and religious prejudice have well documented historic consequences: innocent people get killed.

The Presidential candidate who said he would rather lose an election than lose a war, has decided he would rather win an election than lose with honor. I hope--for Senator McCain's sake--that the American people reject these ideas, reject this campaign and reject him. The Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis and Aryan Nations had been relegated to the farthest fringes and we are a better society for it. A victory for McCain, won on his present platform, would only serve to embolden such people.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Is this What a Stock Market Crash Looks Like?

If you just started following this blog, go back a couple of entries to October 8, 2008, and read them in chronological order.

It's 8:09 AM and the stockmarket continues its downward trend. The Dow Jones Industrial Averages have lost 3.4% of their value since opening this morning.

Once, there was an honest man. I know what you're thinking--yeah, right; once, there was SANTA CLAUSE!--but it's a true story. This man grew up amid the dark, despair of the Great Depression, started a family in the dawning hours of the Big War, served his country in the United States Navy and operated a farming/ranching business in the sunshine years that followed his honorable discharge. He was the poster-boy of American conservatism, with strong ties to his church and community, never taking a dime of government subsidies, avoiding debt whenever possible, working hard, paying his bills on time, providing for his family, helping his friends and being an all-around decent human being. He was well-respected in his community--so well-respected that he was asked to be on an FHA board. But being an intelligent, as well as an honorable man, he knew they were using him to gain the confidence of his friends and neighbors, on whom they intended to foreclose, so he turned this prestigious offer down.

There were hard times. There were the years of drought and the continuous struggle over water rights. He went head-to-head with Father Time: elevation and Northern latitude made for a short growing season. His son, who was preparing to take over the ranch, lost a daughter in a tragic accident. The hope had been that the Big War vet and his wife might be able to retire once Junior was able to take control of the operation. But Junior and his wife were, understandably, stricken with grief, and staying on the land that had claimed their daughter's life was simply not an option for them. The Big War vet suffered multiple injuries to his knees and back, his eye was damaged by a small piece of metal and he was continuously dogged by a hearing loss, caused by the Naval guns. His wife nearly died while giving birth to a daughter, who also nearly died; the doctors had, in fact, declared her "stillborn"--until she started breathing. A cloudburst in 1977 washed out an irrigation system that had been in use since the 1910s. And the market was none too kind, either: after buying seed for $8 per bushel, diesel fuel, tractor and equipment parts, paying for labor, not to mention all of his own hard work, he hoped for $6 per bushel, and needed $5 just to break even; he managed to get $4. But through it all, he never gave up, never lost faith, never felt sorry for himself. . . .

It's 9:00 AM PST, and the Dow has lost 4.5% of its value today. . . .

* * *

It's 1:00 PM, PST, and the market will close in half an hour. The market has gained half a percent since opening.

The Big War vet had many sons, but none that took over the operation. So, he and his wife struggled through the years, surviving the cyclical drought, raising their children, paying their bills and helping their kids through college. They both turned 65, and since they had never paid much into Social Security, they didn't get much out. They were both too old to work the land, and finally, they managed to sell the farm and the cattle. Half a century of honest, hard work had yielded them $440,000 ($672,702, adjusted for inflation), and though they had already paid income and property taxes their entire lives, the sale of the farm was also taxed. But he and his wife were able to retire in relative comfort. They invested wisely and lived frugally to ensure that their money would last.

His wife suffered a stroke and died. He was lonely, so he remarried. His second wife was not so frugal or wise as he had been. She liked to travel and had expensive tastes. Before long, he found himself needing to make riskier investments in the hope of higher returns. . . .

The market is closed at 8,451.19 with the Dow losing another 128 points today, about 1 1/2 percent of its remaining value. It was a 1,803 point loss for this week, shaving away 17.58% of the Dow Jones Industrial Averages. It is the lowest the market has been since November, 2002.

* * *

The Big War vet didn't call his stock broker screaming at him/her to sell on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, yesterday, or today. He stays in his investments, hoping they will rebound someday. His children love him very much, and won't let their father--their hero--do without. But this hurts him more than losing the fruits of his years of hard work in the stock market: he's never taken a handout in his life. He's one of the good guys, like the ones our grandparents used to tell us about--the ones we thought only existed in stories. You know the stories I'm talking about: work hard, play by the rules and you, too, will prosper.

You know, the American dream.

At the age of 86, the Big War vet just woke up from that dream. He's not bitter or angry, even though he knows how the crooks at AIG panhandled Uncle Sam for $82 billion, then blew as much money as he had to work for half a century to see on a weekend retreat. He's not even outraged that, only days after AIG was exposed misusing half a million of taxpayer dollars, the Fed was fool enough to lend them another $38 billion. Why? because he's one of the good guys.

What happens in the corporate world where CEOs draw nine-figure salaries isn't capitalism, it's kleptocracy. No one who who cares about their company--much less their investors--puts that kind of financial strain on them in the good times, and certainly not in bad times. And it's somehow become unpatriotic to attack these robber barons for their greed and selfishness; somehow, being angered when you see this kind of injustice perpetrated against someone like our Big War vet attracts the label of "commy."

Well, the real patriots aren't the ones with their hands out in the hard times, but those with their fists up. If we weren't sure that class warfare was upon us, the first shots rang out this week when the Fed loaned AIG another $38 billion, knowing they would likely spend more taxpayer money on another "retreat." It is time to break the mental shackles that bind us to a definition of what it means to be "American," which serves only the opulent minority. It was they who avoided service and conscription when their country needed soldiers. It was they who sent American jobs overseas to fund their overly generous salaries and golden parachutes. And it was they who eased credit terms to cook the books so that quarterly reports would yield the bonuses they hadn't earned.

There is capitalism and then there is thievery. When people don't go to jail for the latter, it is because the law no longer distinguishes between the two. And when that happens, this is no longer America.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

In Case you Missed it, the Rules have Changed

I begin at 7:27 AM Pacific Standard Time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up nearly 6/10% from yesterday's close. Ye-haw. Can't wait for that quarterly report on my 401K to see how much retirement I don't have anymore. "Comrade" Paulson defended this week's continuous losses, with nearly 1,000 additional points shaved from the Dow's average, arguing that it's, "too early to look for encouraging signs." He might consider having the new temporary head of his bailout, a 35-year old from--you guessed it--Goldman Sachs, to look into getting some of that $85 billion back from AIG. Oh wait, the Fed's lending them another $38 billion.

It's 8:15 PST and the Dow is down over half a percent. . . .

I'm halfway through my lunch and the Dow has slid almost 3% since opening today. The Senate sweetened up the bailout (AKA "rescue") bill with tax cuts to get the House Republicans on board. How do they think we're going to pay for all of this? The "debt clock" near Times Square in New York had the dollar sign removed from it as another digit was added to our National debt--now over $10 trillion. The debt clock was first installed in 1987 when the debt was still just $2.7 trillion and when Reagan was still in office. Ah, the good old days of "don't tax and spend anyway" Republicanism.

In an oft quoted statement by Michael Hudson, Adam Smith said that no government had ever repaid its debts, and the same can be said of the private sector." For many, the free market system is more than just an economic strategy: it is the American ideal. The idea of the public seizing ownership of these banks which managed to fail--in spite of the hallowed doctrine of Milton Friedman, as espoused by Reagan, Bush and Bush--has the free market purists going insane right now. Most of them would like to let the market select which companies survive and which ones die out. The only problem is that, through a protracted war of attrition by the deregulationists, they managed to get what they wanted. And so, anti-trust violations went uninvestigated. Banks grew in size and dwindled in number. Suddenly we were faced with an ultimatum: rescue the banks--the ones that were allegedly too big to fail--or face a catastrophic economic collapse, the likes of which have not been seen for almost 80 years.

My lunchbreak is over. The market has fallen by nearly seven percent since this morning. My folks lived through the Great Depression. From the way the stock market keeps falling, it looks their kids get to live through one, too. I sure am glad we managed to save the banks though. . . .

It's 5:17 PM PST and I just finished working. The market dropped another 678.91 points (7.3%) today, closing at 8,579.19. An economist who was a clerk/pickup driver for the rental car agency told me that the market doesn't fall usually below the peak of the previous boom. I'm not sure, but I think the rules may have changed. The Dow last peaked at 11,723 in January of 2000 just before the Dot-Com bubble burst. Maybe I misunderstood him and he meant that it never dropped below the previous trough; if that's the case, we've still got another 344 points to go.

I'm optimistic. Those 344 points might just last me through lunch tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Bailout: Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt

I'm sitting at work right now. I have a meeting in two minutes. I've been watching the stock market since 7:15 AM Pacific Standard Time. The ticker tape on the lower right tray on my computer screen was up over a percent when I arrived; now it's down over 3/10%. Monday, the Dow declined over 300 points from Friday's close; yesterday it slid another 508.

When I started this blog, I named it according to where it looked like our country was going - long term. But here it is. Last Tuesday, the German magazine, Der Spiegel, published an article about the United States, entitled "The End of Arrogance: America Loses its Dominant Economic Role. In it, George W. Bush is described as a mere shell of his former self.

The ticker tape shows the Dow is down over half of a percent as I leave for my meeting. . . .

The meeting is in recess, and I'm taking a break. The ticker tape has the market down 1.6% for the day. My bank was seized and a quick sale was arranged to keep it from failing. I should breathe easy and go back to having my paycheck direct deposited, but there's really no barometer for knowing if or when your bank will fail like going in on Friday to deposit your check. Sometimes, when it looks unusually busy, I leave and go to a check-cashing place, where I forfeit a huge chunk of my earnings for the security of knowing I have access to my own money - unless someone steals it. The teller is safe behind the bullet-proof glass. The sun penetrates the plate glass windows, making the air stale in a place that already smells of cigarette ash. She counts out the bills so that the person in line behind me, who's fidgeting because he can't smoke indoors, knows how much money I'm leaving with. I put the cash in my wallet, slide the wallet into my hip pocket and walk swiftly out the door. I wait to unlock the door of my car until I'm just a few feet away, get in and immediately lock the door.

My meeting starts in two minutes. The Dow is up 3/10% so far for the day. . . .

It's lunchtime on the West Coast and the Dow is up over a percent. The debate last night was a poor showing for both candidates, though you wouldn't have known by its appearance on the front page. The big news of the day was in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times, "AIG Fiddles while Wall Street Burns." I understand that Nicholas II and Alexandra were similarly clueless as to the plight of the starving minions outside the Palace in the last days of the Romanov dynasty. Their opulent lifestyle, paid for by the struggle, sweat, blood and starvation of the many must have seemed outrageous to the people who saw them from afar. A failed insurance company that went panhandling to the people to the tune of, "Brother can you spare 82 billion dollars," may have a slightly different perspective of a $440,000 expenditure on such frivolity that those of us whose labors never yield the kind of posh lifestyle these folks appear to take for granted. Then again, when your salary is 300 times that of the average laborer - regardless of whether you win or lose - there would be a bit of a disconnect. What AIG's mishandling of nearly half a million dollars in taxpayer money shows, however, is perhaps the most salient factor in this culture of opulence: their appetite for luxury is not mitigated by their personal finances; rather, it is only constrained by their ability to acquire and dispense with, other people's money. When your accountant does that, s/he goes to jail for embezzlement. It was upon Milton Friedman's ideology of unfettered capitalism that such neoliberal kleptocracy was born.

My lunch is over. According to the ticker tape, the Dow down over 3/10% from yesterday's close. . . .

It's my afternoon break, and the Big Board closed an hour ago, with the Dow having lost another 2%, or 189 points, closing at 9,258.1 for the day. Our retirement plans have lost two trillion dollars over the last 15 months. It's okay. I've been steeling myself against this for years: there's no way a generation of 40 million can support one of 70 million in retirement - not when that generation hopes to retire at 65 and live until they're 110. Social Security, the promise made by FDR in the 1930s and kept by Tip O'Neil for the WWII generation, appears elusive. Perhaps the first wave of Baby-Boomers will get it, maybe even the second; anyone who can claim to have worn bell-bottoms in Junior High or earlier may want to consult their 401K.

Oh, wait. We lost our 401Ks in the stock market. The same stock market the free market fundamentalists wanted us to put our Social Security into. . . .

It's 5:01 PM, Pacific Standard Time, and my workday has ended. For now, at least, I'm one of the lucky ones: I still have a job and a home.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who won the first debate?

IMO there's a general consensus that when determining who "won" a debate you must first consider expectations. With the current economic meltdown, all polls reflect a moderate Obama lead of between 3-7 points. The Palin bounce is gone, the Iraq war is no longer front page news, and all trends are pointing in Obama's direction.

Given this, the two candidates' goals for the debate were:
A. Obama: to make no major gaffes, to convince voters he's sober and competent at foreign affairs, and to appear presidential.
B. McCain: to convince voters Obama is too risky both on economics and as Commander in Chief during time of war. McCain needed a knock-down (if not a knock-out) punch in this debate.

Given these preconditions, I can only believe that Obama "won" this debate. Here's a breakdown of how I saw each candidate's strengths/weaknesses:

Obama strengths:
-Best debate yet in terms of eliminating stammering, avoiding "you know", and making his answers more decisive and concise.
-Hammered home his tax cut proposals and displayed understanding of middle class woes.
-Excellent command of foreign policy issues. His positions are debatable, but he had the detail.
Obama weaknesses:
- His economic promises are absurd in view of the current economic meltdown. He wouldn't back off on a single major program and still promised tax cuts to 95% of Americans.
-Explanation of previous gaffes (invading Pakistan to get Bin Laden, and sitting down with Korea/Iran/Cuba without preconditions) was unconvincing.

McCain strengths:
-Decent job of linking explaining how previous Obama foreign policy gaffes make Obama unduly risky in time of war.
-Had one of his better debates in terms of displaying passion and making clear, concise statements.
McCain weaknesses:
-Looked twitchy and agitated. Couldn't stand still while Obama was talking. Failure to look at, and talk directly to Obama made him seem petulant.
-Incomprehensibly he did not drive home the pandering and unrealistic nature of Obama's tax cut promises, and the devastating effect Obama's tax hike proposals will have on an already reeling economy.
-Surprisingly, he said he'd vote for the economic bailout plan. Missed a major opportunity in not rejecting the plan and tagging Obama with supporting "welfare" of $700B for Wall Street incompetents/hucksters.

So, if things stay the same, I predict Obama will win a fairly easy victory in November. McCain must hope for some fundamental change in the equation, must hope that young voters and all the newly registered Dems stay home, hope his Base remains energized and turns out in record numbers, and hope for the "black tax" (those white voters who, at the last minute, simply won't vote for a black).

And Obama? All he needs to do is avoid major gaffes, continue to provide specifics on policy, and continue to present himself as a pleasant, intelligent, safe choice.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hank "in the Tank" Paulson and the Last Great Bushist Power Grab

The similarities to 9/11 are stark: pass the bill, now! This is not a time for thinking, it is a time for acting! Sadly, we fell for this line twice already. In the House, a meager 66 Representatives opposed HR 3162 (62 Democrats, 3 Republicans, 1 Independent; 9 didn't vote), what would become known as the USA Patriot Act of 2001. In the Senate, Russ Feingold (D-Iowa) stood alone in his opposition to the bill. The whole thing was pushed through Congress by 1:54 PM Eastern Standard Time, on October 25, 2001. Those who opposed the measure were branded "unpatriotic," "bleeding-hearts," or accused outright of being traitors. In doing so, the Bush Administration silenced those who saw this as a cynical power grab. A year later, having failed to capture Osama bin Laden, but with a new interloper to divert the attention of voters, Congress voted 296 to 133 to invade Iraq (81 Democrats helped; 6 Republicans and one Independent didn't). Russ Feingold was no longer alone in his opposition, as 25 other Democrats joined him in voting against the invasion of Iraq in the Senate, which has since been proven to be an unnecessary and costly war: over 4,000 dead, hundreds of billions spent, the United States' international reputation in tatters and the removal of military capital from the threat of a emerging belligerent powers, such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia and Russia.

Then, starting last Monday, the failure of several key financial institutions, resulting , at least in part, from deregulation, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. As with 9/11, people were hoping for someone to step forward to save the day. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson's solution sounded a lot like a trick played by Dark Age mystics on a superstitious and ignorant populous during a total solar eclipse: "Grant me power without oversight, and I will bring back the economic sunshine." His proposal consisted of three pages - three pages, stark in their simplicity, horrifying in their cynicism and arrogance, summed up in the now infamous "Section 8" of the proposal:

Sec. 8. Review.
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

It is perhaps an unintentional coincidence that Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman, Benjamin Bernanke picked "Section 8," which was, at one time, the rule cited for discharging mentally unfit soldiers from the army. Indeed, the suggestion that the systemic collapse caused by deregulation could somehow be cured by an individual demanding more deregulation, is madness. It has even less rationale when one considers that this is the same, former CEO of Goldman Sachs who raised his company's debt from $20 billion to $100 billion in his 6-year tenure there. Finally, it has been reported that Paulson and Bernanke drafted this astonishingly elegant proposal six months ago, and hence, saw this collapse coming. Their concern, clearly, was not for the taxpayer or for how many innocent people would be hurt through this nightmare, but themselves and their friends and colleagues on Wall Street.

Well, I have a six point plan for what we can do about this mess. Review this, Bushies:

1) By purchasing bad debts, the United States taxpayer gains controlling interest in these firms. Those CEOs who opt out, risking the collapse of their firms will be required to surrender their passports, will undergo a criminal investigation, and may be subject to criminal prosecution and seizure of their personal assets; we do the same thing to drug dealers, embezzlers and child pornographers, and while I wouldn't place what they've done on the same plane as kiddie porn, I personally find it equal to embezzlement and worse than selling drugs. Those who opt in would be given immunity from criminal prosecution. That's their incentive for helping to keep the economy from crashing: they won't go to jail.

2) All executives suspected of having a role in the banking collapse must surrender their passports until they are cleared; those who opt in that are found to be instrumental in the banking collapse will be terminated with no additional compensation (no golden parachutes). Because the taxpayer has essentially enacted a hostile takeover, any contracts between executives and the firms they were employed by are null and void. They get nothing; they can stand in the unemployment line next to the people they sold out.

3) Absolutely no quarter should be given to the housing speculators who drove the housing bubble. If there were a cost-effective way to do so, I would ask for a mandate making them wear a scarlet letter ("A" for asshole).

4) A moratorium should be declared and defaulted home loans should be evaluated. Those home buyers who clearly have no visible means of paying for their homes, or whose homes are clearly beyond their means, should be foreclosed upon. Those who are in affordable homes should have their loans refinanced so that as much money as possible can be recovered. The United States will recover money from the sale of foreclosed homes at fair market value, only. These properties should not be auctioned off or sold at any discounted rate. This will prevent further damage from speculators.

5) All firms participating in the bailout agree to a similar, best-effort financing agreement offered to responsible, but troubled home buyers. In other words, the companies that caused this mess will ultimately have to pay for their mistakes in the years to come. They will be responsible for paying back the amounts of money that the government is short from housing sales and loan payments. There is no reason that the United States should give away the store without getting something back. Agreement to such terms - along with contractual obligations of transparency - could be offered as a condition for some executives to continue their employment in certain cases.

6) The regulatory boards that were gutted by the Reagan, Bush and Bush Administrations will be funded by the payments from the firms participating in the bailouts. There should be additional oversight by Congress to make sure that the regulatory agencies don't wind up in the pocket of the firms they regulate.

If my plan sounds punitive, good: it's humane, compared to what I would do, were I not an employee in a large firm with payroll expenses exceeding $100,000. Were that the case, I would say, let the banks fail and put their CEOs in prison next to rapists, murderers and drug dealers. Secretary Paulson's proposal was a naked power grab by an administration already grotesquely bloated on them. Once again, the Bushists have presented us with a crisis and told us that if we do not act against our own best interests, we are doomed. Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us; fool us a third time and clearly, we are too stupid for the responsibilities necessary to be a citizen of this, or any other Republic.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The EU Concedes to Russia

I take no pride in being right about Russia, at least not today. European Union French President M. Nicholas Sarkozy said in a statement to Moscow on Friday that Russia must withdraw its troops from Georgia proper and Georgia must withdraw its troops to military bases no later than October 1, 2008. Russian peacekeeping (his words, emphasis added) troops would be replaced by 200 UNOMIG (United Nations Observer Missions in Georgia) and OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) international observers. The UNOMIG and OSCE observers will investigate in Georgia proper only and Russian troops will be allowed to remain in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as per the September 12, 2008 agreement reached between Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

It was a deferential move for the economic superpower to cede these sizeable regions of the Georgian State to Russia. It is frankly, reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain's concession of Czechoslovakia to Germany in 1938. Except that, to Paraphrase Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, if Russia had meant to capture Tbilisi, their forces could have done so in as little as four hours (given how they steamrolled over them in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, I doubt he was exaggerating).

Clearly, taking over Georgia proper was not one of their aims. Had this been the case, it is unlikely that the Russian strategy would have focused so heavily on expelling Georgian troops from the breakaway regions with such intensity - if at all. Given their air superiority over Georgia, they could have easily razed Tbilisi to the ground in a matter of hours and had Georgian President Mikheil Sakaashvili in custody in a matter of days.

Why did the EU not define Georgian territorial integrity to include the breakaway regions? If my more conservative readers can stomach it, I would like to indulge in some educated speculation. Surely, the EU watched the United States, as did Russia, when their friend and ally, Mikheil Sakaashvili, called for their military assistance and received only weak reprimands aimed at Russia from President Bush and Senator McCain, and most recently, either an inadvertent or a veiled threat from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Sakaashvili, clearly unimpressed with Senator McCain's empty threats, called him out. Though aid has been sent to Georgia, American sabres - though rattled - remain firmly in their scabbards.

There was a very good reason that the French and the English engaged in a policy of appeasement with Germany in the 1930s: they didn't want a Second World War. The first had been horrible. The machine age had unleased horrible weaponry, munitions that disfigured soldiers so profoundly that it found its expression in a new genre of feature-length films in the twenties: horror. But if the thought of another mechanized war with Germany was horrifying to England and France, staring down the business end of the Russian nuclear arsenal must have them in a solid state of panic.

If the EU has any grasp of the history of the past two decades, a few facts are doubtlessly, not lost on them. First, the United States military doesn't move at lightning speed. That's not a bad thing. Operation Desert Shield prepared our troops well for Operation Desert Storm - it only took them four months. But Russia was able to mobilize within hours, and defeat American and Israeli-trained (and armed) Georgian troops within five days. Further, in his candidacy for President, John McCain (who is ahead according to Gallup Polls, as of Sunday) has resisted talk of withdrawing from Iraq. George Bush's drawdown is still 8,000 troops heavier than pre-surge levels. And even Barack Obama's strategy for withdrawal ties up our forces in Iraq until 2010. There simply is no plan on the table that allows the United States the ability to spare the military personnel necessary to honor NATO in the event of a Russian invasion, no matter what.

That leaves the threat of American interceptor missiles, one that has Putin aiming nukes at Europe (again) and negotiating for Western real estate with Castro (again) and Chavez to park ICBMs closer to the US (again). It is also a threat that makes it in Russia's best interests to take advantage of Europe while the United States is busy elsewhere.

So who in NATO will stand up to Russia, should they decide to play rough? The British are still strong, but they can't take on Russia alone. Their greatest advantage - naval power - would do little against a nation that is (and whose neighbors are) mostly landlocked. US troops in Europe have been cut by half (to around 25,000) since 2006. The French haven't had a strong military since Napoleon, and Sarkozy's concessions to Russia speak volumes about the EU's attitudes toward Russia. Finally, Georgia already had been promised membership with the EU at the time of the conflict; clearly Sakaashvili was counting on that when he rolled the dice on forcing South Ossetia and Abkazia back into the fold. But no one came to his rescue.

Whether this was because the EU recognized they were being used in his game with Russia or simply realized that Georgia simply wasn't worth the risks inherent in going to war with a re-vitalized Russia, no one in NATO - outside the United States - even breathed the word war. And if it were simply a matter of the United States being busy elsewhere, it would have been enough for the EU to flinch. But there is a lot more going on in the United States than two foreign occupations.

The U.S. banking system, which has been built up primarily through an assembly-line mortgage system, drove housing values to inflate as much as 300%. The bubble, of course, burst. Indy Mac in California suffered a 1929-style run-on-a-bank: the Fed took over. Bear Sterns Cos. collapsed: the Fed loaned JPMorgan and Chase the money to buy them out at a bargain basement interest rate. Then Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had to be bailed out. Friday, Lehman wanted the same deal Bear Sterns got; the Fed told them they were on their own.

Which tells us the well is running dry. What we know of modern warfare is that it requires a strong economy. The Big War turned the United States - temporarily - into a socialist country. We mobilized for war: women went to work in munitions factories and young men joined, or were drafted, into the military. Rationing was imposed. By the end of it, soldiers came home, dreading the poverty of the Great Depression, and were shocked to find a revitalized economy.

Times have changed. War doesn't create new jobs anymore; corporations, beholden to their investors to maximize profits, either outsource or build outside of the United States. The Keynesian economic policies that hauled us out of the Great Depression required government investment into the economy, and while the movement to "privatize" as much of the government as possible is certainly attractive to the free market purists, the long term evidence isn't promising.

Certainly the EU is aware of the US's economic woes. The bailout of Freddie and Fannie is little more than band-aid on a compound fracture. At least one economist (Michael Hudson) has indicated that the bailout exists solely to prevent the two mortgage giants from collapsing - and taking the economy with it - prior to the elections in November. Further, Michael Hudson alleges that these bailouts will protect Bush supporters from something that anyone responsible for a fraction of this destruction would inevitably face: prison. So if Angela Merkel (who, incidentally, is opposed to Ukraine and Georgia obtaining NATO membership) and Nicholas Sarkozy are at all forward thinking and aware in the present, the US isn't looking so healthy. And given the EU's dependency on Russia for oil and natural gas, the old NATO alliance may not seem so important to them lately.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Was McCain's selection of Palin cycnical or legitimate?

Cynical of legitimate? Well, I think it was both.

All VP picks are a combination of two things: a candidate who can take over as President in an emergency, and a candidate who can help win the election. IMO it's fair to say that a pick with too much of the latter and too little of the former is cyncial and less legitimate.

Although a McCain/Palin supporter, I must concede that Palin is not ready to take over for McCain on day-one. My initial impression is that after 1-2 years in the VP slot she'll be ready...but I can't be sure of this until she's been vetted by the media and has her debate (surely there should be more than one!) with Biden. So, yeah, it's a cynical pick.

However, I think it's also legit for two reasons:

1. She does have adequate (not great) qualificatons: She's got excellent Executive experience which is the most valuable type to have for the Presidency. She's also got a stong record of reform, has shown real "balls", and based on what we've seen appears to be very smart. Also, I'll paraphrase from Obama's primary campaign here...experience is only one of many important criteria; character, judgement, and intelligence are just as important.

2. I've been saying for months that McCain MUST pick a female if he was to have any chance of winning. Every statistic/metric/trend is in the Dem's favor this election. McCain's only shot at winning was to peel off a large group of voters from Obama. IMO the only two big groups really in play were Hispanics and blue collar white women over 30. In picking Palin, he was going for the latter group. My first pick was Kay Baily Hutchison (nat'l name recognition, lots of experience, decent creds with the base); rumor has it she wasn't interested. I liked Condi Rice too, but whoa! She's a neocon and linked to Bush at the hip. A non-starter for sure. So...through process of elimination that left Palin.

And guess what? The pollos on 09Sep indicate it's working. There has been a huge shift in blue collar white women over 30 from the "undecided" block to McCain. We'll see if it holds up. We'll also see if Palin holds up through the barrage of vetting that's headed her way.

And finally, give me credit for not pointing out that if lack of experience in sufficient reason to torpedo Palin, the same must be said of Obama (oops! I just pointed it out!).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Patriot Act and the Jackboots of St. Paul: We Saw it Coming

Poland started World War II.

That was the National Socialists story, and they were sticking to it. It went along with other stories, like the Reichstag fire, Anschluss and German nationals at the mercy of anti-German Czechoslovakia. And each of them were in equal measure, bullshit. And not calling bullshit lead to more bullshit, which lead to still further bullshit, which . . . you get the idea. The bullshit kept snowballing, until Germany was in some deep shit. At some point, calling bullshit was impossible - not that it was ever easy. Someone would have had to risk their comforts, their freedom, perhaps their families, even their lives. Finally, after it was too late to call bullshit, some of them did exactly that. The attempt on Hitler's life failed. The conspirators were caught and executed. Even the great Fieldmarschal, Rommel who had no involvment, died mysteriously. It is understood by historians that the Nazis had him killed.

Those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it.

Which is why I'm calling bullshit, now, in America, on the UNPATRIOTIC, UNAMERICAN, ANTI-DEMOCRATIC meatheads that call themselves police in St. Paul, Minnesota. Buried behind all of the sensationalism which was bound to follow a woman Governor, extremist Republican, mother of five with a Down syndrome baby and pregnant daughter, cum-Vice Presidential nominee, was another story that I likely wouldnt have heard about until I was on my way to work Monday morning . . . except that I tried getting ahold of one of our members the only way that I know how - through his email on YouTube. Oddly, someone had emailed me some videos about the riots at the RNC.

Though I remember hearing about them peripherally, I blocked them out. It was just a bunch of jerks from the left trying to stir up trouble, I had decided. Why not let the GOP have their convention in peace, the way that the Democrats had been allowed to have their convention? It was just a bunch of rabble rousers, stirring up trouble, and I wanted no part of it.

Some of these so-called rabble rousers, it turned out, were my morning fix. I listen to Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman during my morning commute. Somehow, like everyone else, I became distracted from the important issues by the shiny, new running mate, Sarah Palin. I'd stopped listening to the alternative news sources that had been a source of strength to me. Then, I found out that Amy Goodman had been arrested while questioning police about the arrests of Democracy Now! producers Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar.

This is how it happened. The riot police descended on the crowd where Kouddous and Salazar were filiming. As the police approached her position, Nicole Salazar displayed her press credentials and asked the police for an avenue for retreat. This was their response:

Koudous and Salazar were arrested and faced felony charges for "Probable Cause" Inciting a Riot and Salazar was handcuffed and dragged by her feet, causing her face to be scraped on the asphalt and her nose to bleed. Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was on the floor of the Republican National Convention, when she received a call on her cell phone that Koudous and Salazar had been arrested. Concerned for the safety and health of her associates, Goodman left the convention and went outside to confront the police, demanding to speak to a police supervisor:

Goodman was arrested and cited with misdemeanor obstruction of a legal process and interference with a peace office (emphasis added).

To say that I am angered by this would be a gross understatement. That Salazar's brutal arrest failed to provoke a firestorm of media outrage against this kind of monopolistic abuse is evidence that the mainstream press - once fairly labeled liberally-biased - is firmly in the pocket of the corporations which fund and promote both parties. Days after starting her new program on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show on both MSNBC and Air America, mentioned this story briefly, but has not discussed it since. The bombastic and wry-humored Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown has yet to make so much as a cursory reference to the fact that his journalistic colleagues were arrested.

The silence is deafening.

It has taken me over a week to find a way to place this outrage into a written format that doesn't include expletives. It would be easy enough to indict a police force, whether caught up in the excitement of the crowds, or acting on specific orders to satisfy specific political aims. It would be easy to call the St. Paul riot police "Jackbooted thugs," denouncing their actions as draconian and as undermining the first amendment. But the responsibility has passed beyond the scope of the St. Paul Police, or City Attorney John Choi, or Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner. As a people, we did not inherit this Republic as a trust of bottomless plunder, but as a responsibility to ourselves and our posterity to maintain and defend. It was through that spirit of responsibility that we became a nation, and it is in that spirit that I offer the following reminder of history to a complicit and dangerously inane media:

In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me -- and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.

In other words, Pastor Neimoller warned us that silence not only gives consent, it invites your own destruction. Dangerous things have happened since 9/11; things which the Democrats and the Media have quietly pretended not to notice. And now we face a government that wishes to silence not only the voices of protest and dissent, but those that would hold them accountable. You would think that the media would respond with outrage, making the collective fates of Amy Goodman, Nicole Salazar and Abdel Koudous the same historical indictment on silence that The Diary of Anne Frank became on Fascism. Yet regardless of the monopolistic style of government, the use (and defense) of torture and cronyism apparent in the Bush Administration, the abuses of power and the cronyism apparent in Governor Palin's record, and regardless of the fact that journalists have been, and are being arrested for doing their jobs, only Dr. Maddow dared mention this attack on free speech.

Amy Goodman does what no other journalist has the strength or courage to do: her sacred duty as a member of that little-valued people's branch of government, fourth estate. That her colleagues who sold us out for million-dollar salaries, six-figure wardrobe budgets and overwhelming fame, have not stepped forward in her defense, is hardly surprising, but it does expose their legitimacy - or rather, lack thereof. So it is up to us, the people of the United States, to fight for our inheritance: this Republic.

UPDATE, 9/16/08: When I called the Ramsey County Attorney's Office today, the individual I spoke with said that no felony charges were going to be filed. Whether or not these two journalists will face lesser charges, it is clear that Ramsey County Attorney and gubernatorial candidate Susan Gaertner, at some point conceded that these charges were excessive and false.

UPDATE, 9/22/08: Charges have been dropped against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and producers Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Koudous. This was not reported by mainstream news, and all letters protesting these arrests came about as a result of a savvy internet community getting involved and demanding justice. A further investigation into the excessive force used by police is pending.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

There are 10 Kinds of People in the World: those that Understand Binary and those that Don't

I begin this entry by welcoming John and Lord (of Logic) to the discussion. Both have points of view that will make the discussion interesting, and both offer well reasoned arguments.

Today's subject is the Great American Political dichotomy, left/right, liberal/conservative, or Democrat/Republican, if you prefer. At it's narrowest definition, politics is binary: either you're one of us or you're one of them; either you're with us or you're against us; you're either a liberal or a conservative. The broader, mainstream definition has politics as a continuum with the Democratic party at one extreme, the GOP at the other and independents in the middle. But go on any third party website, and you'll see for yourself and the two-party system actually shares the center, with non-partisans and Reagan Democrats making up the middle .

First, I think the more important question is what is conservative and what is liberal?

A wise, pragmatic conservative once told me that the core purpose of any government is to defend wealth. This goes along with the the concept of laissez faire, per Adam Smith: the strongest economy is maintained when the government does not intervene to regulate it. So political conservatives have an interest, at their core, in defending wealth, by preventing the Government from squandering it or interfering in the market process. But if this is true, how do conservatives explain the Great Depression, or the more recent energy crisis and housing crunch? Had the market not experienced periods of unabashed freedom from regulation - and in all cases, were, in Reaganomics terms, poised to create a "trickle down" of wealth - would it have still collapsed? At the same time, does anyone deny that wealth was generated in those years leading up to collapse?
At the same time, liberal is exactly what it sounds like - the liberal application of government. For example, a social program was started by Franklin D. Roosevelt to assist the elderly during a time when many of them literally starved to death. Lyndon Johnson made the next major step by offering assistance to non-working families - generally single mothers with children. In the first case, social security prior to FDR was the family, and in fact, the architecture of the American home reflected a more corporate than immediate structure. I knew a man once who was fired from his job because he couldn't work as many hours as they needed him to without having it effect his social security. In the second case, the Johnson Administration created nearly three generations of families dependent on government assistance, who did not and would not work. And though It was, ironically, through Bill Clinton that aid for dependent families would hear its swan song, social security disability has been re-defined to further burden the tax payer while drug addicts, alcoholics and those claiming to suffer from mental illnesses (e.g. bipolar disorder, depression, etc.) wallow in a sea of self-inflicted misery, and are never required to "get well."
But that's where the appropriateness of the labels appears to end. Republicans may not want government intervention in business, but the religious right sees no contradiction in having the government deciding the appropriateness of what is read, watched or listened to, what goes on in the bedroom between consenting adults, and a woman's right to choose responsibly. The party in general sees no contradiction between it's view of the second amendment (the right to have and bear arms) and it's apparent contempt for the first amendment (guaranteeing both protection of religion and freedom of the press), its prolonged attack on the fourth amendment (guaranteeing an individual's right to general privacy, without proper warrants) and its end run around the sixth-through-tenth amendments (guaranteeing the right to due process). As a bar chart of the budget deficit from the last 20 years shows (see below), the party of "fiscal responsibility," which decries the "tax and spend" policies of the Democrats, have driven up the budget deficit to record highs. Finally, as yet another bar chart of the trade deficit shows, this notion of "trickle down" economics has hardly made the United States more competitive in the global economy (see right). Simply put, we're in debt up to our eyeballs, and the Repub-licans who've spent us there seem to be asking us not to believe our lying eyes.

But if the Democrats thought they were getting a pass today, keep dreaming. Rupert Murdock gained a toehold on the media for doing what no one else at the time had the guts to do -report the news. "The folks" as O'Reilly affectionately calls them, were frankly sick of the generationally monopolistic, self-aggrandizing, baby boomer-run media's head up Bill Clinton's ass. His first hundred days in office, attacking an entrenched system of military discrimination against gays were a wasted first hundred days. Not that gays should have been discriminated against in the first place, but pick your battles, for crying out loud. The single issue on which the Clintons stood out was health care. Unwilling to compromise, the Clintons wasted four years of Democratic majority in which some kind of health care bill could have been passed to help working families. They literally rented out the Lincoln bedroom as a re-election fundraising gimmick then stole the White House china on their way out.

And if the Dems were hoping to cast themselves as the party preserving the Constitution, they shouldn't brag so much. Senator Biden's bill that resulted in the Violence Against Women Act undermines a vital part of the fifth amendment, which protects individuals from being forced to testify against their spouse; it further assumes that women are incapable of saying what they mean under oath, and prosecuting attorney's often threaten victims of domestic violence with perjury (and sometimes prosecute them). Bill Clinton's highly publicized "land grab" also violated the Third Amendment for many, and Hillary Clinton voted to allow FEMA to take privately owned firearms in the event of a natural disaster (which actually happened after Katrina) leaving decent citizens unarmed and at the mercy of looters. Barack Obama's vote in favor of the FISA bill mocked his previous stances against the Bush Administration.

So how do we define the Bill of Rights? Is it liberal or conservative, since both sides both protect and abuse it equally? I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that neither party has the Bill of Rights in mind when pushing an agenda. The so-called Constitution Party seeks to redefine the Constitution as a document that defends only the right of Christians. The Independent party has its own definition of the Constitution, and picks and chooses its "favorites" from the first ten, discarding the others as either unimportant or unintended. The Libertarians, who share the absolutist economic philosophies of the GOP, have an equally absolutist attitude with regard to individual rights - it is unequivocally NOT to be screwed with.

Whether we agree that the "hands-off" approach to the economy is best, it's hard to make the case that it actually works., given the recent economic downturns. Mitt Romney, a prime example of extreme conservatism, if ever there was one, had the following to say during the RNC:

"Is Government spending, putting aside inflation, liberal or conservative if it doubles since 1980?"

The answer, of course is "liberal," but the question sidesteps the fact that most of that spending occurred under Presidents Reagan, Bush and Bush; deficit spending actually went down to $18 billion the last year Bill Clinton held office. And particularly in the case of Dubya, in which the Republicans controlled both houses, the notion of government largess being a product of liberal politicians is hard sell to anyone except low information voters. But Romney goes one further by lying outright:

"Democrats want to use the [economic] slow down as an excuse to do what their special interests are always begging for: higher taxes, bigger government and less trade with other nations. It's the same path Europe took a few decades ago; it leads to moribund growth and double digit unemployment."

Since Romney's a business man, I'm sure he's taken a gander at charts and graphs, and knows what he's talking about. So either he's seen this same chart and is lying, or he hasn't and he's trying to pass himself off as more knowledgeable than he claims. Either way, he's full of bunk. You don't have to be a business man with international trade experience to see that in terms of trade deficit, the practice of supply-side economics hasn't helped us to be competitive, and the former Massachusetts Governor is full of it. Romney went on to attack the same Supreme Court that helped the current President win a controversial election, as "liberal."
"Is a Supreme Court Decision liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with Constitutional rights?"

I dunno, Mitt. Why don't you ask Al-Jazeera cameraman, Sami al-Hajj, who was subjected to "enhanced interrogation" - not to find out what he knew about terrorist networks, but to press him about the news organization that he worked for. Romney's statement also pretends that the recent conservative victory in the United States Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller, in which gun rights were upheld as absolute, simply didn't happen. I find it fascinating that a man just this year was struggling to sell himself as a mainstream Christian, has the audacity to take exception to the notion that people have a right not to be held indefinitely without having charges brought against them; that such people, whether enemy combatants or innocent civilians, should be subjected torture - just as Senator John McCain was - is frankly an extremist view. Romney can call this "political correctness" if he chooses, but if he fails to see the contradiction inherent in his statement, he is both foolish and immoral. Then he insults anyone who's been watching FISA:

"It's time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother."

Since Mitt brought it up, FISA had the complete support of Senate Republicans - including John McCain - with the exception for Phil Graham, who didn't vote on the measure. The votes in opposition were Democrats, with Sens. Clinton and Obama joining Graham in pretending that it didn't matter.

I pick on Romney because he is an extremist - supposedly farther to the right than any other politician in this race. But he once said that we should "double Guantanamo" - which will require more government spending on holding more people who may not even be terrorists. He blames big government on "liberals," though most of the "growing [of] government" that he talks about happened on the Republican watch. And then, there's his record of being pro-choice: I know he's a Mormon and is in no-wise in favor of abortion; but he found it politically expedient to hold a "leftist" view for the sake of winning an election. Let the record show, however, that Clinton and Obama, both of whom repudiated John McCain for not voting on the new GI Bill, didn't vote on FISA either; that Clinton (and all Senate Democrats, except Russ Feingold) voted to invade Iraq; and that Obama voted against FEMA being allowed to take personal firearms in the event of a natural disaster.

There is no right, no left. It is an arbitrary label upon which political careers are hung and ideologies are fought over. We see conservatives who favor liberal government when it suits their ends and liberals who favor a return to constitutional conservatism when it means creating contrast between themselves and an unpopular President. But the liberal/conservative dichotomy really reflects the limitations of a political landscape written in the binary language of for/against, yea/nay - 1/0. We have the language and the capacity to evolve into a multi-party system, in which multiple opposing views can be expressed. But Romney's speech is salient for one other reason: it brings to bear extreme notions deeply embedded in his religious psyche: good and evil. And to him, Muslims - not just terrorists - are evil, and Christians are good. And it is this kind of absolutist thinking that keeps the American political structure firmly in the grasp of binary.